Sentinel 9.5

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“Don’t cross the yellow line,” Flechette spoke.

“Right,” Vista agreed, “I got the message the last time I came this way.”

Flechette leaned forward, found a string, beaded with water from the rain.  She plucked it twice.

Parian sloshed out from a nearby alley.  A nine-foot tall rabbit with an eyepatch and boxing gloves followed a few feet behind her, moving on two legs, swaggering forward like it had a chip on its shoulder.

“It’s cute!” Vista smiled.

“Hi Vista,” Parian greeted her.  “Hi Flechette.”

“Hey,” Flechette smiled, “We come bearing gifts.”

Vista stepped forward and held out a shopping bag, “A dozen gallons of water, some rice, some tins of beans, multivitamins and first aid supplies.  My power will wear off pretty soon, so get the bag somewhere safe before then.”

“It’s basic stuff,” Flechette said, “But it’ll hold you for a little while.”

“Thank you,” Parian spoke, reaching over the makeshift yellow line for the bag.  She held it behind her back with both hands.  Just over her right shoulder, cloth formed into a rough shape, a trio of needles with attached spools of thread weaving in and around it, a razor cutting at pieces of it.

“How are you managing?”  Flechette asked.

“Some kids came through around noon, roughed up the mother of one of my friends.”

“I told you to call me if there was trouble!”

“I handled it.  Kind of.  They ran when they saw my rabbit.  According to my friend’s mom, they were trying to get someone to tell them where they could get food, and she was afraid they’d take everything if she told them where we have our stuff.  I think they were more hungry than dangerous.  Not enough food going around.”  The cloth took on a rough shape with arms and legs.  “Erm, that makes it sound like I’m blaming you guys-”

“You’re right,” Flechette interrupted.  “We’re not doing a good job of getting supplies to everyone.  We can’t.  Any time we try to distribute it, a group like Hookwolf’s gang or the Merchants try to seize it.  Even if the heroes on duty fend them off, the citizens get scared away.”

“I suppose we’re lucky to have this haven, here.  So far.  I dunno how long before someone I can’t scare off comes through.”

“You have my number.”

Vista turned away as a third voice sounded in her ear.  She stepped away from the conversation, shook her head a little to shake off the water that the steady rain was depositing on her.

Vista squeezed the earbud, “Sorry?  I didn’t catch that?”

“Weld here.  Kid Win has something to report, asked everyone to come in.  Can you make it back here quickly?”


She hurried back to Flechette’s side and waited a few seconds for a break in the conversation.  When none was forthcoming, she put a hand on Flechette’s arm.

“What’s up?”

“Weld wants us back asap.”

A look of disappointment crossed Flechette’s face.

“I’ll see you later?” Parian asked.

“I’ll stop by later, unless I’m done with patrols for the night,” Flechette shrugged.

“I’ll look forward to it,” Parian replied. She turned to Vista, “Here.”

Vista accepted her gift.  A stuffed rabbit, made in the last-minute or so.  It was finely detailed, wearing a fancy dress with lace trim.  The fur had a softness that indicated high quality material, despite being wet.  She would have been delighted with the gift, were she four years younger.

It was still a really nice gesture.

She suppressed her annoyance at the child’s gift and offered a smile instead, “Thank you, Parian.”

“Let’s go,” Flechette spoke, “Back to headquarters?”

“Back to headquarters.  Come on, we’ll take my shortcut.”

They walked two blocks east to reach Lord street.  Beneath the water’s surface, they could see a fissure that ran down the center of the road, zig-zagging from one lane to the other.

Vista stepped out into the middle of the road at the edge of the fissure, then concentrated.  She felt her power extend to every solid object in front of her, formed a map in her head.  There was nobody out there, which made it easier.  Slowly, carefully, she began adjusting.  She truncated the length of Lord street, then did it again, repeating the process to make the four lane road shorter and shorter.  The fissure down the center of the road squeezed against itself like a compressed spring.

“This is disorienting,” Flechette spoke, as she gazed at the scene.  “My power gives me a grasp of angles… and I’m worried I might have a seizure if I try to use it to get a sense of what’s happening here.”

“It’s not that complicated.  Everything’s like wet clay, and I’m smudging it around.”

Vista deemed her work done, started walking forward.  Flechette followed, eyeing the distorted sidewalk at the edges of the effect.

“You’re powerful, kiddo,” Flechette said.


“You could be one of the top dogs in the Protectorate, in five or six more years.”

Vista frowned, “They said the same thing about Dauntless.”

“One of the Protectorate members who got killed, if I remember right?”

Vista nodded.

Flechette frowned, “That’s… unexpectedly dark, coming from you.  Where did that come from?”

“What we do is dangerous.  Sometimes we die.  I don’t see why I should worry about what happens five years from now when I might not even be here.”

“Are you having second thoughts about being on the team?”

Vista gave Flechette a look, “No.  Not in the slightest.”

“But if you’re concerned about risking your life…”

“I didn’t say I was concerned,” Vista said, a note of exasperation in her voice, “Just that, hey, it might happen.  I’m being realistic.”

“I can’t tell if you’re being amazingly mature about the topic of death or if I should be really concerned about you.”

Amazingly mature?”

They had reached the PRT building.  A trip that had taken them thirty minutes on the way out had taken them four on the way back, with the aid of Vista’s power.  Flechette held the bulletproof glass door open, raised a hand in greeting to the PRT uniform who stood alert on the other side.  “You know what I mean.”

Vista had to bite her tongue.  Pointing out that people were being condescending had a way of making her look petulant, which only compounded the problem.  Yes.  Because any maturity on my part is something special.  Doesn’t matter that I have nine months of seniority over Kid Win, being thirteen means everyone expects me to be squealing over Justin Beiber or the Maggie Holt books, or dressing in pink or-

Her train of thought stopped dead when her eye fell on the portraits on the wall above the front desk.

Three feet high and two feet wide, the two pictures were black and white, bordered by foot-wide black frames.  The pictures themselves were head-and-shoulders shots of Aegis and Gallant, both in costume, masks on.  She knew from her own experience that the pictures would have been taken in their first week on the team.  Gallant looked so young.  He had still been so young when the tidal wave had smashed into him and caved in his chest.  Only seventeen.

She looked at her own picture.  In contrast to the boys’, it was vibrant, filled with color.  Her eyes, costume and the frame of the picture were a high-saturation blue-green, the background of the image a sunset orange to highlight her blonde hair.  Vista was young in that picture too.  Her photo had a missing fang tooth on the bottom row, which created a small, dark gap in her awkward smile.  She’d been just a month shy of turning eleven, then.

She hated that picture.

She hated it all the more because she couldn’t help but wonder if the time would come when that picture would be hanging over the front desk in black and white, smiling that guileless goofy smile that was everything she didn’t want people to remember about her.

Hell, were they even doing Gallant justice?  The guy who’d set out to be the literal knight in shining armor, lived his life with more chivalry than any five people you plucked off the street?  All he got was a photo and a name on a memorial.

“You okay?” Flechette asked.

Vista tore her eyes from the portraits, “I’m fine.  Let’s go, Weld’s waiting.”

Without waiting for Flechette, she marched for the elevator.  Flechette fell in step behind her.

Everyone else was sitting in the meeting room, except for Director Piggot, who stood with her arms folded.

“Thank you for being prompt,” Piggot spoke, “Would you please have a seat?”

Vista obediently sat in the chair closest to her.  Flechette found a chair beside Weld.

“Kid Win?” Piggot prompted.

“Here’s the deal, guys.  I went out to talk to Chariot, and there’s a bit of a complication.”  He tapped the screen of his smartphone, and the computer screen at one end of the table changed to show text from a series of emails.  “Chariot hasn’t yet agreed to join the team, but there’s evidence that he fully intends to join as a mole for an unknown party.”

“This evidence was assumed using legal methods, of course,” Piggot spoke.

“Of course,” Kid Win grinned in a way that left no doubt for anyone present that he was lying through his teeth.  “We believe this unknown party is Coil.  There’s no other criminals in town that would really do this.  Fenrir’s Chosen aren’t that subtle, and they’re too racist to work with Chariot.  Purity’s group is, again, too racist.  The Undersiders aren’t well-funded enough.  It doesn’t fit the Travelers’ MO.”

“That,” Piggot spoke, “And there are prior cases of Coil using undercover operatives.”

“Prior cases?” Weld asked.

“This doesn’t leave this room,” Piggot spoke.  Vista nodded alongside everyone else.  “We know there are three agents employed in this very building who are working for Coil.”

“Seriously?” Clockblocker asked.  “As in, right now?”

“Yes,” Piggot nodded, “We might have gone entirely unaware, but Dragon found that one face on our security camera footage matched up with that of a known soldier of fortune.  On investigation, we found two more.  Capable gunmen, each with a wide array of skills ranging from facility with computers to multiple languages.  Very much the type Coil would employ.  We might have arrested them, but I spoke with people with higher credentials and clearance than myself, and we came to the unanimous agreement that it would be ideal to keep those mercenaries employed here.  It allows us to keep a close eye on them for knowledge we could use, and we occasionally feed them bad or misleading information, obviously with a great deal of consideration each time.

“Which brings me to the primary subject of this meeting,” Piggot informed them.  “I would like to do the very same thing here, with Chariot.  He would work alongside you, quite likely see you unmasked.  You would socialize with him, and you would pretend not to know that he is passing on information to his employer.  For that, for the risks you would be undertaking, I require your express permission.”

Kid Win whistled.

“Dealing with the relationships between team members is difficult enough to begin with,” Weld spoke, “And you want to add this into the mix?”

“I wouldn’t ask you to do it if I didn’t think you could handle it.”

“What if we say no?” Clockblocker asked.

“If only one or two of you disagreed, out of fear of your civilian identities being used against you, I would propose splitting up your team’s schedules so you did not share any shifts with Chariot.  Ideally this would coincide with each of you returning to school, so your busy schedules could serve as sufficient excuse for why you do not cross paths with the boy.  Given how complicated this becomes, I would much prefer that all of you were onboard.”

“I have no problem with it,” Weld spoke, “But I have no secret identity, no friends or family here to watch out for.  I totally, one hundred percent understand if anyone else has objections.”

“Not a local or a long term member of the team, here,” Flechette said, “My vote probably shouldn’t count, but I’m okay with it, if it’s what the PRT needs to do.”

“Good,” Piggot spoke, “And the rest of you?”

Shadow Stalker was next to agree, followed by Kid Win, Vista and then a reluctant Clockblocker.

Piggot offered them a rare smile, “Good.  For your information, the earpiece communication channel, the computers at this console, the spare laptops and the spare smartphones will all be continually monitored by a team upstairs.  Your own laptops and smartphones will be free of this prying.  This makes it doubly important that you do not lose these possessions or let him gain access to them.”

“He’s a tinker,” Kid Win pointed out, “He might be able to figure out he’s being watched.”

“Admittedly true, but I have assurances from Dragon that the programs and devices she has put together are sufficiently discreet.”  She clasped her hands together, “Thank you, Wards, for your cooperation.  Your service since the start of the Endbringer event has been exemplary.  Trust me when I say I will find some way to make it up to you.”

She moved to leave, stopped, “And Kid Win?  Good work.”

Kid Win smiled broadly.

The Wards watched in silence until the moment the elevator door closed.

“It’s really freaking creepy when Piggy acts human,” Clockblocker commented.  There were chuckles from the rest of the group.  Vista’s own titter was tinged with relief.  The crack was a sign that Dennis was putting out an effort, acting more like his old self.

“Alright guys,” Weld spoke, clapping his hands together once, generating a muted clink, “We needed to be ready with a response in case Chariot replied, I’m sorry about interrupting your nights.  Lily, could I have a word with you before you head out again?”

Flechette nodded and followed Weld to the far corner of the room.

Vista went to get a sports drink from the kitchen in one of the alcoves.  Kid Win was sketching in a notebook.  If he was feeling inspired, it would be best to leave him alone.

She stood behind him at enough of a distance to avoid distracting him, and watched the comedy on the TV, sipping her drink.  She felt a hand on her shoulder, turned to see Weld.

Weld spoke quietly, “You look like you could use a shower.  Go warm up, then get yourself dry and in comfortable clothes.  Clockblocker is replacing you on your patrol, you can come with me in a few hours.”

She nodded.

“Come see me when you’re done.  I want to have a chat.  Nothing bad.”

She nodded again.  So Flechette said something.

She headed into the bathrooms, detoured into the adjacent girl’s bathroom with accompanying showers.  She kicked off her boots, removed her body armor, and hung the armor on one of the drying dummies.  She removed the dress and peeled off the stockings, and hung the clothes on a second dummy, where they would be subjected to a steady, gentle flow of warm air.  Her boots were placed upside down on the heating vent below the dummies, propped up against the wall.  She removed her underwear last, putting it in a basket with the rabbit Parian had made, and grabbed a towel.

It felt strange, removing her costume.  It was like she wasn’t herself.  When had she started seeing herself more as Vista than as Missy Biron?  When her parents divorced, and she started taking extra shifts to get away from the oppressive atmosphere?  After one year on the team, two?

She hung the towel up and stood under the spray of hot water, rinsing off the dirt and the grime that had come with the damp, dirty water that was everywhere outside, now.  It didn’t take long to soap up and rinse off, but she spent a long few minutes leaning there with her hands against one wall of the stall, letting the water run over her, not thinking about anything in particular.

She cranked the water off and walked over to the sink to look at herself in the mirror, her towel around her shoulders.

The water had removed most of it, but there was a line of dried blood flecks on her throat from where the wire had pulled against it.  She had another, similar, mark on her left arm, by her elbow.  She picked the flecks away with one fingernail, then rinsed her finger clean with a spray of water from the faucet.  Only a pink line remained.  Neither serious enough to warrant worrying about.  There was bruising on one of her knees, the thigh and around the side of her pelvis where the bone was closest to the skin, from where rubble had fallen on her, green-yellow in color.

There were older injuries too.  Small scars on her hands, tiny cuts on her legs, the bump of a dime-sized keloid scar on the top of one foot.  The one that caught her eye was on the right side of her chest, an inch and a half down from her collarbone.  An inch wide, the scar puckered inward a bit.  It had been the result of an altercation with Hookwolf as the villain escaped the scene of a grisly attack on a grocer, a year ago.  A blade on the villain’s arm had punctured her armor as he’d knocked her aside.  She’d felt the pain of her skin being penetrated and she’d kept quiet about it out of a desperate need to shake the label of being the team baby.  She didn’t want to be seen as the one always in need of help and protection.  It would have been embarrassing to ask for medical attention, only for it to be a scratch.

It had only been later that she’d seen how serious it was, how much it had been bleeding into the fabric of her costume, underneath her breastplate. She’d stitched it up herself, here, in the showers.  She’d done as best as she was able, worked with a kind of grim determination.  Not the most competent job, in the end.

She kind of regretted that series of decisions, now.  She was a late bloomer, looked younger than she was, but when she did eventually have the sort of cleavage she could show off, the scar would be there, plain as day.  It might even be worse, when that time came, depending on how the scar stretched as her chest grew.

Vista might have tried asking Panacea to fix it, but hadn’t been able to summon up the courage.  Now, as she thought about it, she thought maybe she didn’t really want to get rid of it.  A part of her took a perverse kind of pride in the fact that she had a scar, as though it was some kind of proof to herself that she was a good soldier.  It was a sort of validation of the philosophy she’d been outlining to Flechette.  Why stress about a scar on her chest when some villain could kill her before it became an issue?

A toilet flushed in one of the bathroom stalls, and Vista hurried to pull her towel from around her shoulders and wrap it around herself, hiking it up to cover the scar on her chest.

Sophia strolled over to the sink next to Vista.  She gave the younger girl a cool look, “Don’t freak out, midget.  It’s not like you have anything worth hiding.”

Bristling at the midget comment and the crack about her chest, Vista just stared at herself in the mirror, ignoring the girl.

Sophia finished washing her hands, then got her toothbrush and brushed her teeth.  She took her time, while Vista stood there, clutching the towel around herself with both hands.

Finishing, Sophia put her toothbrush away, and, as she’d been doing recently, put a hand on Vista’s head as she passed by.  Only this time, she mussed up the younger girl’s hair, with more roughness than was necessary.  “Carry on, kid.”

Great, Vista thought.  Dennis might be acting more like his old self, but Sophia is too.

She combed out her hair, sorting out the tangles that Sophia’s attention had given her, dried off, and then went to her locker to get a change of clothes: A t-shirt, sweatshirt and flannel pyjama pants.  Comfortable clothes.  She pulled on slippers and went to find Weld.

Sophia was manning the console, browsing Facebook.  Kid Win was testing out the armor – four guns with the size and shape of large pears were floating around the shoulders in a loose formation.

Rather than distract Chris or have to deal with Sophia again, Vista left the headquarters and headed into the elevator.  Weld’s room was in the hallways one floor up, opposite Kid Win’s workshop.

The door was open, and he was there, reclining on the a heavy-duty chair of the same model as the one he had in the conference room.  He had headphones on, his feet on a granite counter where his computer sat.  She’d never been in his room.  Looking around, she saw rack upon rack of CDs, DVDs and vinyl records.  There was no bed, but he didn’t really need to sleep, so that made some sense.  It was easily possible that he slept in the chair.

His head was bobbing with the music until he spotted her.  He gave her a quick nod, pulled off his headphones and turned off the speaker system.

“You wanted to talk to me?” she asked.

“I sent Flechette on patrol with you because she’s got an objective perspective on the team, and I wanted to see if her thoughts on you echoed my own.  True enough, you were only out for a short while, and she’s already expressed concerns.”


“Tell me straight up, are you doing okay?”

“People keep asking me that.  I’m fine.”

“Flechette said you were sounding pretty fatalistic when you were on patrol, a little while ago.  I know you were fond of Gallant, that you were pretty inconsolable when you were in the hospital, at his bedside.”

Vista looked away.

“And now you’re acting like nothing fazes you, even the idea of you maybe dying in the near future.  I have to know, Missy.  Do you have a death wish?  Are you going to be putting yourself in unnecessary danger?”

“No,” she said.  When his expression didn’t change, she repeated herself, louder, “No.  You saw me against the Travelers.  I don’t think I did anything stupid there.”

“You didn’t.”

“I just want to do a good job as a member of this team.  Carry on their memory.  Act like they would want me to act.  I can work twice as hard, be twice as tough, twice as strong, if it means making up for them being gone.”

“That’s a pretty crazy burden to be shouldering.”

“It’s fine.”

“And it could go somewhere problematic, if you get frustrated, let it consume you, alongside this blasé attitude towards death you seem to be adopting.”

“I can deal.”

Weld sighed.  “Maybe.  Maybe not.  You know what I think?”

Vista shrugged.

“I think you should let your teammates take some of the responsibility there.  Trust them to help carry on the legacy.”

She shook her head, “Nobody else seems to care as much-”

Weld raised a hand, “Stop.  Let me finish.  Remember that your teammates have their individual strengths to their personalities.  I don’t know enough about Aegis or Gallant to say for sure, but I think maybe Clockblocker is stepping up to become more of a leader, in Aegis’s absence.  It could be part of why there’s friction between him and me, even if he doesn’t fully realize it.”

“Gallant was sort of preparing to be the team leader, for when Aegis graduated,” Vista said, her voice quiet.

Weld nodded.  “The impression I’ve picked up, and forgive me if I’m off target, is that Aegis was the head of the team, the leader, strategist and manager.  Gallant, maybe, was the heart.  The guy who tied you all together, kept the interpersonal stuff running smoothly.  Would I be wrong in assuming he was the one who handled Sophia best?”

Vista shook her head.  A lump was growing in her throat.

“Okay.  With all this in mind, I have one suggestion and two orders.  My suggestion?  Stop trying to be everything they were.  Be what you’re good at, a caring, sweet young woman who everyone on the team likes.  My professional opinion is that you have it in you to fill some of that void Gallant left.  Use that empathic nature of yours to help others with their own struggles.  Be the team’s heart.”

Her eyes started watering.  She blinked the tears away.

“And my orders?”

“Order number one is that you go see the PRT’s therapist.  If I can clear it with Director Piggot, figure out a way to make the patrol schedules work, I’m going to try to get everyone to go.  I’m honestly kind of flabbergasted that nobody higher up than me has mandated it already.”

“Okay.”  In a way, she was relieved, at that instruction.

“Order number two is to let yourself cry, damn it.  Stop holding it back.”

Just the mention of crying made her eyes water again.  Vista wiped it away once more, “I’ve cried enough.”

“If your body wants to cry, then you should listen to it.  It doesn’t make you any weaker if you let it happen.  You think I’ve never cried?  Looking like I do, facing the disappointments and frustrations I have?  Maybe it’s self-serving to think so, but I think it takes a kind of strength to let yourself face your emotions like that.”

The tears were rolling down her cheeks, now.  She let her head hang, her damp hair a curtain between her and her team leader.  He stood, pulled her into a hug.  She pressed her face against his shirt.  It was soft, but the body beneath was hard, unyielding.  It was still very gentle.

When she pulled away, a few minutes later, his shirt was damp.  She sniffled, taking the offered tissue to wipe at her eyes and nose, Weld spoke, gently, “I’m always here to talk, and the therapist will be there too.”

Vista nodded.

“If you need a break from the team, just say the word.  I’ll talk to Piggot.”

She shook her head, “No.  I want to work.  I want to help.”

“Okay.  Then we’ve got patrol in… two hours and fifteen minutes.  Go relax, watch some TV, maybe take a nap.”

“Alright.  Don’t you dare let me sleep through patrol.”

“I wouldn’t.”

She made her way back to the elevator, noting the lights were on in Kid Win’s workshop.  Heading back down to the base, she walked toward her cubicle-room.

“Holy crap, you’ve been crying again?  I thought you were over that.”  Sophia commented from the console.  She was on her laptop, sitting just to the right of the main console.  Nobody else was present in the headquarters.  Again, the two of them were alone.  Was Sophia’s nice act only for when others were around?

Vista turned, irritated.  “I was venting a little with Weld, what’s your issue?”

“I just really hate crybabies,” Sophia turned back to the computer.

Crybaby.  Whatever else someone could say about Sophia, there was no denying that she was very, very good at finding someone’s weak points, be it during a brawl or in an argument.  Vista couldn’t think of an insult that would have needled her more.

“Bitch,” Vista muttered, moving toward her room.

She thought she spoke quietly enough that Sophia didn’t hear, but the girl did, because she had a response.  “You annoyed him, you know.”

Vista stopped in her tracks, stayed where she was, her back to Sophia.  She replied without turning around “Weld?  You don’t know-”

“Gallant.  Twelve year old following him around all the time, brimming with prepubescent lust and lovesick infatuation?  And he can feel all of her emotions?  You know how gross that would be?  How disturbing and awkward?”

Vista clenched her fists.

Sophia went on, “Think about it, every time you got just a little turned on while you looked at him?  Every time you crushed on him?  He felt it, forced himself to smile and play nice even as you totally repulsed him, because he was that kind of guy.  You know he was that kind of guy.”

“I loved him,” Vista spoke.  The first time she’d spoken the words aloud.  Why did it have to be to Sophia?  Why couldn’t she have said it to Gallant, before he passed?  “There’s nothing gross about love.”

“You don’t know what love is, little one,” Sophia’s condescending tone rang across the room, “It was a first crush, a little infatuation.  Real love is what he had with Glory Girl… that long-term bond that survived through a dozen really nasty fights, and brought them back together again and again.  A schoolgirl crush is easy.  Real love is hard, something tempered and enduring.”

Vista turned to look at the older girl.

Sophia was reclining in her chair.  She smiled a little, “I know it sucks to hear now, but it’s better to hear it straight than to look back and realize how horribly stupid you sounded, five or ten years down the road.”

“I am not going to feel stupid for how I feel now.”

Sophia shrugged, “Kids.”  She turned her attention to Facebook.

Vista unclenched her fist.  She could tip Sophia out of her chair, bend the computer screen, carry out any number of petty revenges.  But Weld’s advice stuck in her head.

“What happened to you, Sophia?”

Sophia looked over her shoulder.  “You’re still here?”

“What kind of situation led to you becoming like this?  So casually cruel, so lacking in basic human decency?”

“My advice is for your own benefit, little tyke.  I’m not the bad guy.”

“You’re the only one who doesn’t have any friends on the team, you keep yourself at a distance, you talk only with your friend or friends from your civilian life.  Even there, you’re always in trouble.  Getting suspended, picking fights.  It’s like you want to break your probation and go to some juvenile detention facility for the next few years.”

“Not your business.”

“Out in costume, you’re scary.  You hurt people like you’re hungry for it.  I just want to know why.  Where did you come from?  What situation led to you being like this?”

“Drop the fucking subject.  You’re irritating me.”

Vista sighed.  Feeling the traces of anger and the hurt from Sophia’s words, she still tried to soften her parting words as she turned to go back to her room, “If you ever do want to talk about it, I’m willing to listen.”

“I’m not about to talk about it with you.  Fix your own shit before you start worrying about me, crybaby.”

Frustrated, disappointed in herself for failing in her first genuine effort at taking Weld’s advice, trying to reach out to a team member that needed it, Vista shook her head, muttered, “I pity you.”

The sound of a laptop crashing to the ground made Vista turn.  She saw Sophia in her shadow state, wispy, her skeleton visible beneath her skin, warped.  The girl’s eyes were too reflective, her entire body seemed to bend and distort, not completely solid as she leaped towards Vista.

Sophia dropped out of her shadow state in time to push Vista flat onto her back, hard, one fist gripping the collar of the younger girl’s t-shirt.  She shook her.  “Pity?”

Feeling strangely calm despite the pain that radiated through the back of her head, where it had struck the ground, Vista spoke, “Weld said it takes a kind of strength to face your emotions.  Are you really that scared, Sophia, that you’d attack me instead of talk to me?”

Sophia raised a clenched fist.  Vista screwed one eye shut, anticipating the hit.  It would almost be worth it if she hit me and violate the conditions of her membership on the team, to have her gone.  But we need all the help we can get, right now.  “The security cameras are watching us right now.”

Sophia dropped her hand, stood, and stalked over to the far side of the room.  She gathered her costume in her arms.  “I’m going on patrol.”

“It’s not your shift,” Vista spoke, sitting up.

“Don’t fucking care.  If Weld asks, I’m doing a double shift.”

And then Sophia was gone, having used her shadow state to disappear through the elevator door.

“Okay,” Vista spoke, pulling herself to her feet. “Guess I’m manning the console.”

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56 thoughts on “Sentinel 9.5

  1. I didn’t expect to say it but this was worth leaving Taylor hanging. Not least to compare Taylor and Vista.
    A few things-
    “unless I’m done patrols” should probably be ‘doing’?
    “A trip that had taken them thirty minutes” Not sure it if is missing a ‘would have’ or ‘on the way out’, but it seems a bit awkward the way it is to me.
    “alongisde this blasé” – Typo

    • I agree, I think I really do enjoy hearing Vista’s side of things. It feels like, if the situation was different Vista and Taylor could have been friends. The line about Justin Beiber made me laugh….poor boy is still being dissed in an alternate universe.

      • In the chapter Taylor sees the Undersiders unmasked, she comments that Alec’s ‘pretty rather than handsome’ looks, along the lines of Justin Beiber, Marcus Firth, young Leonardo Decaprio, etc, etc, aren’t her cup of tea.

        So at the very least, between Taylor & Vista’s comments, we can surmise he’s famous for having girls squeal over his looks. Is he a singer/sometime jerkass actor, though? Could have deviated in this reality, sure.

      • Well, if Taylor had agreed to join the Wards… Can you imagine the consequences of her and Sophia being mutually unmasked?

      • The interesting thing is that it would potentially be far be worse for Sophia than Taylor could guess, because she is missing a lot of information on Shadow Stalker’s tenuous position.

        Of course, even if it destroyed Sophia, the collateral damage could be pretty damn high, with Sophia knowing Taylor’s family and, now, knowing what Grue looks like unmasked(she’s a bitch, but she’s not stupid)…

    • Thanks for the typo-pointing-out. The feedback is much appreciated as well.

      I did do a spellcheck last night, but, armed with the knowledge that I was getting two wisdom teeth pulled this afternoon, I did more edits & some writing this morning. I wanted to be sure edits & at least some of Saturday’s chapter were all done in case (as prior experience had led me to expect) I was drugged out of my mind post-extraction. Guess I rushed those lines & forgot an additional spellcheck afterward in my hurry. Oops.

      Surprisingly, no painkillers (and not a horrific amount of pain), so I’m actually getting ahead on my backlog… assuming nothing comes up/I don’t slack off prior to Saturday.

      Thanks again. Fixed.

      • Justin Bieber (Wormverse):

        Justin Bieber was born Justine Bieber, until the age of 7 when she realized she was really a boy inside. Her parents put her on drugs to halt the effects of puberty until she was ready to make a decision.

        This culminated in Justine taking the new name, Justin, and using his androgynous looks to star in a Disney Channel remake of The Andy Griffith Show as Justin Griffith, a little boy who somehow winds up sheriff of a town, with an adult deputy played by Tracy Morgan. The show was known for its slapstick comedy, smooth bass rhythms, and tour de force drama and action scenes, even managing to beat out The Sopranos to win an Emmy. This in turn led to the inevitable crossover between the two shows.

        Unfortunately, Justin hit on hard times while living the good life at too young an age, as had happened before with Drew Barrymore, Lindsay Lohan, and Hilary Duff. While Justin had been self medicating with LSD and marijuana for some time, he began to suffer more and more from burnout and exhaustion. While working with Heath Ledger on the set of Wanted, Justin was exposed to the dangerous side of drugs: sleeping pills. Even though Wanted was hailed as an amazing adapation of a dark and provocative comic about supervillains and the urge to attain power in one’s life, Bieber would never be the same.

        He began to do all the hard drugs. Tylenol, oxycodone, diazepam. He abused them all. Soon his life was a wreck of screwups and missed opportunities. The man to talk sense into Justin was an aging Jimmy Hendrix, who took the young man under his wing and got him to go to rehab. While there, Justin had an epiphany. He was going to be a singer.

        While Hendrix was best known for his work in the genre of psychadelic rock, Justin Bieber soon found his place as a blues singer with such hit songs as “Rehab,” “Poker Face,” and “Bad Romance.” In that role, he has thrived, bringing his pretty-boy charm to the Blues and creating a resurgence in the under-the-radar genre. Currently, he is dating fashion designer and PETA supporter Stefani Germanotta, but that doesn’t stop the girls from mobbing him any chance he gets.


        By the way, PG, i herard rumour you will be writing your own serial soon. Is that true?

      • bleachfreak, people really want me to for some reason. I’m not sure I have what it takes to write one and keep it going on a good schedule. I have been writing stuff, inspired by the fact that I have fans. Over here on the Worm comments, y’all haven’t quite seen as many of the little “stories” I’ve done in LoN’s comments. That also means less familiarity with the downright marty sue-ish character of Psycho Gecko (though it could just be hard to consider yourself to have lost when you judge things on a different scale).

        I’ve considered doing the same thing on here like I did over there, where I invade the comments with a bit of a story all my own that has no relation to the actual story of the site, but that’s a bit rude. It’d be made all the ruder by the fact that I probably wouldn’t ask Wildbow’s permission before doing so.

        In all likelihood I’m a bit of an annoyance to some people who read the story and want more relevant comments, or more serious comments, or for me to just shut up.

        In terms of writing ideas I’ve had that may get worked on later, I am considering Gecko taking up an assassination contract on a character I’m not fond of due to some stuff I just read about in the Whately Universe. Igor! Fetch me my BFG-class gun. No, the one with “Salsa Maker” stenciled on the side in pink sparkly letters.

        • It sounds like you’re planning to join the Protectors Of The Plot Continuum: invading other continuities with weapons powered by the fourth wall and sadistic lethal intent towards terrible characters.

          I approve.

          Unfortunately, this comment is probably too late for you to see.

      • I’ve only read a couple of stories in all of it, but I’m not a big fan of what Carmilla/Sara Waite did to Jobe in the 2nd Book of Jobe stories. I’m not sure how much I should say on the issue, since this isn’t their forums, nor was I intending to make it theirs, but I think she went way over the line, no matter what kind of things he’d sent after her before coming to her for help. I can see some regular people deciding to knock themselves off if they were going through a similar situation as Jobe and that happened to them.

        • I read Whateley a long time ago, and while I loved some of it, there were a few reasons I stopped reading, and it wasn’t so much a question of quality. I just read the story arc you’re talking about, I have some recollection of the context around those characters, and I agree, that really does bug me, kind of highlighting my irks.

          Hard to go into more detail without spoiling, but basically? If you’re going to write an extensive series with one rather serious, recurring theme/topic, where very real people have gone through that stuff, you don’t turn around and inflict that exact same crisis on one (disliked) character and then laugh in their face about it. Even if the character doing this (Sara) is a deific entity who thinks its probably for the best in the long run.

          It’d be like me starting off the next arc by having Taylor go back to school, find Madison in a wheelchair because of some accident during the Endbringer event and then start bullying her. And it seems everyone takes it in stride and comes to find it perfectly acceptable.

      • Not that I was going to insert my character into their story and post it all here either. Obviously would have used some differences and a Captain Expy. Similar person, similar events happened, just that this time someone gets their comeuppance.

        Even figured there’s be portions of it in a location I was establishing in the stuff I’d been writing. Not sure if I gave it a name. Otherwise, call it Netherworld Bar. Basically, a magical neutral ground on earth, but accessible only from certain points on earth, like a strange basement door at what seems like just a voodoo themed store. As long as the chalk-drawn man with the top hat that’s drawn on the nearby stone doesn’t mind, the door will open for you. Just don’t forget to leave some rum by him when you exit. Yeah, entrance provided by various spirits or entities from the religions and myths. Entrances themselves set up by various magical types of different cultures: shamen, two-spirits, bocor, houngan, and such.

        No violence allowed in the place. No seeking refuge from hot pursuit allowed. No hot pursuing either. It’s actually more of a series of caverns that have much more than a bar in it, but it’s the bar I’ve been working on as more of a meeting spot. Just an old magical meeting spot that can be accessed from around the world, but adapted to modern times. Villains and heroes allowed, no restrictions to only magical people, but generally more villains. After all, how many of the heroes in Worm are the type to hang out casually (albeit masked) at a bar with villains compared to the number of villains who might? *Shadow Stalker picks up a barstool and brings it down on the back of a frog-man, then disappears in a puff of smoke. When she next reappears, she’s a turtle in the middle of Death Valley*

        Unfortunately, still not a unique concept on its own, but the more it is worked on, the more it will diverge from that one bar that DC has for magical superheroes.

        • My very first attempt at writing a superhero story was a shot on my part at trying to handle the ‘magic’ superhero (A la Dr. Strange), but with more of a novice. It didn’t work out for several reasons (I tried to base it around my own location, which was pretty much the opposite of Brockton Bay, I found I couldn’t get the balance right for magic & superheroics) and ultimately scrapped it, to the point where I decided it wouldn’t exist in Worm at all, barring some vague border cases. That said, I would be really, really keen on someone doing something on the subject.

          When I finish Worm, a ways down the line (can’t say for sure, but we may be halfway) I’m thinking I might write something in the vein of modern magic, outside of the superhero genre. I’ve got a lot of ideas there – I just need to really work through them, get some bulk writing done in that genre & hammer out what works best, as I aimed to do for Worm.

          • I love that the first time Maggie Holt is mentioned in Worm is also the time when wildbow first talks about how his next story might be a “modern magic” kind of thing.

      • Yeah, I know how settings go. I’ve written something where a guy is just getting powers in a place that’s pretty much where I live. Finally, during yet another long drive to somewhere meaningful, he has to go, “Dammit, now I know why all the really good heroes and villains have cars and teleporters or can fly and stuff!”

        That’s one good reason these stories tend to take place in big cities too. More reasonable for someone with or without travel powers to get around. Batman’s grappling hook and Spider-man’s webbing don’t work too well in places without skyscrapers.

        And yeah, pretty bad stuff in that Whateley thing. You can see why I’d wanna bitchslap her in effigy. Even worse when you consider that she named herself after a lesbian vampire, then turns right around and says “Here, let’s make sure your sexuality is THIS way.” A little after that, you find out what she really thinks of her own reasoning too, which makes it worse.

        She’s even more unlikeable if you know what would happen if he ever does follow through with what she did to his head. She obviously was able to look at the “programming” of the form, so she should have realized he put that in and just how bad it could be.

        Were superheroes always such assholes? Occasionally, it’s nice to have the guy who is punching Hitler not be a member of the Klan.

        • I don’t think it’s so much a question of ‘are superheroes always such big assholes?’ as much as it is whether -people- are assholes.

          But the kind of behavior that’s coming up there is a little beyond assholery, if you’ll excuse my french.

          • Some people are assholes, some aren’t, and many are at least a little bit self-centred but basically decent. Some are very good people and a few are outright heroes.

            I’ve always thought that superheroes are supposed to be an example of what humanity can be at its best. They’re an ideal sitting at the far end of plausible to give people something to aim for. (Though, as I said in my other post, there are numerous genuine heroes in reality so it’s not so implausible as some think).

            This is *not* a criticism of Worm, BTW, which is a very good genre deconstruction/analysis and a very good story. I’m referring more to the ‘big two’ who are supposed to be giving us genuinely heroic tales to deconstruct and are instead giving us idiocy like Identity Crisis and Civil War.

        • Superheroes were not always such assholes. Basically what seems to have happened is that comic writers wanted to get away from unrealistic caricatures and got devoured by ‘true art is angsty’ instead. Somewhere along the way in the interests of being ‘more realistic’ they lost track of the idea that heroes are supposed to be people that you can look up to and admire.

          So we end up with crap like the New 52 where Superman’s a jerk, Green Lantern’s a narcissist, etc. etc.

          The stupid thing is that the real world is full of genuine heroes. Having everyone be a jerk is no more realistic than having everyone be an angel.

      • I’ve enjoyed some stories in Whately, but in many cases, I’ve found a little too much wish fulfillment on the part of some writers for me to truly get into the story.

  2. Weld — done; Vista — done; Kid Win — done; Clockblocker — done; Flechette — done; with (probably) 1 chapter in the arc to go, and one Ward left unnarrated: Shadow Stalker. Of course, it could, in theory, be Chariot, or at least Piggot. Place yer bets!

    Sophia’s behavior is interesting, and I can’t tell if she is playing status/dominance games or whether the Leviathan battle did create some goodwill on her part towards the other Wards. (Just don’t make her angry.)

    Vista’s perspective is interesting to compare to Taylor and others, but one thing to keep in mind is that everyone there is, technically, a child soldier. It seems to stem from the fact that the strength of a superpower doesn’t increase with age, so adults aren’t inherently more capable as capes than children. Once again we get the theme of superheroing as escapism; it looks like Shadow Stalker might be the only one with a street identity for whom it’s not.😉

    Editorish comments:

    “Hi Vista,” “Hi Flechette.” — There should be commas after both Hi’s.

    “We needed a response for the second Chariot replied” — On the first parse, the phrasing felt a little awkward. I don’t know if it should be changed, though.

    The “s” at the end of “Aegis” is not there to pluralize it, so the possessive case is “Aegis’s”, not “Aegis'”. (Of course, it’s more complicated than that ™, per .)

    The word “keloid” was one that I had to look up. I don’t know what the target reading level is, but what it means is hard to get from the context if you don’t already know, so it might be worth “dumbing down”. (Of course, it could be that everyone else knows exactly what it means.)

    “it would be ideal to keep those mercenaries employed here” — I am not sure if “ideal” is the best word to use here; “best” seems more natural.

    “Finishing, Sophia put her toothbrush away, and as she’d been doing recently, put a hand on Vista’s head as she passed by.” — I think there should be a comma between “and” and “as”, since “as she’d been doing recently” is a parenthetical expression.

    • Thanks, Pahan. Dammit, thought I did better than that for errors.

      Comma added after the hi.
      Did some rewording of the sentence re: response to Chariot
      Added an s after Aegis’
      Added the word ‘scar’ after Keloid – had it before, deleted it in edits, so I’m just re-adding it.
      Keeping Piggot’s language the same. Part of her character.
      Added comma in the toothbrush sentence.

      • The comma after the hi would be correct grammar, but it might not entirely reflect the way the characters were speaking- If I say it both ways out loud, I think it makes a difference in the tone.

      • It seems like if commas were used correctly at every place they’re supposed to be, then you’d wind up with that whole “wanton cruelty to the common comma,” thing, or whatever it is called. Commas, you see, are like the neglected, overused, and disliked, but not forgotten, black sheep of the grammar family, which is a vast family, full of bastards and semi-colons, not to be tangled with lightly, I believe.

  3. It would be very interesting to understand WHY Sophia has taken to bullying Taylor. Is it a loyalty test for Emma, mostly? You wanna be a friend of a cape – well, then we’ll prove you mean it by hurting your former best friend…

    That said, there could well be some very interesting character development for both Sophia and Taylor if the latter did join the Wards – but it would take some very strong leadership to bring her in. And right now, I have to wonder if the Protectorate are all morons. When a young cape who has been mostly a villain by association, and who has been outed as a mole against those villains, declares that she would rather be birdcaged that join the Wards, AND is known to have seen one of those Wards unmasked, AND said unmasked Ward is known to be problematic socially, how bright to you need to be to figure out that there is likely a strong connection? If they are at all competent, one of them needs to let Weld know about the incident.

    I’m really hoping that we have a future scene in which Weld, having discovered plenty of evidence that Sophia had been bullying a girl in her school, and that the girl in question has subsequently vanished, and that Skitter, who seems to be afraid of Sophia is roughly the same physical size as the vanished girl, confronts Skitter in private and calls her by her civilian name – and promises to protect her from Sophia somehow – even if it means getting the latter transferred to another city.

    • An arc like that, while it’s not precluded by anything we know about the characters and the world, seems unlikely to me. I don’t think it’s really in keeping with wildbow’s style, which tends to avoid approaching conflicts and scenarios in the most straightforward fashion. An arc like that would feel so simple as to be contrived, as far as dealing with this particular Gordian Knot is concerned.

      Or so it would to me. Which isn’t to say that I think Skitter is done with the Wards, Shadow Stalker, or Weld by any means.

    • In the moment where Taylor and the Undersiders were arguing with Armsmaster, Miss Militia, and Legend, I could easily see them not thinking about that.

      Afterward, I could imagine them reflecting on the whole thing, and maybe going digging (if they had time, but having time might be a challenge). Legend might have too much going on to go checking into that (high up in the Protectorate, right?). Miss Militia has a team to run. Armsmaster? It’ll be interesting to find out what happened to him, but he’s a definite wild card there.

      Weld seems smart enough to maybe make a connection from the files, but he’s also got an entire team to think about (and who knows exactly what they included in the files he’s got access to).

      In short, I can easily see it never coming up.

      • They’ve got a lot of people out there with an inherent or greater understanding of mechanics, engineering, and science, just not too many people that we’ve seen with a similar superpowered understanding of psychology and human interaction. That’s probably for a good reason, too. Just think of every philia/kink/and fetish out there, plus the truly sexually depraved, the asexuals. That’s just one aspect of it. You bring politics into the mix and you might as well call your brain goodbye.

        I had a bad nightmare involving thinking too much into politics. This book’s main character was the heir to this one throne. When he graduated from a military academy, he was ambushed by his father’s and his friend, who heads their version of the CIA, and 5 of his agents, with the help of a lower-ranking agent of theirs who had worked her way into being his girlfriend for the past few months. Also, unknown to them, he was ambushed by a member of a different intelligence group loyal to his country. It was headed by a relative of his, and about to be headed by a different relative of his. The agent of that group also got close to him, eventually marrying him. And they all help him circumvent his father’s rule because he’s doing what each group considers best for the country, except it’s pretty implicit that they’d work against him, and slightly have been, if it serves each group’s idea of what’s best for the country.

        Not even taking into account foreign stuff.

    • I don’t really follow you that it should be obvious for wards/protectorate that there is a strong connection between her and Sophia. In the confrontation at the hospital, she has not indicated in any way that Sophia is the reason she would never want to join the wards. She has shown to Armsmaster that she does not cope well with authority and that she despises him personally. Armsmaster seems to be insecure whether the whole “double agent” plot was ever genuine on Taylors side or if she was shitting him from the beginning, just seeking to make excuses for her crimes and to have a backup plan if she gets into trouble with the undersiders. On top of that, she has been fighting nearly every surviving member of the wards, which could make it super awkward to work with those people. There are plenty of reasons that might make her fear or despise the prospect of being forced into serving as a probatory member of the wards.

      I have to concede though, that it seems to be a lack of caution not to inform weld that a solo villain knows Shadowstalkers secret identity and might be up to something. Maybe they still severely underestimate her.

    • That’s very informative. Don’t know why it got brought up, but ok.

      Does it have to do with tossing in a confusing summary of several subplots in a book to explain why politics gave me a dream that gave me a headache?

  4. “Gallant was sort of preparing to be the team leader, for when Aegis graduated,” Vista said, her voice quiet.

    Did you mean Clockblocker instead of Gallant? Just seems to make more sense considering prior conversations and the preceding paragraph.

  5. This was a lovely chapter. I’ve completely reversed my opinion of Vista.
    I’m not surprised that Weld is figuring out how to actually get in his team’s good books, after the disastrous first impression, but it is nice to see.

    Typo: “reclining on the a heavy-duty chair ” – too many articles.

  6. Not a fan of all this teenage angst and Sophia’s prolonged cartoonishly evil bullying. This chapter was honestly a drag to read. Most of this arc has been, to be honest. I think Taylor’s teenage angst was more than enough for this story and now add all these other characters to the mix.. well, I just hope this isn’t a recurring thing.

  7. Seriously, I want sophie to be broken. Broken so badly she ends up a pathetic useless shell of a person, or hilariously righteous and moralist crusader. Or straight up die alone. That works too.

    • That…
      Hahaha. That interpreted part of my comment as a tag.
      “WELD. *heart* Totally on point about the therapy, what the hell guys.
      One of these days we might actually find out what Sophia’s deal is. I’m… not actually looking forward to that. xP I bet she doesn’t really open up with her friends at school, either.”

  8. Is the consistent misspelling of Bieber an honest mistake, or does a creepy pseudo-Bieber exist in this ‘verse?

    >A part of her took a perverse kind of pride in the fact that she had a scar, as though it was some kind of proof to herself that she was a good soldier.

    Were. As though it were. Subjunctive mood applies; it’s a hypothetical situation. I’ve refrained from commenting much on the subjunctive in the past, but it seems like the author has been trying his/her best to apply it properly, so I figured I’d stop being lenient on that front.

    >The door was open, and he was there, reclining on the a heavy-duty chair of the same model as the one he had in the conference room.

    The a heavy-duty chair?

    >“And it could go somewhere problematic, if you get frustrated, let it consume you, alongside this blasé attitude towards death you seem to be adopting.”

    The é in blasé is bizarrely italicised? u wot m8?

  9. I should probably be ashamed that my first thought on reading Vista and Flechette’s exchange was ‘ah, Vista has realized how to be-in-the-world, achieving Heideggerian authenticity by coming to terms with her own death’.

    Too much crack philosophy involved in helping my policy debaters understand things.

  10. I really enjoyed this arc! I never liked the Wards much before, but now I’ve gotten to know them I like them a lot. Vista is probably my favourite.

  11. It’s so important to me that the little girl of the group is treated as a human being with an emotional range (from a storytelling perspective, at least), and gets told by the very masculine leader of the group that anyone can cry and still be strong.

    Also that Worm never seems to take the easy way out with revenge porn. The ‘be better than your oppressor’ trope so often annoys me, but it’s utilized very effectively here. You can’t default to a superbattle every time you’ve got beef with somebody.

  12. In the space of a week Weld went from knowing nothing about even the living Brockton Bay Wards to understanding two people he’d never met and their roles in the group well enough to commiserate with Vista over her loss and help her make healthier plans for the future. He didn’t share the experience of her grief, and most of the people who did were barely talking to him- and he still got one of the most emotionally hardened members of the team to open up and share those feelings.
    He is a pretty great kid. But what’s even more amazing is that this never strained my suspension of disbelief. I don’t know how he figured all this out or where he found the time to piece it together, but his whole conversation with Vista rang true to me; he never seemed to know anything he couldn’t or to get reactions that didn’t make sense. Fucking excellent work, here.

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