Interlude 3½ (Bonus)

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Kayden crouched by the crib, her arms folded over the edge, watching her baby’s chest rise and fall.  She felt at peace.  Aster was perfect, flawless, untainted by the chaos and the evils of the world beyond the apartment and the nursery.  Even in her waking moments, she wasn’t overly demanding, quick to reduce her wails to quiet whimpers when she heard assurances that food, company or a diaper change were on the way.  Not that she understood, of course, but she trusted her mother would provide.  Kayden couldn’t have asked for more.  Literally, there was nothing Aster could do, have or be that would make her better than she was.

In an odd way, Kayden supposed, she took refuge in Aster.  She found succor in the company of her child, in the midst of a world she had little hope for.

It took willpower to force herself to step away, to quietly step from the nursery and half-close the door behind her.  When she saw pudgy fifteen year old Theo sitting in front of the television, she was momentarily disoriented. Then she felt a stab of guilt.  She’d forgotten about the boy, in the midst of caring for Aster and her preparations for the night.

“Theo, I’m sorry,” she spoke.  The boy had been captivated by the final votes of some reality TV show, but he didn’t give a second thought to muting the TV and giving Kayden his full attention.  “I’ve been so preoccupied, I haven’t fed you.”

“It’s okay,” Theo answered her, breaking eye contact.  It wasn’t.

“Look, I’m going out-”

“In costume?”

“Yeah,” Kayden replied.  She tried to read the expression on the boy’s face, but Theo was a stone wall.  He’d had to be, really, with what he’d grown up with.

Resisting the urge to comment or push the boy to offer some commentary, criticism or support, Kayden continued, “I’m leaving you thirty dollars here on the kitchen table.  If you want to use it to order out, please feel free.  Otherwise, raid my cupboards, my fridge, or use the money to go down to the convenience store in the lobby, okay?  If you decide to rent a movie, leave it here for me to take back.  I might want to watch it.”  Kayden smiled, trying to coax a matching expression from him.

“Okay,”  Theo said, his face blank.  “When will you be back?”

In time to take you back to your dad’s, Kayden almost said.  Then she had an idea, “I might be late.  Would it maybe be okay if you spent the night?  You’d just have to check in on Aster every few hours.  Keep an ear out in case she cries?  I’d pay you for the full night’s babysitting.”

The times when Theo let a glimmer of emotion show were few and far between.  A smile, genuine, touched Theo’s face, and almost broke Kayden’s heart in the process.

“I’d love to,” Theo replied, meaning it.

“Then it’s settled.  Sorry to interrupt your show,” she said.

“It’s fine,” Theo said, just a touch too fast.  It wasn’t fine, apparently, but he would never admit it.  Could never admit it.  Kayden felt a flicker of hatred for the man who had eroded every ounce of personality and assertiveness from his son.  She would give her right hand for a smart-alec remark, rolled eyes or to be ignored in favor of a TV show.

She had to console herself that she was at least giving Theo a night’s respite from the man.  It wasn’t enough, of course, but there was so little she could do.  All she could offer were small kindnesses, little gestures of love and affection, and hope they helped.  With that in mind, Kayden took the time to get some sheets out and set up the other couch so Theo would be comfortable when he was done watching TV.

When that was done, she double checked the TV to see that she wasn’t interrupting anything, and told Theo, “Wish me luck.”

“Good luck,” the boy replied, in a tone that was all affectation.  The false words stung Kayden more than if Theo hadn’t said anything at all.  Tonight wasn’t the night to confront that issue.  She left the apartment, locking the door behind her.  She took the stairs up to the roof, and shucked off her bathrobe.   The garment went in the gap between two flowerboxes, where nobody would find it unless they were looking for it.

Then she stepped off the edge of the roof.

The wind ripped at her hair, blew cold against her face.  As she tumbled head over heels, seeing only glimpses of the streetlights and cars below her, she waited.  Her apartment building was fifteen stories tall, which gave her less time than one might expect.  All it would take was one second of doubt, one mistake, a momentary hesitation, and she would hit the ground.

Aster.  It was fitting that she thought of her daughter.  She always did, these days, every time she jumped.  It had become a ritual, as though she couldn’t set out to clean up the city if she didn’t remind herself why she was doing it.

Energy suffused her body.  The entire sky lit up in a brilliant, blinding flash of light.  By the time the spots cleared from the eyes of the people on the street, she was already gone, hurtling over Downtown Brockton Bay, a white trail of light following behind her.

Kayden didn’t wear a mask, but it wasn’t necessary.  With her powers active, her brown hair and eyes became a radiant white, emanating a light so brilliant it was impossible to look straight at her.  The fabric of her alabaster costume, too, radiated with a soft glow that rippled like light on the surface of the water.

Her usual routine was to patrol for an hour or two, get a sense of things, and then take action where she thought it was most appropriate.  Tonight, though, she was frustrated, and she hadn’t even begun.

A year ago, she had made the ABB a priority target.  Three to five times a week, she had carried out surgical strikes against the low level operations of the gang, interrupting shipments, beating up dealers and thugs, attacking their places of business and all the while, she had been gathering information.  That information had paid off from time to time; she had clashed directly with Lung on no less than four occasions, had encountered Oni Lee on two.  In all but one of those encounters, she had successfully forced them to retreat, to abandon whatever it was they were doing at the time.  Those were the good days.

There had been bad days too.  Most of the time, she made a point to rough up the lower level members of the gang when she’d taken them down, enough to make them reconsider their career choice.  Make them consider going to another town.  At one point, Lung had set a trap for her, and succeeded in returning the favor.  It had taken her two months to recuperate from all of her injuries.  Other days, which were somehow worse, she found herself struggling to make a difference, coming to the dawning realization that she had failed to change things.

This week had been a long series of those bad days.  When she’d read in the news that Lung had been apprehended, she’d cleared her schedule.  Kayden had taken her vacation days and called Theo about babysitting.  It had been the best chance she’d get, she thought, to clean up the ABB once and for all.  Get that scum out of her city, while they were leaderless.

Five of her seven vacation days had passed, and she’d accomplished nothing.  Less than nothing.  They were getting stronger.

Breaking her usual patrol route, she headed straight to the northern part of the city and investigated the Docks.  It was empty of ABB members, aside from two Korean girls were taking a break from turning tricks near the ferry, talking to their aged, fat, matronly pimp.   Kayden resisted the urge to take action and run them off, resisted grilling them for information.  She had done that last night with a group of dealers, and accomplished little to nothing.

The ABB was still active.  Even with their boss gone, they were more organized than they had been under Lung’s influence.  But her interrogations had failed to get any details on why.  Even broken arms and legs hadn’t hurt or scared the thugs enough to get them talking about what was going on.

This was the situation, usually, where Kayden would go to informants for information, resurrect old alliances and get help in squashing the ABB before they could get their footing again.  She had hunted down old buddies, contacts and teammates three days ago, and had been frustrated by the lack of response, the lack of enthusiasm.  Max, Theo’s father, was to blame for that.  Just as she’d left his team a more broken person than she’d been when she joined, others had gone through the same experience. With charisma and a keen sense of people, Max had convinced people from across the country to join his team.  Just as easily, he’d tore them apart without them realizing he was doing it.  Confidence broken, wracked by doubts, paranoid regarding everyone except the one man that had caused the paranoia in the first place, they’d splintered off from the team.  Not that Max minded.  There was always a fresh supply of bright eyed recruits ready to replace anyone he broke.

Now most of the gang was gone, quite possibly on a big job, and she had no idea where.  She had no idea where to find out.  Kayden grit her teeth.  This wasn’t working.  If she was going to make any headway before her vacation days were up, she had to act now.  Make a deal with the devil.

She returned Downtown.  It was hard to navigate the streets from so high up, even if they were roads she traveled on a daily basis as her uncostumed self.  From here, the buildings all looked the same, with mirrored outsides and gravel rooftops.  Twice, she circled around the top floors of the wrong buildings, looking for the logo set on the side of the building would mark Max’s building apart from the others.

The black crown against a red and yellow background.  She stopped when she saw it, cursed under her breath.  When she approached, she saw him, still in his office.  Not so unusual, he’d worked late during every night of their marriage.  He had a laptop directly in front of him, a sandwich in a paper wrapping to his right, and an array of papers spread over the desk to his left.  He swiveled around to face her as she got close to the window, smiled softly.

Damn him, he was five years older than her, pushing thirty five, and he was still the best looking man she’d ever looked in the eye.  Even the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes only made him more attractive.  He’d taken off his tie and suit jacket, and the sleeves of his shirt were rolled halfway up his forearms, forcing her to note he was still working out.

He waited, his hands clasped over his stomach, the faintest expression of amusement on his face.  She knew he was capable of opening the window to his office.  He was waiting for her to ask to come inside.  It was the sort of little power game he was so fond of.

On another night, she would have tested her will against his.  To no avail, usually, but she would have tried.  It probably would have ended with her flying away, making it clear she could do without his assistance.  Tonight, though, she felt the frustration of her fruitless ‘vacation’ and brought herself to reach out and knock on the window.

Before she could rap her knuckles against it a second time, it clicked and opened upward. She navigated her way around it to make her way inside. He hadn’t seemed to move a muscle when he opened the window.  He liked little demonstrations like that.  She set foot on the carpet of the office and let the light glowing from within her fade.  Her hair stopped stirring and writhing in response to the energy rippling through it, going limp and turning brown.  Her eyes dimmed to their dark hazel color.  She could hear a click followed by the faintest of hisses as the window slowly closed behind her.

“Kayden.  It’s been a little while,” he managed to greet her and make it sound like a criticism in the same breath.  He half-turned to type on his computer, and the lights in the office adjusted to a halogen glare.  She shut her eyes briefly and basked in the glow, feeling her internal supply of energy recharge.

“Max.  Thank you for the light.”

“You’re fine, I take it?”

“I’m fine.”

“And our daughter?”

“Aster’s well,” she said, as calmly as possible, as her hearbeat pounded in her ears.  She knew he didn’t really care.  He was letting her know that he hadn’t forgotten about Aster, reminding her that he, at any time, any moment, could take custody of her baby girl.  He had the money, he had the contacts.  She’d be helpless to stop him.  She remembered to mention, “Theo’s babysitting her tonight.”

“I know.  He called a little earlier to ask if he could spend the night.  I told him that was fine.  It’ll do him good to spend time with you and Aster.  Some female influences in his life.”

Kayden answered with a curt nod.  To anyone else, this conversation would have sounded perfectly innocent.  As someone who had worked alongside Max for ten years and been married to him for one, she knew this was all negotiation.  He was making it clear he was doing her a favor, and he’d expect recompense at some point, tonight or a week from now.  It was how he was – always playing for power, for advantage, for dominance.  All the while, he was doing it in a way that you couldn’t confront.  If she called him on it, he’d play innocent and she’d look like the crazy one, the one in the wrong.  Sometimes even to herself.

“So, what can I do for you?” he leaned back in his seat.

“The ABB is lacking leadership.  Or, at least, lacking experienced leadership.  I want to take them down before they regroup.  To do that, I’m wanting to reunite our old team.”

“And you’re admitting you can’t do it without my help.”

“Yes,” it pained her to admit.

“Not interested,” he said, spinning around in his chair to face the computer.  There was a click, and the window behind Kayden began to open again.  As the air blew in from outside, a strand of hair blew across her face.  She tucked it behind her ear.

“I’ve talked to the others, but nobody that’s worked for you is willing to be the first to join me.  Some say they’re worried they’ll offend you.  Others are just spooked, or they’ve already given up.  They ask me why would a group of your rejects do any better than they’d managed as part of your team?  I’m not getting anywhere, and time’s running out.  All it would take would be one word from you, and I’d have a team of four or five people.  With that, I could root out and squash the ABB.”

Max stood up and sat on the edge of his desk so he was facing Kayden, “I don’t see it being worth the effort.  What’s in it for me?”

“The ABB would be gone, for starters.”

“They’ll be gone eventually.  I’m patient.  What else?”

“I don’t have anything else to offer you, Max,” she answered.  That was a lie, she knew… but the closest thing she had to a bargaining chip was something she would never give up in a million years.  Never Aster.

“I want you.  On my team again.”


“You’d be my second in command.  I’d talk to the old members of the team, and get them to form a separate group to work under you.  You’d double check with me on anything you did, but other than that, you’d be completely autonomous.  Free to use your team as you see fit.”

Other than that, she thought.  As if it was inconsequential, to be checking in with him on every move she made.  “I don’t agree with the way you do things.  I don’t want to be associated with you.”

He laughed, throaty, deep, rich, while she stood there in stony silence.

“Kayden,” he said, when he’d stopped, “You’re already associated with me.  People say our names in the same breath, even when we haven’t worked together in two years.  When my name appears in the newspapers, yours is never far behind.”

“I’m working to change that.”

“And you’ll be working against that impression for decades, to no effect, I guarantee you.”

Kayden turned and looked out the window, unwilling to look Max in his brilliantly blue eyes for any longer.

He continued, and she knew he was smiling smugly at her even without looking at him, “Regardless of our different methods, we always shared the same goals.  To clean up this filthy world of ours.”

“You do it by putting drugs on the street, stealing, extorting.  I can’t agree with that.  I never did.  It doesn’t make any sense, to improve things by making them worse.”

Max smiled, “It’s ugly on the surface, but it’s more money, more power, and it gives me the leverage to really affect things.  The only people I hurt are the same people who cause the problems in the first place.”

It was a refrain she had heard often enough before.  She folded her arms.

He changed tactics, “Let me ask you – would you rather be doing things your way, failing to change things or would you rather work under me and make a difference?”

“I am making a difference,” Kayden answered, “I’m working to make this world a better place.”

“Of course,” he replied, and she didn’t miss the hint of condescension in his voice, “You left my team to go do good work, it’s just pure coincidence that it’s black, brown, or yellow criminals you target.”

Kayden frowned, “Hard to avoid, when the only notable gang of whites is yours.  Some old friends and allies of mine still work for you… I can’t go around attacking them, can I?  I’m working to improve our city, but I’m not going to beat up people I’ve been out to drinks with.”

“And in the process, you’re doing little to shake the notion that you’re a part of Empire Eighty-Eight,” Max smiled, “It’s amusing to hear you try and justify your perspective, but you’re ignoring the elephant in the room.  Cut the B.S. and tell me you don’t feel something different when you look at a black face, compared to when you look at a white one.”

Kayden didn’t have an answer to that.  It was his fault, really.  The high school baseball player she’d had a crush on when she’d been in middle school had wound up being the same person that first approached her when she started going out in costume.  Blinded by his good looks and his way with words, she’d been swayed, convinced of his way of thinking.  She’d tried to change her outlook since the divorce, but she had seen a great deal in her ten years as a member of his team.  It was impossible to look at the city now and ignore the fact that too much of what made it an uglier place to live and raise a child in could be traced back to the same kinds of people.  Sure, the whites had criminals too, but at least they were fucking civilized about it.

When no response was forthcoming, Max said, “That’s what I thought.  However our methods differ, regardless of whether you’re willing to admit it out loud, I think we share a very similar perspective.  My offer is this:  Let me prove my methods work.  Join my team, serve as my second in command for one more year.  Only person you answer to is me, and I give you a team of your own.  You can handpick your own squad from our prospective members and ex-members, though I can’t guarantee every person you name will come running…”

“Max…” Kayden shook her head.

“The final part of the deal is this.  If you aren’t satisfied with how things went when your year is up, Empire Eighty-Eight is yours.  Lock, stock and barrel, including my business, every employee, every asset, legitimate or otherwise.  I become your second in command, and I follow your orders.  You can make Empire Eighty-Eight into a humanitarian effort, sell the business, turn us all into superheroes.  I don’t care.  If I can’t impress you, then what I’m doing simply isn’t worth holding on to.”

That caught her attention.  Years ago, Kayden probably would have snapped up an offer like this without a second thought.  Being married to Max for eleven months, waking up to who he really was, it had given her perspective and caution.  She considered for a few long moments, trying to figure out the angle.  He was telling the truth, she knew.  Whatever else Max was, he wouldn’t break his word on something like this.

“Is the business failing?”  She asked.  Was she getting a booby prize?

“Thriving.  Promise.”

“What would you have me doing?”

“The same thing you did before.  You’d be my heavy hitter.  My enforcer.  If I needed you to make an example of someone, you’d do it.  Only difference between then and now is that my Empire is bigger.  Better.  You and I can make a greater impact.”

More blood on my hands.  As the thought crossed her mind, she looked at her gloved hands.  Pristine white cloth, stark in glare of the halogen lights.  She knew what he was doing, had known when she decided to come.  He found a person’s weakness, attacked it, turned it to his advantage.  He’d known she was frustrated with her efforts as a solo agent, had probably had this conversation planned out days or weeks ago, playing it out in his head, having an answer ready for anything she could say.  How could she compete with that, when she rarely looked beyond the next twenty-four hours?  It was just how she was, how she thought.

Which was probably why they were so effective as a pair, she was forced to admit.

“So I ask you again, Kayden, do you want to spend your time failing to make a name for yourself on your own, or are you willing to join me in actually changing things?  Come with me, and I guarantee you win one way or another.”

Her eyes lit up, and her hair began to turn white from the roots outward.  In moments, she was her radiant alter egoPurity.

As if in response, he picked up a letter opener and held it in front of his chest.  Blades of metal began to branch out from it, each forking out into more.  Slow at first, the network of metal swiftly encompassed his chest, then the rest of his body.  Bars, blades, tubes, sheets of the metal found their place around him.  With his power, she knew, he could bring metal to sprout from any solid surface around him, including the metal he had already created.  As readily as he could bring thirty-foot spears of iron to erupt from the ground or walls, he created a finely worked suit of armor, then embellished it with blades and curling spikes.  He finished it with an uneven crown of blades.

He extended a gauntlet, left it there for her to take.  It was the smallest gesture, he never made a move where someone could refuse him, leave him hanging, and it meant the world to her, even as she suspected it was calculated for just that effect.

Forgive me, Aster, she thought.  I’m doing this for you.

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64 thoughts on “Interlude 3½ (Bonus)

  1. Wow, I so hate this chapter. Not the writing, very well written, but the content, the moral tone. From beginning to end I heartily dislike both of the protagonists. Yuck. Some stories you even like the bad guy, here I can’t even stomach any of the ‘good’ guys.

    BTW as one of the one who got, and read, the extra chapter, seriously, it was just a tech glitch and no big deal. As for myself I used to beta read and would get every chapter, pretty much, days before they were ‘due’. Never stunted my growth any.

    Yuck…. (Von shudders)

    • I suppose there’d have to be something wrong with you if you ~did~ like them.

      This was almost the Interlude I released at the end of the third arc. Nazis sort of have this habit of being de-facto bad guys, because nazis are easy to view/create as ‘just plain evil’ with their rationales and perspectives pre-established. Beating up/killing a nazi is pretty much guiltless (I think zombies are popular bad guys for much the same reason). With Empire Eighty Eight being a collection of racist supervillains, I knew it would be very easy for them to fall into the traps of being two dimensional throwaways, and I wanted to take the time, before they were introduced in-story, to establish them as people with backgrounds, families, maybe other motivations, etc. Or at least to lay the foundation for that stuff to be alluded to in the main story.

      And yeah, I’m not ~that~ stressed about the early reveal of the story chapter. That said, there was a bit of confusion, maybe there was a reader out there that was annoyed or had their reading experience spoiled by the reveal that, say, Leet and Uber were going to show up later in the story. I appreciate my readers, so count this bonus content as my token gesture of apology for the slip-up. Besides, as I said at the beginning of the entry, it was something I wanted to put out there anyways, so it’s as good an excuse as anything. Just makes sense to me.

      • Well, if your goal was to have me dislike the characters, and the chapter, I guess you succeeded 🙂

        I am getting a little tired of this ‘poor pitiful me, I’m a superhero’ tho. Does anyone have any fun with their powers?

        • I told you TT was my favorite character, that’s probably why. But, unfortunately, we’ve never had the emotional focus on her or these other two in a way that let me get to see the ‘whooo haaaah’ aspect of their emotional reaction to their powers.

        • For some reason(s) I cannot even explain, I dislike this comment more than anything on this page, even given that I wildly disagree with “Von” about anything he typed here.

          • (Depth of nesting exhausted, so I must answer to my own comment)
            Ah. That removes the understandability problem for me 🙂 Thank you.
            And: Right…
            While we don’t actually see it and thus cannot be sure how much she’s enjoying it, in effect that’s what she is doing, or trying to do – even though the minority part is only a side effect, given her circumstances, it’s an unavoidable one. So… it’s still not enjoyable – but I guess that’s what you wanted 😛

            • happy shiny skinhead making laser-scorched corpses out of (admittedly terrible but still)brown(well..yellow anyway) people? what could go wrong 😛

  2. I think we can agree, though, that watching Purity enjoy her powers a great deal might make for the inverse effect, no?

    Sorry, total lack of context here, I don’t get it.

    However if I do get it, I disagree. Have a Nazi tank driver really enjoy driving his tank, his newfound authority over others, etc., would be a natural part of any story about his eventual evil actions.
    But my point was more an overall one. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I saw the trailer for Green Lantern, and one of my favorite bits was where he changes costume in a flash (pun intended) and goes something like, “Cool, eh?”.

  3. I found it sort of an eye opener that of all people Purity, the very display, of, well, just purity, leads a life that’s in-mask part is mostly frustrating/unsuccessfull while its out-of-mask part seems to be on the very brink of crumbling to ashes.
    Then, her making a deal with that 100%-manipulative devil seems to be a little step further. In the end one must realize that Purity is a villain, flat out.. Good intends driven bad… Oh well.

    Btw. It took me until about mids of writing this comment to finally get the “Empire Eighty Eight”, with the help of hints in the comments here and imagining the number as a number. Nazis. The worst one (at least I) can imagine.

    Even the non-action holds an occasional whack.

    Tip of the hat for pulling such a twister of perspective that smoothly.

    • I can’t help but think of Kill No More, seeing as the protagonists there are named Kaiser, Daylight, Purity and Meinan (aside from the main). Now I’m wondering whether or not this is purely coincidental…

      • Yes, because it’s possible to steal a name from something that wouldn’t be made for another three years. This was posted in 2011, ORAS was released in 2014.

        Also, Aster is a name. Sometimes people have the same name. I happen to know a Taylor in real life, for example. That doesn’t mean Skitter was named after this person I know, they just share a name.

      • How is it ripped from pokemon? Aster is a name.
        I think aster originally came from the greek word for star (asteri?) which suits a character thats all about light.

  4. By allowing these characters the opportunity to justify their behavior, you create an obligation for yourself as a writer to prove that their justifications are false, otherwise they will fail to *actually* be villains, regardless of how your culture tells you to feel.

    I anxiously await the point in the story where you demonstrate that the characters’ beliefs are false; at which point they are left to repent or reveal their true ugliness.

      • Nah, he’s saying that for characters to actually be villains, they have to be wrong in their assumptions in how the world works, and eventually the mus be wrong in this respect.
        While that perspective may in fact be true for many works of fiction, Worm focuses more on antagonist/protagonist interaction, and because of the setting cares little for whether or not a character is hero or villain. In fact, many villains in Worm have more realistic viewpoints and do more to help people in general than their heroic counterparts.
        So in the case of worm, if we cast the villains as our protagonists, and the heroes as out antagonists, his logic can be applied.

    • I don’t think I have any such obligation. People aren’t black and white when it comes to morality, beliefs or anything of the sort, and you can still be a villain while still being partially (or even largely) logical and right in what you do. Kaiser and Purity aren’t the first who raise this question or idea in Worm.

      In the end, it’s not up to me, but up to the reader to interpret them as villains or non-villains, and it’s up to the character to establish themselves as whatever they are. Conforming to strict moral ideals (ie. villains must be horrible people, racists must always get theirs) is dangerous and leads to shallower works – it’s a philosophy that was enforced by the Comics Code Authority for a time, and ultimately rejected by comics as a whole.

      I stress that I’m not defending them. In fact, this chapter is more clear cut than some in showing the manipulation involved, and the ultimately self-deluding thinking that’s at play.

      • Thanks for the reply; I’m afraid I missed it on my initial read of the story. You are correct, of course, you’ve created no such obligation.

        I’m not sure how my initial comment came across. I wrote it in anger, out of a fear that the story would turn out turn out to be a morality play extolling the virtues of multi-culturalism. The thought turned my stomach. Based on the comments however, it looks like other people had their stomachs turned for the opposite reason: they feared the story *wouldn’t* be such a morality play.

        It seems like a hard chapter, one where you could lose people on both ends. But then, I’ve tried showing this story to several persons who were turned off by the *first* chapter of the whole thing, as they feared it would just be a Mary Sue taking revenge on high school bullies.

        Somewhat off-topic, but especially now that I’ve re-read these earlier chapters, I’m surprised to hear you might be re-writing some of them while going through the editing process. I personally didn’t see much problem with the first ~15 arcs or so. The chapters do a good job of taking you from point A to point B, and you definitely don’t always see it coming. The characters and setting remain strong throughout.

        In contrast, there are a few chapters in the later arcs where the story would start at point A, and then it would be at point B, and I would be confused how it got there. In the event that you read this comment, are you reading the comments as you edit? Would it still be worth the time for readers or re-readers to comment on chapters they found confusing?

        • I have more feedback than I know what to do with. I skim the comments before editing a chapter, but I’d go mad if I tried to compile it all. I have an editor I’ve been talking to, and I have open communication with more regular fans, and it’s easier for me to go to them for more in-depth feedback than it is for me to just take in everything that’s coming my way. It’s hard to filter it all and discern good criticism from people who’re just criticizing to criticize, on top of weighing a given idea and giving it due consideration. Feedback comes in by the *hour*, it’s overwhelming.

          If something needs to be said, don’t feel you shouldn’t say it, but I hope it isn’t taken personally if I suggest that I might not get around to reading your critique(s) if you’re doing something more lengthy or in-depth.

      • Lol haters gonna hate 🙂 your story is amazing, I wouldn’t have spent all day getting this point if it wasn’t 🙂

    • Since when do villains have to be wrong? To suggest that villains are are always wrong in the end, that to not repent would “reveal their true ugliness”, and that the author has an obligation to “prove” that they are wrong is ridiculous.

  5. Uh, no. Sympathetic Nazis? Never, ever, ever OK. Not for any reason, at any time. Sorry. You lost me completely at this point. I cannot continue to read this, as your morality obviously has nothing in common with my own. These people are portrayed as unsympathetic evil because that’s what they are.

    • They aren’t, though. I understand the reaction, but nazis/racists are, by and large, not evil people to start with.

      Writing cardboard cut-out evil nazis like you describe is far, far worse than the alternative, because it means you’re failing to recognize why they took power and why so many people (very few of which were evil at heart) were willing to do what they did.

      It’s, like many of the things that are most wrong in the world, ignorance and manipulation that sets people on the wrong path. I feel that exploring this – a character like Purity/Kayden who isn’t evil in every respect (ie. a caring mother, wants to see the world improve) who nonetheless gets wrapped up in something very ugly – serves as a reminder that any of us can do ugly things if we’re indoctrinated into it or if we’re caught at a weak moment by the wrong people.

      If every work and every person was to describe bad guys as two dimensional, evil ‘just because’, then we’d lose the ability to see them as people. People like us, like our family, friends, and people like we see on the streets. Any of those people, ourselves included, can do evil if we’re not on guard against it, if we don’t have the benefit of an education in how people can fall prey to ugly ideologies and whatever else. Works of art, nonfiction literature and fiction literature alike can all serve as a kind of education on this front, and I see it as a duty to illustrate things more realistically, versus the unsympathetic caricatures that fail to remind us of how the worst evils can come about.

      Sorry to lose you as a reader, Samuel, but I disagree.

      • I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but Downfall (AKA the origin of the Angry Hitler Meme) is an excellent movie that took a lot of heat for showing Adolf Hitler as a human being with both good and bad.

      • I have to agree with Wildbow. If you teach people that all rapists, for example, are satan incarnate, all you get is people thinking “Well I’m not evil, therefore what I did can’t possibly be rape.” Or “That guy can’t possibly have hurt his girlfriend. He volunteers at that animal shelter. She must be lying”.

        The point isn’t “even evil people have good qualities, so stop judging”, it’s “even people with good qualities can be evil, so watch out”.

    • So.. you had no respect for American History X? What about history? Do you know that we have examples of Nazis who killed and maimed, but then in a later case ended up saving a Jewish baby?
      Humans are complex. Painting large groups of them as subhumans is a quick way to dehumanize them, which in turn is a quick way to do something truly awful to them. In a way saying that (all) Nazis are unsympathetic evil is applying the same kind of thinking to Nazis as Nazis do to non-Caucasians. It’s a dangerous path because it can turn us to monsters, but it is also a dangerous path because it will not teach us how to prevent the problem.

    • Come on, really? How ignorant can you be?
      Basic history shows you plenty of examples of sympathetic villains.

      Nazis were not bad because they were Nazis. They were bad because of their *actions*.

  6. Given another peer group, Purity is another villain who could have turned out to be a good guy. All it needs is a good friend or two from the minorities she’s assumed are bad, and a couple of loyal friends to help point her in the right direction, and she’s got most of the rest of the moral framework for protecting the city. And any of us can fall prey to an evil manipulative bastard like Kaiser.

    Of course, showing us partly-good people doing bad things for part-good, part-bad motives is one of the things Worm is so very good at.

    • Good point. Like so many characters in Worm, Purity may be a villain but she’s not evil. Purity may be associated with the neo-nazis but she doesn’t follow their ideology and her motives are good, even if the consequences aren’t. She sees it as a necessary evil to do good. If anything the Undersiders worse with their more selfish motives. Kaiser on the other hand may not be a racist but is evil in manipulating people and the ideology for himself.

      I guess WIldbow is trying to force people to consider characters personally rather than judging them for superficial reasons (even the extreme cases of neo-nazis)

      • I feel like it’s important to note that she does follow their ideology. She basically admits to it by the end. A lot of it is self delusion on her part, like the excuse that ‘well of course I can’t attack my friends’.

        At the end of the day, the only difference between the more hardline members of EEE and her is that she pretends to have the moral high ground because she limits it to gang members – notably of a gang that we’ve already been told recruits via force

  7. Personally, I appreciate the way this chapter gives us a look at these three characters. Her actions and attitude towards Theo and Aster tell us a lot about Kayden as a person…and her willingness to sign on with E88 again, despite her distaste, tells us more. She wants to make a difference, but doesn’t believe she has the power to do so on her own, and so she makes a moral compromise. Sacrificing principles in the name of expediency may not be admirable, but it is quite human and believable. One thing I appreciate about Worm is the fact that a lot of characters are given enough development to be more than a name and a set of powers. Kayden is a loving mother, but that doesn’t mean she’s a good person in all other respects. Previously we saw that Panacea dislikes her powers, in a way, because just having them is effectively a constant guilt-trip, and that has a mental and emotional toll over time. Glory Girl is well-intentioned and loves her sister, but has problems with self-control, Brian got into supervillainy because he needs money to look after his sister…all of their choices have consequences, and their powers make those consequences bigger, in a way.

    Historically, a lot of people have done bad things and most of them haven’t been sociopaths. Some readers seem to feel that portraying “bad guys” sympathetically sets a dangerous precedent, or something. I’m inclined to think that it makes for a more effective cautionary tale than the reverse. Kayden’s actions here, if anything, are a reminder that we should all think through our choices and not allow ourselves moral delusions in the name of feeling relevant, or righteous, or anything else. And they’re a good reminder that not everyone who does bad things is a total monster. Even pretty bad people can have redeeming features. Not enough to let them off the hook in any moral or legal sense…but ignoring their virtues makes us prejudiced and narrow-minded, much as they are, and such blindness has a tendency to grow over time.

  8. If this guy actually thought that he was helping people, would a “humanitarian effort” really be such a strange thing for him to consider? Ah, the determined, fanatical stink of racist self-delusion; it never changes.

  9. Sorry to keep picking nits — I try to check if someone else already did them:
    ” … aside from two Korean girls [who] were taking a break … ”
    I’m assuming you appreciate copy editing.

  10. “matronly pimp” ?!?
    Pimps are male, madams are female, and matronly madam would be almost as weird as matronly pimp. Girls with madams usually work in a house; streetwalkers usually have pimps for protection. I’d take a shot at different description entirely, depending on what you want for the detail.
    ” … looking for the logo set on the side of the building [which or that] would mark Max’s building …”

  11. Her thoughts on Theo being to mind Shinji Ikari — who I know at least somewhat better than I do anyone in Worm, so far — and oh goodness. All the broken people. Quite a chunk of impact you had on me there.

  12. First time reader here, and after seeing all these negate comments, I just wanted to say that this chapter was honestly great. You set up such layered characters in such a short time, I can’t believe these people honestly are triggered that fictional racists aren’t one-diminsional.

  13. How has Purity not been identified by now? If she activates per power as she leaves her apartment building, and it makes her shine so brightly, and she does this regularly… someone’s gonna notice. Also, she apparently is still glowing as she approaches Max’s office, which can’t be good for identity separation. Or are her powers of flight and glowiness separately activatable?


    – «“Kayden. It’s been a little while,” he managed to greet her and make it sound like a criticism in the same breath.» — Should be separate sentences, not comma-joined.
    – «“So, what can I do for you?” he leaned back in his seat.» — Capitalize “he”
    – «so he was facing Kayden, “I don’t see it being worth the effort» — Comma should be period
    – «“Is the business failing?” She asked.» — Lowercase “She”
    – «stark in glare of the halogen lights» — Missing “the”

  14. First time reader here, and first time comment as well. And well, I’m only commenting because the other comments pissed me off so much. As you said yourself, fictional Nazis tend to have zero depth, which entirely misses the point of why totalitarian ideologies are so dangerous.

    ESPECIALLY considering that both the NSDAP and current white supremacist movements build on a victim complex and fear more then anything else. They all operate under the logic that they are underdogs held down by the evil brown people and the current climate of political correctness. If we straight up refuse to see them as people with their own issues, we only support their delusions.

    I never got the impression that you supported their conclusions, btw, just that you understand how they arrived at that point, which is important. The biggest issue I have with politics and social issues is how quick people are to demonize others based in their political views, and I really admire it when authors manage to humanize people they don’t agree with.

    Truly evil or psychotic people are rare, and certainly not enough to take over an entire country. You can’t just ignore the fact that good people can fall for bad ideologies. Ignoring this only leaves the door open for more bad things to happen, and if we just try to ignore the reasons for racist ideologies instead of acknowledging them, we just leave them more room to grow.

    On a more positive note, I’m really enjoying the story so far, especially because I can’t predict what’s going to happen next, and everytime you learn something about the universe or the characters, it only leads to more questions (In a good way). Another plus is that the powers are really creative, even when they are just a play on the standard stuff like superstrength, and I love how smart the characters are about utilising them. So far, the only one I have a bit of an issue with is TTs because if how vague the rules concerning it are, but it’s still a cool concept and well implemented.

  15. “Just as she’d left his team a more broken person than she’d been when she joined, others had gone through the same experience. With charisma and a keen sense of people, Max had convinced people from across the country to join his team. Just as easily, he’d tore them apart without them realizing he was doing it. Confidence broken, wracked by doubts, paranoid regarding everyone except the one man that had caused the paranoia in the first place, they’d splintered off from the team. Not that Max minded. There was always a fresh supply of bright eyed recruits ready to replace anyone he broke.”


    ….this is not how emotional abuse works….

    Abusers make their victims run TO them, not away from them. Kaiser should have a fiercely loyal inner circle of people he’s broken down and built back up, again and again. And when they leave, he should take it as a personal affront and hunt them down.

    Also, if this were a realistic abusive relationship, Purity would have NEVER told Kaiser she didn’t like the way he ran things. Not when he had power over her, because abusers WILL use that power. If she’s known him for ten years, and if she’s begun to realize he’s abusive, she should be playing by his rules for her own safety and the safety of her daughter.

    Oh, and I don’t understand the readers who said they disliked both Kaiser and Purity. I found them both to be incredibly bland.

    • Wasn’t this whole episode an example of her “running TO” him? “Abuser” may be the wrong framework for Kaiser, anyway. He’s mean and manipulative, but it’s a game for him instead of a compulsion.

    • Considering this is from the point of view of Kayden… I think you ignore some delusions she has and takes all of her words at a face value ignoring the backdrop and the context. Not to mention that actually his behaviour is EXACTLY how emotional abuse works (long term). Very rarely emotionally abused people are unaware that something is happening forever. They justify it, excuse it, ignore it… but as it was pointed out, this has gone for a decade. Obviously Kayden has figured out what is happening and tried to move on. However, Kaiser is simply good enough in what he does that she genuinely is incapable of seeing an alternative, because her thinking is THAT wrapped.

  16. So, Theo was her son as well? They had him when she was 15 years old?
    And her naivity is really poor. Obviously the criminals come back if you don´t kill them.

  17. So… I know that this comment is way way late… but I just wanted to say, I think this was the chapter that first took Worm from “Cool story” to “OHhhhh… damn”

    And… basically what it came down to was that slow creeping realization that Kayden was not a Hero. That just did it for me, because in the first half of the chapter I found her so damned sympathetic and admirable, and then to realize that “Wait a sec…”… and even as the chapter ends, even knowing what she does, to STILL want what was best for her. To hold out hope that she could claim the Empire off Max, to hold out hope…

    Honestly, people will probably may well hate me for this, but Kayden is one of my favorite Worm characters (not as a person, but as a character).

    And… I won’t comment on anything else, because spoilers.

  18. Funny, I went from wondering if Aster had a glam/awe-inspiring ability to just absolutely hating these guys real fast. It’s funny how Kayden knows the magic trick and still falls for it anyway.

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