Hive 5.4

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A huge pet peeve of mine: being asked to arrive for a specific time, then being made to wait.  Fifteen minutes was just about my limit of my patience.

My dad and I had been waiting for more than thirty minutes.

“This has to be intentional,” I complained.  We’d been asked to wait in the principal’s office a few minutes after we arrived, but the principal hadn’t been around.

“Mmm.  Trying to show they’re in a position of power, able to make us wait,” my dad agreed, “Maybe.  Or we’re just waiting for the other girl.”

I was at an angle where if I slouched in my chair just a bit, I could see the front of the office through a gap between the bottom of the blinds and the window.  Not long after we’d arrived, Emma and her dad had showed up, looking totally casual and unstressed, like it was a regular day.  She isn’t even worried.  Her dad was her physical opposite, beyond the red hair they shared – he was big in every sense of the word.  Taller than average, big around the middle, and while he could speak softly when the situation called for it, he had a powerful voice that caught people’s attention.  Emma just had a biggish chest.

Emma’s dad was talking to Madison’s mom and dad.  Only Madison’s mom was really petite like she was, but both her mom and dad looked really young.  Unlike Emma and her dad, Madison and her parents did look concerned, and I was guessing that some of what Emma’s dad was doing was reassuring them.  Madison in particular was looking down at the ground and not really talking, except to respond to what Emma was saying.

Sophia was the last to arrive.  She looked sullen, angry, an expression that reminded me of Bitch.  The woman who accompanied her was most definitely not her mom.  She was blond and blue eyed, had a heart shaped face and wore a navy blue blouse with khakis.

The secretary came to get us from the office not long after.

“Chin up, Taylor,” my dad murmured, as I slung my backpack over one shoulder, “Look confident, because this won’t be easy.  We may be in the right, but Alan’s a partner in a law firm, he’s a master manipulator of the system.”

I nodded.  I was getting that impression already.  After getting a phone call from my dad, Alan had been the one to call this meeting.

We were directed down the hall to where the guidance counselor’s offices were, a room with an egg-shaped conference table.  The trio and their guardians were seated at one end of the table, seven in total, and we were asked to sit at the other, the tip of the egg.  The principal and my teachers all came into the room not long after, filling in the seats between us.  Maybe I was reading too much into things after seeing an eerie echo of this situation just two days ago, with the meeting of villains, but I noted that Mr. Gladly sat next to Madison’s dad, and the chair next to my dad was left empty.  We would have been completely isolated from the mass of people at the other side of the table if Mrs. Knott, my homeroom teacher, hadn’t sat at my left.  I wondered if she would have, if there’d been another seat.

I was nervous.  I had told my dad that I’d missed classes.  I hadn’t told him how many, but I hadn’t wanted to repeat Bitch’s mistake and leave him totally in the dark.  I was worried it would come up.  Worried this wouldn’t go the way I hoped.  Worried I’d find some way to fuck it up.

“Thank you all for coming,” the principal spoke, as she sat down, putting a thin folder down in front of her.  She was a narrow woman, dirty blond, with that severe bowl-cut haircut I could never understand the appeal of.  She was dressed like she was attending a funeral – black blouse, sweater and skirt, black shoes, “We’re here to discuss incidents where one of our students has been victimized.”  She looked down at the folder she’d brought in, “Ms. Hebert?”

“That’s me.”

“And the individuals accused of misconduct are…  Emma Barnes, Madison Clements and Sophia Hess.  You’ve been in my office before, Sophia.  I just wish it had more to do with the track and field team and less to do with detention.”

Sophia mumbled a reply that might have been agreement.

“Now, if I’m to understand matters, Emma was attacked outside of school premises by Ms. Hebert?  And shortly after, she was accused of bullying?”

“Yes,” Alan spoke, “Her father called me, confronted me, and I thought it best to take this to official channels.”

“That’s probably best,” the principal agreed.  “Let’s put this matter to rest.”

Then she turned to me and my dad, palms up.

“What?” I asked.

“Please.  What charges would you lay against these three?”

I laughed a little, in disbelief, “Nice.  So we’re called here on short notice, without time to prepare, and I’m expected to be ready?”

“Maybe outline some of the major incidents, then?”

“What about the minor ones?” I challenged her, “All of the little things that made my day-to-day so miserable?”

“If you can’t remember-“

“I remember,” I cut her off.  I bent down to the backpack I’d set at my feet and retrieved a pile of paper.  I had to flip through it for a few seconds before I could divide it into two piles.  “Six vicious emails, Sophia pushed me down the stairs when I was near the bottom, making me drop my books, tripped and shoved me no less than three times during gym, and threw my clothes at me while I was in the shower after gym class had ended, getting them wet.  I had to wear my gym clothes for the rest of the morning.  In biology, Madison used every excuse she could to use the pencil sharpener or talk to the teacher, and each time she passed my desk, she pushed everything I had on my desk to the floor.  I was watching for it the third time, and covered my stuff when she approached, so on the fourth trip, she emptied the pencil sharpener into one of her hands and dumped the shavings onto my head and desk as she walked by.  All three of them cornered me after school had ended and took my backpack from me, throwing it in the garbage.”

“I see,” the principal made a sympathetic face, “Not very pleasant, is it?”

“That’s September eighth,” I pointed out, “My first day back at school, last semester.  September ninth-“

“Excuse me, sorry.  How many entries do you have?”

“One for pretty much every school day starting last semester.  Sorry, I only decided to keep track last summer.  September ninth, other girls in my grade had been encouraged by those three to make fun of me.  I was wearing the backpack they had been thrown in the trash, so every girl that was in on it was holding their nose or saying I smelled like garbage.  It picked up steam, and by the end of the day, others had joined in on it.  I had to change my email address after my inbox filled in just a day, with more of the same sorts of things.  I have every hateful email that was sent to me here, by the way.”  I put my hand on the second pile of papers.

“May I?” Mrs. Knott asked.  I handed her the emails.

“Eat glass and choke.  Looking at you depresses me.  Die in a fire,” she recited as she turned pages.

“Let’s not get sidetracked,” my dad said, “We’ll get to everything in time.  My daughter was speaking.”

“I wasn’t done with September ninth,” I said, “Um, let me find my place.  Gym class, again-“

“Are you wanting to recount every single incident?” the principal asked.

“I thought you’d want me to.  You can’t make a fair judgment until you hear everything that’s happened.”

“I’m afraid that looks like quite a bit, and some of us have jobs to get back to later this afternoon.  Can you pare it down to the most relevant incidents?”

“They’re all‘ relevant,” I said.  Maybe I’d raised my voice, because my dad put his hand on my shoulder.  I took a breath, then said, as calmly as I could, “If it bothers you to have to listen to it all, imagine what it feels like to live through it.  Maybe you’ll get just a fraction of a percent of an idea of what going to school with them felt like.”

I looked at the girls.  Only Madison looked really upset.  Sophia was glaring at me, and Emma managed to look bored, confident.  I didn’t like that.

Alan spoke, “I think we all grasp that it’s been unpleasant.  You’ve established that, and I thank you for the insight.  But how many of those incidents can you prove?  Were those emails sent from school computers?”

“Very few school email addresses, mostly throwaway accounts from hotmail and yahoo,” Mrs. Knott replied, as she flipped through the pages, “And for the few school email accounts that were used, we can’t discount the chance that someone left their account logged in when they left the computer lab.”  She gave me an apologetic look.

“So the emails are off the table,” Alan spoke.

“It’s not your place to decide that,” my dad answered.

“A lot of those emails were sent during school hours,” I stressed.  My heart was pounding.  “I even marked them out with blue highlighter.”

“No,” the principal spoke, “I agree with Mr. Barnes.  It’s probably for the best that we focus our attention on what we can verify.  We can’t say who sent those emails and from where.”

All of my work, all of the hours I’d put in logging events when remembering the events of the day was the last thing I wanted to do, dashed to the winds.  I clenched my fists in my lap.

“You okay?” my dad murmured in my ear.

There was precious little I could actually verify, though.

“Two weeks ago, Mr. Gladly approached me,” I addressed the room, “He verified that some things had occurred in his class.  My desk had been vandalized with scribbles, juice, glue, trash and other stuff on different days.  Do you remember, Mr. Gladly?”

Mr Gladly nodded, “I do.”

“And after class, do you remember seeing me in the hallway?  Surrounded by girls?  Being taunted?”

“I remember seeing you in the hallway with the other girls, yes.  If I remember, that was not long after you told me you wanted to handle things on your own.”

“That is not what I said,” I had to control myself to keep from shouting, “I said I thought this situation here, with all the parents and teachers gathered, would be a farce.  So far, you’re not proving me wrong.”

“Taylor,” my dad spoke.  He put his hand on one of my clenched fists, then addressed the faculty, “Are you accusing my daughter of making up everything she’s noted here?”

“No,” the principal spoke, “But I think that when someone is being victimized, it’s possible to embellish events, or to see harassment when there is none.  We want to ensure that these three girls get fair treatment.”

“Do I-” I started, but my dad squeezed my hand, and I shut up.

“My daughter deserves fair treatment too, and if even one in ten of these events did occur, it speaks to an ongoing campaign of severe abuse.  Does anyone disagree?”

“Abuse is a strong word,” Alan spoke, “You still haven’t proven-“

“Alan,” my dad interrupted him, “Please shut up.  This isn’t a courtroom.  Everyone at this table knows what these girls did, and you can’t force us to ignore it.  Taylor ate dinner at your dining room table a hundred times, and Emma did the same at ours.  If you’re implying Taylor is a liar, say it outright.”

“I only think she’s sensitive, especially after the death of her mother, she-“

I shoved the pile of paper off the table.  There were thirty or forty sheets, so it made a good size cloud of drifting papers.

“Don’t go there,” I spoke, quiet, I could barely hear myself over the buzzing in my ears, “Don’t do that.  Prove you’re at least that human.”

I saw a smirk on Emma’s face, before she put her elbows on the table and hid it with her hands.

“In January, my daughter was subjected to one of the most malicious, disgusting pranks I have ever heard of,” my dad told the principal, ignoring the papers that were still making their way to the floor, “She wound up in the hospital.  You looked me in the eye and promised me you would look after Taylor and keep an eye out.  You obviously haven’t.”

Mr. Quinlan, my math teacher, spoke, “You have to understand, other things demand our attention.  There’s a gang presence in this school, and we deal with serious events like students bringing knives to class, drug use, and students suffering life threatening injuries in fights on the campus.  If we’re not aware of certain events, it’s hardly intentional.”

“So my daughter’s situation isn’t serious.”

“That’s not what we’re saying,” the principal answered him, exasperated.

Alan spoke, “Let’s cut to the chase.  What would you two like to see happen, here, at this table, that would have you walk away satisfied?”

My dad turned to me.  We’d talked briefly on this.  He’d said that as a spokesperson for his Union, he always walked into a discussion with a goal in mind.  We’d established ours.  The ball was in my court.

“Transfer me to Arcadia High.”

There were a few looks of surprise.

“I expected you to suggest expulsion,” the principal answered, “Most would.”

“Fuck no,” I said.  I pressed my fingers to my temples, “Sorry for swearing.  I’m going to be a little impulsive until I’m over this concussion.  But no, no expulsion.  Because that just means they can apply to the next-closest school, Arcadia, and because they aren’t enrolled in school, it would mean accelerated entry past the waiting list.  That’s just rewarding them.”

“Rewarding,” the principal spoke.  I think she was insulted.  Good.

“Yeah,” I said, not caring in the least about her pride, “Arcadia’s a good school.  No gangs.  No drugs.  It has a budget.  It has a reputation to maintain.  If I were bullied there, I could go to the faculty and get help.  None of that’s true here.”

“That’s all you would want?” Alan asked.

I shook my head, “No.  If it were up to me, I’d want those three to have in-school suspension for the remaining two months of the semester.  No privileges either.  They wouldn’t be allowed dances, access to school events, computers, or a spot on teams or clubs.”

“Sophia’s one of our best runners in Track and Field,” the principal spoke.

“I really, really don’t care,” I replied.  Sophia glared at me.

“Why in-school suspension?” Mr. Gladly asked, “It would mean someone would have to keep a constant eye on them.”

“Would I have to take summer classes?” Madison piped up.

“There would be remedial classes if we took that route, yes,” the principal spoke, “I think that’s a little severe.  As Mr. Gladly mentioned, it would require resources we don’t have.  Our staff is stretched thin as it is.”

“Suspension’s a vacation,” I retorted, “and it just means they could take a trip over to Arcadia and get revenge on me there.  No.  I’d rather they got no punishment at all than see them get suspended or expelled.”

“That’s an option,” Alan joked.

“Shut up, Alan,” my dad replied.  To the rest of the table, he said, “I don’t see anything unrealistic about what my daughter is proposing.”

“Of course you don’t,” Sophia’s guardian spoke, “You’d feel differently if the tables were turned.  I feel it’s important that Sophia continue to attend her track and field practices.  The sports give her structure she needs.  Denying her that would only lead to a decline in her behavior and conduct.”

Madison’s dad added his own two cents, “I think two months of suspension is too much.”

“I’m forced to agree on all counts,” the principal spoke.  As my dad and I moved to protest, she raised her hands to stop us, “Given the events that happened in January, and with Mr. Gladly’s own admission that there’s been incidents in his class, we know there’s been some ongoing bullying.  I’d like to think my years as an educator have given me some ability to recognize guilt when I see it, and I’m certain these girls are guilty of some of what the victim is accusing them of.  I’m proposing a two week suspension.”

“Weren’t you listening to me?” I asked.  My fists were clenched so hard my hands were shaking, “I’m not asking for a suspension.  That’s pretty much the last thing I want.”

“I’m standing by my daughter in this,” my dad spoke, “I’d say two weeks was laughable, given this laundry list of criminal offenses these girls have committed, except there’s nothing funny about this.”

“Your list would mean something if you could back it up with evidence,” Alan wryly commented, “And if it wasn’t all over the floor.”

I thought for a second that my dad would hit him.

“Any longer than two weeks would mean these girls’ academics would suffer to the point they could fail the year,” the principal stated, “I don’t think that’s fair.”

“And my schoolwork hasn’t suffered because of them?” I asked.  The buzzing in my ears was reaching its limit.  I realized, belatedly, that I’d just given her an opening to raise my missed classes.

“We’re not saying it hasn’t,” the principal’s tone was patient, as if she was talking to a small child.  “But eye-for-an-eye justice doesn’t do anyone any favors.”

She hadn’t mentioned the classes.  I wondered if she even knew.

“Is there any justice here?” I replied, “I’m not seeing it.”

“They’re being punished for their misconduct.”

I had to stop to willfully push the bugs away.  I think they were reacting to my stress, or my concussion was making me a little less aware of what I was doing with them, because they were pressing in without my giving them the order.  None had entered the school or the conference room, thankfully, but I was getting increasingly worried that my control would slip.  If it did, instead of sort of wandering in my general direction or gravitating towards my location, the bugs would erupt into a full fledged swarm.

I took a deep breath.

“Whatever,” I said, “You know what?  Fine.  Let them get away with a two week vacation as a reward for what they did to me.  Maybe if their parents have an ounce of heart or responsibility, they’ll find an appropriate punishment.  I don’t care.  Just transfer me to Arcadia.  Let me walk away from this.”

“That’s not really something I can do,” the principal said, “There’s jurisdictions-“

Try,” I pleaded, “Pull some strings, call in favors, talk to friends in other faculties?”

“I don’t want to make any promises I can’t keep,” she said.

Which meant no.

I stood up.

“Taylor,” my dad put his hand on my arm.

“We’re not the enemy,” the principal spoke.

“No?” I laughed a little, bitter, “That’s funny.  Because it looks like it’s you guys, the bullies and the other parents against me and my dad.  How many times have you called me by my name, today?  None.  Do you even know why?  It’s a trick lawyers use.  They call their client by name, but they refer to the other guy as the victim, or the offender, depending.  Makes your client more identifiable, dehumanizes the other side.  He started doing it right off the bat, maybe even before this meeting started, and you unconsciously bought into it.”

“You’re being paranoid,” the principal spoke, “Taylor.  I’m sure I’ve said your name.”

“Fuck you,” I snapped, “You disgust me.  You’re a deluded, slimy, self-serving-“

“Taylor!” my dad pulled on my arm, “Stop!”

I had to concentrate a second and direct the bugs to go away, again.

“Maybe I’ll bring a weapon to school,” I said, glaring at them, “If I threatened to stab one of those girls, would you at least expel me?  Please?”  I could see Emma’s eyes widen at that.  Good.  Maybe she’d hesitate before hassling me again.

“Taylor!” my dad spoke.  He stood up and pulled me into a tight hug, my face against his chest so I couldn’t say any more.

“Do I need to call the cops?” I heard Alan.

“For the last time, Alan, shut up,” my dad growled, “My daughter is right.  This has been a joke.  I have a friend in the media.  I think I’m going to give her a call, email her that list of emails and the list of incidents.  Maybe pressure from the public would get things done.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that, Danny,” Alan replied, “If you recall, your daughter assaulted and battered Emma just last night.  That’s in addition to threatening her, here.  We could press charges.  I do have the surveillance video from the mall, and a signed slip from that teenage superheroine, Shadow Stalker, that verifies she saw it happen, in what could have provoked a riot.”

Oh.  So that was why Emma had been so confident.  She and her dad had an ace up their sleeve.

“There’s mitigating circumstances,” my dad protested, “She has a concussion, she was provoked, she only hit Emma once.  The charges wouldn’t stick.”

“No.  But the case could drag out for some time.  When our families used to have dinner together, you remember me saying how most cases were resolved?”

“Decided by who ran out of money first,” my dad said.  I felt him clutch me a fraction tighter.

“I may be a divorce attorney, but the same applies in a criminal case.”

If we went to the media, he’d press assault charges just to drain our bank accounts.

“I thought we were friends, Alan,” my dad replied, his voice strained.

“We were.  But at the end of the day, I have to protect my daughter.”

I looked at my teachers.  At Mrs. Knott, who I’d even say was my favorite teacher, “Don’t you see how fucked up this is?  He’s blackmailing us right in front of you, and you can’t understand that this manipulation has been going on from the beginning?”

Mrs. Knott frowned, “I don’t like the sound of it, but we can only comment and act on what happens in school.”

“It’s happening right here!”

“You know what I mean.”

I pulled away.  In my haste to get out of that room, I practically kicked down the door.  My dad caught up to me in the hallway.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“Whatever,” I said, “I’m so not surprised.”

“Let’s go home.”

I shook my head, turning away, “No.  I need to get gone.  Going.  I won’t be home for dinner.”

“Stop.”

I paused.

“I want you to know I love you.  This is far from over, and I’ll be waiting for you when you come home.  Don’t give up, and don’t do anything reckless.”

I hugged my arms close to my body to get the shaking in my hands to stop.

“‘Kay.”

I left him behind and headed out the front door of the school.  Double checking he hadn’t followed and that he couldn’t see me, I retrieved one of the disposable cell phones from the front pocket of my sweatshirt.  Lisa picked up partway through the first ring.  She always did – one of her little quirks.

“Hey.  How did it go?”

I couldn’t find the words for a reply.

“That bad?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you need?”

“I want to hit someone.”

“We’re gearing up for a raid on the ABB.  We didn’t bother you about it because you’re still recovering, and I knew you’d be busy with your meeting at school.  Want in?”

“Yeah.”

“Good.  We’re splitting up for a bunch of coordinated attacks with some of the other groups.  You’d be with, um, one second-“

She said something, but it wasn’t directed at the phone.  I heard the bass of Brian replying.

“Every team is splitting up, bit complicated to explain, but yeah.  Bitch would be going with one or two members of the Travelers, some of Faultline’s crew and probably some of Empire Eighty-Eight.  It would do a lot for our peace of mind if you went with.  ‘specially with the tension between us and the Empire.”

I could see the bus at the far end of the street, approaching.

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

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46 thoughts on “Hive 5.4

  1. Just a heads up. On the main page, here, I posted another poll regarding the next interlude. Check it out & post in the comments there with your suggestions if there’s a character you want to see featured.

  2. This is a clear-cut case of someone using personal power to promote injustice and corruption. Said someone is even doing blackmail (a crime) before official persons openly and seemingly without fear of reprisal.

    Umm, why isn’t Taylor using her powers against a criminal again? Because the whole superheroing idea is using powers to stop crime, is it not? Perhaps Taylor could even ask for some help in this case – have Tattletale find evidence of wrongdoing (anything from corruption to tax evasion) for this high-and-mighty lawyer and turn it in. Or, she could ask Tattletale to find the passwords for his bank accounts and have half the money siphoned off to charities, the other half sent to the team’s unknown boss.

    The idea that superheroes won’t be using their powers in their private life – even when it would be morally acceptable to do so – is one thing I didn’t like from the older comics.

    • Simple answer: Skitter is not a superhero, she is a supervillain, and attacking a girl who is “innocent” of wrongdoing would NOT help. Especially since that would make it pretty clear just who Skitter was.

      Oh, and if a bullying victim is actually a moderately powerful supervillain, it’s harder to imaging that the bullying was half as bad as it was. And the media would leave out the “alleged” bullying.

  3. something i’ve been wondering for ages; why doesn’t Taylor ask Lisa and Brian about that mail-order method they used to get their diplomas, if i remember a much earlier chapter right? she’s motivated enough for distance learning, she seems the type who could manage it.

    • You’re thinking of chapter 3.1.

      Lisa tested for her GED and got it, no courses involved.

      Brian’s taking courses online, but Taylor can’t go that route until she’s both turned 16 (because of restrictions in her state) and gets parental permission (which would have been awkward when she wasn’t really talking to her dad about what was going on).

      It’d be an option for her in the fall, and it’s something that’s likely to come up in either conversation or her line of thinking.

  4. As much as it adds to the story, scenes like this are painful to read. On the bright side, this means you’re doing a great job. On the not so bright side, I can’t help but hope that it gets resolved enough to recede in importance for a while.

    In the meantime, my grey matter ends up thinking about this when it should be doing other things.

    Still, given the situation, as much as some people would love to see direct action (lice, crabs, fleas…), indirect action could be much more effective.

    I could imagine Lisa setting up a situation that proves what Emma and friends are doing to a degree it can’t be ignored, or even setting things up so Taylor could transfer.

    • Yeah. I think these scenes are essential to the story and the character, but I recognize that they don’t appeal to a lot of readers, so I try to space them out a fair bit. I don’t expect another scene in this vein for a little while yet.

      I like that my story occupies your grey matter when you’re (presumably) away from the computer. I take that as a compliment, especially since I’m a fan of your writing.

      • Well of course they don’t appeal if they appealed either you are doing something wrong or we are sick puppies. :) I think it’s a testament to your abilities as a writer that we all tend to froth at the mouth at these pages. So I guess if it is important to the story keep putting them in and pulling no punches; don’t worry about us is what I’m saying.

        • I agree this chapter was difficult to read but the saddest part is that it happens all the time. I applaud the author for picking and describing these things so well. Well well done.

  5. Don’t forget the parasitic worms Jim! :) Nothing to bring down a track star like a little Trichinosis. But yeah I agree she has to do something here to fight back or she will go insane. Though on the bright side mayeb after she goes nuts she and bitch would get along better…

      • The part where Taylor goes nuts and gets along with Bitch, or parasitic worms?

        Come to think of it, parasitic worms are decidedly underused in superhero comics for some reason. In fact, the only story I can think of where parasitic worms play a big role is the first Stargate TV series.

        • Dude! You read Animorphs?! That is awesome!

          Also…god I really hope Taylor decides to go full on villain because then she can take revenge on people like this. My old teachers were the exact same way. “Oh yes I saw that happen but, well, I’m sure it wasn’t really that bad. I mean everybody has to let off some steam and you shouldn’t take it personally.” It’s that sort of attitude that makes me want to be a teacher just so I can get into a position to help.

      • Oh I will be wildbow you can count on it. ;)
        So I guess that means Bitch and Taylor might bond a bit soon? I hope it won’t be too traumatic for our heroine.

  6. Argh. This chapter is written so well and most likely realistically that I had to stop reading three of four times due to rage-related issues. I admire Taylor for not using her powers on the girls, I would have done that looooooong ago. An errant wasp somehow in a backpack that stings as one of them opens it, a mildly poisonous bug that crawled into one of their sandwiches…

  7. …. whoa, again

    My grey matter was reacting in a similar way as Jim Zoetewey’s during the time I read the earlier chapters when Taylor experienced the harassment. (I was a bit of an outsider at school but I hat it much much milder and not all day, but it was all to easy to imagine the situation.) So I was spending some time of my working day thinking “What would I have done?” Had I had the strength and reason not to use “my”/her power on them? I dunno. Maybe not….
    And then, finding the hero side being less helpful and finding support in the villain group “I” accidentally helped (are they even villains? Perhaps less than Purity is…) – by now I would have happily abandoned the hero side and embraced a “villain” career. (Yeah I know, the dark side is easier, more tempting – but why the heck not?)
    Besides, even Bitch, who is wanted for murder – she has her hero moments. While e.g. Glory Girl… what exactly makes her not being a villain, given the way she acts…?

    See, I REALLY love the purposefully outplayed lack of black-and-white regarding the hero/villain difference. Very well done!

  8. This chapter brings up all of the problems I mentioned later in the serial. The rest of the story gives the impressiona that school life in Brockton Bay is normal school life in our universe. The presence of certain types of kids in Arcadia post-EB seems to stand as an indicator of how bad things have gotten. But in this chapter we get an out-of-the-blue note that Taylor’s school is filled with gang members and other conflicts. That’s nowhere present in any other part of the story, and would have a huge impact on Taylor’s life if it were the case. How so?

    1) She’d want to avoid being bullied even moreso and be more desperate and resourceful to escape the situation, because she could be a target for gang/group initiation rituals because she’s the lowest on the totem pole.
    2) Some physical responses on her part wouldn’t be so out-of-the-norm that she’d get in major trouble (given knife-fights at school and group violence being common enough). Being able to leave a red mark or bruise on another girl in exchange for a minor punishment would be worthwhile for her to have done long ago.
    3) There are likely to be a greater number of people who have been targeted by groups than just Taylor, and thus the bystander effect wouldn’t be such a large problem. Those who have been targets would likely band together to protect each other.
    4) If the teachers are so overwhelmed and disaffected as to let the kinds of things Taylor brought up happen without report, then Taylor could easily retaliate in several ways and not be punished.

    I appreciate what you’re trying to do with the character and how (I think) you’re trying to portray the true ugliness of the world, but in places like this – where the background is supposed to be realistic and depowered – things simply don’t make sense. Bullying, corrupt and/or careless authority, etc. all makes sense, but the specifics you use don’t fit together. If Taylor was hospitalized, had the other events you mentioned happen to her, and was in a school with such careless authorities and violent and unpredictable kids, she wouldn’t react the ways she has.

    I see a few possible solutions.

    1) Eliminate the bullying aspect, and instead have Taylor’s trigger be related to the generally hostile environment of her school. The constant fear and need for precise responses to events serve the purpose of building her personality as you portray it, and a single bad week of being the target of an initiation ritual or something could give her the trigger event.

    – The problem with eliminating the bullying is that it doesn’t serve (what I see as) your goal of showing how useless and/or corrupt institutions and authorities often are for one reason or another.

    2) Eliminate the hostile environment and focus only on the bullying as something accepted by the school as a means of placating powerful figures. If you go the bullying-only route, you’d need to have a justification for why it isn’t attended to, and I think you’ve already got it more-or-less built in by mentioning that the school has budget issues and the authorities won’t fight key members of the society around them. In fact, you might even want to have Taylor’s backstory be in Arcadia – with the primary excuse for looking the other way being (surface) “Kids will be kids” or (reality) “It makes the rich/powerful kids happy, and that makes their parents happy – and those parents could bury either the school or the victims; better the victims”. You could make a few authority figures semi-sympathetic as those who have tried to help or are trying to help, but gave up/are giving up/are ineffectual because of the power dynamics around them.

    – The problem with make Taylor one of few (or the only) victims is that it might seem to go against your comments about Worm being a sort of harsh world where many kids grow up quickly. You’d likely need to do some exposition on how important it is for many kids (depending on where they live – suburb schools in Chicago might be more “our-universe-normal” compared to Brockton Bay) to learn how to play power games and have mature and/or calculated responses to situations so that they don’t fall down the totem pole and become one of the few/only victims or suffer other, less extreme consequences. Whatever you do, you need to match Taylor’s mental/maturity origin story with the realities of the universe you create, and also match that universe with the mental/maturity origin stories of the other Wards/capes.

    3) Perhaps the easiest option would be to follow what I suggested elsewhere – have the primary bully do the bullying via powers; mostly outside of school. Her in-school clique could do some more minor / social bullying that gets swept under the rug or flies mostly under the radar. Taylor’s trigger event could be the result of being trapped somewhere outside of the school or could still be the result of the tampon locker – but the key element that makes it close enough to what you have now might be the number of girls involved in the event – such that it is hard for any specific person to be pinned down as involved or the primary culprit, which would still give you the material to make a chapter like the one you have here (many incidents dismissed, plausible deniability, corrupt/careless authorities uninterested in doing the right thing, blackmail), with the addition that Taylor couldn’t bring up the worst things (out of school powered bullying) because she wasn’t even sure which of the girls was responsible for them and probably no one would believe her.

    [spoiler redacted]. I wouldn’t have imagined her bullying to be as you have it written, given how she treats it psychologically from where I started, how mentally stable she is, and how quickly she seems to be moving on/changing internally from very few events with the Undersiders. Something needs to be tweaked.

    All of that aside, you wrote the confrontation between survivor, abusers, and authorities very well. I’ve been in Taylor’s position many times before, as a victim of bullies, a victim of careless and self-preserving authorities, and a victim of unfair systems that work to serve the powerful and power-hungry administrators (which is part of why this stuff sticks out for me so much). What you wrote is a condensation of what the process of fighting them (and ultimately losing – the question only being how badly) is like.

    • 2) Some physical responses on her part wouldn’t be so out-of-the-norm that she’d get in major trouble (given knife-fights at school and group violence being common enough). Being able to leave a red mark or bruise on another girl in exchange for a minor punishment would be worthwhile for her to have done long ago.

      If you haven’t noticed, Taylor is (at this point) timid and has self restraint. Just because you feel like physical retaliation would be necessary, doesn’t mean that she does.
      1) She’s mentioned before that she wished she was a guy where a fight could happen and that would be that. But the situation she’s in would lead to a) Emma using her “impeccable” status to get the teachers to believe some sob story about how she was attacked and b) people who weren’t just bystanders actively taking the bullies’ side because they would witness/hear her flipping out and c) she isn’t entirely sure that she would be able to prevent herself from going all out and recreating a scene from Carrie (i.e. she doesn’t resort to physical retaliation to “meaningless” stuff such as the bullying because she doesn’t want to go down that path)

      3) There are likely to be a greater number of people who have been targeted by groups than just Taylor, and thus the bystander effect wouldn’t be such a large problem. Those who have been targets would likely band together to protect each other.

      We only see this story through Taylor’s eyes. And at this point she is (and has the right to be) pretty egocentric. She sees her own pain reflected back in front of her all the time so it’s absurd to think that she would notice other people being bullied like she is since most of the time her head is down and she’s dreading moving around at all. So, while it’s pretty likely that other people are being bullied (it’s pretty much assured), the bystander effect doesn’t mean that they would automatically come to each others defense. Assuming everyone being bullied has similar thought/coping processes as Taylor, they keep their heads down and are happy that it’s not /them/ being targeted at that moment. So this point is kind of wild and outrageous. Definitely unrealistic.

      4) If the teachers are so overwhelmed and disaffected as to let the kinds of things Taylor brought up happen without report, then Taylor could easily retaliate in several ways and not be punished.

      See points made in reference to “2)”.

      • Also, because I reread it and see a glaring hole in my own argument: physical retaliation expands into “any” retaliation in reference to Taylor. She felt it would lead down a slippery slope etc etc, and the rest of my points are still valid.

        • Again, that’s her post-power thinking, which might be understandable if she’d flown off the handle in the past in response to something relatively minor. But if she’s in as bad of a school as said, no normal person would hold back from retaliating. If she was as abused as it’s said, no normal person would hold back from retaliating. There’s no solid reason for her position on that.

          • Okay, she’s not normal then. She was grieving her dead mother and dealing with a sudden onslaught of betrayal and bullying. All through that she didn’t commit suicide, didn’t (as far as we know) self harm, didn’t lash out, and internalized everything. Because as we all know, normal people don’t internalize things. Normal people don’t take punishment because they feel they deserve it. Normal people don’t take punishment /regardless/ of if they deserve it because they are afraid to/don’t want to/are unsure how to/don’t believe in retaliating. Nope. These are all abnormal. If so, Taylor and a big fucking chunk of people in the world are abnormal.

      • 2) “At this point” being the key, there. With even just the partial list Taylor was giving, a normal person would have reacted physically long ago. I’m not just theorizing about that or speaking from just my own experience. There needs to be an outlined, compelling reason why she wouldn’t have done so. Emma or her parents being tricky with the administrators is simply not enough. When a person is that cornered and pushed, things like winning and losing – much less grades and others’ opinions – fade away. It is only repeated failure to make a difference by any means and/or constant, overpowering escalations that cause learned helplessness of the kind Taylor presents despite the idea that she’s never fought back – pre-powers or post.

        3) It doesn’t matter what Taylor’s thinking or seeing when she begins to be bullied. If she’s in a school with that much abuse occurring, the abused (or a group that makes money by providing protection) will approach her and ask her to join up with them if she doesn’t seek them out first. Moreover, a school in which the situation is so bad that the abused never band together because of the consequences would be one in which the officials would be either extremely vulnerable to media exposure (such that Taylor could have leaked information about bullying involving more people than just her as victims and it would have taken off), so isolated and disregarded that her education/status wouldn’t be meaningful and worth pursuing, and/or so dangerous that Taylor would have been careful and had defense mechanisms in place prior to ever being bullied, herself.

        In fact, if the school was such a bad place, Taylor would have a lot more to think about and feel guilty about than just her situation. If she hadn’t been actively trying to help others who were abused when everything was good for her, there’s a lot she would have to face up to about her situation. If she had been trying to help, she shouldn’t be in the situation she apparently is.

        The only way it makes sense for Taylor to be so isolated in that environment is if she’s the lowest on the totem pole in the whole school and is bullied by the others who are abused – and then she would be dealing with a lot more than pushing, messed up clothes, and being stuffed in a locker.

        4) Retaliation need not be physical, depending on what her situation is like, but she’d have all the more reason to get physical if there’s not really any strong punishment for it. Not only would she be more likely to get away with it, she’d be more likely to experience it often. Perhaps not at the hands of the trio, but they could easily manipulate or goad others into it – especially if people don’t touch those girls because of their social status or the power of their families. (We never get a reason for why they’re never bothered, but the norm of a school with such regular violence and chaos would be for them to have in-school troubles of their own unless they had special resources).

        • 2- “With even just the partial list Taylor was giving, a normal person would have reacted physically long ago. I’m not just theorizing about that or speaking from just my own experience.” Case in point, you are.
          What you are saying is the definition of an opinion. I have had friends on the receiving end of an ongoing bullying campaign and not at a single point did they resort to an attack. Because all opinions and personal experiences aside (yours and mine), escalation is completely likely for a situation like this.
          Bully: We will taunt you and fuck with you but mostly keep everything non physical, just to be safe.
          Victim: I’m tired of this, now I”m going to attack you.
          Bully: Now that you’re willing to hit us, we’ll up the ante.
          ^THIS is a realistic depiction of what happens when you stoop to the asinine belief that fighting will solve your problems. If you haven’t noticed, Taylor is self aware enough to /know/ that it won’t. Not only that, but she won’t even have anyone to take her side. If you really aren’t seeing any of this I have no problem going through and responding to you strictly with quotes from the story, which you seem to have glossed over during your read through. You’re pushing your own expectations onto someone who does not have the same values, thoughts, or situation as you. Not everyone would handle things the same way. I can name several “normal” people who have been bullied to varying degrees and still have yet to attack anyone for it. So I’m calling bullshit on that.

          3- “If she’s in a school with that much abuse occurring, the abused (or a group that makes money by providing protection) will approach her and ask her to join up with them if she doesn’t seek them out first.”

          How long has it been since you were in school? It hasn’t been more than a year for me and I could have started my response to that with “bullshit”. That doesn’t happen. Functional guidance councilors, amicable teachers, aware principals, and friendly peers are the ones who will have your back in a situation like this.
          1) We have noticed no guidance councilors, and Taylor doesn’t trust authority figures because they are as helpful as a sack of dog shit.
          2) This very chapter should cover this one for you. There are a total of 2 teachers would would even /slightly/ count and one turned his back on her literally and the other let her get blackmailed and steamrolled right in front of her. *points back to Taylor not trusting authority*
          3) *gestures to points made in 2*
          4) She has /no/ friends. For whatever reason, in her backstory Taylor only really connected with Emma. We don’t know why and it doesn’t matter. The end result of this is that when Emma turned on Taylor, Taylor had no peers to look to for help.
          In summary: There’s no “Bullying Victims Anonymous” to swoop in and save the day. That /is/ fictional and has no place in this world. It would be nice if it actually worked that way, but it doesn’t and I’ve yet to see it. So if it does wherever you are, this is another case of you projecting your ideals onto this world. Doesn’t exist everywhere.

          4- “physical retaliation expands into “any” retaliation in reference to Taylor. She felt it would lead down a slippery slope etc etc” I made a point to say this so the “retaliation need not be physical” is already addressed.

          I’m honestly curious as to if you paid gratuitous amounts of attention to the nuances of Taylor’s ongoing battle with bullies. She has mentioned several times:
          -She has the desire and means to get revenge
          -She chooses not to do so
          -Her aspirations are more morally in line with a positive viewpoint
          -Taking revenge on the petty (read: bullies) is beneath her
          -Not only that, but she doesn’t want to see things escalate

          ^All of these are points easily found in the story. So for you to express discontent with the way she addresses and handles herself because she doesn’t “act normal” (which to me reads “make an idiotic decision which doesn’t help anything”) indicates a certain level of a lack of comprehension. Since all of this was pointed out, sometimes in pretty blunt wording.

          • Taking this with what you said to the other comment, the irony of what you’re saying about me is astounding.

            It’s not that I failed to read and understand, it’s that what’s written (as I’ve said over and over) doesn’t come from anything. Taylor feels retaliating is beneath her? Why? She fears escalation into increasing physical violence? Why? Etc. Etc.

            If the point of having this section of the story is to explain things and ease the reader into the story, it fails for lack of chapters before it that explain the characters’ beliefs and reactions. Like I’ve said, none of these problems would exist if the story started later on (they’d just be curiosities). More content needs to be added/tweaked if they’re going to be kept in.

            You’re projecting your beliefs onto Taylor, and your approach onto me. I’m not like you, spouting off opinions. I’ve worked in victim advocacy and in school reorganization. You’re applying your person school experiences to the varied possible interpretations of Taylor’s situation, without accounting for the variables therein (like the school being consumed by gang and group violence).

            Your perspective is totally not applicable here.

            And as for internalization, what she says also shows that she isn’t internalizing, and thus that isn’t the reason that she’s not fighting back.

            You can’t even be consistent with your own thoughts, so I’m not going to respond further. Hopefully you’ll look back on this one day and get it. If not, at least I can be glad you’re not an author.

            • Wow, you ‘re arrogance is astounding.

              “If the point of having this section of the story is to explain things and ease the reader into the story, it fails for lack of chapters before it that explain the characters’ beliefs and reactions. Like I’ve said, none of these problems would exist if the story started later on (they’d just be curiosities). More content needs to be added/tweaked if they’re going to be kept in.”

              It fails? Really? According to your arbitrary criteria, perhaps. It worked excellently for me, and felt true to my own school experience. I do not require it to do anything else.
              Your entire point seem to be that the author must rewrite the entire origin of the main character so that it fits you limited view of how social behavior in school works, and how you interpreted the character of Taylor.

              I profoundly hope that Wildbow will not listen to anything said in this thread, but am confident that he will not, as this chapter is critical for the further development of the story.

            • This is a story about one person. It sounds like you have a big picture angle, but remember statistics, school averages etc. do not equal universal individualized truth. I have seen a lot of different bullying victims and coping strategies are wildly different from person to person. If your part of an advocacy network, you’re the exact person Taylor WOULDN’T contact, hence her type of bully victim might easily be in your blind spot.

              Also: relating to the violence thing. The principal is clearly on the defensive when she says those things: she might easily blow it out of proportion to help excuse the complete lack of protection of Taylor (and probably a bunch of other bullied kids).

  9. Rereading this scene was hard because I knew exactly how it ended.

    What does it say that, despite all of the crap Skitter goes through as a supervillain throughout the story, this still seems like one of the least pleasant things that happened to Taylor?

    And would “Taylor gets transferred to Arcadia in Hive 5.4″ be an interesting fanfic?

  10. This whole chapter just made me rage. Maybe I’m a bad person, but I really want to see Emma (and her douchebag father) get killed in some gruesome way. Thankfully I have the rest of the archive binge to take my mind off it.

    • Not a bad idea, but keep in mind that Taylor has (as far as I can recall) refrained from using any of her ill-gotten gains. If she did this, someone might ask how she could afford the equipment, which would be an awkward question to have to answer, whether she was answering her father, the school, or anyone else. Additionally, there is no guarantee that she would manage to get good camera angles, or successfully stage the scene to her benefit. There might also be some legal issues regarding recording people without their consent. In the end, the biggest problem here is that everything comes down to Taylor’s word against the testimony of multiple people. So far the teachers haven’t seen enough to totally support her story, it would appear. Some of that may be subconscious desire not to see bad things happening, or might occur because the teachers/administrators like Emma/Madison/Sophia and turn a blind eye to their faults (whether consciously or not).

      As to the question of whether American schools are this fixated on proof…it varies. I can’t give percentages, or anything, but it’s not out of the question, particularly given the seriousness of the accusations, and the fact that Alan seems to be playing the admins like a fiddle. Also, Taylor’s unpopularity isn’t the sort that comes from traits which appeal to teachers, and she actively tries to avoid attention; ironically, this has likely hidden the situation even more from the teachers without deterring the bullies at all.

      Above all, though, I think we need to keep in mind that Taylor doesn’t want more people involved in this. It’s not strange, given how deeply personal Emma’s attacks on her have been. Emma has practically thrown all of Taylor’s emotions, and their past friendship, in her face. That’s painful enough; sharing them with more people would be intolerable, especially since Taylor has only had three meaningful human relationships that we know of. One, with her father, is fairly positive but is somewhat tainted by her lies and secrecy. The second, with her mother, ended in a death that shattered Taylor’s life. The third was her friendship with Emma. With a track record like that, it’s amazing that she still wants friends at all; if her cape-life weren’t so separate from the other parts of her life, she might still not be ready to connect with anyone again.

      • Another problem is that admitting to there being bullying to this extent happening in your school is a huge blow to PR. It affects funding and can even lead to firings for negligence. With the school being (apparently) very under-funded it would definitely be a concern. I have trouble sympathizing with that point of view, but it is there. A lot of people just end up accepting it as a fact of life, I was once chewed out by a state senator for suggesting that there needs to be new measures to prevent bullying, arguing that it is still happening so obviously what is being done currently is not enough.

        Wildbow, thank you for your stark honesty and portrayal of the problems inherent in the system here. It was a huge part of the reason I started reading this in the first place and I’m glad I did.

  11. It’s things like this in stories and in real life that make me feel kinda dead inside. The asshole who has done wrong gets away scott free, and the victim has to make do. Fuck, it makes me fucking angry. I just want to punch something right now. Bravo on the good writing, but FUCK man…

  12. I have to say, I generally don’t care as much for the school portion of the plot, but this was pretty intense. I was half expecting a flood of bugs to come bursting through the windows at any moment.

  13. I’d have settled for a transfer. There’s probably no punishment that could be worse for Emma than not having Taylor as a target for her self-hate. Plus, you know, getting away from bullies alive is how you beat them. And that other school sounds much better anyway.

    • Which is exactly what Taylor wanted, and then the principal came up with that jurisdiction b.s.

      I love and hate this chapter. It’s tragic.

  14. I swear to god this better end with Taylor going full Queen of Blades and commanding her swarm to feed on everyone. I want her to snap, I want it to be cathartic, I want it to be visceral, and I want to be disgusted by my own bloodlust.

  15. The first time I read this, I had to walk off the anger over this injustice. The second time isn’t as hard. But now I know what to expect.
    A well-written chapter.

  16. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoy these chapters. Taylor is slowly becoming more and more capable, more and more willing to take action. It’s only a matter of time before she starts seriously making it clear to these horrible girls that she’s not to be messed with. I just really, really hope that it happens in an awesome way – not some sort of dark-side snap, but a well-thought-out, badass demolition of the status quo.

    The thought of that happening stays with me even when I’m off my computer. I’m really hoping that this part of the story starts to pick up it’s pace – although, if I myself were the author, I’d probably take my time with it. Still, getting blackmail info from Tattletale seems like a much more obvious first step than any bug-related retaliation. I get that she doesn’t want to mix up the different parts of her life, but it’s hard to ignore for me for some reason… :/

  17. Oh please DO something reckless Taylor. I want bloody screaming revenge on every asshole in that office. That whole situation made my blood boil. Screw the moral highground. These people need a painfull wakeup call.

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