Interlude 18 (Donation Bonus #3)

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Thursday, June 16th, 2011, 22:11

“Are you comfortable?  Is there anything I can get you?” Jessica Yamada asked.

“A… okay,” the staff employee said.  What had her name been?  Worthwhile?  No.  Worth-something.  She was elderly, and took more time than was necessary to go through the letters, “M… okay.  M, n, o, p, q, r,s t, u…”

A… M…

“Stop,”  Jessica said.  “I can guess.”

“I have to continue,” the older woman said.  “Patient’s right to communicate.  T, u, v, w, x, y… Y.  Third letter is Y.”

“We’ve been over this, Victoria,” Jessica said.  “You know that’s something I don’t have any power to give you.”

Victoria blinked three times, the signal for the alphabet.  The older woman started.  As Victoria’s right eye was the only one open, she started with the second half.  “M, n, o, p… P, okay.”

Victoria switched eyes, closing one and opening the other.  First half of the alphabet.

“A, b, c, d, e, f, g, h…”

Another blink.

“H.  Okay.”

“Phone?” Jessica interrupted, before the reading started again.

A blink.  Affirmation.

“I’ve explained you can’t phone her.  She’s gone to the birdcage-“

Jessica paused.  Her own heart rate was climbing, her breathing involuntarily quickening.  She felt a bead of sweat running down the back of her neck.  The old woman had stepped out of her chair, backing away.

“Stop that,” Jessica said, her voice firm.  She’d managed to keep her voice from trembling.

The sensation didn’t fade.

“She went to the birdcage because she wanted to,” Jessica said.  “And we let her because there were serious concerns about her unleashing an epidemic if she had another psychotic break.”

Three blinks.  To the old woman’s credit, she stuck to doing her job.  “A, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i… I, okay.”

“Victoria,” Jessica said, and she wasn’t able to hide the tremor this time, “if you want to communicate with me, I’m going to insist that you turn your power off.”

Victoria reduced the effect of her power, scaling it down to a general sensation of unease.

“Thank you.  Returning to our previous topic, Amy had to be contained somewhere.  Everyone involved agreed on that point.  There was too much danger, otherwise, with the possibility of uncontrollable, incurable plagues that could eat through plastic or metal.”

Jessica waited patiently as the staff member went down the list.  I.  D.  O.  N.  T.  C.  A.  R.  E.

I  don’t care.

“Others do care, Victoria,” Jessica Yamada informed her patient.  “Amy cared.  She knew her own limits and her own potential, for good or for ill.  It wasn’t an easy decision, for her or for the authorities, but that decision was made with everyone’s best interests at heart.”

Again, the letters.

N.  O.  T.  M.  I.  N.  E.

Not mineNot in my best interests.

“She didn’t feel that she could fix you, or that it was right to use her power on you again.”

Two blinks.  Negation.

“You… that’s not what you meant?”

Blink.  Agreement.  Three blinks to signal for the board.

A.  L.  O.  N.  E.

“Not entirely, Victoria,” Jessica said, her voice gentle.  “There are others who care about you.”

No blinks, now.  Long seconds passed.

“Back to my original question.  Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable?”

B.  A.  T.  H.

“Excellent,” Jessica said.  “We’ll see what we can do.  Anything else?”

Two blinks.  No.

“I’ll be seeing you for a longer appointment next Tuesday, then,” she said.  “Tell any of the staff if you would like to get in touch with me before then.  I’m on-call, twenty-four-seven.”

One blink.

Jessica exited the room.  The door sealed shut as it closed behind her.

“Well?” the head nurse asked.

“Some headway,” Jessica said.  She took off her suit jacket and folded it over the nearest chair.  Her back was drenched with sweat, shoulder-blade to belt.  “Hard to endure.”

“She’s upset.  Understandably.”

“I know.  But I’ll take her on as a patient, and hopefully we can get her in a better head space.  Thank you again, for letting me overstep my duties.  It helps me to open a dialogue if I can offer her something she wants or needs.”

“You can’t offer her what she really wants.”

“But a bath is a good starting point.  Is it doable?”

“Yes.  We’re well equipped for disabled patients.  We’ll lower her in with hoists.”

“She won’t break?  Or tear?”

“No.  She’s far more durable than she appears.  For better or for worse, she retains her invincibility.”

“I see.”

“Who’s the next patient on your caseload?”

“Sveta.”

“Garotte.  I know you’ve heard the instructions about the protective safeguards a thousand times-“

Jessica sighed.

“-But I have to go over them anyways.  There are regulations, Jessica, as you well know.  You’ll be wearing a type-C reinforced protective suit.  The suits include both an inner and outer layer, the inner layer-“

“Has a button in the palm.  I can withdraw my fingers from the outer glove and press the button.  At random intervals, you’ll buzz me surreptitiously…”

“And we expect you to press the button to verify that you’re okay.  You can press it twice in the event of an emergency.”

“The damn thing has malfunctioned and interrupted three of my last seven sessions with her.”

“It’s what we have for the time being.  If you don’t verify your own safety or if you signal an emergency, we’ll employ containment foam through the sprinkler system.”

“And I’ll be stuck here for another hour, with another four pages of paperwork after the fact.”

“Is she your last patient for the day?”

“No.  I’m scheduled to see Nicholas after.”

“Sadboy.”

Jessica didn’t correct the head nurse.  She hated using the codenames; it reinforced the idea of the patients being less than human.  “Yes.  I’ll see him, then I’m done for the day.  I’m on rotation with the PRT for Friday-Saturday, then I have Sunday all to myself.”

“Any plans?” the head nurse asked.

“I’ve learned not to make any.  There’s always a crisis of some sort.”

They’d reached the changing room, and Jessica pulled on the protective inner-suit.  The suit fit close to her body, smelled faintly of someone else’s sweat, and consisted of a stretching mesh covered in fine chain link.  The entire thing was reinforced by a grid of metal bars, complete with oiled hinges at each joint, so she had a near-full range of motion.  Zipping it up, it went straight up her neck, the bars running vertically down her throat.  She couldn’t look down without getting jabbed in the soft flesh beneath her jaw.

It made it harder to get the outer suit on.  The entire thing was one piece, like footie-pyjamas, and the fabric was heavy, with alternating layers of insulated fabric and more chain mesh.

She liked to go into situations armed with knowledge.  When she’d been new to the job, fearing her first week of work at the asylum, she’d researched all of the protective measures, even running down the patents that were public access to see what they entailed.

Odd as it might have sounded, she’d stopped doing that as of late.  It wasn’t due to a growing confidence.  Just the opposite.  Now that she had a better grasp of what her patients were capable of, it was easier to hope the people designing the safeguards were doing everything they needed to.  It was better than researching it and knowing they weren’t.

The heavy fabric exterior suit fit her like hazardous materials gear, bulky, broad, leaving a great deal of empty space between her body and the fabric.  Protective airbags of more reinforced cloth inflated to fill that space.

She stepped into the dock, and the door behind her shut.  The next door opened.

The room was empty.  The wall had a mural painted on it, ocean waves and beautiful architecture that Jessica couldn’t place as belonging to any particular era or culture.  There was a short, translucent table littered with painting and drawing supplies, and what looked like a cat’s tiered scratching post, extending floor to ceiling, securely bolted to both.  Mirrors were fixed to the wall, to show that the room’s resident wasn’t hiding behind it.

“Come on out, Sveta,” she said.  She clenched her teeth and braced herself for the ambush.

Sveta had been waiting above the door.  Tendrils snaked around the neck of the protective suit, and cinched tight in a moment.

Even with her full knowledge of the suit’s protective qualities, Jessica felt her heartbeat quicken.

Deep breath.

Her breath caught in her chest as she heard the faintest, almost inaudible sound of metal creaking.

More tendrils had caught her legs and arms, and even lashed across the room to catch the only points available to hold, the two-inch diameter bolts that held the scratching post ‘bed’ to the ground.

“So sorry,” Sveta whispered.  “Sorry.”

Jessica felt her arm jolt as one set of tendrils lashed up the length of her right arm to catch her gloved fingers.  Each finger was pulled in a different direction, but the metal reinforcement in the outer glove held, and her hand wasn’t crumpled like tissue paper.

“Relaxation exercises, Sveta.  Don’t try to fight the instincts all at once, don’t worry about me…”

Sveta convulsed, contorted, and every part of her drew tighter.  Jessica heard something metal give way, felt a small component tap her shoulder, bouncing around the interior of the outer suit before settling in her boot.

Calm.  Sound calm.  “…Just focus on your extremities.  Flex them, release them, repeat.”

Another contortion.  Jessica forced herself to take a deep breath, simultaneously cursing whoever had let this defective equipment go back in the changing room.

“I’m so sorry,” Sveta said.  “I’m trying, but it’s making it worse.”

“Take your time,”  she replied, defying every instinct that was telling her to get out of this dangerous situation: to press the button, fight or panic.  Like Sveta’s, her instincts weren’t serving her best interests here.  Unlike Sveta, she could fight them.

Sveta contorted, and an airbag gave way in the suit’s midsection.

“Oh!” Sveta said.  She’d noticed, and the realization coincided with further constriction.  “Oh, I’m sorry, Mrs. Yamada!  No, no!”

“It’s fine,” Jessica lied.  Too many things were going wrong with the suit, all at once.  Why?  There had to have been an altercation between another staff member and a violent patient.  The only reason this many safeguards would be giving way would be if the suit had sustained recent damage.

Except it had gone unreported, and the suit had gone back on the shelf.

“Should have- we should have done this through the glass,” Sveta moaned.  “I’m sorry.  I like you.  I don’t want you to die.”

“We’re striving to socialize you, right?  That’s our goal?  We can’t do that without regular human contact.”

“I’m going to kill you.  I don’t want to but I’m going to.  I’ll-“

“Hush,” Jessica said, sounding far, far calmer than she felt.  “Take-“

She nearly said take a deep breath.  She corrected herself.  “-a few seconds and keep doing your relaxation exercises.  Flex your extremities, relax them.  Flex, relax, steadily work your way up, inch by inch.  Look at me.  I’m not worried.  I’m in this suit.  I feel safe.  Okay?”

“O-okay.”

“I want you to think of all the progress we’ve made since the start of the year.”

“But something popped in the suit just now.”

“We wear the same suits for multiple patients.  That was a safeguard to protect any patients that might collide with us.  It’s not meant for you.  Don’t worry.”

Jessica hated lying to her patients.

“It’s not- it’s okay?”

“It’s okay,” Jessica soothed.  “You remember our goal, right?”

“Christmas?”

“I think you’re well on your way to your goal.  That’s what you think of when you’re trying to be positive, right?  You can celebrate Christmas with a few other patients, people who you can’t hurt.  I just met one of them, I think.  A new patient of mine.  She’s someone who could use some friends.”

Like a dozen frog’s tongues, tendrils snapped across the length of the room to the ‘bed’, encircling it. In another second, as though each tendril were elastic bands stretched to their limits, Sveta had shifted there, her tendrils gripping the post as she hung from it.  Jessica was free.

Sveta was little more than a very pale face with thin tendrils streaming around it like hair.  Small organs dangled from the largest of the tendrils that extended from the back of her face.  A small symbol marked the girl’s cheekbone: a stylized ‘c’, in black.

It took Sveta a second before she relaxed enough to let the tendrils uncoil from the post.  The tendrils settled in the air, in a rough facsimile of where a person’s limbs might be.  She’d positioned herself so that the organs could rest on the ‘shelves’ on the post.

“I’m sorry,” Sveta said, eyes downcast.

“I’m fine.  I understand,” Jessica soothed.  She shifted position, and one tendril snapped out to catch her leg, gripping her around the knee, squeezing and twisting with a strength that could have torn every ligament in her knee and wrenched Jessica’s calf from her upper leg.  Sveta flinched, closed her eyes for a second, and the tendril moved back to the post.  The suit had held.  No damage done.

“Can… can you tell me about her?  The girl you just saw?”

“I can’t talk to you about my patients, just like I couldn’t tell them about you.”

Sveta clutched the pole harder.  “I understand.  Was she… was she a bad guy?  Like me?”

“Do you think you were a ‘bad guy’?”

“I killed people.  Yes.”

“It wasn’t you.  It was your power.”

“I still killed people.”

“I think that’s a good topic for today’s session.  But there’s a few things I want to cover first, before we get into the meat of it, so let’s put a pin in that topic for now.”

“Okay.”

“She was a superhero, I can say that much without betraying any confidence.”  And you’ll hear it from the staff sooner or later.  Better to hear it from me.  “There may be wiggle room.  Maybe I could convince one of the hospital staff to stop by, and she could tell you a bit about the new patient through the intercom?  If the patient gives consent?”

Sveta’s eyes lit up.  “Yes please.”

“I can’t make any promises.”

“I understand.”

“Now, have you been keeping that journal?”

Sveta snatched a notebook off of the small table with the art supplies, reaching out and bringing it to her faster than the eye could follow.  She passed it to Jessica with just as much speed and force.  Even with the air bags filling the void in the protective suit and offering a cushioning effect, Jessica had to take a step back to catch her balance.

“May I?”

Sveta nodded, bobbing the mask with the mass of tendrils behind it.

The bed-post contorted into an ‘s’ shape as the girl twined around it.  It indicated some kind of negative emotion.  Jessica paged through the recent entries.  The letters of the words were exaggerated, and they got more so as the writer got agitated.  Worries, daydreams about being human, the vividness of her imagination when she pictured places like she’d drawn in the mural, her day-long spell of depression after waking up from a dream where she’d been human, in bed with a boy…

Jessica closed the book.  None of this was so unusual, capable of explaining the sudden anxiety she saw now.  “Can I ask what’s bothering you?”

“I… why aren’t you scared of me?”

“Because I have no reason to be,” Jessica lied, meeting the girl’s eyes.

The truth is that it’s because I’ve spent more time in the company of monsters than Legend, she thought.  Trust me, honey, you aren’t the scariest I’ve run into, not by half.

Friday, June 17th, 2011, 10:15

“You’re not the person that was here last week,” the redheaded boy said, shutting the door behind him.

“We rotate.  The PRT doesn’t want any therapist developing a bond to the point that they could manipulate a cape.  By rotating through three or four for a given area, they can ensure that one therapist will be able to identify manipulations on the part of any of the others.”

“Doesn’t that kind of defeat the point?  Not letting us develop a bond, no trust?”

Yes, Jessica thought, but she said, “It’s not my place to say.  Is that what you’re hoping to get, here?  A one-on-one relationship?  A bond of trust?”

“And now it begins,” he said.  “Answering questions with questions.”

“An unfortunate fact of the job.  Would you like to sit?”

The boy let himself sink into the chair.

“What should I call you?” Jessica asked.  “I prefer to use real names wherever possible, but I understand if you’d prefer the confidentiality of a codename.”

“Clockblocker.  Dennis.  Whatever.  You get crucified, drawn and quartered if you betray our secret identities, right?”

“Nothing that graphic, but the penalties are severe, and they include extensive jail time, and forfeiting the credentials it took me eight years to get.  You strike me as someone who’s paying a great deal of attention to the workings of the system.  Where people are, how they’re operating.”

“I have to, don’t I?  You ignore that stuff, you get fucked,” Dennis said.

“That’s the second time in two minutes you’ve brought up consequences.  Is that something that concerns you?  Consequences?”

“In the last three months, my dad’s leukemia came back, Leviathan destroyed a third of my hometown, the Endbringer killed my best friend and teammate, and another of my teammates, the Undersiders abducted one of my teammates-“

“Shadow Stalker.”

“Yeah.”

“I talked to her after that incident.  Anyways, I’m sorry to interrupt.  I’m trying to frame it all in my head.”

“They left her so fucked up she went and broke her parole.  Um.  It’s all been unravelling.  People I care about and rely on are getting knocked around, screwed over by dumb luck or because they let their guard down.  Aegis, Gallant, Amy and Victoria, Battery, Shadow Stalker…”

“Did you care about Shadow Stalker?”

“She was a teammate.”

“I know.  But the way your thoughts seemed to connect there, it sounded like something more.”

Dennis shrugged.  “It makes me sound like a sleazebag if I say it, but I can get away with that here, right?”

She let herself smile a little, “Yes.”

“She was hot, and when you spend four or five hours a day with the same people, and you’re a guy, and the one girl in the group that’s around your age is that good-looking, maybe you look forward to seeing her.”

“That doesn’t make you sound like a sleazebag.  It makes it sound like a perfectly normal teenager with a mild crush.”

“Maybe?  Not really; I couldn’t stand her as a person.  It still sucked balls, hearing what I did about her going to juvie, on top of everything else.”

“Did you see yourself in her shoes, at all?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re very mindful of consequences and the dangers you’re facing.  Are you afraid you’ll suffer a similar fate?”

“I dunno.  No.  If I’m worried about anything like that, it’s that there’s a worse fate waiting out there for me.”

“A worse fate?”

“With all the stuff the capes bring to the table, there’s a hundred bad endings that are possible that wouldn’t have been possible thirty years ago.  You hear about what happened to Victoria and Amy Dallon?”

Victoria.  The vivid mental picture disconcerted her briefly.  “Um.  Yes I have.”

“Case in point,” Dennis shrugged.  “And there’s all the stuff that went down with the Slaughterhouse Nine, too.”

“Scary business.”

Dennis shrugged.

“Are you sleeping well?”

“Way I’ve been working, sleep isn’t a problem.  Head hits the pillow, I’m out.”

“And the stress of all of this, it’s not affecting your diet?”

“No.  I mean, my diet’s not great, but that’s just trying to work around shift schedules and crap, you know?”

“I know,” Jessica smiled.  “Work makes it hard on me too.  I was going to walk you through some coping methods for anxiety, but it seems like you’re getting by.”

“Too busy to think, really.  I prefer it that way.  I don’t know if anxiety’s the right word.”

“No?  What word would you choose?”

He paused.  “I dunno.”

“Take your time.  It’s not a big deal if you can’t come up with one.”

“It’s… I feel like there’s probably a word, in another language, but English doesn’t have it.  Not despair, but… that feeling you get when you’re losing?”

“You feel as though you’re losing?”

Dennis nodded, leaned back in the leather seat.  “We’re fighting a war.  The consequences don’t seem to hit the bad guys as hard.  We fight Leviathan, and people act like we won, because the casualty rates were lower than they’ve been in nine years.  Slaughterhouse Nine come, and again, there’s a lot of people who act like it was a victory because only half of them made it out of the city.  Nobody but me seems to notice that, hey, those guys still lived.  They escaped.”

“Maybe they share the same thoughts you do, but they don’t want to face that reality because it scares them.”

“Maybe.”

There was a long pause.

“Looking at the general notes from your last appointment, you gave the a-okay for him to mention that you were working on some coping mechanisms for your anger?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you want to keep working on that, or do you feel like it’s more under control?”

“It’s pretty much under control.  I was… my dad was dying, then.  Amy healed him.”

“I see.”

“I… I regret this.”

“Regret what?”

“Joining the Wards.  The rules, the bureaucracy.  It’s… fuck, I mean, I appreciate having the resources.  Guys to make the costume, even this.”

“Talking to me?”

“Sure.  Make sure my head’s screwed on right.  But at the same time, being stuck in a classroom after Leviathan attacks, because the rules say I have to be in school a certain number of hours a day?  It’s fucked.  I wonder if the villains are winning because they don’t have to worry about that stuff.”

“Could be.”

“I don’t get it.  I almost think I could be okay with things if I understood them.  Why the fuck do they get away with this shit?”

“I can’t give you the answers you want, and I’m afraid that answers to questions of that magnitude aren’t going to appear nearly as fast as we want them to.”

“I know.”

“But you’re very observant, Dennis.  I’ve already said as much.  I find that we often find what we’re looking for the moment we stop actively searching for them.  Perhaps spend less time looking for the answer, and keep an eye out for opportunities to learn the answer.”

“Psychobabble,” he said, smiling a little.

“Sorry,” she said, returning the smile with one of her own.

Friday, June 17th, 2011, 13:01

“Jessica?” Weld asked, peeking his head in the door.

“Come in,” she said.  “It’s good to see you, Weld.  It’s been a little while.”

Weld closed the door and settled in the reinforced chair she’d brought into her office in anticipation of the appointment.

“Have you picked a name?” she asked.

He chuckled lightly.  “I’m Weld.  That’s it for now.”

She nodded.  Studied him, at ease in his chair, hands folded across his stomach.

“So.  A lot’s happened,” she said.

“Endbringer, Slaughterhouse Nine.  Losing control of the city.  Did you come from out of town?”

“Yes.”

“Was it on the news?  What’s been going on here?”

“It has been.  I try to catch the eleven o’clock news, and it seems there’s a new story every night, detailing recent events in Brockton Bay.”

“What kind of picture does it paint?”

“Of?”

“Of the city.  Of us?  The villains?”

“Things look worse than they are, if you go by what’s on television.  It paints a positive picture of the local heroes, I have to say.  Not entirely undeserved, if you ask me.”

“Thanks for saying so,” Weld said.

“You don’t sound convinced.”

“I’m not.  It’s only been five days since the Slaughterhouse Nine fled.  Smoke’s clearing, and I’m not liking where we’re at.”

“Where are you at?”

“Villains who took territory before everything went to hell are still holding the territory after.  Us?  We’re not in good shape.  We lost Battery.”

“I heard.  I’m sorry.”

“We got hit harder, and while they’re picking up the pieces, nobody’s jumping to help us.”

“No?”

“Flechette’s going back to New York before too long.  Nobody’s replacing her, or any of the ones who died.  Maybe they think we’re cursed, or maybe it’s career suicide to try to help a city that can’t be helped.”

“Does that matter to you?  Career?”

“Some.  There was mention of me maybe climbing the ranks.  I’m marketable, but I’m a freak, too.”

She thought of Sveta.  “It sounds like you’re being unfairly harsh on yourself.”

“It’s how it was explained to me.”

“I see.  That’s unfortunate, that a colleague would make you out to be a freak.”

“Water off my back.  Honest.  It doesn’t bother me.”

“Is there anything-“

She stopped as his phone rang.

“Sorry,” he looked genuinely guilty as he reached for the phone, “Way things are-“

“I totally understand.  Please, go ahead.”

He answered.  “Weld here… yes.  Skitter?  With Parian.  I understand.  No, I get it.  We’ll see if we can track her.”

He was already out of her seat.  “If it’s okay-“

“Go.  You have a team to lead.”

“Flechette said the local villains in power just made a move on a Rogue friend of hers.  I’ll… could I wrangle a longer session next week?”

“That could be arranged.  Go,” she said.

He was at the door when she called after him, “and Weld, I want you to pick a proper name!”

Friday, June 17th, 2011, 18:01

“Fuck them!  Fuck her!”

“Lily-“

“Fuck!  Fuck!”  Lily paced.

“Lily, please, could you sit?”  Jessica asked.

Lily stopped, resting her hands on the back of the armchair.

“It’s clear something happened,” Jessica said.  “You ask me to come, and that’s totally, one hundred percent okay, but I can’t do anything to help until you explain what happened.”

“They got her.”

Jessica felt her heart sink.  “Who?”

“Parian.  Skitter got to her.”

“The Rogue your teammate mentioned.  Was she hurt, or killed, or-“

“Turned.”

“Turned?”

“She changed sides.  Ran into Skitter, with Ballistic wreaking havoc in the background.  Knew something was up.  Tattletale fucking with our heads or something.  Then Skitter goes into this good cop bad cop routine, but she’s using Ballistic as the bad cop, the idea that if we don’t go along with her plan, he’ll try to kill us.  Makes Parian an offer she can’t refuse.”

“Power?  Money?”

“Money.  Two hundred thousand dollars, so that Parian’s friends and family who were mutilated by the Slaughterhouse Nine could pay for surgery.  So Parian could go to school.”

“A lot of money.”

“And she asks Parian to leave.  And it’s… it rips my heart out, because she’s my one good friend here.  Because she’s more, I… I can’t remember if I’ve talked to you about it.  You PRT therapists all sort of blend into each other.”

“We’ve talked about it.  You had feelings for her.”

Lily folded her arms on the back of the chair, rested her forehead against her wrists.

“Did you tell her about those feelings?”

“No.  No I didn’t.  I was thinking about it, but now I can’t ever, because if it pushes her away, she’ll be totally, completely beyond my reach.  Completely on their side.”

“Do you think she reciprocated?”

“I don’t know.  Sometimes, I thought yes.  Other times, I thought yes, but not nearly as much as I had feelings for her.  And there were other times I thought definitely no.  But I couldn’t ask because by the time I got up the courage, the Slaughterhouse Nine had murdered most of her family and her friends, and the ones who weren’t dead were… altered.  Fuck, my feelings weren’t even on the third page of the list of priorities there.  It was about taking care of her, helping her.  It’s what you do for friends.”

“It is.  It sounds like she was lucky to have you.”

“And then Skitter waltzes in and… it’s like, she slithers right past your defenses.”

“How’s that?”

“I can’t even put it into words.  You run into her, and you can’t even look straight at her without feeling your skin crawl.  Like when someone’s got something wrong with their eye and your own eye starts watering… only with her it’s because of the bugs.”

“Okay.”

“And then she talks, and she sounds so idealistic, and naive.  I don’t know how you sound idealistic and naive with a swarm of cockroaches and bees crawling over your face, but she does.  And so you let your guard down.  And then she starts making sense.  And that was the point where Sab- where Parian started lapping it up.”

“Did she make sense to you?”  Jessica asked.

“I had a feeling about what was happening, said as much.  Now, I don’t know.  There’s only two good answers for it.”

Lily walked over to the door and picked up the satchel she’d brought into the office.  She returned to the chair and sat, plopping the satchel down on the coffee table.

“What is it?” Jessica asked.

“The thing that lets me know which of the two it was.”

“And what are those two answers?”

“Either my gut was right, and Skitter was just feeding us info that Tattletale prepared, just to fuck with us… or Skitter was right.”

“And this satchel contains the answer?”

“It does.”

“May I?” Jessica leaned forward.

“No.”

Jessica stopped.

“I can say no, right?  You don’t have the right to search my things.”

“You can,” Jessica said, leaning back.  “And I won’t touch it.  What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” Lily said.  Her eyes were damp.  “Doesn’t matter.  Doesn’t change what happened with Parian.  Won’t change the choice she made.”

A tear fell free, and Lily wiped it away with her sleeve.

“Fuck, so stupid.  I go up against Leviathan, go up against the Slaughterhouse Nine, and this is what fucks with my head?  This is the moment I want nothing more than to go home, to go home and just crawl under the covers?”

“You could.”

“Can’t.  I… It’d mean I couldn’t do the costume thing again.  Not the same way.  Gotta tough it out.”

Lily didn’t look tough, Jessica observed  She looked like a heartbroken, homesick teenager.

She couldn’t say that, though.

Jessica stood from her chair and approached the girl.  When Lily realized what Jessica was doing, she gratefully accepted the offer of a shoulder to cry on.

Lily’s cell phone rang.  She pulled away, breaking the hug, but she didn’t answer the phone.  “Never fucking ends.  Didn’t think it would be like this.”

“Are you going to answer?”  Jessica asked.

“Can’t.  Not like this.”

“May I?  I’m not sure if it’s against the rules, but-“

“Yes.  Please.  But-” Lily paused, and the cell phone rang again before she spoke, “Don’t mention I was there?  With Parian?  I wasn’t supposed to be.”

Jessica nodded and answered.  “Mrs. Yamada answering for Flechette.”

Miss Militia here.  Could you please inform Flechette that Triumph has been hospitalized?  Anaphylactic shock.”

“Which hospital?”

“Oh god,” Lily said, eyes going wide.

The one attached to the PRT headquarters.  Flechette knows where.

“We’re in the building,” Jessica said.  “I understand if you’re busy, but could you contact me in my office, when you have a free moment?”

I will.

Jessica hung up and returned the cell phone.  “The hospital in this building.  It’s Triumph.”

Lily stood, pocketing the phone.  “What happened?”

“Anaphylactic shock,” Jessica answered.

“Skitter.”

Jessica didn’t answer.

Lily wiped the tears from her face.  She drew in a deep breath, then let it out slowly.  Her expression hardened, her shoulders squaring.  There wasn’t a trace of the emotion she’d shown just moments before.  “Do I look okay?  Presentable?”

Jessica nodded.

“Thank you.”  Lily was already moving, snatching the satchel from the table, striding for the door.  It slammed shut behind her.

Jessica sat in her chair and tried not to dwell on just why it bothered her that Lily had been able to switch personas so easily.  Did the career demand it?  Why couldn’t a teenager just be allowed to be vulnerable, at a time they felt vulnerable?

The phone rang five minutes later.

“It’s Miss Militia.  You wanted me to contact you?”

“Yes.  I just… I’ve seen half your Wards today.  They aren’t doing well.”

“I know,” Miss Militia said.

“They’re losing faith.”

“I know.”

Saturday, June 18th, 9:01

There was a knock on the door.

“Come in?”

“Hi.  I’m Kid Win,” the boy said.  He wasn’t in his suit, though.  He looked like he’d just come from the shower, and his brown hair was still damp.  He extended a hand and Jessica shook it.  “Clockblocker said we had a different therapist this week.”

“Protocols.  Can I ask how Triumph’s doing?”

“He’s okay.  Recovered.  Assault and some of the others are more upset over it.  We’re calling in the big guns.”

“That must be a relief.  To have others pick up the slack.  To deferring some responsibility, after having a heavy burden on your shoulders for some time.”

Kid Win shrugged.  “Dunno.  I am excited to see Dragon’s stuff.”

“I can imagine.”

A silence stretched on.  Jessica tried to get a grasp on this boy, reconcile him with the one filled with self-doubt that she’d read about in Mr. Camden’s files.

“Um.  I still don’t really get what we’re supposed to do here,” Kid Win said.

“We talk.  It’s safe territory.  A place where you can vent about your issues.”

“I kind of prefer to work through problems on my own.”

“It’s very common for tinkers to be introverts.  But sometimes we all need a person to bounce ideas off of.  Non-tinker ideas.  Sorry, it’s a rule I have.”

Kid Win smiled sheepishly, “I kind of subjected Mr. Kiles to a rant about types of modular equipment, a few days ago.  I think he needed therapy by the time I was done.”

“Do you have any ideas you want to bounce off me?  It’s been a rough month.”

Kid Win shook his head.

“Nothing?”

“I don’t know if this is me.”

“If what’s you?”

“Needing to bounce ideas off people.  Needing therapy.  All my problems so far, they’ve stemmed from me trying to fit myself into everyone else’s mold.  It’s only when I broke away from that, started thinking on my own, that things started to make sense, all the pieces of the machine working in unison.”

“Given your tinker background, I’m not sure I can tell: is that a metaphor, or a literal machine?”

“Metaphor.”

“Okay.  Your life didn’t start making sense until you stopped worrying about what others think.  But I’m not being judgmental, and I don’t intend to change your mind about anything.  I don’t want to make you conform.”

“I’m… I still don’t think I want the therapy,” Kid Win said.  “Can I opt out?”

“I’m afraid not.  Why don’t you want it?”

“I’m more comfortable going the other route.  I’d rather walk my own path and be a little screwed up, than walk everyone else’s path.  I’m okay with thinking in a way that’s outside of the norm.  I’ve been happier since I started down that road.”

“How does that impact your duties with the Wards?”

“It doesn’t.  I mean, I stick to the rules,” Kid Win said, with a measure of confidence.  “Funny, how it’s easier to do that when I’m being more unconventional.”

“I’m still not sure I understand.  Can you give me an example of what you mean by unconventional?”

“It’s like… if I did this therapy thing, and I mentioned how I’m not bummed and pissed off about what’s going on with the villains and all that, if I talked about how I’m actually happier now, when everyone else is miserable and stressed, I feel like you’d talk me out of it.”

“I don’t want to do anything like that.”

“If you ask me a question,” he asked, “Do I have to answer?”

“You wouldn’t get in trouble, no.  Is there a particular question you don’t want to answer?”

“It’s not that.  I… I guess I’m saying I’m done here.”  He reached into his pocket and withdrew a pair of headphones.  “No offense.  But I feel like having thirty minutes to kick back and take some notes on stuff is going to be a hell of a lot better for my mental health than talking.  No offense.”

She was offended, but she didn’t say so.

Saturday, June 18th, 11:06

“Um?  Hi?”

“Please come in.  Would you rather me call you Vista or Missy?”

“Vista.”

“Vista it is.  Nice to meet you.”

Vista sat down in the armchair.  It took her a second to get comfortable.  Her feet didn’t touch the ground if she sat all the way back, and she was forced to sit awkwardly upright if she couldn’t lean against the chair back.

“I heard they called in the big guns.”

“Dragon.”

“Pretty big as guns go,” Jessica said.

“Are you doing that on purpose?”

“What?”

“Talking down to me.”

“No.  I didn’t think I was talking down to you.”

“It sounded condescending.”

Jessica took a deep breath.  “What can I do for you, Vista?  Is there anything you want to share?”

“Have you been here?”

The non-sequitur caught Jessica off guard.  “I’m not sure I follow.”

“Have you been in Brockton Bay since this all started?”

“No.  I travel for work, and stay in hotels.  On the weekends, or when I’m not working, I stay in Boston.”

“How are you supposed to help when you don’t understand?”

The question might have sounded accusatory, but it rang as more curious instead.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I’ve been trying to help the others, and a lot of the time I can’t.  So how can you do it, when you don’t even know?  When you have no idea what we’re talking about?”

“I went to school for a long time.”

“Does that teach you how to talk to someone when their mentor’s just been attacked?”

“Are you talking about Triumph?”

“Is it why you ask a lot of questions?  Because you don’t know?”

“I ask questions,” Jessica said, “Because only you can give your perspective on things.  I know a lot of what’s happened.  Some from research, some from your colleagues.  But the only opinion and viewpoint that matters to me when you’re in that chair is yours.”

“Hmph,” Vista huffed..

“Where do you stand?” Jessica asked.  “What’s your view on things?  Summing it all up?”

“Sucks,” Vista said.

“I can believe it.”

“When I go on patrol, I can’t go alone, not until I’m fourteen.  So I spend the most time with everyone.  I hear what they say, and we talk about everything.”

“If there are doctors and field medics, maybe you’re the equivalent of a field therapist?” Jessica suggested.

Vista wasn’t amused in the slightest.  “Don’t be condescending.”

“I’m talking the same way I would with anyone else.  I promise.”

There was a pause.  Jessica sat quietly, letting it stretch on.  In a pinch, a resounding silence could prompt a patient to open up.

Vista finally said, “Weld said I’m the team’s heart.”

“I can imagine him saying it.”

Vista gave her a dirty look.  “I couldn’t help Shadow Stalker, but Weld said she was beyond helping.”

Jessica nodded.

“…But I think I got through to Clockblocker.  For a while I thought he’d fly off the handle at Weld.”

Jessica almost replied, but kept her mouth shut.

“I feel like there’s two ideas and they’re playing tug of war with my head,” Vista confessed.  She gave Jessica a look, as though she were daring her to say something.  “Yeah.  One part of me, it’s like… I want us all to stay together.  Aegis died.  Gallant died.  Battery died.  Velocity died.  Dauntless died.  Browbeat left, Armsmaster retired and Shadow Stalker went to jail.  And now even after it’s all over, Triumph gets hurt?”

“I think I’d feel pretty spooked, after all that,” Jessica said.  “It’s a lot of people to be losing, in the space of a month.”

“I just… I want to do what I can to keep us together.  Keep people fighting.  But..”

“But what?”

“The other part of me?  The colder part that’s being very logical, very rational?  It says that won’t happen.  We won’t stay together.  Can’t.  One by one, horrible things will happen to us.  My friends will die, and if they’re lucky, they’ll die fighting. And I’m somehow okay with it.  What does it really matter when the world’s supposed to end in two years?”

“I… I’ve heard about that.  It’s pretty strictly limited to the PRT, though, and there hasn’t been any strict confirmation.”

“We don’t have very good precogs,” Vista said.  “Not ones that can see that far ahead and still make sense of it all.”

“Does it… are you bothered?  Looking at things that way?  Thinking that your friends will die violently?  That the world will end?”

“No.  I’m… very okay with it, when I think about it clinically.  It’s the way things are, isn’t it?  The way the world works.”

“I don’t think so,” Jessica confessed.

“That part of me, that feels like that?  It’s telling me I’m going to die.  It’s inevitable, it’s soon, and it’ll be horrible,” Vista said.  “Therapy that.”

Was she serious, or was it a challenge?

“Okay,” Jessica said, somber  “I’ll try.”

“Just like that?”  Vista’s eyes widened a little.

“Just like that.  Believe it or not, I’ve handled worse things than a young woman torn between fatalism and wanting to help her friends stick together.  I can’t tell you anything about your teammates, but I can arm you with some tools, so your field-therapy is more effective.  If that part of you is better equipped, maybe it’ll get a bit of an edge in that tug of war that’s going on inside your head.  Sound good?”

Vista nodded.

Sunday, June 19th, 17:39

Jessica fumbled to find the ringing phone.  She had to move the pizza box and the bag of chips to reach it, reclined back on her bed the second she hit the call button, muting the television.  The pants she’d put on only for long enough to answer the door and pay the delivery guy slipped to the floor.

“Yeah,” she said, suppressing a sigh. “No, I’m not busy.  Isn’t he Richmond’s patient, though?  He’s away?  Fuck me.  Okay.  I’ll be there in an hour.”

Monday, June 20th, 12:50

Jessica paced back and forth in her office.

Somehow, when she’d left after seeing the Wards on Saturday morning, she’d let herself believe that things were largely resolved.  Dragon had been en route.  Not just one suit, either.

When she’d heard, on Sunday, that the suits had left the city, unsuccessful in their mission, she’d allowed herself to believe that things, at least, hadn’t gotten worse.

She’d seen Clockblocker in the morning.  There had been a shift conflict with Weld having to watch Vista on her shift, and he’d rescheduled for the afternoon.

Now this.  She’d never felt more useless.  The Wards had intervened to stop a mad villain from attacking the local debate, and it had all gone tragically wrong.  They hadn’t finished tallying the dead.

The Wards were okay, at least.  Physically.

Nobody came to her office all day.  Too much to be done.

Waiting nervously, restless in her inability to offer any assistance at all in a crisis like this, she headed up to the roof and bummed a cigarette from one of the interns, smoking for the first time since grad school.

Tuesday, June 21st, 6:10

Jessica sat on the edge of the roof, legs dangling.  She was on her fifth cigarette.

“Mrs. Yamada?”

The voice startled her, because it didn’t sound quite human.  She turned around.

Oh.  Wow.

Eidolon.

“Could I ask for a few moments of your time?” he asked.

“I… yes.  I should warn you I predominantly work with juveniles.”

“I know.  I’m not looking for therapy.”

“Oh.”

He didn’t say anything as he crossed the rooftop.  Somewhere downstairs, the local heroes were gathering.  The Undersiders were present as well.  Another threat.  Flechette had been right.  It didn’t end.

She felt a pang of sympathy for her Wards.  Vista had asked her how she could dispense advice, when she hadn’t experienced it for herself.  The response that Jessica had been unable to frame was just this.  That if she did, if she found herself under that same pressure, she wouldn’t have the objectivity.  Besides, if she was unbalanced, how could she hope to offer any aid to another person?

It was a bittersweet thing that nobody had asked her to.  She wanted to help, but she was glad she didn’t have to, because she wasn’t sure of her own emotions, now.

Except Eidolon was asking.  One of the most powerful men in the world.

He sat down beside her.  He pulled his hood back, letting it fall around his shoulders, then undid the clasp for his mask. He set the glowing mask down on the edge of the roof, beside her cell phone and cigarettes.

He looked so average.  Heavy cheeks, thinning hair, a big nose, thick brows.  More ugly than attractive, but not so much that he’d draw attention walking down the street.

And still, she felt like it was hard to breathe, as though his very presence sucked the air away.  She felt like she might if someone had a gun to her head, with no intention of pulling the trigger.  It was there, devastating power that could end her existence in a heartbeat.  The fact that he didn’t plan to use it didn’t matter.

This, Sveta, she thought, is why I can be around you and be so calm.  Because I’ve been around monsters like this.

“I wanted to talk to you,” Eidolon said, sounding very normal, “because there are few I can trust to listen.  I might have found a priest, but it’s late, and there are so few good ones out there.  I’ve used psychometry to view the past few days of your life.  You’ll do what I need you to do.”

How am I supposed to respond to that?  “I… okay.”

“I’m losing my powers.  Slowly but surely.  If this goes much further, mankind may lose this war.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Against the Endbringers, there are really only two individuals who can stop them, drive them away.  Scion is one.  I’m another.  Each of us is worth a hundred other capes, if not more.  I’m not boasting when I say this.  But my powers are getting weaker every day, little by little.  Whatever vast, improbably deep well parahumans tap into to use abilities, I suspect mine is running dry.”

“And only Scion will be able to stop them, after you’ve lost your powers?  I’m sorry.  I’m thinking slowly tonight.  Been awake for a long time.”

“It’s fine.  You’re exactly right.  They really only need two or three critical victories, and it all ends.  And they will win more without me there.”

Jessica nodded.  I can’t process all this right now.

“When I fight, Mrs. Yamada, I feel as though my lost power is somehow within reach.  Reserves I have not yet touched, maybe.  Or a fresh well.  It is something, but it is there.  The problem is that I rarely get to truly fight.  Do you understand?”

“Yes.  I think so.”

“I hope that tonight is one of those moments.  I hope to fight, to fight seriously.  With the information we have about this threat, I can feel confident that the situation would be salvageable if I fail.  Even in the worst case scenario, this could be ended with a strategic missile strike.  In my absence, the heroes would have weeks to adjust, to change their battle plans and compensate, before the next Endbringer arrived.”

“You’re talking about dying?”

“Here, at least, I can fight this monster, and where I might never make the gamble against an Endbringer, I hope to fight this thing to the death.  Hers or mine.”

To the death.

He continued, “If I can find that untapped well of power, then it will be worth it.  If I can’t, then there’s no point to me existing anyways.”

“Surely you have something else to live for.”

He gave her a look that was both incredulous and pitying.  She felt a pang of sympathy for Vista, and how she’d reacted when she felt like she was being condescended to.

Maybe life doesn’t offer anything suitably interesting or profound to a man who’s been as powerful as Eidolon is, she thought.

“I…” Jessica said, “Why me?  What am I doing?”

“You know, now.  If I die, you can explain what happened.  But I’ve read you, and I don’t think you will tell others until the fight is over, and you won’t tell others what I planned if I succeed, tonight.”

She stared at him.

“If you were a priest,” he said, “I would have you say a prayer and bless my endeavor tonight.  I will settle for having you wish me luck.”

“Good…” she had to get her words in order, “Good luck.”

He nodded.

Then he took off.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

170 thoughts on “Interlude 18 (Donation Bonus #3)

  1. A fellow serial writer has run into some trouble. In brief, Games Workshop, makers of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40k tabletop warfare games (as well as games like necromunda, blood bowl and space hulk) have trademarked the term ‘space marine’, and they had amazon take down Hogarth’s serial-turned-ebook. Except their trademark doesn’t cover books/magazines/comics, and Amazon’s not obligated to take down trademarks…

    My explanation sucks. More details/better explanation here: http://boingboing.net/2013/02/06/games-workshop-trademark-bully.html

    Spreading the word. Apparently Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman are among those acting on this.

    • Reminds me of comic book companies having a copyright over the term “superhero”. A Pox on greedy/self important dicks and bloody lawyers.

      • i did not think that games workshop could sink any lower (in my eyes), but they did. wow. next thing you know, they will try and trademark the word “Chaos”.

        I dont have any money I could donate for the cause, but if there is an online petition or something like it, and anyone has a link (i couldnt find one), I’ll put my name on it

    • The problem with this is the same issue with “Damnatus” a fan-made movie from the 1990’s that GW had to veto. International copyright law (particuarly the way British law interacts with American-style copyright law) is a huge mess, but they /must/ defend the copyrights they have, or they lose it. All of it.

      This isn’t about them being greedy dicks or trying to kill competition. This is them attempting to defend their intellectual property in a system which is poorly constructed and plays very, very badly with others.

      Games Workshop /are/ greedy dicks, but that’s a seperate issue.

      • But the point is that space marine is a generic, descriptive term not used exclusivly by GW. Even being able to copyright that term is basicly bullshit. GW may copyright their creation, which is the big, power armoures superhumans that serve the Emperor. But the term should not be protected in this way, and GW are being massive dicks about this.

        It would be like if I created a fictional army of GUYS, superhuman ninjas that defend humantiy against evil. Then I copyrighted the word guys and went after everyone that used it in ficiton.

        • It is now, yeah. It wasn’t as super-generic in ’87 (it was already in literature, movies and comics, yes, but it wasn’t anywhere near as saturated a term as it is now) and they simply don’t have a choice now. They have to defend.

          This move is dickish in the extreme, but it’s justifiable and understandable, IMO.

          • Then we must fight fire with fire. Get me the people behind the Aliens series, Starship Troopers series, and Bioware. All three feature marines in space. Not to mention all the other works out there featuring the same damn thing.

          • Mmm. Actually, Starship Troopers is strictly infantry. It’s very explicit in the book. When the main character, Johnnie Rico, signs up, the recruiter goes through (and excludes Rico from) a whole list of other options (including K9 handlers that work with alien “dogs”) before settling on infantry. The recruiter then talks about how he was in the infantry, and how it’s better than all those fancier units anyway.

            Not to mention the fact that it’s called “Mobile Infantry” in the book.

            (Of course, the book is also the first SciFi book on the reading list of the USMC, so clearly it resonates.)

            Hg

          • Given that the book (which the movie satirises the crap out of) is an unapologetic love story directed towards fascism and the supremacy of a military dictatorship, I can’t help but think it’s position on that reading list either implies a lack of reading comprehension or a somewhat unsurprising mindset in those setting the list.

            • Actually, it is a profound companion piece to his other works, especially Stranger in a Strange Land. Both concern extreme personal freedom and the responsibility that goes with it. SIASL focuses on the freedom, and SST focuses on the responsibility.
              In SST, there was no dictatorship at all, let alone a Fascist one. It was a democracy, but citizens had to earn the right to vote. Or, they could choose not to bother. The idea of forced military service was abhorrent.
              Lots of warmongers promote courage and sacrifice, as a way of manipulating people into killing and dying. Heinlein points out, that no matter how stupid the war, or how crass and self-serving the propaganda, the courage and sacrifice are still beautiful things. So lots of people confuse him with a warmonger.

              • Add “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” to the list of Heinlein books covering freedom and responsibility, BTW…

    • The only question I have is what kind of circumstance is this suit being filed under? Is it:

      A) Bethesda v Mojang – Case of having to defend copyright wherever violations appear and not necessarily ill-meant. (Notch was horrible during that event though.)

      B) Apple v WORLD – Where the company attacks every conceivable copyright/trademark/IP violation they can find for no apparently good reason.

      • General sense I get from all the comments is that it’s the latter.

        It’s worth restating that they don’t actually have a trademark for books. It wouldn’t be the former (and when Hogarth first raised the subject, that was my first thought); there’s no use defending a trademark you don’t have.

        This has apparently been going on for a little while, and the running theory/sentiment is that GW is just starting to release ebooks and wants some elbow room to extend their trademark to the ebook market. Which means bullying the competition.

        • Which they can do without much fear of reprisal because they have incredibly deep pockets that outmatch anything an ebook author like Ms. (?) Hogarth is capable of affording. Got it.

          Alright chumps, grab your flashlights and cardboard vests. Let’s do this. Publishing Defense Force, deploy!

          • Time to parody the shit out of space marines. They want space marines? We’ll leave them with nothing but a steaming pile of comedy gold that will make everyone laugh at them instead.

            Can we get Mel Brooks for this? We need to do to space marines what Blazing Saddles did to Westerns.

        • Hate to say it, but Games Workshop has had a seperate publishing arm for books for ~15 years. In fact, they’ve been publishing eBooks for a while now. They already have an industry for this. The copyright information on the site says:

          “© Copyright Games Workshop Limited 2013. Games Workshop, BL Publishing, Black Library, Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, the foregoing marks’ respective logos and all associated marks, logos, places, names, creatures, races and race insignia/devices/logos/symbols, vehicles, locations, weapons, units, characters, products, illustrations and images from the Warhammer world and Warhammer 40,000 universe are either ®, ™ and/or © Games Workshop Ltd 2000-2013, variably registered in the UK and other countries around the world.”

          So they’ve had the copyright for the term Space Marine in books for a while. Again, it boils down to them trying to defend a copyright they own, regardless of if the ownership of that copyright should be owned by them or not.

          • If the book were about GWs Adeptus Astartes (Genetically modified 8 foot tall acid spitting vacuum breathing boltgun firing power armor wearing warrior monks with level of fanatical zeal that outshines the SS), GW might have a leg to stand on. Problem is, it’s not. It’s about space marines. Marines in space. There’s also the fact that they used a DMCA takedown request to get the eBook pulled. That’s copyright law intended for use against piracy being used by a multinational corporation to bully an indie creator who might be generously termed ‘competition’.

      • …well, I’ll just keep on doing my little story making fun of the situation anyway.

        I was about to ask if they were going to sue John Glenn for having the audacity to be a former marine who has been in space. Infringing heroic bastard.

  2. Eidolon seems to be hoping for a second trigger or the like. I can see where he’s coming from, though it’s incredibly foolish of him and can only end in tears.

    • Is it really foolish though? He makes a pretty good case for why this is the only time to actually do this without actually dooming the entire planet.

      • Yeah I kind of thought the same. He wants to make a difference while he still can, though he might be a huge hypocrite depending on just what Cauldron has been doing. But he says he wants to have a real fight. I worry that he might intentionally let himself be copied.

        • I rather thought the real fight was Noelle, but even if the real fight is copies of him he is still presenting a pretty good case for letting him try. How many more Endbringer fights does he really have in him? And if he dies during one morale is going to absolutely shatter.

          • After all, HE may not know that Dinah foretold the destruction starts picking up in a big way 7 minutes after he starts talking with Noelle. And even if he did… what’s Brockton Bay, versus the needs of the world?

            When one serves the greater good, one can do… anything. Any number of lesser evils become permissable.

          • Why doesn’t he chase down the Endbringer’s instead of letting them recuperate, it’s pretty stupid. Especially the flying one who could be hit by all the planes and missles in the world without much of a big deal.

            • “It was the Simurgh that offered the most clues about what the Endbringers did in their periods of dormancy. The Endbringer winged a lazy orbit around Earth, beyond the limits of conventional weapons, and the highest resolution camera images showed she barely moved.”
              That’s why.

      • Yes. Noelle is potentially the third person capable of defeating Endbringers. If he could help her control her powers, or at least teleport her to the moon first, he would be doing a much better job of saving the world.

    • You know I thought that Skitter wasn’t getting the respect she deserved from all she has accomplished, but damn look at how others see her now. Fletchette and the Wards must see her as this big presence, now wonder Clockie was so surprised and how normal she seemed when they talked.

      • And yet don’t forget that Lily was also quite surprised by how naive and normal she sounded when talking to her. It gives me hope that both decided eventually to team up with our main girl. Fletchette just needs to get over her You-stole-my-girlfriend! Thing and we’re good!

  3. First off Zion needs to get a fucking move on and kill the endbringers already
    Second I hadnt realized how much stronger Eidolen is compared to everyone else
    Thirdly he doesnt have a chance in hell against Noelle bye bye Eidolon

    • Well, Eidolon’s being so much stronger makes sense. He can’t beat Endbringers one on one, and he has limits, but he’s still really, really good. Basically he has all the advantages of the best without the limits and idiosyncrasies of the other heroes. Mostly he’s probably just too hard to find a way of defeating. His power gives him what he’ll need, and teleporting+precog almost certainly comes into play to make him really hard to beat if he’s going against serious opposition. I think his stated power level makes sense. He’s probably not worth a hundred Legends, but I could see him being worth a hundred Undersiders.

    • I see a lot of hubris in his statement, though I suppose I can’t PROVE he’s not worth a hundred capes. He can still only choose one powerset at any one time, right?

      • No, I’m pretty sure he can have a few at once. His only limitation is that it takes his powers a while to come to full strength after he switches.

  4. Dammit, That was dark and awesome Wildbow. The Wards really have been through alot, and we got so many new sad revelations. Fletchette is in love with Parian/much more vulnerable than she makes herself out to be and sees Skitter as this terrible/overwhelming presence, Amy is alive/aware in some cruel sense of the word, Vista is fatalistic and fully expects everyone to die, Clockblocker is losing hope in the world, Kid Win has stopped giving a shit about everything and feels even better afterward, and Eidolon is planning to commit suicide by Noelle. Weld is now my favorite Ward, he is still hanging in there despite all of the crap they are being put through. I wonder if Piggot was the one to call him a freak? But now we know why they haven’t sent any backup, they simply don’t want to. I actually think that Taylor lucked out by not joining the wards after reading this.

    • Yeah, Weld is just…he’s the most awesome dude in the heroes so far.

      Heck if the heroes were just guys like him and Dragon, they’d have steam-rolled the villainous side without even touching them. The aura of awesome would have been enough.

      • He’s thick skinned. Forgive the pun, He does need some work on his people skills, but I like the fact that he tries to be a better person and reach out to others. But best of all, he doesn’t seem to see everything in Black and White. He is the one who clapped Skitter on the shoulder to reassure her during the Leviathan attack and saluted her when she came to assist them against the 9.

      • Well I can’t deny that, but I would argue that they have been better for the city overall. The city will be much better off with them in charge of the underworld.

        • Better way to put that. Imagine one of the other groups they’ve driven out in charge of the city.

          The Chosen or the Merchants for instance?

          There’s a fun place to live.

    • “I wonder if Piggot was the one to call him a freak?”

      It was during Weld’s PoV chapter, when he was on the flight with Piggot to Brockton Bay. She said something along the lines of “Do well with the Wards, and we have a position for you in the NYC Protectorate. We need a public face for your kind, to ease civilian fear.”

    • It was Piggot back in 9.1, though she didn’t actually use the word “freak”. She told him he had “a clearly unnatural appearance” and they hoped to promote him through the ranks to provide a positive face to the more abnormal-looking parahumans out there and accustom the public to them.

  5. So this chapter’s one of the longer ones. 8300 words or so. Wrote it in ten straight hours (I’m actually a slow-ish writer, I usually write 350-500 words an hour). Not to mention actually having the dates line up & fact checking.

    Relieved people seem to like it. Finishing a writing spree like that, you get to the point you can’t objectively look at the writing itself.

    • This is probably my favorite of all your interludes, and compares quite well to my favorite normal chapters as well. Outside viewpoints are always so fun, and this one provides a view on so many different things.

        • Indeed. This was one of my favorite bonus chapters, for sure.

          Have we seen Jessica in the story before now, or does she just kind of skate past the main narrative and try to pick up the pieces afterwards?

          Though that big where she says ‘I’ve seen REAL monsters’, apparently like Eidolon? That was weird. I mean yeah, Eidolon is creepy with his ‘oh, and by the way I read your past and mind and future, so I’m pretty sure you’ll do what I want’, but more than a girl that can’t control her powers and had her tentacles around the woman’s throat?

          • It’s much easier to be unafraid to something you understand and can predict, like Sveta–she’s really got only a couple basic needs and desires and she’s extremely obvious in her body language, for a given value of the term.

            Eidolon is human, powerful, and rather clinically detached in the way he speaks to her, possibly from the rest of humanity too. I’d be a lot more afraid of him snapping than of her, because I wouldn’t know when or why he would.

    • Well, I also thought this was one of the better chapters. I really liked it. Grim and despairing, shows just how absolutely horrible their world is right now.

      On the other hand, if Zion kills the Endbringers, the war is over. No more apocalypse. Humanity can breathe and learn their strange new world. The apocalypse is a really directional one. There’s nothing about the setting that ensures doom. Without the Endbringers, and if Jack’s apocalypse can be prevented, most things will work out.

      Naturally I’m pretty sure there’s something deep and horrible left to learn, but right now things don’t look absolutely terrible. Heck, maybe what Tattletale told Eidolon is “yeah, you’re right, if you do this everything will probably work out.” Tattletale’s definitely got a Plan, and I wouldn’t dare to underestimate her.

      Things won’t get really bad until Tattletale is out of commission. She’s the really scary one in the setting.

      • I don’t think Wildbow will completely end the world just in case he ever decides to revisit the setting later. He could always kill of most of the population and make it a post apocalyptic story though. I could picture maybe one Endbringer dying giving hope to the world. The story implied to me that the only reason Alexandria didn’t come was because she is scared of Tattletale finding out her dirty secrets.

        • I’m still really hoping it doesn’t go that way.

          Post apocalyptic really limits what the story can do and where the setting can take us. Not to mention it wipes out most of the normal people and ends our ability to emphasise with the setting.

          Also entirely personal, I hate post-apocalyptic settings and wish they’d be banned for about five years or so. As it is it seems like every five minutes we get another one.

          Though if the Endbringers do parallel climate change issues (for which a case could certainly be made) then…well you could make interesting points about how inevitable our own real world issues currently seem.

          • Do you think that they have a version of the Day after Tomorrow? Global Warming might not even be happening in the worm verse depending on how big their oil crisis is after Behemoth attacked the oil fields. I actually like post-apocalyptic settings but I get what you mean. It is like zombie fiction, there is a big over saturation of the market right now. Though there are elements of it int the story already though. The city the way it is, less authority, villains in charge, fighting over food etc. We know that there is an apocalypse coming but not what shape it will take. Plus Wildbow is so unpredictable that I could see it happening, or it being partially averted. So ALOT of people die, but civilization isn’t really affected too much.

      • You’re forgetting the looming problem of powers kicking in at younger and younger ages. There’s a reason DC retconned the original continuity idea of Superman having had his powers since he was a baby.

        Phenomenal cosmic power in the hands of a still-forming person with no understanding of the world and zero self-control ends… poorly.

    • Thank you!

      It is hard to keep in mind just how much work you must be putting into this story. Just don’t burn yourself out, by overdoing it.

      • I can’t even guess what she is going to do once she realizes that Skitter was telling the truth. That is going to seriously screw up her worldview, maybe all of the Ward’s views if she shares this with them.

        • I still say Flechette will bury the evidence. Although, the interlude makes it seem she might not want to do so. Maybe MM or Alexandria will force it when they find out.

          • I only just realised that given that she was present for Armsmaster’s outing, Miss Militia is not just believing bad info but is outright lying to everyone. Which kind of cements her as yet another bad authority figure in my book.

        • I kind of figured that Flechette wouldn’t go through with getting the armband checked out, given that she still had it with her (hadn’t dropped it off with a tinker for lengthy analysis yet), and then she found out that Skitter just almost killed Triumph. She might not be willing to give Skitter even that much of a chance, after the latest development. She was already pissed. The Triumph thing might serve in her books as a large enough weight on the “Skitter is an evil biatch” side of the scale that it’s no longer necessary for her to give Skitter the benefit of a doubt…

  6. One of the best parts of this story is seeing Skitter change in other people’s eyes. She has always been a rather creepy enigma for the Wards since the bank robbery, but now she is just becoming a nightmare for them to deal with. I get the feeling that she could probably mindbreak one or two of the Wards almost as efficiently as Tattletale if she really wanted to.
    It also seems that Vista’s fate at the end of the Noelle Crisis will really define what happens to the wards.

  7. Eidolon is an IDIOT. Who can’t think of consequences of his actions. Worst case scenario is strategic missile?

    By Flying Spaghetti Monster, man! You can teleport! Your enemy can, potentially, create cones of you that at some level obey her!

    Your worst case scenario is Noelle spawning twenty of your clones with your upgraded powers, who then teleport out into the most populated cities all over the world, while SHE goes HOME.

    Congratulations, hero, you are now responsible for destroying two worlds, singlehandedly.

    • Yep, definitely worst case scenario.

      Interesting. I’d say this is kind of unlikely.

      He honestly probably can make himself immune to cloning, and she can’t seem to clone clones. Worst case is most likely a single Eidolon Clone, which will have to fight Eidolon. Perhaps that’s even the plan. He gets a clone of himself, facing the only real thing that can challenge him, himself. One of them can get another Trigger Event.

      I don’t THINK he’s supposed to be stupid. Desperate, but not stupid. I doubt he’d do this if he actually thought that was likely. I think he is actually gambling a city on this, but probably not the world.

      • He thinks he can make himself immune. To her power.

        Ways around this? Noelle catches Grue (just tags him), Clone!Grue copies either her power (and then uses it to copy Eidolon) or Eidolon’s powers and teleports them to Earth Aleph / major population center / Cauldron. Or Noelle’s power adapts to negate Eidolon’s immunity.

        Or he’s just plain not quick enough to create the immunity, since he knows hell all how Noelle’s powers work, and immunity is unlikely to be conceptual “can’t be cloned by any means”.

        • None of the heroes know about Grue’s knew copying power, so that doesn’t have any bearing on Eidolon’s plan. If Eidolon exalts a second time the world is pretty much set, even if all of Brockton Bay burns to the ground in the aftermath. It is a big risk, but not a ridiculous one.

          • But remember the last interlude? A few parahumans might have had a second trigger event without even knowing it. Considering he is already one of the most powerful beings in the world/gets some kind of injection periodically from Cauldron, the chance of getting another one seem small. He also works for Cauldron, and Dragon thinks they are as bad as the Endbringers, so I am torn on how I feel about him. I just hope he doesn’t screw things up trying to get a good fight and simply kills Noelle as quickly as possible. Maybe make his skin like Weld’s to keep from being copied and some kind of earth moving ability to bury her.

          • I think if anyone in this setting is set up to tell when they are going to get a second breakthrough then it is probably Eidolon. If he was just doing this to feel alive or for kicks that would be one thing, but he certainly legitimately believes he can gain additional, necessary power this way. I can’t think of anyone else I would expect to have a good chance at soloing Eidolon either.

  8. Huh. The revelation that Fletchette actually liked Parian in that way made me go back and re-read all the chapters Parian appeared in. Really puts a different perspective out. Lots of things I missed on the first read through.

      • I thought it was more that Fletchette was a very social person and has a hard time connecting with the wards with the way the city was under siege. I thought she simply treasured her friendship because she let her hair down more. Looking back, it does change perspectives on their conversations, but I couldn’t see it. Though I am not really surprised, they are teenagers after all. Clockie having a crush, perfectly reasonable for a teenage boy, on Shadow Stalker wasn’t alluded to either for example.

    • I missed it the first time around, and caught it on my recently-completed second reading. It was one of those neat little “Ohhhh, heyyyyyy!” moments.

    • I remember people making bets with Psycho Gecko on whether she was a lesbian or not in the comments. (But then again, I think all the female characters get that treatment.)

    • I actually thought right off the bat that she seemed a little too interested in hanging out/being friends with Parian to not be interested in her romantically. It’s nice to have legitimate confirmation though rather than simply speculating on the little things here and there.

  9. Well now there’s only one logical next step.

    Skitter needs to kidn- I mean…’borrow’, the good doctor for a few sessions with Grue. Possibly with herself too while she’s at it.

    She’d be just as bound by confidentiality, plus the risk of being horribly killed if she told anyone about their weak points and secrets. Meanwhile Grue and Skitter (the others would never let her in) both need a therapist who they can actually tell enough to be useful, which means someone who works with capes.

    Also poor goddamn Victoria. That was a terrible reason to birdcage panacea.

    • I don’t think anyone would expect confidentiality to hold in that situation. You can’t expect to kidnap a therapist and then have her keep your secrets, not unless you are pants on head retarded. Especially one that works for the PRT.

      She might be willing to run the risk of having the Undersiders come hunting for her just to help put more information on them up on the board. When you really think about it there has to be a list somewhere with all the A class threats on it, and I bet the Undersiders are on that list and rapidly moving up. Anything that can slow them down is good from the PRT and civilian perspective.

      • There has got be a hotline, a book, or something for them to use if they really need it. I think Taylor is supporting and helping her team in her own way. Look at the all the progress she has made with Bitch, Grue probably would have had a bad end without her, Tattletale seems to treasure her as a friend, Regent seems protective of her, and Aisha even remarked that they can play the tough parental figures. Are they mentally healthy? No, but I think they are coping well given the circumstances. As for the Undersiders, Regent and Tatttletale make them very scary. Just wait until they realize what Grue can do. But from a rational perspective, I would make a truce with them. There is always going to be crime, but hey don’t kill or hurt innocents, and they can keep some of the worse elements out of the city. As shorthanded as the heroes are, and the fact that they are getting their asses handed to them, I think they they should leave them be.

        • Not in the real world, this was already done in the past in real life in a city called Rio de Janeiro. A governor decided that the drug dealers dealt with minor crime, were good for their communities and better than the alternative.
          About twenty years latter the army was forced to interfere helping a new governor that created a plan to solve the problem. The plan has been mostly working reasonably well for the past two years.

          What happened in Rio is that older, more stable drug dealers were slowly but steadily replaced by younger ones that loved to show their power, show army weapons to any trespasser and shoot cops.

          The interesting part is that in some places of the city cops turned vigilantes and took power from the violent drug dealers. These ex cops now get money from pirate cable TV, butane gas distribution and “protection”. They have strong connections and will be the next problem to solve when the drug dealers are dealt with. This is someone does not think that they are the “lesser evil”.

          In this fictional world though, with the undersides wanting to lay down and stop committing crimes (except, perhaps, for protection money), they may actually be a good option, but even then, the precedent may be problematic.

          • I’d say that the biggest reasons to leave the Undersiders is the sheer power that they can bring to the table.

            The situation you pose would have been very different if the army had simply been unable to remove them without serious deployment, AND they would be moving away from many other urgent problems in deploying to the area.

            What’s more, the presence of the Undersiders locks the board in position, so to speak. They stop other groups rising and falling, reduce the chaos.

          • That’s a very good point about, “it seems okay now, but what happens when members are replaced or new ones are brought in?” Since there is no actual oversight of the criminals’ governance, there is no accountability besides escalated violence once things get out of hand. It is clearly a short-term solution, one that should only be considered as stop-gap.

            Hg

            • This, incidentally, is the exact point Taylor’s Dad brought up in the election arc (and my opinion of him increased significantly as a regard). Establishing a benevolent dictatorship is establishing a dictatorship and once that structure is in place you have no guarantee the next dictator will be so benevolent…

          • When the world’s falling apart, stop-gap measures have to do.

            Though I would point out that Tattletale’s plans could actually create some longer term stability.

      • Except this would seriously get her booted off a real board of ethics. An actual medical professional in that situation would be expected to hold to confidentiality. Heck, expected isn’t the word, more like required on pain of losing their license to practice. The ONLY exception would be if she gave details about a crime they were planning to commit however they’re hardly going to tell her that kind of thing.

        Of course given the stuff the PRT has gotten up to so far, they’d probably be willing to break such codes. However the impression I got, especially from what Eidolin said, was that she takes that aspect of things very seriously. Telling people what Eidolin is planning could also be argued for by these reasons, but he seems confident she won’t do it.

        Anyway, the kidnap part was a joke. I’d expect her to be more invited then forced. Given her job I can see this person agreeing to it.

      • I think it would be in the PRT’s best intrest to provide psychological aid to villains especially after working with them against endbringers or similar.

        Leaving out the whole Undersiders, I think the regular situation would be where you have some bankrobber or mercenray type of villain that just went through some really traumatic events and is probably going to suffer some PTSD afterwards. You don’t really want people with superpowers to have any breakdowns and go on a selfdestructive rampage even if they were villains before.

        • But who would work with Villains who are in danger of having breakdowns? The therapist who saw Tony Soprano saw a therapist.

          • The same kind of person who works with a girl who tries to kill people without even meaning too. Which means working within two protective suits at once.

            Honestly that scene managed to paint Mrs Yamada of the tagged-ness as a thorough badass.

          • If I’m not mistaken, all therapists are required to see therapists. Also, it seems like the smart play would be to kidnap the therapist, then have Taylor place bugs on her heart and by her nostrils and mouth. Tattletale could interrogate, and information from the bugs could be used to feed her biological info. Together, they’re a perfect lie detector, and would be able to get extremely detailed psychological profiles of the Wards.

          • Lie detectors are an excellent method of telling if someone is nervous. That’s it. Tattletale alone would be a good idea. No need for the bugs. After all, IRL lie detectors are considered so faulty that they aren’t admissable as evidence. You can even defeat one a couple of ways. One is to simply be that good at lying. Two is to squeeze your butt muscles during control questions or any time you aren’t lying. It’s enough to cover up questions where you do lie.

            But yeah, some psychiatric help for the villains would be a good idea. Something that could potentially help a few of them. Part of their motivation is that the legitimate system wasn’t aiding them.

            Would have helped Bitch a lot before she got into the situation. Probably wouldn’t have helped Regent. Tattletale might be in better shape. Grue would have worked out had he been able to legitimately gain the resources needed to rescue his sister from his drugged up mom and raise her right, which would have somewhat helped Imp’s issues too. And we know well how legitimate authority failed Skitter.

  10. I see Skitter’s campaign of terror and psycholgical warfare is progressing so well she will have trouble convincing anyone that she isn’t leading one.

    I wonder if anyone at the PRT has ever considered the idea of offering free psycholgical help with assurance of confidentiality and safe conduct to the office to villains? Considering how many powerful individuals might be turned into more productive and less dangerous members of society if they just got some help it might be worth it. On the other hand, some villains might also use such session to work on their flaws and weaknesses and become more effective at what they do. On the gripping hand no one would let someone like Tattletale anywhere close to such a psychologist out of fear of what she might do to them.

    The dates on the sessions make it painfully clear just how little time has passed over the last few arcs. It is almost like things are happening to fast in a sort of reverse Girl Genius or DragonballZ sort of way. I wonder if we will get a bit of downtime or a timeskip before the big finale.

    The last session with Eidelon gives me hope that in the aftermath of the current crisis when thhe Undersiders claim that he was almost suicidally stupid they will have someone backing their claims up.

    Finally, I have to say that when Eidelon came in and his voice was described as not sounding quite human I at first thought it might have been one of the Psycho-Vistas gone rouge. I still hold out hope that one of the remaining ones will be together enough to become her own horrible screwed up person, even if that will really mess with everyone who helped kill amy of the other psycho-clones.

    • I think that Tattletale herself is probably aware that she could use some serious and extensive help.

      However going by her constant smiling and joking I’m not inclined to think she’s even particularly capable of letting down her guard and relaxing her defences. Inevitably a counselling session would lead to her taking the other person apart to protect herself from facing these issues.

      Then again, Tattletale’s nature remains pretty damn decent compared to what she could be.

      • I look forward to Tattletale’s backstory. There has to be a reason she left a rich and, if Piggot was telling the truth, loving home.

        • I’ve gotten it into my head that she’s a Cauldron cape. Not complicit mind you, but more like Triumph in that daddy bought her powers for whatever reason (sick? injured? ill advised birthday present?).

          Then she comes back with her power and finds out something really nasty about her family’s past that she can’t handle. Books it and goes off to find a family that doesn’t have skeletons in the closet.

          That’s got to be why she’s so attached to Skitter right? Probably one of the few people she’s met that doesn’t have some deep, dark slimy secret or repellent personality quirk.

  11. Judging by CBlocker and Flechette’s comments it seems that they really do consider themselves to be in a war with the villains instead of it being straight up law enforcement. When Armsmaster called himself a soldier I thought that was more his malfunction. But I guess the militant attitude is a bigger part of how the Protectorate does things.

    I’m sure that mindset has it’s uses when fighting the crazier or more militant villains like the Nazi groups, but it seems like a really, REALLY dangerous attitude to expose younger heroes to. The Wards are in a situation where they see the city falling apart around them and they’re convinced that there’s an enemy out there to blame for all of it. Of course the Undersiders aren’t exactly non-combatants and much of the paranoia they brought on themselves, but the Wards don’t have a healthy sense of perspective on things, they’re being handled like their job is DEFEAT THE ENEMY instead of serving and protecting. Going on the “offensive” like Assault suggested shouldn’t even be on the table, too much effort being wasted on pursuing esoteric “victories” that can only end in more trashed infrastructure and more bad blood. With shit like this I wouldn’t be surprised if psycho-hero groups like the Authority started popping up, I could see Flechette heading the charge there if she keeps going down this road.

    I wonder how all these guys would react to the revelation of Coil=Calvert. That all the bullshit they went through was nothing but one guy’s machinations for a cushier office. Not well, I bet.

    I also wonder how much Jessica really knows about how the Protectorate is handling the Wards, if she’d agree that the superhero crap is fucking them up for no good reason.

    • I hadn’t considered this angle but you actually have a really good point. Though I wonder how much of this perspective is the more recent result of all the crap they’ve been through.

      On reflection (and as bad as having said party was) it probably doesn’t help that the Undersiders crashed their last big celebration.

      • I was thinking the same thing. In the beginning, their role really was pretty much law enforcement as usual, even through the Bakuda/ABB thing. Then Leviathan hit town. Suddenly people are dying en masse, the city looks like the remains of a warzone, the Slaughterhouse Nine swan into town with Shatterbird adding to the mass destruction, their teammates are being slaughtered in one crisis after another…

        Pretty hard to *not* feel like you’ve been through a war at this point…

    • Well it is crazy that they put everything on them. A competent PRT would have immediately transferred every ward out of the city and sent in other more experienced heroes. Plus it is sheer lunacy that they change therapists annually. Where the heck is the better business bureau/government guidelines when you need them? That is something you an sue for. Going on the “Assault” is going to backfire in my opinion though. Face the facts. The heroes are outnumbered by the villains and as Gordan said to Batman,” What about escalation?” If the heroes break the rules, so will the villains.

    • I think they really should be considering a military mindset. The setting doesn’t lend itself to a law enforcement mindset for the heroes, they just can’t afford to keep putting people back in jail. It would be better if they could ease the Wards into that mindset a bit slower, but when you get down to it they are showing up and fighting and dying every three months against endbringer attacks. They ARE a military force, just because they aren’t going out and fighting a conventional military force doesn’t make the war they are engaging in any less real.

      Also, I vehemently disagree with the idea that the superhero crap is fucking them up FOR NO GOOD REASON. They are being indoctrinated into a lifestyle for a very good reason, because if they aren’t humanity dies.

      • I’d agree if they went whole-hog with the military approach. But we haven’t seen much to suggest that the Wards go through an extensive enough training process for that. They’re being put in situations where they’re expected to act like soldiers without the conditioning and indoctrination recruits need to go through to deal with the shit a soldier goes through. Now, I wouldn’t have experience with this. but I’d think A good soldier doesn’t let their personal problems and baggage bleed into their job, and keeps in mind that their enemies are the guys on the other side, not bogeymen that they need to check under their bed for every night.

        Also, if the heroes want to really commit to preventing extinction by Endbringer, they gotta stop shoving so many guys in the Birdcage, seriously, they locked one of the best healers around away forever where she’ll never be able to do post-Leviathan healing ever again because she just asked. Stupid.

        • The thing is I think the wards are being eased into the mindset. Brockton Bay has gone so badly that that mindset is accelerating. Normally by the time you hit the protectorate you really start getting hit with the training and indoctrination. Anything before that would probably end up being illegal.

          Also, I think we have to put the thing about Panacea going to the birdcage just because she asked for it to bed. She went to the birdcage because she asked AND she was mentally unstable and able to create plagues with minimum effort. If she had shown any willingness to pull herself together she almost certainly would have been pushed into extensive therapy and kept free no matter what she wanted.

          • “Ok, so here’s what we’ll do. We’re going to take a bunch of kids who have just been through a big enough emotional breakdown to be granted powers beyond that of mortal men. Then we’re going to desensitize them to violence. Straight up boot camp the motherfuckers. R. Lee Ermey yelling in their faces, teaching Vista how to stretch a bayonet into someone’s heart, things like that. Then we’re going to set them loose in a city as police officers.

            It’s perfect. Because then, instead of giving less threatening villains the idea that they’ll just be defeated or tossed into jail, they’ll know they are in a life or death situation and react accordingly. So then it won’t be a matter of escalating into something like the ABB bombings. Nope, they’ll pull that off all the time right from the outset because they know if they lose, it is their life. Considering how much of their lives tend to be fucked up compared to the Wards, this also means they’ll have better attrition. The Wards may be far away from home having to fight to liberate some ghetto full of drug addicts, but the Merchants will be fighting for their home and their very livelihood because they have no nice normal situation to return to like the Wards do.”

            Perhaps this will put things into perspective.

    • “I wonder how all these guys would react to the revelation of Coil=Calvert. That all the bullshit they went through was nothing but one guy’s machinations for a cushier office. Not well, I bet.”

      Welcome to the wonderful world of business and politics. When it’s not about getting the cushiest office, it’s about proving who has the biggest dick in the room and killing anyone who has a bigger one. Regardless of the means they use, you’d think Americans would be used to people in power screwing them over for trivial reasons like money and power. It’s the American dream!

      No I’m not cynical about the US government and culture! Why would you say that? I’LL CUT YOU!

  12. “I don’t know, Lily said. Her eyes were damp. – Missed a quotation mark here.

    Very interesting chapter, also was I the only one who connected Garrote with the ‘poor girl with tentacles’ that was mentioned a few Arcs back?

  13. Alright, sorry if I’m being thick headed and missed it but was Glory Girl’s transformation ever described in detail?

    Is she some sort of Cthulu monstrosity? Impossibly proportioned Overly sexualized? Caricatureized to the point where they’re disabled? (Like a barbie doll. If there was a real person shaped like that they would not be able to walk, among many other things)

    The short mention of it in the interlude made me originally think that she was just sort of… repeated (too many hands, to many heads etc) but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Plus if she’s in love with GG I can’t really picture her making the object of her desire… monsterous.

    If it hasn’t been explained, do you have any plans on revealing it in more detail later Wildbow?

    It’s not a big thing over all, just sort of bothers me that I don’t know. And I’ve always had a soft spot for GG, especially since I made a similar character for an M&M game named Glory with the same color scheme long before I was linked this place.

    Also, first time commenting so gotta say:Love the story, it’s amazing that you’ve made me like a character with bug powers. Keep on writing!

    • It seems to be that Amy kept individual features, but couldn’t put them together properly. Sugar, spice, and everything nice, but she isn’t sure how to prepare the recipe.

    • From Interlude 15:

      A caricature. A twisted reflection of how Amy saw Victoria, the swan curve of the nape of the neck, the delicate hands, and countless other features, repeated over and over again throughout. It might even have been something objectively beautiful, had it not been warped by desperation and loneliness and panic. As overwhelming as the image and the situation had been in Amy’s mind, Victoria was now equally imposing, in a sense. No longer able to move under her own power, her flesh spilled over from the edge of the mattress and onto the floor.

      That’s all we have to go on, for now. So, yes, some kind of deconstructionist exaggeration, repeated ad nauseum (literally).

      The fascinating thing to me is how all that extra flesh is (as revealed in the current interlude) still protected by her force field. What I don’t get is why, if (as Wildbow has suggested in previous comments) her super strength and flight are both functions of her forcefield (or at least an integral part thereof), can’t she still move herself around?

      Oh, and one other thing: WITH ALL THE FUCKING TINKERS AROUND, WHY THE FUCK HASN’T ONE OF THE THEM BEEN TAPPED TO WHIP UP SOME KIND OF ADAPTIVE COMMUNICATION DEVICE SO THAT VICTORIA IS ABLE TO COMMUNICATE MORE DIRECTLY, WITHOUT NEEDING THE HELP OF A VOLUNTEER SENIOR CITIZEN AND A SPLIT FUCKING ALPHABET?!?!?!?!?!?!

      I mean, hell, it wouldn’t even take tinker-tech. It’s already possible with current technology. Any tinker with even a passing interest in computers and electronics would be able to put something together during a coffee break.

      Those PRT folks really are fucked in the head.

      Hg

  14. “…nobody’s jumping to help us.”
    “No?”
    “Flechette’s going back to New York before too long. Nobody’s jumping to help us.”

    The repetition feels slightly awkward in this instance. Apart from that, this was a satisfying chapter. It fleshed out current events without being too much of a non sequitur; the ending with Eidolon feels very much like the calm before the storm. The more I hear about him, the more I find his character interesting.

  15. Several things came together in my head while talking to someone about this series and the following scenario presented itself.

    We know Justin Beiber exists in the Wormverse.

    We know Vista does not appreciate being treated as a kid.

    What if she survives and a certain celebrity is asked to come to the hospital to visit a recovering hero, cheer them up? The screams of pure, pre-pubescent rage. XD

    Meanwhile, down the hall a certain music loving metal man is all alone in his own hospital room, wondering if he’s not getting the visit because he’s a ‘monster’.

    • Keep in mind that Worm’s Justin Bieber is a transgendered Blues superstar married to Lady Gaga who doesn’t perform, according to some stuff written in the comments section a long time ago.

  16. I love the world building stuff Wildbow!
    That poor tentacle girl. :( Stupid Cauldron. She just wanted to be an artist no doubt……As for the Wards……JOIN SKITTER!! xD You’ll get ALOT more done.

    I still want to see a news channel special chapter. I seriously want to see how Skitter looks on the national level, if she is that ‘big’. Maybe she could even get an interview!

    • Garrotte is a great character already. Such a horrific fate. I would love a project like Worm focused on her and some of the other Case 53’s, the people ruined by their powers. At the very least, I hope to see more of her and Victoria, and their possible friendship.

      I still think Amy should be given a crack at fixing Vicotria again. It can’t get much worse than it alreayd is, after all.

      • Wrong. Amy could start working on Victoria to try and ‘fix’ her, get exceptionally frustrated, and turn her into a ‘living bio-bomb’.

        E=mc^2, if memory serves… and there’s a lot of ‘m’ in just a human or near-human body…

        The other thing that is quite interesting to note is that Eidolon sees two or three more ‘critical victory’ points… now, is that for a Cauldron-friendly ending, a world-friendly ending, or simply a “No one can see past this point because too many freakin’ precogs are looking at it and it is SERIOUSLY HARSHING the mellow?”

        Food for thought.

        • I believe he is saying the endbringers only need a few more critical victories. A few more wins for the endbringers might not obliterate humanity completely, but it fould easily remove their ability to defend themselves and cause the complete breakdown of society.

  17. Looks like Kid Win isn’t so full of win after all, he’s like a slacker version of Shadow Stalker & both of them feel only schadenfreude.

    • I think that’s being a little unfair to him. I don’t think he’s happier because everything else is fucked up, more like he’s finding his way despite everything else. He shouldn’t have to feel guilty about that.

      He probably uses his work as a tinker to cope with the crap that’s going on, and it’s actually working. He keeps himself engrossed in his work so he doesn’t angst his way into a bad headspace like Flechette is doing.

      He’s clearly worried about what other people think about this. So he’s above Shadow Stalker in that respect atleast.

  18. Just wanted to take a second and extend thanks to those who’ve recently been editing/cleaning up Worm’s TV tropes page and (perhaps most importantly) adding links from the tropes themselves to Worm’s page. It’s the sort of stuff that helps people find the story, and I appreciate your taking the time. (I see RobinZimm & rmctagg in the edit history, in particular)

  19. It would be really interesting to see another interlude from her perspective once this arc is done to get a before and after look at how the wards are functioning mentally. Or not functioning as the case may be. Also considering that almost every non-cauldron trigger event is caused by some horrible trauma there needs to be confidential therapy widely available. It might just reduce the amount of capes who go into villainy.

    • I can see how that would backfire. Let’s say the government began a program to destigmatize therapy, raise awareness of its new availability, trained loads of psychologists, et cetera. You’d have to make it available to the general public so that people with powers didn’t appear to be getting preferential treatment.

      But, if volatile people are in therapy, they’ll have more of a support network, have fewer unresolved issues, and be less likely to trigger. In the actual Wormverse and our own world, the people most likely to get powers are also the least likely to be aware of the resources available to them, governmental or otherwise.

      • There’s no reason why this would have to target everyone. It’s a pretty sound explanation to say that people with powers often go crazy and become villains (not undermining faith in heroes with the full truth) and that the counselling already in place for heroes dealing with them is thus being extended to all willing capes.

        Stating that it’s part of an attempt to bring down villain rates would be enough.

        • Well, Anzer’ke, if that last statement was true, we’d already have much better support systems for at-risk youth in the majority of first-world countries. Not only is there a significant portion of the citizenry in the U.S. of A. who think that that statement is bologna and a big waste of money, but they also think that the money would be better spent on more prisons and bigger guns.

          Of course any level-headed problem-solver would recognize that resources spent on prevention is almost always more efficient than resources spent on clean-up — you know that, I know that, I’m pretty sure even Psycho Gecko knows that. But there are plenty of people in the world who don’t want to “waste their money” on oil changes, “believing” that their car will continue to work fine, just as it has been.

          Hg

          • I don’t know why that’s an “even Psycho Gecko” situation. Prevention is much better than needing to fix a mess that exists. Unfortunately, human nature is human nature. That, and as Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

  20. One of my favourite chapters. So much well-written characterization with good psychology behind it, consistent to each character and with the story, all in one spot!

  21. First post ever!
    I see everyone talking about Eidelon playing russian roulette with Noelle but what about Scion. Is he immune to her powers? Doesnt he make the ultimate Endbringer? Talk about Endgame right there!

    Wildbow, I still think the key to your success is the length of your posts (my wife lol’d on reading that bit:)

    • She caught you saying your enjoyment was tied to the length of something. Your wife has a dirty mind. Shame on her. SHAME!

  22. A big thank you to AGreyWorld for his review on Webfictionguide.

    You mentioned that you were inspired to write your own story. If and when you put it online, be sure to let me know, and I’ll link to it on the front page.

  23. Great interlude- perfect character to fill us in on a lot of important blanks!

    “r, ,s” extra space and comma.
    ““I still killed people”” missing period.
    “edge fo the roof” of.
    “Each of us are worth a” Is?
    “Hers or mine. “” Extra space.

      • Well, I can’t blame him- I similarly find it hard to talk about my thoughts about the story content itself, despite having a lot of them at the moment. It’s another one of those points where I get the annoying urge to re-read and cross-reference despite it being three AM.

  24. Your exposition is always fantastic, Wildblow. I’ve spent 18 hours a day reading for the past 3 days and can’t get enough, thank you for this wonderful work.

  25. I am amused by the comment that there is always a crisis.

    I’m sure it’s true, but it’s quite amusing to see someone note it.

  26. It just occurred to me that I’m hearing Eidolon’s voice as being very similar to Leonard Nimoy’s. Is this unusual?

  27. I’m just gonna leave this here.
    Typo
    “Would you rather me call you Vista or Missy?” – and Taylor chides herself for caveman-speak.

  28. As Victoria’s right eye was the only one open, she started with the second half. “M, n, o, p…”
    Wait. M is the 13th out of 26 letters. N would be the start of the second half of the alphabet.

    I’m kinda surprised no one commented on the name “Sadboy”. Well…given the setting, it’s appropriate.

  29. Holy crap, this is a great chapter. Definitely one of my favorites. I like all of the Brockton Bay Wards as characters, so it’s nice to see them again, and getting Yamada’s perspective as a normal human who sees heroes when they’re down and tries to help them is excellent. It makes a lot of sense that the BB Wards would feel like people from elsewhere can’t really understand their situation. I wouldn’t be surprised if they felt that way about other Wards and Protectorate teams, given how nonstop the crises have been in BB. Their accumulated stress levels are insane, and appropriately so, and they are having a realistically difficult time coping.

    I also love the mentions of Skitter. My favorite parts of the chapter are probably the ones with Clockblocker, Flechette, and Vista, although Kid Win’s is kind of funny.
    Aside from that, all I have to say is that Yamada is probably the most badass normal human in the Wormverse, and in the top 5 most badass people, period. If she was a guy, I’d say she had massive balls. Not sure what the female equivalent would be, but whatever it is she’s got it in spades.

    Also, I laughed when Vista said “therapy that.” Nice little challenge.

    CG

  30. Well, I won’t say that Eidolon’s approach to wanting a one-on-one with Noelle is perfect (damn that looks dirtier on screen), but I still think Armsmaster could learn something from it. At least E asked first.

  31. Damn, this is definitely the best interlude among the last few chapters. I liked the part with Fletchette the most, tbh.

    And Eidelon is an hero.

  32. full stop missing:
    Jessica observed She looked like a heartbroken, homesick teenager.
    (I hope you’re not annoyed with me pointing out these typos, I only do it so that when Worm sells more than any fictional book since the bible, it doesn’t have any typos in)

  33. Wait wait wait wait…

    I was rereading, and I just realized. Is sadboy Gray Boy? Jessica says he’s her last patient, after Sveta.

    Both are named Nicholas, and the naming schema fits. Gray Boy would likely be sad, and in a parahuman asylum, if he was still alive somehow.

  34. “He was already out of her seat.” Hers? Yeah, she brought in a reinforced chair, but it probably belongs to the PRT offices.

  35. Well that was awesome. Dr. Yamada is epic. I think her power is epic control. She’s probably jumped up in the span of one chapter to be my favorite non-powered individual after Char.

    I feel bad for Victoria again but this does give me hope that eventually Amy will be able to fix her. On the topic of Amy…if you have a facility like we just saw and actual good therapists who seem to get shit done like Yamada then who in their right mind thinks it’s a better idea to send a girl who simply needs some good therapy to live with murderers, rapists and horrible people? One month with Yamada and it seems likely that Amy would be a much more stable individual who isn’t dangerous to others and might be on her way to actually fixing things again instead of going psycho on someone or herself. Talk about your miscarriage of justice. It’s almost as bad as the thing with Canary.

    That poor poor Sveta…ugh. Cauldron may not be the root of all evil but god they seriously need to suffer a bit for just leaving people like her to be…

    The stuff with the Wards was great. I really really like Weld and Clockblocker. Kid Win has become a bit of a dick since he got his confidence. Lily…really needs to look at the armband that way she can get over her hatred towards our protagonist and join the Undersiders…I can dream right? I take it as a good sign that she said that Skitter was making sense. Vista needs hug.

    I’m…not sure what to think of Eidolon. I don’t like him, I don’t really trust him, he knows all the bullshit that Cauldron performs, he’s an arrogant self-righteous ass, but…he’s also a death seeker. I had thought last chapter that he would be talking with Noelle thinking that Cauldron was trying to push her into becoming as strong as an Endbringer so that she could stop whatever causes the end of the world but now…I don’t know what to make of him.

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