Migration 17.7

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Noelle screamed, her back arching.

“Well,” Krouse said, as he reached for the tubing that led from the bag of blood to her arm.  He pulled it out, then removed the tape that had held it in place. “That’s bound to get someone’s attention.”

The heart monitor was erratically shifting from a series of fast beeps to flatlines.  His own heart skipped a few beats until he realized that it wasn’t flatlining for good.  A steady blare marked an alarm going off.

He stood and blocked the door of the room with the chair he’d been sitting on.  Noelle screamed again, a howl, almost ragged.

Had he screamed that much?  Or taken that long?  He felt a twinge of anxiety.

Someone shoved against the door of the room, but the chair held fast.

Krouse wasn’t too worried.  He had his power, so if it came down to it, it was merely a question of-

A landscape stretched around him.  It was a smaller planet than Earth, he sensed, to the point that the curvature of the planet was noticeable as he looked over towards the horizons.  He realized he was looking at multiple horizons simultaneously.  They weren’t his senses.

Even with the world being smaller, he shouldn’t have been able to see the horizon.  Not unless these senses he was using were more refined, or the atmosphere was thinner.  Somehow things were degraded, blurred around the edges, but it didn’t impact his ability to see, only to draw together a complete mental picture.  A film reel with the damaged frames removed, only it wasn’t a sequential reel.  There was depth, in more ways than one.

He could focus on the ground, note how craggy it was.  Where the larger expanses of landmass had pressed together, it had cracked and separated in dramatic ways.  The compressed soil of gravel and rocky material formed zig-zagging cliffs and deep chasms.

He could focus on the grove of crystalline figures.  They were more like stalagmites than people, glassy, and the planet rotated thrice in the time it took them to move a discernable distance.  Still, they were communicating, vibrating with subsonic hums that played off of the others, complicated ideas.

He tried to discern the hum, but ran into the degradation, the distortion of the frames that had been spliced together, for lack of a better term.  He was jarred into the next available scene.  Two crystalline figures, moving steadily towards one another.

He could tell how they were different from the others.  They were bigger, and they traversed ground that didn’t bear the clusters of ‘dead’ crystal that the others left in their wake like a slug’s moist slime.  They weren’t restricted to the equator where things were hottest.

They closed the distance between them, made contact-

I’ve seen this before.  From another angle.  It’s a replay.

No time had passed, but he was dazed, caught off guard as the chair’s legs skidded on the tile.  It fell to the ground and the door swung wide open.  A man in uniform charged into the room.  The butt of a rifle caught Krouse in the stomach, and he collapsed.

“What the hell are you doing!?” the uniform screamed at him.

Krouse coughed and groaned as his stomach rebelled against the violence.  His eyes and his power roving across his surroundings.  Something he could swap for the uniformed officer or for the gun.  With his eyes, he eyeballed mass, eyeballed size and likely volume, tried to match it to what he was feeling from the gun or the officer.

The officer kicked him.

Swap the lamp for the gun?  No, the lamp was too lightweight.

He resolved to switch himself and the officer, grabbing air to compensate for the volume.  The difference was larger than it was with him and Cody, it required extra seconds.

He grunted as the officer kicked him again.

He had a grip.  He winced as a kick caught him in the side of the head, closed his eyes-

Again, he was somewhere else.  He saw energy condensing, two figures intertwining, and the summary birth of countless entities, as if from the birth of a star, only they were alive.

No, he thought.  Need to focus.  This is because of Noelle.  I’m getting caught up in whatever’s affecting her.  A sympathetic reaction.

He forced himself to look away, tried to focus on his power, instead.

Nothing.  His body wasn’t there.

He struggled further, tried to banish the visions, to focus on the empty void rather than the countless creatures that were radiating out from the detonation.

The vision chose its own time to end.  That was the downside.  The upside was that he wasn’t quite so disoriented when he came crashing back down to reality.

His power still had a grip on the man in uniform.  Krouse forced a swap.

It didn’t change the situation much.  He was still lying on the ground, the uniform still standing, but Krouse was now behind his opponent.

The confusion the teleportation had generated bought him a second.  He got on his hands and knees and then threw himself at the man’s legs, driving his side and his shoulder into the back of the knees.

The officer fell, and Krouse hurried to his feet.

The gun was a problem, and he hadn’t seen anything he could swap for it.  Everything in the hospital was either too lightweight, too miniscule, or both.

Noelle screamed.

This is taking longer than mine did.

Krouse rolled over to grab for the gun.  He only succeeded in getting a grip on it, but he couldn’t wrest it from the uniformed man’s arms.

The alarm continued to blare, the heart monitor seizing up as it ranged from high intensity to ominous low beeps, and Krouse was losing his wrestling match over the gun.  He knew if he lost it, he’d probably get shot.  The use of his power had been the only way to avoid being beaten into unconsciousness, but he suspected it also raised the stakes.  Given a chance, the officer would kill him in self defense.

The man was pulling with such force that his face contorted into a sneer of muscle strain.  Krouse wasn’t so strong, nor quite so tenacious.  He felt the gun slipping from his fingers, felt himself reaching the point where the pain in his hands was overcoming his desire to keep the man from getting the rifle.  He knew he’d get shot if it happened, or struck in the head with the butt-end of the weapon, but the pain…

He reached out, and he found something.  He wasn’t thinking in the right terms.  Was still thinking too much about shape and not about mass.  The heavy wool blanket that was draped over Noelle had roughly the same mass as the gun.

But he had to be looking at both to swap them.  Krouse let the gun go, backed away as rapidly as he could as he got to his feet.  The uniform was standing, moving his hands to get a grip on the trigger and barrel-

-And the gun was gone, replaced by a blanket.  Krouse tackled his unarmed opponent, knocking him to the ground, grabbing at his wrists.

Krouse closed his eyes and slammed his forehead into the lower half of the uniformed man’s face.  He headbutted the guy once more.  Blood welled on his own forehead, where a tooth bit too deep into the skin.  His opponent got one hand free, punched Krouse in the ribs, three times in quick succession, each blow stronger than Krouse might have expected.

I’m going to lose this fight.

Using his power to get a sense for where it was, Krouse reached over to the gun, got a grip on the rifle and swung the end of it into the uniformed man’s face.  He kept swinging until the officer stopped putting up a fight.

He managed to climb to his feet, blinked slowly as he looked down at the uniformed man. Not a cop, not a soldier, something else.  The guy’s face was a mess of blood, and his gaping mouth had at least two broken or missing teeth.

There were nurses and doctors in the hallway, staring.  Krouse stepped towards the door, and they ran.

Noelle was still struggling, thrashing.

“Come on, Noelle,” he whispered.  “Best thing you can do for me is stay alive, here.  Don’t let this be where I accidentally kill you.  Can’t live with that.”

He paused.  There were other footsteps coming down the hallway.

“And if it’s not asking too much, hurry it up some?”

When he’d disconnected from reality and seen whatever he saw in the visions, how much had he seen?  Was she halfway done, only a tenth of the way?

Krouse moved the chair to block the door, then dragged the man he’d bludgeoned into place so the unconscious body would keep the chair in place and the door closed.

“Come on,” he said.  “Come on…”

For the third time, he found himself someplace else.  All of the memories and thoughts of the hospital room and Noelle thrashing receded as he found himself plummeting, felt the heat of entering the atmosphere, and didn’t care in the slightest.  Emotion didn’t factor in, from this perspective.

A waterless, lifeless earth loomed beneath him, stretched out until it consumed his senses.

The impact didn’t hurt any more than the atmospheric entry had.

-And he was back in the hospital room.  He staggered, nearly fell, but managed to keep his balance.

“How much more, Noelle?’

She was panting, not screaming, sweat beading her brow.

“I… I’m… I think it’s over,” she said.  Her voice was stronger.

“Feel better?’

She touched her stomach, pushed herself to a sitting position with her arms.  Her eyes widened.  “Yes.”

Krouse felt a smile stretch across his face, so broad it hurt.  “Fantastic.  Feel different?”

“No… not really.”

“Well, you only got half a dose.  If you get any powers, they’re liable to be pretty weak.  Could be that you burned up whatever juice is in that stuff, healing the damage.”

“Maybe.”  She touched the hospital gown.

Krouse looked away, feeling somehow abashed.  “You’ll want to get dressed.  I saw your stuff in the cupboard, with the sheets.”

He found the half-full cup and tipped the contents into the vial, then slid the vial into the canister.  As Noelle climbed out of the bed, Krouse turned his back to her to give her privacy, screwing on the cap and closing the canister with the remaining formula.

Someone banged on the door, hard.

“There’s more of these guys.  Thought the process would be faster,” Krouse said.

“Can we get away?”

“Depends on how much backup they get.  The more the better.”

“Don’t you mean-”

“Nope,” Krouse said.  “Best case scenario, they’ll have tons of backup.”

“I… my bare skin’s fizzing.”


“I can’t see it, but I feel like there’s bubbles, and they’re so tiny I can’t see them, but they’re flowing down from my skin.”

“Huh.  You can’t control it?”

“No.  Or… sort of?  If I concentrate, pull on my skin, it speeds up.”

Fizzing and pulling on her skin.  It wasn’t the most apt description, but Krouse wasn’t sure he’d be able to accurately describe the pressure or the feeling of heft he got when he pressed his power into something.

“Does it feel different when you touch stuff?”

“Yeah.  Feels like my skin’s fizzing against my clothes, as I’m putting them on, where the cloth touches me.”

“Touch other stuff.  If we can figure out your power, maybe we can use it.”

There was a pause.  Krouse waited while she experimented.

The door banged.  He tensed.  This time, at least, he’d be ready.

“Not much.  Less than from my clothes.”

There was another bang on the door.  The chair shifted, and Krouse moved it back.

“Worry about it later.  We’re stuck with just my power until we figure yours out.”

Noelle entered his field of vision, wearing all of her winter stuff.

Krouse stepped over to the window.  The street was lit only by the minimal moonlight that filtered through the clouds.  There were police cars and fire trucks massing inside the quarantine area, as well as black vans with pale purple stripes and the letters P.R.T. on the sides.  The people outside the black vans had uniforms like the man he’d just beat up, only they wore helmets.

There were capes, too.  Krouse could see the one with the brown cloak and staff.  Myrddin.  A half dozen superheroes clustered around him.  His team?  It was a surprise that so many heroes were still present in the city.  Did they have to undergo their own kind of quarantine processing as well?

Doing this all backwards, deciding on a strategy before I’ve fully tested my powers.  Don’t even know my own range.

Krouse pushed his power away from himself, reached for two of the men in the P.R.T. uniforms, each on opposite sides of the crowd.

They swapped places.  He couldn’t really see the physical differences between them, but they were alarmed, confused.

“I can swap us out with someone in the crowd, if it comes down to it.  Happen to know anything about Myrddin?  Maybe Jess said something?”

Noelle shook her head.

“Fuck.  And we have even less chance of knowing something about his subordinates.  Far as I know, he does something with these dimensions he carts around.  When I ran into him, he sort of banished me into this phase state where I could move around and stuff, but I couldn’t touch anything either.”

Noelle nodded.

“He didn’t mean to, though.  He thought I’d pop back in like I’d just left.  His power, it doesn’t work well if something’s changed between dimensions too much.  Which means it won’t work a hundred percent right with us.”

“Would he listen if we talked to him?”

Krouse looked outside.

“No.  I don’t think we could.  We’re on our own.  Just… we just need an opportunity.  Stay close to me.”

Myrddin was flying, now.  Two of his subordinates were advancing as well.  One had a beachball-sized ball of jet black extending a foot away from his splayed hands, crackling with arcs of electricity that were both absolutely black and somehow still glowing enough to be seen in the dark.  The other figure was an Asian woman with a painted mask and a giant lantern in her hands.

“We have a fight incoming,” Krouse said, backing away from the window.

Myrddin waved his staff, and the window shattered.  With another movement of his staff, he plunged down into the room, landing with an audible impact.

Krouse had a better look at the guy:  A brown cloak-and-robe combination that might have been burlap, but with a heavier material beneath.  If the raised metal collar around his neck was any indication, Myrddin was wearing some kind of armor or protective gear beneath the robe.  It should have been heavy, but he wasn’t having any apparent difficulty.  His staff was a gnarled stick of dense wood, worn by weather.  The upper half of his face was hidden behind a metal visor that served more to cast his face in shadow than to be actual armor.  He sported a thick, well trimmed beard.  Brown, not white.

This wasn’t a guy that Krouse could fight hand to hand, and between his armor and his stature, he was too heavy to be swapped with anything that wasn’t an appliance.

“Stand down,” Myrddin ordered.

“I’ll pass,” Krouse replied.  He looked at the injured P.R.T. soldier, “We’ve got-”

“Begone,” Myrddin said, pointing his staff.

The officer vanished in a cloud of mist.

“-A hostage,” Krouse finished.

Myrddin looked at Noelle, then at Krouse, “So there’s two of you.”

“One of us, two bodies,” Krouse said.

“What?”  Myrddin’s eyes narrowed.

No clue.  Just confusing matters.  His eyes flickered to the scene behind Myrddin.  No luck just yet.

The man with the black spheres floating around his hands leaped up to the shattered window.  Krouse could see the Asian woman holding the handle of her lantern as it raised into the air.

“Banish one?” the man with the spheres asked.

“Already banished their hostage.”

“Want me to grab one to take into custody?”

“Be my guest, Anomaly.”

Anomaly raised one hand, and the sphere floated up until it was level with Krouse’s head.

Krouse felt a pull, stepped back and grabbed the footboard of the hospital bed.

The pull increased steadily, intense enough to pull at his hair with the strength of a gale.  Noelle said something Krouse couldn’t make out as she began to slide towards the thing.

Myrddin, for his part, didn’t budge an inch.  The girl with the lantern held onto the handle with both hands to avoid the suction, setting her feet on the windowsill and perching with a crouch.

Noelle slid, and Krouse caught her with his power.  He found the lantern girl, snagged her-

And Noelle was there, on the windowsill, losing her balance.  The lantern girl slid into the sphere, virtually folded over it as it pulled her tight against its surface.

Noelle caught the side of the shattered window with one hand.  He could see her grimace in pain.

Shattered glass.  Sorry.

He swapped Noelle for Anomaly, and both she and the lantern girl fell hard to the ground.  Anomaly tipped from the window to the interior of the room.

“Who are you?” Myrddin asked.

Krouse glanced out the window.  No.  This might go badly before he had a chance to execute their escape.  If he had to teleport to the back of the crowd, they could wind up in a situation where there was no escape.

“Nobody dangerous.”

Myrddin shifted his staff, and Krouse tensed.

Where the staff-tip moved, a thread of blinding light was drawn in the air, loose and loopy, like the light trail from a sparkler.

The light exploded outward with a concussive force, and both Krouse and Noelle were slammed against the walls.  The shape of the trail Myrddin had drawn meant the resulting blast passed over and to either side of his lantern-bearing teammate.  Her clothes were barely ruffled.

He has personal dimensions he carries around with him, Krouse theorized.  And each one follows different rules.  One holds banished people, maybe that one holds energy or compressed air, and he just needs to open it a crack to let the stuff out.

“Can you open doors between worlds?” Krouse asked.

Myrddin went stiff.  “No.  Are you implying you’re one of the creatures from the world she opened a door to?”

She.  The Simurgh.

“Nah,” Krouse replied, climbing to his feet.  “Just wondering.”

“Stay down,” Myrddin warned.  The hero drew another glowing ribbon into the air, more intricate and convoluted than the former.  Krouse braced himself for the resulting impact.

Then he saw it.  A belated arrival to the party.  A police car coming down the street in the distance, maneuvering to pull in and join the ranks of officers and rescue personnel on site.

Krouse turned his head, trying to catch Noelle and the crowd in the same field of vision.

He swapped her for someone at the back of the crowd.  A moment later, gathering enough air, he swapped himself.

The cold air was like a slap in the face.  He reached for her hand, grabbed it.  This new vantage point let him see the inside of the police car.  He reached for the officer and partner, then swapped again.

Krouse found himself sitting backwards in the driver’s seat.  He flipped himself over and, as nonchalantly as he could manage, pulled away, heading deeper into the quarantine area.

We’ll abandon the car as soon as we can, then go back to the house.  Face the music.

He reached for Noelle’s gloved hand and squeezed it, but she didn’t smile, didn’t show any relief.  She looked troubled.

He realized why.  Her left hand was undamaged where she’d slashed it on the shattered glass of the window.

They traveled the last leg of the journey to the house on foot.  There were no words exchanged between them, even as minutes passed.

As they approached the house, Krouse was left to wonder which one his friends would be in.  He settled on the first house they’d broken into.

Jess, Luke, Marissa and Oliver were there, arranged in the living room.  It was dark, barely lit.  Makes sense.  They’ll be looking for houses with lights on.

“Noelle,” Marissa said, leaping to her feet.  “You’re okay!”

She hurried across the room, reached out to give Noelle a hug, and was stopped.  Noelle had her hands on Marissa’s shoulders.

“What’s wrong?” Marissa asked.

“Nothing,” Noelle said.

“You really did it, Krouse,” Luke said.  “I almost didn’t believe them.  That you’d be that stupid.”

“Oh, I’m a hell of a lot stupider than that,” Krouse said.  “But I saved her.”

“You gave it to her?  The can?”

“Half,” Krouse said.  He withdrew the canister from his front jacket pocket and switched it with a book on a nearby bookshelf, then threw the book aside.  “Just enough to heal her.  Save her life.”

“And now you two have superpowers,” Luke said.  “You’re doing exactly what we said we wouldn’t.”

“The Simurgh set it in motion, not really my fault,” Krouse said.

“That’s bullshit,” Luke replied.  Unlike Cody, he was quiet, and the words almost had more impact as a result.  Krouse wondered, Is it because he’s my friend?  

“If I hadn’t done it, things would have gotten even worse.  If she wants us to use the stuff, then we eventually would have.  It’s extortion, extortion through fate, I dunno.  But I chose to pay the price rather than wait for her to ramp things up until I had to.  If you want to blame me, blame me.”

“No fucking shit we’re blaming you,” Luke said, and the hint of anger in his voice wasn’t as calm as his earlier words had been.

That anger seemed scarily similar to what Krouse was used to seeing from someone else.

“Where’s Cody?”

“Here,” Cody said, from behind Krouse.

Krouse whirled around.

Cody was smiling, swaggering.

“You too?” Krouse asked, unsurprised.  He’d left Cody in the house with the four remaining vials.

“Yeah.  Me too.”

Everything in the room shifted.  The curtains flickered and appeared in a fractionally different position, Noelle had moved a foot away, now squarely facing them, and Cody was in the center of the room.

“See?” Cody asked.

“What just happened?”

“I got powers.  The paperwork said it was the ‘Vestige’ can.  And as luck would have it, my power counters yours.  Totally and completely.”

There was another shift, things moving all at once, and Cody was now a foot in front of Krouse.  He was laughing.

Teleportation?  No.  The others wouldn’t move like that.

“Stop it, Cody,” Marissa said.

“He doesn’t care, he doesn’t know,” Cody said.

“Just stop!”

Everything shifted positions again, and this time, Cody was swinging a punch at Krouse.  It connected and Krouse crashed to the ground.  The punch had landed painfully close to where Krouse had been struck not long ago, and the resulting pain seemed to radiate across the surface of his skull.

“Only bad part is,” Cody said, shaking one hand as though it were sore, “If I use it on myself, I don’t get the satisfaction, and if I use it on him, he doesn’t even know.”

“Just leave him alone,” Marissa said.

Krouse looked at Noelle, saw her with gloved hands pressed to her mouth.

“What’s he doing?” Krouse asked, not moving from the ground.

“Time travel,” Luke said.

Cody shrugged, “Directed time travel, anyways.  Backwards only, a few seconds at a time.  You teleport away, I set you back to where you were, then kick you in the balls for being an asshole.”

“Well,” Krouse said, “Do you feel better now?  After however many beatings you just gave me?  Kicks in the balls?”

“I feel a bit better.  But what has me tickled is that I can do it again and again, whenever I feel the urge,” Cody said, smiling.

“Don’t,” Luke said.  “That’s…”

“Brutish,” Jess said, her voice low.  She was glaring at Krouse.

“Not the word I would have chosen,” Luke said, “But yeah.”

Cody shrugged.  He couldn’t stop smiling.

“Listen,” Krouse said, “Noelle’s better and she’s safe.  That’s priority number one done with.  Now we need to get out of here, and then we focus on getting home.”

“You know, Noelle?”  Marissa asked, “You know about our situation?”


“Come on then, let’s leave the boys to hash this out.  I’ll fill you in on what’s going on while we get our stuff packed.”

“Food first?” Noelle asked.  “I haven’t eaten since yesterday.”

Marissa gave her a funny look, but she led the way to the kitchen.

“Stuff?” Krouse asked the others, when the two girls had left.

The room flickered.

Stop, Cody,” Jess said.

“I’m tired of everyone catering to him.  He fucked up, broke the rules he set,” Cody said.  “So if he wants to run off and be the lone maverick, he can deal with the consequences.  That means we don’t go out of our way to get him caught up.”

“You’re being as bad as he ever was,” Luke said.

Cody turned towards Luke, “No.  No I’m not.”

“You’re making calls on our behalf.  You’re not being a team player, and you’re making things harder than they have to be to get your way.”

“It’s not the same,” Cody said.

Krouse looked at Cody, then grabbed him from behind and threw him into a bookcase.

“Krouse!” Luke shouted.  Marissa and Noelle hurried back to the hallway.

Cody appeared back where he’d been standing, in the exact same position.  Krouse repeated the throw from behind.  “Two!”

Again, Cody reappeared, setting himself back to where he’d been three seconds ago.  Krouse shoved him yet again.  “Three!”

On the next reappearance of Cody, Krouse shoved him and called out, “Four!  Blade cuts both ways Cody!”

This time, Cody didn’t use his power on himself.  He landed amid the fallen stacks of magazines and books, offered a snarling noise.

“Your power works against you,” Krouse said.  “Using it to protect yourself?  It doesn’t work if your opponent knows how you function and you don’t have backup to break the loop.  You shift yourself back in time, you don’t remember, and I can use the same strategy over and over.”

“That’s not-” Cody said, then he stopped.  His eyes narrowed.  “I don’t have to put you back where you were after hurting you.  Any time you do something to me, I can set you up to a position where I can hurt you, then leave you like that, hurting.  Using my power doesn’t tire me out.  I can set you back as many times in a row as I need to.”

“Just stop,” Jess pleaded.  “All of this is hard enough without you two being enemies.”

“Problem is, Jess,” Krouse said, not breaking eye contact with Cody, “Cody’s got this mindset where the guy with the bigger stick wins. He doesn’t care about the big picture until he’s established his dominance.  Since idea of dominance is kicking my ass, we can’t have him doing that while we’re trying to get back home.  It’s… counterproductive.”

“Yeah?  What are you going to do about it?” Cody asked.  He was pulling himself to his feet.

“Nothing,” Krouse said.  “You want to pull stunts like that, feel free.”

“Thought so,” Cody smirked.

“And,” Krouse said, stepping close enough to whispered in Cody’s ear, “Your power’s kind of a liability, you know. Not just the double-edged sword part.”

“Liability?”  Cody asked in a normal speaking volume.

Krouse continued whispering.  “A liability.  You saw what I was willing to do when the Simurgh forced my hand by putting Noelle’s life on the line.  Now my hand’s dangerously close to being forced again.  Because I will get these people home, and if you get in my way, if you give me reason to fear for my safety or to make me think we aren’t making as much progress as I want?  Well, the only way I can think of to shut down your power is by killing you.”

Cody smirked, stepping away.

His eyes flickered across Krouse’s face as he read Krouse’s expression.  Cody’s smile faded.

Cody forced a smile onto his face again, but it didn’t seem quite so genuine.  “I’m going to go pack my shit.  You have my permission to fill the asshole in on the details.”

You’re a coward at heart, Krouse thought, as he watched Cody head upstairs.  And I’m too stubborn to back down or give up.  As long as that’s the case, I’ll always come out ahead.

He looked at the others, “Well, I think that’s that.  Let’s talk about the next step of our plan.”

He seated himself on the couch, flashed Noelle a smile.

Noelle smiled back, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes or overcome the concern in her expression.  She turned back towards the kitchen, and Marissa followed.

Krouse’s heart sank a little at that.  It felt like they’d somehow been set back weeks or months in their relationship progress.

He distracted himself.  Turning to Luke, he asked, “What was that about ‘stuff’?”

“Stuff.  We weren’t quite sure where you went, and you kind of made it impossible to get the car out of the driveway,” Luke said.  “So we went shopping, so to speak.  Brought back clothes, toiletries, and all the cash we could get out of the registers, pretty much every place within walking distance.  We even got an old wheelchair for Jess, rinsed off the seat in the shower upstairs.  We’re just waiting for it to dry off.”

Krouse smiled.  “Good man.”

Luke wasn’t smiling back.  “It feels shitty, stealing.”

“Nobody’s going to touch that money anyways,” Krouse said.  “Not with it being in the quarantine area.  That was a smart move, really.  Does this mean we’ve got everything we need to get by for the next while?”

“Pretty much.  You should go through the stuff we brought and make sure it all fits, and that you aren’t going without something essential.”

“You didn’t happen to pick up cigarettes?”

Luke frowned, “I shouldn’t have, told myself you didn’t deserve it after what you pulled.”


“But I did.”

“Best friend!” Krouse smiled, spreading his arms wide.

Luke shook his head.  “You don’t deserve it.”

“I don’t.  But I’ll make it up to you by getting us out of here with my power.  Shouldn’t be hard; there weren’t all that many soldiers outside the fence, and we can swap ourselves for them, maybe.  If Cody cooperates, that makes it even easier.”

“And Noelle?” Luke asked.  “Does she have powers?”

“Apparently,” Krouse said, “Though I don’t have any idea of how it works.  You guys give any consideration to the idea of using the rest of the juice?”

Luke was nodding a little.

“Luke!” Jess said, aghast.

“What?  Half the damage is already done,” he said, “And as far as I’m concerned, the benefits of getting more powers outweighs the possible danger.  We don’t have any real income, we don’t have anybody to go to for help, and it’s going to be far easier to get funds if we can do something like mercenary work with a team of people with powers.  Like Cody was talking about, we could hire someone to get us home.”

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Jess said.

Luke sighed, “Let’s be honest.  If it’s just Noelle, Cody and Krouse who have powers, I’m worried things will get ugly.  There’s too much tension, but I don’t think any of us are willing to leave the group and strike out on our own, not when it means being all alone in a strange world.  So we’re stuck together, and that means there’s going to be conflict.  If they aren’t the only ones with powers, then at least we can do something to stop a fight from erupting.”

“I don’t know,” Jess said, “I feel like it’ll make the problem worse.  And you talk as if being a superpowered mercenary isn’t dangerous.  And it won’t be that easy to find a tinker who can give us a way home.”

“There’s a thousand mad scientist types in this world, aren’t there?  Someone knows how to get us back,” Krouse said.

Jess frowned.

“Jess,” Luke spoke.  “Superpowers.  And the stuff healed Noelle.  Maybe it’ll heal your legs.  Think about it.  Walking, dancing?  Running?  Other stuff, stuff with boys?”

Her expression shifted a fraction.  For the first time since the powers had been brought up, he thought maybe there was a sign of interest.

She looked at Krouse, and Krouse shrugged.  “We have three and a half vials left.  Someone’s going to get only a half dose.”

“You’re assuming I take one,” Jess said.

“I am,” he echoed her.  “She set Cody against me, so I had an adversary, putting me off balance.  Then used Noelle’s injury to push me to act.  And you guys?  You, Luke, Marissa and Oliver?  She kept you occupied.  Kept you focused on yourselves.  You want to talk about the Simurgh’s game plan?  It centers around me.  I can’t see any other way of looking at it.  She isn’t aiming to have you guys get mondo powers and kill a president or something.  Why would she make Oliver feel like crap if that was her end goal?”

“It’s you?” Luke asked.

“Doesn’t it make sense?  Just look at where the focus is.  She distracted you guys because you were the ones who could have talked sense into me.  The can of worms is opened, and I’m the person she’s turned into a guided missile.”

“You don’t sound too worried for someone who believes that,” Luke said.

“I’m… I’m processing it,” Krouse admitted.  “But that’s what it looks like, to me.  And if there isn’t anything that points to me being wrong?  Maybe I should just help you guys get home, then stay here.  Become a hermit or something.  Let me keep however much leftover cash we wind up with, and I’ll find an apartment and while away the rest of my days watching movies and playing games over the internet, not saying two words to anyone.  Don’t know how much damage I could do that way.”

“Or come with us,” Luke said.  “There’s no way she can see the future of this world and ours.  No way she’s turned you into some ticking time bomb that’s going to fuck our world over.”

Krouse shrugged, “Maybe.  I can decide when we get that far.”

“Three and a half vials,” Jess said.

Krouse nodded.  She’s on board.

“You took the Jaunt one and the Division one,” Luke said.


Luke was already getting a piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolding it.  “Prince, Deus, Robin and half of whichever vial you gave to Noelle.”

“Half of Division,” Krouse said, “Funny.  But it doesn’t look like Noelle has powers.  She’s said her skin fizzes, whatever that means, but maybe it’s incomplete…”

“I’ll take half,” Oliver said.

All eyes turned to him.  Oliver continued, “If Noelle doesn’t want to finish it, I’ll take half.  I’m not strong, I’m not brave, or smart, or creative.  I don’t have it in me to be a hero.  So as long as you don’t ask me to risk my life fighting stuff like the Simurgh, I’ll take the half, try to find other ways to help.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” Krouse said.  “You’re a decent guy.”

“Maybe,” Oliver said.  He sounded sad, “Maybe I’m decent.  But I’m not a great guy.  Like I said, nothing about me is special.  Nothing’s exceptional.  So I’ll take half.”

“Okay,” Krouse said.  “Anyone want to call dibs on the others?”

“Robin,” Luke said.  “Sounds like it might mean I could fly.”

“Mars?” Jess asked.  “You care?”

Marissa shook her head.

“Then Deus for me.”

“That leaves me with Prince,” Marissa said.  “I hope it doesn’t turn me into a boy.”

“Are they still next door?” Krouse asked.

Luke nodded.

“We dose you guys one at a time so we can be sure we have everything under control and minimize any damage.  Then we’ll leave before sunrise.”

The others nodded.

The car coasted down the long highway, the windshield wipers clearing away the moisture of the freezing rain.  Krouse pumped the windshield washer fluid and then wiped it away.

Madison was well behind them, now.  Odd, how it felt like he was leaving home, even when it wasn’t really his city.  A bad copy, an ugly copy.  One with more violence, where the criminals could do far, far worse, by virtue of having more power.  Having powers.  That was without even touching on Endbringers, the Simurgh, and the desolate quarantine area.

Cody was in front.  Krouse didn’t mind, didn’t care about giving up that token alpha-maleness.  If that’s all it took for Cody to be satisfied for the time being, he’d accept it.

He’d save his strength for the more serious conflicts.  They would happen.

The sun was rising.  It was a bit of a relief.  Driving in the rain and snow, in the dark, with the headlights seeming to extend a scant twenty feet ahead?  It sucked.  The rain continued, and the sky was overcast, but it was transitioning into a beautiful sort of overcast, with dark purples and oranges.

He looked at where Noelle sat in the passenger seat, reached over and squeezed her hand.

She looked at him and smiled a little.  It was better than he’d gotten in the last little while, and the surge of relief he experienced was almost palpable.

Marissa and Jess were in the back seat, either already sleeping or most of the way there.  He’d resisted the urge to comment, to note how the girls were with him, avoiding Cody.  They knew something was off.  That Cody was just a little too aggressive.  A little too testosterone driven.  As far as Krouse was concerned, it said something that the girls felt safer with him, even after everything that had happened.

They had their powers, and there was a slight cast of disappointment for everyone involved.

Jess could walk… but only with the images she projected.  Her real body seemed largely unaffected.  She got to experience everything she’d never had a chance to, even got to fly, but at the end of the day, she was still in the chair.

Marissa was managing to create flickers of light between her hands.  She’d stopped when a nearby piece of paper had caught on fire, resolving to try it when there was more open space.

Luke was especially disappointed with his power; it hadn’t been flight.  No, it was destructive, singular and without any versatility.  He turned anything he touched into a projectile.  It would be useful for mercenary work, if they were willing to take on the more dangerous jobs.  It came down to how long they were willing to wait before they got home, and how much money was demanded of them.

It was the day before Christmas Eve, Krouse remembered.  He’d have to be thankful for their well being, at least.  They were alive.  Things were okay.  Not great, but not as hopeless as they might have seemed before.  And things had settled down, at least.  For the first time since the others had joined him and Noelle at the coffee shop to discuss his inclusion on the team, things were calm.  They’d find a way to put their new powers to work.  They’d get money, get themselves home.

Things made sense again.  Mostly made sense.

Cody’s turn signal came on.  He was pulling into a rest stop.  One of the off-the-highway areas with a few fast food places and a gas station.

There weren’t many cars on the road, this time of morning, and less in the rest stop parking lot.  Cody pulled in just beside the front door.  Before Krouse was able to pull into another parking spot, Oliver was out of the door, running for the bathroom.

Oliver hadn’t changed either.  Half a dose apparently wasn’t enough.  It did seem to make the aftermath of drinking the stuff worse, though.  Oliver’s condition had been nearly as drawn out as Noelle’s after he’d taken his dose.

“Anyone need to make water?” Krouse asked.  “Fast food places might be open if you’re hungry.”

The two girls in the back seat groaned, but they roused.

“Want help with the chair?” he asked.

“We’ve got it,” Noelle said.  She flashed Krouse a small smile and headed inside.

Krouse fished in his pocket for a cigarette, whispered praise to Luke.  He popped it in his mouth and then started looking for the lighter.

Noelle knocked on the windshield, gave him a death glare.

“What?”  He offered her an exaggerated shrug

“Not in the car!” she admonished, her voice muffled by the intervening windows.

He smiled a little, climbed out of the car, leaned against the door and lit the cigarette.  While he puffed, he stared at the clouds as faint traces of the sunset’s colors traced across them.  The rain was freezing cold and irritating, but the cigarette was worth it.

When he’d finished the first and the others hadn’t returned, he resigned himself to walking across the parking lot to a spot where there was shelter from the rain, starting on a second cigarette.

He was halfway done when Marissa came outside.  He walked slowly in the direction of the car, taking a deep pull on the cigarette, thinking of how to gracefully point out that the others were taking a long time.  Then he saw her eyes.

She was afraid, white as a sheet, and she was silent in a way that suggested she didn’t know what to say.

He ran her way, spitting out the cigarette.  She held the door open for him, and then led the way toward the women’s bathroom.

There was a heavyset manager from one of the fast food places just at the door, shouting at Cody in a gruff voice.  Krouse ignored them, headed inside the bathroom, ignoring the manager’s shouted protests.

Noelle had crumpled to the ground at the far end of the bathroom.  Oliver, Luke and Jess were huddled around her.  Marissa moved straight to Noelle’s side.

“Don’t touch me!”  Noelle screamed, her voice shrill.

Marissa stepped away, hands raised, as if showing she were unarmed, safe.

“What happened?” Krouse asked, his voice quiet enough that the others might hear, but Noelle wouldn’t.

Each of the others gave him a look, expressions haunted.

He stepped closer, to get a better view.  Noelle’s pants were down around her knees.  Her jacket meant Krouse couldn’t see anything but her thighs.  There was a mark about a foot long and eight inches wide, raised on her left leg.  Red, angry, it was wrinkled and blistered like a bad burn.

She saw him. moved to try and cover herself, “Don’t look, Krouse!”

He turned to step away, to turn his back, but Jess reached out, caught his pants leg.

He looked again, saw Noelle’s head hanging, her hair a curtain around her face.  She was sobbing.

The skin on the angry red mark parted.  There was no surprise from the others; they’d seen this already.

Beneath the angry red skin on Noelle’s thigh, there was an eyeball, twice the normal size, with a broad yellow iris.  Noelle’s hands were clenched into fists, gripping the cloth of her jeans as the eye’s gaze darted from one member of their group to another.  It settled on Krouse.


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82 thoughts on “Migration 17.7

  1. Alright fellow Skittles show Wildbow some love and vote for Worm on Topwebfiction!
    Zie works hard to entertain us, so the least we can do throw money at the screen until Wildbow has Scrooge McDuck style money swimming pool. Or if that’s too much you could just vote.

  2. Spoilers for the chapter.

    So, Luke’s Ballistic, Division does exactly what it says on the tin and Cody dies or goes solo sometime between now and the normal storyline.

    Anyone taking bets on “dies”?

    • Nope. Cody is captured and turned into an alien device in another universe until it is eventually found by aliens who incorporate it into a spaceship as the “Omega 13” without fully understanding its function.

      Never give up, never surrender! *does the Tim the Tool Man Grunt*

      • The fact that you incorporated Galaxy Quest into these shenanigans, makes me laugh all that much harder.
        The fact that it actually makes sense, almost killed my lungs.

  3. Ohhhhh shitttttttt! That doesn’t sound good. Is this the last interlude of the Bonus week or will we get to see how a gas station worth of people simply disappear? I am going to guess that Cody is dead in the present day at either Trickster’s hand or Noelle’s mouth. I am curious about what Oliver can do, we have barely seen him in the main story. You should be commended for building a growing sense of suspense wildbow. I have a theory about her power but I can’t wait to see what she can.

  4. On the seventh day of Wormmass, my wildbow gave to me;

    Seven creepy thighballs,
    Six super powers,
    Five tagged capes,
    Four thurfan cnapa,
    Three brave friends,
    Two cameos,
    And the start of some origin stories.

  5. Well that was…unexpected. Great chapter, this week has been extraordinarily well done in general. As for Noelle’s power, maybe something evolutiony Crawler-like where she eats people instead of trying to get herself killed? The eyes in weird spots remind me of Crawler. Anyway just a guess. I’m so anxious to see what her powers really are.

  6. Cody’s several second time travel power reminds me a little bit of a character from another superhero web fiction series, The Last Skull. Naming this character would be minor spoilers, but his power allows him to relive the last 12 seconds of his life, whenever he wants. This power activates automatically if he dies, meaning he gets automatic retries if he gets killed.

    Once I found out about that part of his power, I felt very sorry for him. Imagine someone drugs a drink to render him unconscious, then as he is coming out of it they inject a huge amount of a lethal poison. Every time it kills him, he comes back and relives dying over again. Of course, eventually something will happen that causes him to survive, if only because of quantum probability. But by the time that happens, he will have lived for an uncountably large number of eons, in twelve second increments, repeatedly dying of poison.

    Another reason I remembered this character is that the above paragraph is something I can see wildbow doing to one of his/her characters.

    • Seems like that power would be pretty inconvenient right around the time he starts suffering from heart disease/cancer/any other age related illness.

  7. Now that Luke is confirmed as Ballistic, I wonder what The Simurgh showed him. After all, his “treachery” allowed the Undersiders to neutralize the Travelers and helped seal Coil’s fate. Did The Simurgh set him on that path?

    • There is also the possability that, while the Simurgh did it in general, that such a particular outcome wasn’t planned. She’s brilliant, yes, but despite what Krouse thinks, Noelle is the focus of the Simurgh, and Krouse/Trickster is probably the secondary target, the knife to cut-up Noelle, as it were.

      That said, Krouse is right in that giving Luke and co those powers was a good move, at least in one aspect. It allows someone a chance to reign Trickster in (though, it has to be fatally, considering the powers.) Luke is the most reasonable of the boys, not worshipping the ground Krouse works on or anything, but willing to fairy judge him…and condemn him if need be.

      As a side note, one thing I like about Krouse that I didn’t know was that he was at least a bit self-aware, and I wonder if Trickster was too? I mean, I always imagined Trickster as an asshole who calls himself a hero, and doesn’t know he’s an ass. But…

      Imagine knowing that you are an asshole, that most of your teammates can, just barely, stand you, and you have to play all sorts of games (not to the level of Jack’s balancing act, admittedly) to keep it together: I say that because the ‘let Cody lead so he can be soothed a bit seems like a less-murderous alternative to: let Shatterbird do her stupid singing, even though it bores Jack, because she needs the chance to stroke her ego.

      Maybe, right down to the moment before he was hit by Ballistic, he thought he was being an asshole, but if he could save Noelle from all of it, end it with Noelle, the one person who might actually like him (maybe)…

      Well, not to draw the parallels too close (they are very different, incredibly so) it seems that, if that is true, that Skitter wasn’t the only one placing all hopes of redemption on the life, happiness and freedom of a girl (Dinah/Noelle.)

      One last bit of parallel. Dinah and Noelle both have powers that are so stupendous (in different ways, it seems) that they don’t like using them, it seems to hurt them or others, and makes them an asset to those who would use them (Coil, mostly, though also the Endbringers (not sure if they actually work together, of course).

  8. I’ll take a shot in the dark and say that Noelle’s power involves going off like the Hulk when stressed, but where does eating people enter into the picture? Maybe she needs to continually munch on human flesh to fuel either her human and monster form.

    She could be constantly hungry as her body tries to maintain her form, because she doesn’t have whatever aspect of her power that was supposed to keep her level, whether she’s supposed to control her shifting or get the fuel from elsewhere or what have you.

    So we’ve got someone who’s constantly on the verge of going apeshit out of hunger and constantly hungry because she keeps going apeshit. The emotional torque of being a freaky uncontrollable shaeshifter stuck in another dimension only makes things worse.

    I’m guessing whatever Oliver got, it’s capable of controlling Noelle somewhat. If the powers aren’t something else entirely.

    Also, I’ve got an ugly feeling about what Cody was getting yelled at about. He’s probably a dead man.

      • Perhaps they’re linked through their passenger. From what we’ve seen in the past it looks like every cape has one passenger that acts as an interface with their power, so perhaps what cauldron was selling is in part a passenger in a bottle. Opens up options for Noelle to have either a passenger with half the support stuff in the concoction, potentially explaining Oliver having less in the way of powers, or only half a passenger. And half a passenger doesn’t sound like something that would end well.
        Perhaps this half passenger hungers for completion in such a way that causes her to hunger for people. Though I would guess that’s even more off the mark.

        • My idea was that somehow, Noelle got the power, while Oliver got the additions to the vial that made the power controllable and prevented mutations. I.e. she got Division, he got Balance, which does nothing on its own.

          (Also, hello, new reader, just finished archive binging this.)

          • Hello and welcome🙂

            I can see the stuff separating like that, though I suspect that Balance actually will do something. After all, Oliver got affected as badly Noelle had.

            Incidentally, the Doctor must have gotten much better at producing these things. Not a single person died taking the medicine when the odds used to be 1 in 7 of complete success and 4 in 7 of turning into a monster. At this point, the only problematic potion was the one that was misused.

            • Cauldron certainly HAS got better with them: Battery was told there was some small chance of a mutation, but only the way medicines always list side-effects that barely ever happen. Alexandria was just a test subject who got really lucky, her gaining powers was mostly just a means to improve the formula.

              The Travelers were really lucky they got some high quality commercial mixtures rather than a new test formula like the monsters

  9. Fizzing skin. Eyeball on thigh. Hungry. Gloves when she touched Krouse. She’s just absorbed someone who touched her leg. Guessing Oliver is immune.

    • Given her power’s name is Division, I’m pretty sure she’s absorbing peopleso she can duplicate herself. Only since she’s not taken the whole thing, she can’t split the clones/duplicates off of herself and is just growing into a huge ball of Noelle flesh.

          • Or he guessed what it is a Wildbow doesn’t want any spoilers……but I doubt it is the first all things considered.😛

          • I have had comments not be approved before. I don’t bring it up because that’s Wildbow’s right and (s)he probably has good reasons. Not like we’re lacking for my comments around here.

          • The only times I’ve blocked/removed comments have been when, like, 4 links to youtube videos are posted in one day and half of them are basically some guy humping a telephone pole and yelling, “Yeah baby!” over and over. Or stuff like that.

            Or when the wrong option was chosen and it embeds an actual youtube video in the comment and distorts the comments section.

            After a few of those, I set a filter up so it catches certain things and holds onto them until I a-ok it. I don’t know why it stopped Psychogecko’s comments like the one below, though. I’d assumed he’d changed his email address or some such and it was considering him a new commenter, which happens with some regularity.

          • Was probably me trying out Gravatar then. I missed my white and green pixels though. At least it stays in my name, unlike those other people who took it on Sony, Champions Online, and Xbox Live.

            I think someone from here might have found me on Champions the other day though. A bit emoticonny.

    • I was going to say that perhaps her body absorbs certain materials naturally to create stuff on her, but I got another nasty idea in the process.

      Division was her drink. So maybe the power was supposed to be the ability to create a double from herself that would have to exit physically (See Johnathon Taylor Thomas in Smallville). Probably make her hungrier to create all that.

      Problem is, due to the half dose, doesn’t work properly. The extra body just can’t seem to ever get out. Nor will any of the others. But she’ll be hungry.

      Could be either or, but whatever it is seems to involve some strong regeneration. Ahem, you know, like growing body parts to handle the ones you lost. So that also means maybe her power is haywire and keeps trying to grow stuff even when it hasn’t been damaged.

      Or worse yet, she was one of the many people who had a twin in utero and never knew it. Believe I read once of a woman who wasn’t genetically the mother of her own daughter because she had a fraternal twin in the womb who she killed in development or who still had some cells living and growing in her. Chimeras, they call them. So she got her twin never-born sister’s uterus. Another case, a guy had two different blood types.

      Well, maybe there’s one of those in Noelle and the regeneration is messing with that too. Don’t know if Oliver had multiple visions or just the one, but we did see what may have been more than one with Noelle.

      Sweet dreams, everybody.

  10. Krouse- Trickster
    Jess- Genesis
    Luke- Ballistic
    Marissa- Sundancer
    Cody – ???

    Maybe im being dumb but i cant remember who cody would be?

  11. Wait, what? Noelle’s id is manifesting as physical monstrosities under her skin or something? Alternatively, she’s manifesting her passenger directly. Alternatively, shoggoth?

  12. Okay, so I just spent five days reading the entire archive thanks to a friend of mine linking it (who I may kill for doing so later). I have to say, I am astonished at how wildly different this story has been compared to my initial impressions–the words “standard” and “childish” had cropped up, I’ll admit–and I am quite happy to be so very, very wrong. I went and voted already, and I will keep reading as long as I can remind myself to, now I don’t have a metric ton of catching up to do anymore. Withdrawal’s setting in, man…

    Oh, and as an aside, if you’d like, I will happily offer my services as a proofreader from now on. Case in point:

    “What?” He offered her an exaggerated shrug

    Missing a period there.😀

    • Standard and childish. Ouch.

      I do intend to go back and revise the initial chapters at a later date. Wondering how to do so so that I can fix issues with those initial perceptions while retaining the key elements & not taking things in a wildly different direction.

      • I thought you’d appreciate the honesty, sorry. I think it mainly had to do with the fact that a LOT of kid-hero stories take place in a high school setting, accidentally getting perceived as a villain by villains is something I’ve seen done as a comedic gesture rather than a serious one, and frankly, Taylor came across as very whiny until her actual issues popped up.

        • Believe it or not, I do appreciate it. But that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to hear the blunt truth, haha.

          In my own defense, I’m not entirely unaware of the story’s flaws, and I’ve said again and again that I know my writing & general storytelling has improved since the story’s earliest chapters. I’ve also said with some frequency that I intend to fix them when I have the time. It’s just a question of finding that time (probably after I’m done writing Worm).

          • I’d be genuinely shocked if you weren’t aware of the flaws, I’ve never known any artistically inclined person who wasn’t. I also couldn’t help but notice that the average chapter length got larger and larger, possibly just because the natural cutoff points in the narrative just have -so much happening- between them.

          • Yeah. The chapter length was, in part, me just finding the point where I’m most comfortable (where I can tell all the story I want to between points) as opposed to sticking with what I saw other web authors doing.

            It was also me just trying to stress myself just enough that I could develop my writing habits – I see writing as exercise, and you can’t lift metaphorical five pound weights every day and expect to see steady improvement.

          • As far as flaw awareness, it’s tricky. It’s very hard to be objective with one’s own writing, and I’ve met a number of people who’ve been pretty blind to the flaws of their own work.

            I mean, I’ve read and reread the early parts of the story so many times that I don’t really have that reader’s eye view of the stuff. I joined a writer’s circle IRL to get some serious feedback on the stuff so I could target flaws and address them later.

        • Worm doesn’t stay in a highschool setting for very long- and really, highschool age kids in a modern setting who never attended school would take some justification…

          I personally loved how the intro was the first time I read it and yes, there are common tropes in play. Yes, Taylor has character issues. But she is a person(and frankly a kid, a rather odd kid in ways). I found her less annoying than Holden Caulfield, and I found her issues to be painfully real- and with implications for later chapters as well, no matter how far the story leaves highschool behind.

          I think a large part of the appeal is how things are built up, then turned so a different side faces the light, flipped over to send all the bugs underneath to scatter, broken open to get at the core. That could easily lose impact with a bolder forward face- and Taylor’s development would be a lot harder to swallow for me if it didn’t unfold like this.

          Also, “Some.”” is missing a quotation mark at the start.

          • Yeah, I agree. I really loved the start. There was so much uncertainty and whenever you played with expectations, it didn’t feel forced. It’s like you expect one thing, but when it doesn’t happen you automatically think that of course this is the way it had to happen.

    • Hah, took you five days? It only took me three.
      In all seriousness though I came into this story with the same prejudices you had but watching Taylor grow as a villain and as a person at the same time is a rare experience. Good to see that I am not too late to the party though.

      • It took me five days because two of them were spent being sick, one because I accidentally stayed up till 7 am and wound up sleeping through my alarm for work and gave up, and the other two trying to convince myself to rest my eyes a bit and browse imgur or something else. Kinda worked, kinda didn’t.

    • Personally, I think it’s ridiculous to call the start of this story “childish” or even “standard”. It’s nitpicky.

      Is the start of this story common? Certainly. Is the setting of the story abundantly mis-used by authors who don’t know what they’re doing? Absolutely!

      But a high school setting with high school characters, let alone bullies acting out on other students with an ineffectual administrative staff not seeing to justice? The opening conflict is common, but that doesn’t make it “childish” which implies /bad/ or /immature/ or whatever. It’s a common story that happens in real life; I know plenty of people who’ve lived it. It’s abundant. And sorry to break it to you, but there’s something like 35~ story types that have ever been written by man. There’s only so much you can do; all stories are similar to one another in the end, because they’re written by humans about human conflicts.

      Worm’s beginnings aren’t /amazing/ or anything, but they work. They absolutely work and to call them “childish” I think suggests a personal discomfort with your own maturity. I don’t want to attack you personally, but I think my point stands well – maturity is a vague concept that very few people attempt to understand. Porn flicks are “mature” but they don’t give us a “mature” sense of what it means to have a relationship. High school romance novels can be “immature” in the sense the author hasn’t thought things through or has written an idealistic story featuring shallow tropes and underdeveloped ideas. Societies across the board put different values of “maturity” on different people – females should be “less immature” because a “mature” female is a slut; males should “more mature” because mature males are “strong”, “indifferent”, “manly”, et cetera.

      Sorry for blowing up over this, but I just /hate/ the concept of “childishness”. It’s clear the author has thought this story through. The author has some idea of where the story is going and has thought through and developed all the ideas this story is utilizing. Calling a story “childish” without having read it in its entirety is /wrong/ because good stories develop and mature as they move forward. Period. People who think stories aren’t “childish” when they offer blood, sex and violence on page one aren’t “mature” themselves.

  13. What a bunch of fucking idiots how stupid do you have to be to give out random dosages of medicine that are clearly labelled to be taken in one vial. Seriously the stupidity of that action overwhelms me so much that I can’t comprehend it.

  14. Is it just me, or does someone else also hate Krouse? The guy is a total ass, manipulative as hell and also has this alpha-shit going on. He needs to lead, needs to order around. He’s destroying the group right now. I can see why the Travellers had about zero loyalty to him in the end.

    A narcisstic personality that believes himself oh so very smart. Which he isn’t. He’s just good at talking. All charisma, but nothing else and he’s already fucked Cody out of the group. I really hope that guy survives.

    • I hate Krouse in the main story and strongly dislike him in this prequel interlude arc. I don’t think he fucked Cody out of the group though. Cody did that all by himself. A lot of the earlier actions of Krouse while dickish did not warrant the reaction they received from Cody. Up until hiding the vials and saying they were destroyed he hadn’t outright lied to anyone and was genuinely acting in their best interests if being an ass about it. Saying the vials were destroyed was the first thing I think he deserved to be punched over. I do agree however that I understand why the Travelers have very little loyalty to him by the present if he continues to do things like he is doing.

      You honestly like Cody better and hope that he survives? He is giving off crazed rape/murder vibes everywhere! If the guy doesn’t try to kill one of group I am going to be extremely surprised indeed.

    • Meh,I noticed something.Most of the time his “I know better”personality seems to be actually intelligent and better for all but Chris,who is a jerk anyway….until….he met the Simurgh,and from then,he started screwing up everything.

  15. Did it not occur to those morons that the canned superpowers came in specific doses for a REASON?.

    If I recall correctly, super powers require an extra lobe of the brain to control- taking half the mix might very well prevent the lobe from developing properly.

    It might even prevent the powers themselves from developing properly.

    Seriously, it’s like they have NO critical thinking skills.

    Also, this group dynamic is pretty fucked up- Krouse is a narcissistic asshole, Cody is an egocentric asshole (no wonder they don’t get along, they are rather similar), Marissa is a wilting flower, Luke is a yesman!, Oliver is a doormat, Jess is the only one with a lick of sense but she allows herself to be talked into stupidity- more then that, she is entirely ineffectual.

    The only reason this group held together at all is because Krouse is a manipulative dickhead.

    • I agree on almost all accounts. Changing dosages on superserum is Darwin Award worthy in my book. The only thing that would disagree with is your comments on Luke and Jess. Luke to me is less a yes-man and more of a “you know what? Fuck it” guy. While Jess wasn’t so much talked into stupidity as seduced by potentially getting to have sex which she would’ve had to live without her entire life otherwise. Notice how she perked up as soon as it was mentioned? She is a teenage girl facing a lifetime of being crippled with a potential literal miracle cure sitting right in front of her. Stupid? Yes. In her shoes though…can you honestly say you wouldn’t do the same thing? I know I wouldn’t be able to say no to that sort of thing.

    • I don’t think any of them is so much “stupid”as they all constantly take stupid decisions.

      Now,why would smart persons take stupid decisions constantly?its not like they have been exposed to a monster that affects causality….oh, wait.

  16. I like how even though you make Cody an obvious jerk, you make it clear (at least to me) that Krause is the real dirty scumbag even from the beginning of this arc. I feel that though Cody would upset me a great deal to be around, just spending a single day around Krause would have me desperately searching for some object to end his life with. That may seem extreme, but I could tell at the beginning of this arc that he is SERIOUSLY messed up in the head. I may be reading him wrong, but that’s my first impression of his character.

  17. Edit needed. This phrase is missing a word.
    “Since idea of dominance is kicking my ass”
    should be
    “Since his idea of dominance is kicking my ass”

  18. “One of us, two bodies,” Krouse said.

    I love this bit. A random throwaway line, in the big picture, but it’s a nice little bit of instinctive misdirection, and it highlights to me the similarities between Trickster and Skitter. They both look for any edge they can get. I think if Skitter were in such a position, she just wouldn’t say anything. Or she might have her bugs talk for her. I guess the real difference is that she doesn’t seem so comfortable with doing things against her friends’ will that are “for their own good”.

    I also like the way Trickster turns Cody’s power around on him. Again, makes me think of Skitter.


  19. Not too bad for his first fight considering that he got his powers a half hour ago. I see strong parallels to Taylor’s story which is really cool. Both in his getting into a fight right off the bat, how he uses misdirection to cloak his power, and how he twisted Cody against himself.

    Again Krouse pushes things far too far, far too quickly to be a good person. He’s like a beast that is caged most of the time but is a nightmare when let out to play. I wonder how much was the Simourgh working him over and how much was innate.

    Yup half a dose is evil. Oliver must have gotten incredibly lucky to get little to no power from his screwed up dosage. I feel bad for Jess that she still doesn’t get to walk but at least she can play around with anything she wants in her projected bodies. Huh, Prince leads to a miniSun…weird.

    Cody is…unhinged. By the end I was practically leading to psychopath. He seems to have completely lost it. To the point that I wouldn’t put it past him to rape the girls and murder the others in their sleep.

    I knew that Luke was Ballistic! Now I really need to reread the story again so I can find where he was called Luke earlier because I know it was in there and I’m not just remembering things!

  20. Minor continuity error — the cup shouldn’t be half-full. Krouse already put only half of the vial contents into the cup and Noelle drank all of what was in the cup, the rest is still in the vial.

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