“We have to tell them,” Krouse murmured.
He and Jess were in the kitchen of a stranger’s house, using that stranger’s utensils to prepare their food. It felt odd, invasive. Except it’s not like they’ll be coming back any time soon.
“I need another knife,” Jess said, “This one’s awful.”
“Are you dodging the subject?”
“No. I need a better knife if I’m going to keep cutting strawberries. We can still talk.”
Krouse opened a drawer and passed a knife to where Jess sat on a stool at the counter. “They’re going to find out sooner or later. I’ve noticed something like five major clues since I started paying attention. They’re distracted for now, but-”
“This knife sucks too.”
“All the knives suck. Whoever lived here didn’t take care of their stuff. Make do.”
Jess set to cutting the tops off the strawberries.
“They’re going to be upset,” she said.
“No shit. We’re stuck in a whole other world, and things are just different enough that we could fuck up and reveal ourselves as aliens.”
Jess nodded. She gathered a mess of strawberry tops from the cutting board and strained to reach forward enough to get it in the empty plastic container.
Krouse put one foot on the bar of the stool to give it a little more weight, so it wouldn’t fall, then moved the plastic container closer.
Jess said, “That would be bad, if we got caught. The people of this world? They’re scared. There’s laws against people or objects being transmitted across worlds. When that hole between universes came about, the first idea on people’s minds was that we might go to war, a whole other planet with resources. Water, oil, wood, metal, all that stuff. And Earth Aleph would lose because Bet had all the capes. The rest of the world thought this gateway would make America into a bigger superpower than we already are. So there were sanctions, deals.”
Krouse nodded. He flipped the pancakes over on the frying pan. They were the crappy sort, the sort that came from a box. Still, it was better than nothing.
“It’s bad, Krouse. Even if we were willing to go home, with the Simurgh maybe planning something-”
“We can’t let that dictate our choices,” Krouse said. “We’ll go crazy trying to second guess everything. We can minimize the damage, try to keep a low profile. And I’ll admit you’re right. Not using the contents of that briefcase is a start. If we get a chance to meet the president or something, we should probably turn it down.”
“Yeah,” Jess said. Then she held up a hand. “Shush.”
Floorboards upstairs were creaking.
Marissa came downstairs, her hair wrapped in a towel. “Shower done, if either of you want to rinse off. We have power?”
“Came on a bit ago,” Krouse said.
“Got restless, decided to do something. Food in our bellies, keep the furnace burning.” Jess said. “Hungry? Offering up some pancakes for dinner.”
“Yeah,” Marissa said.
Krouse checked the pancakes and put them on a plate, tearing one in half and popping it in his mouth. “Mars, you want to relieve Oliver? He’s looking after Noelle right now.”
“Who took the shift before that?”
“Me,” Krouse said. “I’ll bring you a plate. Butter and Syrup?”
“Sugar and lemon juice,” Marissa said, before leaving for the living room.
Krouse spoke in a low voice, “We have to tell them.”
Krouse opened his mouth to say something else, then shut it as conversation erupted in the living room.
He turned off the oven burner and headed in that direction, only to be stopped by Jess. “Krouse?”
He paused, looked back, saw her perched on the stool.
He grimaced, sliding one arm around her shoulders, with his other one beneath her knees, making sure not to bump his injured hand against anything. He lifted her and commented, “You’re lighter than I thought you’d be.”
“Ever a charmer, Krouse.”
“Guys!” Marissa called out.
Krouse hurried for the living room, pausing only to ensure he didn’t slam Jess’ head or feet into a door frame.
His blood ran cold as he saw what had the others attention. It wasn’t Noelle.
The television was on, and it was displaying footage of the Simurgh.
“Shit,” Jess whispered.
“We have cable!” Marissa said, smiling.
“Maybe we’ll have working phones soon,” Luke said. “Get ahold of our parents.”
Krouse navigated past where Oliver was lying on the ground, blankets balled up so he had something to lean against, a book in his hands. He stepped around the coffee table and set Jess in the one empty armchair.
Then he walked over to the TV, blocking it with his body, and pressed the volume button at the top until the sound was off.
“What the hell, Krouse?” Luke asked.
“Asshole,” Cody said. He was sitting in the adjacent dining room. “We might finally get a chance to find out what’s going on.”
“You’re going to find out because I’m going to tell you,” Krouse said.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Luke asked. “Is this that thing you were putting off telling us yesterday?”
Krouse nodded. He saw Jess shifting position as though she were trying to face everyone else, met her eyes and shook his head just a little.
She frowned, but she kept quiet.
“Spit it out,” Cody snapped.
“We’re a long way from home,” Krouse said, shrugging. “Better you hear it from me than find it out on TV.”
Marissa frowned, her eyebrows knitting together. “Long way from home? But-”
“We’re still in Madison. We’re just… we’re not in our Madison.”
He stopped to let that sink in.
“Oh fuck you,” Cody snarled.
Oliver was looking around the room, seeing people’s expressions change. He looked at Krouse, “I don’t understand.”
“When the building fell, that was her bringing us through?” Luke asked.
“Yeah. From Earth Aleph to Earth Bet,” Krouse confirmed. He saw Oliver’s eyes widen as he belatedly understood.
“Wait,” Marissa said, “But… what?”
“You knew too, Jess?” Luke asked.
“I- yeah. Yeah, I figured it out.”
“It’s what we were talking about, after we first got to this house,” Krouse said. “I convinced her to keep quiet. Figured it wasn’t crucial to know just then, and with the screaming in our heads, we didn’t need the added stress.”
Jess stared at him. He glanced at her, then turned his attention to the others. I’m better at being the bad guy than you are.
“You had no right,” Cody said.
“So you were keeping us in the dark?” Luke asked. “Deciding it was for our own good, deciding for us?”
“That’s the gist of it. I think you’ll look back on this and see why I did it. We needed to look after ourselves, look after Noelle, and we couldn’t do that if we were thinking about how we had no way of getting home. I strong-armed Jess into being quiet, hid one or two pieces of evidence. Hate me if you have to, but it made sense.”
“But we- is that why you told us we should stay here instead of heading out?”
Krouse shrugged. “Part of it. Another part of it was just like I said; we can’t be sure the heroes have found and defeated all the monsters the Simurgh dropped into the city. Maybe they won’t ever get all of them. But yeah, no point leaving because there’s no home to go to.”
“But how-” Oliver started.
He didn’t get a chance to finish. Cody was on his feet in an instant, his chair falling to the ground. He rushed Krouse, gripping him by the shirt collar. Once he had a hold, he swung Krouse around to one side, shoved him, throwing him across Jess’ lap and into the coffee table that sat between her and Luke.
Luke tried to stand from his chair, but Cody pushed him back down. While Luke fell back, Cody stooped down to seize Krouse’s shirt with one hand, striking at his face with the heel of the other.
“You fucker! Lying to us? At a time like this!? Fuck you! Fuck you!”
Krouse tried to shield himself with his arms, but it didn’t help much. He brought his knees up to his chest, between himself and Cody, then kicked outward, forcing Cody off.
Cody fell back, nearly hitting the coffee table in front of the couch. It would have been a good opportunity to close the distance, to hit back, but he didn’t. Krouse took the opportunity to stand, tenderly touching the spots on his cheekbone, chin and nose where Cody had landed some good hits.
“Fucker!” Cody shouted, from across the room.
“I… well, I guess I deserved that,” Krouse said.
“Krouse-” Jess started.
“Hm?” he turned her way, touched fingertips to his nose to check for blood. Only a little. “It’s fine.”
Better they’re mad at one of us than both of us.
“Fine?” Cody growled. “We’re fucking stuck in a world with Endbringers like that psycho alien bird bitch! And we’ve got you playing head games with us on top of that!”
“He wasn’t playing head games,” Luke said. He winced as he moved his injured leg from his footrest to the ground. Not exactly.”
“Thank you for saying so,” Krouse said.
“Don’t thank me,” Luke said, angry, “I’m not on your side. I’m just saying you didn’t fuck with us for your own gain, you fucked with us because you thought it was in our best interests.”
“So that’s it?” Cody asked. “It’s not just that we’re pawns in some crazy chess game the Simurgh is playing. We’re stranded here?”
“Yeah,” Jess said. One word.
“There’s got to be ways home,” Luke said.
“Probably,” Krouse replied. “But they won’t be easy to find.”
“What are we supposed to do?” Oliver asked. “If we go to the police-”
“They’ll realize that we’re probably pawns in the Simurgh’s game plan,” Krouse said. “We’ll be detained. And let’s not forget, they killed that superhero, because he might have been caught in her web. Odds are pretty fucking good that we’re caught in it, between the coincidences Jess mentioned and the fact that the Simurgh pulled us from our world to this one. The people in charge? They won’t fail to notice.”
“You think they’d kill us?” Oliver asked.
“It’s hard to believe, but I find it hard to believe they killed the cape and they did. Yes. I think they’d kill us..”
When a minute passed and nobody spoke up, Krouse turned the volume up for the television.
“…final decisions. In the meantime, plans are underway to build permanent blockades around the affected area, with concrete walls placed South Midvale Boulevard to the west, Capitol Square to the east, and Haywood Drive to the south. A quarantine processing center is already established at St. Mary’s Hospital, servicing city residents who were not evacuated before temporary blockades were set up.
“Restitution will be offered to citizens displaced from their homes, paid for with international funding. Authorities report that no catastrophic damage was done, and the situation was quickly brought under control by the first responders to the scene. Chicago Protectorate leader Myrddin is quoted as stating, ‘This is a win for the good guys. Scion arrived early to put the pressure on within minutes of her arrival and Eidolon delivered the final blows, driving her off. We’re getting better at fighting these guys, and it’s showing.’
“However, insider sources in the PRT suggest that things are not so glowing. A vault holding the equipment of now-deceased supervillain ‘Professor Haywire’ was accessed by the Simurgh. Shortly after, the source alleges, the Simurgh activated a large-scale replica of the devices, depositing large amounts of foreign bodies in the heart of the city. Among these bodies, multiple reports say, were innumerable monsters with superpowers and hazardous materials. When asked, the Chicago PRT director declined to comment, except to say that there have been no breaches of quarantine and there is no indication of risk to anyone in the vicinity of the quarantine zone.”
“MWBB coverage of the Endbringer attack will continue for the rest of the day, but next, we have a story of-”
Krouse turned off the TV. “St. Mary’s?”
“Not in our world,” Jess said. “And we’re running a lot of risks by going…”
“We don’t have a choice,” Krouse said, looking at Noelle. “We’ll find a map, and we’ll need a car, with half of us unable to walk. Let’s get Noelle to a hospital, ASAP.”
Finding the car proved to be the hardest part. There wasn’t a car in the garage of the house they were borrowing, and though Krouse saw a car in the driveway of the neighboring house, he couldn’t find a set of keys in any of the obvious locations.
Be nice to know how to hotwire a car.
In the end, they headed out as two teams. Krouse was joined by Marissa, while Oliver and Cody formed the other team. It was dark, the streets were empty, and snow still drifted in dense clouds. Few places had lights on, but that proved fortunate, as those places tended to be businesses.
They found a car rental place, but metal shutters on the window barred their access. The keys are probably in a safe or something, Krouse thought.
They ran at first, jogging lightly as they hurried from place to place. As they ran into continual failures, failed to find a car they could use, they slowed to a brisk walk. It meant preserving their stamina, even as the slowness of it made Krouse anxious. Every second spent looking was a second that Noelle had to wait. Settling in and leaving her to linger in a nigh-unconscious state had been their only option before they’d heard the broadcast. Now, though…
They passed the area with the restaurants and patios as they continued searching for a usable car. Every time he passed a car, he peered inside to see if there was a key in the ignition, if maybe it had been left abandoned by the owner. No luck.
This is pointless.
He checked another car, wiping snow from the window, then hurried to catch up to Marissa. She was checking the cars on the other side of the street.
“No luck,” she said.
“Can I ask what you saw?” he asked.
“When the Simurgh showed you stuff. What did you see?”
“Why does it matter?”
“Because I’m trying to get a sense of what her game plan was. Cody told me that she reminded him of me. Brought up all the bad memories of times I gave Cody a hard time, times he thought I slighted him or whatever. I’m wondering if it was the same for you.”
Marissa shook her head. “If I say no, will that be enough?”
“I won’t force you, obviously. But… I’ve been trying to think about all this the way she‘s thinking about it. Anticipate her moves. It’d help a lot if you shared.”
Marissa made a face. He couldn’t see a lot of her face, with the white scarf that was wrapped around the lower half, but he saw the grimace, the skin wrinkling on her nose.
“Okay. It’s fine, don’t stress about it,” he said, hurrying to check more cars on the other side of the street.
She called out after him, “I was on stage!”
He stopped, turned.
“I was on stage. It was just before I stopped doing all the dance and music stuff. The whole thing then had been lyrical dance. But I’d been rebelling…”
She trailed off.
“I don’t follow.”
“I was fighting with my mom, top of our lungs screaming at each other, always about stupid stuff. The color of my dance uniform, and what I was eating for dinner, the amount of homework I was or wasn’t doing. So I stopped practicing. Started hanging out with friends like I’d wanted to do for years. Thought I was getting back at my mom, that I’d get on stage, and I’d get fourth place, and she’d be pissed, whatever.”
“I froze. It’s never really happened to me before. My mind went blank, I, um, I couldn’t even bring myself to move, or pull one coherent thought into my head. I was sweating, breathing hard, to the point that I almost thought I’d finished, except I hadn’t even started.”
“It’s… it’s worse than that, but it wasn’t scary so much as… devastating? I don’t know if I explained it right, but it’s like, I managed to get a little of my own strength, break away from my mom’s grasp, and all the pressures she put on me, become my own person. And then I’m standing there on stage, and I feel a bead of sweat run down the inside of my leg and for just three seconds, I-“
Krouse didn’t want to interrupt, and Marissa was busy talking, so he took over checking the inside of the car windows as they walked. He peered inside the next car. “You thought you’d pissed yourself.”
“…I don’t know why I said that out loud. You fucking mention that ever again, and-“
It was another ten seconds before she continued. “I must have turned bright red. I’d felt strong, felt independent for the first time in my life. And then it turns out like that. And she’s in the audience, front row. My mom. She’s smiling, because she thinks it’s a victory for her. The rebellious daughter discovering that mom was right about everything after all, you know? That’s how she probably saw it.”
“That smile? That was what the Simurgh showed me. Except it lingered. Couldn’t shake it. Almost as if it was the Simurgh doing it and not my mom.”
Krouse scraped at ice that had packed against one passenger-side window, peering inside. “What happened after that?”
“Here or back then?”
“I had a bit of a breakdown. My grades went to hell, I stopped doing everything, all of the music, all of the dance, all of the after school stuff. Retreated to my room. Wound up going to therapy, but my mom sat in on all of the sessions, and how could I get better when the person that’s ninety-percent to blame for the problems is in the room with me? Stopped going to that therapy until I could get a therapist who’d be for me and just for me. That’s where I met Noelle. Chris backed me up in general, but it was Noelle that helped me find my way.”
He could see her face fall, understood why. “I’m sorry about Chris, by the way.”
“He was a genuinely good guy.”
“Yeah. Sorry I didn’t get to know him more. He was always more your friend than our collective friend. But he was nice enough.”
“And without Chris or Noelle, there’s nobody left in the group that I really could talk to,” Marissa said, “So it’s the same for me, now, kind of.”
“Yeah,” he said. “You can talk to me, if you need to, you know.”
There was a break where they only investigated the cars. Krouse knew he should be on the other side of the street, looking for keys, but it was fruitless. There was an expensive looking hotel at the end of the street that had a parking garage, and he held out hope that the place would have valet parking.
Oliver had been saturated with self-doubt, loathing, all the things that made him introverted, passive, even whiny. He’d been brought to tears at one point, even. Marissa had been brought back to the stage, her focus turned to her relationship with her mom.
What purpose does that serve?
The only thing that Krouse could think of, and he had to ask Luke to get a third data point, was that the Simurgh had wanted to distract them. Cody, meanwhile, had been set against Krouse, and Krouse’s attention had been turned to Noelle.
This doesn’t strike me as the kind of maneuvers she’d be making if she was planning something for years from now. This is more imminent.
“What are you thinking?”
“That I need to talk to Luke about what he saw.”
“To make sure he’s okay?”
“That, and to round out my theory. With your situation, what you were talking about with the aftermath of the stage fright, was that it? There was nothing afterward? Things got better?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Marissa shrugged. “It was good to be free, to have time to myself, without my mom, um…”
“Your mom’s intensity?”
“Intensity. Yeah. But it sucks, because I’m a year away from the point where I could move out. Maybe more, depending on how long it takes me to get first and last month’s rent together. And until then, I’ve got to put up with dinner conversations where every other sentence has a hidden barb, a prod to accomplish something, or a dismissal of the stuff I’m actually interested in.”
She’s talking like all that’s still a consideration. We’re a long way away from that stuff, from our families and having to worry about rent. Krouse knew she’d feel worse when it hit her, if she kept thinking that way.
“You don’t need to worry about any of that now, at least,” Krouse said, trying to sound nonchalant, checking the next car.
He didn’t hear a response. Turning back, he saw her eyebrows drawn together in a frown. He asked, “Sorry. Was that too blunt?”
“No. Um. I dunno. Is it strange I miss my mom?”
“You know your feelings better than I do.”
“For years, I’ve dreamed about running away, or getting enough money together to move across the country and cut all ties with her. Only now a situation like that’s been dropped in my lap, and I realize I might not see her for a long time, if ever, and Chris on top of that…”
“I think these circumstances would make anyone feel lonely,” he said.
Marissa nodded. “How are you holding up?”
“Just want to get Noelle help.”
“And your hand?”
“Hurts like a bitch. But it feels silly to complain when we have bigger problems and other people are hurting more. And I’m getting antsy, taking so long doing this. Looking in the car windows isn’t getting us anywhere, and it’s getting too dark. Let’s check the hotel.”
They crossed the street and found the front door of the hotel unlocked. Only half the lights were on, set for daylight rather than evening, and the interior was abandoned.
“Everyone really did evacuate, didn’t they?” Marissa asked.
Krouse hopped onto the front desk and swung his legs around to the other side before hopping down. “Two ways to deal with the Simurgh, I guess. Far easier to be preventative than to clean up the mess afterward.”
He opened a drawer and found a mess of business cards, each organized into neat rows with elastic bands around them. The next drawer was locked. “Mars!”
Marissa returned from the employee-only hallway beside the front desk, “What?”
“Can’t get this open with one hand. Want to try?”
She tried and failed to get the drawer open. Struck by inspiration, she hurried back into the hallway and then came back with a toolbelt. It took less than three minutes to get the drawer open.
Half of the drawer were largely empty, containing only two credit cards, a piece of jewelry and a paper noting procedure for managing the lost and found. The other half of the drawer was sectioned off with a grid of wood panels, with keys and slips of paper in some and plastic cards with numbers in stylized golden letters in the others.
“Score,” he said.
A dozen keys in hand, they made their way to the parking garage, stopping at the stand with all the brochures to find one with a map of the area. Marissa got in the first car they found. Testing the remaining keys, Krouse made another nearby car beep. Seven of us, and Noelle should lie down. This works.
They opened the metal paneled door to the parking garage and hurried back to their cars. He followed her out.
The plan had been to loop around and find the others. If they couldn’t, they were to beep and signal them. With things this quiet, it wouldn’t be too difficult to hear the horn. Still, he’d rather not have to. There was no guarantee the freaks weren’t still around. Two people would be hard to spot in the gloom and the curtains of falling snow, but cars with glowing headlights?
Oliver and Cody were nowhere to be seen.
He beeped twice and waited, while Marissa drove ahead and did the same. A minute passed as they staggered their movement across the area Oliver and Cody had headed off to. The pair didn’t show up. Either Oliver and Cody were in trouble, or-
He peeled out, driving past Marissa.
Was the gut feeling his own, or was it something implanted in his head by the Simurgh?
The wheels skidded on the snowy surface of the road. He didn’t have far to go. If he was wrong, he knew this would cost them only a little time. If he was right, though-
There would be a car parked outside the house. There was; Cody had left it sitting in the middle of the street, by the fence. Krouse pulled his car to a stop and climbed out.
The soldiers on the other side of the fence were still there. All but a few were inside their vehicles, now. Others were outside, smoking. They didn’t seem to care about what was unfolding ahead of them.
Krouse rushed into the house. He glimpsed at Noelle. She didn’t seem to be any worse, and Oliver was beside her. Jess shot him a concerned look, but Krouse wasn’t waiting long enough to exchange words. He rushed towards the kitchen.
Luke was standing, one leg bent and off the ground, holding a door frame for balance.
“Cody-” Luke started.
“I know,” Krouse replied.
There was a noise as someone ascended the stairs. Cody burst into the kitchen. “Where are they!?”
“And you call me the asshole,” Krouse said.
“Fuck you. You hid them.”
“Close, but no cigar. We did leave the suitcase in plain sight, took the canisters out.”
“But we didn’t hide them. Jess and I destroyed ’em, before we started cooking dinner.”
“We weren’t going to use them,” Krouse shrugged. “It’s a bad idea.”
“You fucker! Making decisions for the rest of us!”
Krouse shrugged. “Cope.”
Cody turned towards the area where Luke was at the door frame. “Luke. You’re going to stand by and let him act-“
“You don’t have any ground to stand on,” Luke said, interrupting. “Not that Krouse is doing much better, destroying those vials before we had a chance to discuss it further, on top of what he’s already pulled, but the worst Krouse has done thus far is lie by omission. You lied to my face. Said you were looking for something to help transport Noelle.”
“I’m willing to bite the bullet,” Cody said. “I’ll take the hit. I’ll drink the stuff, or inject it, whatever. And if the Simurgh has things set up so I get fucked over down the road, I’m okay with that. I can still use whatever powers I get to get us out of here. Maybe get us home.”
“Get us home?” Krouse asked, “Like it’s that easy.”
“Everything comes down to money,” Cody said. “Think about it. We get a few million bucks, pay one of those mad scientist types, and they get us home. Maybe I die or something in a few months or a few years. But I’m not staying here! I’m not putting up with this fucking dynamic!”
Krouse noted Marissa coming in through the front hall, standing behind him.
“What dynamic?” Luke asked.
“The one where he comes out on top! Where everyone else is okay with the shit he pulls and then pats him on the back when that shit works out in everyone’s favor!”
“The Simurgh fucked with your head,” Krouse said.
“No! This has been bothering me for a long time!”
“Listen!” Krouse raised his voice. Cody glared, but didn’t speak. Krouse continued, “She fucked with your head, brought that simmer to a boil. She wanted this. She wanted Luke and Noelle and Oliver to be distracted, that’s why she made them remember the things they did. She wanted you to hate me, and I think she wanted me to go just a little too far.”
“Krouse,” Luke said, his tone a warning.
Krouse’s tone was matter of fact, calm. “I will. I’ll admit it, I’m a crummy person and Noelle seems to like me anyways. You have no conception of how major that is, or of the hurdles we’ve had to get past to get even this far in our relationship. So yeah, I’ll go too far if I’m pushed, right here, right now, because I have to protect Noelle.”
Cody folded his arms.
Krouse continued, “It’s probably what the Simurgh wanted, maybe even why she made me as reckless and violent as I was when we ran into those supervillains. So I’d cross that line once. She set me up so I’d do it, like she’s set you up so your resentment’s at a fever pitch. If you attack me, I’ll probably kill you.”
“You’re talking out your ass,” Cody snarled the words.
“I’m done with you,” Krouse said. “You can’t let go of shit, can’t see far enough past what’s between the two of us to know how shortsighted you’re being. Our situation right now? We’ve got priorities. Noelle is number one, but the rest of these guys come in a close second. So I’m going to go help Noelle and get her into the car I brought, and we’ll get her and Luke to a hospital.”
Cody only glared.
“And Cody? If she suffers at all because you wasted time, then I’m going to make you answer for it.”
Krouse turned his back on the guy, making his way to the living room.
“Need help?” Marissa was on his heels.
“Help Jess. I can carry Noelle, and I want to be out of here sooner than later.”
“Luke?” Krouse said, “Want to use my shoulder to steady yourself?”
“I can use Oliver.”
One by one, they made their way to the cars Krouse and Marissa had brought. It took time to get Noelle settled in with blankets around her. Even a little cold left her whimpering and moaning, struggling with less strength than a baby might have offered. Her eyes never opened, and she couldn’t even lift her arms beneath the blankets, after they were in place.
All the while, Cody stood in the doorway of the house, staring.
It was only after Krouse and Marissa had pulled away that Cody made his way to his car and followed.
“Need help!” Krouse shouted, as he pushed the hospital doors open with his foot. Noelle was in his arms.
There were only twenty or so people present. No staff. Plastic panels had been boarded up so that they blocked half of the access hallways. The front desk, too, was similarly blocked off. A camera sat on the desk, pointing forward.
Krouse went out of his way to avoid putting himself in front of the camera. He banged on the plastic panel that hung over the front desk’s window. “Hey! This girl is dying!”
“Please wait,” a voice said. It sounded over an intercom or something.
“She’s waited way too long already!”
“Stay calm and be patient. The staff at this facility are strictly limited to the volunteers who were willing to undergo the quarantine procedure themselves. As such, this facility is currently understaffed.“
Was it an automated message? No. He didn’t get that vibe.
“Sit, Krouse,” Marissa said.
Krouse settled Noelle into a chair, then sat beside her. “Fucking creepy. I think that thing in the booth is an artificial intelligence.”
“No shit?” Luke asked.
“No shit,” Krouse said, his leg bouncing up and down restlessly. It had to have been at least eight hours since the initial injury, but the minutes that were passing now that help was so close were a special kind of torture. He studiously ignored Cody, who was standing on the other side of the waiting room.
The others in the waiting room included two nuclear families, a collection of older people who might have come from an old folks home and five men in protective gear that looked like what a firefighter might use, but they had the word ‘Rescue’ emblazoned across their shoulders.
“We get asked about where we came from,” Krouse murmured to the others, “We stick as close to reality as we can, but we don’t name people or places. Better to look dumb than name a place that doesn’t exist. Any tips, Jess?”
“Nine-eleven didn’t happen here. Endbringers did. They have one dollar coins in this America, not bills, and they phased pennies out. Um. There’s an installation on the moon, half-built and abandoned. I don’t know. Stuff is different.”
“Is any of this even liable to come up?” Luke asked.
“Don’t know. Better to be safe,” Krouse said.
Two people in nurse’s uniforms hurried out of the mouth of the hallway. One, a man, approached Krouse and his friends. Krouse stood from his seat.
“Situation?” the nurse asked.
“Two moderate injuries, one severe,” Krouse said.
“She’s the severe one?” the nurse asked.
“Yeah. Stuff fell on her. Her stomach’s turning black.”
“We’ll look after her,” he said. He whistled. “Esme! Stretcher!”
The other nurse ran to get one.
“Only six of us volunteered,” he said. “Lots of rules, lots of drawbacks, when it comes to the quarantine. We were on the outside, but we get treated same as you for coming in. Can’t blame others for not being willing to make the sacrifice, but it’s tough with the limited staff. Who else is injured?”
“Impaled hand,” Krouse raised one hand. He pointed at Luke. “And sliced leg. If you’re going by priority, put me last.”
“No,” Krouse said. He looked at Luke, “No, right?”
“I’m okay for now,” Luke said.
The other nurse had arrived with a stretcher. The pair checked Noelle over, then loaded her onto it. She disappeared down one hallway
Krouse sank into his seat. It was out of his hands now. He could finally let himself relax just a little, finally-
It was the intercom by the camera.
Hesitant, he stood, then he stepped closer, still avoiding the camera.
“Please take these papers and distribute them to your companions.“
Krouse took the stack of paper. They were stacked together in packs of six.
“Be informed, individuals within the quarantine area must meet the prerequisites noted on those sheets before they can be permitted to process out and re-enter society. Under the D.D.I.D. measures, individuals found to be circumventing the listed procedures and strictures or violating the post-release conditions will be criminally charged.”
“Do you require further explanation of the D.D.I.D. measures?“
“To be processed out of the quarantine area, individuals are required to undergo ten months of twice-weekly checkups with a rotating body of quarantine processing agents. Eight of those months will also involve weekly sessions of counseling and psychiatric evaluation.“
“Ten months, correct. Further, anyone processing out of quarantine is required to accept a tattoo marking their D.D.I.D. status. Each such individual will be placed on a list, with twice-weekly checkups with quarantine processing agents continuing indefinitely. Attendance at any official or non-official function with more than ten individuals present requires permission from a quarantine processing agent, a minimum of forty-eight hours in advance. The individual in charge of the function should be notified of your D.D.I.D. status upon your arrival. Any employers should be notified of your D.D.I.D. status at the first opportunity. Anyone selling or renting property to you should be notified of your D.D.I.D. status at the first opportunity. Financial institutions should-“
“The remainder of details are noted on the sheets provided. This counter can answer any further questions. The operator overseeing the quarantine area can answer any further questions. As noted on the sheet, the operator can be contacted-“
“Stop. Shut up,” Krouse said.
The mechanical voice went silent.
Krouse turned to leave.
“Sir? There is one other matter to discuss.”
Krouse turned back. “What?”
“Regarding the care of the young woman, will you be paying the balance?“
“I don’t have any money.”
“Understood. If you will provide the name of your financial institution-“
My financial institution… a world away.
It dawned on Krouse, belatedly, that he was a person without an identity. His driver’s license, his banking info, his birth certificate… they didn’t count for anything here.
“Why?” Krouse interrupted it. “Can’t you guys pay for it?”
“Of course. You will be reimbursed for costs incurred in the course of your processing. But the process will be expedited if you pay now. Failure to do so could mean additional delays.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Krouse said. He thought of the credit card he’d taken from the drawer. If he used that… No. Too dangerous. But there had been any number of stores that had been left abandoned. “I can pay cash, if given a chance to go collect it.”
“These measures were put in place to ensure that we are able to track anyone undergoing quarantine processing, as well as those who may be attempting to circumvent processing. We will require a credit card or a bank account number.“
“If I don’t?” he asked. “My stuff got destroyed in the attack.”
“Again, we can contact your financial institution on your behalf and start the process of restoring your accounts to your control. If you do not pay, you will not be processed.”
“And my girlfriend?”
“The patient will not be processed, either.“
“If I say I don’t have the money, and I can’t pay her fee?”
“We will request financial information from the patient at the first opportunity.“
Noelle, Krouse was almost certain, didn’t have a wallet on her. No, they’d left her purse in Luke’s apartment, and that was in shambles.
“If she can’t pay?”
“We will attempt to contact her financial institution.”
“If you can’t?” He searched for an excuse, “She was confused, before she went unconscious. She might have hit her head. If I can’t give you that information and she can’t give it to you, what then?”
“Then the department will pay. But quarantine processing will not continue until you have provided identification and financial information to verify your identity.“
Krouse returned to his seat, set his hands on his head.
Fuck you, Simurgh, he thought. Fuck you and fuck this foreign Earth.
“Krouse?” Marissa asked. “Was it about Noelle?”
She’s forcing our hands.
“Quarantine measures,” he said. He shoved the papers at her, half-crumpled in his hand.
She took them with a gentle touch that stood in stark contrast to the force he’d just used, as if afraid to provoke him further.
“What do you mean?” Luke asked.
Krouse spoke in a low voice, “I mean we don’t get out of this quarantine area without I.D. and bank info, which we don’t have, and even then, we get treated like criminals for the rest of our lives.”
“There’s got to be a way around it.”
“No. I don’t think there are. They’re on the watch for that stuff. For anyone trying to slip past the system. So we either need to take ten months to process out of here, with enough psychiatric counseling and talks with quarantine officers that we’re bound to slip up somewhere, and we’d have to get flawless I.D. that’s going to meet the standards for their checks-“
“Which is impossible,” Cody said. He’d approached and was listening.
Krouse nodded. “-and we’d get treated like criminals for the rest of our lives, or we take option two, we try to escape, and again, we get treated like criminals for the rest of our lives, only we deserve it.”
Another family came in the front doors, finding chairs to settle into. Two twenty-somethings and two people who looked more like grandparents than parents. They were sitting close enough that Krouse couldn’t continue risk being overheard.
He fell silent, and the others read the papers detailing the quarantine protocols.
It was two hours before the male nurse returned to the lobby with news about Noelle.
Krouse didn’t even finish listening before dashing for the door.
“Well played,” Krouse said, as the car skidded to a stop outside the house they’d borrowed. “Well fucking played, Simurgh.”
He stepped out of the car.
Permanent damage. Removing the majority of her lower intestine.
He didn’t step into the house they’d borrowed. He headed straight for the house next door, the one they’d broken into when they were looking for house keys.
Interrupted blood flow, infection, possible signs of necrosis. She’l require a colostomy bag even in the best case scenario. In the worst case scenario, well, there’s any number of ways this could end badly for the patient.
End badly, Krouse thought. She’ll die.
Heading inside through the side door, he locked it behind him and made his way to the living room. The canisters were sitting under the couch, along with the papers. He flipped through them.
Canister A: F-1-6-1-1, ‘Deus’, 85% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 15% mixture.
To be consumed by Client 1
Canister B: R-0-9-3-6, ‘Jaunt’, 70% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 30% mixture.
To be consumed by Client 2
Canister C: C-2-0-6-2, ‘Prince’, 55% mixture.
Added: O-0-1-2-1, ‘Aegis’, 30% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 15% mixture.
To be consumed by Client 3
Canister D: M-0-0-4-2, ‘Vestige’, 75% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 25% mixture
To be consumed by Client 4
Canister E: X-0-7-9-6, ‘Division’, 80% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 20% mixture
To be consumed by Client 5
Canister F: E-0-7-1-2, ‘Robin’, 60% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 40% mixture
To be consumed by Client 6
“Can’t even say what they do, huh?” he asked. “Because you want to leave maximum room for us to screw up, is that right?”
He could hear a car on the road, the crunch of heavy snow beneath tires. A car door slammed. He flipped back several pages to reread the directions. Nothing more complicated than drinking the stuff.
But which one? He stared at the list, muttered, “Jaunt.”
A small laugh escaped his lips. Didn’t a jaunt mean a short trip?
“Well, that’s as fitting a choice as any,” he said. He could hear the others making their way inside.
He screwed off the top of the canister and withdrew the vial inside. “A toast! If I’m screwed no matter which path I take, then at least I’ll go forward with courage! Fuck you, Simurgh!”
Marissa and Oliver appeared at the entrance to the living room just in time to see him tossing the contents of the vial back. They rushed forward to stop him and only succeeded in catching him as he fell.
It was like cold electricity, moving through his body at a speed of an inch a second.
He saw fragmented images, faded, blurry. A crystal formation, growing in fast motion. Two crystals, each somehow alive. They moved by creating more of themselves, letting the crystal behind them die. He sensed that years were passing, but they moved together, insistent.
The second they made contact, the entire world was turned to crystal in a heartbeat.
Another heartbeat later, the world shattered.
Another image. Creatures that folded and unfolded through space, existing in multiple worlds simultaneously, too many to count, spreading out from the remains of a world.
A third scene. Falling towards a barren planet, seeing the descent with countless eyes that weren’t quite eyes. And a fragment of an idea… that the world had the same general shape as Earth. Landmasses in the right place, if not quite the right shape. No water… but still Earth.
“Krouse,” Marissa whispered.
“All good,” he smiled. He struggled to his feet, then nearly lost his balance. He had to put one hand on Marissa’s shoulder to keep from falling to the ground. “It’s all good.”
“Because I’m brave and stupid and because she’s the only one who ever gave me the benefit of a doubt,” he said. He tried to walk and fell. Marissa caught him.
“You can’t,” she said.
“Can too. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure it worked. Not sure how. But it worked.”
He felt a pressure behind him. A matching pressure to his right. He turned to look, to see what was happening, and only saw the flatscreen television and a heavy speaker poised on the edge of the bookshelf. There was a chord, as if a string stretched between them, vibrating, and the television was suddenly sitting on the bookshelf, the speaker in the midst of the entertainment center. The television fell with a crash, and the remains of the screen danced across the floor. Marissa shrieked.
“See?” he smiled.
He was aware of the pressure, aware of the reaching. He tried to push it to move, like he’d move his hand, and it did. He couldn’t exactly feel the shape, but had a sense of the heft of the thing he was pressing against. He pressed the other presence against the coffee table, but didn’t feel the same chord.
Could expand and contract it, he noted, as if he were opening or closing his hand. He tried expanding one. No, that made it worse. Expanding the one around the coffee table, grabbing, what, air?
The desk from the front hall crashed to the ground and tipped over just beside them. The coffee table settled in the front hall. Again, Marissa made a noise of alarm, a yelp. “Krouse! Stop!”
“It’s all good,” he repeated himself. “Because I’m going to help her. Fuck the Simurgh. Fuck destiny.”
He stopped when he saw Cody in the hallway.
“They’ll accept this too,” Cody said, “Our friends, your friends really, they’ll let it slide, won’t they? I get threatened, treated like shit, and you? Well, you get the breaks.”
“Pretty much,” Krouse said. “But if it helps, you’re doing it for you. I’m doing it for her. For Noelle. Because I love that girl, and she puts up with me, and I’ll probably never find another person like that again. Not in our world and not in this one.”
“You’re not capable of love,” Cody said.
“We’ll agree to disagree.” Krouse pushed the presence against Cody, surrounded himself. No, not quite. I’m smaller. Need to suck in some air…
They swapped places in a flash. Cody staggered.
Krouse nearly fell, too. He caught the rails of the stairwell to balance, grit his teeth in the anticipation of pain.
No pain. He clenched his bad hand, the one that had been impaled.
It was healed.
“All good,” he said, knowing he was saying the same thing over and over, rambling. “Guess I’ll need one for her.”
He grabbed the heaviest book from the coffee table, then reached for a canister…
He could feel it, but couldn’t get a lock. He turned around, looked.
The book was replaced by the canister the second he made eye contact. He nearly dropped it.
Krouse smiled. “Not too difficult. Not hard.”
He whirled around, nearly lost his balance. “Well, I’ll meet you guys at the hospital.”
“Krouse!” Marissa shouted. She stepped forward, reaching for him. He pushed his power into her and Oliver, switched them so that Oliver was within a few feet of him.
Oliver backed away, scared. Krouse had expected as much.
“Hypocrite!” Cody shouted.
“I know this is shitty,” Krouse admitted. “And my excuses, my reasons for doing it, maybe they don’t make up for what I’m doing. But I’m okay with you guys hating me if it means helping Noelle.”
He headed outside, stepping through the side door, glanced around.
The garage of the house he’d just left was still open from where they’d investigated. It had a car sitting inside. He smirked.
He had to wait until he had both Marissa’s car and the one in the garage in sight before he could lock on to both. He pushed his presence into each, didn’t find it particularly difficult to get a hold…
They switched. Marissa’s car made a crashing sound as it settled in the garage.
He got in his car, then pulled it into the driveway, just in front of the garage. Cody was just stepping out of the side door. Krouse saluted him.
Then he swapped himself and his car with the one that was now on the street.
They didn’t have keys to that car that was now blocking the driveway. It would buy him time.
He shifted gears and drove.
“Hey, No’.” He said. He sat down beside Noelle’s bed.
She opened her eyes, smiled just a little.
He smiled back. “You’re finally awake.”
“Morphine helped. Hurt too much to even open my eyes, before.”
“Hey, Krouse… things are pretty fucked, aren’t they?”
“Yeah,” he said. He smiled a little. “So you caught some of what we were talking about?”
She nodded slowly. She closed her eyes with such languidness he thought she was falling asleep, but it was only a slow-motion blink.
“Yeah, things are supremely fucked,” he said.
She nodded a little. “I’m due for another surgery. They gave me one short one, and now they’re replacing my blood, see?”
“I see,” he said, eyeing the blood bags.
“…I kind of wish we’d done more boyfriend and girlfriend stuff,” she said. “Sorry.”
“Don’t need to apologize. You did what you had to.”
“I could die,” she said. Her voice was feeble, quiet. “They’re cutting too much out, and they can’t wait any longer, but my condition’s bad, so I could die on the table.”
“You’re not going to die.”
“And even if I live, I’m gonna be ugly. Nice big plastic plug in my belly, with a bag of shit attached. Which is really ironic, you don’t even know…” she trailed off.
“I sort of figured it out,” he said.
She nodded. “Big scars, bag of shit. Is why I wish we’d done more, before. Won’t be any good to look at, after.”
“I don’t care about scars. But it doesn’t matter anyways. You’re not going to die, and you won’t have scars. Or a colostomy bag.”
She turned his way.
He asked, “You catch any of what we were talking about? Back at the house?”
“Only some. Um. I can’t distinguish the reality from the delirium dreams.”
“I suspect the delirium dreams made a little more sense, if that helps,” he said.
He set the canister down on the short table beside the bed.
“What’s that?” Her eyes widened. “That wasn’t a dream, then. Krouse, no.”
“Yes. You’re going to take this, and it’ll help. You’ll live, and you won’t need surgery. Then I’ll get you out of here, and we’ll go home. Somehow.”
“I don’t- no, Krouse. People were saying… They were scared. This… this isn’t some minor thing.”
“No. It’s big. It’s huge.”
“There were only six,” she said. “And there’s seven of us.”
“You deserve special treatment, after what you’ve been through. And I want to make sure you get better.”
“No. It’s… it wouldn’t be fair to the others.”
“Screw the others. Cody, at least, can go fuck himself,” Krouse said.
“No, Krouse. I… there’s too many things, too many warnings, and stuff you guys were saying about poison-“
He could hear footsteps in the hall.
“What if you take half, then?” he asked. “Only half. It’ll be fair to the others.”
He drew the vial, then found a paper cup by the sink. He poured half into the cup.
“See?” He handed her the glass vial
Someone’s going to come in any second now.
“It’ll work,” he said.
“And if it doesn’t? Or if that horrible stuff you guys were talking about comes true? The… what did you call it? The cause and effect?”
“If it happens,” Krouse said, “Blame me.”
“Please,” he said, the word barely above a whisper. He hadn’t realized he was saying it out loud before the word had left his mouth.
She gave him a small nod, and he helped her to drink.
I’ll take the blame. I’m okay with being the bad guy, he thought. Just so long as you get to live.
And it’s a long one!
I don’t know how it happened. I was at the 2000 word mark at about 5:30pm and was biting my fingernails, wondering if I could make it to 4k words by 10pm (and thinking I might have to settle for 4k words by 11pm with minimal proofreading), only to blaze on to 8800 words no sweat.
I liked how this turned out. I hope you guys do too. It was fun to write, at least.
Worm’s been struggling on topwebfiction a bit the last few days (sitting between 2nd and 4th place). Just giving you guys a teeny nudge to maybe give it a boost (if you think it deserves it).
Most Webcomics have a permanent topwebcomics button. Are you able to add a permanent link to topwebfiction on the ‘share this’ bar?
I could if I paid for the added features through wordpress’ store & then figured it out from there, but I wonder if it would be worth the time and effort, really.
Does anyone even look at those bars/buttons?
A lot of web comics hide the next update as the reward for voting. So I got in the habit of loading the comic then clicking the link. But If you have to pay to add a link, I doubt it is worth the money. topwebfiction doesn’t even do the bribery voting thing that topwebcomics does. 😉
It do the bribery thing. I’ve used it.
Back when book one of Legion of Nothing came out, I had people click through to see the cover. It’s the only time my story ended up as number one so far.
How dare you impune my integrity, you felonius rascal! It will take more than a little bribery to incite me to action!
It’ll take a lot of bribery.
How about guilt. Does guilt work?
I also respond well to flattery.
I was going to complain that the chapter was too short and left us hanging before I read your comment and actually looked at the size.
It felt a lot shorter.
I guess you should take that as a compliment ala “time flies when you’re having fun”.
I wonder if you had the details of the alternate universe “No dollar bills” etc mapped our from the beginning or if you had to go back just now to check that you never mentioned a penny or a 1$ bill in passing before to avoid contradictions.
As it is, It sounds like you really put a lot work into world building and was good enough to resist temptation to info dumb everything for months.
There is some idea floating around of getting rid of pennies. I’m more interested in finding out if they have Nixon on the $300 bill and Bill Clinton on the $69 bill.
Pennies rule the world’s financial markets.
If one got rid of US .01 coins, there would be a need to ’round up’ to the next coin. Which would be US .05 (The Nickel). Which is an even clumsier mathematical construct which would necessitate rounding to the next highest number which is US .1 (The Dime). Unfortunately, many of the arguments that hold for the Penny also hold true for the Dime, which would rapidly fall into the same category of distaste/materiel expenditure, which would require jumping up to the next coin… the US .25 (The Quarter). If the Nickel was a bad number, the Quarter is worse, so one would have to go up to the US .50 (Half-Dollar). Unfortunately, that puts the rounding factor back into place like the Nickel, which means one is all the way up to US 1.00 coins. Two digits have been hacked from the financials, and everything would cost a hundred times as much though more than likely wages and fees would not rise to match that hundred-fold decrease in the value of the currency.
A world-wide Depression would result from such an irresponsible activity, even with preparation. So behold the humble U.S. Penny, anchor of the world economy.
Actually, Canada’s eliminating the penny. The system is pretty simple: For any transaction with actual (corporeal) tender, the amount gets rounded to the nearest multiple of 5 cents. .06 becomes .05.; .08 becomes .10.
The penny is actually an inefficient entity. It’s far more deleterious to the economy to keep producing pennies for more than they’re effectively worth.
The smallest physical currency in Australia is the 5c coin. Has been for a while. It may or may not have made a difference that we had both 1c and 2c coins before that.
As to the dollar coin, Australia has both $1 and $2 coins. I realise our dollar is worth slightly less than the US one (around 93% last time I checked) but the UK Pound is far more valuable than either, and the Brits seem to have no issue with having a 1 pound coin, so…
And £2 coins are still very popular here in the UK.
I was going to comment on the Canadian-ness of your monetary differences, Wildbow. My big question is, what do they call a $1 coin in Bet’s America?
(Incidentally, why did you choose “Bet” instead of “Beth”, when you went with “Aleph” instead of “Alef”?)
And in an entirely opposed spirit: the Aleph vs. Bet difference is linguistic drift. People started saying it wrong, and it caught on faster than the correct usage.
Aleph / Bet matches the Hebrew pronounciations pretty much perfectly.
Except “eliminating the penny” only affects physical transactions. Electronic transaction (that’s most transaction, especially if you are talking worldwide) wouldn’t be rounded.
Can’t it be both?
I had it in mind, but had to double check. Only one ambiguous mention that I caught.
Not sure if you’ll see this and wasn’t sure if it was possible to send a message, but skitter actually mentions one dollar bills after her second fight with Lung. When she offers the bags of cash and tells them not to blame her if they pick up a bag full of ones. At least I believe that was the case, I’d go back and find it word for word but I’m too enthralled. And Damn it Noelle, why didn’t you just drink all of it. I’m sure that’s part of the reason she’s so messed up.
Depending on when the switch over happened, it could make sense that Skitter thought about 1$ bills that don’t actually exist.
Yeah, I remember reading Skitter think of those too.
y’know, I’ve been thinking Krouse was the freaking idiot that screwed this up for noelle and the group and now you write this, and it’s noelle being an idiot scardy cat that screwed them. FTLOG! Shoulda just poured it all down her gullet. She missed the ballence formula and is now a monster… Gah!
I know this is super late but this was a dope chapter. I have enjoyed the entire thing so far and I have been binging it.
…Trickster is this bizarre combination of awesome and an absolute dick.
And there is no possible way this can end well.
We already know it ends badly.
Yeah. It makes for an interesting challenge in writing.
This Arc, I didn’t have as much done in advance as I did with the Slaughterhouse Nine introductions. I sort of told myself I could manage, because this is a story I’ve written once before.
In brief, these chapters are the ones that would have started the story if I’d decided to write their story instead of Taylor’s. It would have been more drawn out, naturally, and maybe more left in the way of suspense, but it’s basically a rewrite (from scratch, no copy-pasting) of their origin, with attention given to all the prior details that have been noted in Worm, and all the other necessary stuff to make it work.
But having the outcome more or less stated in advance, it changes the whole paradigm of writing it. That was what I didn’t expect, as far as how difficult it would be to pull together.
On the bright side, it’s working, so that makes it worth it.
For me at least, the story adds a lot of depth to the Travelers. Even beyond the question of who becomes what Traveler, knowing first names and the backstory changes how I view the group.
Thanks for saying so.
I second Zoetewey. I was just thinking that you have this amazing ability to time your interludes such that they get us appreciating characters on a whole new level.
Positioning this one just as the Travellers’ influence on the story seems to be ending could be seen as an odd choice. But it just adds so much depth to what we’ve read before. Just like your Piggot one suddenly had us all looking at her in a new light.
Sure. But until now (and not even, really) we didn’t know *how*. A lot of people thought Noelle would take two formulas. I had my own theory (also turned out to be wrong). But this action on its own seems like something that won’t turn out happily.
“Can… Can I give it to both? Can they share it?” the boy with the glowing hair asked.
Skidmark chuckled, and it was a nasty sound with very little humor to it. “No, no. You definitely don’t want to do that. Pick one.”
It’s been said before that taking half a can is a really bad idea. Cool way of hinting that this can’t end well.
Only six canisters. I’m guessing Cody is either dead or still stuck in quarantine/with Cauldron. So they treat every single person that comes into contact with her as a criminal for the rest of their lives. That is one way to deal with the possible fallout of her attacks, but yeah I see this backfiring too. Interesting facts about the world wildbow. No pennies, one dollar coins, and a freaking base on the moon! NASA has probably lost funding in this universe due to the Endbringer attacks. They probably couldn’t afford to finish the base/justify the cost so it was abandoned.
Possibly they lost the chief Tinker behind it. Most likely it was intended as a counter to the Endbringers rendering Earth uninhabitable.
Speaking of the Endbringers, they probably desperately want to stop humanity from escaping the Earth, or even radically altering society to deal with them. The strategy seems to be Leviathan leveling landmasses, Behemoth slaughtering heroes, and Simurgh preventing effective counters to the Endbringers. Likely a slow war, but also quite effective. The moon base would be a very serious concern if you populate it with the right capes, especially since they breed so easily. A thousand carefully selected capes (manufactured or natural) could be able to rebuild human civilization from Luna after a while. The primary reason to avoid it is actually most likely cheapness, as the Doormaker is probably a lot more effective when it comes to escaping and rebuilding.
I wonder how far along they went with it. There are alot of big pitfalls for colonizing the moon that we haven’t figured out yet. The effects of low gravity, moon dust, long lunar night, inconsistent sunlight, etc. Though I assume there is Tinker tech to solve those problems. But the biggest problem is deciding who owns what and who can use what resources when divided between the different countries of the earth. Imagine if they do decide to start a colony. Who do they send? How do they choose? How do they share with other space faring countries? Plus it would be a huge gut punch to moral to hear that they are making plans in case the Endbringers win. I doubt they would send capes. It was stated by Piggot that Capes having children is causing them to have trigger events at much younger ages. Raising a five year super powered child on the moon is just asking for something to go wrong.
I imagine the economic ramifications would be quite secondary. “Who owns what” only matters when there are competing forces. Luna isn’t going to provide Earth with anything, and the moon base would exist as a singular entity. Worst case, just put the rivals on different sides of the moon. It’s pretty big.
I think they would kind of have to send capes. Tinkers, mostly, because the place would run on Tinker tech, and they can’t mass produce easily, Dragon possibly excepted. Add in that the running theory is that early life exposure is important to trigger events, and the place would probably be mostly cape within a few generations unless there were significant steps to avoid it. The concern of violent trigger events dooming the place might actually have been one of the reasons the idea was scrapped.
Anyway, there’s a significant element of the parent’s powers involved in the known second generation parahumans, so the risk might be mitigated some by sending in Tinkers and Thinkers and other relatively low risk capes, but still, a single bad Trigger could doom the entire colony.
Odd to think that it might be useful to put capes, especially non-combat capes, in daycare centers. It might provide extensive dividends within a decade. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people aren’t trying that already. The rich and third world leaders may be incredibly eager to hire young cape nannies, and certain capes may be running scams with hopeful people dropping their children off for the school day in the hopes it rubs off. It probably wouldn’t be a bad deal for those capes who don’t want to risk being a Ward and having to deal with the Endbringers.
I suspect Mannequin was a key contributor before his fall.
See chapter 11.d:
“He became newsworthy when he took on a project to build self sustaining biospheres on the moon. He had ideas on solving world hunger, and building aquatic cities near cities plagued by overcrowding. And he was putting it all into effect. Until-”
If I remember correctly, the moon base was being designed largely by Mannequin before the Simurgh attacked his city and killed his family.
Sigh, I’m kind of sad Mannequin died. He was my favorite villain. He was creepy with the fact that he was probably just a brain in a jar, had an interesting backstory/look, and I could see him becoming Skitter’s arch enemy due to his practical immunity to her bugs/the fact that she thwarted him multiple times despite this. My favorite fight in the series was when she took him on. The new light shed on The Simurgh makes me interested in just how Alan became Mannequin.
He was supposed to be brilliant. The best in his field. The best hope for humanity. It got to the point that he neglected his family. He loved them more than life itself, but this was important. This was for the good of everyone. So he sacrificed everything. After all, it kept them safe too.
Then she came. Everything he worked for was nothing to her. He wasn’t the best. He gave no hope to anyone when his work failed to do a thing to stop her. He sacrificed his time with the most important things in his life for this.
But it was all meaningless. And she took his family anyway.
Others want to help society? Oh, no no no. No no no no nonononononononononononononononononononononono.
He was the best shot ever. They won’t succeed. They can’t succeed. Because that means that if HE was just a little better, a little stronger, or spent a little less time, then HE could have stopped Simurgh. He knows that’s not true. No no no. He was their best shot.
He’ll make sure it stays true.
Not bad at all P. Gecko.
No, he understands that anyone who tries to follow in his footsteps, to make the world a better place, will just attract her attention again. Then they will suffer, just as he did. He simply wishes to save everyone the pain of her attentions, even if it means killing them. It’s still better than the other option.
Didn’t Sphere start work on a moon base before he…you know…
*combines the “cuckoo” and “slit throat” hand movements*
It’s always interesting to see how much characters can change in Worm.
Earth Bet definitely has dollar bills. Remember when Skitter collected bills from the ABB and apologized in advance if any of the bags were full of ones?
So, the exact opposite of what we all assumed would happen, half a dose instead of two doses. Honestly a MUCH easier mistake to make. I like it. Either the half dose is itself bad, or she’ll go bad and drink the second half (possibly an additional formula) to stabilize her, causing the reaction we see.
This is definitely my favorite chapter of Migration so far. It felt like it had more room to breathe.
Or she doesn’t take it and instead he slips it into one of her bags.
I think I vaguely remember the Doctor telling young Battery to drink the whole thing, but that might just be a fabricated memory after reading this chapter.
Quoth the author:
‘The Doctor unscrewed the canister and withdrew a vial. It was no longer than a pen and no thicker than one of the Doctor’s fingers. “The faster you drink it all, the quicker and cleaner the transition is.”’
OW! Krouse, you louse!
Actually, in his defense, he wouldn’t *have* that information available, as it was something that was said by the Doctor to a client… and since this was stolen materiel… another built-in safeguard to prevent dilution of the ‘goods’?
Just imagine if he tossed it into one of her drips.
1/2 a dose, no wonder she came out 1/2 fucked, everything is Krouse’s fault!
On the sixth day of Wormmass, my wildbow gave to me;
Six super powers,
Five tagged capes,
Four thurfan cnapa,
Three brave friends,
And the start of some origin stories.
I love you.
Here’s a question for my fellow Worm fans. What should we call ourselves?
Scott Sigler’s rabid fanbase junkies.
New Kid on the Block fans call themselves Blockheads (no comment)
And Slipknow fans have already claimed Maggots.
So who are we?
We better choose a good name before Gallant decides to call us Skittles.
I like worms or insects.
Level 12 fans?
Lol… I like W
Worm heads. X)
Don’t forget the Hulkamaniacs, the Rock’s millions and millions, Kane’s Kaninites, Mankind’s Asses in the Seats, or Chris Jericho’s Jerichoholics.
We are the SWARM.
The colony? The hive?
Paras sounds fitting.
Why would Gallant call us anything? Thought he was dead. Like Iron Falcon.
pssht. no, iron falcon didn’t die.
I’m still alive in Earth Aleph.
PS. I’m calling you all Skittles.
-Gallant, definitely not Dues
Current vote count: (where 1 vote is 1 idea per person in the comments.)
Level 12 fans:1
Don’t be silly. You’re one of us.
One of us!
One of us!
One of us!
I just meant I couldn’t cheat and vote twice with two accounts.
One of us!
Haha, the W was a typo. It was me trying to type what I just ended up adding in the comment below. Sadly, Worm heads only gets one vote, mine. lol
…You say that as though Skittles is a BAD name. It isn’t. It’s awesome.
I, too, like Skittles.
@wildbow… possible her new name when you rewrite would be ‘Skittle’?
I like Skittles too.
–Dave, commenting squirmily
Damn to state the obvious so thevSimurgh was fucking with their heads to trigger specific events scenarios. So I wonder what Noelle’s specific life drama was about and how will that impact her change?
Okay, some thoughts on Scion and the Endbringers. This is going to consist mostly of entirely baseless speculation.
Let’s assume for a moment that Scion is an Endbringer, a theory I’m not entirely behind. It is obvious he would probably be the single most dangerous Endbringer. He seems to be able to travel massive distances at will. Combine that with his other powers, and Scion the Endbringer would probably be the first Endbringer you would want on the scene. If he killed important people all day every day he’d cause a lot of civilization collapse pretty quickly. Resistance against him would be very difficult, especially if he targeted capes.
Now, we know that Scion and the Endbringers had a delayed entrance. Scion first, Simurgh last, roughly 20 years apart. It would obviously not be optimal to release the Endbringers in such a fashion, so it strongly implies that there was little or no choice about it. This also implies that the Endbringers are either tapped out or extremely reluctant to increase their numbers. This implies that if Scion is a rogue Endbringer they lacked the capacity to counter or control him.
Wildbow is too smart for pulling something like “Scion is an Endbringer who brings parahumans into the world and this is all a complicated plot!” That really doesn’t fit with what we see. I think that Scion definitely works at cross purposes with the others, and his powers are too well suited for widespread damage for double agenting to make sense for him. Anything is possible of course, with the right justification.
Now, it is interesting that Behemoth was the second Endbringer. The fact that Scion is still alive strongly implies that he was not intended as Scion’s countermeasure. This means that Behemoth was part of the original plan. Behemoth’s tactical role is the killer of heroes. This very strongly indicates that parahumans are inevitable and expected. Furthermore, since Endbringers are not a limitless resource, they were expected to be a serious threat that Scion wouldn’t handle on his own. Depending on exactly what processes are unleashing Endbringers, the order of Scion to Behemoth may not have been intended originally. It seems kind of likely that if the process was automated it would have gone from Scion to Leviathan. Scion could have kept the hero population down, and Leviathan could have leveled landmasses. Eventually parahuman resources may have lead to Behemoth being a good idea, but Leviathan does seem like the practical counterpart to Scion IF the goal is doing as much damage to civilization as quickly as possible. In the universe as it exists, you would want Behemoth first. The killer of heroes would weaken the defenses before Leviathan got to start attacking.
Scion and the Endbringers together do seem like a quite effective group. Scion breaks the higher level of civilization, Leviathan cracks piece after piece off of it, Behemoth destroys the raised defenses to prevent a critical mass of heroes from killing an Endbringer, and SImurgh activates to deal with unforeseen adaptations and survival modes of civilization if her brothers are ineffective.
It strikes me as possible that Simurgh is actually Scion’s replacement or countermeasure. It seems they cannot safely replicate Scion’s abilities, or else they would have done so by now given their utility. Simurgh’s cause and effect dominoes may be the second best thing to Scion’s movement, breaking things everywhere as desired through delayed reactions.
It’s also plausible that Simurgh is the original Endbringer, given her intelligence she is a clear scapegoat for the mastermind. Simurgh would even make sense as an entity who had a Trigger Event, though either a seriously weird one or one that allowed her to alter herself. Honestly “it’s all SIMURGH! strikes me as a bit silly, especially given our long standing hysteria about her. However, it is interesting that after she appeared the Endbringers stopped arriving. Her actual role might have been to create/incubate the other Endbringers, using her abilities and precognition to make absolutely sure they were released properly.
The main issue to that theory is that if Simurgh can see the future, and controlled the creation of Scion, how did Scion go rogue? Given that the world is ending even with Scion actively fighting the Endbringers it is possible that Scion was always unstable, but Simurgh or their creators factored their plans around it making a calculated risk. Alternatively, Scion himself had something unforeseeable such as a Trigger Event.
In support of the theory that Simurgh was once human, there’s that she has communicated with people. Scion appears to do so as well, for what it is worth. It seems unlikely that his costume, the word scion, and his glare at Eidelon were not intentional communication. Going out even further on this massive limb I constructed, perhaps Scion actually created Simurgh, who proceeded to rebel against him and create the other two Endbringers.
This is all so scatter shot that any of this being proven true wouldn’t be that meaningful. I still like this theory.
I don’t really like the idea of ascribing human characteristics to the Endbringers and the ones behind them. To me they feel much more like forces of natures and the two entities that everyone sees are so far removed from human experiences that they might as well be gods.
I think Scion if he any purpose at all was just a patient zero that spread the plague of metahumanism across the world. The Endbringers were either a side effect of this spread or a means to accelerate it.
The side effect might go along the lines of being a natural immune system that tries to destroy the cancer of the parahumans end prevent the end of the world, but that doesn’t seem to quite fit.
The Endbringers don’t seem to work in a team or coordinate or cooperate besides what coordination Simurgh’s powers supply. If Leviathan and Behemoth were ever in the same place they would probably fight.
The Endbringers also seem to spend most of their time dormant giving everyone time to recuperate.
I get the feeling that they might be designed to hold back on purpose.
One scenario that seems plausible is that the ones who were bringing powers to the world are using the endbringers to cull the week and to encourage further growth in a darwininan way. They are supposed to accelerate whatever process seems to be going on that leads to the world’s destruction.
My initial guess was that the two giant entities that everyone sees during their trigger event are somehow reproducing and that the whole infecting the world with superpowers before destroying it is just part of their natural life-cycle. Alternatively the whole destruction thing might not be literal but describe some sort of process where all the worlds minds merge together into one giant god-like entity of their own (that was a trope popular in sci-fi some time ago).
Building on my thought last time that there could be a connection between the two universes and the two ‘dancing gods/crystals/what-have-yous’, I’m actually going to postulate that the reason for all the superhero stuff is a competition between the two (anthropomorphic personifications? Representatives? Someting else?) of the respective universes. It’s an experiment, to see what will get humanity further. The superpowers in one universe is the main variable being tested, to see whether it is actually beneficial to have humans with such power. Scion was a primer, setting an example so that powers will be used in the way they hope. Since tests aren’t as effective if they’re done only in good conditions, the endbringers act as stress tests of the concept-to see if capes will still act in the best interests of humanity if everything has gone sour (Leviathan), if fighting will probably get them killed (Behemoth), or whether they present an extreme threat when manipulated by a malevolent intelligence (Barney the Purple Dinosaur).
That whole ‘end of the world’ thing Dinah predicted? The testing is coming to the endgame, and it’s not looking good. It’s not just a question of whether Skitter and co. can stop whatever is going to destroy the world. The existence of capes is set to be the end of it, so what they need to do is find a way to _create_ a way in which the world won’t end.
Oh, and the topper to this theory? If they fail the test, it won’t just be that 2/3rds of the population die. If it really is a test between the two universes themselves, then failure may mean that world is wiped entirely from existance. And success could wipe out the other world. (Which, it should be noted, is basically our world).
That’s right everyone. If Skitter wins, we all die. 😛
Also known as the Bokurano option.
(If you are not familiar with that series don’t make the mistake of trying to read the Manga. Dark doesn’t begin to describe it.)
Ah, that’s such a spoiler though. I’d delete it, but you’re not wholly wrong.
I love Bokurano, found the ending a touch tepid though.
For all that most of this speculation is rightfully skeptical of itself, there are occasional grains that come within spitting distance of the truth. Might be worth rereading your old speculation for a laugh, Wyld.
I wanted to speculate here about who gets which canister, but other than Jaunt -> Trickster nothing really stands out. Perhaps Deus -> Sundancer but even that is a guess.
I wonder if the mixtures are descriptive or named after a cape with that power. Is the Aegis mix something generally protective or a power similar to the dead hero Aegis? Aegis had some sort of enhanced physique which might tie in with Oliver looking differently and Prince might be some sort of Master type power that he can use to keep Noelle under control.
The addition of “Balance” to all the doses seems to be the result of experiments by cauldron that ended up with “Case 53” like subjects.
I guess whatever trauma Noelle suffers from would have resulted in her being screened out by cauldron.
Trickster’s vision of the two giants is slightly different than everyone else’s before him, but it fits the pattern. I wonder what the barren earth was all about.
Aegis’s power set was specifically flight and weird strength+invulnerability. He was stronger than human because his body ignored its own limitations to keep it from being hurt, and he had durability because his body kind of ignored damage. The flaw in that was that he didn’t know the limits of his defenses, which sucked when he reached them and just died.
Looking at the canisters:
Canister A: F-1-6-1-1, ‘Deus’, 85% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 15% mixture.
To be consumed by Client 1
Kind of guessing this is Sundancer. The very high level in a single power indicates that to me. The highest singular ability, with the lowest “balance” indicates it may be difficult to control.
Canister C: C-2-0-6-2, ‘Prince’, 55% mixture.
Added: O-0-1-2-1, ‘Aegis’, 30% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 15% mixture.
To be consumed by Client 3
I am guessing that this is Noelle. Multiple powers, low balance, seems most likely to go wrong.
Canister D: M-0-0-4-2, ‘Vestige’, 75% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 25% mixture
To be consumed by Client 4
Guessing this is Oliver, going by the running theory that he’s got some kind of perception/shape shifting power. Would be my second choice for Genesis as well.
Canister E: X-0-7-9-6, ‘Division’, 80% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 20% mixture
To be consumed by Client 5
Genesis seems really, really likely.
Canister F: E-0-7-1-2, ‘Robin’, 60% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 40% mixture
To be consumed by Client 6
Ballistic is the only remaining one, but this seems off. Assuming that Balance has to do with control, he’s low on control and high on direct power. It’s hard to see “Vestige” as “blows things up. It is kind of plausible that Genesis has Vestige, Ballistic has Division, and Oliver has Robin. Not that anything is that certain. Going by the names, Jaunt wouldn’t have been ridiculous for Ballistic.
Jaunt has been used as another term for teleportation before. Interesting little science fiction story about it.
The Canister for Client 3 might be the one they give to Jess. It’s the one they talked about curing cerebral palsy before. Though the one with Division isn’t too bad an idea either.
I’d guess Deus for Noelle but it doesn’t sound too bad for Sundancer either.
Really wish I knew what the hell Robin was supposed to be out of all these. The others offer some slightly clue. Heck, even vestige could have something to do with blasting every last vestige away like Sundancer.
I’m with you about Ballistic’s seeming a little odd though. If I cared enough to go look up the explanations in Battery’s interlude, might help. So there’s an idea for any other readers.
C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’ seems like a constant. So the question would be… is C-0-0-0-0 ‘baseline’? Or are even ‘normal’ human beings gifted with small ‘knacks’ or ‘quirks’ that bounce the number up or down?
Research Powers: Go!
((Donation Bonus Interlude 12.x))
Battery’s # was
Factors appear to be
Originality, Power, Reliability (?)–though it isn’t noted what sort of order those are in, other than how they’re mentioned and that certain ‘high’ combinations of them run into the hundreds of millions/billions of dollars range.
And it looks like some numbers being ‘low’ is good, and others being ‘high’ but not too ‘high’ is desirable (at least from Cauldron’s client perspectives it would seem.)
I’ll cut you off there and say the #s are ID labels, rather than measures of power, reliability and originality.
They aren’t, however, ID labels derived from a sequential number, not exactly.
Had a dream that Oliver ended up with this canister
Canister E: X-0-7-9-6, ‘Division’, 80% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 20% mixture
To be consumed by Client 5
and ended up being able to create duplicate olivers which they fed to Noelle to sate her hunger for human flesh so that there were no more incidents were she ran amok eating people , at least until they hooked up with Coil and his offer to fix things .
Better than my dream.
80s zombie movie style, complete with smart zombies. Main character’s trying to deal with zombies and for some reason there’s a tiger around in a cage that’s threatening to get out. Finally beat the zombies only to have to outrun the tiger. Almost make it, until the obligatory jerkass human who would rather see you die intervenes. At least that guy catches a claw to his throat when the tiger pounces on the main character. Cuts to awhile later when the tiger’s still mauling and chewing on the main character, having taken out a good portion of his face, but he and the jerkass have woken up as zombies. Except at least the jerkass doesn’t have a tiger chewing on his face.
I think it was a metaphor for the rejection of science in favor of ideology in the Soviet Union.
And not just sour grapes here, but I really don’t trust them claiming some Professor Haywire’s vault had to do with the portal devices.
Maybe if it was BBC or NPR reporting it, but not these wahoos. Though it does sound like the name of a guy who would be Uber’s dad. Or whichever one is the tinker who messes up if his devices are similar.
Kid Win seemed to have that issue, if memory serves?
You’re thinking of Leet.
I’ve been a long time reader of Worm (at least a year) but this is my first time commenting. I’d just like to say thanks for providing such an awesome series; Worm would have to be one of my favourite works in any medium. The updates are something I always look forwards to and I’m yet to be disappointed. With the exception of when you more than intended it. Poor Battery.
You’ve also been a personal inspiration for me to finally get around to writing the story I’ve had planned for a while, and this post marks me finally getting around to uploading it. You have my most sincere thanks for helping me achieve that.
Thanks for making something awesome, and keep up the good work.
Thank you, Captain.
Good luck with your stuff. If you decide to put it on the web, let me know & I’ll link to it on the front page. Give you a bit of a head start, maybe.
Thanks. For now I’ve thrown it up on deviantart, but I might look to moving to a blog format if that’s the thing to do. I’m not sure what the deal is with links here so if anyone is interested in taking a look they can google my name.
You might notice some small similarities to Worm, though I can’t hope to compare in quality. It’s certainly influenced my decision to write in first person, and the idea that powers can be something more than the stereotypes is one I absolutely love.
Haven’t read it yet, but this modesty thing is bugging me:
Thank you to Justin for his donation. It’s appreciated.
I’ma say it right now: I’m with Cody. Fuck Krouse. Fuck him right in the ear.
I’ll admit to relating more to Krouse. He really is trying his best.
I can see Cody’s point. Krouse is a jerk. Imagine someone who puts you down and plays pranks on you that make you look bad when your financial future is on the line. You’re working your ass off, he makes you look bad, and to make matters worse the audience liked it. Then the girl you like, who’s shy and damaged, won’t date you. But she’ll date the jerk for some reason. She’ll want to break up with him, but he’ll push her so much she’ll give up on the breakup. None of your friends seem to see how bad he really is. Then he pushes you out of the game you were going to make money at.
Krouse, for me, is the one who makes the most sense.
At its most basic level, Krouse’s attitude is the same as what mine would be: Do what you can to survive. Tell people of issues that they need to be aware of. Take the cape vials; selling isn’t really an option at the moment.
Marissa doesn’t want the group to gain super powers. OK, why? Just because it may play into the villain’s hands?
Why does Cody immediately think of selling the powers? He has no way of knowing that those vials are worth a lot of money to the right buyers. For all he knows, they’re standard kit for every soldier.
Even if they do decide to sell the vials, why couldn’t they hold one of them back for Noelle?
Krouse, on the other hand, does have some attitudes that seem really alien to me. He strikes me as somebody who thinks of himself (and Noelle) as a level above everybody else. He’s utterly certain that he’s the best because he’s so good at manipulation and in teasing out motivations. Once I got a handle on that, his motivations made sense. It’s a special version of White Man’s Burden. He considers it his right to rule because he’s the only one who can do it. It’s his duty to shoulder the responsibility and make any necessary sacrifices. Blah, blah, blah and so on.
I like that people can relate/not relate/hate the character(s) to the extent that people are reporting. I’m okay with that. I’m glad it’s happening.
You probably mean Jess rather than Marissa, when you’re talking about who doesn’t want to use the stuff.
I think it would have been shor-sighted to hate the Travelers primarily because we didn’t know a lot about them. This shed light on their dynamics and their codenames.
Everything they ARE in Skitter’s story comes from who they WERE here. That is well written.
The funny thing for me is that I somehow had the impression that Noelle was still really young and Trickster was older, while Sundancer was just a little older than Skitter. Now I have no idea why I was under those impressions.
I’d respect Krouse a lot more for his attitude if I didn’t know it’ll led to mass civilian deaths, threats of violence against children, and him abusing friendships and being a general douchebag.
I see a few similarities between him and Skitter actually, both of them have an outwardly selfless goal that their willing to do questionable things to accomplish, the difference being that Taylor is more capable of guilt and Krouse seems to treat people outside of Noelle and himself as non-entities.
Ah, but if you didn’t know the ramifications of Krouse’s actions yet, would you feel the same way?
Honestly, I don’t think we’ve had the whole causal chain shown yet. Krouse’s actions so far do not clearly lead to the excesses of the Travelers. Notably, their willingness to ally with Coil, cynicism, and disregard for human life. It seems that there long exile on Bet is more to blame for that than Krouse’s actions here. I don’t think that Krouse in the Migration Arc is truly to blame for what they become. Krouse may be to blame, but so far he hasn’t really made an objectively bad call.
Not to his knowledge, but we know that giving Noelle a half dose led to her becoming a serious threat.
I don’t particularly think Krouse is in the wrong at the moment per sey. He is acting like a dick but not bad. He making the best of a bad situation for the most part and he’s not doing too awful with it for the most part. I think the first that I truly feel he stepped over the line is suggesting a half dose. You simply do not mess with unknown drug cocktails that specifically grant superpowers. There is no possible way that ends well! That single action pretty much started pushing my view of him from well-intentioned-jackass into self-deluded-asshole.
Un-holy night! Cauldron’s star’s brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Trickster’s birth…
Okay, okay, nevermind that. I just wanna know… what calamity, what grave disaster, what spectacular branch of probability and divergent timelines is responsible for this? A dollar coin but no dollar bill? I’ve been a shopkeeper for three years, my parents for 35 years before me. People on the Earth where all this is a story, they appear to hate those things. I’ve almost seen as many two-dollar bills as dollar coins, and when you do take said coins, the only way to get rid of ’em is to feed ’em back to the bank.
Personally, I think this is the Simurgh’s doing. 😀
People prefer having Sacajawea in their pockets rather than Washington. And if there were only $1 coins rather than bills, I imagine they’d adapt pretty quickly. It’d certainly make it easier to handle vending machines.
The thing about currency is that it’s all only as useless or as useful as people think it is. Someone says it is worth something and people use it like it’s worth something (not that gold is any better in that regard, actually. Aside from a few uses that aren’t decorative, it’s just a pretty and rare metal. Big woop). It’s all in your head. woooooweeewoooooweeewoooooooo!
Way to go, Krouse.
“they’d kill us..” Extra period, or missing period(not sure if it’s supposed to be an ellipsis).
“Just want to get Noelle help.”
–bullshit. Look at him. He’s thinking. He’s fiddling, treating this like it’s a puzzle.
Just like what skitter would do.
He winced as he moved his injured leg from his footrest to the ground. Not exactly.”
There’s a quotation mark missing before the ‘not.’
And yeah, I’m gonna stop doing that now, because I can’t remember any of the others ones I’d seen offhand and I’m -not- gonna trawl the entire archive all over again. 😀
Stating it here in case I turn out to be right, Cody somehow body snatches Krouse. Hence why Trickster acts like Cody.
There is absolutely no way this was the only time the policy of treating Simurgh victims like criminals played directly into her hands. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the rule instead of the very common exception.
Kind of surprised no one commented on it. It’s pretty obvious that Krouse and Noelle are the Simurgh’s time bombs. Actually, just Noelle, but Kroue is her protector to make sure she gets where she needs to do the most damage.
The Simurgh distracted all the others, made them focus on personal problems so they follow Krouse’s lead because he’s the only one with a goal and motivation. His goal of keeping Noelle safe has been blown out of proportion by the Simurgh to the point where he’s willing to do anything to accomplish it. He even figures that out, what he doesn’t realize is that Cody is the distraction to keep Trickster from reprioritizing by applying antagonistic pressure. The antagonism also reinforces Krouse’s obsession over Noelle because he can use it as a justification for all of his actions to “prove” to Cody and the others that he isn’t in this for himself the way Cody accuses him of being.
Meanwhile in the background Noelle is quietly becoming some kind of omnicidal abomination.
Minor slip up. I forget which chapter it was in, but if there are no 1 dollar bills in Skitter’s universe then you may need to adjust the part where Skitter hands out bags of unsorted cash to the Travelers and then apologizes in advance if any of them end up with a bag full of one dollar bills.
(at least, that’s what I remember happening in my head. The exact wording of the scene escapes me at the moment and I don’t feel like hunting it down this late at night to confirm that 1 dollar bills are explicitly mentioned)
Necro-commenting for Wildbow’s benefit, here. Senteth is correct. One-dollar bills are mentioned by Skitter in Hive 5-10, after she takes Lung’s eyes during the combined villain offensive against the ABB. Hardly a big inconsistency, but it is there. Passage is:
I shrugged in response. The money didn’t matter much to me. “Consider it a bonus, a thanks for helping. It’s, um, not exactly divided to be fair, so no insult intended if any of them end up being a bag full of ones.”
“He winced as he moved his injured leg from his footrest to the ground. Not exactly.””
missing a quotation mark before “not exactly.”
“Half of the drawer were largely empty”
were –> was
“We will attempt to contact her financial institution.” – needs to be in italics
“He handed her the glass vial” – need a period after
Really interesting set of events. (And poor, poor, sweet Noelle.) My guess is that the different “serums” in the canisters are not of equal density, so they don’t all mix; so when Noelle drinks half of it, she gets all the Prince or Aegis and none of the Balance.
My guesses for the others: Deus = Sundancer; Division = Ballistic (he makes particles go really fast, dividing up particulate matter); Vestige = Genesis (she creates vestiges of herself – though I could see Division here too). Robin, not a clue.
“She wanted Luke and Noelle and Oliver to be distracted, that’s why she made them remember the things they did.”
Is that meant to be “…Luke and Marissa and Oliver…” ??
Noelle’s been unconcious.
Love this little arc. So intreagued by Earth-Aleph and Earth-Bet….
Shortly after, the source alleges, the Simurgh activated a large-scale replica of the devices, depositing large amounts of foreign bodies in the heart of the city.
“the devices” should be “the device”
This story, this world you have created, is continually engaging. Thank you.
She used two different portals though (Travelers, then Cauldron base), so it could have been intentional. Though in that case it would benefit from something like making “replica” plural.
You read about Trickster, you assume he is an ass, you dislike him, then Wildbow comes and gives you an arc about him and you end up loving the bastard T___T
I liked him earlier and now I begun to hate him.
Hmm, after all this time I did not think I would find a typo:
“He wasn’t playing head games,” Luke said. He winced as he moved his injured leg from his footrest to the ground. Not exactly.”
Has either a quote too many or or is failing one.
It’s missing a quote before “Not exactly.”
Wow really liking this arc. Have been a big fan of the Travelers and Trickster so its good to see some more info on them. Great description of how he views his powers.
A half dose?! Oh god no way is that ending well. A drug concoction that gives superpowers…what in the name of all that is holy makes someone think there is any chance of it being a good idea to screw with dosages with something like that?!? Krouse is enough of a dick that he should’ve just forced her to drink the whole thing. It probably would’ve saved a lot of lives since I’m willing to bet a lot of money on that being a large chunk of why she is monstrous in the present.
The bit about getting rid of pennies and a half built Moon station is sweet. I wish we had more stuff like that here.
The solution to the quarantine the Simourgh victims is…extreme. Honestly it’d be easier and smarter to just kill everyone if they are going this route. Harder for the general public to stomach at first but I can’t imagine it’d be all that hard to simply hide that solution under a “there were no survivors from her rampage in this area” banner.
It’s a lot easier to like Krouse (Trickster) in contrast to Cody, who’s just plain an asshole.
Small correction: it’s a lot easier to like the well-written view-point character than someone they hate.
Typo in “necrosis. She’l require”. 🙂
“Half of the drawer were largely empty,”
I know I’d live on this Earth. Who cares about Endbringers, as long as we don’t have to mess around with pennies anymore?
Move to Australia. Nothing smaller than a 5c piece. 🙂
Huh. I have Google Maps open in another tab, and it looks like I was probably killed in the attack.
Madison is where the Travelers came through then: any connection to Terry Pratchett’s Long Earth series about parallel Earths, which centres on Madison?
On another note, does anyone else feel as if the author is reading your necrocomments, and incorporating your questions into the next few chapters? I said in a comment earlier this arc that we didn’t know where this was happening and that’s just the most recent case.
‘He winced as he moved his injured leg from his footrest to the ground. Not exactly.”’
Missing the quotation mark before “Not exactly”.
I feel the urge to go back and find the handful of errors I remember noticing earlier on…
A fair bit of this doesn’t make sense. It’s indicated in several portions of this arc that the Endbringers didn’t happen on Earth Aleph, where the Travelers are from. Only some weak heroes and villains, and Scion. This is explicitly covered in the last paragraph of 17.3. Yet they all know about the Endbringers (17.1), probably because of shared TV or something. Yet they find themselves in the middle of an Endbringer attack, and are somehow unable to figure out that they’re not on their world. That should be their first thought after seeing an Endbringer! It’s painfully obvious. How the hell can this be a surprise?
Because the only contact between worlds is radio waves. Anything more than that is supposed to be completely impossible (cauldron seems able to, but nobody knows that).
The Simurgh moving into your world? Still impossible, but impossible is what Endbringers do. You moving to another? All evidence indicates that you physically should not be able to make the trip, until Simurgh starts moving people around
“Half of the drawer were largely empty,” – Shouldn’t it be “Half of the drawers were largely empty” or “Half of the drawer was largely empty”? Feels like it should be the latter, since I think they’re just focusing on one drawer right beforehand.
God, Trickster is such an asshole.
Did he now take all the canisters or only one?
And I would have taken Canister C.
I’m okay with being the bad guy, kust so long as you get to live.
You certainly got both of those things, Krouse. More of either than you wanted.