Interlude 3: One Step Back, Two Steps for Wards

Source material: Worm, Interlude 3

Originally blogged: June 16, 2017


Howdy! It’s time for another round of Worm, and we’ve reached the third Interlude!

I expect this Interlude will follow in the footsteps of the previous two (three if you count this one…) and take a look at the story from another perspective. Possibly that of a new character, possibly that of an established one.

I think my best guess for who’s going to be the focus this time is either Tattletale or one of the Wards who were at the Battle of Brockton Bay Central Bank. If we’re going the new character route like with the previous Interludes, I suppose Shadow Stalker is an option too. I was expecting her to show up at the Battle, after all.

Another possibility is that we’re in for a look at the Protectorate from within. That could be interesting.

But yeah, let’s get on with it and find out!


The building housing the local Parahuman Response Team division didn’t really stand out.

Hm, the PRT. I recall that being mentioned alongside the police in the last chapter. Is it a part of the Protectorate, another name for it, or a separate agency?

Oh hey, a song about the pursuit of JUST1C3 just came on. How fitting!

The exterior was all windows, reflective enough to mirror the mottled dark gray of the sky overhead.

All windows? Don’t throw any stones, because it sure sounds like you’re living in a glass house!

Only a shield logo bearing the letters ‘P.R.T.’ marked it apart from the other buildings of downtown Brockton Bay.

A shield seems apt.


Those entering the lobby would find a strange juxtaposition at work. On the one hand, you could see the various employees in suits, hurrying in and out of the building, talking in groups. A team of four PRT officers was on standby, each stationed at a different area of the lobby, outfitted in the best equipment money could buy. All had chain mesh and kevlar vests, helmets that covered their faces, and firearms. The equipment differed, however, as two of them had grenade launchers hanging from straps on their shoulders with bandoliers of various specialty ammunition across their chests, including a fire extinguishing grenade, an EMP round and various stun grenades.

In other words: Don’t mess with these guys.

Hm… Is the PRT perhaps a sort of division of non-parahumans trained to protect against parahumans abusing their powers despite not having powers of their own?

The other two had what appeared at first glance to be flame throwers; were they to pull the triggers, they would eject a thick, frothing spray of foam, enough to contain all but the strongest and fastest villains.

Ooh, sounds handy.


In stark contrast to this, there was the gift shop that would be thick with youths when school ended, sporting a selection of action figures, posters, video games and clothing. Four-foot tall pictures of the various Protectorate and Wards team members were placed at regular intervals around the lobby, each backed by bright colors.

Okay, that confirms that if the PRT isn’t straight up another name for the Protectorate, it’s at least closely related to it, like a branch. Or conversely, I suppose the PRT could be a catchall for the Protectorate and Wards, and perhaps some other branches?

There was a cheery tour guide waiting patiently by the front desk, smiling handsomely at anybody who happened to glance his way.

I like this guy already.

On schedule, he would introduce tourists and children to the PRT offices, the armory, the training area and the parking lot with the parahuman containment vans, showing them what it took to manage the local heroes.

“manage the local heroes” does sound like the task an overlying agency of the Protectorate and Wards would have.


For those willing to pay for the premium tour, wait up to two hours and suffer a PRT squad escort, there would be an additional stop on the tour – a glimpse of the Wards’ Headquarters.

Ooh.

As a beleaguered team of young heroes staggered into the lobby, however, there was no tour, only a heavyset woman with a bob.

Probably wouldn’t be very fun to come home from a defeat like that to a bunch of tourists pointing and staring.

I guess we’re getting the internal look at not the Protectorate, but the Wards! If that’s the case, I’m happy with that, since if you’ll recall, one of the things I would’ve wanted more of from Agitation was the individual personalities of the Wards beyond “hero with these powers”.

She wore a navy blue suit jacket and skirt, and waited with a pair of stern looking men in suits just behind her. Wordlessly, she led them through a door behind the front desk and into a meeting room.

Welp. She may not have said anything yet, but this feels very distinctly like “We need to talk.”


“Director Piggot. Ma’am,” Aegis greeted her, his voice strained. His costume was in shreds, and was more crimson with his own blood than it was its original white.

Piggot, nice name.

Also that’s technically not Aegis’ costume, but I’ll let that detail slide.

It was bad enough his civilian identity might have been revealed, if it weren’t for the matted blood and the chunks of meat that had been taken out of him, some of the wounds nearly a foot across.

Yikes.

And of course he’s still up and walking, because fuck you he’s Aegis. The kid with easily the freakiest power we’ve seen so far.

“Good god, Aegis,” her eyebrows raised a fraction, “You look like hell. What’s wrong with your voice?”

Well that’s one way of putting it.

“Punctured lung, ma’am,” Aegis rasped, “I think there’s a hole in my front and back.” As if to demonstrate, he stuck his fingers into his chest cavity.

This is so weird and I’m kinda starting to love it.


Director Piggot didn’t look away, but one of the men standing behind her looked a touch green around the gills, “I can take you at your word. You don’t need to stick your arm all the way through your chest to demonstrate.”

Pfft.

Aegis grinned and removed his hand from his chest.

I think you mean he “retrieved arm from chest”.

Her expression hardened, “I wouldn’t be smiling right now.”

Aegis’ grin fell. He glanced over his shoulder at his teammates. Gallant, Kid Win, Vista, Browbeat and Clockblocker were all wearing suitably somber expressions.

“This was a fiasco,” she told them.

Yeah… they put up a good fight, but ultimately they werebeaten by a group that was at a clear disadvantage at the beginning.

“Yes ma’am. We lost,” Gallant admitted.

“You lost, yes. That’s the least of it. You also caused horrific amounts of property damage.

I did actually notice that, but didn’t find a good time to point it out: The most damage the Undersiders did to the place was, what, some hellhound footprints? Meanwhile the Wards wrecked the place. Especially Kid Win with his Tiro Finale.

I’m afraid any and all destruction caused by New Wave’s golden child is also your responsibility, since you invited her along. Without my say-so.

Wait, what? I thought Glory Girl and Panacea just happened to be there, Panacea having civilian business in the bank and Glory Girl waiting on the roof, caught unaware by the parahuman battle breaking out below her.

“I invited her,” Gallant spoke up, “I’ll take the blame, and you can take the costs for the property damage out of my trust.”

Ah, right, her on-and-off boyfriend was there.


Director Piggot offered him a thin and utterly humorless smile, “Living up to your name, I see? Yes, I’m sure that’s the best way to get the message across. Your teammates and I know who you are under the mask. Of everyone here, myself included, you’re the one most able to handle a fine of tens of thousands of dollars.”

…rich kid, huh.

Kinda reversing the Iron Man / Iron Patriot relationship he seems to have with Kid Win on that front, then.

“I won’t deny it, ma’am,” Gallant choked out the words.

“I’m afraid I’m a believer in punishment, when punishment is due. Taking money from someone with money to spare is not going to mean anything.

I’m torn between “oh come on” and “…well she’s not wrong”.

All of you will share the fees between you.

I mean, for all the other fees, sure, but did the other Wards have a say in Gallant inviting Glory Girl?

Since I can’t touch the trust funds the PRT established for you, I’ll have to settle for docking your pay. Maybe next time, the rest of you can talk Gallant out of inviting his girlfriend along.”

Hrm.


The protests overlapped. “It was her sister in the bank! She would have gone in anyways!” “I start college next fall!”

I’d like to point out that Glory Girl seemed to do nothing at all about the situation until Panacea texted her. It’s not like she couldn’t see there was a battle going on until her sister alerted her to what was going down indoors.

Director Piggot simply weathered the arguments and complaints. A more cynical person might even suggest she enjoyed hearing them.

On some level, maybe she does. It does tell her the Wards are feeling the punishment she thinks is due.

When a minute or two passed and it was clear she wasn’t going to reply or get dragged into the arguments, the young heroes fell into a sullen silence. She cleared her throat and spoke again.

“Kid Win. I’m very interested to hear about this weapon you deployed on the battlefield.”

Oh boy, you’re in trouble.


“My Alternator Cannon?” Kid Win asked, cringing just a bit.

I liked the name Tiro Finale better, but oh well.

“You’ll have to forgive me,” Piggot smiled, “The paperwork gets to be a bit much sometimes. Maybe you know where to find the documentation from our military and science teams, for this Alternator Cannon?”

“Christ, Kid,” Aegis groaned under his breath, with his ruined voice.

Oh man, it wasn’t something he was allowed to use in the first place. Makes sense, really.

Kid Win looked more upset about Aegis’ reaction than anything else, “I, uh. I didn’t get it officially cleared, yet. I just thought it would be better to use the cannon and do what I could to stop the robbery.”

Fair enough, to be honest. Property destruction or no, he did almost win the entire battle for them with the thing.

“That’s where you’d be wrong,” Piggot told him, “Fact of the matter is, the money that was taken from the bank falls very low on my priority list. You might even go so far as to suggest I don’t care about it.”

“Director-” Aegis started. He didn’t get to finish.

“What I care about is the public perception of capes.

Ahh, I see. She’s that kind of character – the PR person in charge of making sure the heroes don’t go doing stupid shit in public.

I care about ensuring that we get enough funding to keep you Wards, the Protectorate and the PRT squads paid and equipped. Without that, everything I’ve worked to build falls apart.”

Which is pretty important.


“What are you going to do?” Kid Win asked her.

“The cannon gets dismantled, first off.”

“No!” Aegis and Kid Win spoke at the same time. Director Piggot looked briefly surprised at the defiance.

Ooh. Kid Win reacting like this isn’t surprising, but why Aegis? Is he thinking of how useful it is? Again: Kid almost won the battle for them.

“I started on the Alternator Cannon so I’d have something to bring out in case of a Class A threat,” Kid Win said,

It’s literally for when they need to pull out the big guns

“Getting rid of it would be such a waste. I don’t care if I never get to use it again. Give it to your PRT squad. I’ll teach someone how it works. You can mount it on one of your trucks or something.”

That’s a good idea!

Director Piggot frowned, “The amount of time and money that would require, for an event that might never occur… no. I suppose you can keep the cannon.”

Kid Win practically sagged with relief.

…that’s…? Kid just suggested something that would alleviate Piggot’s fears while still allowing the cannon to exist, but that’s too expensive so… she lets him keep it? Doesn’t seem like a particularly smart resolution, but okay.

“But whatever the power source is, you’re removing it, and I’m keeping it under lock and key. If a Class A threat does come into play, I’ll hand it over to you.

Alright, that makes a lot more sense, and is a pretty good compromise. Kid gets to wield it, Piggot gets control of when.

And the cannon still goes through the standard review process for all Tinker created material. If it doesn’t pass the review, if you were putting people and property at undue risk with what you pulled today, I’m afraid you could face a substantial fine or jail time.”

Kid Win paled.

Seems fair to me.


“Director!” Aegis grunted out the word, taking a step forward.

“Be quiet, Aegis,” Piggot snapped, “Your trying to speak with a punctured lung physically pains me, and as much as I admire standing up for your team, your one lungful of breath is wasted here.”

I bet Aegis has more than two lungs.

But yeah, why is he invested in this? It’s probably more than just wanting to keep Kid Win out of jail, given the outburst earlier.

Kid Win turned to Aegis and offered a small apologetic smile.

“Kid Win, you’re coming with us for a disciplinary review. Everyone else is dismissed. The tour group is going to be coming by your quarters in an hour, and there’s likely to be more than a few reporters peering in the window. Try to clean yourselves up for the pictures that are undoubtedly going to appear in tomorrow’s papers. Please.”

Try to grow back that missing chunk of your body, Aegis, geez.


The two men in suits marched a miserable Kid Win out the door after Director Piggot. Kid Win shot a worried look at his team before he was taken out of sight.

Byyye

“We debrief,” Aegis grunted, “Gallant or Clockblocker handles it. You two decide.”

Dude, I’m not sure Clockblocker is in any state to handle anything right now.

The team trudged out of the meeting room and made their way to their reserved elevator. It was Tinker-designed to impress the tourists as well as be far more secure. Interlocking sections of metal unfolded and slid apart as they approached, then closed behind them. The ride down was so smooth that it was nearly impossible to tell the elevator was moving.

They exited into a long corridor of chrome steel.

I like the design of this building. You can tell it’s made by and for important people, for heroes.

“I’m going to have nightmares,” Clockblocker groaned, as he tenderly touched the welts around his nose and mouth, “Nightmares with lots and lots of spiders.”

What did I say? Yeah, Taylor fucked this poor guy up.


At the far end of the corridor, they came to a security terminal. Aegis pointed at Clockblocker.

“Don’t you usually do it?”

“Retina maybe detached,” Aegis admitted in his halting voice, “Don’t want to fail scan.”

Pfft.

Clockblocker nodded hesitantly, then leaned forward to let the terminal scan his eyes.

I wouldn’t blame Clocky if he didn’t want anything getting near his eyes for a long time, even something static like a retina scanner.

(under the eyelids, what the fuck Taylor)

Steel doors clicked, then whisked open with a barely audible whirr, letting the young heroes and heroine make their way into the main area of their headquarters.

The room was roughly dome-shaped, but there were sections of wall that were able to be dismantled and rearranged on the fly. Some had been set up to give the various team members their individual quarters, while others framed the doorways that led into the showers, the filing room and their press/meeting room. A series of computers and large monitors were networked at one side of the room, surrounded by a half-dozen chairs. One of the monitors was displaying a countdown to the next tourist group, while others were showing camera images of key locations in the city. The Central Bank was one of them, a dark image punctuated by the red and blue of police sirens.

These headquarters feel inhabited. I like it.


“Shadow Stalker is AWOL?” Gallant asked.

“Couldn’t make it in time,” Aegis grunted, “Told her to stay put.”

Oh hey, we’re addressing her absence!

“She’s going to hate that. Doesn’t she have this huge hate-on for Grue?” Clockblocker asked.

“Part of the reason,” Aegis grunted out the words, “I told her to stay. Don’t need that. I’m going to shower. Patch myself up. You guys debrief.”

Aegis is getting terser and terser. Go patch yourself up, pal. Try not to flood your insides in the shower!

“Sure thing, Chief,” Clockblocker saluted. “Take care of yourself.”

“Fucking mutant dogs,” Aegis muttered, as he made his way to the bathroom. He was stripped out of the top half of his tattered costume before he was through the door.

All in all, Clockblocker does seem to be doing relatively okay… for now at least. Definitely getting those nightmares though.

“Vista? Can you go grab the whiteboard? Grab two?” Gallant turned to their junior member. Vista almost skipped in her rush to follow the order.

“What’s going to happen to Kid?” Browbeat spoke up for the first time, “I don’t know how all this goes. Is it serious?”

Wha– Oh, right, I forgot Browbeat had actually joined the Wards. Hi!

Gallant considered for a moment, “Could be, but my gut tells me Piggy just wants to scare him. He needs to stop testing the limits with the people in charge, or he’s going to get in real trouble at some point.”

Chaotic good… pretty much what you’d expect from a coolkid hero, come to think of it. It’s fitting.


“Fuck, I wouldn’t mind so much if I knew what happened,” Browbeat stretched, and his muscles began to dwindle in size, “At least then I could figure out what to do better next time. All I know is that I was suddenly blind and deaf, and when I tried to move, everything bent the wrong way. Then I think I got tasered.”

So basically Browbeat got wrecked by Grue and Regent inside the darkness, and that’s why he was never seen after the lineup. Good to know! I’m glad it was addressed; it was kind of bothering me.

Vista returned, dragging a pair of whiteboards on wheeled frames behind her.

“Hold that thought,” Gallant told their newest member, “Hey Clock, you don’t mind if I take point?”

Clockblocker was still using his fingertips to explore the raised bumps on his face, “Go for it. I’m going to procrastinate as long as I can on the leadership thing.”

Hm, interesting. Aegis has been acting like Clockblocker was second in command to some degree, first during the battle, then with the retina scanner and now with having him or Gallant do the debriefing. I suppose Aegis might be about to graduate to the Protectorate, leaving Clockblocker in charge of the Wards, and Aegis is trying to prepare Clocky for that.

“You’re next oldest, after Carlos. It’s only going to be what, three or four months, before you’re the senior member?”

Hm, sounds like it, yeah. Guessing Carlos is Aegis.

I’m not sure how good an idea it is to have leadership based on seniority in the team, but if that’s how they want to do it, then fair enough.


“And I’ll hold that position for not even the rest of the summer before I graduate and pass the mantle to you,” Clockblocker smiled self deprecatingly, “No worries. Take charge.”

See, that’s one of the reasons why leadership by seniority isn’t that good an idea in this situation. You’ll get very brief leadership periods based on something as irrelevant to their leadership skills as relative birthdates. It also means that if they stick around until they graduate, everyone will get a turn as leader, even if they’re not actually fit to be a leader.

Gallant took off his helmet and held it in one hand, running his fingers through his sweat-damp blond hair. He smiled winningly at Vista as she positioned the whiteboards so everyone could see them, “Thank you.”

I seem to like people who “smile winningly”.

(Gilderoy Lockhart doesn’t count. His smiles come off more pathetically, no matter how many times he says he’s won Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile Award.)

Gallant didn’t need to use his power to get an emotional response from the thirteen year old heroine. She turned a bright pink. There could be no doubt for anyone present that she had a major crush on her senior teammate.

D’aw, that’s cute.

Just… keep it one-sided, please. And don’t you dare abuse her feelings for you, Gallant.


“Okay guys,” Gallant said, “Before we get started, I think it’s important to make some things clear. First off, most importantly, today was not a failure. I’d even say that today was a win for the good guys, and we start establishing that here and now.”

Um. How? Did you figure out the Undersiders’ powers and consider the obtained information a victory? I suppose that’s entirely in line with the “knowledge is power” theme.

He took a second to gauge his audience’s disbelieving reactions, then smiled.

“The Undersiders. They’ve flown under the radar so far, but more recently, they’ve started pulling higher profile jobs. They hit the Ruby Dreams casino five weeks ago, and now they just robbed the biggest bank in Brockton Bay. This time we were lucky enough to get in their way. That means we finally have intel on their group.”

Got it in one! Sort of. The intel is probably not restricted to their powers.

The masters of the getaway may have some more trouble going forward. And in a sense, that’s Taylor’s fault – she’s the one who suggested that they should fight the Wards directly, which is exactly what allowed them to get this intel.


He turned to the whiteboard and wrote the names of their opponents. Grue, Tattletale and Hellhound went on the first board, with lines separating the board into three columns. He wrote Regent on the second board, drew a line and then hesitated at the fifth and last column. “Did he name himself? The guy with the bugs?”

So they don’t know that Taylor is a girl. Which makes sense – she stayed hidden inside the bank, and the only ones who really saw her were Glory Girl and Panacea, who aren’t present. Maybe also Aegis, but he was… kind of preoccupied at the time.

“Girl,” Clockblocker corrected him, “I was talking to the hostages after the Undersiders made their getaway.

Ah, there we go. Forgot about the hostages.

He said he was afraid to move because she was going to make it bite him. It took me a bit to realize exactly what he meant. Poor fella was in shock.”

“But we don’t know what she called herself?”

Nobody had any answer to that.

To be fair, she barely knows that herself.

“Then we need to agree on a name for her, or the paperwork’s going to be inconsistent. Suggestions for a name for the bug girl?”

“Maggot? Worm?” Browbeat offered, “Stick her with a crappy name?”

Hey look, Worm

I’m on record as theorizing that that would be her name eventually, but I’m not ruling out the possibility of Wildbow pulling a fast one on us.

Also, whatever these guys decide, I’m not going to treat it as any more final than Bug until I get Taylor’s opinion.

“We don’t want to do that,” Clockblocker sighed, “Maybe if we’d won, we could get away with it, but it doesn’t look so good if the press reports that we got our asses kicked by someone called maggot.”

Pfft.

“Stinger, Pestilence?” Vista suggested.

Clockblocker spun himself around in the chair and punched the names into the computer, “Taken. Stinger is some villain in California with power armor, a jetpack and homing missiles, and Pestilence is a creepy psycho in London.”

Just stick a number at the end, like people do on the internet. Maybe some Xs too.

BEWARE THE POWER OF xXSTINGER325Xx


“Skitter?” Gallant put the name out there.

There was a clatter of keys as Clockblocker checked, “It’s not taken.”

Kinda sounds like she should have a slight speed boost to her own body, but other than that inaccuracy, sure, I like it.

“Then it’s good enough,” Gallant wrote the name up on the whiteboard, “Now we brainstorm. This is where we recoup our losses from the day, figure out an angle so we can win next time. So don’t hold back. Share any detail, no matter how insignificant.”

“Grue’s power isn’t just darkness. You can’t hear in there either. And it feels strange too,” Browbeat spoke, “There’s resistance, like you’re underwater, but not floating.”

I still love the portrayal of the darkness. I guess this would imply the gas is a bit denser than air, which makes a lot of sense considering it doesn’t float upwards unless Grue directs it to.

“Good,” Gallant wrote that in Grue’s column, “Next?”

“The mutants that Hellhound makes. The dogs? She doesn’t control them with her mind. They’re trained,” Vista offered, “She tells them what to do with whistles, gestures.”

“Yes, good, I noticed that,” Gallant replied, excitedly adding another note to the whiteboard.

Aegis was probably in a good position to realize that too, but he’s still off patching up some holes.

“The girl with the bugs… Skitter. It’s just the opposite. She has a lot of fine control over them,” Clockblocker added.

“Yes!”

“Also, according to the hostage I talked to, she said she can sense things through her bugs, which is how she kept an eye on the hostages.”

Clockblocker did get a very… close experience with those bugs and Taylor’s focused control of them.

It wasn’t long before most columns were full enough that Gallant had to turn the whiteboards around to use the backs.

Huh. Lots of information. Lots of knowledge to keep in mind for the next battle. Lots of power.


Carlos returned from the shower, wearing sweatpants and a towel around his shoulders.

Carlos is Aegis confirmed.

He was Puerto Rican, his hair long. His body was clean of blood, barring a few residual trickles from the mess of ragged wounds on his arms, stomach and chest. He had clumsily stitched the cuts and gouges together, which did surprisingly little to make them easier to look at. He sat down on a chair and added his input for the lists, which didn’t amount to too much. He had been incapacitated for too much of the fight to have much to say.

Fair enough. He was the first target, after all.

There was an abrasive noise from the computer as every monitor suddenly flashed yellow. The Wards hurried to pull on their masks. Aegis grabbed a spare from a drawer by the computers.

Hm, yellow alert? Maybe an hour has passed and the tourists/reporters are showing up.

The entrance whirred open, and Armsmaster strode in, accompanied by the winsome Miss Militia.

Ooh, this could get way more interesting.


She wore a modified military uniform, tight enough in the essential areas to accentuate her curves, sporting a scarf around her lower face with an American flag embroidered on it, and a similar sash around her waist. Most arresting, however, was the large rocket launcher she held across her shoulders in the same way a weightlifter might hold a barbell.

Hellooo nur– I mean, she looks awesome.

“Armsmaster,” Gallant stood up, “Good to see you, Sir. Miss Militia, always a pleasure.”

“Ever the gentleman,” Miss Militia’s eyes hinted at the smile behind her scarf, “We brought a guest.”

Another one?

Following behind Armsmaster and Miss Militia was a teenage girl in an enveloping white robe. Panacea. She had an ID card on a cord around her neck, featuring her photo and the word ‘GUEST’ in bright blue letters.

Oh, hi there! Makes sense that they’d bring Panacea. Though I bet Glory Girl is adorably salty about not being invited along with her.

“She was kind enough to volunteer to come here and patch you guys up,” Miss Militia told the young heroes, “Can’t send you home with horrible injuries and hundreds of bug bites, can we? That would give away the show.”

Oh yeah, that’s a good idea. I thought it was implied that she’d do that on location, but I guess not.

Also, so far my headcanon voice for Miss Militia is basically Princess Celestia from MLP:FiM. I suppose we’ll see if her characterization fits soon enough.


She shifted the position of the rocket launcher on her shoulders, and it dissolved into a blur of green-black energy.

Hammerspace, perhaps in a similar fashion to Kid Win’s?

The energy lunged and arced around her for a few brief moments, then materialized into a machine gun.

Hm, interesting. I guess she essentially has a shapeshifter as a weapon, shifting between different military guns as her situation dictates. Need a sniper rifle? Sure. A flamethrower? Why not. A cod damn bazooka? You fucking got it, baby.

It only held that form for a few seconds before it flickered and solidified into a sniper rifle, then a harpoon gun, and finally settled in the form of a pair of uzis, one in each of her hands. She barely seemed to notice, beyond the automatic action of holstering the guns.

So is this shapeshifter weapon sentient or does she have some form of conscious or subconscious control over it? Both is also an option.

“I wanted to thank you guys for coming to my rescue,” Panacea spoke, shyly, “And for letting Glory Girl come with you.”

Did Panacea somehow help alert the Wards to the threat?

Also, “shyly”? Hmm… Panacea may be reserved, but I never really got the impression that she was shy. Is there something about this situation (or someone, perhaps) that makes her more shy than usual, or is it just a side of her I hadn’t noticed before now?


Gallant smiled, then in a more concerned tone, he asked, “You two are okay?”

Panacea shook her head, “Tattletale found a way around my sister’s invincibility. Glory Girl was bitten pretty badly, which is why I didn’t come sooner.

Oh boy. I guess Panacea’s implying that she stayed to heal the bites, but still.

I think it hits you harder, psychologically, when you’re pretty much invincible but you get hurt anyways. But we’re okay now. She’s healed but sulking. I- I’m alright. Bump on my head, but I’m okay.”

Damn, Taylor’s psychologically scarring people left and right.

“Good.”

Armsmaster was at the whiteboard, going over the points. “I like this. But this one…” He tapped the column titled Tattletale, “Nearly empty.”

I guess this is another place where Panacea comes in handy. Tattle gave away a lot of info on what her power does, even if she lied about how it does it.

“None of us ran into her, and the hostages didn’t have anything to say about her,” Gallant replied.

“Panacea may be able to help there,” Miss Militia offered.

All eyes turned to the girl.

“I- A lot happened,” Panacea hedged.

“Any detail helps.”

Yeah, a lot happened, that’s for sure.

“Um. I’m sorry,” she said, looking down at the ground, “I got smacked across the head, but my power doesn’t work on myself, and I’m not really the type to go out in costume and get into fights, so having my life threatened, I dunno. All that… I can’t put my thoughts in order just yet.”

Ahh, I see. She kept it together nicely while it was going on, but she’s a little shaken up about it after the fact.


“The sooner-” Armsmaster started.

“It’s fine,” Miss Militia interrupted him, “Amy, why don’t you start taking care of the Wards?

I was briefly about to call her out on outing Amy’s identity, before I remembered it’s public knowledge.

Incidentally, my Miss Militia voice headcanon of Celestia is so far staying strong. It’s not at all based on the shared -tia ending to their names, which is something I only just realized; it’s something about the soft and friendly way she speaks. I could absolutely imagine Princess Celestia saying every line we’ve heard from Militia so far.

If something comes to mind, anything the Undersiders said or did, or any clues you think might help, share it afterwards, alright?”

Panacea smiled gratefully at the heroine, then turned to the group, “Who needs the most help? Aegis?”

“I’ll live,” Aegis said, “I can be last.”

Heh. It was a reasonable guess, at least.

Gallant hesitantly raised his hand, “One of Hellhound’s dogs slammed into me. I think I might have a broken rib. Paramedics cleared me, but I want to be extra sure I’m not risking a punctured lung or something.”

Meanwhile, the guy who actually has a punctured lung is absolutely fine.

Panacea frowned, then gestured to the far end of the room, “I’ll take a look at you over there?”

“Go figure, Glory Girl’s boyfriend gets special treatment,” Clockblocker grinned to make it clear he was just poking fun. Gallant just smirked in response.

If it hadn’t been just poking fun, how would he be getting special treatment, really? I’m sure she’d do the same for any of them. In fact that’s part of why she’s here.

The pair went to Gallant’s alcove, and she sat him down on the bed before laying a hand on his shoulder. She pulled her hood back and furrowed her brow.

“You don’t have a punctured lung. You’ve got one fractured rib, but you’re not even in that much pain. Why-”

“I lied. I wanted to talk to you, alone,” he took her hand.

Ooh…


She scowled and pulled her hand back like he’d bitten her. As if to make doubly sure he wouldn’t grab her hand again, she folded her arms.

“You know I can sense emotions,” he said, “Everyone’s emotions, like a cloud of colors around them. Can’t turn it off. It’s just how I see the world.”

“Victoria mentioned that.”

Huh, that’s interesting. It kind of ties in with Glory Girl’s and Gallant’s powers, which are based on messing with people’s emotions.

So is Gallant making a play for his girlfriend’s sister now, or…?

Oh, hang on, I misread. It’s Gallant’s power, not Panacea’s. That makes a lot more sense; why would healing and emotion-vision go together?

“So you’re an open book to me. I know you’re scared. No… you’re terrified, and that’s why you’re not talking.”

But… of what?

She sighed and sat on the bed, as far from Gallant as she could.

“I never wanted these powers. I never wanted powers, period.”

He nodded.

“But I got them anyways, and I got international attention over it. The healer. The girl who could cure cancer with a touch, make someone ten years younger, regrow lost limbs. I’m forced to be a hero. Burdened with this obligation. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t use this power. It’s such an opportunity, to save lives.”

“With great power comes great responsibility.” This is exactly the kind of situation that quote refers to – Panacea could probably relate to Peter Parker if they met and talked for a while.

Spiderman may sound like he’s enjoying the superhero work, and on one level I think he does, but he’s motivated to pick it up by the lesson his uncle’s death taught him: That if he has the capability to help people, he has a duty to do it.

It’s a similar story with Panacea, but unlike Spiderman, she doesn’t seem to enjoy it.

There’s also the fact that she was raised by heroes who were well aware of the likelihood of her developing powers as she grew, and likely expected her to grow up and join them.


“But?”

“But at the same time… I can’t cure everyone. Even if I go to the hospital every night for two or three hours at a time, there are thousands of other hospitals I can’t visit, tens of millions of people who are terminally ill or living in a personal hell where they’re paralyzed or in constant pain. These people don’t deserve to face that, but I can’t help them all. I can’t help one percent of them if I put in twenty hours a day.”

Aaand there’s the other side of the coin. She doesn’t have the power to help everybody, but she feels like it’s her responsibility to. It also means it’s her responsibility to choose whom to help, who gets to live or die, which can be very hard to live with.

“You have to focus on what you can do,” Gallant told her.

“Sounds easier than it is,” Panacea answered, with a touch of bitterness,

Gallant is right, but so is Panacea – it’s not always easy to live with your own limitations.

“Do you understand what it means, to cure some of these people? I feel like every second I take to myself is a second I’ve failed somehow.

Aww

I want to hug her.

Can I hug her please?

For two years, it’s been this… pressure. I lie in bed, awake at night, and I can’t sleep. So I get up and I go to the hospital in the middle of the night. Go to pediatrics, cure some kids. Go to the ICU, spare some lives… and it’s all just blending together. I can’t even remember the last few people I saved.”

Damn. She’s… turning into basically a healing robot. Not literally, of course, but in her own eyes, it’s what she’s for. Time to herself is time innocents spend dying without her help, sleep likewise, she can’t take time to be a normal human without having hypothetical deaths on her conscience.

Damn, that’s heavy stuff.


She sighed again, “The last person I really remember? It was maybe a week ago, I was working on a kid. He was just a toddler, an immigrant from Cairo, I think. Ectopia Cordis. That’s where you’re born with your heart outside your body. I was putting everything in the right place, giving him a chance at a normal life.”

Heart outside your body? Yikes, that sounds like a mess of a disorder.

“What made him so memorable?”

“I resented him. He was lying there, fast asleep, like an angel, and for just a second, I considered just leaving him. The doctors could have finished the job, but it would have been dangerous. He might have died if I’d left him on the table, the job half done. I hated him.”

…because he would’ve had a normal life? The one thing Panacea can’t have.

Gallant didn’t say anything. Scowling, Panacea stared down at the ground.

“No, I hated that he would have a normal life, because I’d given up mine. I was scared that I might intentionally make a mistake. That I might let myself fuck up the procedure with this kid. I could have killed him or ruined his life, but it would have eased the pressure. Lowered expectations, you know? Maybe it would have even lowered my own expectations for myself. I… I was just so tired. So exhausted. I actually considered, for the briefest moment, abandoning a child to suffer or die.”

“Parahumans were, after all, people with powers, and people are flawed at their core.”


“That sounds like more than just exhaustion,” Gallant replied, quietly.

“Is this how it starts? Is this the point I start becoming like my father, whoever he was?”

Welp. I guess Tattletale dishing out her origin story (while Panacea did already know it) left an impression on her even without actually letting her know her father’s name. It’s probably the real reason she was so shaken up.

This whole conversation is making Panacea rapidly climb my (incredibly fuzzy) character ranking, by the way.

Gallant let out a slow breath, “I could say no, that you’re never going to be like your father. But I’d be lying. Any of us, all of us, we run the risk of finding our own way down that path. I can see the strain you’re experiencing, the stress. I’ve seen people snap because of less. So yeah. It’s possible.”

Hrm. I guess he knows honesty is better to get through to her than superficial white lies.

“Okay,” she said, just under her breath. He waited for her to elaborate, but she didn’t.

“Take a break. Tell yourself it’s something you have to do, to recharge your batteries and help more people in the long run.”

“I don’t think I can.”

They sat in silence for a few moments.

That’s the problem, but he’s also right. She needs a break. And a hug. Definitely a hug.


He turned towards her, “So what does this have to do with what happened at the bank?”

“She knew everything. That Tattletale girl. She said she’s psychic, and from what she said, what she knew, I believe it.”

Gallant nodded.

It’s still not too far from the truth.

“You know what it’s like, to talk to people like her? Like you, no offense? You build up this mask, you delude yourself into thinking everything is normal, and you force yourself to look past the worst aspects of yourself… and then these Gallants and Tattletales just strip you naked. Force you to confront it all.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You said yourself, you can’t turn it off, right? Can’t really blame you. It’s just… it’s hard to be around. Especially after dealing with Tattletale.”

And it’s worse when it’s your enemy because they can actively use it against you, whereas Gallant in this case is closer to a therapist, only trying to help.


“What did she say?”

“She threatened to talk about stuff. Stuff worse than what I just told you, I guess. Threatened to tell me things I just don’t want to know. Said she’d use what she knew to ruin my relationship with Victoria and the rest of my family,” Amy hugged herself.

Good to see someone’s hugging her, even if it has to be she herself.

“My sister’s all I’ve got. The only person with no expectations, who knows me as a person. Carol never really wanted me. Mark is clinically depressed, so as nice as he is, he’s too focused on himself to really be a dad. My aunt and uncle are sweet, but they’ve got their own problems.

One big, happy, dysfunctional family.

So it’s just me and Victoria. Has been almost from the beginning. That smug little monster threatened to tear my sister and I apart using yet another thing I didn’t want, another thing I had no control over.”

No wonder she was so frantic about stopping whatever it was from coming out.


Gallant started to speak, then stopped.

“What?”

“Does… does this have anything to do with the, erm, rather strong feelings you have towards me?”

Panacea went still.

Pftrwph

Ahaha, nice work there, Wildbow

I’m not being sarcastic: It comes enough out of nowhere to catch the reader off-guard, but it’s not unforeshadowed either – did I not point out that Panacea was acting more shyly than usual and suggest that maybe there was someone here causing that? There’s also her reaction to Gallant taking her hand. Nice work.

Man, the dramatic irony there must’ve been when I suggested Gallant was going for Panacea behind Glory Girl’s back… ahaha

(#the wonders of liveblogging)


“I’m sorry,” he hurried to say, “I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

“You shouldn’t have,” she stood up and started towards the door.

“Look, if you ever need to talk…” he offered.

“I-”

“You probably won’t want it to be me, okay. But my door’s always open, and you can call me at any hour. Just letting you know.”

I like this guy.

“Okay,” she replied. Then she reached over to him and touched his shoulder, “There. Bruises gone, ribs touched up.”

“Thank you,” he replied, opening the door for her.

“Take care of my sister, okay? Make her happy?” she murmured, as she hesitated in the doorway.

“Goes without saying.” They rejoined the main group.

This whole conversation was fantastic. Revelations about Panacea, Gallant being an excellent friend and sort-of therapist, the awkwardness at the end… everything about it was well done.

Now let’s see what the others are up to…


Every head in the room turned as Panacea picked up the marker by the computers. With a grim expression on her face, she began filling in Tattletale’s section of the whiteboard.

Uh, apparently not, since that’s the end of the chapter.


End of Interlude 3

Cod damn this was a good chapter.

Interlude 3 is so far unique in the story even by the standards set by the other two Interludes: Where the other Interludes had a different POV than usual, Interlude 3 doesn’t have a POV character at all. The closest we get is Gallant, the only character who is present for all of the chapter except the exposition at the beginning, but the story is not told markedly from his perspective.

It’s a decision I think works well for this chapter, following the Wards and Panacea as they go over their loss against the Undersiders. In the process, we got to learn about the PRT Headquarters (I think the interpretation that the PRT is the agency governing both the Protectorate and the Wards stands strongest), Director Piggot, the personalities of most of the Wards (Vista didn’t get any lines, but even so she did get some characterization), what happened to Browbeat, Miss Militia, and last but definitely not least, Panacea.

The Interlude was, simply put, jam packed with good content and excellently written. Wildbow has been on a streak for a few chapters now, and if he keeps this up, it’s becoming clear why the fans praise this story so much.

2 thoughts on “Interlude 3: One Step Back, Two Steps for Wards

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