Sentinel 9.3

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“Welcome to Parahumans 103: Theories and Patterns.  I see we have a packed auditorium, and according to the enrollment list, we have no less than three hundred students taking the TV course.  A bump up from the last two trimesters, so I must be doing something right.”

Clockblocker looked around the room.  Six PRT uniforms sat in the front row, helmets off, three with notebooks open on the desks in front of them.  Weld and Flechette sat in the desks closest to the door, exchanging murmured words as the professor on the screen began going over the course syllabus.

Glory Girl sat just in front of him, wearing a black, long-sleeved shirt, arms folded on her desk, chin resting on the back of one hand.  Vista, odd as it was, sat beside the other heroine, had been the only one to offer any conversation.  When Glory Girl hadn’t seemed interested in talking, Vista had instead offered her silent company.  Clockblocker wasn’t exactly sure how Glory Girl had gotten into the Wards headquarters to attend the screening, but she was here, uncharacteristically quiet, much in the same way that Vista had been this past week.

Kid Win sat to Clockblocker’s right, fidgeting by taking apart his pen and putting it back together, his eyes not leaving the screen.  Shadow Stalker was sitting as far away from everyone else as she could manage, at the back corner of the room.  She sat sideways in her seat, back to the wall, her feet resting on the seat next to her.  Her attention was directed entirely at the keys and screen of her cell phone, rather than the projector screen at the front of the room.

Only thirteen people present, altogether.

“…for disability and pregnancy accommodations, the course syllabus gives you all the details you need on who to contact.  If you aren’t already, you’re going to be sick of hearing all that by the time you graduate.  We’re required to go over it in the first class of every class we teach.

“So.  Let me start off by addressing and banishing some assumptions you may have.  This is not an easy class, and anyone who took Parahumans: History and Society or Parahumans: Case Studies and Powers will be aware of this.  Even for those of you who emerged triumphant from the previous two semesters should know that PARA-103 may be something of a shock to you if this is your first year of University.  Here, primarily, I will be looking for creativity, problem solving and research abilities.  Skills and abilities that, frankly, aren’t stressed enough in high school.

“For this class, I want you to think.  Parahumans.  People with powers.  They’ve been around for nearly thirty years.  Where did they come from?  Why are they here?  It’s common knowledge that parahumans are ordinary individuals who gained abilities.  It is too easy, however, to assume that this is the sum total of our knowledge.  I want you to think further on the subject.  For example, why does virtually every parahuman ability have some application in confrontation and combat?  Is this the nature of humans, to turn any progress to violent ends, be it science or superpower?  Or is it by design, an individual’s hand at work?

“With the destructive potential of these abilities, why do so very few individuals perish in the chaotic and unpredictable emergence of their talents?  For the first two or three weeks of the class, we’ll be talking about these most pivotal moments in a given parahuman’s existence, these trigger events, when an individual first gains their powers, typically through some form of trauma.

“Throughout the course, we’re going to be looking at correlations and patterns, both in relation to trigger events and other things.  For example, how does the nature of the trigger event shape the power?  A study by Garth and Rogers suggests that psychological stress leads to a higher prevalence of mentally driven powers.  Tinkers, thinkers, masters, shakers.  The more physical violence that is involved, the higher the bias towards physically driven powers.  Garth and Rogers suggest a sliding scale, but it may not be that cut and dry.

“A followup study by Garth touches on what we know about cape ‘families’.  If one individual in a family has powers, it is far more likely that others will as well.  Almost always, this trend is either descending or lateral, it seems to transition from parent to child, or one sibling to another, but not from child to parent.  We’ll talk about the theories on why.  For those of you wanting to read ahead, take a look at Garth’s notes on the Dallon and Pelham families in chapter nine.  We can surmise that the different scenarios leading to trigger events may be directly related to the differences in powers, even among closely related members of a cape family.  Similar trigger events and related individuals, similar powers.  The more distant the relation and the more varied the trigger events, the more drastically different the powers they possess in the end.”

Clockblocker glanced at Glory Girl, to see if the mention of her family had stirred her interest.  She hadn’t budged an inch.  Was she asleep?

He couldn’t help but sympathize.  This is a monumental waste of time.  I could be out there, helping people.  Or spending time with my family.  The Protectorate was coordinating shifts so the Wards could collectively get at least some education in the meantime, on Piggot’s orders.  Except this wasn’t useful, this wasn’t applicable to the ongoing crisis right here, right now, in this city.  Cooped up in a PRT conference room, learning stuff that didn’t apply to actual field work.

Hell, it was on videotape, a recording of last year’s lectures.  Why couldn’t they watch it in their off hours?  It was just a fucked up set of priorities enforced on them from the people in charge.

He shifted restlessly, annoyed, angry.

“Trigger events are a crucial element for study, because the timing, nature and spread of these emerging powers may provide a clue as to where these parahuman abilities come from.  More women than men have powers, for example, and there are more powers in undeveloped countries than there are in industrialized ones – Some of you may remember me mentioning this fact in the 101 class, when I was talking about the witch burnings in The People’s Republic of Uganda.

“Another pattern we will be exploring is the apparent effect of multiple trigger events occurring in the same time and place.  There is a very strong correlation between coinciding trigger events and individuals displaying three or more powers rather than one or two predominant ones.”

“Hey, Flechette,” Kid Win called across the room, “You’ve got a bunch of powers, right?”

She turned in her seat, “Sure.”

“Anyone else get powers at the same time you did?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Could someone nearby have gotten their powers, without you knowing?  Way things played out?  Did any capes show up around the same time as you?”

Flechette frowned, “Yeah.  A rather persistent villain.”

“Worth thinking about.”

Weld turned around, “Critical thinking and applying this stuff is good, but let’s not forget the lecture.  Or the other people in the classroom.”

Is he trying to get people to dislike him?  Clockblocker wondered.

The professor on the screen was answering a student’s question, “…I think Eidolon expresses a single power.  But thank you.  Good question, and good lead-in to the next section of the course we’ll be discussing.  After we wrap up on trigger events, we’re going to be moving on to what we call ‘outliers’.  Parahumans or parahuman-related elements that deviate from the norm.  Any guesses?”

“Scion.” A student on the TV spoke.  The camera shifted to him late, and by the time he’d responded, the professor was pointing to another.



“I wouldn’t suggest Nilbog, but we can debate the point later,” the professor spoke, “Perhaps a subject for a course paper.  Scion, yes.  Endbringers?  Yes.  We have no reason or evidence to suspect they gained powers by normal means.  Another group you may or may not be familiar with are what the PRT terms Case Fifty-Threes.  Often the ‘monstrous’ parahumans, we’ll get into more depth on the subject.”

Clockblocker glanced at Weld.  The boy was digging through his canvas backpack for something.  Was he one of them?

“Weeks five and six, assuming we’re on schedule, we’ll pull all earlier material together and discuss the beginnings of the parahuman phenomenon.  Not for the individual, as with trigger events, but as a whole.  Where do capes come from?  There is the patient zero theory, typically working under the assumption that Scion is the source of these abilities.  This, however, raises questions about where Scion came from.  The theory is corroborated by the case of Andrew Hawke, who came into contact with Scion on the very first sighting of the hero, only to manifest powers of his own… but there are others who manifested powers without ever coming into contact with Scion or entering a location where Scion had visited.”

“There’s the viral theory, supposing some advanced virus, though it is flimsy at best in justifications, with no identified culprits, method of transmission or explanation as to how it provides the actual powers.  The genetics theory is popular, but has been thoroughly debunked.  We’re going to talk about how it was debunked…”

Clockblocker felt a vibration at his wrist.  He reached inside his glove to get his cell phone.  A text.

From: Mom

Dad’s not doing well.  You may want to come by the hospital.

He stood, and Weld turned to give him a look.  He ignored the metal skinned boy, headed for the back door of the classroom, his keypad beeping as he dialed the number.  It was ringing as he closed the door behind him.



“How bad is it?”

“As bad as last weekend.  Worse.”

He closed his eyes.  More statement than question, he said, “He’s not getting better.”


“Okay.  Do you need me there?  I can use my power, buy the doctors time to think or get prepared if there’s a crisis.”

Her voice was tight.  “No, Dennis.  It’s not that kind of situation.  They’ve got him on a respirator, and the doctors don’t have much hope he’s going to be able to breathe without it, again.  The antibiotics can’t fight the infection on their own.”

“So he’s going to die.”

“I’m sorry.”

“A few hours?  Days?  A week?”

“The doctor says it’ll be the next few days.”

He clenched his fist, relaxed it.  Not fair.

“Hey, mom?  Listen, I’ve got to run.”

“Come by, Dennis.  Before it’s too late.”

“I’ll try.”

“I love you.”

“Love you too.”

He hung up, paused to compose himself.

Not fair.

Stepping back inside the classroom, he returned to his seat, but didn’t sit down.  Instead, he stepped up a little further to where Glory Girl sat and touched her shoulder.  When she raised her head, he pointed to the door.  She nodded, stood.

When they were both in the hallway, he spoke, “Sorry to pull you away from that.”

She shook her head, golden curls swinging, “Not missing anything.  I’ve already taken this class.”

“Oh.  Then why are you here?”

“New Wave may be disbanding.  My mom suggested that if I wanted to keep being a hero, I should consider joining the Wards.  So I’m here, checking things out.  Your leader and director okayed it.”

“Are you?  Joining?”

“Don’t know.  They’re willing, if I agree to some extra rules and stipulations.  They’d be putting me on probationary membership, like they did with Shadow Stalker.  I came by to get a sense of things, see if it’d be worth going through the hassle instead of going solo.  I thought maybe I was ok with doing it until I saw the portraits in the lobby.  Now I’m not so sure.”

Clockblocker nodded.  She didn’t need to explain.  Where the Wards’ portraits hung in the lobby of the PRT offices, the portraits of Aegis and Gallant had been reprinted in black and white, surrounded with thick black frames.  They had been repositioned to be just above the front desk and below the PRT logo, with wreaths and flowers beneath, tokens from the PRT employees.  The building wasn’t open to the public, and was surrounded by PRT squads, but the public would get their chance to pay respects.

Glory Girl had lost three people she was close to on that day.  Gallant – Dean when out of costume – was a loss she shared with Clockblocker.  Her boyfriend, his friend.

“I know it’s crass, I know you guys have rules,” he spoke, “I’ll understand if you get angry.  But… my dad has leukemia.  He was a few days into some pretty rigorous treatments when Leviathan came.  He got hurt when one of the waves hit, and some infection got at him through the wounds.  He has pretty much no immune system, doesn’t have the strength to fight it off.”

“You want me to ask my sister to use her power on him.”



The response startled him.  He looked up at her, caught off guard.

She explained, “I’m not promising anything.  Like you said, Amy has her rules about taking requests.  But I’ll see if I can convince her.  Again, no promises.”

“Thank you,” he said, “Really.”

“And if you want to pay me back, maybe tell me about Gallant sometime.  Share some stories I wouldn’t get to hear otherwise.”

“For sure.”

The door opened, and Weld stepped out into the hall, followed closely by Vista.  Clockblocker felt a pang of annoyance, bit his tongue before he could say anything.

“Everything okay?” Weld asked.

I could tell them, Clockblocker glanced at Vista, but the rest of the team would find out.  They don’t need another thing to worry about.

“Things are okay,” Clockblocker spoke, carefully.

“We paused the video, waiting until you guys are ready.”

“Alright,” Clockblocker replied.  He added, “Thank you.”

“I’ll trust you have reason for this,” Weld smiled slightly, showing a row of white metal teeth, “But don’t take too long.  You’re on patrol at two this afternoon, and that doesn’t allow us much leeway for delays if we want to finish watching.”

“Alright,” Clockblocker repeated, his tone growing impatient.  He watched as Weld returned to the classroom, shutting the door behind him.  To the closed door, he muttered, “Tool.”

“He’s trying,” Vista piped up.  “It’s hard to be leader, but he’s working hard.”

“That’s my whole problem with him,” Clockblocker answered, annoyed, “He gets on our case about patrols and training and paperwork, then turns around and says he’s not asking us to do anything he isn’t doing himself.  Except he only sleeps one or two hours a night, he barely eats, doesn’t need to use the washroom or shower.  He’s got no friends or family here to look after.  He can afford to work hard.  He’s a f…rigging robot.”  He censored himself for his junior teammate.

Vista shook her head.  “That robot, and he’s not really a robot, by the way, is doing as much paperwork as the rest of us put together.  He only makes us do the paperwork he can’t do himself.  Even if he doesn’t have to.  That gets brownie points from me.”

His temper flared.  “What, are you channeling Gallant, here?  Standing up for…” he trailed off before he could finish.  Realized who he was talking to.  “Shit, no, I…”

Vista just stared at him.  After a second, her eyes got shiny, and she looked down at the ground, an angry expression on her face.   She wheeled around and ran down the hallway.

He moved to chase her, stop her, but the hallway folded together, letting her reach the end in two strides, snapping back to its full length as she passed along it.  She rounded a corner in the distance.

He looked at Glory Girl, his voice small, “I’m sorry.”

She answered him with only a glare.  He wondered if she would hit him.

She relented, looking in the direction Vista had run off.  “It’s okay.  We’re all worn down, at the end of our ropes, and you’re worrying about your dad on top of that.  You get one pass from me.  One.”

He nodded.

“But you’d better go after that girl and apologize.  Because the way I heard it from Kid Win, you were the one who told everyone else to be extra nice to her, because she was taking it hard.  You convinced Shadow Stalker to play nice, and from what Kid Win said before class started, that was a pretty big deal.  Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know your team like you do, but I’d guess that if you don’t fix this, your team won’t forgive you for a long time.”

“Yeah,” he swallowed.  Was she using her power?  He was getting a bad vibe from her.  Like he was locked in a cage at the zoo with a murderous jungle cat.

She poked him in the chest with a finger.  “A real apology.  You own up to what you said and did, acknowledge that it wasn’t fair of you to say, and you promise to do better in the future.  That probably means you should cut Weld some slack, because Vista wants you to.”

“Okay.  Right, okay.”

She pushed his shoulder, making him stumble in the direction Vista had gone.  Easy to forget how strong she is.  “Now go.”

He ran.

Definitely don’t get the sense I’m forgiven, there.

He checked two empty rooms and made one nervous check of the women’s bathroom before he found Vista halfway down the stairwell at the rear of the building.  She had one leg up on a higher stair than the other, her hands clasped around her knee.  She turned her head partway, acknowledging that someone was there, then wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her costume.

“I’m sorry,” he spoke to her back.

“You’re a jerk.”

“I am.  I’m the worst jerk.”

Vista twisted around to look up at him, “You said that in front of Glory Girl, too.  He was her boyfriend.”

“I know.  She said she understood and that it was okay, but I don’t know how true that is.  Before I figure that out and work out how to make it up to her, I want to make sure you’re okay.”

She hung her head.

It was a long time before she spoke.  “He was the reason I looked forward to coming here every day.”

He walked down the stairs and sat down next to her.  “Yeah.”

“I knew I didn’t have a chance with him.  He was way older, he was rich, handsome.  He was dating Glory Girl, or they were just getting over a breakup, or he was starting to patch things up with her for the millionth time.  There was never a good time to talk to him one on one, unless we were out on patrol together, and I dunno what I would have said if there had been a chance.”

“He liked you.  He was fond of you.”

Vista gave him a sidelong glare, “Are you lying to me?”

“No!  No.  I’m saying he actually enjoyed doing patrols with you.  Never had an unkind word to say about you-”

She interrupted, “He didn’t have an unkind word to say about anybody.”

“Not exactly true.  When Piggy caught on to the fact that Shadow Stalker was doing solo patrols every night, made us take turns going with her, he had a few things to say.  About both Piggy and Shadow Stalker.”

Vista smiled slightly.

“He enjoyed your company, Missy.  There were little signs, but I believe it.  When Triumph or Aegis assigned him a patrol shift with Kid Win, Browbeat or just about anyone else, it was ‘okay’, or ‘yes sir’.  But when it was with me or you, it was ‘great’ or he’d just smile really wide, like it had made his night.  It sounds dumb when I say it out loud-”

“No. I kind of noticed that too.  I thought it was wishful thinking.”

Clockblocker sighed, “He was a good guy, and it’s shhsss…ucky-”

“You can swear around me, Dennis.  I’m thirteen, not eight.”

He smiled a little behind his mask, feeling embarrassed.  “Okay.  Sorry.”

More seriously, he admitted, “It’s shitty of me to snap at you for doing what he would do.  Glory Girl said I should let the grudge toward Weld go, partially for you, and she’s right.  You’re right.  I was, am, angry.  At the pointlessness of what happened, what’s still happening out there.  I get frustrated and angry when I’m here, because I feel like I should be out on the streets.  I get pissed off when I’m out on patrol because I feel like I should be with my family… but when I’m with my family, I feel frustrated and helpless because I can’t do anything there…”

He stopped himself before he admitted the full extent of his difficulties back home.

“…I was taking it out on the new guy, when he probably doesn’t deserve it.”

Vista let her head rest on his arm.

“I miss the old Dennis.  The guy who picked a sorta rude codename and announced himself in front of the news so Piggy and the other people in charge couldn’t really make him change it.  Because it was funny.  Because he liked pushing the limits and because he saw this all as something fun.  The new Dennis is so angry.  Now I guess I get why.”

“Aren’t you?  Angry?  At everything that’s going on?  At the unfairness of what happened?”

She shook her head, which amounted to rubbing her head against his shoulder.  “Yeah.  But you can’t let it consume you.  If you really don’t like Weld, you don’t have to force yourself to get along with him.  But don’t stay like this.  Don’t stay angry.”

He nodded.  It wasn’t so easy, though.  Letting things go, relaxing, he couldn’t help but feel like he’d fall apart if he did.  He couldn’t get his hopes up about Panacea’s willingness to help his dad – and facing any of that head on, without a buffer of smouldering fury?  It might leave him unable to serve and protect the people who really needed it.  He felt his pulse quicken a step at the thought of it.

He hedged his answer, “I’ll work on it.  Sorry if that’s been bothering you.”

“It’s okay.  I’m tougher than I look.”  She bumped one fist against the armor that covered her chest.

“And I’m sorry, again, for saying what I did.  You’re good people, Missy.”

“Want to go back to class?” she asked.

“If you’re okay?”

She nodded.

When they returned, the Wards and Glory Girl were out in the hallway.  The PRT officers were rushing out of the room, pulling their helmets on.

“You’re back,” Weld informed them, “Just in time.  Class is cancelled.  We’ve got trouble.”

The scene was set up in the husk of a building.  Walls loomed on three sides, but there was no roof remaining.  The floor was uneven, composed of layers of broken boards, shattered drywall and chunks of concrete.

“There’s two more crime scenes like this?” Clockblocker asked, eyes wide.  He craned his neck upward to look above them.

“Yeah,” Weld spoke.

“It’s the middle of the day,” Kid Win spoke, “Broad daylight.”

Clockblocker looked at the overcast sky above.  Not quite daylight. And people weren’t around.  It was still ballsy, and more than a little scary.

On each of the three interior walls of the older building was a body, twenty feet above the ground.  Each had received a different kind of treatment.  To their left was a corpse that had been flayed, the gender no longer identifiable.  Directly opposite their group was the corpse of an obese woman, charred black.  Completing the scene was the body of what appeared to be a homeless man, or one of the people who’d been rendered homeless by the recent disaster, judging by the layers of clothing he wore.  His limbs had been severed at each joint, then reconnected so each was joined by a short, foot-long length of chain.  Nails placed through the chain kept him in position, head hanging, a macabre puppet with an overlong body.  The chains jangled and swung in the wind.

Occupying the same building as the corpses was a familiar group.  Trickster, Sundancer and Ballistic stood beneath the corpses.  A winged figure that might have been a gargoyle, demon or dragon was clutching to the sides of an empty window frame with three talons, the other reaching toward the homeless man.  Genesis.

“Pardon the cliche, but this isn’t what it looks like,” Trickster spoke.

“I believe you,” Weld spoke, “I’ve read your file, and this isn’t your M.O.”

“Excellent, excellent.  I commend you,” Trickster tipped his hat, “Then we’ll be on our way?”

“No.  But if you come into custody-”

“You’ll arrest us for any number of other criminal charges we’ve got waiting.  And you can’t promise that one of your superiors won’t try to stick us with the blame for this.”

Weld frowned.

“Let us go.  Whatever happened here, it deserves your full attention.  You should be trying to find and capture the real criminals.  This guy here was still alive when we arrived.”  Trickster pointed at the man with the chain limbs.

“Can’t do that.  You’re still suspects, regardless of how much this deviates from your usual methods.”

“A shame,” Trickster bowed.

In the blink of an eye, Weld disappeared, and Genesis loomed in his place, eight feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders, a body of pebble-like scales, heavy with muscle, a short tail and broad bat wings sprouting from her shoulders.  She spun to face the rest of the Wards as Weld fell from the window.

Ballistic turned on the fallen captain of the Wards, unloading a barrage of debris and rubble to keep the metal skinned boy off-balance and on the defensive.

Clockblocker lunged for Genesis, hand outstretched.  He was mere inches away when Genesis disappeared from in front of him.  Or, rather, Clockblocker had been moved somewhere else.  A lack of proper footing made him stumble, and he nearly collided with one of the dilapidated walls of the ruined building.

As he spun in place, catching a glimpse of Genesis exchanging blows with Glory Girl, he had his position swapped yet again.  He found himself once more with his back to the brawling pair.  One of them bumped into him, and he sprawled.  If only he’d been able to tell if it were Genesis or Glory Girl that bumped into him; had he known, he might have used his power, taken Genesis out of the fight.

Annoying.  He climbed to his feet, wary of more teleportation hijinks.

Kid Win wheeled on the spot to raise a square-nosed pistol and fire what looked like a brilliant blue flare at Trickster, but the teleporter swapped positions with him.  Kid Win ducked the moment he was teleported, but he still got grazed by his own shot, blue sparks showering off his armored costume, small arcs of electricity dancing briefly around the metal joins.  Sundancer created her flaming ball – small, but still far too bright to look at – and sent it after Kid Win.  The young hero scrambled for cover, dropping his gun in his hurry to get away from the superheated orb.  Flechette moved to shoot, then reconsidered, threw a handful of darts at Trickster instead.  The darts disappeared in midair, and splinters of wood and small stones dropped straight out of the air where they had been.

Really fucking annoying, Clockblocker revised his summation of the teleporter.

Shadow Stalker had positioned herself on the ragged top of the wall where the roof had crumbled away, high above the skirmish, cloak billowing.  She fired a shot at Ballistic and Sundancer, reloaded as Ballistic sent a piece of rubble flying through her shadowy form, then fired again.  The Travelers had body armor, so she wasn’t doing more than distracting them.  The needles of the tranquilizer darts wouldn’t pass through the durable armor or material.

“Red rover!” Vista shouted, “Go!”

Good girl.  Clockblocker dashed for Trickster, and the distance between them compressed to a matter of feet, the highest points in the uneven ground flattening to make running easier.

Trickster swapped him with Vista, placing him several feet back.  Ahead of him, he could see the girl where he’d just been, within a few feet of the teleporter.  Clockblocker found his footing, darted forward once more.  Again, Vista’s powers helped close the distance.  Kid Win, Flechette, and Vista joined him in charging the enemy, so that Clockblocker wouldn’t be set too far back if he was teleported to their locations.

Sundancer moved the orb in between them and Trickster, igniting a few of the pieces of wood that were exposed and above the water.  Vista responded by raising her hand to shrink it dramatically.  Weld ducked one of Ballistic’s attacks, then charged for the orb, striking it out of the air with one fist.  The blow dispersed it enough that Sundancer couldn’t draw it back together, and a wave of hot air washed over everyone present.

Weld, for his part, staggered back, his hand glowing white-hot.  He flexed his glowing hand, and it moved slowly, stiffly.  Even as far down as his elbow, the metal of his arm was an orange-red.

Clockblocker didn’t get a chance to see if Weld was okay.  He charged around his team leader, using the metal boy’s broader body to put himself in Trickster’s blind spot.  From this position, he tried to charge and tag the villain.

An instant before his hand could brush against Trickster, the villain was gone, and Weld was in front of him.  His hand touched the metal of Weld’s back.

He breathed a sigh of relief when Weld turned around.  Only the fact that he’d expected something along these lines had allowed him to turn his power off in time.  Spinning around, Clockblocker reached for the space Weld had just vacated, but Trickster was already swapping places with Glory Girl to place himself as far away from the thick of the fighting as he could get.

I can’t keep track of this guy.

Clockblocker looked around to survey the situation.  His group was sandwiched between the Travelers, now.  On one side, Sundancer and Ballistic crouched in the far corner of the building.  Trickster and Genesis stood on the other side, atop the rubble that spilled across the building’s entrance and onto the flooded street.

Genesis inhaled, chest expanding, and Weld was the first to react, stomping one foot hard into the rubble underfoot, using his foot to raise a large, ragged piece of plywood.  With his hands, he forced the large wooden board into a standing position, placing it between himself and Genesis.  Kid Win, Flechette and Vista wheeled on Ballistic and Sundancer.

Weld’s piece of plywood served to block the worst of whatever it was that Genesis exhaled.  From what Clockblocker could see around the plywood, it was a dark, gray-black vapor.  Wisps billowed around the edge of the board and drifted their way – it had a bitter smell and taste, like ashes mixed with something foul.  Even inhaling a trace of it through the air holes of his mask forced barking coughs from his lungs.  His teammates seemed to be in rougher shape, Vista falling to her hands and knees.  The changer’s exhalation hadn’t even reached them directly.

So, that’s what a changer nine brings to the tableDifferent forms, each with their own powers.

Weld staggered as Genesis lunged forward, and Clockblocker ducked low under Weld’s arm, planted a hand against the plywood.  He felt his power snap out to encompass the material, and he fixed it in place, cutting it off from the flow of time.

A second later, he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder.  Weld, standing over him, gave him a quick smile and an offered hand.  He returned it with the briefest of nods and took Weld’s hand to stand straight.  Together, the pair of them stepped back and away, to see Genesis rising into the air with heavy flaps of her bat-like wings, inhaling to prepare another blast of the noxious smoke.

He felt oddly calm as his group squared off against the villains with some of the highest power ratings in Brockton Bay, beneath the grim display of the three hanging corpses.  He reached into the slot of the armor at his side and withdrew two sheaves of paper.  Moving his thumbs in one direction, he fanned out the papers, holding them like anyone else might hold a pair of knives.

He realized what it was, this calm.  Whatever else it was, this fight was a refuge from that feeling that had plagued him since the fight with Leviathan ended.  The feeling that he was always in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, in the face of a city in crisis and a dying father.  This, right here, was where he was needed. 

This is what I’m here for.

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80 thoughts on “Sentinel 9.3

  1. Just gotta be the friggin boyscout, don’t you Weld? Whole fight could have been avoided.

    He reminds me of Nicholas Angel from Hot Fuzz like that, and for doing all the paperwork and being the teacher’s pet with the video. Not really something they should handle at a time like that, though.

    They don’t need to be patrolling, they need to send a message with a sign of overwhelming power to let people know they’re around. Much like a gang asserting themselves, in fact.

    Also, cool stuff with Trickster. Once again, Wildbow shows that mental flexibility that helps write powers as more dangerous than they’re conventionally thought of, while also doing in this medium what comic books can’t show.

    Speaking powers, you know what would be a good way to induce powers? If, after a lot of gang warfare and supers fighting, some massive nigh-unbeatable monster showed up to make everything worse. That would really serves as a big trigger right there.

    I’m also not so sure the powers are only about combat. Miss Militia’s appears to be, but controlling bugs, teleportation, creating a heat and light source, taking in metal, compressing technology…a lot of those don’t have to have confrontation as their main goal. It reminds me of Leonard da Quirm, the genius inventor of Discworld, who makes all kinds of amazing contraptions for peaceful reasons. People always find some way to misuse things like this device he made to blow entire tops off mountains to get at the ore within. Or when he created the Going-Under-The-Water-Safely Device, which was designed to submerge in marine environments. It has a large corkscrew to let it hitch a ride on other ships, though some person wondered if it might be more useful for putting holes in ships instead.

    Even if it wasn’t originally meant for attacking someone else, people always find a way. Much like Alfred Nobel’s ingenious invention meant to aid in mining and clearing land: dynamite. Just the other day I had an idea about using spaghetti as a stabbing weapon…

    • Nice comment, PG.

      Keep in mind, though, that these guys are still kids. They’re patrolling and keeping the peace because there’s not enough people out there to do so, but it’s another thing entirely to have them forming a gang to seize control and browbeat others into submission.

      Not saying you’re wrong – only that it’s one of those hurdles that an institution like the PRT/Wards program would have a hard time justifying, when it next came time to divvy up budgets.

    • True on the ‘powers are only about combat point’, maybe it could be more about survival, adapting to the world and evolution.

      • Evolution doesn’t work that way. Just saying.

        It could be something vaguely analogous, but certainly not with a lot of similarities. And consider: If Taylor’s trigger event was being trapped in a filthy locker, wouldn’t a more logical “adaptation” be teleportation or something?

        • Evolution doesn’t do the “logical” adaptation either. Evolution has two parts, random mutation and natural selection. Taylor gets a random power and then is selected for by winning fights. It’s close to evolution, but evolution only really operates on large scales.

          • I think most people overstate the importance of mutation for evolution, as well as the randomness of mutation. Technically, mutations are 100% random, but they’re 100% random on the genetic level; the effects they can cause are much less random, and the mutations that actually survive long enough to have any impact on the gene pool even less so. Regardless, evolution is primarily natural selection, with mutation just helping provide some more variety in the gene pool. Hominids didn’t mutate and suddenly walk upright—they were selected for uprightness, and mutation helped expand the gene pool in that direction when it ran thin.
            Powers in Worm have some semblance of being rapid evolution, but there’s too little inherited (compare Allfather and Kaiser, for instance) and way too much “gene flow” (trigger events). Not to mention that Taylor winning fights doesn’t mean she or her power is selected for, unless this increases the chance of her producing offspring who inherit her power.

      • The professor didn’t say that ‘powers are only about combat’, he said that they all have applications in combat and confrontation, which is true.

        Is it ingenuity of the user, or by design of whatever provides power that this is true? Personally, I’m inclined to think both.

  2. By the way, folks: it’s Wildbow’s birthday! Let’s all wish the author a happy one. And if you want to put your money where your mouth is, the donation button’s at the top.

  3. Hm… The more I read in this arc, the more I begin to fear an uncanny convergent evolution. I worry that the turtles supporting your setting’s world are enough like my own to discourage me from pursuing my own project.

    • That’s no good. 😦

      I definitely want the kind of people who read & enjoy Worm to write as well, because they’re bound to write the sort of thing I’d enjoy, if that makes sense.

      I wonder if there’s a way we could discuss it without me spoiling what’s going on in Worm (or without you spoiling your own story to me, if you’re concerned about that), assuage your fears.

      • By that logic you should love my stories since I rate Worm 5 star.😉

        I am really enjoying this arc in not only the way it fleshes out the story world but the way the focus on the Wards is maintained despite different characters being the focal point in each piece. We see Weld and Clockblocker and Vista etc etc through their own eyes and their peers, giving a richer texture.

        It’s well done because each view is unique but consistent.

      • I think I enjoyed No Man An Island (I read it quite a while ago), but my experience was damaged by the difference between reading serially as chapters are published and reading archivally through the completed piece. It threw the pacing off for me, gave me less time to digest and comprehend new developments as they hit. Also, it seemed as though the chapters were designed to draw readers onward into the story, to want to know what was going to happen next. But since I was already enjoying the story and had the next chapter always available to me, it just made my own reading feel really rushed.

        Still, I enjoyed the work enough that the hooks kept biting, and the failings belonged to me as a reader more than to you as a writer, methinks. I think I read through No Man an Island in the same weekend that I read a couple other serials with deep archives, and it burned me out on serial fiction for a long while. Perhaps I’ll toddle on over and give your more recent works a try.

      • @Catastronaut: it sounds like you enjoyed NMAI so thanks for saying that. It also sounds like you burned yourself out which I have totally done with reading too. I never burn through more than one archive now, just so I can absorb one story at a time.

        With long serials sometimes it’s also good to take a break after an arc or book too. I have heard that it’s a different experience reading NMAI depending on how you read it: in the original online form waiting for updates, the final complete serial, and then the print version as a book.

        The medium definitely changes reactions but those who read it as a book in big gulps don’t report archive burn out because the format is different. Transitions are smoother in a book than the random places updates end, so that changes the experience too.

        The neat thing I have heard is that it’s almost a different story read twice because of unnoticed foreshadowing the first time through.

    • Now, that’s no reason to be discouraged. Sure, there may be some similarities in ideas here, but there are in all fiction. What really matters is the execution of said ideas, and that’s something uniquely your own.

    • I’ve even noted certain similarities in something I may have been working on. That’s one reason why I’ve been trying to cut down a little bit on reading a few certain things. I don’t want to risk subconcious cross contamination.

      But yeah, everyone ran out of stories a long time ago, so we’re all just doing the same stuff over and over in different ways. In the most vague sense, still only comedies and tragedies.

    • Thanks for the comments, all. But really, I’m just nervous about starting to write again. If I work up the courage, I won’t be stopped by a little convergent evolution.

      So thank you very much for the offer, Mr. Wildbow, I’m honestly flabbergasted at the extent of your concern. But what you’re offering is really the sort of thing that should happen in writer’s circles. I wouldn’t qualify for inclusion in a group like that until I actually throw my hat into the ring and start writing again.

    • Wait, your concern is that you might bring a story into the world that’s too much like this one? Dude, this one is AMAZING and I would take DOZENS of it if I could. xD

      Seriously though, even if your idea *does* turn out to be very similar, you’re a different writer with your own voice so it’ll be a different story.

  4. Overall, an interesting chapter, and I like the continued exploration of superheroing as escape from complexities of mundane life — Clockblocker and Skitter have that much in common. Though, a part of me wonders if most of the exposition in the lecture would be better presented outside the narrative, like the cast page.

    Random editorialish comments:

    “Gallant -Dean when out of costume- was a loss she shared with Clockblocker.”: these hyphens should be em-dashes (“—“).

    “He was a matter of inches away when Genesis disappeared from in front of him.”: “a matter of” seems extraneous here.

    “From what Clockblocker could around the plywood,”: Should there be a “see” between “could” and “around”?

    “We paused the video, waiting until you guys are ready.”: Just a note, until I had reached this line, I had thought that they were being videoconferenced into the lecture, rather than watching a prerecorded video that they could pause. Probably not very important, but I wonder if it should be made more explicit.

    • Re: first paragraph… Maybe, Pahan, but I kind of wanted to touch on the Wards and education, as well as give a sense of what scholars are studying & how the more general public gets a sense of what’s going on with parahumans.

      As for the editorialish comments:
      Added a line to make it clearer. I think I had something stating it more clearly outlined it in one paragraph, but it vanished in the course of several edits.

      • Regarding the lecture, it definitely works as a frame for the conflicts among the characters and the growing discontent of the Wards with Piggot, though I’d cut some parts. The part I am not sure about is how effective it is for giving us, the readers information about the big picture without bogging down. We’ll see, I guess… Actually, one thing that I think would be great is an a glossary of superpower classifications (possibly with the list of characters whose classifications we have seen so far). We’ve had some of them defined in context, but they are all over the place, and it is the nature of a web novel that there is plenty of time to forget the terminology.

        More generally, I wonder, what *was* the reaction of the scienfic community to the emergence of superpowers? We’ve only seen two names, Garth and Rogers, and, from the sound of it, they are anthropologists who (along with their hapless grad students, presumably) did a lot of legwork interviewing capes and trying to find patterns. However, 30 years is a lot of time, and there are many disciplines. Biologists would get busy trying to understand whether or not Weld is actually made of cells, and what those cells are made of. Neural scientists would love nothing better to stick a Thinker or a Master into an fMRI, at least as a first approximation. Physicists would hunker down to understand what makes the whole thing work.

        Now, maybe they’ve spend 30 years gathering information without acheiving any deeper understanding. There would be nothing wrong with that: natural history was a thriving science of cataloguing life long before Charles Darwin came along with a unifying theory, and while more and more is understood about properties of dark matter and dark energy, how they work remains a scientific mystery.

        Regarding dashes, I think I may have spoken too soon: your typesetting style seems to be to use en-dashes with spaces around them, in that situation, not em-dashes. (Wikipedia has a lot to say about dashes: .)

  5. Quick question, guys: Working on writing the upcoming chapters and it could go two ways.

    You want a briefer arc (~6 chapters altogether) and go back to Taylor’s story sooner, or do you want more resolution for what’s going on in the individual chapters here (It’d be ~12 chapters) – going back to Weld, Flechette/Parian, etc. to address what’s going on with them?

    I’m tending towards the former for a few minor reasons (book formatting/bloat, I wanna get back to Taylor too, etc), but I’m kind of on the fence.

    • I would wrap it up so this arc seems like a short story. Ending now would leave unresolved loose ends unless you come back to it with Taylor which seems unlikely.

      • You could always wrap up such stories as you get back to Taylor’s story because these characters link with her story in some way or other, especially with the Shadow stalker stuff. Personally I just want to get back to Taylor’s story because I can be really impatient. This arc has been really good in fleshing out the story though..

    • I would prefer a breifer arc. Other than story pacing and wanting to get back to Taylor, some of these loose ends could lead back to our protagonist in interesting ways. So far this seems very stand-alone, more a spin-off than an actual part of the plot.
      On the other hand I rather like the new Wards. I’m rather interested in how these events will turn out.

    • I like the first option. You can always do some interludes later to provide resolution or provide side stories off of the main story. I think it makes sense to get back to your main character and your main supporting characters as they are the ones that are the most developed. I would love to know what happens to Weld, Ftechette, etc. But my need to know what is happening to Taylor and the Undersiders far far far far far far far outranks that need.

      Just as long as the loose ends aren’t so big that they leave me a shell of a man, screaming “WHY” at the moon.

      Oh and since this is my first post I should mention that I love your novel. I think both the world and the characters are well developed.

    • Personally, I’d like to see the end of this before getting back to Taylor. I feel like I’m just beginning to see the story developing. If we leave it, it’ll be that much harder to remember what’s going on.

    • Wildbow, you *are* cruel. Can’t you see that you are giving us a Sadistic Choice? We can take (well, technically, we can politely suggest that you choose) the short arc, and never find out what you had planned for the Wards; or we can take (well, technically, etc.) the long arc, and delay the return to Taylor’s story by three weeks. And, you do this after setting up a moral cliffhanger on the Taylor side and a serial killer on the Ward side. Why, Wildbow? Why-y-y?!

      Having gotten that out of my system, count me on the short arc side. We’ve gained some insight into the Wards, the individual characters, their dynamics, and the system they work in, and we will, presumably gain more insight into it in the three remaining chapters in the shorter arc, but I think that it would be best to leave it at that. Without you giving each of the Wards their own novel, I am not confident that the marginal utility of extra one or two chapters would be.

      Out of curiosity, will this decision affect the overall plot? In other words, will the events that would have been written up in the 6 additional long arc chapters still occur and affect future events?

      Lastly, one or more of the 6 or the 12 chapters in this arc wouldn’t happen to be from Shadow Stalker’s point of view, would it? Part of me would be morbidly curious to read from her point of view, but the other part of me considers that it’s probably not really that interesting inside her head, so beyond resolving my disagreement with Mazzon over whether she is a teenager with a crappy personality, a sociopath, or a psychopath, I don’t think there is much profit in it.

      • I’m leaning towards the 6 part arc. I’m going to see what I can do to wrap up the threads I’ve got standing (which is the primary reason that some of the commenters are pushing for the longer one), and it works better in the long run, I think. It was the original plan, anyways.

        The overall plot would be unaffected, by and large.

    • Do whatever works better for the story you want to tell. Your readers, including myself, don’t have the information required to make an informed decision, yet.

      • Ditto. This is a choice I’m not presently equipped to make, and I’ve no reason not to trust the judgment of a writer who’s done so well by us so far. Also no reason not to use double negatives.

    • While I was a bit impatient to get back to Taylor to begin with, this chapter has really gotten me into this arc.
      But then, I really (really really) like Clockblocker, so I was psyched to see a whole chapter fleshing him out.
      I think it really depends on why you’d go one way or the other. You planned it this way for a reason. I trust it will turn out fantastic. So far, I haven’t been disappointed. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to learn more about some other characters, and I think it deepens my emotional investment in the story. Now I care about both sides!

      Something I wouldn’t mind seeing is Taylor through another character’s eyes. It would be really interesting.
      Also, hi! First comment. I’ve been lurking for a while but wanted to add my 2 cents.

      • Just to clarify – they probably wouldn’t show up in interludes for a little while. Any extraneous, minor plot threads would mostly be resolved/answered by way of Taylor’s observations, news reports, etc.

    • You mentioned wanting to do this as a break from writing from Taylor’s POV for so long I think. If you’ve had enough of a break fine, if not I have no problem seeing more of these people (and trying to figure out what makes Shadow Stalker tick like an old-style bomb).

      Just don’t try to write them both simultaneously, I saw something similar almost kill a web serial named Tales of MU.

      • Fun fact – the reason the site’s URL is and not something like is that I’d originally considered doing multiple stories in parallel.

        Once I got underway, though, I assessed my writing ability, the speed I was putting out chapters, and decided it wasn’t going to happen.

    • I’m in favor of a longer arc if it means we get to see what other characters think of Taylor. Getting glimpses into how others in the cape community perceive her is always fun, whether it’s Panacea commenting on how creepy she is or Armsmaster telling Legend that she’s “built up a reputation” as a skillful liar. It’s also been very interesting to see a fight from the perspective of heroes, as in this chapter.

      However, if the longer arc doesn’t entail more worldbuilding or knowledge of how heroes perceive specific villains, then a shorter one would be nice too. I’m pretty excited to see just what Taylor has planned.

  6. I presume that the Wards’ arc is related to Taylor’s story – otherwise, why include it at all? But if it’s related, you could let the additional material come up while telling her story. And if it’s not related? Well, people do write spinoffs.

  7. All I want to say is:


    One of the greatest things to never officially come out of the Dungeons and Dragons mythos.


    • Hopefully there won’t be a run in with the lawyer demons as a result of this remark. It’s said that the other demons stay far, far away from them, though out of fear, disgust, or restraining order, nobody knows. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go hobble a boblin mob while eating a gibbed gob on the cob like a clog slob on a job.

      • I once played a sorcerer in a role playing game whose familiar was a demon lawyer. It didn’t become relevant to the story very often, but it amused me greatly.

      • Demonic lawyers are becoming a theme for me lately, hopefully a better one than stringing together a bunch of words to remind people of goblin, which looks suspiciously similar to nilbog when turned the other way around.

        Also, afifakhan2001, thank you. Somehow a mere commentator like me has fans. I’m trying to be entertaining while discussing the story and comments, often going on all kinds of strange tangents, saying odd things, and making predictions (or in some cases arguments) that are just flat out wrong. Being wrong isn’t a problem for me, because it is a natural part of the search for truth, a natural consequence of me sometimes not thinking, and because it hurts my pride more to think I’m just not being funny.

        For that reason, I’ve had a lawyer demon draw up papers bequeathing to Jim Z and Wildbow… a boot to the head.

      • Ahh, the Frantics! Canadian comedy at its finest. These guys also had a TV show called Four On The Floor. And if you get a chance to hear the other recordings on the same album (do we still call them that?) as Boot To The Head, most notably the interview with the architect of the CN Tower, you will never be able to hear anyone mention the city of Rochester (NY, I assume) without a smirk tugging at the corner of your mouth. And pie may be ruined for you forever (different sketch), but it’ll still be worth it.


  8. I just finished this, reading straight through. I took a brief break to sleep last night. This is amazing. Excellent world building, solid dialogue, a tone that matches the events wonderfully, and very creative powers. I look forward to the next update.

    • See, easy to geek out over this stuff. It’s a story you want to devour and, as is becoming common, you get frustrated having to wait for the next part of it. Congratulations, you rushed through instead of taking a few days longer to read up to this point. Now you get to wait with the rest of us.

      The world is much like our own. Perhaps too much like our own. Or even darker. That depends slightly on your own personal viewpoint, as it is all too common to fall into your own inner darkness these days in the real world. Then you can add self-loating on top of that when you realize how much worse other people around the world have it. It has a little bit of an uncanny valley when we get a little too explanatory into the superhero stuff, but at the same times the heroes remain very human. Too human, at times. Just human enough to be assholes but not super enough to make us believe in truth, justice, and the Papua New Guinean way.

      I enjoy the characters myself. Taylor’s just someone you want to protect from the cruel trials that plague her, whether that’s as a shining cape up in the sky, or as the guy punching out the bullies’ dads and tossing singing sea basses through their windows, or even as the guy blowing up the school and dragging the bullies into the middle of the flames, burning them while forcing a confession from them. Pardon the burning and confession part. I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisituion.

      Also, the story’s not going anywhere. Even if it updates, you have a few days before it’s pushed off the top spot, and the comments can add some enjoyment as well, like the commentators to Sun Tzu’s Art of War, as opposed to Custer’s Art of War, which was never as popular due to the original manuscript stopping suddenly at the part about numbers being meaningless when you take an enemy of inferior technology by surprise.

      The point being, get some sleep before you wind up sounding too much like me. And a boot to the head for you and Hg.

      • … I can’t really think of what to say to that. At some point in time, I want to read or see something that you have made. Honestly, I never really enjoyed the commentary on Sun Tzu. I did, I did. I suppose I needed it. How does one end up like you?

      • Both Jim Zoetewey and I have been bugging PG to write something.

        Just speaking for myself, despite what PG might think or fear, it’s totally -not- so I can then hound the comments section of PG’s story. Not at all.

      • It seems Taylor can handle herself (well, mostly). I actually feel angrier about what Canary went through. Bullying is indicative of a broken system, but to me at least, it is something that can be fixed (or at least, should be fixable) from within the system. What happened to Canary was proof that the system is broken beyond repair (and if it isn’t, it needs to be). I strongly doubt that Canary was an isolated incident. She was sentenced to life imprisonment because people were afraid of what she could do. If the system can do that to one person, it will do it to everyone it fears, whether or not they actually deserve it.

        Discussion Question (Lawful vs. Good): Consider a superhuman with the ability to know the full truth of any situation. Is it right for this hypothetical superhuman to break into jails and free people who don’t deserve to be there?

      • There are actually 2 “shifter” in 9.1 itself. Hookwolf is also called a Shaper, which I think might be the same thing? (After having read the Interlude Arc, trying to go back and pick out the references to people’s classifications so seeing little things haha.)

  9. Kid Win ducked the moment he was teleported, but he still got grazed by his own shot, blue sparks showering off his armored costume, small arcs of electricity dancing briefly around the metal joins.

    -joints is missing a t

    So, that’s what a changer nine brings to the table. Different forms, each with their own powers.

    -Changer capitalization

  10. I’ve stopped reading comments to avoid spoilerage, so I don’t know if anyone has already mentioned the odd sentence structure here:
    Vista, odd as it was, sat beside the other heroine, had been the only one to offer any conversation.

  11. ” … go over it in the first class of every class … ” Awkward. How about, first day of every class?

    ” … it may not be that cut and dry.” More commonly said “cut and dried”. It’s actually a term from agriculture, specifically prepping herbs for long term sale or use.; ready, cut and dried.

    ” … breathe without it, again.” No comma.

    In the scene with Dennis and Missy; “She shook her head, …”
    I think you meant she nodded her head. I was unsure, read it twice. I think you meant an affirmative response?

  12. “And I’m sorry, again, for saying what I did. You’re good people, Missy.”

    Frankly, I’m not sure what Clockblocker is trying to say here. Change it, for clarity?

  13. >If only he’d been able to tell if it were Genesis or Glory Girl that bumped into him

    Was. If it was. The subjunctive mood does not apply here, as the situation in question isn’t hypothetical – someone DID bump into him, he just doesn’t know who it WAS.

  14. Weld ducked one of Ballistic’s attacks, then charged for the orb, striking it out of the air with one fist.

    Holy SHIT. I have to believe I didn’t notice this my first time through, because- god damn. That thing is probably the single most dangerous close-quarters attack in the story thus far, in open competition with the nano-cloud halberd… and Weld just spiked it like a volleyball with his bare hand. He literally punched the freaking sun, and this isn’t even a high-stakes fight.

    I can see why the Protectorate has him on the fast track for promotion.

  15. “Even for those of you who emerged triumphant from the previous two semesters should know that PARA-103 may be something of a shock to you if this is your first year of University.”

    It’s impossible to be in your first year of *u*niversity if you have previously attended two semesters.

    Also, I haven’t been able to stop reading it as Cockblocker since the start so it’s a relief to find out it’s deliberate (in-universe).

  16. Interesting on the powers. Makes me wonder when Shadow Stalker got hers.

    Hypothesis on Taylor’s powers: I think I’ve noticed a trend where her power–range in particular–gets stronger when she feels trapped and helpless — her dad and the Leviathan fight. This feels like a call-back of sorts to the locker incident. It also deals with bugs, which are comfortable in and often in in small, confined space and which are generally somewhat powerless as compared to humans.

    (Hmm. Is it possible to reverse-engineer attributes of a person’s trigger event from their powers, then? Or am I barking up the wrong tree?)

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