Migration 17.5: Lepidoptera

Source material: Worm, Migration 17.5

Blogged: December 3, 2019


hei på deg, krix i vei, her er jeg igjen
krix i land, rock en sang, min lille krixewell
hei på deg, krix i vei, her er jeg igjen!
krixer med nok en sang

Alright, let’s go directly from eldritch smurfs to, uh, a different eldritch smurf! I’m still recovering from the hilarity of the Simurgh stomping song and from it getting the actual Stomp on a Smurf stuck in my head again (y’know, the main reason I said it was the Simurgh’s song in the first place — as a song about someone being driven mad by Smurf singing, it really puts the listener in the non-Smurf singer’s shoes very effectively), but what better to drive that out of my head than some Worm?

And other music. Definitely putting on other music.

So. Last time, Krouse found some useless potions that I’m sure he’s going to throw away any minute now. Nobody’s getting Cauldron powers around here, no sirree. And the group is definitely not going to suffer any stress from disagreements over whether or not they should use the potions, they’re all going to agree that that’s a bad idea and the potions should be returned to Cauldron at the earliest convenience, which Cauldron will be totally fine with. No enforcers hunting anyone down the line at all.

Hm. I wonder if Myrddin knows things about Cauldron and was deliberately trying to keep Armsmaster from that.

Oh, and there’s still the little matter of getting out of the quarantine (possibly putting the soldiers outside in it like I envisioned when I thought natural trigger events might happen) without getting fucked over too much more by the Simurgh.

Maybe try stomping on her.

Let’s go!

tramp, tramp, tramp på en krix
tramp, tramp, tramp på en krix
krixwell løper ikke fort
så tramp ham ned og tørk ham bort
tramp, tramp, tramp på en krix


“You made it,” Cody said.

Welcome back.

Krouse stopped in his tracks.  They were more than a block away from the house, and Cody was standing with his back to a wall,

…um.

Cody, is this a planned confrontation?

in the middle of an intersection.  None of the others were in sight.

Yeah, figured as much. This is not a good sign.

How did he convince Marissa and the would-be Matryoshka victims to go on? Did he tell them he was going back for Krouse?

Or maybe they got split up from the start.

Anyway, it seems Cody might have decided to pick some bones.

He felt a moment’s trepidation, saw the way the crowbar hung from Cody’s fingers, tapping against the wall.  He couldn’t help but read the situation as threatening, but tried to dismiss the thought.

Yeah, no, I get that you’re trying to push down song-induced paranoia, but Cody actually does appear vaguely threatening here. Maybe he’s just here to talk for now, but don’t let your guard down entirely.

It could have been the Simurgh’s influence, coloring his perceptions.

“Yeah,” Krouse said.  “I made it.”

“Not this, though. This I found in some sketchy laboratory. I wouldn’t know how to begin making it.”

“You’re hurt.  Sorry if I don’t shed any tears.”

Look, Cody, your passive-aggressiveness is kind of grating. And that’s the point, isn’t it, that it’s grating to Krouse? But it’s starting to get grating to the audience (me, at least) too, and that’s not earning you any points on the likability scale.

“Noelle’s okay?”

Cody shrugged.  “She’s not any better.  A little worse.”

I do wonder if Krouse is going to look a little closer at the paperwork and find out about the healing effect before they decide whether or not to use the potions.

“Where’s Marissa?”

“I took her back.  She had a bad spell where she froze up.”

During or after the battle?

“Did you find a doctor?  Even a nurse?”

“Didn’t manage to catch up to anyone to ask.  I’m okay, by the way.  Just in case you were wondering.”

No. You don’t get to follow up “I don’t care that you’re visibly injured” with “Boohoo, you didn’t ask if I was okay and that makes you the asshole here.” That’s not how this works.

“I wasn’t.  You look okay.”

And of course, this isn’t exactly a nice response, and Krouse is glossing over the potential for invisible injuries, but Cody hasn’t exactly earned a nice response here.

With every Krouse and Cody scene, while it’s easy to see where Cody is coming from and they’re both under the effects of the song of insanity, I find myself siding more and more with Krouse because of things like this. Cody is consistently the aggressor.

“Sure, but who knows how I’m doing when you look past the surface?  I could be a mental and emotional wreck, putting on a brave face.”

I think that’s Marissa, actually, and she’s barely managing the brave face.

But yeah, this is a fair point.

“Cody,” Krouse had to bite his tongue to keep from saying something he shouldn’t.  “I’m pretty badly hurt, here.  If we have to talk about this stuff, can we at least do it while walking back?”

Yeah, that’s reasonable. And hey, point to Krouse for making this point without falling into the bad habit Cody is most pissed at him for: dismissing the conversation. He acknowledges that if they must, they can continue the bickering while also accomplishing something useful.

“Because the Simurgh’s been replying old memories for me, and the irritating thing is they aren’t my most painful memories.”

Oh boy. Has he been getting memories of Krouse, almost as though specially picked out to rouse his already rising frustration with the guy?

Cody wasn’t listening.  Krouse walked past him, and Cody turned to follow, talking to him from behind.  “Not the time my mom had my cat put down, when they definitely could have saved him.  No, every time she brings some memory to the surface, it’s you.”

That should tell you something about how bad of an idea it is to continue pursuing these frustrations right now.

Cody is suddenly reminding me a little of my OC Enterprise. Sometimes, when she meets certain other ponies who upset her, she goes into unresponsive rant mode. She’s… not very good at communicating.

It’s worth noting that when this happens, she’s usually written as something of an antagonist, despite being the main character. The problem is her, not the ponies she meets, who generally don’t deserve this treatment.

Krouse paused mid-step, then forced himself to keep walking.

You’ve invited him to follow. If he won’t, that’s his problem. I officially give you permission to dismiss him this time by walking away.

“Isn’t that a pisser?  I get some lunatic alien bird thing speaking in my head, and all she wants to do is make me remember the times you irritated me.  The little pranks you pulled, like getting to the clubroom early and fucking with my computer before a game.”

A… pisser?

That sounds like British slang. They haven’t struck me as particularly British so far, but I still have no clue where exactly their city is supposed to have been. Though it does seem like they’ve landed in the same city on Earth-Bet, and the newspaper and heroes present suggest it’s most likely in the U.S.

Re: Krouse’s pranks, it does sound like he had a bad habit of doing it to ponies — I legitimately just wrote “ponies” instead of “people” without thinking, because of where this sentence is going — to people who don’t appreciate it, repeatedly enough that he’d know they wouldn’t. He might need the 20 Pranks Later treatment. Anyone got rainbow zombie cookies around here?

(In my defense, I’ve been writing some MLP fanfic between sessions, so “ponies” for “people” comes fairly naturally, but I’ve been doing that on my phone, so muscle memory doesn’t apply except from talking about Enterprise above.)

“That was a practice game,” Krouse said.

That does help me accept that particular one more easily. Makes it more harmless, which is something all pranks, even towards those who do appreciate them, should strive to be.

Before a game.  I’m there to improve myself, and because I can pull in something a little under minimum wage just by playing and streaming a video of my gameplay online, and because maybe I could get that fucking sponsorship, so I could pay part of my way through college.

Hm. Maybe not as harmless after all? Depends on what exactly Krouse did.

In any case, the “don’t prank those who don’t appreciate it” point stands.

The sort of stuff that , and you’re sabotaging me.”

The sort of stuff that what?

t h e   s o r t   o f   s t u f f   t h a t   w h a t ,   c o d y

“It was a practice game, Cody, and it was just a prank that took two minutes to fix,” Krouse said.

Yeeah. Poor target, but the prank otherwise sounds relatively harmless.

He slowed his pace to let Cody catch up some.  He was starting to think maybe having the guy behind him with a weapon in hand wasn’t the best idea.

And so you slow down to have him behind you… but closer?

I mean, side by side is an option, but that requires you to slow down to whatever pace Cody sets.

“Two minutes I was late to the match, two minutes where I looked bad to the audience following online, and we all looked bad to another serious team.”

Oh. Streaming in the literal sense, not just filming for later publication.

“I’m sorry,” Krouse said.  He wasn’t, really.  It had generated more viewers, for him and Cody both.  It had been publicity.

Yeah. Stream viewers probably found it funny, if it was clear what had happened.

He wasn’t willing to argue the point; it was more important to get the situation settled down.  “But can we talk about this later?  You know we’re on edge-”

Augh. You were doing so well with the dismissal thing!

“Pisses me off that nobody else sees it.  Pisses me off that you don’t get that I see it.  The smug smiles when you get one over on me, the condescending look you gave me when you first walked into the club, holding Noelle’s hand.”

Are you sure that’s what it was, though? You don’t seem like a great judge of character overall, but Krouse does have a condescending side (see his treatment of Oliver), so I don’t even know.

“Cody-”

Thats the shit the Simurgh keeps showing me.  Any time I close my eyes, any time I stop for a freaking second, I get it rubbed in my face.”

Hmm. Maybe this has a side effect of somewhat equating the two of them in Cody’s eyes, because rubbing that stuff in his face is part of what he feels Krouse does too.

By the way, the main reason I don’t think we’re having a grand confrontation between these two right now that leads to Cody leaving or dying is the number of vials. Oliver later doesn’t seem to have gotten a vial (unless his power is one that’s suited for backseating like Tattletale has expressed contentment with recently), and there’s only one vial less than there are people in their group, which means Cody probably got one before shit went down.

I’m also still not sure whether Cody or Luke is Ballistic, but it’s looking more like Cody, which would suggest they manage to stick together in spite of all this. But Cody has also been built up much more as someone the audience would care about something happening to — Luke is good, but he’s pretty much just there for now.

Then again, that same logic suggests that it’d be more satisfying for Cody to be Ballistic in the long run.

“She’s doing it on purpose,” Krouse said.  “Either it’s just automatically bringing up the issues that are closest to the surface, or she’s doing it because she thinks reminding you of that stuff is going to do more damage in the long run than reminding you of your cat.

See? Krouse gets it.

You play into her hands if you let it get to you.  You let her win.”

“Funny thing is,” Cody said, “I’d rather see her win than see you come out the hero, here.”

And that’s how she wins.

“She’s making you think that way.  That’s not you, Cody.”

“Maybe.  Doesn’t matter.  I’m still going to help out, I’m not going to get revenge or anything,” Cody said, offering Krouse a humorless smile,

Try to stick to that.

“Because even if I hate your guts, Krouse…  Francis… I don’t hate theirs.”

Oof, he realized how to get under Krouse’s skin.

“Okay,” Krouse looked at the crowbar, wondered if he’d be able to defend himself with one good hand and the metal briefcase.

Another reason not to expect this particular scene to end up in a lethal fight: Krouse is very much the underdog right now, injured and unarmed except for an improvised weapon.

(Okay, technically the crowbar is also an improvised weapon, but it’s a better one.)

“She makes Marissa freak out, she has Oliver crying when he thinks nobody’s looking, Jess has gone crazy paranoid, to the point that she’s barely talking, if it isn’t about looking after Noelle, and apparently Luke can’t take his mind off the pain.  But you’re doing fine, isn’t that funny?”

“Sure, but who knows how I’m doing when you look past the surface?  I could be a mental and emotional wreck, putting on a brave face.”

It’s true that Krouse’s narration makes him seem a lot less affected than Cody, but there’s a huge POV bias on something like that. Krouse primarily seems to be more inclined to be violent without hesitation (the bird, Egesa), and a little paranoid. You know, ingredients that could make things go too far if Cody attacks him. Maybe also a little extra condescending towards Oliver and Cody, to increase Cody’s frustration with him from that angle.

“I’m not fine.”

“Oh?  What’s wrong?”  Cody’s voice was almost taunting.

If he doesn’t hurt me, I might hurt him.

Yeah, that.

“Doesn’t matter,” Krouse said.

“So the mighty Krouse, who gets all the luck, who has everyone wrapped around his finger, who gets the girl and dodges all the consequences, he’s not invincible after all.  What’s she doing to you?”

She’s clearly setting these two up to duke it out eventually.

Honestly, just fight already. Better now than after you’ve had your vials.

“None of your business.”

“Isn’t it?  We need to know what’s going on.

That’s the thing, though, Cody is right about this.

You could turn homicidal any moment, for all I know.”

Let’s be real, if he does, that’s more on you than on the Simurgh. Even if some of the ways it’s more on you are because of the Simurgh.

“I’m not homicidal.  It’s just not stuff I’m willing to talk about with you.”

“Suspicious, suspicious,” Cody almost sounded like he was having fun.

Because he thinks he’s found a weak spot, somewhere he can prod.

Krouse quickened his pace.  He didn’t like the idea that the others were doing that poorly.  He’d had three breaks from the screaming, with whatever power Myrddin had used to shunt him halfway into some other dimension, and the two flashbacks.

Do the flashbacks really count?

Cody seemed functional, if vaguely unhinged, but he’d had the flashbacks as well.

Are you suggesting that if the others haven’t had the flashbacks, they might be worse off because they didn’t get breaks?

Krouse tried the door, found it locked.  He glanced at Cody, then knocked a few times, loud.

Cody, what’s the passcody?

Oliver opened it.  He looked like twenty four hours had passed and he hadn’t slept a wink.

Good morning, kiddo.

Oliver’s eyes were red, and he averted his gaze as he saw Krouse and Cody.

How’s she getting to him?  Oliver’s biggest weakness would be his self confidence.

Memories of his mother, maybe?

Was she tearing him down like his mother would?  Raising memories of past embarrassments, times people had laughed at him?

Was there a way to fix that?  To support the guy?

Krouse’s narration has actually been harsher against Oliver than Cody, if just for a moment, but never once (that I can recall) has Krouse thought about supporting Cody in any way, whereas here he seems to go straight to that without care for his misgivings about the kid.

Krouse settled for a quiet, “Thanks, man.  We’re going to get through this.  It should be over soon.”

Well, especially if you use those vials.

Oliver nodded, but he didn’t perk up.

Krouse ventured inside, heading straight for Noelle.

Because of course he does.

Marissa was sitting at the foot of the couch, head leaning back, asleep or trying to sleep.  Luke had blankets piled on him, having barely moved since Krouse had left.  Jess was in the other chair facing the couch, looking much as Oliver did.

Yeah, things here seem to be in a generally bad shape.

“You’re hurt,” Jess said.

Marissa stirred.  her eyes went wide as she looked at Krouse’s hand.  “We, um- first aid supplies.  We have them.”

That’s something. You should probably put them to use.

“Okay,” Krouse said.  He knelt by Noelle’s head, setting the metal briefcase down.  He could see Cody out of the corner of his eye, leaning against doorway, watching him.

I wonder if Cody will be the first to ask what’s in the briefcase. He’s had plenty of time to notice it, and might make note of the fact that Krouse doesn’t immediately go out of his way to inform the rest of the contents.

“You ran into people with powers.  Villians?”

It seems a little more complicated than that, but for most intents and purposes.

“I don’t know if they were villains,” Krouse said, absently, his attention on Noelle.  Someone had cleaned up the blood, but she didn’t look good.  Blankets were piled over her to the point that she should have been overheating, but she was shivering.  Eyes closed, she opened her mouth, as if to say something, but her mouth hung half-open, jaw jittering as though her teeth were chattering.

Yeeeah, this would probably be a good time to give her that vial (and cause a bunch of problems down the line probably, thanks Simurgh).

Maybe there was something wrong with the sample? Like, normal samples can go wrong anyway depending on the subject, but what if the sample itself isn’t quite right?

“They were going to kill people,” Cody said.  “They were going to kill you, last I saw.”

Maybe Cody has seen more than we have, on account of Krouse’s first flashback and the chaotic end to the battle, but… we don’t actually know that they were going to kill people, because Krouse didn’t take the time to learn about Matryoshka’s power. In fact, Matryoshka said things that indicated she could do her thing without killing people, and for all we know, they might have been trying to evacuate the people along with themselves.

As for trying to kill Krouse, that undeniably falls under self defense.

I’m not saying they’re not villains, but conclusions were definitely jumped to, and that’s part of what the Simurgh is doing to both of these kids.

“They were scared people in a strange place,” Krouse said.  “They’re hearing the same song in their heads that we are, and they barely had any clue how our world works.  I’m not saying they were right, doing what they did, but I almost understand it.

I find it interesting that it’s Krouse who puts out this interpretation now, after not hesitating to attack them. Wonders of hindsight, eh?

Shit, I can’t believe you couldn’t find a doctor from the people we saved.”

“They didn’t know how to find you, after they ran,” Luke said.

To be fair, Krouse barely knew which dimension he was in right then. I suppose this line of conversation might lead down to the briefcase.

“They came here to rendezvous.  Marissa wasn’t doing well, so Cody went out alone to look for you.”

Ah, okay, so that’s what he told them. And okay, maybe it’s true that that’s just what he wanted to do, but still.

Look for me?  Krouse turned to look at Cody.  You were waiting around.

Yeeeah.

“And I found him,” Cody said.

In the most technical sense.

“Yeah,” Luke replied.

“You’re a champ,” Krouse said, offering Cody a level glare.

I feel like Cody might actually like that it gets a glare out of Krouse. But even with this, Cody’s black crush is clearly one-sided.

Cody only smiled a little.  He stepped back out of the doorway as Marissa came through with more bandages.

“I don’t know how to take care of this,” she said.  “Sprains, yeah, but not this.”

Yeah, I think he’s satisfied.

“Clean it and wrap it,” Krouse said.  “Listen, I ran into some heroes.  Couldn’t talk to them, they wouldn’t let me, but I heard them saying something about the fight being almost over. The Simurgh might try to pull something as a final measure, but the heroes were winning, and they were working out what to do after things were done.”

Yeah, um.

I’m reminded of the Nine. Fight almost over, heroes winning… then the villains’ final measure comes in. So forgive me if this doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

“Really?” Marissa asked.  She had put a folded towel on the coffee table, and was holding back on pouring the disinfectant on his hand.

Krouse nodded.  “Maybe fifteen minutes, maybe half an hour.  But it’s almost over.  We just need to hold out, stay calm.  Make sure Noelle doesn’t take a turn for the worse.”

I guess the Simurgh’s final measure will be what forces them, and will probably be designed to force them, to use the vials.

Marissa poured the disinfectant onto Krouse’s injury, and he hissed at the pain, forced his hand down against the table with his good hand, so he wouldn’t reflexively pull it away.

“What’s this?” Cody asked.  He advanced from behind, tapped his foot against the metal briefcase.  “Medical supplies?”

Ah, here we go. Called Cody being the first to ask.

But seriously, if they were medical supplies, don’t you think Krouse would have mentioned it by now?

“No,” Krouse replied.  “And you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.  Give it to Jess.  She’ll like it.”

…yeah, I suppose she would.

Cody picked it up and carried it to Jess.

I wasn’t actually expecting him to go along with that.

She sat the thing on her lap, gave Krouse a wary look, then popped it open.

He waited as Marissa put antiseptic cream on his wound, laid down some thick white bandage pads and started binding it all in place with a cloth wrap.  For all her inexperience with the other stuff, she seemed to know what she was doing with the wrap.

Nice work, Marissa.

Meanwhile, Krouse, Cody and Jess are playing Deal or No Deal.

Jess dropped the papers onto the vials without putting them in the separate flap they’d been in, then shut and latched the case.  “Destroy it.”

I wonder if Jess is aware that this is not the “typical” way of getting powers. Trigger events aren’t terribly common knowledge even on Earth-Bet, but you learn about it if you take special classes or get into the cape community, so maybe someone who’s especially interested in it like Jess would find something even on Earth-Aleph’s internet. Taylor’s research was more practical in mind.

“What?”  Cody said.  “Wait, what is it?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Jess said.  “Destroy it.”

I should probably have mentioned by now that I fully expect Cody to be on the “use the vials” side of the conflict. Not just because Krouse is on the “don’t use them” side for now, but also because it seems like the stance Cody would have on something like that.

“What are you talking about, Jess?”  Marissa asked.

Krouse double checked the bandage was in place, then stood.

He approached Jess, and she clutched the case to her chest.  She was almost pleading, “Put it somewhere nobody will find it, or destroy it.  Mix it with sand and pour it into a hole in the backyard or something.”

Powers make things worse for most parahumans on Earth-Bet, even when not under the Simurgh’s influence. Jess might be aware of that.

Another thing about Jess and awareness of trigger events is that it seems like either trigger events are actually less common than Cauldron powers and Cauldron only sells to Earth-Bet, or trigger events don’t happen on Earth-Aleph (or are extremely rare) but Cauldron does sell powers there.

I would naturally lean towards the latter, but given something the Doctor said to Rebecca, the former might actually be the case:

“No less than fifty, now.  They’re appearing all over the world, with thousands upon thousands estimated to appear by the turn of the millennium.  I confess I have something of a hand in that.  Which is why I’m here.”

She made it sound like she was personally responsible for the sheer amount projected, not just for some of the fifty that already existed.

“I thought you would be more interested in this than anyone,” Krouse said.

Maybe not while affected by the Simurgh. Maybe the taking out of heroes specifically isn’t just because of the collateral damage they can cause?

“What is it?” Cody asked.

“Superpowers,” Krouse said.  “If I read it right, if I’m not losing it, then the contents of that suitcase tell you how to get superpowers.  I found it with the stuff that got dumped here with the monsters.”

Cody’s eyes went wide.  Marissa, Luke and Oliver reacted as well.

Um. How did they react?

“You’re not getting it,” Jess said.

“What’s not to get?” Krouse asked.  “We’re in a dangerous situation.  Is this any different than taking a weapon when we go out there?”

Possibly, but even if it isn’t, these are especially dangerous weapons.

“It’s a whole lot different,” Jess said.  “It’s permanent.  If it works, it’s going to change your life.  And that’s if it’s not a trap.  It could be poison, if it’s coming from the same place and the same culture that those monsters did.”

That is actually a very fair point.

Given the “powers make things worse” meta-thing, the chance of deviations, and the slight healing the potions supply, you could reasonably call one of the vials a pharmakon — poison and medicine, in one.

(Remember Longcat, Jane?)

Was it his gut or was it paranoia that told him that she, again, was withholding information?

I’m guessing it’s something about the Simurgh mixed with powers.

Krouse cleared his throat, explained, “I found it in the remains of some office or laboratory.  They were selling this stuff, the papers you were just reading, from the one line I read, suggested this stuff was on store shelves or something.

Um. Not quite, but yeah.

Why dress it up like that, with a fat pad of paperwork, an expensive suitcase and protective foam padding, only to fill it with poison?”

“I’m not saying it was poison-”

“You did,” Krouse corrected.

That it could be, yeah.

“No, I mean.  I’m just saying.  There’s any number of places this could go wrong.  We shouldn’t risk it.  Not when we have other stuff to worry about.”

I wonder if Cauldron dumps any of the Case 53s on Earth-Aleph. Maybe that’s where the few supers come from? Although then there’d probably be some note about capes on Earth-Bet being less monstrous.

The biggest problem with the idea that Cauldron could be responsible for most capes on Earth-Bet is the issue of scale. Even if Cauldron is big enough to give that many people powers, there’s no way to keep something on that scale secret for thirty years, even with enforcers out the wazoo.

Yeah, she’s being evasive.

“They’re superpowers?” Cody asked.  He reached for the suitcase and Jess twisted her body to shield him from getting to it.  “Seriously?  How?”

For what it’s worth, so far he doesn’t seem aggressive about it, just curious and wondering.

“Six canisters,” Krouse responded, but his eyes were on Jess.

“Is that six doses?” Luke asked.

“Krouse,” Jess said.  “Come on.  You get this situation we’re in.  You know it isn’t good.  Don’t you want to get back to normal?”

Also known as Earth-Aleph.

Who decided which world got to be Aleph and which had to be Bet, anyway? Wasn’t Professor Haywire from Earth-Bet? Legend said he opened the portal to Earth-Aleph, which would seem to imply as much.

“Wait, it sounds like you’re saying there’s something more going on,” Luke said.  “You guys were whispering before.  Is this-”

Sweet catch. Let’s get some stuff out in the open.

“Luke,” Krouse cut him off.  “Listen, you know me, right?  Better than anyone else here.”

“Pretty much,” Luke said, but he glanced at Noelle.

Anyone else here who is awake enough to talk.

“Better than anyone who’s conscious,” Krouse clarified, though he wasn’t sure either way.

Pfft.

“And you know Jess fairly well too.  So can you trust us when I say that there’s stuff going on, and we’re acting in everyone’s best interests if we’re not sharing the full details?”

Luke might be able to.

Cody, on the other hand?

I don’t trust you,” Cody said.

“This isn’t some ploy?” Luke asked, ignoring Cody.  “You know you’ve pulled stuff before, and yeah, this isn’t the situation for it and normally you’d have more common sense than to try something when things are this screwed up, but if this singing in our heads is making us act funny, then…”  He trailed off.

You know what, that’s fair.

“It’s not a ploy.  If you don’t trust me, at least trust the fact that I wouldn’t pull something when Noelle’s like this.  Even with my head screwed up.  There’s bigger priorities.”

It’s easy to say what you would and wouldn’t do even when your head’s screwed up.

Luke frowned.  “Okay.  I’m trusting you on this.  Don’t fuck us over.”

Krouse nodded, expression solemn.  He took a deep breath, then addressed the main issue.  Jess.

I think the main issue is going to be Cody again soon enough.

“Jess, you’re the one that’s always followed the superhero scene,” Krouse said.  “You follow the lame ass superheroes and villains we’ve got running around, and the three or four who’re maybe actually worth something.

…interesting.

Maybe trigger events are less common and Cauldron sells to Earth-Aleph, but they limit how much they sell there to avoid rousing suspicion?

You’ve followed Earth Bet, all the stuff that goes on with the real heroes and villains.  And you’re saying no?  Like I told Luke, that suitcase, it’s not my top priority, not even my second or third priority.  Cross my heart.  But this is a pretty big deal.”

I think it’d be a much higher priority to you if you knew that it can cure anything up to and including cancer.

“How is this not a priority?” Cody asked.  “Powers.”

“Shut up!”  Krouse snapped, his voice hard, louder than he’d intended it.

Even when they half agree, they’re insufferable to each other.

Everyone fell silent.  The only noises were the screaming in their heads, the distant noises of the ongoing fighting, and Noelle making faint noises as she stirred.

Noelle!

Krouse knelt beside her and brushed some hair away from her face.  He turned around and sat so his back was against the couch, holding Noelle’s hand.  “Jess.  Let’s read the papers in the case.  Figure out if it’s real, a hoax, if we can even use the stuff.  If we can’t, maybe we can still sell it.

Um, about that. That’s still gonna get Cauldron on your tail.

Also, reading the papers might result in learning about the healing thing.

We could use the money.”

“You don’t understand,” she said.

“I don’t understand, you’re right.  But I can’t if you don’t explain, and I don’t get the feeling you’re about to.”

Yeah, doesn’t seem like it. :/

“If you take the papers, you’ll decide you should do it.”

“Maybe we should.”

“We can’t.”

Now, why do you think he’ll decide that way? Just because the papers make the things sound good?

He sighed.

She went on, “And If I open the case to give you the papers, you’ll snatch the stuff, and I can’t exactly get up to wrestle  it out of your hands if you do.”

Also true. Plus Cody might support him, if not still shut down.

“We won’t,” Krouse said.  “Just… take the papers out, hand them to us, you can hold on to the suitcase until we’ve decided.”

Who are included in “us” and “we”?

“Unanimously?” Jess asked.

I suppose that’s fair, even if it’s an obvious “I won’t change my mind so this is a safe way to ensure we don’t do it, whether by stalemate or consensus in my favor”.

“I don’t know about unanimous-” He saw her expression change.  “We’ll at least discuss it thoroughly.”

Yeah.

She nodded.  She opened the case to grab the papers and held them out.  Krouse reached for them, but it was Cody who snatched them from Jess’ hand.

“I WANNA SEEEE”

Krouse took a deep breath, exhaled.  Stay calm.  Cody’s under the influence of the Simurgh.

Honestly, POV bias or no, Krouse does keep it together impressively well.

“Six formulas,” Cody said.  “Each designed to give different sorts of powers.  It doesn’t say what powers, exactly.  Really vague.”

That’s in part because they’re somewhat unpredictable. Does it at least say what kinds of themes show up frequently with these samples?

Marissa moved back to Krouse’s side, joining him as he checked on Noelle.  His heart skipped a beat at the realization that her teeth had stopped chattering.  He had to put his hand in front of her mouth to make sure she was still breathing.

D:

“This stuff’s expensive.  Seven digit expensive,” Cody said.

Jess shook her head, “Second page said something about there being a whole battery of physical and psychological tests,” Jess said.  “Think about that.  Why?  Simple logic here, on why we shouldn’t use it.

Good point from Jess. There’s a reason for that and at least five of you are very, very lucky.

They think there’s a reason someone with psychological issues shouldn’t take it, and we’re in the Simurgh’s area of influence.  We’re all a little neurotic right now.”

“We can wait,” Krouse said.

Until you can’t. Yeah, I’m still thinking that final measure will force their hand.

“Not that I’m on Jess’ side,” Luke said, “But you’re contradicting yourself.  You were saying we should use this stuff to protect ourselves, and now you’re saying we should wait until everything’s over with?  Why do we need to protect ourselves after the Simurgh’s gone?”

True!

I suppose there is the whole matter of being in the wrong universe, but to what extent does that actually require them to get powers?

Honestly, the biggest threat after they get away from the Simurgh is likely to be Cauldron, even if they’re only possessing the briefcase. Though it’ll take a little time to track them down.

(Unless the briefcase is bugged.)

Krouse shook his head, glanced at Jess.  She wasn’t backing him up on this count.

Because even after the Simurgh is gone, we’ve still got to get home.

I suppose if Haywire’s hole only allows information to pass through like one of the askers told me, it’s not just a matter of getting to the right place. Which means their best bet for getting home is… Cauldron.

Who, if they figure out that the Travelers have the missing vial powers, are likely to pursue them until they join up with Coil. Assuming they knew of the employment, Cauldron wouldn’t attack them while they were working for him, because they wanted Coil to succeed… though perhaps not at what he was doing with Brockton Bay.

Yeeah, well played, Simurgh.

“I… guess I don’t know,” Krouse said, unable to think of a good response that didn’t involve telling the whole truth.

Shit,” Cody said, his eyes going wide.  “Jess, how far did you read?”

Ooh, did you find something interesting and maybe health-restoring?

“First few pages.”

“You read this part?”  He folded the front few pages over the back and put the papers in Jess’ hands, pointed.

Krouse looked at Noelle, squeezed her hand.  She squeezed his back, weak.

“You awake?” he murmured.

Activity! Maybe we’ll get Noelle awake in not too long.

Marissa leaned over, “She is?”

Noelle didn’t respond.  Krouse shook his head, “Thought I got a response there.”

Aw.

Marissa rubbed his shoulder.

“Guys,” Cody said, excited.

Krouse could have hit Cody.  That attitude, that excitement, when Noelle could be dying?

That might be why he’s excited.

Being so excited about fucking superpowers, when a friend was seriously hurt?

“Wait, look, give me that,” he took the paper from Jess, “Listen.  ‘Client three should be informed about the impact of the product on his cerebral palsy, blah blah, legal stuff about liability, no promises, blah, blah, where was it?  Right. Product potentially offers a mild to total recovery.”

BOO-YEAH. Listen to that one, Krouse!

(Why is Cauldron so concerned with legal liability when they’re also trying to stay hidden and literally employ assassins? Do they plan to reveal themselves down the line?)

They stopped.  More than one set of eyes turned towards Jess.

Yeah, that’s a game-changer detail.

“I-I don’t have cerebral palsy,” she said.

Right, cerebral palsy causes similar symptoms to whatever put Jess’ legs out of commission, but I’m not sure that’s the entire reason they’re looking at her.

“But cerebral palsy starts with the brain, right?” Cody asked.  “That’s the most complicated, delicate part of the body.  If something’s going to fix your brain, maybe it could fix other stuff.  Let me read more, it’s-”

Somewhere, Amy Dallon sneezes.

“No,” Jess said.  “Even with that.  Especially with that, I’m not going to take it.  And I’m not going to let you guys take it either.”

Afraid of the side-effects of something that can affect your body and brain so thoroughly?

There’s also potentially a matter of identity. Like how I would probably not fix my eyes so I could stop wearing glasses, but with, y’know, legs.

Why?” Cody asked.  “Why especially?”

“Because!”

“You’re getting paranoid,” Luke said.  “It’s the singing in your head that’s making you think that way.”

Honestly I think they’re all more paranoid about the singing making them paranoid than it’s actually making them about other things.

“It’s not!  I know.  I’ve read about this stuff!  About her!  This is what she does!”

Elaborate? Please?

“What is?” Krouse asked.

“Why do you think they’re so scared?  Why do you think there’s a fence with soldiers ready to shoot you?  Do you even get why they’re staying out of earshot?”  She pointed at Krouse, “Why the heroes Krouse saw wouldn’t listen to him?”

Does… the singing spread? Via the voices of those who hear it?

No, I think Jess would’ve said something about reducing the amount of talking. More likely it’s something about the powers or about the discussion itself.

“Because of the music.  Because we’re edgy, unpredictable,” Oliver said.

“They could use tear gas to manage that.  Or soldiers and guns!  Why couldn’t they, with ninety percent or more of the the city evacuated?”

I wonder if the Simurgh was involved with Jack Slash getting powers, like she was for Mannequin. It’d make sense in a lot of ways — she’d be setting up his involvement as a catalyst for the final threat, his fascination with the impact of small actions fits super well with the Simurgh’s M.O., and not least of all, her presence would make him edgy.

(Though that would be temporary. The rest of the time, his edginess is all him.)

“Then why?” Krouse asked.

“Because this is what she does.  This is why she’s scary.  Behemoth can turn people to cinders if they’re within two hundred feet of him, Leviathan has sunk or leveled major landmasses.  Killed millions in one day.  But the Simurgh is the one that scares them all the most.  You saw how she fought, the way she dodged and blocked stuff.  She sees the future.”

Oh! I genuinely wasn’t expecting anyone to actually know that. I guess it’s fairly obvious from how she fights, and what they don’t realize is just how detailed her perception is?

The reason I didn’t think people knew this was that back in Arc 3 we learned that the Simurgh is a suspected mind-reader. That’s something they’d suspect because she always seems to know what you’re planning to do. But I guess that’s just a competing theory to the more solid one that she sees the future, and because they’re both incomplete, neither fully explains everything she seems aware of.

Krouse nodded, “I kind of guessed that, but-”

“No,” Jess cut him off.  Her eyes were wide.  “Listen to me!  She showed up in this city in Switzerland.  First time.  Then after a while, she sings.  Starts throwing buildings around, puts a nuclear power plant in critical condition, spreads winds contaminated with radioactive dust, kills some heroes, drives people to riot and panic with her song.  Like, okay, that’s Endbringer standard, right?”

But then that has a ton of consequences down the line.

If Behemoth hadn’t already turned the area into a radioactive, magma-ridden wasteland. If Leviathan hadn’t built up enough momentum with his waves. If the Simurgh… Ok, the Simurgh was different, I had to admit. The issue with her wasn’t so much winning the battle. It was what came after. Win every battle against her, lose the war, more or less.

Krouse stayed still, waiting.  He could see Marissa and Oliver nodding.

“Six months later?  A promising scientist commits suicide.  Another person tries to blow up a TV station to get back at his girlfriend.  Superhero assassinates a prime minister and the next guy to be in charge of that country starts a war.  They were all there, when the Simurgh showed up.  The superhero’s friends said there was no sign, before his encounter with the Simurgh.

I would imagine at first they’d think this was a long-term effect of her power messing with heads. And yes, maybe it’s partially that too, but it’s mostly that she knows exactly which dominoes to nudge, most obviously with the assassination.

I wonder which country that was the prime minister of. Sounds like it wasn’t Switzerland, at least.

He just went downhill, after.  There was other stuff, stuff I don’t remember.  But it’s all bad.”

“I don’t get it,” Luke said.

“It keeps happening.  Every time she shows up.  Every time, people who’ve heard this song that’s in our head?  Things go wrong.  They snap, they break, their lives fall apart, or they do something, and it makes something else happen, and there’s a major disaster.

And this time? This time she seems to have been very specifically setting you up for your role down the line.

That guy who was supposedly making a clean energy source that could power whole cities?  His wife and kids got killed and he became a supervillain who made it a life goal to murder anyone who tries to better society with their powers.

Hiya, Alan!

There were others.  Over and over, every time she shows up.  She never does quite as much damage as Leviathan or Behemoth, not right away, but stuff always happens later.”

Like what’s happening to Noelle in the future, and the consequences it might have for Brockton Bay and the Undersiders and the plans of Cauldron and everything.

“So she… what?  Makes people into murderers?”

“No,” Jess said.  “Not exactly.  She doesn’t change how you think.  Not directly.  It’s more subliminal, like… like cause and effect.

Dominoes.

Every time she shows up, she picks a few people, turns them into guided missiles, so they make something horrible happen weeks, months or years after they ran into her.”

And that’s how it ties into the powers. She’s realized that by turning themselves into weapons permanently, that’s what the Simurgh is doing with them.

Krouse looked at the suitcase.  “And you think this briefcase is that?  A cause and effect thing?”

Jess offered a short, high laugh, humorless, “Isn’t it?  Isn’t it awfully coincidental that we got in this situation, here, trapped within her range, with Krouse going out to find a doctor for Noelle and finding this instead?

Even the little detail that she specifically plucked you from a different reality is a huge warning sign that she’s specifically doing stuff with you.

I know what you guys are thinking.  This stuff, maybe it can let me walk again.  If it works.  Maybe we all get superpowers.  But the Simurgh sees what’s going to happen.  Probably.  And she’s not on our side.  However she does it, she’s already rigged it all like some Rube Goldberg machine that starts and ends with a mindfuck.”

I’d like to think that I would have figured this out by now, had I not been spoiled, but I think I would’ve loved this anyway.

I love it even though a lot of the point being made here is old info for me, for that matter.

Luke shook his head.  “But you can’t… if you think that way, then there’s no action we could take that she wouldn’t have predicted and nudged so that it leads to the worst case scenario.”

Yeah. Isn’t it wonderful? Omniscient antagonists are so good.

Jess laughed again, short.  There were tears in the corners of her eyes, “If she picked us, and that case makes me think she did, then we’re screwed.  Period.  Every time she shows up, people in her range become walking time bombs.  We don’t use the stuff in that case, we still wind up playing the roles she predicted we’d play, and horrible things happen.  But if we do use the stuff in that case?  It’s the same, we’re following the sequence of events she envisioned, only the horrible stuff is worse because everything we do from then on out is a few orders of magnitude more… I don’t know.  Superpowered.”

Yeah, that’s totally a fair point.

So how do you end up using it anyway? Ah yes, because the Simurgh knows you’ll refuse and will take measures to force your hand.

“There’s got to be something-” Luke said.  He winced as he shifted position and moved his leg, “Something we can do.”

Jess shook her head and said.  “There’s no way this works out for us, because she’s already seen what’s going to happen.  That’s why I didn’t want to tell you.”

So they wouldn’t lose hope.

“Also, by the way, we’re trapped on Earth-Bet. Whoops!”

Nobody responded.  Krouse looked at the others, saw Marissa’s eyes, wide, saw Oliver sitting with his arms hugging his knees.  Luke’s face was drawn.

Congratulations, guys. You’re fucked! 😀

Jess continued, “Those soldiers outside the fence?  They knew it too.  That’s why they were scared of us, Oliver.  They think we’ll say or do something, and it’ll give them some idea, put the right ducks in a row, and they end up dying in a car accident or murdering their wives.  It isn’t a quarantine against a disease or a virus or any of that.  It’s a quarantine against cause and effect.

Not that that’s really going to work. The Simurgh knows exactly how to break through it.

Hell, the Simurgh could attack a city just because some random soldier needs to experience enforcing such a quarantine in order to have the necessary experience to make a specific choice in like thirty years.

Or the evacuation, maybe someone just needs to be brought out of the city at the right time to get sent down a path towards disaster.

A quarantine to limit our ability to affect the outside world.”

I do suppose it would limit her options a little. Just never going to be 100% effective.

“It can’t possibly work that way,” Krouse said.

Jess shrugged.  Bitterly, she said, “Maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe you have to listen to the song, so she can hack your heads and figure out how you’ll act, and people are otherwise too complex for her to predict.

Nah, if anything I think people are underestimating how powerful her foresight is.

The way we act, the fear and all the emotion, maybe it’s just a side effect of that hacking.  Or maybe all that’s wrong, and she really is that powerful.  But that’s what she is.  She’s more fragile than the other two, doesn’t last as long in a knock-down, drag-out fight.  But the aftermath?”

It’s a mess.

Jess shifted the case from her lap, shoving it to the ground.  “The aftermath is where she’s worst.”

I have to call my mom but I’ve got no fence pass
so I’m stuck hiding from a feathery psychopath
YOU GOT THE CAULDRON CASE, SEE ME AFTER CLASS
the Simurgh’s harmless fun but fear the aftermath

(That’s a Baldi’s Basics song, but this is a spoiler warning for Doki Doki Literature Club.)

Krouse stared at the metal case.

It took maybe a minute before Krouse could be sure it was happening, but the screaming began to fade.

That’s… ominous.

Especially since we just got done talking about how it’s what happens after the song that really sucks.

Two more minutes passed before it was gone in entirety.

Silence.  Absolute silence, without any screaming in their heads, rumbles of destruction miles away, or ambient urban noise.

And no one’s talking, either.

Honestly, the timing of this couldn’t be better.

That silence was broken when Jess began to sob.  None of the others joined her.  Krouse suspected it was because they had yet to process it.  Only Jess had had the chance to really think through all the ramifications, only she knew enough of the details and evidence to paint a more complete picture and believe it all.

And on top of that, she’s one of the only ones here who have (as far as we know) figured out that they’re also trapped in the wrong world.

Krouse felt damp in his own eyes, more for Jess than himself, odd as it was.  Some of it was exhaustion, the sheer mental strain they’d been under.  He would have stood, walked over to offer support, to reassure her, except how was he supposed to tell someone things would be okay when everything suggested they wouldn’t?

Yeeah. That’s a mood.

But he wasn’t the type of person who could do that anyways.  He’d never had to, didn’t know how.  He was worried he’d fuck it up, and Jess was good people.

And that’s an even bigger mood.

She didn’t deserve a fucked up attempt at reassurance.

No.  He’d stick to what he knew.  Krouse blinked the tears out of his eyes, cleared his throat, forced a shit-eating grin onto his face.  “I don’t see why everyone’s getting so worked up.  How bad could it be?”

Hoo boy.

How the hell is this supposed to help, Krouse?

Jess made a choking sound, some combination of a sob, a sputter, a hiccup and a laugh.

I mean there’s a lot to be said for humor — but leaning right into the thing that made her so worried in the first place?

Krouse saw the incredulous stares, couldn’t help but smile.

Ass,” Luke said, but he smiled too.

Maybe that’s where it lies. He’s trying to make them laugh by playing up the comically insensitive side, exaggerating it for laughs?

But then as they go on it stops being funny.

Cody turned, stomped off, kicked something hard as he passed through the front hall.

…ah fuck.

Krouse somehow managed to come out on top again and Cody is not happy.

Any miniscule lift in the mood faded in his wake.

The room descended into silence again.  At least, Krouse noted, Jess isn’t crying anymore.

Well. Silver linings.

Krouse was still holding Noelle’s hand, his fingers interlaced with hers.  He pulled her hand towards him and kissed the back of it.  His eyes settled on the metal case.

Minor to total recovery. You ready for this?

Maybe it wasn’t us, he thought.  Maybe she picked a bunch of other people, and dragging us into this world was just something that happened.  Maybe we’ll get Noelle fixed up, we’ll find our way home, and all of this winds up being some scary memory.

Well, uh. Hold onto that hope, I guess.

He huffed out a breath, a silent, derisive, one-note laugh.  He’d managed to distract or trick Jess into feeling just a tiny bit better.  But even telling myself something that ludicrous, I can’t do it for myself.

Yeeah. It’s a lot easier to play the fool for others.


End of Migration 17.5

This was a nice chapter, for all that Cody’s insufferability continues rising. In addition to another interesting if a little bit grating (in a good way somehow; it’s being built up well) confrontation between him and Krouse, we got some of the Travelers’ takes on the use of the vials, Krouse learned of the potential healing effect of the vials, and Jess finally enlightened the rest of them on the true nature of the Simurgh’s sinister influence (which would be official confirmation on what I think I’d be strongly theorizing by now if I hadn’t been spoiled), just in time for her to apparently leave and leave them behind in the scariest part of her visit: the aftermath.

I think there’s a good chance Krouse will administer the potion to Noelle next chapter. Maybe take it himself first to ensure it’s safe, for that matter.

Additional issues include the Cody-Krouse conflict likely coming to a head within the next few chapters, and the little matter of getting past the quarantine. Being a quarantine for cause and effect, the fact that the Simurgh appears to be gone for now doesn’t necessarily mean that getting out will be easy. I still want to see Krouse use his newfound power to swap things to put the soldiers on the inside of the fence and the Travelers on the outside.

Should be fun. See you soon!

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