Daybreak – 1.8

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Daylight streamed in at a low angle as I stepped back into my office.  The light was blurred as it came through the condensation on the window, spotted with dots of darkness due to the melted frost that still clung to the window’s surface in lines and constellations of droplets.  Ninety percent of my books were packed up, the boxes that were still here were stacked near the door and the bookshelf, labeled in thick marker, with shorthand notes on the most interesting and essential files within written on the boxes in pen.  I’d left a few of the more interesting files available.  I’d put them in a box on their own, in case I needed something to read.

My phone was plugged into the computer.  I checked it, and made a small and sleepy pump of my fist as it lit up.  Then I saw the red number on the digital-display dial, and let my hand drop.  Missed messages: too many.

It wasn’t that I cared that much about the phone.  It was that the phone being on meant there was power again.  That the power was on again meant I could turn the space heater on.  I flicked the switch, turned on my computer, then lit the candles for what little good heat they offered and wrapped a blanket around me before settling in my computer chair.

I was freshly showered, towel around my hair, and I’d gotten dressed in a slightly musty spare change of clothes.  I had a blanket, candles, and a computer booting up.  I watched as it started the struggle of fighting every other computer out there that was wanting a piece of the web.

There were worse ways to take things easy on myself.

I slid my to-do list across the desk until it was beside my keyboard.  I’d need a car.  Plenty of people were willing to offer the use of theirs in order to pay for fuel.  Food, a place to stay.

Living accommodations might be tricky.  Demand was high, and it was a pretty steep drop in quality from the central areas and the fringes.  Many companies were putting up five or more houses a day or an apartment complex over the course of a week, slapping them together like there was a gun to their heads.  When it came time to find renters, they were more interested in filling the spaces fast.  They had no reason to answer questions or have a potential buyer investigating the nooks and crannies or checking the plumbing if they could turn that person away and have someone else on their doorstep within minutes.

It was a minefield.  Word of mouth, cash, contacts, or luck were required to get a proper house that wouldn’t start falling apart after the fact.  Fume Hood was one of the ones who’d been unlucky.

In more than one way.

My homepage was parahumans online, though.  On top of the missed calls and messages on my phone, I had a slew on the site.

♦  Unread Private Messages from NW_Brandish (2)
♦  Unread Private Messages from Glitzglam (8)

I deleted the messages from my mother.

I opened the second link.

♦  Private Messages from Glitzglam:

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Staying the night at work.  Don’t fuss about me.  Tell the Dallon parental units if you think it’s necessary to keep them from going on warpath.  I want to be left alone for now

Glitzglam *New Message*: i can field them
Glitzglam *New Message*: I’m *so* sorry that happened i want to explain
Glitzglam *New Message*: I arrived and then Amy did and my eyes must have bugged out of my skull but your mom said it was okay we were trying this and you knew it was a reunion and I was wtf
Glitzglam *New Message*: It didn’t sound like you but I thought ok if you thought you were down I could roll with and back you up
Glitzglam *New Message*: Then Uncle M came and oh man if a man could shit crocodiles and piss bears Uncle M would have been doing that he was so fucking pissed b/c HE wasn’t told and he knew the story from the funerals right?
Glitzglam *New Message*: and he brought his wife/kids there
Glitzglam *New Message*: I knew something was up and tried to call but no answer? & then you didn’t show so I let my guard down. I thought u knew and had cold feet and was relieved
Glitzglam *New Message*: I am so sorry. I had no part in this. I should have been smarter. I did not know really truly

I marked it as unread and minimized it.  I didn’t want to think about it for the moment.

News.  Inquiry into the circumstances of Lachlan Hund.  Not a trial, but an inquiry, some questions by people with more official standing.  He’d fallen in with some sketchy people, and there were thoughts about there being powers involved.

The inquiry was the story of the hour, it seemed.  Heroes stood by to step in and take him away to get help if officials were suspicious he’d been manipulated, but it was sounding like he would go home with his new family.  That sucked.

Other articles, further down the pages.  Fume Hood was alive, and she was a contentious topic.  The actions on the part of the shooter seemed to have split people into two factions, with the ones supporting Fume Hood slightly edging out the ones who condemned her.  Strange to see.

I wanted more info on her situation, and unfortunately, that was all I got.

I added another note to my to-do list.  I’d reach out to Fume Hood, check in.  I’d satisfy my curiosity and nag her about the name choice, which I’d been meaning to do but hadn’t had the chance to.

My eye traveled up to the unread messages.  Crystal’s responses.

It all felt like I was taking a massive backward step.  Like I was back in the immediate aftermath of Gold Morning.  Two legs, two arms, bewildered, emotional.  I was bothered, upset.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I’d been angry at my parents then too.  For various reasons.  Angry at a lot of people and things.

I hadn’t and didn’t want that to define me.

I clicked on Crystal’s account name again.

Glitzglam *New Message*: I am so sorry. I had no part in this. I should have been smarter. I did not know really truly

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: S’okay.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I know how these things go.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I saw this sort of thing play out when it wasn’t aimed at me.   I can read between the lines and speak Carol-ese and I picked up on what she was saying about you being skeptical about the situation
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I absolve you on the condition of one get together where we have some good eating, your treat, and you need to let me know if you hear of any good apartments or things because I am not good going back to my dads

I drummed my fingers on my desk, mused that my motivations might have to do with my being hungry.

More news articles.  Some capes were taking on roles as icons and iconoclasts for the various movements in the civilian sectors.  Four hero teams led the ‘icon’ groups.  Advance Guard, Foresight, the Shepherds and the Attendant.

The first two were aimed at pushing forward.  New approaches, doing things right this time.  The opinions on what that way forward looked like it differed, feeding into the division between the two groups.

Things were changing.  The Shepherds and Attendant had been groups divided along similar lines, but the Shepherds were self-combusting, and the remaining members were folding into the Attendant.  There was some debate over what the name of the resulting team would be.

And then there were three, I thought.

I idly browsed, caught between liking the Shepherd’s aesthetic and icons better while liking the Attendant’s mindset of moving slowly, with caution.  I was suspicious it might end up being the opposite.  As it was, the Attendant’s approach tacked on a bit too much ‘remember what we lost’ for my liking, clinging to the past, being defined by it, but-

There was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” I said.

Gil opened the door.  He had two coffees in a tray in one hand and a bag in the other, and he had to juggle them both as he opened the door.

I rose to my feet.

“Sit,” he said.  He nearly dropped his drink as he saw the boxes.  “Shit on me, you’re packed.”

“I’ll be done in time to be gone before the students turn up,” I said, sitting.

“I’m not so concerned about that right now,” he said.  He put the bag and coffees on the desk.  “How are you?”

I shrugged.

“You look better.”

I had a headache from not sleeping and not eating, and from the post-stress hangover, but I also felt lighter than air in a euphoric, fragile way.  It was as if I’d just gotten over a bad round of the flu, and I was at the point where I was getting over the worst of it, but if I did the wrong thing or tested my body in the wrong way I’d be sick and hurting again.

Better.

I shrugged again.  “Yeah.  That word could apply.”

“Did you sleep at all?”

I snorted air out of my nose.  “I’ll sleep when I’m so tired I have no other choice.”

“But you’re feeling better than you were?”

“Yeah.  Better than I was.  Thanks for letting me stay over,” I said.

He pulled a breakfast burger out of the paper bag, and my eyes must have lit up, because he smiled, passing it to me.

A double-decker English muffin, with bacon, two eggs, lettuce, tomato and very sharp mustard.

I wasn’t normally one to eat egg, but I didn’t let that stop me.

I’d taken too big of a bite.  I swallowed hard.

It was good.  Visceral.  Like Snag’s power, the hit of emotion as I enjoyed it was like a bit of metal, closing an electrical connection.  Rounding off a thought I hadn’t wanted to make.

Feeding tubes.  The insertions, the removals.  The tube being there, one eye watching the beige fluid moving through steadily.  Really wanting something good.  Going almost four months without, because they weren’t sure I could.  Then having it be a chore.  It had been better than the alternative, but a chore, to force myself to eat it right, to chew it thoroughly enough.

I swallowed hard again, not because I had another bite to swallow.

Gilpatrick was looking at my files and notes, his back to me, my English muffin sandwich in my hands.

He glanced at me, saw the blinking, and looked away.  “If you want to talk, I’m all ears.”

“I don’t, thank you,” I said.  “I had a bad day, the part you knew about, then it got worse.  Now I’m trying to get centered.”

He nodded.

“This is really good,” I said.

“They are, I took a bite of mine in the car and then ate it before I got here,” he said.  He bent over a box, looking at the notes.  “Man, I wish I still had access to these files and books.  I’d try bribing you if I could do it in good conscience.”

I swallowed again.  “They’re mine and I’m too straightlaced to be bribed.  You can call me if you want to ask about any of it.”

“Then I owe you more favors, am I right?”

“I thought we weren’t counting anymore,” I said.

He didn’t respond to that.  He picked up a file, paging through it.

“Which one is that?”

“Ossuary.  Why leave it out?”

“They’re back, or they will be soon,” I said.  “Activist villains with a heavy focus on environment.  They wouldn’t call themselves villains, I don’t think.  Long list of really messy executions, longer list of leaders with very short tenures, who try to pull a very disparate group together, fail, and abdicate.”

“Were they the ones who used to call themselves Elephant Graveyard?”

“That’s the one.  One of the early leaders pushed the name change along with a shift away from focusing on animals and animal welfare,” I said.  “I liked Elephant Graveyard more, I think.  Clunky, but clunky in a way that stands out, and it made for really good imagery, when they left a spray painted calling card.”

“I don’t want to pry,” Gilpatrick said.

“About Ossuary?”

“About you.  I spent a while thinking about what to do.  I’ve had some good bosses and bad bosses over the years.  When you throw yourself into the fray like you do when you’re a PRT squaddie, you really need to know that the people above you are looking out for you.  That your back is covered.”

“Yeah,” I said.  Same applied to family, to parents.

“I don’t want to push boundaries or cross any lines, and I don’t want to ask the wrong thing.  When you say you don’t want to talk, can I ask why?  Any answer you gave could help me make sure I’m covering your back as you move on to better things.”

“Because I’d have to fill you in on years of background and that’s not stuff I want to relive,” I said.

“Ah.”

“Because it’s confidential, because it’s messy, because… as cool as a guy as you can be, you can’t make it better.  You can’t give me the answers or guidance I need because there’s a whole ream of things that’s separate and aside from the years of my background that you’d need to get into or know and… I’m going overboard with this.”

“I do want to hear,” he said.  “Anything else?”

“That’s mostly it,” I said.

He nodded.  He rubbed his head for a second, thinking.  “You want company?”

“Nah,” I said.  “I’d just be packing the last few boxes.  I wouldn’t mind a hand getting them out to the car, just to speed things up when the time comes.”

“You have a car?”

“I’ll get someone off of a listing or something.  I’ve got to figure out what I’m doing, so there’s that too.  I wouldn’t be good company, while I’m working through all of that.”

“You don’t have to be packed up and gone today,” he said.

“I kind of need to,” I said.

He nodded, rubbing his head again.  “I’ll cover the car.  I’ll pay the driver.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“You know where to find me.  Place is empty, so you can shout from the stairs and I’ll hear you.”

“Right,” I said.

“I’m going to head to my office.  I’ve got something to do.”

I gave him a little salute.

Energized by food and coffee, still feeling lightweight, I worked on getting my boxes packed up.  Along the way, I slotted my files and folders into the box I’d reserved for the most pertinent factors.  The villains of the area, the heroes, and the villains turned hero.  The hoods.

The day was warming up.  The light from the sun was warm enough to counteract the lower temperature.  By midday, if yesterday was any indication, it would be short-sleeves and shorts weather again.

A message popped up on my screen.

♦  Private Messages from Glitzglam:

Glitzglam: game plan. u situate yourself at my place until you have apartment ur happy with.  u & I raid ur dads place while he at work, get ur stuff.  standard attack formation, I play defense, make sure coast is clear, I support you, u take point and do what u need

I fired off my response.  That worked.  I had a couch to sleep on.

One thing off of my to-do list.  I liked the progress.  Progress was good.  So long as I moved forward, I could stay aloft.

I cleared off the remainder of the bookshelves, stacking the boxes.  I scribbled out my notes on the lid, checking the contents.

There was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” I said.

Gilpatrick.

“Time for me to go?” I asked.

“Nah,” he said.  “There’s a bit.  I don’t want to force you out the door like that.”

“Okay,” I said.  I raised an eyebrow.

“I was thinking, over the past twelve hours, if you were my student, I wouldn’t want to let you go with things like this.  Normally I’d contact a guardian.”

My heart skipped a beat at that.  No.

“But you said last night you had a family thing to do.  I can connect dots.”

I nodded.

“I made some phone calls,” he said.

He stepped out of the doorway.

Mrs. Yamada.  Shorter than me, hair tied back in a simple ponytail, wearing a skirt, white top, and jacket, with a simple, short string of pearls at her collarbone.

“Oh wow,” she said.  “Look at you.”

I didn’t have words, so I just lifted my arms to either side and let them fall.

“Is this okay?” Gilpatrick asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  I swallowed.  “Yeah.  Just about perfect.”

“I’ll leave you to it,” he said.

Jessica blinked a few times, before fanning herself.  “I’m a little misty eyed.  Sorry.”

I was a little misty eyed myself.

“Can I give you a hug?” she asked.  When I nodded, she did so.  I hugged her back.

“You put me down as your emergency contact?” she asked.

“Sorry,” I said.  “I- I honestly forgot I did that.  It was more than a year ago.”

I’d had to name someone, and I hadn’t named my parents because-

Because.

“It’s more than alright,” she said.  “Your boss said he was worried about you.”

I opened my mouth to reply, and then the waterworks started instead.

Jessica slammed the back hatch of her car, most of the boxes settled inside.

“Do you want to walk?” she asked.  “Around the block, maybe?  Or we could step back inside.”

If I was going to start crying again.

Students were just now starting to appear, and I didn’t want to sit still.

“We can walk,” I said.

“It’s been amazing to hear your voice,” she said.  “I know you were often frustrated, trying to communicate with the means you had available.  I was frustrated too, but I wasn’t allowed to say that.”

“I could tell,” I said.

“You were a challenging patient, those first few months-”

I snorted.

“-but much like many teachers say they grow to care most about the class clowns and problem students, I came to hold you close to my heart.  I wanted so badly to give you answers and to hear you out without having to rely on text to speech and letters you wrote between appointments.  I wanted to dialogue, and it was so very hard to do that.”

“It was,” I said.

Why was it so much easier to talk about the things that I couldn’t normally even think about, like this?

“How did you find your way back from that?”

How did I become Victoria again, instead of the wretched thing in the hospital room, or in the home for invalids?

“My sister,” I said, my voice soft.

“Oh.  That’s not an easy thing,” she said.

“No,” I said, my voice even softer.

I’d already filled her in on the details of yesterday and the past few months.  She’d offered a listening ear.  I’d spent all night working out my next few steps, I knew what the situation was, I didn’t really need more angles to view it from.

This, though… if I was going to make the most of the time I had with her here, then I wanted to at least get a handle on this.

“We were all brought to the battlefield during Gold Morning.  There’s… that’s a hard topic to field.”

“There’s an unspoken agreement that the civilians don’t get to know,” she said.

“But you’re not really a civilian,” I said.

“No,” she said.  “I’ve heard reports.  Some from very close to the center of the action.  I know what happened.”

“Body, mind, and heart, you know how that’s a thing?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“I lost my body, two years before Gold Morning.  My heart was… twisted into something unrecognizable.”

“Yes.”

“And… Gold Morning hit.  And the-” I paused.  There were people on the street, walking toward the school gate and the various block buildings as we walked away from it all.  A tide we walked against.  I had to shut up until people were mostly out of earshot.  “And I was controlled in mind.  I didn’t have much, but I could make my decisions.  I could decide to use my power or not.  She took that away from me, for a brief time.”

“I’ve talked to a number of people who had a very hard time with that.”

“You know who she was?”

“I do.”

I nodded to myself.

“Yeah,” I said.  “My sister told me.”

Even if I was free to talk, the words still carried their ugly weight.  The words and associated mental pictures still dragged my mood down.

“She knew me or knew of me, or she knew my sister.  She decided in the end that she’d put my sister right next to me.  She didn’t do that for many people at all, as far as I can tell.”

“And your sister healed you?”

“Gave me a body again.  Um.  She made me seventeen again.  Walked back the clock, as if it… I don’t know.  So she didn’t take two years of my life from me in body, like she did in everything else.  I’m physically nineteen now, apparently.”

“You said body, mind and spirit.  She fixed one of the three.  Did she undo the effect on your emotions?”

I drew in a breath, sighed heavily.  I nodded.  “She actually- she turned off my emotions.  Suppressed them.  Then she asked me what I wanted.”

“What did you want?”

“I remember thinking, you know, it was really possible she wanted me to say that I wanted to go back to liking her.  And if she did think that, then it was unconscionable.  Divorced from all emotion, I thought it was unconscionable.”

“Okay.”

“And divorced from all emotion, I thought I’d be fair.  That I’d give her the benefit of a doubt.  That I’d assume that wasn’t what she meant or wanted.  I told her I wanted to remember.”

“To remember?”

“Those two years,” I said, my voice hollow.  I drew in another deep breath.

Further down the street, a nine or ten year old boy with straight black hair and brown skin looked at Jessica, his eyes widening, then he looked at me.  He raised his hand, extending it toward Jessica as they passed one another.

She gave him a high five, then pushed his head, sending him on his way, toward the school.

“They weren’t good years.”

“Rationally?  Divorced from emotion?  I knew.  I can’t forgive her.  Ever.  I can’t forget what she did, or she might do it again.  To someone else.  To me.  I told her to fix my feelings and leave my brain alone otherwise.”

“It’s a heavy weight to carry,” she said.

“Those two years are really damn heavy,” I said.  “Everything else is.  But I’ve been holding on to that moment.  I hate that I hold onto it, because she did it, but everything is tainted by her, so what can I do?”

“You hold onto it?  How?”

“Being emotionless, putting those feelings away.  My feelings and impulses got me into that whole mess in the first place.  I hurt an awful lot of awful people, you know.”

“We’ve talked about that.  You wrote letters outlining your thoughts and how you wanted to apologize to some of those affected.”

“My entire life leading up to that basketball game, I wanted so horribly badly to be a hero, you know?  It felt like I thought about it every ten minutes.  My parents were heroes, my cousin was, my aunt and uncle were, and everything revolved around it.  I wanted it all so badly it hurt, and I didn’t have it for years.  Then that basketball game, and I wanted to have something where I was the hero, where I got to stand out.  Because sometimes it felt like my parents didn’t see me.”

“That’s been a recurring idea.  You talked about their missed visits.”

“They came a lot,” I said.  “I know that.  My dad more than my mom.  But every missed visit was a horrible thing, and the little things mattered so much when I had nothing else.  Um.  And this basketball game, I know I’ve talked about this before.  But this one girl kicked my freaking ass.  In my face, knocking me over, intercepting every pass, blocking every shot.  She didn’t have any powers or anything, she was just… good.  Better.”

“A lot of things came into focus in that moment.”

“Every time she or one of her teammates beat me, I could see the look of disappointment on my parent’s faces.  In the other moments, they looked so bored.  And it was boring, you know.  No parent wants to go sit through amateurs doing badly at a high school sport.”

“Some do.”

“Anyway, she hit me hard, she said something about me being overrated, and it was the last straw.  Realizing I stood so far from family, that I didn’t want to be there, but I had no other choice, my sternum was hurting where she’d driven her elbow into me.  I got my powers.”

“Years of wanting, leading up to that.”

She’d caught the thread I’d wanted to lay out.  It helped.  “And then just under three years as Victoria-slash-Glory-Girl.  And then… hospital.”

“Which was undeniably horrible.”

“It felt like my life had ended.  No hope or help.  All I had to cling to were those memories of the three years I was Glory Girl.  I could look back, think about every fight, every encounter.  The ones I was proud of.  The ones I wasn’t.  I had so much regret, replaying events out in my head.  It started with me thinking about- that moment when it all went so wrong.  When she messed with my emotions, then going backward.”

Emotions caught me.  I made my expression a scowl, because I was worried what my face might do otherwise.

“I was such a stupid fucking kid,” I said.

“That’s allowed,” she said.

I shook my head.  “Not when you’re as strong as I am.”

“And you want to be emotionless?  I don’t know if that’s healthy.”

“Not emotionless.  But… smarter about it.  The idea I keep coming back to is I want to be a warrior monk.”

“A warrior monk?”

“Just- centered when it counts, I guess?”

“Why the warrior part?  Do you envision yourself fighting?”

“I don’t honestly know.  It never occurred to me.”

Jessica smiled.

“What’s next for Victoria Dallon?” she asked.

“You need to mock me, say Victoria Dallon, warrior monk,” I said.  “I deserve it.”

“I wouldn’t,” she said.  “If everyone in costume could remain centered while doing what they do, it would make a world of difference.  I think it’s good.  I’d think about that more as you take your next steps.”

“I know I want to move forward, because… I dunno.  I feel like I’m a shark that drowns if it stops moving, or a bird that drops out of the air like a stone if I’m not flying forward.  I know I need to get some of the basics of life squared away.  I’m okay for money for a couple of months, but I can’t stay on Crystal’s couch.”

“In my brief interactions with Crystal, I did like her,” Jessica said.

“She’s great.  But not great to live with long-term, I don’t think.  You’d never know it to look at her, she’s beautiful, she’s fashionable, and very well put together, but if you looked at her apartment…”

I trailed off, using my expression to convey a bit of the horror to Jessica.

“Ah,” Jessica said.  She smiled again.

“I don’t know what to do next.”

“Well, I’d think about how to apply the warrior monk role to your day to day life,” she said.  She pulled off her jacket.  The weather had warmed up enough.  “What it means to you, why it’s the first thing or the recurring thing in your thought processes.”

“I just want to… do.”

“You said you regretted yesterday, but Jasper thanked you.  Would you rather have not done it?  Is it the ‘want’ in wanting to do things that’s problematic, or is it the ‘do’?”

I drew in a deep breath.  “That’s… a very complicated question, I think.”

“You don’t have to answer it right now,” she said.

“I think I can, though.  I think… I had to.  And as much as it was hard and cost me my job, I preferred it to the alternative.  I can’t not do things that help out.  I just want to do it in a good, centered way.”

“Could it be a mundane job?  Construction?  Desk work?  Would you want to do something like you were doing with the patrol?”

I thought about it.

I couldn’t see it.  Not long-term.

“What’s the first thing that comes to mind?” she asked.

“I think… fuck me, I think even now, I can’t quite see myself being anything but a hero.  There are good people I’ve gotten to know.  People I want to protect and help.  Like Gilpatrick, like Weld and Vista and my cousin and a couple of the teenagers I was working with in patrol block.  You.  I want good things for them.”

“Thank you,” she said.  “That means a lot to me.”

“I’ve been trying to convince myself there’s some other way, but… I can’t not do anything.”

“There’s worse things.  Especially if you can do it smart and centered.”

“I don’t want to be Glory Girl,” I said.  “Someone remarked yesterday that they’d thought she died and… good.  She can stay dead.”

“Sounds like you have an idea of what you’re doing next.”

“It’s the wrong climate for it,” I said.  “I just watched a team of heroes get eaten alive by the public.  One took a bullet.”

“Figure it out,” she said.

I frowned.

“Again, there’s no rush,” she said.

“I can’t sit still,” I said.  “There’s a bit of a rush.”

“Touch base with me,” she said.  “We’ll go out for coffee, catch up.  I can offer unofficial, more-friend-than-therapist advice.  I think you’ll figure it out, and I can give you a few nudges here and there.”

That gave me pause.

“You’re not a therapist anymore?” I asked.

“Just the opposite,” she said.  “I’m very much a therapist.  Ten hour days, six or seven days a week, and other peripheral obligations.  I’m afraid I’m not in a position to take you on as a patient again, Victoria, as much as I would dearly like to.”

That hurt.  I didn’t want to say it, but it did hurt.

“I just joined the Wardens as a staff psychologist for their junior members and some special cases, and I’m just not equipped, unfortunately.  If you want it, I could try finding a colleague who you could talk to.  Most are as busy as I am, so it might take a bit of time.”

I want you.

I want-

“Sorry to take up your time today, when you’re as busy as you are.”

“It’s more than alright, Victoria,” she said.  She was looking straight ahead as she talked, one hand on her jacket as she walked.  “With the hours I work, I lose objectivity.  It becomes the work, and I lose sight of the patients.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the wins.  Like I said, you were a patient close to my own heart, and I thought you were one of the ones we lost.  Seeing you, hearing you?  It means the world to me.  It gives me a measure of hope.”

I nodded.

She looked over at me.  “I’ll reach out to a colleague.  I’ll see what I can do, if that’s okay.  Give you some reassurance there.”

“I-” I started.

“Yes?”

“It’s okay, but… if you wanted to reassure me-” I said.

It felt a little less like I could talk about certain topics with her, now.

“If it’s within my power, I’ll try anything,” she said.

“My sister,” I said, my voice soft.  “Send someone her way.”

Mrs. Yamada raised one eyebrow.

I knew what she was thinking.  She wondered if it was selflessness, or if I was a surprisingly good person.  I wasn’t.

“She’s the scariest damn person in the world, Jessica,” I said.  “And I don’t think that’s bias.  There’s a chance she’s going to do something bad, and she’s so damn powerful, that when and if it happens, it’s going to be so much worse than what happened to me, and it’s going to affect an awful lot more people.”

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Daybreak – 1.7

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The sun was just starting to set when the police were wrapping up with us.  They’d had to arrive first, of course, the ones who had been on the scene were compromised, victims as much as anything.

Nobody Kingdom Come had affected remembered much of anything.  It was as though they’d fallen asleep – they remembered losing awareness, some reported briefly coming to in the middle of things as the building had shook or they had been knocked around, and they hadn’t really processed or understood much of those glimmers.

A few had reported me as a recurring image.

There was some concern that Kingdom Come might have absconded with someone or that not everyone that had been in the crowd was accounted for, but from what I could tell, it had been an all or nothing thing.  People remembered coming to, many of them dangerously close to a superhero fight in progress, but the recollections were hazy.

I sat on the sidewalk near the front door of the community center, aware that it was very late in the day.  The sky was orange-yellow now, with darkness on the eastern horizon.  The thickest parts of the clouds overhead were cast in shadow, zig-zags of darkness through the amber.

The heat of the day was subsiding, helped by the cloud cover.  Dust and sweat had left my arms mottled with grime and tracks where sweat had wiped it away.  I’d washed my hands after helping Fume Hood, and I’d realized I hadn’t gotten all of Tempera’s paint and the blood on the backs of my hands.  I was painfully conscious of the sweat, grime and blood, yet I couldn’t bring myself to go wash up because that would require attention to it.

Paradoxical, I was well aware.

I turned my attention back to the kids.  Making sure they were okay.  At some point where I had been lost in thought, Gilpatrick had showed up.  I watched until he glanced my way.  He raised a hand, and I raised mine.  Then he turned his attention back to the teenagers.  As it should be.

I’d figured I would be working late.  I’d just thought it would be paperwork and talking to the students.  I’d really liked that part.  It was fascinating stuff when it wasn’t so close to home.

I could relax some, seeing Gilpatrick.  Not because it meant great things, but because it meant I didn’t have to think about finding Gil after, getting the details, putting off hearing the news or delivering the essential details.

I put my hands behind me where I wouldn’t see the blood or the places where the paint had settled into the cracks, oil-black, and I leaned back, eyes closed, trying to focus on the voices and the sounds, on the breezy wind and the ambient warmth.

“I’m sorry,” Gilpatrick said.  He’d approached me.

I kept my eyes closed.  I said, “Are the students okay?  The others?”

“They’re fine.  Some have parents here, I’ve got a bus coming for the others.  Psychologically, emotionally, I don’t know.  It was scary and it was hard to know what was happening.  The staff of the community center are obviously upset about the building, but that’s not on us.”

I opened my eyes.

Gilpatrick wasn’t wearing his vest.  A sleeveless undershirt tucked into black pants, a sweatshirt slung over one shoulder.  Bald, bushy eyebrows, hairy, hairy arms.

“Jasper filled me in on most of it,” he said.  “He’s reliable when it counts, it seems.”

“He’s a good guy,” I agreed.  “There’s a reason I wanted him with me.”

“I get it now, I think.”

“If you want this project to be a positive thing, at least at our school, you’ll want more Jaspers.  You wanted a verdict on the kids you sent with me?  I wouldn’t put them in leadership roles.  Not if there are going to be capes on scene.  What I heard and saw wasn’t very positive, and if there were any who disagreed, they didn’t feel confident enough to say it out loud.”

Gilpatrick ran his hand over the skin of his head, not giving me a response.

My arms were tired from propping myself up.  I leaned forward instead.

“Alright.  Thanks.  Not good to hear, but I appreciate it,” he said.  “I’ll take that under serious advisement.”

“They follow orders, at least.”

“I was really hoping to have more hands to help out,” he said.  “Really unfortunate.”

Some parents were joining students who were talking to the police.  I watched them.  Parent and child side by side, parents concerned as they listened, getting the details at the same time the officers were.

“I am sorry this happened,” Gilpatrick said.  “I meant it when I said it.  I mean it now.”

“I gave my point-by-point retelling of events to the police,” I said.  I stared at my hands.  “Including the part where I was hit by a few emotion-affecting attacks.  It’ll take some of the responsibility off your shoulders, if anyone asks.”

“It’s not that important,” he said.  “Well, it’s important, obviously, thank you, but I don’t want to dwell on that.  If people make an issue out of it, I’ll handle it.  I knew what I was doing when I brought you on board.  That’s not what I want to talk to you about.”

“I stuck around,” I said.  “To be something like a guardian for the students who were acting as witnesses, making sure they weren’t pressed too hard or made uncomfortable.  I stopped when I realized being there was making some things harder, because they didn’t like being around me, or that it looked like I was trying to protect myself by inserting myself into things and influencing their testimony.”

“Yeah,” Gilpatrick said.

“I backed off, Jasper and Landon took my cues, I think.”

“That’s good.”

I thought that’d be the time he followed the thread of the conversation and got around to saying what he needed to say.  He didn’t.

There was a break in the convo.  More cars were pulling into spaces along either side of the ‘square’ of grass, sidewalk, and fountain in front of the community center.  Some more parents.

“Did they mention Fume Hood?” I asked.

“Only that she was taken to the hospital and all signs were good when she left.  Tempera was staying close to her.  Something to do with paint?”

No news then.  “Tempera stopped the worst of the blood loss.  She poured paint in the wound, shaped it, and solidified it.  We might have lost Fume Hood in another way, though.  We might not keep her as a hero after this.”

“Did she say that?”

“There was a brief twilight between when the pain meds kicked in and when the meds knocked her out,” I said.  I moved my fingers, felt how unlike skin the backs of my hands felt, stiff with the stuff I hadn’t managed to wash off.  I’d rushed, because I’d wanted to get back to keeping an eye on the students from the patrol group.

“Are you going to finish that thought?” Gilpatrick asked, his voice soft.

I closed my eyes.  “Um.  We chatted.  She said she was staying with a family member already, so she’d have someone to look after her if she needed it.”

Thinking about family pulled my thoughts in a few different directions.  I could have tried picking a safer one, but I wasn’t sure I was that on the ball, being as tired and discouraged as I was.

I went on, “Her brother cut ties with her when she went villain.  She was living in that area where all the building foundations were screwed up because they were rushed, and everyone had to leave the homes they’d just settled in, reached out to her brother, and she’s been staying with him, reconnecting.  It might give me some hope for her, having that positive influence, but she sounded pretty cynical about it all when we had the conversation right after meeting, before everything happened.”

“Cynicism is understandable, to a degree.  That’s where she’s at.  Where are you at, Victoria?”

“Similar to Fume Hood, really.  I wasn’t evicted because of rushed apartment construction, but I’ve been staying with my dad because it means we each pay half the rent, and I want to keep my options open with things being what they are.”

“I wasn’t talking about living accommodations,” Gilpatrick said.  “Your head, your heart.  Are there any lingering effects from the emotion effect?”

“For the last two years,” I whispered.

“Sorry?  I didn’t catch that,” he said.

“It’s gone.  It really sucked while it was in effect, but it’s gone.  Right now I’m in that heavyhearted, almost-blameless-but-guilty ‘morning after’ phase, where I’m reflecting on everything I did when I was under the influence,” I said.

“I know that well enough.  I’ve been hit a few times by those, back when I was a squaddie and squad leader.  And by you, once.”

“You asked me to,” I pointed out, looking up at Gilpatrick, “and this was a bad one.  Snag?  I read about a thing online, keeping tabs on who was out there.  I’m pretty sure he’s part of a new multitrigger cluster.  It might have been amplified by the tinkering, if it wasn’t, then something else was in play.  That didn’t hit me like it was a minor or secondary power.”

“Sorry,” he said.

He wasn’t a bad guy.  I wanted to be angry but I couldn’t justify it.

“I’m sorry it happened like this,” he said.  “It wasn’t supposed to be anything like this.  I thought it’d get a bit nasty with the civilian protesters but I didn’t think it’d be anything like this.  Not the capes, not the gunshot at the end.”

I hadn’t either.

“Jasper said you guessed why I sent those students with you.”

“Yeah,” I said.  I climbed to my feet.

“I’m especially sorry for that,” he said.  “If it was up to me, I wouldn’t have ever tested you like that.  It wasn’t wholly up to me.”

“Who?” I asked.

“Everyone,” he said.  “No-one.  It’s complicated.  Wardens and the hero teams are being pressured to be mindful of who is out there, touching base, and they reached out to some of the other patrol groups with concerns.  They wanted to coordinate, so teenagers wouldn’t be out interviewing or exposing themselves to anyone dangerous.  School got to talking, and they got into CYA mode.”

“Cover your ass,” I said.

“They wanted to be able to say that they’d made a reasonable effort to check that the parahumans the students were exposed to were reasonable and safe, in case anything happened down the line.  I could have kept quiet about you, but…”

He trailed off.

“I wouldn’t have asked you to,” I said.

“…I didn’t get the impression you wanted me to, either.  You weren’t being secretive.  I don’t want to operate that way, either.”

“No.  I wouldn’t want you to,” I said.

“You know I can’t keep you on the staff,” he said.

I nodded.

There it was.

Fuck.

I hadn’t been super attached to the job, but… fuck.

“Using power on kids, the contention about possible conflict of interest, undue influence, danger.  I think things will stay at that, I don’t think it’ll follow you.”

I nodded.

“There’s a dim chance of a student claiming emotional distress because of your aura and pursuing things in court, I’ve already talked to one officer to get them on board and we’ll get something in writing.  I’ll vouch for you and for the events as Jasper described them, one hundred percent, if you end up needing someone to stand for you.  None of this was you.”

“Courts are a million years behind as it stands, and getting further behind every day we don’t have an established system of government,” I said.  “By the time things get that far it’ll be forgotten.”

“That is a factor,” Gilpatrick said.

I wasn’t worried about that side of things.  I was hurt, but I wasn’t worried.

“Do you need a hand getting things cleared out of the office?” he asked.

I shook my head.  I didn’t want to think about that.

“Can-” I started.  I cleared my throat.  “Can I get back to you on that?  I’ve- I guess I’ve got a family thing I should go to.”

“For sure,” he said.  “Anytime outside of usual school or work hours.”

I might have flinched in a way that he saw, hearing that.  I knew why he’d said it, but it still sucked to hear.

I started to walk away.

“Victoria,” he said.

“Yeah?”

“Any favor you need, reference letter, intel, if you need Jasper or some other trustworthy faces in uniform to lend a hand with something…”

“Thank you,” I said, my voice lighter and more cheerful than I felt.  “I’ll be in touch.”

I took off.

There was something very human about the desire to gather around a fire.  Power rationing meant every household had only a certain amount, more if there were more people in the house.  Conversely, there was a lot of cheap firewood.  Streetlights flickered on, and many house lights went off.  In back yards there were three other families on the city block that were gathering around fire pits.  Two of the families were playing different kinds of music, but it wasn’t too discordant.  There were trees in each yard, front and back, and that helped to dampen the sound.

The entire street smelled like burning charcoal, and the light from the streetlights was just a little bit hazy with the ambient smoke.

It was a nice neighborhood, even if it had what I felt was the artificial quality.  Houses with character, sufficiently different from one another in style and architecture, but still so new that they looked more like movie sets than lived-in places.  Time and clutter would wear at those crisp edges.  Paint and attention would turn fences of new wood with the occasional edge still frayed from the saw’s touch into something more personal.

This was the flip side to the hostility and the street-wide gap between protester and community center.  Boyfriend and girlfriend sat on an outdoor love seat together, arms around each other, bathed in fire’s warmth.  Friends sat and talked, beers in hand.  Kids in another yard played with their dog.

With the path I’d taken, I reached the backyard first.  The driveway was wider than it was long, crushed gravel, with room for multiple vehicles, and a fence stretched from the house at one corner to the garage at the other.  My mom had invited neighbors, so it was a thing, even if things had reached a more relaxed point.

My dad sat on one of the lawn chairs, fire pit in front of him with the fire having burned down to just glowing coals.  The barbecue was to his right, lid open, tiny bits of meat clinging to the grill.

He was forty-two but looked younger.  The fact that he was as fit as he was played into it- only the white in his beard stubble really gave it away.  His hair, too, was short.  He was the only one who hadn’t put a sweatshirt or jacket on, owing to the proximity of the two heat sources- he was wearing a t-shirt that was form-fitting in a way that showed off his muscles.  Pretty darn gross, given he was a dad,  my dad, and he was supposed to dress his age.  I would have insisted on clothes that hid any sign of muscle at all, really, had I been given a say.

He looked relaxed though.  As relaxed as I’d seen him in a while, really, and I’d seen him passed out on the couch back at the apartment.

I was aware that my mom had seated herself so that two neighbors sat between her and my dad.  Where my dad had dressed in a t-shirt and sports pants for the occasion, she had dressed up.  Just a bit of lipstick, her hair short and styled, a ruffly sort of white blouse and pencil skirt.  She’d kicked off her shoes earlier in the evening, leaving them beneath her chair.

I was aware of the distinction in how they’d dressed, too.  In another time, before everything, there would have been more… connection, I supposed.  Each influencing the other, until they matched more.

She was smiling.  She folded one knee over the other, then a moment later was undoing the position, both feet on the porch again as she leaned forward, laughing at something someone had said.

I smiled.

The lights were on inside the house, too.  The door was open, and people were scattered through the space between the stairs down to the porch, the back hallway, and the kitchen on the other side of the hallway.  The room to the left of the hallway was dark.  The neighbors kids, I presumed, teens to twenty-somethings.  I saw a glimpse of Crystal stepping into the unlit room, tried to catch her eye with a raised hand as she looked toward the window, and failed.

I did get the attention of someone sitting next to my mom, though.  She touched my mom’s arm and pointed.

I remained where I was, arms folded on the top of the wooden-slat fence, chin on my hands, while my mom approached.

“You’re hurt,” she said, touching my arm, where the road rash was.

“Scuffed up.”

“Did you get the other guy?” she asked.  She reached out and touched my hair, fixing it by moving strands to one side.

“No,” I said.  “But there were five of them.”

“Do you want to talk about it?  I’m interested.”

“Not really,” I said.  “Today-”

My breath caught.

“-Kind of not a good day,” I said.

I saw her expression change, even though the light source was behind her.

“What?” I asked.  “Don’t tell me you didn’t save me the dessert you promised.  Looking forward to that is pretty much the only thing keeping me going right now.”

She smiled, touching my cheek, before kissing me on the forehead.  “I saved you dessert with extras to take home, in case you want pie or pastries for breakfast tomorrow.”

“You’ve done your duty then,” I said, with mock seriousness.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve failed a mission,” she said, in the same tone.  She put her hand on the side of my head.  “You missed Uncle Mike, I’m afraid.”

“Oh shoot,” I said.  “I barely remember him.  How is he?”

“He’s Uncle Mike.  He brought his wife and your cousins, and I haven’t child-proofed at all.  It was… something, in the brief time he was here.  A whirlwind of chaos and emotion, and then he was gone.”

“Ah, too bad,” I said.

In the background, my dad was trying to get my attention.  He’d sat up, and didn’t look relaxed anymore.  He offered me a small smile.  I acknowledged him by lifting one hand up from where it sat on my elbow, in a mini-wave.

“Thank you for coming,” my mom said.  “I know the family stuff is hard, after everything, but it means so much to me.  To everyone.”

“I’m here for the desserts,” I said.  I amended it to, “…and a bit for family.”

My mom lightly rapped me on the side of the head before stepping away.  “Come on in, then.  Meet people, I’ll get your pie.”

As she stepped over to the gate by the garage to unlock it, Crystal stepped out into the backyard, joined by a few others in our age group.  She glanced in my direction, saw me, and froze like a deer in the headlights.

Her arms folded, defensive, like something was wrong.

She mouthed words at me, and I couldn’t see her face well enough at a distance to know what the words were, but I could draw conclusions from context.

My dad’s posture, still sitting upright now, both feet planted on the ground.

My mom’s earlier change in expression.  Even the wording-

I backed away from the fence a few steps.  My mom froze, the gate only slightly open.

“You invited her,” I said.  I wasn’t talking about Crystal.

In reaction to that, my mother didn’t look confused, she didn’t negate.  She looked toward the house, to see what I’d seen that had clued me in.

Whirlwind of fucking chaos and emotion indeed.

“You invited her,” I said, again.  More emotional this time.  “She’s in the house?”

My mother rallied, composing herself.  Now she looked confused.  “I told you I invited everyone.”

“She’s actually in the house,” I said.

I backed away again, and my mother threw the gate open, taking several steps on the driveway, stepping on crushed gravel with bare feet.

I raised my hand, indicating for her to stop.  She continued forward.

I threw my aura out, one push.

My mother stopped.  Crystal stopped in her tracks, already at the fence.  People rose from their seats.

“I thought you knew,” she said.  “I very clearly said everyone.  It was supposed to be a family reunion with everyone getting together again for the first time in… in a really long time.”

“You’re a lawyer,” I said.  “You’re too clever with wording to be that fucking stupid.”

“Please,” she said, with a tone like she was the one who needed to exercise patience and restraint here.  “Let’s keep things civil.”

I couldn’t even look at her.  I trembled as my eyes dropped to the ground.

“I’ve made mistakes, as your sister has,” my mother said.  “She’s been doing so well.  I want to make up for past wrongs and be a mother to both of you, like I should have been from the beginning.”

I looked up, staring at her.

The lipstick, the composed outfit, the words, the everything about this all seemed so false now, so forced.  I didn’t even recognize her.

“You’re kind of fucking it up,” I said, in the kind of whisper that was the only tone I could manage that wasn’t outright screaming at her.  My hands were clenched at their sides.

“That’s not fair.”

“You’re kind of really fucking it up,” I said, in the same strangled whisper.

“Victoria-”

“You’re fucking it up, mother,” I said.  “You’re fucking- you’re fucking- did dad play along with this?”

“I told him everyone was coming.  You, your sister, Crystal, Uncle Mike.  He was surprised, but… pleasantly surprised.”

Dad too, then.  There was that heart-wrenched-out feeling again.  I screwed my eyes shut, inadvertently squeezing out tears.  I was aware her neighbors were seeing.

“Don’t- don’t get emotional, Victoria,” my mom said.  “Please, I didn’t do this to hurt you.  The furthest thing from it.”

“You fucked that up too,” I whispered.

“Stop saying that.  Please,” my mother said.  “It’s the age of second chances, she’s worked very hard to get to this point.  I’ve talked to people who worked with her and she’s getting back into her routine in a good way.  I want all of us to have a second shot at this, and do it right this time.”

I shook my head.

“Leaving things as unresolved as they are is doing more harm than good.  To both you and to her.”

“So you thought you’d invite me to dinner and surprise me with her, and you thought there was nothing I could say or do because people are here?”

“You’re putting thoughts and conspiracy in my head,” she said.  “I want you to be sisters again.  I want us to be a family again.”

“That’s not for you to decide,” I said.  “Holy shit.  Holy shit.  Holy shit.”

“Please, don’t wind yourself up.  You’re getting out of breath.  Let’s communicate.  Please.”

I was getting out of breath.  I gulped in a breath of air.  “You’re aware I can’t set foot in that house again, right?  I’ll see her looming in the shadows, potentially another surprise invite.”

“I want you to find reconciliation, so you wouldn’t feel upset even if she did appear by surprise.”

“I can’t accept any invites from you,” I said.  My face started to contort, and I forced it back into something more normal before I lost the ability to see my mother or focus on her altogether.  “I can’t grab dessert from you or do anything with you again because she might be there, surprise.  I can’t trust you.  How can I trust you again?”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.  I did not realize that was where things stood.  You’ve been doing so well, and she’s been doing well.”

“How-” I started.  I gulped in another breath of air.  My voice was a whisper again when I managed to speak again.  “How do you not realize when you saw me at the hospital?  How do you even think rec- how do you think this is ever possible?  How does-”

I closed my eyes.  More tears.

“How does Dad?  How could you see me then, how could you- how- how-”

My chest hurt.

“Crystal-” I said, I looked toward the house.

Crystal was still on the porch.  Standing guard by the back door, red shield up.  She watched me talking with my mom over one shoulder.

“I told Crystal the same thing I told your father.  She was skeptical but she agreed it was for the best.”

I didn’t trust my mom’s version of events on that.  Crystal at least had my back in this moment.

I tried to find words, and I didn’t have the oxygen.

“Catch your breath.  We can talk this out.”

I worked at it, swallowing air.

“I’ll wait,” she said.

The sound of her voice made it harder, not easier.

When I spoke, my voice was very small.  It gained more strength as I went.

“How can you have not been there, missed visits, or come to the visit and spend more time talking to doctors than to me because it was hard to be around me?  How can you have come to see me then, and have had to avert your eyes mid-conversation with me, and found that hard, and not realize that I had to live it for two years, and had that be a million times harder for me?”

“I know it was hard, honey.  I get it, I really do.  But you can’t dwell in the past.  It’s not good for you.  You can’t carry that.”

“You say that, when you still sleep with the lights on,” I said.

It was her turn to not have words.

“That’s different,” she said, finally.  She didn’t say how it was different.

I stared at her.

“I want all of us to conquer our demons,” she said.  “I think you want that too.”

I continued to stare.

Finally, I said, “I want that too.”

“We can talk this out.  We can find things we all want,” she said.  “We can make inroads on this.”

She looked nearly as upset as I felt, even as composed as she was.

But in the end, and I’d known this from very early on, seeing her with- with her, she wasn’t a whole and complete person.  She tried, she put on a good face, but my mother had been broken long, long ago, and with the way she’d put herself together, she retained only sufficient compassion, understanding, and empathy for a very small number of people.  For one daughter, at most.

Second chances.  Second go-around, and I wasn’t that daughter, this time.

“In the interest of putting my demons to rest,” I said.  “I’m going to keep my distance.  Don’t call, because I can’t trust a thing you say.  I’ll figure out what I’ll do about Dad later.”

“Don’t,” she said.  “Nothing gets better if you close off communication.”

There were things I wanted to say to that.

It wasn’t worth it.

I turned to go.

I heard the gravel under her feet as she gave chase, and I pushed out with my aura, hard.

“Do not use your power on me, Victoria Dallon.  That has never been okay, and it doesn’t work anyway.”

I drew in a deep breath.  There were things I wanted to say to that, too.

I settled for, “Let me go.  If you follow me, I’m liable to hit you with something harder than my aura.  I’m pretty sure that would work.”

It might have been a good line, if I hadn’t been choking back emotion as I said it.

I walked away.  I didn’t trust myself to fly when I couldn’t see straight.  Having a panic attack in the air made for an embarrassing moment.

People stood in rows at the fences that bounded their yards, staring and watching.  I wiped away my tears once, then resolved not to shed more, not where people could see.  I set my jaw.

In the background, I could hear my father’s raised voice.

Breathe.  Center yourself.  Move forward.  Plan.

I thought about what I’d need to do next.  I couldn’t go back to the apartment I shared with my dad.

For the time being, I only walked, out in the general direction of the water.  Streetlights lit up in advance of imminent cars and as I stepped onto the streets, turning off otherwise.  Here and there they would turn on for wildlife, illuminating a lost deer or raccoon mid-scurry down the road.  We’d set ourselves up so abruptly that the animals were still confused.

It was getting cooler.  I wore my skirt, my clothes from earlier.  My forcefield shielded against the wind, which kept it from lowering the temperature even further, but it didn’t do a lot to shield me from the ambient heat or lack thereof.

I tensed as I heard running footsteps behind me.  I stopped in my tracks.

Not Crystal.  She would have flown, and she would have set down well in front of me.  She wouldn’t have chased, maybe.

Her, then.

I didn’t want to look.  I didn’t want to speak to her.

I pushed out with my aura, instead.

Another footstep, closer.

Our mother’s daughter.

I threw my arm back and to the side, a backhand swipe.  I tore through lawn, through slabs of sidewalk, and the edge of the road.  Dirt flew across the street alongside clumps of grass and chunks of sidewalk.

A long pause, and then I heard the footsteps again, running.  This time the other way.

Gilpatrick jumped as I appeared in the doorway of his office, nearly knocking over a paper container of noodles in red sauce that rested on a stack of paper.  Paperwork I would have been helping him with, had the day gone differently.

“Victoria?  What’s wrong?” he asked.

So it was that obvious something was wrong.

“I need to call in a favor,” I said.

Okay, hearing my voice, I could get why he’d known.  I sounded like another person entirely.

“If it’s okay,” I said.

“Of course it’s okay,” he said.  “What’s wrong?  Are you cold?  The temperature dropped steeply tonight.  What can I get you?  Sit.”

He stood, circling around his desk.  I backed away a little as he did, which was his cue to stop.

I wasn’t sure how to respond, how to ask.

“By the way,” he said.  “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no need to count.  I consider you a friend, and I feel like a piece of shit for setting you up to fail like that.”

“It’s not that,” I said.  “I just need a place to stay tonight.  While I figure some things out.  I’ll be gone before the students arrive first thing.”

I noted the hesitation before he responded.

“Sure,” he said.

“You paused.”

“Only because it’s not really a great place for staying overnight.  You could come to my apartment, but that’s-”

“I kind of want space to think,” I said.  “Offer’s appreciated.”

“There’s an issue with power rations and temperature is supposed to drop a few more degrees, and this place isn’t insulated well.  It was a bitch last winter.”

“I remember,” I said.

“Of course,” Gilpatrick said.

He kept giving me very deeply concerned looks.  Almost pity.

I really hated those.  I’d had a lifetime’s fill and then some.

“Okay,” he said.  “I’ve got a space heater right by my desk here.  You’ll want to be careful if you’re leaving it running for a while, fire hazard.”

“I’ll be careful,” I said.

“There are blankets we stowed in the locker rooms that you can use if you want to sleep.  You could get something serviceable if you gather a bunch.  I laundered them not too long ago, too.”

“I know where to find them.”

“There are candles too, in case the power runs out.  But again, fire hazard.”

“It’s okay,” I said.  “I’ll be careful.”

“Okay,” he said.  “You sure you don’t want company?  We can talk it out, if you haven’t eaten I can go grab something, or…”

I was already shaking my head.

“Sure,” he said.  “I was needing an excuse to go home, this will do.  Unless maybe I should stay around?  You could settle in upstairs, and I’ll be all the way down here, you can have your space to think and you can still have me to talk to in case you decide you need it.”

“No,” I said.  “Don’t let me keep you.  Go home.  You’ll have angry parents to talk to first thing tomorrow, once they’ve figured out what happened and had time to get angry.”

He frowned.  “Yeah.”

“Please,” I said.  “I know where everything is.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “You sure you’re okay?  You’re not going to…”

He trailed off.

“If I was going to do anything, I’d take someone out with me.”

He scrutinized me.

“I’m worried here, for the record,” he said.

“I’ll manage,” I said.  “I’ve managed this far.”

“You have my number,” he said.

“Yeah.”

“You call if you need anything.”

“Yeah.”

“And you… be here in the morning when I show up.  Which will be well before the kids do.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Okay,” he said.

He gathered up his paper container, a stack of his papers.  He was trying to pick up the remainder when I approached, picking it up myself.

Silent, I walked him to his car, handing over the papers when it was time.  I walked inside and locked the door behind me.  The place was big and it was dark, with the open gymnasium space unlit.

I carted the space heater upstairs, and then I got the blankets.  I got the candles and the matches, and then I found the file boxes, collapsed and gathered in piles.

I situated myself in my office, which wasn’t technically my office anymore, and I set to making the boxes, pulling my things off the shelves, and getting them stowed away.

The space heater hummed and the computer monitor clicked, as I periodically checked something or followed up on something I’d seen on a file.

I made a stack of the things I wanted to read, the files that intrigued or that I’d forgotten about, the magazines I liked.  I was a third of the way through my shelves, twelve boxes filled, when I finally settled down in my chair, pulling blankets over me, and started to read.

I got about two pages read before deciding I didn’t have it in me to read more.

I didn’t have it in me to sit still, when my anxieties were churning.

I stood, dropping blankets on the floor, and walked over to the window.  With the cold, the space heater, and the imperfect seal, moisture and fog had collected on it.

I reached out toward the window, a foot away from touching it.  I turned on my forcefield.

A pause.

Then a handprint on the window, in the condensation.  Then another.

A circular smudge that streaked, a naked breast pressed against the glass, moving.

Then the mark that couldn’t be anything but one half of a face, beneath the circular smudge.

They moved, and I wasn’t asking them to move.  The window rattled a bit as it was pushed against. The prints smudged.

A fingernail dragged against the glass, and produced a high pitched squeal, almost ear-splitting.

I dropped the forcefield.  I sank back into my seat, and it protested the landing.

Not a second trigger.  I was well aware of that.  When I’d first had my forcefield, it hadn’t protected my costume.  I had two theories as to why.

The first theory was that I’d grown, and the boundaries that the forcefield used to define ‘me’ had changed.  I’d breathe out, breathe in, gain a pound here, lose a pound there, and it would adjust for the maximum bounds.  It didn’t explain how my skirt was often protected, but I’d mused on that too, that my legs moved, my hair had been long at one point, I’d been shorter…

I’d been that, the forcefield had adjusted, and that was the new upper bound of what I was, forever with me.

It felt thin, as theories went.

The second theory was that it was the Manton effect, that broad-as-bells term for the built in protections and limitations of the power.  The theory was that the built-in protections of the power only protected what I saw as a part of me, and it had taken some time before the costume was that much a part of my identity.

That that was me, now, as much as the costume I wore.

I couldn’t be that.  I couldn’t sit still and be crushed under the weight of that thing.

I needed to do something, and taking books off the shelves felt like it was moving backward, not forward.

I spun around in my seat, and I loaded up the webpage.  Something to do.  Methodically filling out details on the group I’d seen, researching, filling myself in, and letting others know what they were up against.

Something constructive to keep me occupied until the power ran out, or until I was so tired I had no choice but to sleep.

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Daybreak – 1.6

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Snag’s power hurt, and it hurt in a way that had nothing to do with shedding blood or breaking bones.  Emotion.  My body still reacted, my heart rate picking up, breathing choked, adrenaline churning, hormones shifting.  My thoughts were scattered, thrusting me into a state where I could either only reel or I could grope for a position in familiar ground.

I didn’t want familiar.

Reeling meant trying not to think, letting it wash over me and through me, and not letting my thoughts go where the feelings pointed.  It meant I still had a metal gauntlet on my face and a metal arm pulled against my throat, and I was handling the situation with instinct.  Fight or flight.

Fight-

No.  I only barely stopped myself.  I’d kill him if I fought.

Fly then.

I pushed out with my aura, hard.  The flip side of my observation moments ago was true.  I was supposed to be resistant to hits to my emotions because I could deliver those hits myself.  Snag would be resistant to my aura for similar reasons.

He still let go, arms slipping back through the wall.  I had a moment where I thought about grabbing one of his wrists as it passed me, and I hesitated a moment too long.

I backed away, staggering until I bumped into the window next to the broken one.  My chest hurt as if I’d had my heart ripped out, and thoughts of Dean flickered through my head.  It was a continuation of my thoughts from earlier, one sample in a long, long series of thoughts I hadn’t let myself finish over the past few months and years that the surge of emotion was now filling in and pushing to the surface.

It was loss, if I had to put a name to it.  Nothing to do with the man on the roof.

It was me in the hospital, with Auntie Sarah and Crystal, not knowing what to say because Uncle Neil and Eric had just died.  Crystal had been hurt too, and the place had been so busy and crowded that we’d gathered in the small curtained enclosure where her hospital bed was.  My mom had been gone, trying to get news on my dad’s situation, and my sister-

It was going from that, the horrible feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, to hearing the curtain move.   I’d known it wasn’t my mom – she’d left only a minute ago.  It was as if someone had taken a want, desire, even a need equal to what I’d experienced in my childhood and early teens, when I’d wanted to be a hero, when I’d written letters to Santa and wished it during every birthday candle extinguishing and for every shooting star I’d seen from when I was four to when I was fourteen, if someone had gathered all of that feeling and compressed it into a single, concentrated moment of wanting it to be Dean coming into the enclosure to give me a hug.  And then not getting what I wanted.

The PRT staff member had come in to let me know Gallant had wanted to see me while there was still time.  Dean had.

Heart ripped out of my chest, just like that, just like this feeling here.  Losses, losses, fucking losses.  That ambiguous fucking word they’d used when they’d delivered the mass report.  Not deaths, not the ‘downs’ that were injured just enough they were out of the fight, just losses because they’d needed to be brief with the list of names so long.  Dean’s name had been on that list.

Where?  It had taken me three tries to get the word out.  They’d told me where, but I hadn’t traveled  a straight line to get there.  I’d zig-zagged, from doctor to nurse to PRT staff.  I’d asked people who had no cause or reason to know, tried describing her.  Asking, asking.  Pleading.

Where was she?  Had they seen her?  Where was the last place anyone saw her?  I need-

Where?  I shook my head, trying to rattle my brain and get centered in the present.  Where was Snag?  He’d disappeared into the next room.  I stepped forward, feeling unwieldy, and thrust my hand at the door, taking it off of the hinges, damaging the door’s frame.  Empty room.  Nowhere to be found.

My hand shook from the emotion, extended out in front of me.  I clenched it into a fist.

She’d been nowhere to be found too.

I’d arrived alone, no help to offer.  Too late to say anything or hear anything from him.  I’d choked on my words when it came to saying something to his parents.  There’d been this feeling like I couldn’t react the way I’d wanted and needed to, because his parents were there and they were somehow maintaining their composure.  Upset, yes, but they were wealthy and dignified enough they would do their crying in private.  They had weathered their losses years before and it had been the same then, according to Dean.  Now it was on Dean’s behalf.

What options did that leave me?  Break down into hysterical sobbing and act like I was hurting more than his own family was?  It might have been dismissed as the drama of a teenager and I hadn’t wanted that to be the final note on Dean and me, in their eyes, in the eyes of bystanders.

Like I imagined anyone in a relationship did, I’d wondered if we were in love, and then I’d known we were in love, and I’d grown close enough to him to wonder if he was a soulmate, dismissed the term just as easily as it had come up because it was silly and it didn’t matter either way, did it?  I’d received my answer on the question as I’d felt a part of me die during those long minutes of me trying and failing to say something to his family.

From that to home.  Southwest end of the city, our house mostly untouched by the attack.  To dad being ‘impaired’, mom’s word, and mom being business as usual, emphasis on business, because that was how she dealt.

To… a family member acting like they’d been replaced by a fucking pod person from another planet, gradually realizing that replacement had been a long time ago, and it was only now in context and crisis that I’d seen the alien-ness clearly, in the then-present and in retrospect.

Painful, in its own way, to have nobody to turn to.  The hurt had been there like a block of ice, melting too slowly when I hadn’t had any warmth to reach out for, not any less cold as the water pooled.  Not any less for the time that passed.  Just… more ambient.

This was like that.  Snag’s emotional effect was temporary.  The pain ebbed out, made my fingers feel numb and tingly, made it hard to breathe, and made me feel more physically weak and less coordinated than I should have been.

I stumbled a few steps, and reached out to touch the wall for support as I resumed moving, entering the room Snag had been in when he’d punched his arms through the wall.  It was reminiscent of a hotel room, but rustic enough it could have been a bed and breakfast.  Two small beds, a bedside table, a desk, and a flatscreen television sitting on a dresser.

He had a mover classification, I was pretty sure.  He’d used a trick to jump after the bus.  I made sure to look up, to avoid any ambush in case he jumped at me from the space between the top of the door and the ceiling.

The room was empty.

“Snag?” I asked.

No response.

My emotions were jumping around as I bucked the worst of the effect.  I wanted to have him to talk to, to pull me out of the mire of past feelings and into the present.  It made for a wild, disturbed kind of familiarity, almost a longing, as distorted emotions tried to find reconciliation with my head.  It ended up parsing him as if he was an old friend I was trying to reconnect with.  The same kind of weird emotional fixations that made Stockholm syndrome a thing.  Cult leaders and abusers used it.

When you had nothing, you groped for anything, even if it was the person who’d brought you to that point.

I’d reached out back then, too.  I’d turned to the Wards, because my mom had been the only person doing anything to keep New Wave in motion, the team had been falling apart, and I’d needed something.  Because the tests and briefings made me feel closer to Dean, reminded me of the study sessions.  Because the first time I saw her after the Endbringer attack, Vista had hugged me, because Dean, and it meant something to me that there was someone else properly upset for him.

“Guys,” I said, loud enough to be heard in the next room.

“Victoria?  Are you okay?” the voice was muffled.

I opened my mouth to respond.  My failure to form words reminded me of talking to Dean’s parents again.

I stopped myself, trying to focus and put myself in the present.  I took a deep breath that shook a little on the way in and the way out.

“Step back from the wall,” I said.

“Don’t,” was the immediate response.  “Don’t touch the bomb.”

“I’m not touching the bomb,” I said.  “Get away from the door and the wall to the right of the door.”

Snag had felt secure enough to stick his arms through the wall and not jar the bomb too badly.

I’d take his cue.

I put my arm through the wall, felt my forcefield go down.  I heard the exclamations.  Once I was sure I was good to move, I dragged it to one side, tearing a hole, felt one of the studs, moved it to the other side, and felt another.  About two feet of clearance between the studs.

I saw the faces on the other side.  Worried.  Angry.

The window shattered.  Snag reached through, seizing me by the throat.  He swung by one arm outside the building, dragging his other arm through the windows and slats, shattering them with explosive force, as he drove me toward the wall opposite the hole I’d just made.

I still had my forcefield up.  He hadn’t grabbed me that hard.  Flight and forcefield together helped to stop me in my tracks.  Floorboards shattered under me, and a window beside me broke as the force was transferred out.

Seizing his arm, I swung it like a bat, hurling him into the room.  I maintained my grip on him as I did it.

He touched the ground with one foot, then changed trajectory.  Dust fell from the ceiling as he landed on it, upside-down, his arm still extended my way.

I felt the machinery hum with activity, and tore the hand away, pushing it away from my throat and face.  The emotion effect grazed me, minor, but I hadn’t recovered from the last hit.

A small kind of loss, this.  The hit didn’t do what the first had, rounding out a memory.  It did buzz through other memories.  Ones that were more minor, that I’d never put to rest.

Being in the bus stop with my mom.  Weird, because it had once been a happy memory.  She’d been stitching up a cut on my forehead while I suppressed my forcefield.  The rain had been pouring, streaking the graffiti-covered walls of the bus stop.  A moment for just my mom and me.  She’d paused midway through the first aid to tell me that she was proud of me.  We’d got the guy we were after.  Then we had talked about how I’d have to change my hair for a short while to hide the stitches.  One of my first times officially out in costume.

It was a memory I kept going back to.  One I’d brought up several times in the hospital.  Bittersweet somehow, and it had become more bitter and less sweet over time.

It bothered me, brought me down just a bit, because it was something unresolved that had weighed on me, because I was already down a ways.

Stop,” I said.  I didn’t sound like myself.

His hands freed, he reached back to his boot with one gauntlet.

He threw a trio of fat shurikens at me.  My forcefield blocked them, saw them bounce off, one landing on the bed, two falling to the floor beside me.

I kicked the bed to bring the more solid bedframe to where I could grab it, and rammed the end of the bed at the corner where he was.  The shurikens detonated behind me, and on the bed in front of me.  Something that wasn’t fire or anything of the sort.  Something jumped between them, like electricity but not.  Where it touched me, my heart jumped, my mind stumbled, and feelings welled.

All of the doubts, fears, and hesitations inside me magnified, multiplied.  It paralyzed me for the moment.

This, at least, was something I’d been trying to get a handle on.  Here, my resistance applied.

He’d dropped down to the ground before the bed struck him, landing on both feet, arms spread out, hands planted on the ground.  He sprung back using his mover power, landing with one hand and one boot near the ceiling and another hand and boot beneath and on the window as he clung to the wall.

With the damage I’d done to the bed already by using it as a weapon, the swipe I used to get it out of my way destroyed it, only the mattress surviving.  I still had to pick my way past a slat.

He seemed surprised that I was already moving.  After pausing momentarily in shock, he used the moment of me navigating the wreckage of the bed to spring off to the right, down the hallway.

I passed through the doorway, pursuing, and my head turned against my will.  I heard glass break, saw Snag vault through the window he’d broken.

He was nimble, for a guy that big, but it seemed his mover power was responsible for most of it, his mechanical arms only helping with the legwork.  He was strong in many respects for what I was gathering was a multi-trigger.  Robust tinkerings, what felt like a full-fledged emotion affecting ability, a decent mover power.

My attention was more on the other two further down the hallway.  Blindside, I assumed, and a hint of the pink and grey coloring to the carpet that might have been Nursery.

Blindside’s bat tinked against a solid surface as they loitered there.

“Damn it, Snag,” Blindside muttered.  “Running off and leaving us with this?”

“He’s a character,” Nursery said.

“You’re a character,” Blindside said.

I could hear wet slurping sounds and I couldn’t see what was making them because Blindside was standing close to Nursery.

“Stop this,” I said.  “It doesn’t end anyplace good.”

I didn’t hear the response, because Snag reached up through the floorboards, seized my leg, and hauled me halfway through the floor.  I might have gone further, but I braced myself with flight and forcefield.

It left me kneeling with one leg, the other stuck straight out and down through the floor, my hands on the ground in front of me.

I heard Blindside’s running approach.

Bat in hand, probably.  I pushed out with my aura, hoping to give them a reason to think twice, buy myself a second.

Lurching to my feet, I brought Snag’s arm up above the ground.  I reached down to grab his hand, and then kicked nearer to the elbow.

The mechanical arm broke off.  With a bat of my own, I shifted my grip to the wrist rather than the now-limp hand, and held my weapon out, waving the broken end of the arm in Blindside’s general direction.

No blood.  I’d broken it off far enough down.  That was good.

I was breathing hard, my heart was racing, and old wounds felt fresh again, but I was finding some equilibrium again.  I-

The arm I was holding self-destructed, or the emotional battery within it did.  It stayed in one piece and it dashed me to pieces.

Again, the ripped-out heart feeling.  Again, the heavy sense of despair.  Deeper-seated now, because I hadn’t recovered entirely from either of the other two hits, the big one and the graze.

I saw double, more than double.

Months and years of seeing double.  One eye on the computer screen beside me, watching the time, looking for chat notifications.  One eye on the television.  One eye on the door.

Twenty past two.  Fifteen minutes late.  I counted the minutes.  Twenty one past two.

Twenty two past two.  The sound from the television was almost abrasive, made to be attention-getting.

I wanted to say something, protest, and I didn’t have a voice.  The computer was in arm’s reach, but it was a herculean effort to get a message out.

The door opening and the wrong person being on the other side.  Just like with Dean.  It wasn’t the staff member who came on weekdays at two-oh-five when I had visitors.  It was someone else, with a face I knew, a name I didn’t, and a gentle voice that was telling me that another patient was throwing a tantrum and the facility was on lockdown, they had contacted my visitors.

My visitors, my family, had decided that because they didn’t know how long the lockdown would be, they would come another day.  It was a long trip.

I reached for the laptop, started to type out my message for the text-to-speech speaker, using keys that were oversized and spaced out, with screwholes in the middle of each key for knobs and joysticks to be screwed in for when other patients had their turn.  It was supposed to double as physical therapy for me, coordinating myself, making the effort to reach and reposition.

The staff member had apologized, then turned to go notify other patients, closing the door behind her.  I’d tried to vocalize and of course I’d failed.  It was too long and byzantine a way from lung to mouth.

The message had been left unfinished on my screen, only a few words of what I’d wanted to say.  Even completed, the statement wouldn’t have meant anything to the staff member, and they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.  All I’d wanted to express was that my family had missed the last two visiting days as well.

My eye had found the clock on the laptop, noted the ‘F’.  Friday.

One eye on the clock, watching the minutes.  One eye on the television.  One eye on the F, counting the days to Monday.  One eye for the email icon on the computer screen, waiting for the apology email that would come.  When it did, I would check the time, comparing it to other apology emails, to try and figure out if they were getting further apart, less.  To see if they would stop entirely, a prelude to the visits ceasing altogether, because it was easier to forget me than to do otherwise.

Something inside of me had broken at that.  I’d known it would cost me privileges.  Maybe even visits.  I’d known it would hamper or hurt other patients and staff across the hospital.  Ones who didn’t deserve it.

But I had nothing else.

I’d pushed out with my aura, as hard as I could, as far as I could.

I pushed out with my aura, as hard as I could, as far as I could.

Things had been happening while I was elsewhere.  The building shook.  The villains were gone.

“Victoria!”

Jasper.

He was with others.  I barely recognized them.  The heroes in particular took me a second.  The kid who looked a little bit flamboyant, hair gelled back, wearing what was almost a crop top, a beast’s upper face with fangs pointing down at his chest, the lower jaw and fangs on the belt, with diagonal slashes worked into either side of both parts of the icon, painted on his abs in a faint color that might have been missed in dimmer light.  Tempera with more of the white paint on her, a bit of blood.  Fume Hood was using one hand to press a bandage to her shoulder.  Crystalclear was missing more than a few chunks from his head.  One of his eyes was exposed now, peering from between one chunk that grew from the bridge of his nose and one that grew from his temple, very blue.

They looked frightened of me.

That was what my aura did, really.  Another of those contextual emotional things, like the Stockholm syndrome.  Awe and admiration if they liked me, fear if they didn’t.

Just fear, here.

“S-stop.”

Not my voice this time.  Jasper’s.

I stopped.

I trembled as I made myself get back to my feet.  I wiped my cheeks where they were wet.  My hair was a mess from being thrown around.  I used numb fingers to pry at it, undoing the tie.

“Christ,” Mar said.

For the first time, Jasper didn’t shut him up.

The building shook.  Daylight reached parts of the indoors it wasn’t supposed to.  This would be their plan B.  Property damage indeed.  Lord of Loss was tearing off the roof.

“We need to go,” Tempera said.

I nodded.  I looked back for the hole I’d made.  I saw the teenagers in uniform in the trashed room.  They’d opened the hole the rest of the way and filed out.  Now they stood as far away from me as the room’s boundaries allowed.

They would have seen me throw the bed.

“Yeah,” I said.  My voice sounded hollow.

The partial uniform I wore, still without the vest that I’d left outside, dusty  blood-spotted, it didn’t fit me anymore.  I felt choked by it, because I knew I’d just lost my job.

I led the way down the stairs.  I stumbled in one place where a trace of Nursery’s effect made the stair a different shape, carpeted when it shouldn’t have been.  Flight helped keep me from sprawling.

“You’re Glory Girl,” Landon said.

I’m not, I thought.

“People said you died when the Slaughterhouse Nine attacked Brockton Bay back in twenty-eleven.”

“Landon,” Jasper said.  One word.

The people who had been gathered inside were evacuating.  Kingdom Come wasn’t making it easy, either.  As they reached a safe distance, near where people had been protesting, they were gathering in offset rows, so we would have to move diagonally or zig-zag through their ranks to get past them.  A fence.

It was hard to tell what the villains were doing when Blindside was part of the group and they were already distant, but I could turn my head and see a bit of them out of the corner of one eye.  They were backing up, moving away without actually fleeing the scene.  Nursery was creating her effect.

The kids I’d brought with me were backing away, putting themselves  a distance away from us.

I looked up for the branches overhead and I didn’t see them.

“Watch out for Lord of Loss,” Tempera said, following my line of sight.

Where was he?

“He’s up there,” Crystalclear said.  “He’s changing.  Centaur?”

“That’s his combat form,” I said.  I still didn’t sound like myself.  “One of them.  It’s mobile.”

“I’ll keep the others busy,” Longscratch said.  He swiped one of the weapons he held, the buckler with the three swords mounted on the back, and three deep furrows appeared on the ground, stretching out beneath the feet of the crowd.

“Wait,” Tempera said.

Longscratch flickered, appearing momentarily at two of the points on the far side of the crowd where the furrows ended, before finalizing at the third.

“Help him,” she told Crystalclear, touching his shoulder, leaving white fingerprints.  “Fume Hood, stay close.  They’re still targeting you.”

Tempera moved her hand, and deposited what looked like fifty gallons of the white paint with black edges on the street.   We spread out as it appeared.  She moved her fingers, and it spread out.

“Tempe!” Crystalclear shouted.  He extended one hand out to the side, pointing.

The paint moved, a tidal wave, leaving a streak where it went.

I chased it.

Lord of Loss leaped from the rooftop.  Ten feet tall, a centaur in vague shape only.  His lower body looked more rhino-like, though the legs were longer, and he was plated in those same straps that looked like twists of smoke frozen in place, or wispy bands of metal that peeled away from him at the end.  He carried a heavy shield on one side, cut in a way that let its bottom left edge rest against the shoulder of his foreleg when he held it tilted forward, and he carried a heavy lance in the other hand.

His face was a helmet, the slits for the eyes and lower face were closed up, so the face was only a series of ridges where bands met and poked out, Y-shaped.  His hair was a mane of bands left to flow like smoke.

He landed in the streak of Tempera’s paint, and he lost traction, falling to one side.

The paint rose up and over him, then solidified.  He shattered it, lurched to his feet.  The paint liquified and rose up and over his legs, and he shattered it again.

Was it more easily than he’d shattered it the first time?

Actions he repeated were supposed to be stronger.

To give Tempera a hand, I threw myself forward at Lord of Loss.  Flight, forcefield up.  He twisted around and raised the shield, blocking me.  I still hit him hard enough to cost him footing.  Paint covered him, hardened.

He broke the paint, swung his lance around, hitting me with the broad side.

Forcefield down, impact dampened but not entirely broken.  I hit the ground and it hurt.

He broke through the paint yet again, found his feet, hit me again, this time while my feet were planted on the ground.  My forcefield came back up just in time to be broken again.

Yeah, that hit had been harder.

Fume Hood shot him, hit him in the face.  The paint crawled up to his upper body and joints, hardened there, trying to limit his movement, and he broke it again.

He laughed.  Then he hit me again.  I deflected the hit, swatting at his lance with one hand.

He was advancing, pressing closer to Fume Hood, and as much as I retreated, as much as I was sure Fume Hood was backing up, he had longer legs.

When he hit me yet again, pavement cracked beneath me, around my feet, the forcefield pushing the impact out and around me.  I almost lost my step backing away, with the cracked ground.

Each hit stronger than the last by a significant margin.

This was the point I was supposed to throw my hands up and surrender, or get out of the way.  If he decided to hit me more frequently, or if he lurched forward and kicked me with one of those feet of his after swatting me with his lance-

Crystalclear had turned around, was using his blasts on Lord of Loss now.

Loss, losses, losses, losses.

I threw myself forward, flying, seizing him by one leg, twisting, trying to knock him over.

I got him off balance, and then he hit me.  Only a moment of me holding onto him kept me from getting smacked into the ground with no forcefield.  I fell to the ground and scrambled out of the way of his legs.

I waited until my forcefield was back, then threw myself at him, bowling him over.  I tore at strips, peeling away at him.

In the background, Kingdom Come had abandoned his control over the crowd.  They woke as if from a deep sleep, and they seemed surprised by what was happening around them.  They fled.  Away from the brutes fighting, away from the chaos and the damaged building.

He elbowed me.  It took him long enough to rise to his feet again that I was able to get in front of him again.

I could do this.

I needed to do this.

It-

It wasn’t my day to get what I wanted.  I barely registered the sound.  A crack, coinciding with the noise of the crowd.  Lord of Loss went still.

My back had been turned, so I hadn’t been in a position to see it.

One bullet, from somewhere nearby.  Fume Hood on the ground, Tempera beside her.

It wasn’t my day to get what I wanted.

I’d frozen.  A lot of people had.

“Go to her,” Lord of Loss said.  “Help.  I’ll let you go if you let us go.”

Numb, I nodded.

“Let people know it wasn’t us.  This wasn’t our plan,” he said, behind me.

I flew as much as I walked, and dropped to my knees at Fume Hood’s side.  I put my forcefield up, tried to position myself where I could be a wall for her.

“Put your hands here,” Tempera told me.

I did, pressing down on the stomach wound.  Blood pooled out, covering the backs of my hands.

The crowd had gone still.  There was a murmuring, and people were drawing closer to watch and to see.

Reminiscent of Vikare.

In the background, Longscratch and Crystalclear had already apprehended the suspect.  A protester that had been in a building nearby.  Hunting rifle.  The villains were leaving.

“Not-” Fume Hood grunted.

“Not?” I asked.

“Not a good day,” she muttered, through gasps.

“No,” I agreed.  Very much agreed.

Landon had come closer, and was helping by getting the first aid kit out.  Tempera took the components.

“Not a good day for any of us,” Tempera said, giving the crowd a glance.

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Daybreak – 1.5

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I paused at one of the doors of the kitchen.  I’d come in one door and there were two more.  One led to a hallway with people standing stationary at the end.  Another led to the main room, where everyone had been seated before this had begun.

Crystalclear hadn’t signaled me further, and I took that to mean I was supposed to pause or wait.  People in the main room were moving around.  I peered through a crack in the door to see if there was an opening, a break in the ranks I could use to slip through or get something done.

I saw the people Kingdom Come had controlled had settled in, most finding seats in the folding chairs that had been set up throughout the room.  Some stood around the side or sat with their backs to the wall.  Others stood at the windows, watching outside.

The majority of the crowd was at rest.  The ones who weren’t had guns drawn.  The police officers were among them.

The officer with the sad mustache was at the front of the room, face streaked with blood.  He was talking, and I couldn’t see who he was talking to.

I listened to the conversation, two people talking against a faint background of a chorus of hums and music box sounds.

“You want me to negotiate with terrorists,” a woman said.

“We want you to do what is best for your community,” the police officer said, in a very different voice than he’d used earlier.

“By playing along?”

“This started with civilians, it involves cape on cape violence,” the officer said.  “If you cooperate, we’ll pay for damage done, we’ll extend our protection over your community in a way that keeps capes out of sight and mostly out of mind.”

“A protection racket?”

“Not a racket.  No money or expectations.  We’ll take the woman and we’ll tell you what to do in order to smooth things over.”

“I don’t understand why.  What does this serve?  Fume Hood was upfront about her history.  She wanted to serve her time in this way.”

“If we tell you why, will you cooperate?”

“I can’t promise that,” the woman said.  I was assuming she was the District Rep.  Why had she left the others?

“The City is like a pressure cooker.  The pressure is mounting and has been for a while.  Things inside are heating up and winter is fast approaching.  A number of great thinkers seem to think we need to vent the-”

“Vent the pressure?” the District Rep asked.

“Yes,” the police officer said.  “The-”

There was an explosion overhead.  Another of Crystalclear’s shots.  Two more, leading from one corner of the room and away.

I looked at the crowd, and I saw the person closest to me staring at me.

Kingdom Come knew, he’d seen.

“We’ll continue this conversation shortly.  You’ve got a cape with a gun inside the building.”

I backed away.  Crystalclear created more explosions close to the other door.  The people who had been standing guard at the end of the hallway, probably.

I retreated, ducking behind a counter.

They entered the room simultaneously, doors banging against the wall.

I ducked down, staying behind cover.

“You’re the one who fought Blindside?” the one at the door asked.  The police officer.

I remained silent.

“I don’t want to shed any blood that isn’t mine,” he said.  He was moving deeper into the room.  I heard the door squeak, peeked, and saw the corner of it.  It had been opened and was being held open.  Another person?

“Alright,” he said.

One of the issues of being a parahuman was that there wasn’t a history to build on or a peerage to draw from.  We had powers, yes.  Some of those powers were similar to the powers others had, but there were almost always tricks and caveats, strengths one person had that another didn’t.  I couldn’t copy Alexandria’s old tactics and style because my invincibility worked differently.  Timing was so much more important to me.

I could be shot, if my timing was wrong, or if their timing was especially right.

A person like Jasper could take classes in martial arts and get lessons on the range, and he could use tools and draw on the experience of millions of others who had bodies that worked like his did, a set of capabilities that were virtually identical to his own.

There was only one Victoria Dallon with Victoria Dallon’s powers.  I had to lean heavily on my own experience.  In exercising my abilities, there was a point beyond which I was the only person that could teach myself – nobody resembled me closely enough to be an instructor in how to fight, how to process, or how to or pass on their experience.

But my own experience was a drawback if I was caught in the moment, where I had to rely on instinct but that instinct pointed me right back to my old ways.

These people were innocent.  The officer, the others at the door.  Maybe some had been protesters.  Kingdom Come had no issue in using them, but I couldn’t hurt his pawns.

He could have moved them as a group, but he didn’t.  He moved like a chessmaster played chess.  One person taking a new position, pausing, checking the area, then another person moving.  The police officer in charge -chief or sheriff, I wasn’t sure-  had stopped in the center of the room.  Others were moving around the perimeter.

I caught a glimpse of one by the gun he was holding, and moved around the corner.  They all moved the same way when they moved, pistols held up, gripped in two hands that were dotted in drops of drying blood, pointed at the ceiling.  I saw the gun before I saw the rest of him.

The lullaby continued, faint and distant.  It wasn’t enough to obscure any scuffle I made.  I didn’t want to make noise, and whatever the movies showed, it was hard to crawl around while wearing boots and be sure to not make any sound.

I didn’t like flying.  I wasn’t confident in it like I had been.  Two years had passed in the hospital, and my sense of flight had been as disturbed as the movement of my arm or my attempts at vocalization.  It was supposed to be back, but it was a muscle I hadn’t exercised.

I wanted to fly, but it was tainted.

I raised myself off the ground, still hunched over, staying low enough that the counters would block me from sight, and used flight as much as light pushes on the sides of the cabinet to propel myself away from the advancing gunman.

I had other training to draw on that wasn’t self-taught.  There was what I’d learned and absorbed from time with family, but that whole experience was so full of pitfalls I barely wanted to touch on it.

The Wards.  I hadn’t been with them for long.  I’d absorbed some things from Dean, because I lived the cape stuff and Dean was willing to teach it.  I’d studied up and I’d taken the tests.  I knew the numbers and the labels.  I knew the approach formations for squads.  Simple, making conflict with parahumans as textbook as possible, black ink on white paper, sans serif.

In fighting that perpetual battle of trying to think things through and still act in time, the classifications were a nice shortcut.  Apply the label, assume what worked against most people of one classification, and if it clearly didn’t, it was still a starting point.

He was edging closer.

Kingdom Come was a breaker and a master.  He had a toggled state that changed the rules as they pertained to him.  Shake, blow up, and he was now a horde of people controlled by the bodily fluids on them.  Masters were second highest priority as targets, breakers were targets that required timing, often hitting them when they were in the state that they were weakest.

Kingdom Come made that complicated by not giving me a body to target.

They were closing in.  They’d crossed the length of the room and if I had to guess, four of them were standing within fifteen feet of me, guns held high, where it would be that much harder for me to lunge for the weapon.  He didn’t have perfect coordination of their movements, I had to assume, unless they were all doing the same thing, like when the crowd had turned their heads.

The old me would have dealt with this by blitzing them.  Hit each hard, fast, before they had a chance to react.  Some minor harm would have come to innocents, but the situation would be resolved.

The current me waited, staying silent, letting them get close.  One to my left, one in the middle avenue of the kitchen, between the two rows of counter-islands, and one on the far right, furthest from me.

As I set my boot down on the floor, ready to move, Crystalclear volunteered his help.  An explosion at the ceiling, a few feet behind the guy to my left.

He spun around, looking, and I took advantage, leaping over the counter, reaching for the gun he held aloft.  I seized it and his hands, and pulled both to the ground, where the counters kept us out of sight of the other two.

They started to approach at a run, each around one end of the counter, so they’d catch me on both sides, and Crystalclear offered another blast between me and them.  It took out the light fixture above, and cast the corner of the room into shadow, illuminated by periodic sparks.

It gave me a moment’s pause to think.  I ignored the man I’d brought to the ground, as I held his hands and the gun.  I didn’t even need my strength- only leverage and my body weight.

I couldn’t do anything to him that would put him down for good without risking hurting the real person.  I couldn’t do anything to Kingdom Come, as much as the rule for dealing with masters said I should.  He didn’t have a material body.

I used a burst of strength and tore the gun from the one man’s hands, sliding it along the floor so it went under one of the appliances.  I’d gone high to go after the first one, so I went low as I went after the officer to my left, throwing myself around the counter, using a bit of flight to help keep up my speed as I went around the corner.

I tackled him to the ground, holding him as we went down to keep the impact from being too hard.  I’d managed to get one hand around his wrist, and as he pulled his other hand away, gripping the gun, I seized that wrist too.

That left one in the middle of the room, one unarmed and on the ground and no doubt climbing to his feet, and one coming around the corner, gun ready.

I flew, sliding the police officer along the floor.  I twisted to hit the cabinet with my shoulder as we reached the end of the row.  That would bruise tomorrow.  I flew again, to move another direction, keeping away from the rest.

As we stopped, the officer had enough in the way of bearings to drop the gun.  He drew his knee toward his chest, and then kicked the gun so it would slide on the kitchen floor.

Someone stepped through the doorway, stooping low and catching the gun in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t had a greater awareness.

No, as much as he was a master in execution, he was also a breaker.  I had to be sensible.  It didn’t make sense to fight a breaker like this when he was in his breaker state.

I pushed the police chief away, and then, reorienting, I flew straight up, through the ceiling.  I felt my forcefield go down, bracing myself in case I brushed up against any wiring.

Second floor.  I checked my surroundings.  None of Kingdom Come’s people.  The lullaby music was louder.  The drones would arrive soon.  I moved, hurrying down the hall.

I found the stairwell.  I stepped into it, glancing down.  No sign of an approach.

I peeled some of the metal away from the railing, stepped back into the hallway, and leveraged my strength to twist the metal around the door handle, to seal it shut.  I knew there could be other stairwells, but at least this way I’d hear them if they tried coming this way.

Covering my back.

Priorities.  Blindside was as classic a stranger as I’d ever dealt with.  Out of action or out of consideration for now.

Lord of Loss was a brute.  Textbook answer when faced with a brute was to ignore them as much as they allowed you to.  It would take too much effort and it would take too much time when dealing with someone who couldn’t be decisively dealt with.

I could remember studying the PRT paperwork with Dean, doing the quizzes.  He’d said the rule for brutes had an unofficial second part.  That as much as you might try to put them off, they had a way of making you deal with them.

What had I said in response to that?  I was a brute on paper.

Had that been the study session we’d had in my room?  Dean would have been leaning against a pile of pillows at the head of my bed, Lyo-Leo on his lap, while Dean pretended to have him read the answers.  I’d been sitting at the foot of the bed, papers and books strewn between us.  Real homework and superhero stuff.

The door had been left open, at my dad’s insistence.  One foot tucked under me, I’d snuck my one foot across the bed until I could touch Dean’s knee, trace my toe along his leg.  Seeing if I could break his focus enough to make him mess up while reading aloud.

No, wait, that had been a few days after Dean had reminded me of the brute rule.  I’d been studying it with more interest because Dean was turning eighteen before long, and we were worried he’d get moved to another city, even with his family situation being what it was.  I’d seriously been considering joining the Wards and then the Protectorate, so I could follow him.

But I’d told my stuffed lion that he needed to remind Dean that brutes like me had a way of making you deal with them.  They could only be ignored for so long.

Normally clever Dean had been at a loss for words.  He’d grabbed my toe and squeezed it.  I’d wiggled it in his hand.  We’d been familiar enough with each other that the silence that followed didn’t feel bad.  Awkward in a good way, even.

He’d, after a long pause, found the clever thing to say, but he’d stumbled his way through it.  It would be my pleasure.  Pause.  To deal with you.

It hadn’t been long after that that we’d had our first night together.  It had taken two days of desperate attempts at coordinating schedules and patrols, for me to get out without family wanting to join me, for Dean to avoid the ‘sidekick’ situation and go out in costume without a Protectorate member joining him.

My heart hurt, thinking of Dean.  My knight in shining armor.

Still, I smiled as I remembered some of the emails we’d exchanged, my hands resting on the metal I’d used to lock the door.  Dean, ever the gentleman, had wanted to negotiate and check everything, from my comfort levels about X, Y, and Z to how my personal forcefield would factor into our time together.

I’d laughed at that, which had been the tip-off for Amy to realize something was up.  She’d-

And I’d gone and done it.  Let my guard down, tripped over the stumbling block, stepped on the emotional landmine.  There was only the hurt, now, none of the mixed, warm feeling that came from thinking about Dean.

I pushed it all out of mind.  It wasn’t the time for that anyway.  I was prone to getting lost in thought, even though it sometimes felt like every path led to the same, regrettable destination.

Dry, deliberate classifications.  Moving forward.  Deep breaths, when my chest hurt enough that breathing was hard.  Back to numbers and labels.  Lord of Loss and Kingdom Come had to be ignored, but I could trust that Lord of Loss would come into the picture somewhere along the line.  We still had to get out of here or deal with him.

Nursery was close enough for me to hear the hums and chimes.  Shaker, clearly.  Not dissimilar to Labyrinth from back in Brockton Bay.  The rule for dealing with shakers was to avoid fighting them on their own turf.

Snag was changer or tinker, possibly striker.  Those arms.  He had something mover going on with how he’d gone after the bus Jasper was driving.

Still, there might be another in play.

I ventured down the hallway, still feeling that ache in my chest, feeling acutely aware of my own body, the way clothes constrained me, reaffirmed me, yet every reaffirmation was a reminder that I needed that small reminder in the first place, and why.

My hand brushed against the wall as I walked.  The closer to the north end of the building I got, the more of the lullaby I could hear.  Multiple sources formed the humming, soft around the edges, each slightly out of sync with the others in a way that suggested they all came from different places.

I felt the texture of the wall change.  Smoother.  I felt and saw the difference in texture and color, respectively.  Gray and dusty rose shades, as if seen through a filter.  The wall had become a painted surface that felt as if it had been painted over many times, some droplets having run down the wall and set in place, ridges elsewhere where similar bumps had been painted over and become a faint rise.

I could hear her now.  Nursery.  A human’s hum, joined by all the others.  She was close.

Peering around the corner of the T-shaped junction, I didn’t see her, but I saw the change.  Her turf, as it was.  Dusty rose carpet, picture frames with simple things like animals and boats in grays, blacks, and pale pinks.  A crib, white, covered with a quilt.

I stayed at the edges of it, going further down the hall rather than turning the corner and venturing into her realm.  Only the wall to my right was affected.  A baby carriage draped in a blanket was parked beside a small bookshelf that had been stacked with children’s books and building blocks.  The cloth stuck as if it had been taped down or the sheer amount of time it had been there had nearly fused it to the fabric of the carriage, producing a tearing sound reminiscent of Velcro.  The carriage was empty, except for a vague oblong stain on the seat’s back and the seat itself.

When I left it behind, though, I could tell that there was humming coming from that vicinity, one of the soft, vague hums in the grander chorus.

Fuck me.

Every five or ten feet, there were more.  A car seat removed from the car, handle up, blanket over it.  Another crib, a much-used blanket tangled in the mobile, a child’s wagon.  Toys, clocks, wall decorations, cardboard boxes stuffed of baby clothes, marked for ages zero to three.  A rocking horse and more.

I was forced to venture further into it to get closer to the true sound’s source.

I saw her.  Nursery was a woman with an ankle-length dress, a shawl over her shoulders.  She clutched the shawl and rocked from side to side, speaking the inarticulate sounds rather than humming.

Beside her was Snag.  He was heavyset.  Two hundred and fifty pounds, at least, possibly three hundred pounds, and he wasn’t quite six feet tall.  That mass was made even bulkier by his coat, which was fastened closed, draping down to his ankles, where his boots were.  The sleeves had been modified to be longer, fitting the arms, which reached to the floor.

It was my first chance at seeing his face, though.  He had long black hair and a thick beard, both in the loose heavy-metal take.  His mask looked like he’d taken handfuls of black clay and layered it over the skin his hair and beard didn’t cover.  The mask created a kind of neanderthal brow with a permanent glare built into it; the circles under his eyes were so dark it was hard to tell exactly where the eyeholes of the black clay mask started.  It might have been thick rubber, melted to be in the crude shape needed, the texture left unrefined.

Nursery barely flinched as the door opened.  Fume Hood stuck her head and arm out, and she fired three projectiles.  One hit the slash of white paint that separated Nursery’s realm from the door, exploding into a cloud of gas.  Two hit near where Nursery and Snag were, going to pieces instead of exploding or producing gas.

The gas from the first shot expanded to fill the space between Nursery’s pocket world and the door at the end of the hall.

“Speed it up,” Snag said.

Nursery turned his way.  She wore a cloth mask with holes cut out for the eyes.  The cloth had a floral print and was bound close to her neck with a series of chokers.  She continued to mumble and hum, but she’d stopped rocking in place.

“Come on now,” Snag growled.  “We’re expecting trouble.”

The humming stopped.  The music box chimes that seemed to be plucking and pealing from the light fixtures and behind the walls grew noticeably quieter.

“Every time I have to stop to respond to you, Snag, it slows us down.  Be a good boy and be patient, trust us.  We’re making progress, even if you can’t see it.”

“If we get caught between the new player and Bad Apple’s team-”

Nursery let go of her shawl to reach out, placing her hand flat on Snag’s face, covering eyes, nose and mouth.  He pulled back, and I ducked back behind the corner, so he wouldn’t catch a glimpse of me.

“Hush,” she said.  “We’re safe even if that happens.  This is my sanctuary.”

“I will bite you if you touch my face again.”

“You’re not as scary as you pretend to be, Snag.  I know scary.  You’re just a man that’s dressing up,” Nursery said.  She sounded gentle, calm even after being threatened.

“Try me.”

“Please, hush,” she said.  “Let me do my work.”

“If you take any longer, I’m going to push for plan B.”

Nursery resumed humming.

No more feedback from Crystalclear.  The group at the end of the hall weren’t doing much of anything.

More to the point, I was rather concerned that the area of the building I was in didn’t entirely map to the layout of the building that I’d seen from the outside.  There was just a little too much room to either side of Nursery and Snag.

“Tell me the details,” Snag said, his voice growl-like even when he wasn’t threatening Nursery.  He’d walked a distance away from her and toward me.

A pause, long.  Snag picked up a child’s plush and threw it down the hall, bowling over a stack of thin hardcover books.

“Well, it’s taking plenty of time.  So is Nursery,” he said.  “What’s Kingdom’s status?”

Another pause.

“At this stage I’d settle for plan B,” he said.  “I’d pay for the property damage.”

Pause.

“They’re trying to buy time and it’s working.  Tell Blindside to hurry up.”

Blindside.

I stood with my back to the wall, listening in.  Crystalclear hadn’t communicated, but I wasn’t sure he could.  Fume Hood and Tempera weren’t doing much but holding the fort and delaying.

Nursery continued humming, but she piqued the last hum with an inquisitive note.

“Blindside faked being out.  Should arrive soon.  We’ve got some details on our mystery guest.  Dressed like one of the troopers I stashed in the room back there.  Untouchable but still wary of being hit.  Emotion control.”

The humming stopped.

I expected Snag to complain.  He didn’t.

I chanced a look around the corner.

Nursery had turned around.  She faced me.  Snag was gone.

I stepped out of cover, one hand on my gun, glancing around to see where Snag had disappeared to.

I wasn’t supposed to fight a shaker in her domain.  But here she was, standing with her hands clasped in front of her, defenseless.  She was also the only thing standing between me and the room where Fume Hood was.

“Let me through,” I said.

“No,” she said.

I pushed out my aura, as hard as I could manage.

She didn’t flinch.  It didn’t reach her.

That was what this was.  Her sanctuary was a protection from shaker effects.  She overrode everything by transplanting this screwed up baby decor into the area.

I wondered if I could hit her.  I looked around for Snag and didn’t see him.

“Wake up,” she said.

“What?” I asked.

“Wake up, sweetie.”

The crib, a little red wagon with blankets heaped over it, and a carriage nearby jumped, rattling as if something had moved within.

I heard wet sounds.  Throughout the hazy altered space, the meaty squelching started to overtake the background hums.

I stopped in my tracks.

Things moved beneath the blankets.  She still hadn’t budged.

I turned around and ran.

Fuck this.

I got away as fast as my legs would take me.  I hit the wall at the end of the hallway and stopped myself with my hands rather than slow down with my legs.  I turned right and headed away, past more cribs, more strollers, baby seats and bouncy chairs, all draped in their blankets of varying types and quality.  Some tipped over from the violence of the agitation.

Yeah, no, whatever it was she was doing, I wasn’t going to mess with it.

There had to be other ways.

I escaped the area of Nursery’s shaker effect, stepping back into ordinary community center hallway.  I was in the opposite corner of the second floor from where I’d started.

Looking out the window, I could see the shadows cast by Lord of Loss’ branches.  Was it worth chancing flying outside, then flying into the room where Fume Hood was, when Lord of Loss could try hitting me or grabbing me?

There was another stairwell at the end of the hall- one I hadn’t sealed.

The door opposite it had something hanging on it.  A gauntlet with clawed fingertips, the ‘arm’ something electronic.  The claw’s tips were embedded in the wood of doorframe and door both.

“Hello?” I called out.  I glanced back to make sure Nursery and Snag hadn’t followed me.

“Don’t touch the door!” was the rushed response.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“Patrol from the high school, community center staff,” the voice from the other side said.  “Don’t touch the door.  There’s a bomb!”

“I see it,” I said.

“They said they’d disable it when they left.  You said to stay safe, so we cooperated and let them lock us in.”

“That’s- that’s good,” I said.  My heart was still pounding from Nursery’s thing.  I was pretty sure Blindside wasn’t around, because my senses weren’t being affected.  “We’ll get this figured out.”

I wasn’t sure how.  They had a shaker power to override Tempera and Fume Hood.  Potentially Crystalclear and Longscratch as well, depending.  They had Lord of Loss sequestering the outside and they had Nursery taking over the inside.

In the same moment I turned my thoughts to Snag and his disappearance, two mechanical arms stabbed out of the nearest wall as if the wall was paper.  One hand caught me around the neck.  The other across the face.  I was slammed into the window, hard enough to shatter it and take out my forcefield.  Glass tinkled onto my head, into my hair, and all around me.

Before I could get my bearings, he hauled me into the wall.  My head cracked into the drywall and I felt it break with the impact.  His hand gripped my mouth and the length of his long forearm caught me around the throat.

I put my hands on his arms, and I felt the whir as machinery kicked into life.

As someone with the ability to control emotions, I was supposed to be harder to read and affect.  It was why I’d deflected Crystalclear earlier.

It was why Dean and I had gotten along.  Even why we’d been possible.

Maybe that resistance came into play.  Maybe it turned Snag’s power from an emotional uppercut to a mere slap.  Negative emotions poured into me like liquid from a syringe.

But a slap on an open wound could be enough to bring someone to their knees.  The walls came tumbling down, the memories flooding in, and my last coherent, present thought was that I hoped I wouldn’t maim or kill anyone in the meantime.

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Daybreak – 1.4

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There was no way to process the series of collisions that followed me hurling myself down between the logging truck and the school bus.  My focus was on deflecting the impact, clawing at the logging truck with everything I had to try to put it off course, before the bus made contact and hopefully moved it further.  As the two vehicles came together, I extended my whole body, trying to push them apart in a way that would keep the collision from being the head-on sort that might kill Jasper.

In no particular order, the school bus hit the logging truck, the logging truck  hit the school bus and the wall, and I, my forcefields down, hit the ground rolling.

I came to a stop and lay where I was, face down.  I felt the sting of the scrapes where I’d come into contact with the road, and waited for the real pain to start.  I wanted to know where the real damage was before I moved the wrong part and made it worse.  My ears rang from the sharp noises and impacts.  Playing dead helped, too, because the villains were rousing, opening the door of the truck cab, glass tinkling down to the street below.

“What the hell?” someone asked.  They were younger- probably teenager.  I couldn’t pinpoint if they were male or female.

“Are you okay?” a deeper voice asked.  The nature of the voice made me think brute.  “Any injuries?”

“I think I have whiplash,” the teenager said.  “I wasn’t expecting that.  What the hell?”

“You were intercepted before impact.  It looks like teenagers in uniform.  With a bus.”

“I can see that,” the teenager said.

“You missed the side door you were supposed to drive through.”

“I can see that too,” the teenager said.

“I can’t tell what you’re looking at, Blindside.  Let me know if you need help.  Snag?”

“I’m fine,” was the response, a rasp.  I heard metal creak.

“Your arm isn’t,” the teenager said.  They would be Blindside, going by what the Brute had said.

“I’m fine.”

I heard the sound of someone hopping down to land on the street, not all that far away from me.  Metal struck the road shortly after.

I only saw a glimpse of him.  Work boots, a long coat that hung down low enough that it almost looked like his legs were only two feet long, and arms long enough that his wrists made contact with the ground.  The hands rested flat on the road, fingers splayed.  He wore gauntlets.

I wanted to see something more than just his feet, but as I started to raise my eyes, looking through the hair that had come loose from my braid, my eyes were forced down, until they were staring at the road.  I heard the scrape of another person’s feet as they climbed down from the truck to the street.

“My fucking neck,” Blindside said.  The person in question.

Try as I might, I couldn’t look at them.  My eyes and head refused to cooperate and do what was necessary to put them in my field of vision.

“Don’t complain,” said the Brute.

“You weren’t on the truck.  You don’t get to tell me what I can or can’t complain about.  Fuck, I wasn’t expecting that hit.  Did both K.C. and Nursery fuck up?”

“The timing was wrong,” a woman said.  Nursery, I assumed.

There were so many of them.  The Brute, Snag, Blindside, Nursery, and K.C.- I really hoped that K.C. was the mass-master I’d seen in the crowd.  If they weren’t, then there were six of them in total.  Six and the crowd that the exploding parahuman had control of.

We had four capes on the inside, me, and a bunch of high schoolers, some of whom had guns.  None of whom, cape or student, that I wanted involved in this conflict.

The five or six attacking capes wouldn’t be attacking like this if they weren’t sure they could win.

“Don’t be stupid,” Snag said, his voice a rough growl, volume raised.

He wasn’t talking to me.  He was directing that at Jasper and the other two.

Drive away, I thought, willing Jasper to think the same.  Be okay, drive away.  Leave me.

I heard the chugging of the bus, the battered engine protesting as the vehicle started to reverse, pulling away.

At the edge of my Blindside-limited field of vision, Snag’s metal, long-fingered hand lifted from the ground.  He leaped toward the bus without making the movements necessary to jump.  I didn’t want to move my head and risk being seen just to see him land, but I heard the metal-on-metal sound, the impact of a heavy body on the hood.

Every set of eyes, mine excepted, had to be on him and the retreating bus.  It was an opening, and it was an opening our side opted to use.  The side door of the building opened without a sound.  Fume Hood and Crystalclear were in the doorway.

Crystalclear threw a chunk of crystal at the ground, and the chunk passed through without sound or apparent impact.  Fume Hood had six green orbs with her, all around her hand.  She sent one out in the direction of the bus, then, a moment later, sent a second.  Both exploded, off to one side.

Crystalclear’s shot passed through walls.  Tempera had let me know that.  Apparently, it needed to pass through walls, or the ground in this case.  He’d thrown it into the ground, and a moment after Fume had released her two shots, both landing, Crystalclear’s shot emerged from the ground, an explosion of vapor, glass splinters, and fragments of road.

One of the villains, the Brute, only laughed.

Fume Hood paused, her four orbs around her hand.  Her head was turned so she could only see me with one eye- Blindside’s power was limiting them there.

Through the hair that had fallen over my face, I could see Fume Hood look at me.  Making eye contact.

I couldn’t see the villains, so I knew the action was risky.  I had to hope they were more focused on her than on me.

I raised my head up and  motioned for her to go, moving one hand, swiping my fingers toward her.

The pattern was much the same as with her first shot.  One shot, then firing the remaining three all at once.  One to gauge how it would fly, then the rest to deliver the hit.

They slammed the door shut, just before the three near-simultaneous explosions.  The detonations were small and sharp, and produced a wind that blew my hair away from my face.  I held my breath.

The Brute laughed again.

I really didn’t want to pick a fight with four capes at once.  The bus was gone, the door was shut.

“This is going to slow us down,” the Brute said.

“You don’t have to sound so happy about it,” Blindside said.

The Brute chuckled, and climbed down from the roof of the truck, and in the doing, he put himself between me and Blindside.  It blocked my view of Blindside, and it gave me a chance to get a glimpse of him.  The ground smoked around where his boots touched pavement, and the smoke solidified into formations that looked like branches and twists of metal, all in an ashen white-grey.  His entire body was made of the stuff, as if he wore armor made of white-grey bandages made solid and immobile by resin, all of the ends curling up and away from him in horns or branches.

I knew him, even just seeing his legs.  Or I knew of him, to be precise.  Yeah, based on what I knew of Fume Hood’s group, they might be outclassed.

The big guy was the Lord of Loss.  There were two ways a cape could go with a name like that.  The most obvious was to fuck up just once, and forever after have people wondering out loud what he was thinking, taking a name like that.  Being called a loser.

The other way was to succeed and ascend the name, to take that name and make it a title.  The Lord of Loss had managed that.

He had been one of the villains in a big city on the West coast, and now he was one of the villains running a settlement on one of the corner worlds.  Was it Earth-N?  Not far from here, if it was.  He wasn’t top tier, as capes went, but he was A-list.

He was a Brute with Breaker flavor.  He cloaked himself in abstract forms, with a set selection.  I knew one resembled a bird, which he would have been using to fly alongside the truck.  He was versatile, big, strong, and his breaker power multiplied his efforts over time.  That multiplication played into how he flew, how he grew, and back before Gold Morning, a few occasions where he’d been able to slug away at a bank vault until he’d torn it open, or even drag a smaller vault away with him.

He turned his attention toward me, turning around and approaching me as the others backed away from the cloud of gas.  My chin jerked toward my chest as Blindside stepped out to the side, back in my field of view.

I would’ve rather had just about anyone else step close enough for me to get my hands on them.  It had to be the guy I couldn’t take out of the fight.

“Miss,” Lord of Loss said.  “Are you injured?”

I couldn’t pretend to be unconscious- I’d just moved because of Blindside.  I settled for an inarticulate, small moan.

Lord of Loss knelt beside me.  “Can you walk?”

I shook my head, keeping the movement small.

“Is it because your back is hurt?  Can you feel my hand, here?” he asked.

I felt his hand touch my knee.

I nodded, again, small.  I screwed up my face, feigning more pain than I was in.

I didn’t like this.  I didn’t like being so close to the guy, I didn’t like the scrutiny, the eyes on me, the attention.  I didn’t like being treated like I was an invalid.  I didn’t like suppressing my forcefield and aura.

I didn’t like being still.

It was easier to keep my composure if I was moving, doing.

“Blindside,” Lord of Loss said.  “Watch her.”

“What?”

“You were always going to be the lookout, with Kingdom Come helping.  We stick to the plan.  We’re going in, we’ll get our target, you’ll be the lookout, and you’ll look out for this junior soldier while you’re at it.”

“Pain in the ass.”

“Plans change,” Lord of Loss said.  “You’ll learn that sooner or later.  Our clients hired us to capture an ex-villain who made a bystander lose her child.  I don’t think they’d be pleased if we let another bystander get hurt while we carry out the task.”

“Yeah, no, I get it.  Just go.  Let’s get this over with.”

“Keep an eye out for the vehicle with the other soldiers.  They drove in Kingdom’s direction.  If they can’t get through or around, they might come back.”

“I get it.  It’s fine.  Go.  I can handle my shit.”

My eyes had closed, because it kept my head from being jerked around as Blindside kept compelling me to move to avoid seeing them, but I could tell when Lord of Loss moved away, as the bulk of his body ceased blocking the light of the sun above us.

“Snag,” Lord of Loss said.  “Any injury?”

I heard a cough.  “No.”

“Then go with Nursery,” Lord of Loss said.  He paused.  “Kingdom Come?”

Another pause.

“It’s time.  Move in,” Lord of Loss said.  “I can’t go inside, so I’ll take the roof, I’ll watch the other sides of the building, and do what I can to help.”

I cracked my eyes open.  Nursery and Snag were walking up to the door.  Lord of Loss was breaking into pieces, his arms spreading out as the wispy smoke formed into the ‘feathers’ of his wings.  He wasn’t fast at all as he started to flap, lifting off the ground.

That would be the downside of his breaker power.  It let him hit harder every time he hit something, and that included the beats of wing against air, but it took time.

Still, it let him move in the direction of the roof.  He paused, circling, as Snag raised one long arm and pushed at the door.  White paint leaked around the doorframe.

Sealed shut.

“This would be why I’m here,” Nursery said, her voice soft.  She began humming, and it was a lullaby sort of hum.

A music box sort of chiming joined the humming.

“Fuck that shit,” Blindside said.  I was the closest person to them as they stood somewhere near me.   I lay near the butt end of the eighteen wheeler, which had its nose in the wall of the building.  Nursery and Snag were at the door.  I wasn’t sure if Blindside was talking to me.

The humming seemed to be picked up elsewhere, and the music box noises intensified, with new notes and a higher tempo.  The area near the door blurred.  It was a window into another world, what had to be a pocket dimension, but for the most part it seemed unsure if it was our world or the pocket world.

An indoor setting, at a glance.  Beds and walls that didn’t line up with things in our world.

I felt Blindside’s hand on my neck.  They felt for my pulse.

“Asshole is invincible, and so he doesn’t even think to get your gun from you.  You’re lying on it,” Blindside said.  “If I roll you onto your back, will it kill you?”

It was a question I’d heard variants of before, in a tone I’d heard before.  A tone from someone that didn’t really care about me.

We’re going to roll you over now and check for sores.  Is that alright?

We’re going to wash you now.  Can you try to move this arm?

Can I get you anything?  Would you like water, or something to eat?

Condescending, caring more about themselves, feigning concern or consideration.  They just wanted to get on with their day.  Even the ones that did care lost patience sometimes.  Stubborn, aggressive people like me made it easy to lose patience.

I made myself be calm.  I exhaled slowly, and the exhalation came out as a shudder.  It wasn’t because I was hurt, but because the memories were close to the surface.

Blindside eased me onto my back, then I felt them touch my gun.

My eyes snapped open.  My arm lashed out, one swing, mindful that they were probably just a fragile human being.

I didn’t make contact.  Muscles in my arm wrenched, seized, and cramped as the entire arm locked up, just in time to keep me from touching them.

“Aha,” Blindside said.

I felt them grip my gun hard.  My initial fumble to grab the gun ran into the same problem.  My hand hit an imaginary wall.

The gun had a buckle keeping it in the hip holster.  They hadn’t undone the buckle, and they weren’t able to pull the gun free before I jumped up to my feet, backing a short distance away.  The hand pulled free.

I still couldn’t see them.  My head was turned to one side, I had a glare on my face, and I walked slowly, keeping track of them by keeping them at the very edge of my field of view.

I imagined I looked a little feral, pacing as I was, trying to track them with my other senses, being unable to make eye contact.

I moved my hand experimentally.  I hit the wall.

I couldn’t point at them, then.  I couldn’t hit them, based on my earlier issue.

“What do they feed you shits?” Blindside asked.  “You get thrown from a bus mid-impact and you have it in you to pull this?  I’m impressed.”

The dreamy blur was disappearing, the way in closing behind Nursery and Snag.  The background humming and chiming was fading.

I hoped the others were retreating, finding a place in the building they could hunker down until help came.

“Listen,” Blindside said.  “I don’t want trouble.  I don’t want to hurt a civilian.  I’m keeping to the rules.  Lie down, put your hands on your head, let me take the gun.  I’ll give it back when I’m done.”

“You’re going to kidnap Fume Hood.  I can’t stand by and let that happen.”

“You can’t do anything about it,” Blindside said.  “We’re going to borrow them, then we’ll be on our way.”

“Borrow?  You’re giving her back after?  Unharmed?”

“Yep.  Mostly unharmed.  The woman who lost her kid wants to have words with her.  Shout at her, make her feel bad.  She and some others paid a lot of money to make it happen.  Then we drop her back off somewhere near here and drive off.”

“For that, you drive a truck into a building and traumatize a crowd?”

“Intel said we were good to hit the building there, use that as our entry point.  Scaring her was part of the deal, so was fucking her over,” Blindside said.  “Stirring up the crowd, it doesn’t affect us much.  We live in one of the corners.  For her, it keeps her from finding any success.”

“For the sake of the woman who lost her child?”

“Yeah.”

“And she’s personally going to shout at Fume Hood there?”

“Fume Hood, Bad Apple, Horse Apple, Apple Cider, whatever you want to call her.  Yeah.”

I nodded slowly.

“Just lie down.  Let it be.  Give up the gun, stop fighting, we do our cape shit and you carry on with your day.  Police are under our control, nearest capes are half an hour away.  This is the way it is sometimes.”

“The files I got when I accepted this job said the woman in question died,” I said.  “The pregnant lady who lost her child.”

“Really?”

I nodded, my eyes still fixed on the ground, as close to Blindside as I could get.  If they moved into my field of vision, a forced movement of my eye and head would let me know.

“At Gold Morning.  Her home address was one of the cities hit hard.  No sign of her after the fact.  Authorities investigated when the word about this attack first came up.  Which leads me to think you’re lying through your teeth.”

“People visit family, go out of town for work, have stays in the hospital…  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to people who narrowly dodged being in the wrong place at that one critical time.”

“Stop,” I said.  “I caught you in one lie, let’s leave it at that.”

Blindside fell silent.

I heard a scuff.  My head turned-was allowed to turn- as Blindside moved around to my side.  I backed away a few paces.

I heard Blindside stop moving.

“Change your stance,” Blindside said.

“My stance?”

“Your head is turned as far to the right as it can go.  If I move to your right, the reflex is going to be to move your head further right.  You could snap your neck.  You’d probably close your eyes first, but I’d rather not risk it.”

I obliged, shifting where my shoulders were, so my left shoulder pointed at them.  I was aware that it made it easier to circle behind me.

“And raise your chin a bit.”

“Why?” I asked.

I heard the sound of Blindside moving too late.  I reached out to block or catch the incoming attack, and hit the wall where I couldn’t move my arm too far toward them.

Something swung at an angle that avoided my arm.  I brought my forcefield up just in time for the thing to hit me on the chin.  An uppercut with a blunt instrument that should have broken my jaw.

Before Blindside could recover or figure out what had happened, I went on the offense.  I couldn’t hit them with my hand, I couldn’t point at them, but if I swung my hand at them, elbow jutting out-

I felt muscles seize, locking up.  Blindside caught my arm, pushing me in the direction I’d already been going, and shoved me to the ground.  Martial art.

The blunt instrument-I saw the tip of a metal bat- struck down toward my shin.

It rebounded off of the forcefield as the field came back.  The metal sang.

“Ah fucking hah,” Blindside said.  “Fuck me.  You’re a cape.”

I lurched to my feet, putting some distance between myself and them.

Elbows didn’t work either.

The muscles in my arm and shoulder twitched with the lingering strain or sprain that had gone with the interruption.

I backed away until my forcefield came back up.  I drew in a deep breath.

“You’re full of surprises,” Blindside said.

I undid a buckle and pulled my armored vest over my head in one smooth motion.

“That’s not very surprising though,” they said.  “I can see where you’re going with this.  I’ve been at this a few years.  Some of the workarounds and tricks are getting old by now.”

I shifted my grip so I held the vest by the shoulder.

“The bus is back.  Are they capes in disguise too?”

The bus was back?  I couldn’t see without looking past Blindside, and I didn’t want to lose my bearings.

They were watching then?

Well, I imagined Blindside made it hard to watch.

I swung, using the vest as a bludgeon.  My arm stopped, but the vest continued.

I felt hands against my back, gripping the back of my top.  Another move, Judo or Aikido, stepping into arm’s reach, too close for the vest to hit me, trusting their power to keep my arm from hitting them, and throwing me to the ground.

I used my forcefield, and I used its strength to arrest the movement, stopping myself.  A bit of my flight.

With Blindside directly behind me, I drew my gun, and I turned to the right this time, swinging out with gun in hand.

“Nope,” Blindside said.  “That won’t-”

I dropped the vest, my hand going to my ear, and I fired the instant my arm stopped moving.  I shot the stone wall of the community center eight times.

The volume of it was such that I only barely heard Blindside’s exclamation of pain.  My ears rang- but the gun had to have been right next to the villain mercenary’s ear.

This was how I operated.  Even if I was trying not to be too blatant with others watching.  I was trying to consider more before I acted and took this route, moderating myself.

Shock.  Shake them on a sensory level.

I stooped low to pick up the vest, then swung it as I had before.   Blindside stumbled forward, much as they had before, into my reach, both forearms pressing against my back.

I’d had to moderate my aura, back at the hospital.  My mood darkened even thinking about that time, much as it had darkened when I saw myself in the mirror and remembered what I had been.

It took all I had to not let that darkness affect how I handled the aura.  I’d told myself, so many times, I wanted to be better.  Regrets weren’t worth anything if I didn’t let them drive me to do it better in the future.

For two months my aura had been one of the only real communication tools that I had, that didn’t require rounds of blinking and interpretation, or fumbling at a special keyboard with hands that didn’t map to how my brain thought my body should move.  I’d had some practice with the nuance of it.

Blindside was pressing against my back, and my aura was stronger the closer people were to me.  I controlled the aura’s expression to keep it small and more concentrated.

Awe.  Catch them on an emotional level.

Blindside stumbled back.

I spun around in the other direction, and bludgeoned them with the weight of my vest, using it like a flail.  They bounced off of the logging truck and collapsed.

Destroy was my usual third step.  I hoped I’d held back enough.  I’d wanted to disable only, but it was hard to know my own strength.

“You conscious?” I asked the villain.  My own voice sounded far away, distorted, hard to hear over the ringing.

I should have heard any response.  I didn’t.  Silence.

Blindside’s power didn’t let me check their condition, visually or otherwise.

I bent over them, fumbling, tracing their outline with the back of my hand, and finding walls even there, somehow.  I found their head, medium length hair, and tried to press the back of my hand against their ear.  My arm muscles seized.

I tried to use my knuckles to get into the ear, since I couldn’t use my fingertips without pointing or driving them toward Blindside, and I still hit the wall.

Blindside had been using something to communicate with others.  If it was a walkie-talkie, phone, or earpiece, it wasn’t anywhere I could access it.  Blindside’s power protected them.

The movement in the corner of my eye caught me off guard.  The bus.  The front corner was badly damaged, but it was chugging along somehow.  I hadn’t heard it approaching.  Where the paint had been black, it had broken away, revealing some of the bright yellow paint that it had once had, when it had been a school bus.

Jasper was waving his arm out the window, pointing.  I could hear his shouts, but the words were muted.

Incoming.

The villains would have heard the shots.

I looked up, and I saw Lord of Loss at the roof’s edge.  He’d turned himself into something resembling a tree.  A static emplacement, less able to move, but with roots that would extend into the building and secure his position so he could leverage his full strength.

He was growing by the second, smoke billowing out and solidifying into branching points.  He might just have the reach to hit us down on the street level, big as he was.

There were two entry points that weren’t windows.  Two courses of action stood out to me.  The first was to simply fly to a window, abandon Jasper.  I’d lose my job, but I would have to trust they would leave and be safe while I did what I could to help Fume Hood.

But I had something I wanted to ask.

I motioned for them to come, to hurry.

There were two doors into the building that I knew about.  The front door was no doubt seized by the mind-controlled army.  The side door had been painted.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to tear my way in and find out that the paint was a problem.

I didn’t want to charge in, only to find that they were securing their retreat.  They’d be looking for trouble coming from either of the entrances after hearing the shots.

There might have been a third way in.

I ran toward the nose of the eighteen wheeled logging truck, and I climbed over the nose of it.  It had collided with the wall, and it had done some damage.

Reaching up, I pulled at the damaged part overhead, and I leveraged the strength my forcefield provided to tear it away.  I pushed at another part, widening the gap.

The bus parked so its nose was tucked into the corner between the nose of the logging truck and the wall.  Jasper, Mar, and Landon climbed out of the bus.

“Are you okay?” Jasper asked.

I liked that it was the first thing he’d asked.  Gilpatrick’s five pound of gun speech taken to heart.  Less than five pounds of weaponry, more than fifteen pounds of protection, twenty five pounds of support and problem solving.  Jasper’s first thoughts were on the latter.  Those were supposed to be the priorities, the ratios.

“A bit of road rash,” I said, examining my arms.  “Too much adrenaline to feel the pain.”

Shadows shifted.  Lord of Loss had decided to detach from the roof, and was pulling himself together enough to start climbing down.

“Come on,” I said.

We ducked in through the gap, into a staff washroom.  I couldn’t see the source of the water, but it pooled on the floor below.  We passed through the door and into the hallway.

“So you’re a cape,” Mar said.  He’d been the kid who’d sat behind me on the bus and made smug insinuations about my name and background.

I gave him a dark look.  It looked like Landon was on his side.

“You’ve got blood on your upper lip,” Mar said.  “It looks like you’ve got a mustache.”

“Fuck off, Mar,” Jasper said.

I rubbed at my upper lip with the side of my hand, looking back to make sure Lord of Loss hadn’t followed us.

I could hear the humming and the music box.  Upstairs somewhere.  I could hear people in the building.

“Jasper,” I said.

“What?”

“I have to ask.  How much of this is setup?”

“Setup?” Mar asked, incredulous.

“I know I sound paranoid,” I said.  “I know if there’s a scenario or something, it’s probably against the rules to ask or answer, but I need the honest truth here, no bullshit.”

“You sound really fucking paranoid,” Mar said.  “Holy fuck, you capes are screwed up in the head.”

“Shut up, Mar,” Jasper said.

“Just answer, please,” I said, my eyes fixed on the end of the hallway, watching for the mind-controlled soldiers.  “Gilpatrick set me up with a bunch of new soldiers I don’t know that he can somehow vouch for, he insisted on them, and he sent me into a situation that was liable to get messy.  It doesn’t make sense unless I somehow imagine I’m being set up to fail.”

“Fuck me,” Mar said.

“It’s not really setup,” Jasper said.  “Gilpatrick explained before I left.”

I nodded to myself.

“They wanted to make sure you could be trusted.  They thought they’d stick you with some objective observers for three, four routine jobs, make sure you stuck to the rules, grade you, leave it at that.”

Objective.  I looked at Mar.

Yeah.  Right.

“And if I didn’t accept the job?  If I’d told Gilpatrick I didn’t want to do this patrol?”

“He really thought you would,” Jasper said.  “He told me that.  He was a bit stuck, caught between superiors saying he had to make you or he couldn’t keep you on, and thinking you wouldn’t.  Then you said yes.”

I frowned.  One impulse.  One spur-of-the-moment decision.

Cause and effect.  Every time I acted on impulse, bad things happened.  Some of the worst things had happened.  People around me got hurt.  I got hurt.  Two years in the hospital.

It was so much of why I’d wanted to slow down.

“I’m pretty fucking glad you said yes,” Jasper said.  “If it had been me in charge here I’m pretty sure most of us would be dead already.”

I exhaled.  Deep breaths.  I couldn’t fall into the mindset of dwelling on the past.

“You’re a good guy, Jasper.”

“I try,” he said.

I paused, thinking for a moment, listening to the noises elsewhere in the building.

I glanced at Landon and Mar.

“I’m a good guy too,” Mar said.

“Stay put,” I said, firm.

“You’re going alone?” Jasper asked.

“Yeah.  Just find a corner of the building to hole up in.  Hide, be safe.”

There was a balance to be struck.  I wanted to think I’d reasoned this through, as much as I could with the time constraint, the enemy no doubt closing in on the capes.  It was too risky to bring these guys with.

Going alone.

“Stay,” I said.  “Be safe.”

I sprinted off, raising my forcefield for good measure.

I entered the kitchen by another door.  Where I’d talked with Fume Hood.

Something exploded overhead.

I looked up.

Vapor, shards of crystal.

A moment later, there were two more small explosions, one after another, in a line.

Crystal clear, Crystalclear.

Not alone, then.  I hurried in the direction indicated.

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Daybreak – 1.3

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This was the point in time that I would have liked to be able to take to the skies.  Information was important, and if I didn’t have surveillance cameras, I would have been pretty content with a bird’s eye view of the scene.

I clenched one fist, cracking my knuckles, before wrapping my other hand around it, cracking them again for good measure.

I turned to look at the people from the patrol.  “Set up around the building.  Watch what’s going on outside, stay in touch, report anything unusual.  Jasper?  Hang back.”

The others turned to go, some looking back at the capes one last time before leaving.  Interest, other things.

“Can’t hurt,” the painted lady said.

“I’m Victoria,” I said.  “That’s Jasper.  I know Fume Hood from the notes we got, and I caught Crystalclear’s name.”

“Longscratch is the one who just left,” the painted lady said.  “I’m Tempera.”

“Thanks,” I said.  “Good to meet you.  Crystalclear, can you fill me in on your power?  What are you getting?”

“I see through everything,” Crystalclear said, tapping the chunk of crystal that stood out from the lower edge of his eye socket.  “As if everything was crystal.  I’ve learned there’s a lot of nuance to it.  A little bit of seeing into the past, a little bit of seeing into the future, a little bit of a sense of people’s focus.”

“He has a blaster power too,” Tempera said.  “Goes through walls and the ground.  Synergy.”

“I really hope it doesn’t come to actually using that.  Right now, I’m more interested in how this points to possible trouble in the future,” I said.

“Uh,” Crystalclear said.  He looked around.  “It’s hard to explain because it’s not a sense anyone else has.  Say I was looking at a wall.  It looks like a chunk of clear glass and the light catches at the edges and corners and they’re highlighted.”

My eye roved over the room.  It was reminiscent of a teacher’s lounge, but it had less of an emphasis on the lounging.  Coffee cups sat on windowsills and there were places where furniture had been stacked once, and the furniture had been moved out into the open room at the front of the building, where all the people were or had been seated.  Glass cases with model buildings had been brought inside and carefully stacked against the wall.  A long table that might have served as a conference table was folded up in one corner.

I tried to imagine it like Crystalclear was describing it.  A sketch in three dimensions, only the lines visible.  “I follow you so far.”

“The edges of walls and floor are usually clear, crisp, and closer to white.  Solid objects don’t change, so there’s no reason for that to change.  It’s blurred.  Blue tinted.”

“Future sight,” Tempera added.  “Past-sight is red, future-sight is blue.  Like the doppler.”

Crystalclear went on, “In the future, that wall vibrates.  Similar effect with people, but they move around more.  I see you all as streaks, shifting around, white-edged where you’re resting in present.  There is refraction and some fractures around people’s heads, representing focus and kind of thinking.”

“That gets blueshifted redshifted?” I asked.  “It’s not displayed as color?”

Crystalclear nodded his head.  It was a motion made more weighty by the heavy growth at the top of his head.  “Not as color.  It’s… edges to the light around them, sharpness and softness, distortions like how you can look at a glass of water with a straw in it and the straw isn’t straight, or you see multiple straws.   The worst breaks in focus look like grooves or outright breaks.  A lot of people here are going to be distorted soon.  Or were.  They’re leaving and they’re clearing up.”

His head turned as he focused on things on the other sides of the walls.

“What about, say, Jasper?”  I asked.

“Hey,” Jasper said.  “Use yourself as an example.”

Crystalclear looked at Jasper.  “Hard to say.  Whatever it is, it’s small or it’s distant.”

Crystalclear glanced over at Tempetera and Fume Hood.  “Not just him either.  It doesn’t give me much to work with.”

He turned his attention to me.

I cut right to asking my next question, before he could comment.  “Do you see the direction of it?  Anything big and blue that’s suggesting a major thing coming in sometime in the future?  One section of the building that gets hit harder?”

He shook his head.  “I’d have to see it before I saw how things were around it, and even then there’s nuance.”

“You’re thinking of a parahuman or weapon?” Tempera asked.

“I have no idea,” I said.  “If I was a civilian with an issue, and I was going after capes, I’d go big or I wouldn’t try at all.  If we’re talking something that shakes this whole community center… bomb?  Parahumans are definitely possible, except I’m not sure how using parahumans squares with the sentiment toward parahumans.”

Fume Hood spoke up from the background.  “Set us against each other, they benefit either way.”

“Could be,” I said.  I paused.  “As soon as the crowd has dispersed enough, I want to get you guys clear of here.  Do you have a decent mover power to use?”

“Longscratch does,” Tempera said.

“Not a mass mover power, is it?” I asked.  At the negation, I turned to Jasper.  “Can you bring the bus close?  If the crowd is thinning out, you should be able to pull right up to the door.  Take someone with you, if we’re delayed, do like I discussed earlier.  Keep an eye out.”

Jasper saluted, turning to go.

The bus wasn’t elegant, but hopefully it would take us away from vulnerable civilians or areas.

“How is Longscratch?” Tempera asked Crystalclear.

“He’s fine.  Stalked off.  He’s keeping an eye out for trouble,” Crystalclear said.  He pointed up and off to one side.  On an upper floor, it seemed, or on the roof.

“That’s how he is.  I won’t bother him.  I’ll go talk to the district representative, instead, if that’s alright,” Tempera said, looking my way.

“If the coast is clear,” I said.

“Most people have cleared out of the main hall,” Crystalclear said.  “The ones who are hanging back seem like the types to be doing it for good reason.  Parents with kids, teenagers hoping to get a glimpse of the heroes they came to see.”

“That’s positive,” Tempera said.  “I’ll give them a glimpse then.  Thank you, Victoria.”

“I’m going to get a glass of water and get my head straight,” Fume Hood said.  “I’ll catch up with the rest of you in a minute.”

“Don’t go running off,” Tempera said.  “Get your water, take a minute, but come back after.  I don’t want you to throw yourselves to the wolves.”

“I won’t,” Fume Hood said.

“Or whatever variant on that plan you might be thinking.  I can see you trying to lead the enemy way from us,” Tempera said.

“I won’t,” Fume Hood said, annoyed.

“It wouldn’t work anyway,” Crystalclear added.

“Your future sight telling you that?” Fume Hood asked, her annoyance becoming something more bitter.

“I don’t see the future like that.  You know that.  But I do know that they’re mad at all of us.  Our fortunes are intertwined, and their hate is- it’s not very targeted.”

“Not hate,” I said.

They looked my way.

“It’s easy to see it as hate, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” I said.  “It’s not that.  It’s blame.

“Blame,” Fume Hood said.

“I don’t think it’s a reflection on you.  Humanity is hurt.  It’s hurt in a way that makes it a little bit animal.  Reactive.  They’re snapping at any target that presents itself, because the hurt is fresh.  They’re taking that hurt and they’re looking for anyone they can put it onto.  You…”

I trailed off.

“We presented ourselves,” Tempera said.

“Not in a bad way,” I said.  “This isn’t your fault.”

“I’ll get my water,” Fume Hood said, curt.  She didn’t wait for a response, heading into the adjacent room, further from the front of the building.

Once Fume Hood was gone, Tempera nudged Crystalclear.  “Keep an eye on them?”

Crystalclear nodded.

Tempera gave me a nod before stepping out the door.

“Is Fume Hood going to be okay?” I asked.

“Who knows?” he asked.

“Trouble still isn’t imminent?”

Crystalclear shook his head.  “At least fifteen minutes off.  I’m thinking we should go get a better vantage point, see if I can’t spot any troublemakers.”

“Watch out for my guys,” I said.

“Watch out for what?”

I glanced at the door.  “Blame.”

“Got it,” he said.  “I shouldn’t stick my neck out or draw attention to myself, then?”

“Not unless I’m there.”

“And where will you be?” he asked.

I looked at the other door.  The one Fume Hood had taken.   “I was thinking I’d get a glass of water.  Unless you think that would be overstepping.”

He looked in the direction Fume Hood had gone.  His voice was soft as he said, “I have no fucking idea.”

“I’ll catch up with you,” I said, clapping a hand on his shoulder in passing.

The area adjacent to the conference room was a kitchen, set up with multiple stovetops and long counters.  Catering-focused, at a glance.  The stoves were of different makes and models.  Scavenged.

Fume Hood was standing by the sink, a glass of water in hand.  She looked at me, her eyes barely visible with the surrounding mask and the overhanging hood.

“Can I grab some water?  The bus ride was warm, even with the windows rolled down.”

She filled a glass, then slid it along the counter to me, so it met me halfway as I made my approach.

“What was the plan?” I asked.

“The plan?”

“Corporate?  Sponsored?  Ideology-driven?  There are a lot of those nowadays.  Move forward, rebuild, hold to the past, unity in strength, religion…”

“No ideology,” she said.  “No sponsorship.  No business partnerships.  I’m not even sure what we would have done about the money.”

“That can be hard,” I said.  I drank my water.

“It wasn’t supposed to be easy.”

I finished my water, then approached the sink to get more.  Fume Hood turned around, leaning against the counter just beside me.

She said, “It was community focused.  Serving the area, hometown heroes like the old days.  I thought of it as community service, in more than one way.”

“I like that,” I said.

She shrugged.  “I’m not sure if there’s anything to like about it.”

“It’s a good idea.  It sounds positive.  Maybe it’s worth trying again later.”

“It won’t come together again like this later.  Tempera is pretty good at this whole thing, and she needs to do the cape stuff, so she’ll find a team to join.  Crystalclear will get poached because decent thinker powers are in demand.  Longscratch… I don’t know why he’s even here.  Tempera suggested it to him, for some reason, he accepted for some reason.  He’s upset it fell apart.  Next time, he’ll just say no.  He’ll steer clear so he doesn’t have reason to get upset again.”

“Mover psychology?” I asked.

“I don’t know about that stuff.  I just know he’s a weird mix of wants and needs and he’s really cool when things are good and he’s impossible to understand when they aren’t.  Which they aren’t.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“You wouldn’t be sorry if you knew,” she said.  She stood taller, stretching a bit.  She tossed the empty glass between her hands.  “It’s my fault.”

“You orchestrated this?” I asked.

“I hurt a pregnant lady and she lost her child and I don’t even feel that bad about it,” Fume Hood said.  “I turned myself in, but it was because people thought I’d become a PR problem for capes in general.  I’d run out of friends and places to run to.  It seemed like the only way to get things to cool down.”

The glass smacked against each of her hands as she tossed it back and forth.

I drank my water, still watching her.

“I’m pissed,” she said.  “People are making such a big deal over this, and I can’t bring myself to see it their way.  It was an accident.  I told the civilians to sit and stay put, and this stupid-

She stopped there, clenching her fist.

Fume Hood continued, “-stupid fucking woman.  She ran right to where I was shooting out a display window, gets knocked on her ass, breathes in the gas.”

“I wonder what she was thinking,” I said.

“I’ve wondered that every day since.  I’m mostly caught between thinking she wanted to get hurt and lose the baby, it was so blatant, or that she thought the broken display window was an escape route, even though there were others she could have run for,” Fume Hood said.  “I was so pissed.  I shouted at people to take her outside and get her some fresh air, even though I knew it made everything harder with the robbery.  They’d contact authorities, we’d have to protect ourselves, whatever.  I thought I was pretty fair.  She got medical attention and shit.”

“Could have been worse,” I said.

“I shouldn’t have pulled that robbery at the mall.  I know that.  But it’s not one of my big regrets.  Her being a stupid fucking idiot isn’t one of them either, obviously.”

“You turned yourself in after that.”

“The heat got too much, like I said.  And- and I was tired, you know?”

Her voice had cracked on the ‘tired’.

She sounded tired now.

“It had been years, trying to get by.  A lot of it was fun.  The drugs, the robberies and mercenary work, the adventure, new places and really interesting people.  Some shitty people, lots of scary people, but they were always interesting.  Capes are interesting in a way you probably wouldn’t get if you didn’t know any for real.”

“I grew up with capes,” I said.

She stopped passing the glass from hand to hand, holding it in both instead.  “Did you?  Huh.”

I shrugged.  My glass was empty.  I put it on the counter and, finger on the inside, spun it in a circle, the bottom rattling on the metal countertop.

She continued, “Well, all I know is, the crime stuff started to feel like work.  The drugs stopped feeling like they were a plus and started feeling like they were something I had to do.  I was never addicted, I never craved it, I never had withdrawal after.  This analogy I’ve been thinking of is it’s like I had to go to the bathroom every half hour and who wants to do that, you know?  Who wants to keep interrupting their day for something they aren’t even enjoying anymore?”

“No idea,” I said.  “But I can see what you’re saying.”

“The cool people started dropping away.  A couple dead, others just stopped being cool.  High people are really boring to be around.  So like a genius, I thought hey, let’s just go to prison.  I made a deal.  I wanted a bit of an education, training at some job or another, safety, I didn’t want to be stuck in there too long.”

“How’d it work out?”

“Deal worked out fine.  Judge agreed, heroes agreed, it was one less parahuman on the streets that people were really upset about.  Jail isn’t fun, but it was what I needed, I think.”

“Shows character, I think,” I said.  “Realizing where you were at, where you were headed, and changing course.”

“I don’t have character,” Fume Hood said.  “It was selfish and self-centered.  It was me, me, me, I’m bored, I’m done with the drugs, I’m scared of being caught by angry people, I want this deal, I want some education.  I don’t and I never cared about that pregnant idiot.”

She met my eyes as she said that last bit.

Challenging me.

I spun the glass on the countertop again.  “The community service hero stuff?”

“Me, me, me,” she said, her voice quiet.  “I thought it gave me the best chance of dodging any lingering heat.  Ha.”

I took my finger away from the glass.  It spun in a circle before settling with a rattle.

“I don’t buy it,” I said.

She shrugged, tossing the glass into the air, catching it.

“You said before that you have real regrets,” I said.  “And you can call yourself selfish, but I think the dots connect here.  Your reasons, your regrets.”

She tossed the glass into the air, caught it.

She did it a few more times.

“We should go,” she said.  “Check on the others.  Do our part.”

“We should,” I said.

The water from the faucet we’d used deposited a fat droplet on the metal bottom of the large sink, producing a hollow sound.  Neither of us budged.

“I got friends into the soft drugs and I egged them on instead of stopping them when they got themselves into the harder stuff.  I regret that, I turned myself in for that, even though I was supposed to be serving the punishment for the pregnant woman.  For other stuff, more on that level.  I turned myself in for the” -she took a deep breath, as if to signify magnitude- “years of being a low to mid tier nusiance.  For being tiresome.  And because I was tired of it.”

“I’m not a priest,” I said.  “I don’t have the power to say some words and absolve you.  It’s up to society to decide how angry they are and how they come to terms with it.  It’s up to you to decide how willing you are to face your deeds.  When it comes to me… I can say I respect a lot of what you’re saying.   I definitely think you should own up more to what you did to that woman, stop calling her stupid.  It’s not a point in your favor.”

Fume Hood nodded.

“Honestly,” I said, “I really like the community hero idea.  I’d really like you to try it again, after a bit.  For that to be your way of working through it all, from influencing your friends to hurting that woman.  We’re dealing with blame, not hate, and blame finds a place to roost eventually.  There has to be another shot at making this happen.”

“Blame seems like too small a word for what Crystal was saying.”

“Blame can be big,” I said.  “Blame has led to the ruin of nations.”

She nodded.  “That sort of helps, actually.”

“I’m glad to have sort of helped.”

“Blame can become something else, given time, can’t it?” she asked.

“It can,” I admitted.  “I’m spooked at the idea it will.  For now, just… be a hero,” I said.  “Don’t walk away from this sort of thing for good.”

“You guys keep saying stuff to me, like, don’t run off, don’t sacrifice yourself, be a hero, as if it’s implied I’ve got ideas I haven’t said out loud.”

“You’re a self-described shitty person and an ex-villain.  We’re not allowed to be suspicious?” I asked.

That got a half-smile out of her.

“Come on,” I said.  “I’m getting worried about my guys and I’ll get yelled at by my boss if I leave them to their own devices for too long.”

“This is your thing, then?” she asked.  She followed me as I left, setting her glass next to where I’d left mine.  “You joined the junior-PRT to convince shitty people to be less shitty?”

“On the most basic level, I got into this because capes are what I know,” I said.

“Because you grew up with them.”

“Yeah, but keep that under the lid for now,” I said.  “I’m not broadcasting it to the world.”

“Lips zipped.”

I pushed the door open, stepping back into the now-empty conference room.  “I want to help.  I could have helped with construction or farming or whatever else, but like I said-”

“Capes are what you know.”

“Yeah.  I knew so many great people and I don’t know if all of them made it, but I want to be in a position to help them through whatever comes next.  I want to figure things out, because the lack of answers is what fucks us over, and fucks them over.  I want to talk to people like you, if you happen to be on the fence, so maybe you land on the side where you’re more likely to help out those really cool, great people.”

“I thought you junior-PRT kids were all about training so you can go after the monsters.”

She’d created a hard green sphere, the size of a billiard ball.  She tossed it between her hands as she had the glass.  It smacked against each palm.

I answered her, “Don’t get me wrong, but I have pretty strong feelings when it comes to the monsters.  I’m pretty far from being okay with them.”

She gave me a sidelong glance while opening the door to the main room.

“But I don’t think you’re one of them,” I said.  “Sorry, but you’re safe from me.”

She threw the ball to the right, but instead of smacking into her palm, it curved in the air, orbiting her hand in a long ellipse as a moon might a planet.

“What a relief,” she said.  She was smiling a bit more, now.

The smile faltered a bit more as we faced the situation at hand.

Some of the police had come inside.  My guys were standing near the windows, looking out.  Some were talking to the police.

A share of the crowd had remained behind.  Community leaders, possibly.

Fume Hood hung back as I approached them all.

“You’re in charge?” a police officer asked.  He had a mustache.  It bothered me, because I’d never really got mustaches, barring the truly awesome ones.  This was lip decoration, bristly and at odds with how his hair was combed back and close to his head.

“Yessir.  I’m Victoria, I take my orders from Instructor Gilpatrick at Wayfair High School.”

“They said you told them to follow our orders?”

“Or to keep a lookout for trouble.  There’s still people here?  Is there a problem?”

“No,” the officer said.  He sighed.  “I don’t know what to do with them.  Yours or with the others.  Situation seems to be resolving itself, but the teenagers in uniform are insisting it isn’t.”

“The capes say it isn’t,” I said.  “I’d believe them.”

“Huh,” he said.

I took a deep breath, exhaling slowly, while the officer took a look around at the situation.

“Haven’t you talked to them?” I asked.  “The capes?”

“A little bit,” he said.  “Not recently.  I don’t really know how.”

“They’re people,” I said.  “Capable people who want to help.”

“They’ve got the eye thing, and the masks.  One doesn’t have eyes at all,” he said.  “He has these crystals.  He pulled one out of the top of his head earlier, and it made a wet sound.  It was in so deep it should’ve been inside his brain.”

“They’re people,” I said, again.

“It’s disconcerting,” the man said.

I wanted to say things to that, but I bit my tongue.  I could hardly criticize when I’d been talking to Fume Hood.

I’d just- I’d really hoped for better.

“If you need me to be a liason, let me know,” I said.  He didn’t give me an immediate response, so I called out to the squaddies.  “Get back from the windows, guys!  The working theory is a bomb, heavy impact, cape power, or something like an earthquake, and you don’t want your nose pressed against the glass when it comes!”

They shuffled back.

“Bomb?” the officer asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Can you get everyone here clear of danger?”

“To somewhere inside or further outside?”

I looked around.  Crystalclear and the others hadn’t come to find us, so I was left to imagine the danger wasn’t super imminent.  Inside posed risks.

I didn’t like making the calls, but I said, “Outside, but hurry it up.  If there’s any remaining crowd outside, get them further back or get them to go.”

“Alright,” he said.  “Makes sense.”

He whistled for the attention of his people and the crowd that had gathered closer to the front door.

While he handled that, I looked at the others, “Where’s Jasper?”

“Still out there.  He has Mar and Landon with him.  The crowd is in their way.”

I hurried to approach the window.  I could hear a commotion behind me, as others entered the room, but my focus was on the commotion outside.  My view was briefly blocked by the cops and the people they were leading outside and across the street to our left, away from both the building and the lingering protesters.

“Victoria,” Crystalclear said, behind me.  He was with a small few members of the community center staff, including the district rep, and he had Longscratch and Tempera with him.

He would be here because trouble was imminent.

“How soon?” I asked.

“Two impacts in a couple of minutes.  Six or seven.”

Two.  Six or seven minutes gave us a window to act.

I watched the scene in progress through the window.  Jasper wouldn’t make it to the front door in two or three minutes.  Some of the protest had dispersed, but a lot of it had spread out from the square of grass, sidewalks, fountain and trees just in front of the community center, dotting the streets.  A share of them occupied the street Jasper needed to come down to reach us, and a lot of them had their back to him.  He honked, not for the first time, and one of them gave him the finger.

“I’m going to help Jasper out, get us our bus so we can drive out of here without being mobbed,” I said.  “Is there a side door?”

Crystalclear pointed at what would have been the south side of the building, to my left.

“Go there, stay clear of windows.  Protect my people, keep them clear of danger.  The moment there’s real trouble, they’re just high schoolers and should be treated as such.  High schoolers- you guys protect Fume Hood.  Protect the capes.  Be good.”

“Do you need help?” Tempera asked.

She couldn’t help.  She would cause more problems than she fixed, being in costume.

No.  I shook my head, heading to the front door.

Was this an emergency?  Yes.

Did I like using my power?  No.

I marched toward the bus, glaring at the first person in my way.  I activated my aura.

“Move,” I said, and I pushed out with my power.  Heads turned, noticing.  Maybe they would put their finger on why they’d noticed.  Maybe not.  I was nudging, here.

I could see the man’s reaction.  He took a partial step back.

I stepped it up a notch, not with more use of my power, but by raising the volume of my voice.  “Out of the way!”

He got out of the way.  That and me drawing nearer made it easier for the next person to come through.

“Bus!” I called out to Jasper.  “Get moving!  Side door to the right of the building!  South side!”

People looking back at the bus and back to me had more pressure to deal with.  That was easier.  They got clear of the bus’ path.

The one who had given Jasper the finger, though, he had just a little bit more to prove.  I put my hands on him.  I pushed him, and he resisted.

I pushed him with my aura, small, closer to center, a pulse of intimidation just for him, to break his posture and resolve.  My hands pushed him the rest of the way.  He landed on his ass.

He wasn’t wholly out of the way, but Jasper was able to drive up on the sidewalk.  His door was open and the stairs leading up to his seat were there.  I hopped up, grabbing the bar that the driver used to climb into the seat, hanging off the side.

“Things okay?” he asked.

“They’re about to be not okay,” I said.  “We’ve got four or five minutes, probably.  I want to be gone by-”

Jasper’s two passengers, Mar and Landon, were at the window behind Jasper’s seat.  They were looking out and over my shoulder.

I turned to look.  In the crowd, a man was standing there, shuddering.  People were backing away from him.

He wore a black hooded sweatshirt and black pants, and he stood so the hood hid his face.  His arms were at his side, vibrating.  Head, arms, body and legs all moved like he had a paint shaker wedged up his ass, moving more violently by the second.

Building up to something.

“Take cover!” I shouted the words.

Some people did.  They ran, they sprinted for mailboxes, for trees.  But it was too open an area for everyone to find something.

I threw up my personal forcefield, shielding Jasper, my arm out toward the windows the other two were looking at.

The man in the crowd exploded, showering the crowd with chunks of bone, flesh, and a mist of blood.  More than should have been contained in a human body.  Some of the windows in the bus had cracked, and my forcefield was down.

The people over the square of grass, around the fountain, on the sidewalks and the streets surrounding the explosion all stood, calm.

Streaked with blood, they looked around, every single head turning left, then turning right.  All in unison.

“Drive,” I said.

Jasper stomped on the gas.

Further up the street, the cops that had been evacuating people from the building and across the road were standing near the street.  They’d been touched by the gore-explosion, and now they were drawing their guns.

“Don’t hit them!”

“I’m not going to hit them!” Jasper called out, swerving so the side and then the rear of the bus was between us and them.

It hadn’t been five or six minutes yet.  It couldn’t have been.  The building hadn’t been hit yet.

I climbed up higher, standing on the headrest of Jasper’s seat to reach a higher point on the bus, looking over the roof.

Where?

The worst possible location.

An eighteen wheeled logging truck was coming down the road.  The front had been reinforced with metal braces.  It was coming from the direction of the water, only four hundred or so feet of road between the waterline they’d started near and the community center, but it was going full speed, straight for the side door.

“Fuck me.”  Jasper’s voice.

Even if Crystalclear saw-

“Hit it!” I called out.

“What?  Are you insane?”

“Hit it!  The others are waiting on the other side of the door!”

I scrambled to get in position.

“Trusting you,” Jasper said, and the bus picked up speed.

You shouldn’t, I thought.

I had one partial glimpse of the inside of the truck.

Multiple costumes.

And then the impact.

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Daybreak – 1.2

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I had badly neglected my locker.  I had an office, so my locker in the changing room was more for the things I didn’t use much at all.

Bag.  The backpack was light, but it only had the nonperishables in it.  I’d done a few patrols for Gilpatrick over the winter, visiting some of the settlements that were a little further afield, while many of the students were taking Christmas off.  I’d also used it for my fitness test.

I set it on the table in the center of the room.  Something to weigh when I was done getting outfitted.  For now, I just needed it out of my locker.  The bag took up the bottom half, the armor took up the upper half.

Outfit change.  I couldn’t go out in a skirt and body armor.  I had some self respect.  The pants in my locker were part of an emergency change of clothes, heavier fabric intended for winter and trips to Bet when the weather was bad.

I hadn’t put the pants through the wash since having to shovel snow over the winter, but I hadn’t worn them much either.  There was still salt crusting the heels, white against black fabric.  I walked over to the sink and rinsed the worst of the salt off, then rolled up the cuffs a bit so I wouldn’t have wet pants slapping against my ankle.

I kicked off my shoes and hiked up the pants so they were under my skirt, then unfastened the skirt.

“Victoria,” Gilpatrick said, behind me, a deep male voice in the girl’s change room.  I jumped a little.  “Are you free to talk?”

I turned my head.  There wasn’t a door to the girl’s changing room, but there was a solid wall blocking the view.  I could see the edge of Gilpatrick’s arm – he stood with his back to the wall and the changing room.

Camisola was in the room too, unpacking and repacking her kits for her bag.  She met my eyes.

“I’ll step out,” she said.

“Thank you, Cami,” Gilpatrick said.  I pulled my shoes back on and laced them as Cami left the room.

Belt.  Holster.  I threaded the belt through my belt loops, careful to position the holster.

Cami was apparently out of earshot, because Gil spoke again.  “Thank you, Victoria.”

“Give me Jasper,” I said.  “For my squad.”

“Jasper?” he asked.  “Why?”

Well, that said a lot, didn’t it?

“Because I’m paranoid,” I said.  Paranoid on more than one front, but I wouldn’t tell Gilpatrick that.  I had suspicions and his willingness to give me Jasper would tell me things.  “Is anyone else standing outside the door?”

“This conversation is just you and me.”

“Okay.  I know Jasper, and I’m honestly more worried about the attitudes of the people you gave me than I am about the protest or whatever it is people are going to pull with Bad Apple.”

“Jasper’s attitude isn’t great.”

“Jasper is a joker and he can be immature, but he can give that five pounds of gun speech because he believes it.  He’s in this because he thinks capes are cool, not because he’s pissed.  Give me one person I know will agree with me.”

“I kind of need every senior I can get.  But I’ll give you that.”

I bit my lip, thinking as I worked the combination of the safe at the topmost section of my locker.  I pulled out the pistol and holstered it.  I kept my hand there, reminding myself of the weapon’s weight as I tried to figure out how to word my question, and if I wanted to ask it.

“Then how about you take some of the angry ones?  The new guys you were giving me.”

“That was a quick assessment.”

I gathered the pistol magazines and slotted them into the pouch, before setting to attaching the pouch to my leg and belt.  “I don’t want them.  I don’t want to get some people from elsewhere with their own habits and ways of doing things, and have to train them on top of doing this thing.”

“Take them, Victoria,” Gilpatrick said.  “They came with good recommendations, they know their stuff, and if it does wind up being a protest, you’ll want the extra bodies.  If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t matter.”

“Things are never that simple, Gil,” I said.

“Take them,” he said, firm.

“You owe me for this,” I said.

“I know,” he said.

I sighed.

Armor.  I pulled my vest from the bottom of the locker.  I saved it for last because once it was on, I wouldn’t be able to bend down or move as easily.  The old name and number was still visible by the impression that had been made in the armor when it had been punched in and painted on.  The steel-wool scrubbing I’d given it hadn’t erased the whole impression.

I didn’t know who Cameron was or where they’d ended up, but I wore their armor now.  I tucked the papers in between my chest and the armor, where the straps would help keep them in place.

I spoke, “It’s a cushy job, I get to geek out and show off, and I like my office and the access I get to the portal, I don’t want to take that for granted, but you owe me a few already.  This is one more.”

“I know,” he said.  “I’ll make it up to you.  I’ve got to run.  Kids to torture.  I’ll send Jasper your way.”

“Alright,” I said.  “Do I need my full pack?”

“No,” he said.  “No, I wouldn’t do that to you.  Full pack is a torment I reserve for the newbies.”

I was glad to put my bag back in the locker.  I heard Gilpatrick walking away, raising his voice to shout orders.

I used fingernails to comb my hair back, then began braiding it.  I had to look in the mirror to make sure I’d gotten all of the stray strands.

Hi me, I thought, as I made eye contact.

How to describe that feeling?  Something resembling relief and a sinking feeling at the same time. It was a small feeling but still one that I would carry with me for the rest of the day.  That day would be a little bit worse because of the moment, but it would feel more stable for the reminder, too.

I had a good two years of experience to draw from, in figuring that out.

I’d stopped braiding my hair, I realized, and I’d started holding my breath without realizing it.  I exhaled, closed the safe, spun the dial, closed the locker, and walked out onto the floor of the building, resuming the braiding of my hair.

Forward.  Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.  Moving on with the day.

I caught up with Jasper as he joined the group.

“I’m driving, apparently,” Jasper said, wangling the keys in front of me.  “And keeping you company.  Gilpatrick explained the situation.”

“Good,” I said.  I pointed in the direction of the bus.  We started walking.

“You’re friends?” one of the new guys asked.

Still braiding, I looked over at Jasper.  “Enhh.”

“You can tell she’s really diplomatic,” Jasper said.

“Work friends, kind of?” I said.

“We don’t hang out,” Jasper said.  “I’m not sure what we’d do if we did.  We don’t have anything in common.”

“We got stuck together for jobs and errands enough times we became familiar with each other,” I said.  “We get on okay.  Jasper’s cool.  Just don’t ask him about the tattoo.”

“Tattoo?” someone asked.

“I’ll explain when we’re driving,” Jasper said, smiling.

We reached the bus.  It wasn’t pretty.  A half-size school bus, rust had been mostly scrubbed away and it had received a paint job in black with white sides.  The emergency exit at the back had been redone so it was the main way in and out, and a passenger seat had been added at the front.  There was an area for supplies and bags to be stowed between the wheels at the right side.

I wrapped my braid around itself a few times, and tied it there in a slightly messy bun-coil, then climbed up to the passenger seat.  The seniors climbed into the back.  There were a few faces I recognized but couldn’t name, a dozen more that I didn’t recognize and definitely couldn’t name.  I could tell that they were from elsewhere by the fact that the armor they’d brought with them had been painted black, rather than have the white letters scrubbed away.  Twenty-four in all.

Jasper took the driver’s seat, starting up the bus immediately.

Even parked in the shade, even in September, the heat was such that the seats were uncomfortably hot.  I’d thought about removing my armor once my hands were free, and carrying it by hand, but I decided to keep it on for the extra buffer.

Didn’t do anything to spare my ass from the warm faux-leather seat.  I didn’t like being aware of my body to that extent.

“Where to?” Jasper asked, rescuing me from my thoughts.

“Norwalk-Fairfield span,” I said.

“Rural, isn’t that?” Jasper asked.

“Last I heard.”

Jasper had to almost stand up to get the perspective to see through the open back of the bus.  He reversed out of the lot and took us onto the road.

“Maybe you guys can answer.  What’s the deal with stretches and spans?” one of the new guys asked.

I turned sideways in my seat, looking back.  Now that I was sitting and looking back at them, they were older, I noted.  Seventeen at a minimum.  “You guys are from one of the denser parts of the city?”

“New York Central.  Near the Bet-Gimel portal,” a girl said.

One of the two big ones, then.  We’d bled into the areas surrounding the portals.  Brockton Bay had been the first, but we’d had a few in a few major cities and New York was a big one.  The cluster of settlements around the portals in the northeastern US and people’s desire to have ready access to that cluster and the resources, community, information and security it afforded had played a big part in the megalopolis forming.

One blob around New York, one blob around the New Brockton settlement, clusters south of New Brockton, near what would or should be Boston, and everything had spread out or extended from there, mostly hugging the coast and connecting to one another.

I explained, “We’ve got these long narrow bands of mingled city and agriculture connecting the primary settlement points, to the point it’s hard to say where one thing starts and the other ends.  And instead of building five big houses they’d rather build an apartment building that hosts twenty, which makes things fuzzy with the distinctions of urban and rural.  So we get the ever-expanding megalopolis blob and we can’t figure out what to call it, even though it’s already this monster.”

Our progress out of the city center was slow.  Construction.  Endless construction.  Jasper seemed happy to be driving, even at a crawl.

“Yeah,” the first guy spoke.

“In terms of the bands that rope everything in together, we go by the cities and locations that were there beforehand.  If you look at where Norwalk would be on a map, that’s the name for the region we’re heading to.  If it’s east-west it’s a span.  If it’s north-south it’s a stretch.  But it’s all a part of the city.”

“What if it’s both?” someone asked.

“Then it’s neither,” Jasper said.  “You just give it a name.”

“More accurately, you try to give it a name and end up in a heated, months-long debate about what to call the area, with way too many emotions tied up into things,” I said.

The guy from right behind me said, “I don’t see why we can’t just give the individual areas names like they used to have.  If it’s close to Norwalk, then we call it fucking Norwalk.”

“Hey,” I said.  I gave a stern look to the guy who’d said it.  “Swearing’s fine, but not if you’re getting heated.  We’re chatting, not getting up in arms.”

“Right.  Sorry,” the guy said.  He didn’t look particularly sorry.

We picked up speed as we pulled onto a street with less construction.  With the back of the bus open and the windows on either side of Jasper and me rolled all the way down, the wind whipped through the bus.  The city smelled like dust, drywall, and hot pavement.

I dangled one arm out the window, moving my fingers and feeling the air moving against them.

“It gets complicated,” I said.  “Geography’s slightly different, they’re hardly checking longitude and latitude exactly when we settle in one place or another.  They’re doing what the surroundings allow.  Means the Norwalk we’re going to might actually be between two places, or off to one side.”

Jasper chimed in, “I always remember the Norwalk-Fairfield span because it’s close to the portal for Earth N.  N for Norwalk.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I guess that works.”

“I’ve got a question for you, though,” he said.

“You want to talk about your tattoo idea.”

“Yes,” he said.

I rolled my eyes.  “Do what you want.”

He turned his head so he could talk to the back of the bus while watching the road.  “We’re doing the squad thing, right?  And a lot of us are doing this with the idea we’ll police the capes, or help them out.”

“Police them, mostly,” a guy said.

“Opinions vary,” Jasper said, “But I don’t want to get sidetracked.  What I’m thinking is, what’s better than a good callsign?  We have nicknames to call each other.  The trouble is getting a good one to stick.”

“Opinions on what a good callsign is are going to vary,” I said.

“Quiet you,” Jasper said.  “You and I have talked about this and I’ve determined you have no idea what you’re talking about when it comes to this.  You know the cape stuff, sure, but you clearly don’t get this.”

“You want to decide your own callsign?” the girl from the back asked.

“Jester,” Jasper said.  “And I swear, if people don’t start using it, I’m going to make it happen by getting a tattoo of a jester and ‘fool’ written beneath it, right on my bicep.”

The protests, naturally, started rolling in from the rest of the bus.  He couldn’t decide his own callsign, why would he have it say fool if he wanted the callsign to be Jester, why even have it be Jester?

I tuned it out, sticking my head out the window.  Jasper tried to sell the rest of the bus on his idea and was very thoroughly shot down.  In this, at least, all was right with the world.  It was a bad idea.  Forty year-old Jasper didn’t need to live with the mistakes of seventeen year-old Jasper.

We drove past skyscrapers paneled in gold-tinted glass.  Solar glass, it was supposed to be called.  We drove past parks with the same rough-edged slice of nature that touched the schoolyard back at the high school.  We drove past a lot of construction, and we were lucky that it didn’t slow us down much.

“Victoria Dallon.”

I’d heard my name.  I was broken from my reverie.  How long had we been driving now?  The city was seemingly unending and I didn’t recognize the landmarks enough to nail anything down.

Victoria Dallon.  I looked at myself in the bus’ side view mirror.

“What was that?” Jasper asked, while I remained silent.

“Name sounds familiar,” the voice said, from the back.  It sounded almost smug, knowing.  “Can’t quite place it.”

“That so?” Jasper asked.  “Maybe keep it to yourself, then.”

“Is that how this is?”

“I think it’s how everything is,” Jasper said.  “Not just this.  When you’re bringing up the past, whoever you’re talking to, there are two likely possibilities. First, it’s good, and we miss the shit out of it, or, second, it’s bad and why would you bring up the bad except to be a tool?”

“It could be important,” the guy said.  “It’s good to know who or what we’re dealing with.”

“Could be,” Jasper said.  “But I can tell you this.  Gil trusts her.  I trust her.  If you want to know who you’re dealing with, why don’t you start by taking our cue?”

There was no response from the back.

“Otherwise, if you’re not going to listen to us,” Jasper said, “why are you on our bus?”

Again, no response.

Then, belated, one of the others uttered a quiet, “Leave it.”

Not aimed at Jasper.  My detractor had been about to say something, I took it, and he’d been told to be quiet.  Not the best result, but it seemed to end the line of questioning.

I wondered if there was something nice I could do for Jasper, for sparing me having to handle that.

I fished the papers out from my vest, smoothing them against my lap.  I glanced out the window.  The city had thinned out, and I could see farms and tent cities further out.

We had to be pretty close to our destination now.

I twisted around in my seat again, looking at the people in the back.  I could tell by the way one of them held himself, shoulders square, eye contact forced, that he’d been the one to speak out against me.  He studied me like he would an opponent.

I addressed them, “When we get there, we stay together.  We’ll have a quick chat with the people in charge, all together.  If the police have orders for us, those are the orders we follow.  If not, I’ll tell you guys to get to work.  You head to the crowd, and you say hi.”

“Say hi?”

“Mingle.  Show your faces, let people know we’re around.  Ask how they’re doing.  What do they think?  Look for anyone antsy, especially anyone antsy that we’re there.  Don’t engage if there’s trouble.  Let the police know and let me know, and we’ll figure it out.”

“I like looping through the crowds,” Jasper said.  “We did that once or twice, when Gilpatrick was calling the shots, last year.  People don’t see the face or the hair, only the uniform.  If you loop back, it looks like there are more of us than there are.”

“Give them second thoughts?” the girl from the back asked.

“Something like that,” Jasper said.

I wrapped up.  “When we get settled and things are going to start, we’ll be keeping eyes out or standing guard, probably.  We regroup before then, we’ll figure out what’s up, and see where we’re needed.”

I saw people nod, then turned around in my seat.

“Which street?” Jasper asked.

“Myrtle.”

“I think that’s it down there,” he said.

There were still a lot of tents and cubicle houses hereabouts, it seemed.  On the southern side of the main road, to our left, we had apartment buildings, stores, and something that looked like a brand spanking new swathe of city.  On the other side, it was more construction, tents, farm, and the houses that weren’t real houses- more like mock houses made of panels that had been bolted together, like overlarge tents with hard exteriors.

We turned away from the main road, into the deeper section of the city.  The community center was made of stone, had a squat clock tower situated on top,  and looked stately, even with the tall buildings surrounding it, many at least as tall as the community center was.  A patch of park with a fountain sat squarely in front of it.

School was just getting out, it seemed.  Students were streaming through the area.  They walked through and along the road to the point that we couldn’t get very close.  Many heads turned our way, curious.

Jasper found a parking space a block away from the center, and parked there.  Our people climbed out the back while Jasper and I got organized at the front.

“Jasper,” I said.

“Special orders for me?”

“When and if the rest of them are going through the crowd, stay near the front door.  If anyone gets nervous and ducks out, it might be something.”

“Should I follow?”

“Probably not.  Keep an eye out, let me know if anything happens.”

“And why is this a secret from the others?”

Because I didn’t trust the others.  They’d been foisted on me, they had clear attitudes, and I was worried that if push came to shove, they might let a troublemaker go if it meant fucking with the capes.

“Paranoia,” I said.  I started to climb out of my seat.  “Thanks for the backup back there.  Jester.”

Jasper grinned as my face fell.

“I’m sorry, but it sounds bad,” I said.  “I can’t make this a thing.”

“It sounds bad when you’re saying it as if someone’s pulling your fingernails out while you’re talking.”

“They might as well be,” I said.

“It’s good,” he said.  “It’s cool.”

“It’s against everything I stand for,” I said.  I climbed down from my seat.

“It’s great,” Jasper said, from the other side of the bus.  He tossed the keys into the air and caught them.

Some of the others were pulling on the armor they’d left off while sitting on the bus.  Once we were set, we moved as a group toward the town hall.

The fact that the community center was actually in the center of this neighborhood meant that the foot traffic was heavy.  A lot of it was moving around the crowd that had formed.  A lot of people with signs, but a lot of young and eager eyes.  Kids aged ten to seventeen, all fresh from their first day of school, genuinely interested in their fledgling hero team.

No police parked outside, at a glance.  No barricades, either.

Inside, it was standing room only.  Cheap plastic chairs were arranged in rows and columns, and there were many places where parent and young child shared chairs.

I saw some people up at the front perk up at our appearance, and the crowd parted to let us through.

I identified a woman with gray and black hair and a gray suit-dress that the other people up at the front seemed to be standing around.  I approached her.

“You’re in charge?” I asked.

“I’m the closest thing to someone in charge.  District representative,” she said.  “We don’t have a group like yours here.  You’re all so young.”

I kept still, not letting my emotions show.  I felt the sinking feeling again, without the relief, and without the steadiness that I got from seeing myself in the mirror.

Not a big thing.  It was like treading water and a hand on my forehead pushing me down, before pulling away.  Surfacing again, finding my equilibrium, realizing how tired I was as I resumed treading water.

I was very aware of the eyes on us.

“Do you have more outside?” the representative asked.

“More… of us?” I asked, finding my composure again.

“Yes.”

“No.  No we don’t have more outside.”

She looked spooked.  More spooked after my ‘no’.

“I can’t help but notice that you have no police presence at all,” I said.

“We have some, but not many.  It’s the way it is in Norfair span.”

“Norfair,” I said, noting the coined name.  “It’s not really a presence, is it?”

“No,” she said.  “We didn’t expect this many naysayers.  With this many, they had to have come from outside the community.”

The crowd in the room with us looked eager and happy enough.  A few frowns, but rare.  Had it been just this, overlapping conversations, anticipation, bright eyes and parents with kids, maybe a few people ready to raise some pointed questions if given the opportunity, then all would have been well.

It wasn’t just them.  The protesters outside were audible, even with stone walls between us and them.  Two angry voices outside, for every one quiet, polite person inside.

I didn’t like how much this was stacking up against us.  The police not having much presence, the controversy, the number of protesters.

Paranoia again, that I couldn’t help but wonder about the recruits I’d been given.  Forced to take, as it had turned out.

Too many things together.

“I think we should talk to the capes,” I said.

“Please,” the district rep said.

She led us into the back room, just behind where the de-facto stage was.  The team of heroes was there, anxious, waiting to be announced and to step out in front of the crowd.

Four of them.  Their costumes were close to being clothing, but had just enough stylization to make them something more.  The masks and face-coverings helped to make them more cape-like.

Fume Hood did have a hood, as part of a green hooded coat she wore.  Fans were built into the coat, only partially disguised, each of them much like the ones that were built into the back of a computer, and they made her coat, hair, and hood flap.

There was a man in a deep purple tank top and skinny pants with glass jutting from his skin at the elbows and hands, his upper face only a craggy mass of glass or jewel-like shards sticking out of flesh, just beautiful enough to not be macabre.

A man about my age slouched in a chair, looking dejected.  He had something that looked like small shields over the back of each hand, three large scimitar-like blades jutting from the back of each shield like they were oversize claws.  He wore a top that showed his muscular stomach, with shorts that reached his knees.  A two-part icon was displayed on chest and belt buckle.

The last was a woman in overalls, muscular, with hair shorter than most of the boys in my troupe, something that looked like thick paint slashed across her eyes and nose, and covering her arms up to the elbows.  The paint was black at the very edges, where it was thinner, but pure white elsewhere.  Her eyes were black from corner to corner.

“Great,” the woman with the paint said, sarcastic.  “Just what we needed.”

“We’re here to help,” I said.

“We might need it,” Fume Hood said.

“Do you know who’s after you?” I asked.  “Or what’s going on?”

She shook her head.

“I might be being paranoid, but this feels off,” I said.

“A lot of little things,” Fume Hood said.  “Crystalclear’s getting a bad vibe.”

I nodded.  I looked at the man with the glass chunks where his nose, eyes, brow and scalp should be.

“Have you considered canceling the event?” I asked.

“We were actively debating it before you came in,” the man in purple said.  “We’re split.”

“Can we break the tie?” I asked.

They exchanged glances.

The painted woman scowled, “You can.”

The man with the claws stood abruptly, shoving his chair to the ground in the process, before stalking off.

“Okay,” the painted woman said, again.  She looked at the district rep.  “We’re sorry.  Can you have them disperse?  Tell the protesters they win.”

The rep nodded, hurrying from the room to where the people were seated.

“Death knell for our group,” the painted woman said.

“Maybe.  Probably,” Fume said.  She looked at Crystalclear.  “Feeling better?”

“No,” he said.

Fume nodded at that.

“Would you stick around?” Crystalclear addressed us.  “I wouldn’t mind the backup, if you’re here to help, and I have the sense this is going to get worse before it gets better.”

“Gut feeling sense or… power sense?” I asked.

I could hear the commotion as people started to leave.  I could hear the complaining.  Even before he answered, my gut feeling sense was that he wasn’t wrong.

“The latter,” Crystalclear said, corroborating.

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Glow-worm – 0.9

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You have four unread private messages from an Anonymous account. Click here to read.

Private Messages from Anonymous Sender
Your account settings permit anonymous messages. These messages work like collect calls: review what was sent and accept or decline.

Anonymous [Old Message]: Hi. I think we talked a few times a while ago and I wanted to ask something
Anonymous [Old Message]: I’m not sure if I’m DMing the right person or if I got punctuation wrong. Last time we talked was was years ago when you did the photoshoot.
Anonymous [Old Message]: I feel really lost. I have questions but I don’t know who to ask. I thought of you and I hope I’m not bothering you or getting the wrong person. I really need some advice or perspective
Anonymous [Old Message]: I sent message anonymously so if I’m wrong or if I’m bothering you you can refuse

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: That’s me. I barely remember the photoshoot. That was a busy time for me.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Sorry for late reply. I had work to do for coming semester. If you need advice I can try to give it- I will say that I keep putting myself in a position to give advice and I may not be the best person to give it.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Can you make a regular account and message me? I keep getting notifications because you’re anonymous

Private Messages from FlippinMad

FlippinMad: Hi.

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Hi. How can I help?

FlippinMad: Thank you
FlippinMad: I’ve been thinking about things for a long time and I’ve been digging for info and answers and trying to put it all together. Is hard because people don’t want to talk about things and a lot of people don’t want to talk to me in particular. People get upset

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: The world ended. It’s kind of upsetting

FlippinMad: I know. I know
FlippinMad: you were there?

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: We were all there toward the end. Very few exceptions.

FlippinMad: thousands of capes were there and nobody wants to talk about the specifics

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: The answer will come out in time. It may already be out there in places. Communication is limited. Pockets of humanity are spread out and the people who have a say in info getting from city A to city B are probably wanting to keep things peaceful for now. Gov’t or what we have that passes for gov’t, PHO and the 12ish other online bodies…
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: they control info. But they can’t stop word of mouth. Not easily. We will hear the full story one day. I don’t know if it will be a good day but we will hear it.

FlippinMad: Ok
FlippinMad: I’m stressing about it so I’m not sure if I can wait
FlippinMad: Can I ask questions and you can decide if you want to say or not?

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: you can ask. I can’t promise any answers.

FlippinMad: Thank you
FlippinMad: Did you know Skitter? Weaver I guess

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I didn’t know her. Not really
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: We crossed paths.

FlippinMad: She’s one of the people I ask people about and they get mad or defensive. Or they tell me they have something to do and never get back to me

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Yep.

FlippinMad: Why?

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Short answer: I can’t/won’t say

FlippinMad: Okay

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Longer answer: I don’t know how things unfolded, but I think people fall into types and categories. I don’t know enough to say one way or the other but I think she was looking for something.

FlippinMad: I don’t know if I understand

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: You’ve seen the video stuff?
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: She hurt someone you know?

FlippinMad: I tried to find everything I could get. I’ve seen the cell phone movie from the cafeteria. I saw a few. not just the big one that was on the news. Then I went back to find other news and footage. Then I followed along
FlippinMad: Her joining the heroes and later with her talking to schoolkids but there wasn’t much good video with that second one. I saw the movie of her in New Delhi and I saw her on TV here and there.
FlippinMad: She hurt people I care about I guess. That’s not why I’m asking

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I’ve seen the same. I saw her as the novice warlord
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: She hurt an awful lot of people. A crazy lot.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: She killed one of our best heroes
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: She also joined the Levi fight. She apparently helped against the S9. She joined the Wards
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: It’s hard to reconcile

FlippinMad: That’s my problem
FlippinMad: I want to figure it out but there are gaps

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I don’t have the answers for you. I can only theorize
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I read a thread on PHO a few days ago and it made me think. I said I think she’s someone who was looking hard for an answer. I think she was wounded and lost and for this reason & probably because of other factors she did a lot of damage while looking. The people she was with. Things being primed for everything to fall down. Timing or bad luck. Personality.

FlippinMad: Wounded

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I’m looking at my history and I’m having trouble finding the thread
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: there are people who are searching I think and there are people who just are. I think both can be good and both can be toxic. Some people are searching because of something that pushed them. A lot of capes just are. Some are doing the pushing, instead. And there’s all sorts of types.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I don’t know her nearly well enough to say which she was but I don’t think she stood still. Or when she did stand still it was because she was on a precipice, looking for a push or for something to push. But again I don’t know her.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: You would have to explain more about what you want to know for me to give you any more of an answer

FlippinMad: I pushed her

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: You pushed her?

FlippinMad: I really hope you don’t block me or ignore me
FlippinMad: I’ll try to explain but give me a moment.
FlippinMad: Do you remember me? We met a few times but I think the only time we had a conversation was before the Vice-Versa photoshoot. There were six of us who were around the same age and the designers were taking a while.

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I remember that. A bunch of non-capes from around the city, dressed up as capes, some of us local capes in fancy dress. Skitter wasn’t a part of that, obviously.

FlippinMad: Yeah. I’m starting back at the beginning
FlippinMad: They picked top athletes, valedictorians, bunch of others.
FlippinMad: You were hanging out with us. Shadow Stalker and the rest of us were joking around.

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I remember now. Emma?

FlippinMad: Her friend. I’m the short one. It was her biggest shoot ever and she was super psyched. I tagged along. We were joking around and you were laughing with us and the staff were running around freaking out and trying to do last minute costume changes
FlippinMad: You were in fancy clothes and you had one of those masks on a stick, and Clockblocker was nearby complaining about having to hold his mask up until Ageis (sp?) got some ribbon and tied it to his head for him, which made the hairdresser freak out

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Aegis
Point_Me_@_The_Sky:
They catered those nonalcoholic soda cocktails with layered colors. We drank them like they were water
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: and the one woman’s eyes bugged out when she saw what the bill was. I felt so sorry for her.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: We gave the staff so much grief.

FlippinMad: But that was part of the fun
FlippinMad: Yeah. It was like a dream, hanging out with heroes and cool people. Everyone was so fancy, including my friend. It was the one time in my life where I felt like I was one of the teens in one of those overly polished scenes in a teen movie where everyone looks so perfect
FlippinMad: I was really really hoping that they were going to just pull me in as an extra
FlippinMad: Because one of the kids they’d invited had backed out.
FlippinMad: But it didn’t look like it was going to happen and I was having enough fun that I didn’t mind too much. I said things and people laughed at it. And everything was great until then

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I said something didn’t I?

FlippinMad: You called us a bunch of bitches

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: That was it.

FlippinMad: You said ‘This was such a nice night and you c-words had to spoil it by being disgusting. Come on.’
FlippinMad: and then you walked away and most of the heroes and heroines went with you or whatever. Leaving just me and Emma and a couple of others.
FlippinMad: They 100% went into…
FlippinMad: I don’t know what you call it. Defense mode. They wanted to bring things back to center. Normalize. They were saying things like “what’s bugging her? We weren’t saying anything that bad”
FlippinMad: And I was sitting there being quiet and I remember thinking they were wrong. we were kind of being bitches and we were kind of going too far when ragging on people who weren’t there.

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: The disabled girl I think. We were having to wait because they were having to adjust her costume to work around her back brace.

FlippinMad: Yeah.
FlippinMad: We said something loud enough for her to hear from the other end of the room and you spoke up and then you went to go hang with her instead
FlippinMad: The night didn’t seem as magical after all that. I was really bothered.

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I barely remember beyond that. I did the photoshoot and we tried to cheer the girl up. It was mostly great and I saw Emma a few times after that and there were no problems but we weren’t friendly

FlippinMad: It was the first time in my life I stopped and took stock and asked myself “am I a good person?”

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: To an extent you get a pass. To an extent. We were 13-20 I think. You were closer to 13 than 20. Teenagers are shitty and most teenagers make a couple of mistakes. Not excusing it. It sucked as a thing. But teenagers being asshats mitigates it

FlippinMad: No
FlippinMad: I was really fucking shitty.
FlippinMad: I think its worse because I had this wake up call and I asked myself if I was a good person
FlippinMad: Except I never got around to answering that question. I kept putting it off and feeling shitty about it
FlippinMad: We kept being bitches. And then a couple months after that we put Taylor in the hospital. Skitter. I don’t know if she had powers then but if she did then I don’t know why she didn’t murder us all

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: You’re the bullies that pushed her over the edge

FlippinMad: Me and Emma and our friend Sophia and Julia and a few others. But we were the main three or four

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I feel dumb not connecting those dots before. Preoccupied atm and I was preoccupied then. Fuck me. Emma was one of them? They kept your names out of the media

FlippinMad: Word still got out.
FlippinMad: So this is where I am because I almost feel responsible? Or I don’t know if I’m responsible
FlippinMad: But we pushed her
FlippinMad: And after that she joined bad guys and robbed a bank
FlippinMad: And then somewhere after that the empire got upset at her and her group and called them out before attacking the city and RIGHT after that the Endbringer attacked.
FlippinMad: There were all these theories about why it attacked Brockton Bay and the big two were that there was a holy grail or something? I didn’t follow that one. They said it might have to do with why people wanted to control the city?

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: A target. Something that would make the city valuable. Or someone. Endbringers have gone after specific people before

FlippinMad: Ok. I don’t know. The other one was that the city saw so much fighting in a short time. Taylor was a part of that and I’m part of what pushed her out there
FlippinMad: I know I sound narcissistic and shit but…

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Are you gonna finish that sentence?

FlippinMad: I don’t know. I feel responsible
FlippinMad: I was pretty much there at the beginning and I pushed her and…
FlippinMad: it feels like I was at the top of a hill and I pushed a rock down it and it rolled down out of sight
FlippinMad: and then this rockslide starts further down the hill and wipes out a town and kills this really important person and a whole bunch of other horrible things.
FlippinMad: …and I go looking and my rock is lying there in the devastation. Nobody’s saying what happened. her wiki page is gone and people get annoyed or upset when I ask. I want to know what happened when I couldn’t see. Every non-answer I get makes it worse

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: She was her own person. She made her own decisions along the line.

FlippinMad: I know that

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: You don’t own her. You don’t own every decision she made or the whole fallout

FlippinMad: I know. But I didn’t help matters.

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: No. You definitely own some of it.

FlippinMad: And you can’t tell me what happened.

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I can’t & won’t. But I guess I can say this.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: With the evidence we have we know she did some good things. She did some bad things. She did some incredibly controversial things. She was more vicious and ruthless than she needed to be maybe.

FlippinMad: Am I responsible for that extra viciousness and ruthlessness?

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Can’t say. Neither can you. But it probably didn’t fill her with smiles and joy did it?

FlippinMad: I spat on her once. It was Emma who really got to her and Sophia who went out of her way to hurt her. I was…
FlippinMad: I put her backpack in the toilet once. Books, notebooks and all. The water was clear but it was still the toilet and yeah. I put glue on her desk and juice on her seat and I stood by when the others were doing the worst stuff.

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Fucking why?

FlippinMad: I don’t know. I never really stopped to think about it. My friend was a model and my other friend was a top athlete. Maybe I wanted to keep up. I told myself it was prank tier stuff but at the same time
FlippinMad: I’m saying this because this is like I’m confessing but like…
FlippinMad: Some time between when that photoshoot happened and when we put her in the hospital we were talking. Emma Sophia Julia and I. We figured we were falling into a pattern and we kept knocking her down when she picked herself up too much.
FlippinMad: and I had this moment where I saw she was really low and I spat on her. I remember the look on her face
FlippinMad: what the hell was wrong with me? I didn’t wake up to what I was doing until I got fucking caught which is just so doubly shitty. My parents found out when we all got called to school and that was the last time I interacted with Taylor. Moved away with Leviathan.
FlippinMad: I fucking spat on her face

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Stop now please

FlippinMad: ok

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Ok.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: If you kept going I would’ve closed this and left you to it. Now I’m going to try to give you your answer here. Ok?
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Even though you probably don’t deserve it.

FlippinMad: Yeah

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Draw your own conclusions. Look at who she was and extrapolate. She did good she did bad. As time passed yes the bad things might have faded some but the controversial stuff she did might have gotten worse. Extrapolate.

FlippinMad: You’re saying that’s what happened? At the end. She did some good and she did some bad but she did something super controversial?

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I am saying *nothing*. I am suggesting that if you are wondering what happened when you couldn’t see then you can make some educated guesses.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: She killed people. She hurt people. She may have played a part in a war over the city. She threatened innocents with bugs and choked more than one person to death or nearly to death by shoving spiders and centipedes down their throats. She killed Alexandria at a time when we needed Alexandria most.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky:
She consorted with rapists terrorists and monsters.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky:
And because it eneds to be said yes she became a hero. That counts for something maybe. Maybe she had to. Maybe not.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: She was there at the end and whatever she did, nobody will speak of it, at least for now. Fill in the blank
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Now she’s gone and you’re still here.

FlippinMad: Gone?
FlippinMad: she retired? Or she’s dead? Gone gone?

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: She is *gone*.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: But listen to me. because you made the choices and you carried on when you could’ve stopped and you spat on her and I’m not ignoring that. I’ve been holding back so I can get to it now.

FlippinMad: I’m listening

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: She was all of those things and she might have still been a better person than you

FlippinMad: …

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Feel shitty? Good. Is it weighing on you or eating at you or making you wonder? Fucking good. That’s the way it should be.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Carry it. Own it. Make allowances for the fact that you were a teenager but don’t you dare excuse it or ignore it
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: If owning it means you assume the worst case scenario? that you pushed her and she took action and that line of action ended in the end of the world being uglier than they needed to be? Fine. Make do.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Maybe things would be better. Maybe they would be worse. Maybe someone else would have taken the same role. Maybe we would all be dead. You might not ever get a clean answer and that might be her justice against you

FlippinMad: Yeah

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: All this I’m saying? I feel like I can say it because I have my own regrets and misdeeds. I’m trying to own them just like I’m telling you to. I didn’t fucking spit on a girl when she was already having a bad day or make fun of a disabled girl on what should’ve been one of the top ten days of her life but I could probably make a priest’s jaw drop if I were the type to visit a confessional
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I’m not giving you advice I wouldn’t take myself
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Carry it. Take it with you and use it as motivation to make things better. We need a fucking lot of that motivation.

FlippinMad: I’m training to be a teacher

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Then I hope 10x as much that you own this and learn from it

FlippinMad: Yeah
FlippinMad: Thats kind of the plan. I want to anyway but the school turned me down.

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Anything else?

FlippinMad: When do I get to put this behind me? When do I get forgiven or get to forgive myself?

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: You’re asking me? Never.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I don’t believe in forgive & forget. Not for the things I’ve done. not for what others have done to people I care about. Not for what’s been done to me.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: The moment we forget is the moment we allow those wrongs to be done again.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Forgiveness is the easy way out. Less to carry.

FlippinMad: That doesn’t seem fair

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Villains outnumbered the heroes. Now heroes outnumber villains. Allegedly. People lost everything and they didn’t deserve to. Some people get powers and some don’t. Things are the furthest thing from fair.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Maybe it’s not fair that she’s gone and you’re here.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Maybe you will get the answer about what happened and you’ll feel better and that’ll be unfair because you shouldn’t.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Maybe the opposite is true and no good answer will come out and she’ll be forgotten without tombstone or anything else.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I expect we’ll get the answer and it’ll be an unhappy compromise between the two

FlippinMad: It doesn’t seem fair to yourself I mean

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I’ll handle me. You handle you. You focus on making sure no girl you teach gets spat on, short girl from the photoshoot.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: It’s easy enough to keep something moving once it’s already moving, but getting it going in the first place is hard. That’s the thing about second chances and fresh starts. It’s a (re)start. You gotta get things moving all over again, the second time around.
Point_Me_@_The_Sky: Let’s try to make sure things are moving in the right direction. Alright? Deal?

FlippinMad: Alright.
FlippinMad: Not quite the response I expected

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I had the impression it’s the response you were asking for

FlippinMad: You might be right.
FlippinMad: Thanks

FlippinMad has left the conversation

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Glow-worm – 0.8

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Subject: PHO Technical Assistance
August 24th, Y1
After discussion among the moderation team, we have agreed to allow the name change. As we discussed in the tech help chat, our primary concern in these situations is an abuse of the system or a lack of accountability. This being said, your account is in good standing and you’ve agreed to a probationary status.

Your in-account email, curated lists, private messages, badges, and accesses will remain intact, as will your forum account’s connection to your wiki contributions.

Let us know if there is anything else we can help you with.
Graham at PHO

Subject: Re: PHO Technical Assistance
August 24th, Y1
Thank you so much! I am having another problem. I’ve been getting caught up on my PMs/DMs/Emails and there is a lot of abusive content. All of the recent messages are very hostile or vulgar. It seems to have started before I even signed back on. I don’t know why. I’m so sorry to raise problems when I’m probationary.

Subject: Re: Re: PHO Technical Assistance
August 24th, Y1
Graham here. I looked at the incident log and found one major incident that another site admin handled. An article came out here. Two groups online identified the people in that article and shared out their screen names and other information. We took action when people used PHO resources (direct messages, email) to harass one of the individuals in the article. We took action and removed them, but they may be returning with the use of new accounts and expanding the number of people targeted.

If you could report any or all of those involved, it would help us a great deal. For solutions, I can think of three options: you can continue to report so we can continue to take action (as these are not the people we want on PHO) and we can hope this quiets down, you can move to a new account and start fresh, or you can agree to give PHO staff access to your private messages so we can take action. This would involve us reading anything private in the conversations, and it would mean anyone messaging you was notified that PHO staff can read your things. We would limit this to only recent and new senders, so your friends and pre-existnig conversation partners would stay private. As a bonus the notification could help stem the influx.
-Graham with PHO

Subject: Re: re: re: PHO Technical Assistance
August 24th, Y1
I’m not comfortable giving you access as I might receive sensitive or personal messages (and I would want to). I’ll report what I can.

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Topic: [Article] Weld to Warden
In: Boards ►
News ► Events ►Gimel.US
Ball-Chan

Posted on August 23rd Y1:

[Article Text, Editorial]His list of credentials starts off good. A two year tenure as a member of the Boston Wards with no offenses or misconduct reported to the media. He was the third monstrous cape to feature as an actor on a television show, the first to make a second appearance on TV, and the first monstrous cape with an onscreen kiss. He was the subject of a viral online image, released with various humorous captions, and it was a combination of this and arguably his small-network television appearances that gave him his popularity. He rode this success to a position as the first monstrous cape to be the team leader of the Wards. Ambitious fellow, isn’t he?

Weld’s popularity and time in the spotlight made him a figure of interest when, following undisclosed events in Brockton Bay, he turned from the established heroes and brought the vast majority of the monstrous capes in the Protectorate and Wards with him. Speculation flew as to why, and Weld was cagey when asked. No comment, the teenager said.

Weld’s team was dubbed ‘The Irregulars’ in a play on the term for unconventional military squadrons and on the team being wholly made up of monstrous capes. At this stage, it was still possible to praise Weld for his efforts. He reached out to monstrous parahumans both American and international, and he kept his team together while carrying out deeds for the camera. Maintaining a group of such size isn’t an easy task when its numbers are swelling like his group’s did. He wasn’t too open about his methods or his team’s motivations.

Things take an ugly turn from here. When Chevalier announced that the PRT was mending its ways and that the person at the heart of the organization’s corruption had been defeated, Weld’s irregular team of monstrous capes kept away and kept silent. Heroes called for unity, the Suits answered that call, sending many members to America to serve, following a schism of their own.

Even the defeat of Behemoth or the appearance of the new Endbringers didn’t serve to bring Weld back into the fold. If anything, Weld seemed to note that his team’s numbers were dropping. He and the monstrous capes serving under him stopped making as many public appearances. We don’t know what he started doing at this time, but his team was still recruiting. No comment, Weld said.

It’s telling, too, that Weld’s appearance changed. He decorated himself with horns and scales. To those with an eye for the symbolic, Weld was a monstrous cape who was embracing the monster and turning his back on the cape side of things.

More time passed, and more silence followed. No comment, he said, on the rare occasions when he appeared in front of the cameras. No comment.

On that Thursday, June 20th, 2013, Scion took our world from us. He took almost everything from us. Based on our limited accounts of what happened, Weld was there for the initial foray, an organized series of attacks mounted from an oil rig. He was not there after, leading a substantial portion of his team to other venues. There’s no indication of what he was doing, but we do know he wasn’t there for the skirmishes on other worlds, against other major organized groups of parahumans. We do know he wasn’t there for the follow-up confrontation on the beachhead.

Many will argue it was a chaotic time. No reports are wholly accurate, the world was ending, and the number of parahumans fighting was no doubt mind-boggling. Why make a point of this in particular?

To start with, today was the day Weld returned to Gimel after some time elsewhere. We’ve been told he was doing a combination of work in Earth Bet and spending some time touring other worlds in the company of the mass-murderer codenamed ‘Garotte’ and a pair of unnamed capes the two were friendly with. He was extended an offer to join the Wardens as a leader of one of the group’s cells, and he accepted.

People are applauding, it seems. Weld led a rather formidable team of monstrous capes away from the field of battle, at that critical point in our recent history. He came back practically alone, his team gone. He’s tight-lipped as to why.

His Wards team didn’t do very well either, for the record. We haven’t heard the full story from him there either. He claimed that he didn’t want to disparage his former employer, and that they were still on positive terms.

Does he deserve the position?
Is he trustworthy?
Is he even that good of a cape or a leader?

I’ll remind you of two of his favorite words, while you mull over those questions.

“No comment.”

(Showing Page 13 of 13)

Wytchmlj
Replied on August 23rd, Y1:
Nobody is saying why things happened like they did. Some are hinting @ it tho.
A lot are hinting at it. Conspiracy of silence.
Weld seems to know things and like the article says he’s keeping his mouth shut.
It is his right to keep quiet. It is our right to say he’s an asshole for doing it.

Capricorn (Hero)
Replied on August 23rd
Guys guys guys. this is a hit piece and it’s a bad one at that.

Full disclosure: I know Weld some. he was and is one of my favorite people

But come the fuck on. Everyone has a motivation driving them. skimming through the comments on this article makes that v. clear. YES absolutely wonder at weld’s motivations. wonder about everyone’s. wonder about the people who are pushing hard for moving forward and about the people who want to go back to the way things were. wonder about the person who wrote this article and why he has the focus he does.

but don’t make the mistake of focusing so much on the question marks that you forget about the other punctuation marks & if someone shows you who they are then believe them. Weld’s teammates in Boston and Brockton Bay only had nice things to say about him. Period. Weld did charity work with kids he definitely didn’t have to do. Period. Weld served as team leader for a city in need and he kept his wards alive thru the Slaughterhouse Nine and God knows what else- exclamation mark.

Weld has never shown himself to be anything but decent. if you’re filling in the blanks or raising questions then take your cue from that first & foremost.

Tdren
Replied on August 23rd
Silence isn’t an option. Things are heating up, people are scared and we’re scared for a justifiable reason. Powers came out, and we started seeing broken powers. People with mutations, people with no off switch. Monsters who needed to be quarantined. Endbringers.

Now we’ve got a different kind of broken power.

It keeps getting worse. It gets worse in a linear and steady way. These things follow from one another. There is a visible pattern and there is a sense to be made of things. The new broken powers follow from the people made monstrous by their powers. If Weld knows something we have to ask.

We have no authorities. We have no system of government. We have no national cape team or licensed heroes. We can’t even agree on a name for Gimel’s megalopolis!

We can discuss all day but at some point we need to make decisions. We need to say we deserve to know and if you won’t tell us then no you can’t represent us and no we won’t trust you to have our back.

FFlash
Replied on August 23rd
@ Capricorn – I think you have some bias you’re not admitting to here. You disappeared too, didn’t you? You left Reach and disappeared. A couple of your old teammates are saying they’re thinking about joining the Attendant and you’re not included in that. Why? Are we supposed to use your metrics to evaluate you? Go by the face you presented to the public?

I think I’d rather read between the lines. Your old team doesn’t want you for a reason

AtoLo
Replied on August 23rd
1000000000s of human beings died or have yet to make their way to us.

1000000000s.

1000000000s of humans with families. mothers and fathers. good days and bad days.

i say 1000000000s instead of billions because billions barely sounds different from millions and i think the zeroes drive it home

the city is as big as it is because we were lucky. we only lost about half of those close to us in N.E. US.

refugees of Earth Shin say a parahuman took over their Earth a decade ago. one woman. she went back home to continue ruling them.

there is a world not far from us which is at constant war. there are tears in reality they can use to reach us and they have a lot of incentive to do so. they have parahumans too.

there is a theocratic state which is more distant but they have some parahumans too.

there is a world of monsters like Weld and his irregulars.

there are others, smaller. there are probably others who we haven’t been told about.

every week we get a handful of reports of people triggering with broken powers. They burn bright and burn fast and they do a lot of damage.

on the smallest level we are quiet and still because we are afraid to disturb the peace. but on the big level our new neighbors aren’t focused 100% on us. we’re important. we’re a powerful few even though we lost 1000000000s. the tyrant queen is looking at us but also watching over her shoulder for the war world and the monsters and the broken triggers. the war world is wanting to venture out but maybe an expedition is hard to field and they get broken triggers too. they’re getting more regular triggers.

the truce will break, both on the small level and the big

we are hurting from the loss of 1,000,000,000s and we are only just now reaching the point where we need to make decisions. what do we call ourselves? what direction do we go? Do we move forward or backward?

Like i said we are smaller in number than we should be. we’re hurting. we’re distracted and scattered.

but i think we have the most powers at our disposal. that’s important.

and i think we’re best equipped to have the answers when others come asking. i think that’s the most important thing by far. they are going to ask and we are going to want to have answers to offer them

i think we need people to start telling instead of hinting. information is the most valuable resource at all.

Yipper
Replied on August 23rd
Information is also more volatile than oil, nitro, or nuclear material. Look at the secret identity leaks going on in this thread. Targeted harassment of Weld & others. If hundreds or thousands agree to keep quiet about things then maybe there’s a reason.

Let’s not turn into a rabid mob

Space_Squid
Replied on August 23rd
Humanity has seen its worst test yet and it came out the other side.

I’d like to draw a comparison. I’ve read some of these pages and I see an effort to make us out to be the enemy. the monstrous capes are this mysterious thing and some of us are made out to know things that we aren’t saying

I can tell you who we are. just like you we’re scarred. we were hurt very badly and altered very dramatically and we didn’t get to know why. we desperately wanted answers because our histories friends and families were taken from us. we were forced out of our homes and thrust into a strange place and many of us were left desperate or dangerous. Just like some of you.

We learned some partial truths and that made things worse. Then after a very long time and a lot of pain we learned most of the rest of the truth.

I won’t pretend its easy. I struggled every day and then I struggled more after the end of the world.

But we fought a hard fight whether it was to save the world or to get to safety or to climb out of dark angry depths. We came out the other side. Every day we survive is a day we can say “I was THAT strong so I can definitely survive this.” Replace I with WE because we are all together in this.

I don’t know if that will work for you but it helped me

End of Page. 1, 2, 3, 4, 511, 12, 13

Topic: help
In: Boards ► Groups
► C53
Casey_F08

Posted on August 23rd Y1:

I would like to thank you all for reading this. I was invited to post here by Quasi after I posted in some other places. Quasi has been talking to me and resurring me.

I remember hearing about the monster heroes and I never payed much attention to them. Now I think I am one.

My name is Casey Forks and I would be starting high school this fall if things hadn’t gone bad. My mom hasn’t been well for a long time and my brother has the same condition so we decided to stick it out and whether things. we had a shelter and we had some food. my dad and I went to stores and raided them for more foods that would last and we stocked up.

The shelter didn’t work out. we all got headaches and dad said the air filters weren’t sufficent. we went upstairs into the house and sealed all the gaps and dad tried to fix up the filters. long story short that didn’t work out either. I should have tried to get somewhere safe but I stayed. I shouldn’t have stayed.

I didn’t think enough about monster capes or about those with powers but now I am both. Maybe I am not Casey anymore. I am frozen like the dead people who have lying on the ground for the years since the world ended, like a mummy without bandages. Mold grows on me and grows around me and it covers everything I can see and think about. I am a god of death and decay and I am an open fridge door with mold growing inside it and spilling out. with every passing day and hour and minute I am less like casesy and more a god of gross fridge stuff. my world of mold gets bigger every moment

I grew mold on my dads body and I could make him move. I grew mold on his brain and I got him to think and with his thinking I finally got the generator and the router and the phones working. It helped that I grew mold on the pieces and parts.

Now I am making my sister type because I cannot move any part of me a milimeter and I am asking heroes for help. I’m internet famous and there are articles written about my situation so that gives me some hope

But more importantly I am trying not to lose my mind. Quasi is helping me with that and he said you would all help by sharing your stories.

I am so scared that the heroes won’t save me but I am just as scared they’ll save me but they won’t be able to fix me. I am scared that I won’t be able to move. I am scared I won’t be able to hug a pretty girl or lie next to her in bed. I never cared about the rude stuff that much I thought that the cuddling would be the nicest part. I want to see the world through eyes that aren’t moldy and to take a deep breath and scream or even laugh. I want to play soccer again with all my friends there and I want my parents to be there and be proud.

Tell me I’ll be ok.

(Showing Page 3 of 3)

Casey_F08
Replied on August 23rd, Y1
Thank you thank you for your words. they give me hope.

Engel
Replied on August 23rd, Y1
Be strong brother. With powers all things are possible. Through trauma and struggle we find ourselves so much stronger. It takes time to adjust and it takes time and effort to find the right keys to the right locks. With help (and you have so much help!) Clocks can be turned back and flesh can be reshaped. We killed a god and the worst is behind us. Slowly but surely we will put the pieces back together. If I did not believe this 100% then I would not be here to write this message to you. Be strong.

Casey_F08
Replied on August 23rd, Y1
I am trying.

Casey_F08
Replied on August 23rd, Y1
thank you all so much

Space_Squid
Replied on August 23rd, Y1
I read some of your old posts Casey. when you fractured your ankle playing soccer you were worried you would never play again but you got there. When powers are involved the lows are so much lower but the highs are high enough to make it all so very worth it. You are funny, smart and cool and people wouldn’t be rooting for you if you weren’t. Your fears echo mine when I realized what had happened to me. I worried I would never have control or have a boy next to me or anything else. I can tell you it is possible.

Fishie (Board Admin)
Replied on August 23rd, Y1
Thread locked. Article with details/wrap-up here.

Casey has been added to the names thread here. We won’t tolerate objections on the matter. He was close enough to being one of us.

End of Page. 1, 2, 3

Private message from Whippersnap:

Whippersnap: I saw you in the casey thread. you had your name changed but you did a bad job of covering up the change.

Space_Squid: I didn’t cover it up. The old name was a lark at a time I needed to laugh but I’m done with it. Its embarrassing now

Whippersnap: some of us were talking in the chat and we agree you weren’t an ally in the end.

Space_Squid: I see

Whippersnap: Egg was only one to come back from there. he said you and Weld stopped us from getting justice

Space_Squid: the messages I got. They weren’t from angry civilians. They were from you?

Whippersnap: from us.

Space_Squid: okay. no need to worry then. I won’t come back. I wish you all the best.

Whippersnap: fuck you

Space_Squid: You should know I killed her. The one who did this.

Whippersnap: you stopped us from getting our justice and took it for yourself.

Space_Squid: I guess so

You have left the conversation.

Subject: PHO Technical Assistance
August 24th, Y1
Hi Graham,
Space Squid here.
I hate to be a pain. I’d like to ask if it’s okay if I just deleted my account and started fresh.

♦ Joined Group Conversation: Cap, Mangled_Wings, Weird_Insect, of5, Heart_Shaped_Pupil

Cap: pisses me off

of5: Its the way it goes. He’s a tough guy. He can roll with it.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: S!

Mangled_Wings: Hi S.

Kraken_in_a_Jar: hi

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: ! ! ! ! ! ! Yes !

Kraken_in_a_Jar: *hugs Kenzie to get her to stop wiggling*

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: *dies*

Weird_Insect: geez K, that’s not funny…
Weird_Insect: …we’re using short-form names btw, S.

Kraken_in_a_Jar: Oh I see. I don’t really see the point but ok

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: sorry

Kraken_in_a_Jar: its ok
Kraken_in_a_Jar:
It put a smile on my face K.

of5: here we are. it’s really good to see you, S. Keyboard got?

Kraken_in_a_Jar: I got my fancy keyboard. Everything fine tuned. Saw the worlds. Spent time with my favorite person.

Cap: speaking of

Kraken_in_a_Jar: it’s ok. he’s tough.
Kraken_in_a_Jar: thank you for rooting for him.
Kraken_in_a_Jar: it meant a lot to see your name there.
Kraken_in_a_Jar: I see the anger and the agitation and I think really people are not complaining about what they are complainng about.

Cap: How is Weld doing?

Kraken_in_a_Jar: Hes good. Hard to tell sometimes because he is so strong. Emotionally. He busy but good. New position means a lot even if I can’t go with him.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: You’re with us

Kraken_in_a_Jar: Absolutely

Cap: things are stirring. world is about to shift. we ride the wave.

Weird_Insect: we have work to do first. organization to do. things to figure out.

Cap: (he’s so different online)

of5: don’t start cap.

Kraken_in_a_Jar: did I miss much?

of5: someone put a hit out on me. that’s fun

Kraken_in_a_Jar: !?

of5: It’s no big deal. Nothing is happening just yet. You’ve been gone 5 days?

Kraken_in_a_Jar: 5 days. Weld left to go talk to people and brought me with. we had to wait for keyboard order so we got a boat and permission and went looking. Tried to find my place of birth. no luck but was some of the best days of my life

Cap: I’ll take that as a challenge. see if we can’t top your boat trip.

Kraken_in_a_Jar: you didn’t make any major decisions?

Weird_Insect: No. we wanted to wait for everyone. Cap saw you online and figured it was you. he got ahold of R and I made sure the others stuck around.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I wouldn’t have let them either for the record. you’re one of my favorite people

Kraken_in_a_Jar: Thank you, C. *hugs K*

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: *dies*

Kraken_in_a_Jar: it means a lot to me.

Mangled_Wings: Strength in numbers

Kraken_in_a_Jar: Not in numbers.
Kraken_in_a_Jar: I don’t think so.
Kraken_in_a_Jar: I think its strength in difference. We all stand at different angles and places. See things differently. we can support one another and hold each other up because of that. but we have commonalities. A and me. K and me. K and C. R and B.

Weird_Insect: T&A.

of5: Haha

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: !!!!

Cap: oh my god, C. you can’t go being funny like that. you’re not allowed.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I’ll PM you to explain, A.

Mangled_Wings: No need. I didn’t think it’s funny.

Weird_Insect: thank you, A…
Weird_Insect: …it was a lame lame joke…
Weird_Insect: …rest of you don’t laugh too much or I am going to quit

Kraken_in_a_Jar: we’re doing this because we work together.

of5: It’s been weird not having you around, s. I think the balance is defintely something we need to keep an eye on

Kraken_in_a_Jar: Balance 100%.
Kraken_in_a_Jar: we represent the lead we want others to follow
Kraken_in_a_Jar: stability

Cap: yeah

Kraken_in_a_Jar: strength

Mangled_Wings: Absolutely.

Kraken_in_a_Jar: cooperation

of5: Yep

Kraken_in_a_Jar: and honesty and good health and kindness and moving forward and all of that junk. I feel really awkward now because people keep saying yes and now there are expectations and I feel like there’s an order to it.

Weird_Insect: all that junk, yes.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Don’t feel awkward! no expectations. Well, some. but is good. we should have you be leader for this project and do the speeches.

Kraken_in_a_Jar: I am not a leader. Let me think on the speeches
Kraken_in_a_Jar:
and I’m really tired of pulling on these knobs especially after all the travel. I think I’m going to get myself free and find another.

Weird_Insect: nobody say it

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: another knob? ! ! !

Weird_Insect: damn it, K

Kraken_in_a_Jar: He’s definitely not a knob
Kraken_in_a_Jar:
I’ll probably see you all online at some point. if I don’t I’ll see you at the next meeting. Soon.

Mangled_Wings: Soon

Previous Chapter                                                                                             Next Chapter

Glow-worm – 0.7

Previous Chapter                                                                                             Next Chapter

Welcome to the Parahumans Online message boards.
You are currently logged in, Heart_Shaped_Pupil
You are viewing:
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Note: With your current settings, you may find your homepage to be rather sparse! Consider re-enabling default settings, selecting some general categories, people, teams, locations or topics to follow, or refine terms to review threads you’ve visited in the past.

Connecting to “gChat.ParahumansOnline.Treefort_Lookout(6667)” (Attempt 20)
Resolving Host Name
Connecting…
Connected.
Using identity “Heart_Shaped_Pupil”
Welcome to the Treefort_Lookout! A hangout for those 16 and under with inquisitive minds and an eye on the goings on around them. Keep conversation focused on sharing info. Other discussion belongs in our Pillowfort_Lazytalk or Snowfort_Mission
rooms.

Maxtag: Hi Kenzie
Toxicfish216: Heya. Wanting to get right to business?
Thistlesoup: *hugs* Hi love

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: *hugs back* Hi thistle, hi max, hi tox.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: no rush on business. i’m starting my day

My_Own_Gren: Hi K. We were talking about stuff just now. There’s a bit to catch up on.
Dogtooth: Heya, optics. Good to see you.
Magnep: hi kenzie. what’s up?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: hi Peter, hi Megan, hi nep
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: not much is up
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: how are you guys? does anyone need help with anything?

Asnag: I don’t think so. We were talking about your stuff, actually.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: neat. i’m getting breakfast so i’ll be a second before I’m settled

Tockta: How are you doing? You said you were feeling down in Pillowfort last night.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: i’m better
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: i’m ready to start the day. i’m excited at the idea of getting info.

Thistlesoup: That’s good to hear. 🙂
Milldross: You wanted us to nag you about your punctuation and capitals. Your friend got irritated about it.
Flying_Kevin: this is the girl that was the Ward, right?
Flying_Kevin: I’m new btw

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I did. Thank you mill.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I did. I just woke up.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I am. Hi Kevin.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: *rubs hands together* get me started.

Johnsonjar: Hi K. 🙂 You wanted us to keep an eye out for your old teammates.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: !
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: who? where?

Johnsonjar: We found two of them. One second.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: !! Who?

Johnsonjar: Aven and Houndstooth

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Thank you! Good job! You’re awesome!
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Ima go talk to Aven first.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /Away

You have marked yourself as away.

♦ Private message sent to AvenG

AvenG: ?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Hi Aven. It’s Kenzie

AvenG: Oh. Kenzie M?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: That me.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I’m not supposed to be sharing out my name and tying it to this account but I figure in this context it’s okay. You’ve seen my face, you know my name, you know my powers, I trust you.

AvenG: Yeah.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I don’t want to be a pest. I just wanted to say hi and say I’m glad you’re alive. I always thought you were cool.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: and if you ever want to talk or meet or whatever, you know where I’m at and you can send me a message.

AvenG: Ok.
AvenG: No offense, but I probably won’t.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: ok.

AvenG: Sorry. I’m trying to get a fresh start, the Wards were pretty good times but that was then. You and I didn’t talk then, with the age difference, so it’s strange to talk now.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: It’s okay. You were frontline and I was backline. You were a teenager, I was the brat.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: There are lots of reasons I’m sure but ‘no’ is the only one that matters. I wish you the best. 🙂

AvenG: thank you. Good luck with whatever you end up doing, Kenzie.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /back

You have marked yourself as back
Welcome back to the Treefort_Lookout!

Tockta: How did it go?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Not great. She didn’t want to talk.

Tockta: Aw. 🙁
Thistlesoup: *hugs*

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: *hugs back*

Maxtag: We’ve got your back.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I’m going to talk to the next one. Wish me luck!
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /Away

You have marked yourself as away.

Doones: Good luck!

♦ Private message sent to Houndstooth

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Hi H.T.

Houndstooth: Hi Kenzie.
Houndstooth: I’m in the middle of a conversation with Ave. She said you reached out.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I’m keeping an eye out for my old teammates.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I’m glad you’re alive, houndstooth.

Houndstooth: I’m glad you’re alive too, Kenzie.
Houndstooth: What are you up to these days?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I’m looking at joining a team. Kind of. We’re still figuring a lot out. It’s exciting. they’re neat.

Houndstooth: That’s really good to hear
Houndstooth: I’ve talked to some of the others offline. We made out better than most. The only question mark is 10-59, but I’m suspicious they’re okay.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I already found them. they’re alive and well.

Houndstooth: Did you? ok. good. great. Then we only lost Pigeonhole, but you knew about them. We made out better than most.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: it’s great. I’m so relieved.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I really liked the team. Everyone was so cool.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: It was an important time for me. Coming back to Baltimore to join the team was the first time I got to stop and settle down.

Houndstooth: Yeah

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: It was home
Heart_Shaped_Pupil:
so it means alot to me to hear you say **we** when talking about us making it out mostly okay.

Houndstooth: You know that was then, don’t you?
Houndstooth: Back in the past. Things have changed.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: uh huh

Houndstooth: You got a bad deal, Kenzie. Not the worst I’ve seen but I’ve seen a lot of people get better hands than what you got. You tried as hard as anyone and you did really good work.
Houndstooth: You were a better hero when you were four and a half feet tall than some adult capes I know today

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I’ve heard this speech before H.T.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: variants of it
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: you gave me a version of it once
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: you don’t have to let me down easy. I’m tough. 🙂
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: just cut to the chase. 😉

Houndstooth: I think you shouldn’t contact the others.
Houndstooth: They have their own things to work through. They’re rebuilding. Everyone’s looking forward.
Houndstooth: You have a new team. That’s great.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: huh. was i really that bad?

Houndstooth: You weren’t bad okay?
Houndstooth: You weren’t bad.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: but?

Houndstooth: But…
Houndstooth: give me a second to type.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: HT… i was ten
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: iv’e grown up some
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: i was there for the end of the world
Heart_Shaped_Pupil:
i did stuff. i actually really helped

Houndstooth: Absolutely
Houndstooth: I keep typing responses and deleting them
Houndstooth: People are gunshy

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: gunshy?
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: of me?

Houndstooth: Shit. Now I feel bad.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Don’t
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: i’m disappointed is all

Houndstooth: I can’t stress enough that I have a lot of respect for you.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: thank you 🙂
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: can you give me one shot then?
Heart_Shaped_Pupil:
not even as friends. it can be business. I’m useful. you’ve been prasing my work ethic. I’m smart. I have a kind of team. If you do me the favor of giving me a shot I can do you one favor for free.

Houndstooth: I don’t know

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: you’re a smart guy and you were a good leader. you know how these things work. you know my power has its uses. others would kidnap me for it. I am offering myself to you and you would be stupid to turn me down. use me. please.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: if you respect me so much then let me prove myself

Houndstooth: Okay.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Yes?

Houndstooth: Sure. Absolutely.
Houndstooth: I can contact you here?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: yes

Houndstooth: I will be in touch.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: ok

Houndstooth: I will also talk to the others. I will leave your contact info with them. If they are comfortable with it they can reach out to you.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: got it
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I’ll cross my fingers.

Houndstooth: I have to run.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: thanks for making the time to talk to me

Houndstooth: Keep up the good work. Bye.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /back

You have marked yourself as back
Welcome back to the Treefort_Lookout!

Tockta: How did it go? Is your day looking up?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: The high point of the conversation was toward the end when he said don’t call us we’ll call you.

Tockta: I don’t understand
Flying_Kevin: ?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: It doesn’t matter. I’m choosing to view this in a positive light. My day has to get better from here.

Tockta: That’s positive.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: It is!
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: For now I need a distraction.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Any other news?

Maxtag: Tattletale took on a new mission that’s taking her to Earth N. She’ll be busy for a short while.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: !
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Why didn’t you tell me sooner? Priorities!

Maxtag: I didn’t know it was important.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: It is. Information about my new teammates is key.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: be right back.

Thistlesoup: Bye!

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /Away

You have marked yourself as away.

Joined Group Conversation: Cap, Mangled_Wings (away), Weird_Cephalopod

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: was R around?

Weird_Cephalopod has left the conversation.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Bye C.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Rawr. K is here. everyone run away! >:3

Cap: R left. he dropped off the grid

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Arrrg

Cap: C was saying he had to go get lunch soon.
Cap: I think that’s why he left
Cap: A is eating too. she practically living at library now I think.
Cap: but she has to leave it to eat.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: ok
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: it’s good that she’s there. good to learn and study.

Cap: why?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Tattletale is out of town. They probbaly won’t attack without her around to act. There is a repreive. I got some info on her late last night too

Cap: that’s great. hopefully he swings by the library and we can let him know.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: great

Cap: is quiet today. lazy sunday. how are you doing?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: today has been interesting. i’m looking forward to S getting here and to the next meet.

Cap: agreed on the first two parts. partial agree on the last. I think we’re going to get yelled at

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I can not imagine that.

Cap: shoot. would love to chat but am being asked to go to church.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: at noon?

Cap: family is asking. church gets overcrowded these days so we attend during certain blocks of time.
Cap: you and me. we talk later, yeah?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: for sure.

Cap: good work on the tattletale info. strategy will be so key if R ends up in trouble. you a champ.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: not a problem

Cap: sorry to duck and run

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: go, you dork! it’s ok 🙂

Cap has left the conversation.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /twiddle thumbs

twiddle thumbs: Unknown Command

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Yeah

You have left the conversation.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /back

You have marked yourself as back
Welcome back to the Treefort_Lookout!

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Hit me with some more of that business

Maxtag: Hi Kenzie
Maxtag: You said teammate related things were important.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Yes. You have more?

Maxtag: I’m not sure. It’s minor but you said it was related to two of your teammates.
Maxtag: Weld is back. Article here.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Oh. He was away? The people I’d tell about it are away for lunch.

Maxtag: I don’t follow.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: It’s okay.

You currently have one alert about possible admin action. Please click to review and open a conversation with a site administrator about conduct issues.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Hahahahaha XD

Doones: What’s so funny?
Magnep: ? 🙂
Flying_Kevin: I don’t understand.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Today has been quite a day. I’m having a run of bad luck. Admins want to talk to me and I think I know why. Haha.

Doones: Good luck!

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: can I get a bit of a hug, Thistle?

Thistlesoup: *hugs*

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: You’re the best.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil:
/Away

You have marked yourself as away.

Private Conversation with Shower (Admin):
Please note that conversations with site administrators may be recorded and reviewed.

Shower: I’d like a moment if you can spare it.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Hello.

Shower: Thank you for the prompt response. I’m Graham. I’m with the PHO IT team. You can call me by my name or just ‘shower’.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Hi Shower. What can I do for you?

Shower: We had some unusual search activity that seemed to be causing congestion. Would you happen to know anything about this?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I might. It would have been during off-peak hours though.

Shower: We update infrastructure during off-peak hours. it slowed us down. It stalled us for three hours last night.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: oh that’s not good.

Shower: You’re piggybacking off of our servers?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I was trying to help. We’ve been updating the wikis as much as we can and three-fifths of the work is gathering data that’s helpful to others.

Shower: We?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: It was a stupid hobby project. I was thinking of what everyone wanted the most and information seemed most critical. I had some guys I knew from way before and I thought I’d get everyone up to date and on the same page.

Shower: We often encourage hobby projects on PHO, though we cannot when resources are as tight as they are, and it would depend on scale and the amount of mess created. How easy is this to dismantle, and do I need to talk to anyone else?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Nobody else. It was me alone. I can fix it right now.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: How bad of a problem is this? Is there any leeway?

Shower: It’s interfering with others’ ability to access things. It might not seem like a problem here, because you’re close to the home node, but there are people on the periphery or far-flung regions and they’re going from satellite to ground to satellite to here, across several Earths.
Shower: I think it’s best if you clean up as much of it as you can.

Shower: I think that since you’re a chat member in good standing, we’d be willing to let this slide with a warning if it can be promptly dealt with without any mess.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I’ll have to reboot.

Shower: I’ll talk to you shortly.

You have left the conversation.

Connecting to “gChat.ParahumansOnline.Treefort_Lookout(6667)” (Attempt 32)
Resolving Host Name
Connecting…
Connected.
Using identity “Heart_Shaped_Pupil”
Welcome to the Treefort_Lookout! A hangout for those 16 and under with inquisitive minds and an eye on the goings on around them. Keep conversation focused on sharing info. Other discussion belongs in our Pillowfort_Lazytalk or Snowfort_Mission
rooms.

Toxicfish216: Heya. Wanting to get right to business?
Maxtag: Hi Kenzie
Thistlesoup: *hugs* Hi love
My_Own_Gren: Hi K. We were talking about stuff while you were disconnected. There’s only a little to catch up on.
Dogtooth: Heya, optics.
Magnep: hi kenzie. how are you this afternoon?
Tockta: How are you doing? You sounded positive the last time I asked.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: yeah
Heart_Shaped_Pupil
: right to business

Johnsonjar: What do you need?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I need everyone to be quiet.

You have been auto-set to away as you have been idle for five minutes

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /Kill Toxicfish216

You are no longer set to away

Toxicfish216: BusinessOrPleasureBot disconnecting…
Toxicfish has left the conversation.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /Kill Maxtag

Maxtag: MissionBot1 disconnecting…
Maxtag has left the conversation.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /Kill JohnsonJar

JohnsonJar: MissionBot2 disconnecting…
Johnsonjar has left the conversation.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /Kill My_Own_Gren

My_Own_Gren: NewsAmountBot disconnecting…
My_Own_Gren has left the conversation.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /Kill Dogtooth

Dogtooth: HTBot disconnecting…
Dogtooth has left the conversation.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /Kill Magnep

Magnep: CasualConvoBot disconnecting…
Magnep has left the conversation.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /Kill Flying_Kevin

FlyingKevin: InstantNewGuyBot disconnecting…
FlyingKevin has left the conversation.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /Kill TMI_Mom

TMI_Mom: DelayedNewGuyBot disconnecting…
TMI_Mom has left the conversation

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Thistle, can I ask for something?

Thistlesoup: You don’t even need to ask, love
Shower (Admin) has joined the conversation.
Thistlesoup: *Big Hugs*
Shower: I thought you might be dealing with the problem. Or is it dealt with?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Haha. This is embarassing.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I’m dealing.

Thistlesoup: Do you want another?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Be quiet thistle.

Shower: Are they A.I.?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Haha. No. They’re as dumb as dog farts.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Trigger phrases or phrases a set time after login. Different bots for different tasks. I’ve taken care of some of the most problematic. I’ll clean up the ones that are here for appearances.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I wanted to see if I could make them just realistic enough to fool anyone who accidentally stumbled in.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: /kill thistlesoup

Thistlesoup: HugBot disconnecting…
Thistlesoup has left the conversation
Shower: I see.
Shower: I don’t know if I was here long enough to be fooled, but I’m definitely confused.
Shower: You’re sure they’re not AI?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: If they were A.I. I could be a potential S-class threat.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil:
I’m just really lame
Heart_Shaped_Pupil:
it’s hobby programming. Not my focus or specialty.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil:
/kill Doones

Doones: LuckBot disconnecting…
Doones has left the conversation
Shower: I’ll leave you to it, unless there’s something I can help you with?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I built a server to manage any CPU load from the more complicated search bots. Can I donate it or something?

Shower: You built a server?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I emulated what you guys run and set it up intermediary.

Shower: I don’t even think that’s possible. But it might explain some of the other things we’ve had go wrong, actually. No, we’ll need you to shut it down.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: You can have it. It’s probably better than what you have.

Shower: Absolutely not. The security issues with that would be horrendous. It would allow snooping, spoofing- no. Take it down ASAP

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: ASAP. Got it

Shower: We’ll talk before the day is out. I need to make sure we have a handle on everything involved here.
Shower has left the conversation.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: okay then.

You have been auto-set to away as you have been idle for five minutes

Executioner404 has joined the conversation.

Executioner404: /Kill Goatfish
Goatfish: WIP_Capbot is disconnecting…
Goatfish has left the conversation.
Executioner404: /kill Shameful_Manatee
Shameful_Manatee: WIP_Chrisbot is disconnecting…
Shameful_Manatee has left the conversation.

You have set the topic to: “.”

Executioner404: /kill AvianB

You have set the room name to “Chat114”
You have cleared the chat logs
.
You have left the conversation.

♦ Private message from Mangled_Wings

Mangled_Wings: I have a question. Are you busy?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: staring at a blank screen.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: What’s the question?

Mangled_Wings: I’ve been called Queen Dark twice and King Dark once.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: oh

Mangled_Wings: What does it mean? there are no dictionary websites that explain. I searched and I keep seeing the same paragraph.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: The paragraph is a paste. Queen Dark is a mean joke.

Mangled_Wings: they mock me?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I’m sorry.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: You’ve gone quiet. You shouldn’t reply to them, you know.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: You’re still quiet. I don’t think the internet suits you, A.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I think you are beautiful and stunning and terrifying in person. In a good way, I think. Because you and I are on the same side.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Your voice doesn’t translate well.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I think you’re intimidating and you want to be intimidating on the internet and that doesn’t work at all. C is the intimidating one here. Somehow. He has that knack. That atmosphere. The skill.

Mangled_Wings: C is?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Funny, isn’t it?

Mangled_Wings: I think I hate the internet to the very center of my being.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: If you think about it, with powers and all, the center of your being could include the vast monster in another dimension that’s all hooked up into you. Passenger stuff. The center of mass could be in the middle of an alien god monster the size of a mountain or moon. I imagine it has the energy of a small star stored in it.

Mangled_Wings: This serves to illustrate the depth and energy of my hate for a setting where C might be more intimidating than I am.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I think I might agree with you on the hate thing. I want to meet face to face and hang out with S and you and maybe C and definitely Cap and R. I want that to work out.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: If that fails, I dunno.

Mangled_Wings: You don’t know?
Mangled_Wings: I thought we had a deal.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: I wasn’t sure if you were being serious.

Mangled_Wings: I am always serious.
Mangled_Wings: We’ll handle this project. I aim to learn all I can. When or if it falls through, I will be an independent villain again. I aim to be a successful one.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Yeah.

Mangled_Wings: You’ll work for me. I’ll pay you, of course.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: Hm.

Mangled_Wings: What?

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: people run scared from me. it seems even non-people run from me, if I pay attention to what happened in the last hour.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: you aren’t running

Mangled_Wings: I don’t scare.
Mangled_Wings: The world is filled with blithering idiots. More are only blither and more are silent idiots. You’re the exception. If you will work for me then I’ll damn well make good use of you. I’ll incentivize you to stay around.

Heart_Shaped_Pupil: okay.
Heart_Shaped_Pupil: you’re one of the cooler people I know, you know?

Mangled_Wings: See? Not a blithering idiot.

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