Migration 17.6: Registered Simurgh Offenders

Source material: Worm, Migration 17.6

Blogged: January 30 – February 12, 2020


So, where were we?

Right, so last time, Krouse-Cody tensions escalated further, we got the official elaboration of why Jess was so disturbed by the Simurgh just in time for said giant birb to leave.

Now we need to get out of here so the group can get medical attention, but I have a hard time believing they’ll get far before being somehow forced to use the contents of the Cauldron briefcase.

And I do mean forced. After the end of the last chapter, I can’t imagine the group as a whole using the vials without external pressure. At most, I could see Krouse giving one to Noelle if her condition worsens, but Jess at least won’t willingly take one until her life depends on it, and possibly not even then.

I suspect we’ll be looking a bit more at Krouse and Cody first. Maybe they’ll have a heartfelt talk soon, or something could go horribly wrong.

We still have too many boys, but I’d really prefer for Cody to be Ballistic.

Let’s get into it!


“We have to tell them,” Krouse murmured.

Tell who what now?

I’m guessing it’s about the Simurgh’s power, but everyone he’d specifically care about personally was there for the explanation.

Ohh, wait, I see. It’s about the isekai element of the situation.

It’s been too long.

He and Jess were in the kitchen of a stranger’s house, using that stranger’s utensils to prepare their food.  It felt odd, invasive.

Using a stranger’s utensils, in a stranger’s house… in strangers’ world.

Except it’s not like they’ll be coming back any time soon.

“I need another knife,” Jess said, “This one’s awful.”

Did she not hear his murmur, or is she deliberately ignoring it?

“Are you dodging the subject?”

“No.  I need a better knife if I’m going to keep cutting strawberries.  We can still talk.”

Fair enough. Might as well be productive while they’re at it.

That said, be careful with the knife when talking about this stuff, especially when cutting something as small as strawberries.

Krouse opened a drawer and passed a knife to where Jess sat on a stool at the counter.  “They’re going to find out sooner or later.  I’ve noticed something like five major clues since I started paying attention.

Hell, for all you know one or more of them might have already figured it out and are keeping mum for the same reason you are.

They’re distracted for now, but-”

“This knife sucks too.”

Pfft.

How sharp of a knife do you even need to cut strawberries?

“All the knives suck.  Whoever lived here didn’t take care of their stuff.  Make do.”

This chapter is secretly a knife-sharpening PSA. Keep your knives sharp, kids, in case of chaos angels!

Jess set to cutting the tops off the strawberries.

“They’re going to be upset,” she said.

Oh, absolutely. They do need to know, though.

“No shit.  We’re stuck in a whole other world, and things are just different enough that we could fuck up and reveal ourselves as aliens.”

I mean… would that really be so bad? The means by which you got here would cause people to worry, I suppose, but in itself the fact that you’re from Earth-Aleph and don’t have a way back would probably get you sympathy, not dissection.

Well, unless you told Bonesaw. She might be interested in biological reasons for the lower amount of power’d individuals on ‘arth-Al’ph.

Now if you’ll X-kyuus mi for a bit, my ki bitwin W and R, tha most common symbol wh’n typing in this tong’, just stopp’d working.


[Session 2]

Okay let’s try this again. I’m now on my mom’s computer, which… I’m so unused to this keyboard. The weirdest thing is that there’s no column for home, pg up/down and end, which means the apostrophe is uncomfortably far right, and to actually use home and end (which I actually use often), I have to use Fn plus these little buttons among the arrow keys that act as pg up/down if I don’t.

Oh well. You can get used to anything, and it’ll tide me over for now.

Let’s get back to some bloggery, with Es!


Jess nodded.  She gathered a mess of strawberry tops from the cutting board and strained to reach forward enough to get it in the empty plastic container.

Krouse put one foot on the bar of the stool to give it a little more weight, so it wouldn’t fall, then moved the plastic container closer.

Welcome to Worm, a story full of thrilling strawberry action!

Jess said, “That would be bad, if we got caught.  The people of this world?  They’re scared.  There’s laws against people or objects being transmitted across worlds.

Interesting. So while Haywire’s hole couldn’t do that, they decided to be proactive about deciding how to deal with holes that can.

Also if it wasn’t clear that Cauldron doesn’t give a shit about the law…

And the thing is, they’re clearly victims here, but if they let on whose victims they are, people will just get even more scared.

When that hole between universes came about, the first idea on people’s minds was that we might go to war, a whole other planet with resources.  Water, oil, wood, metal, all that stuff.  And Earth Aleph would lose because Bet had all the capes.  The rest of the world thought this gateway would make America into a bigger superpower than we already are.  So there were sanctions, deals.”

…Word of Boar is the only reason I know stuff supposedly can’t go through the hole. If I’d reached this bit without receiving that piece of info, I would’ve been under the impression that this outcome was a genuine possibility without the involvement of other holes.

(Though if the hole was, like, human-sized, it might take a while to get forces through. But a parahuman can be worth fifty or more people with guns, so…)

That bit about Alephmerica becoming a bigger superpower implies the hole is in, or at least controlled by, the U.S. Duly noted.

Krouse nodded.  He flipped the pancakes over on the frying pan.  They were the crappy sort, the sort that came from a box.  Still, it was better than nothing.

Fun fact: What’s called pancakes is super varied around the world. They’re related but rather different foods.

In Norway, a pancake is closer to the thin French variant Anglophones like to call a crêpe.

“It’s bad, Krouse.  Even if we were willing to go home, with the Simurgh maybe planning something-”

That’s actually a very good point. Even if they were to find a way home, that could just be the Simurgh’s way of spreading some influence to Earth-Aleph beyond what she can do with portal devices and whatever means she used to bring the Travelers from there to Earth-Bet.

There’s no winning either way, though, so you’re better off doing what you want and not worrying about it unless you see clear means of mitigation.

Unless you cheat. Courage to strengthen, fire to blind, music to dazzle, iron to bind.

“We can’t let that dictate our choices,” Krouse said.  “We’ll go crazy trying to second guess everything.  We can minimize the damage, try to keep a low profile.  And I’ll admit you’re right.  Not using the contents of that briefcase is a start.  If we get a chance to meet the president or something, we should probably turn it down.”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Clearly something went wrong down the line, seeing as they did use the vials (something I would assume they’d do even if this Arc were the start of the story) and lead a life as some of the flashier villains around, while nomadic and thus able to affect many locations.

Which is natural. This is a story. Keeping a low profile never works out.

Saying that reminds me of one of the funniest TTRPG sessions I’ve been a part of. Some secret organization drow had brought us along with the goal of taking us to the Underdark (which in this setting manifested as a society on the literal underside of a flat world), but we had to stop in a town. Given that our characters were somewhat famous as an adventuring group and in some cases in their own right, they asked us to keep a low profile.

Upon hearing that, I immediately burst into laughter.

There were four player characters involved:

  • Hollik Bannagammer Merrilin, my bard gnome with a side of barbarian. He’s extremely naïve and energetic, and instantly counts everyone he meets among his friends (to the point that his catchphrase when meeting groups is “HELLO NEW FRIENDS”). He travels the world in hopes of seeing places and meeting people, and has absolutely no clue he’s in an adventuring party.
  • Tex McCree, human gunslinger. He’s basically a cowboy with a communist revolutionary streak and a penchant for getting into trouble. He’s also the dad of one of our other party’s characters.
  • Mira the Blade, human rogue. Charismatic master thief and one of the party’s two brain cells.
  • Helios “H” Amastacia, elf paladin. They’re the other brain cell and the only one in the party anyone would describe as “responsible”. In this session, Helios’ player was absent.

Helios, playerless, went to sleep, leaving the party with only one brain cell, who eventually realized both of the party’s idiots were loose. Mira had to get some advice from the innkeeper to decide if she should care.

Tex walked off to brood about not being a good dad, got into a barfight and then, shortly after Mira found him, found a weird corpse. He freaked out about having touched the corpse, while Mira went to investigate. He and Mira ended up following a suspect, though it didn’t pan out.

Meanwhile, Hollik was waiting for his order of everything on the menu from a poor goliath fishmonger whose dedication to his craft made him my favorite NPC in the setting.

Ultimately almost nothing productive happened and the session ended with a fish picnic in the back streets.

It was hilarious at every turn and it’s some of the best fun I’ve had with a TTRPG session.

“Yeah,” Jess said.  Then she held up a hand.  “Shush.”

Floorboards upstairs were creaking.

Hello.

Marissa came downstairs, her hair wrapped in a towel.  “Shower done, if either of you want to rinse off.  We have power?”

I’m assuming they’re still in the same house, by the way.

I kinda like how casual things have gotten all of a sudden.

“Came on a bit ago,” Krouse said.

“Got restless, decided to do something.  Food in our bellies, keep the furnace burning.” Jess said.  “Hungry?  Offering up some pancakes for dinner.”

It took me so long to realize the smell of bacon was not the smell of pancakes, because we’d only ever have bacon with pancakes and so that’s what I’d smell when I came home to discover we were having pancakes for dinner.

To some extent I still haven’t shaken that. I don’t actually like eating bacon, but when I smell it, I still associate it with good food… it’s just the wrong food.

“Yeah,” Marissa said.

Krouse checked the pancakes and put them on a plate, tearing one in half and popping it in his mouth.  “Mars, you want to relieve Oliver?  He’s looking after Noelle right now.”

“Who took the shift before that?”

“Me,” Krouse said.  “I’ll bring you a plate.  Butter and Syrup?”

I wonder how much time has passed. They seem to be getting used to looking after Noelle, and staying calm, but they seem less concerned about immediately getting out of the perimeter and finding help.

Also what’s with the capital Syrup?

“Sugar and lemon juice,” Marissa said, before leaving for the living room.

Krouse spoke in a low voice, “We have to tell them.”

Jess nodded.

Least you’re on the same page.

So. Who’s going to take the news the worst?

My guess is Luke, for no other reason than he’s been left without much to contribute to the group dynamic ever since they got into this house, or Marissa because seriously, future her is such a mess compared to how she appears in this Arc.

Krouse opened his mouth to say something else, then shut it as conversation erupted in the living room.

Noelle?

Careful with the wishful thinking, bro. But yeah, I’d like it to be that too.

He turned off the oven burner and headed in that direction, only to be stopped by Jess.  “Krouse?”

He paused, looked back, saw her perched on the stool.

“Bring me?”

Taaaaake ooooon meeeee! (Take on me!)

He grimaced, sliding one arm around her shoulders, with his other one beneath her knees, making sure not to bump his injured hand against anything.  He lifted her and commented, “You’re lighter than I thought you’d be.”

Taaaaake meeeee ooooon! (Take on me!)

“Ever a charmer, Krouse.”

“Guys!”  Marissa called out.

That sounds promising.

Krouse hurried for the living room, pausing only to ensure he didn’t slam Jess’ head or feet into a door frame.

Yeah, watch those frames, you’re in the wrong story for cartoon slapstick!

His blood ran cold as he saw what had the others attention.  It wasn’t Noelle.

Ah fuck.

Is it Luke? Were his injuries worse than they thought?

Cody, going against the group regarding the vials?

The television was on, and it was displaying footage of the Simurgh.

Shit,” Jess whispered.

Ahh. Wanting to avoid being caught on camera.

Is this how Cauldron finds out about the Travelers having their vials?

“We have cable!” Marissa said, smiling.

“Maybe we’ll have working phones soon,” Luke said.  “Get ahold of our parents.”

Oh, that was supposed to be a good thing. Except for Krouse and Jess, whose timeframe for explaining the isekaiing just got pushed forward.

The moment that TV shows stuff about parahumans that goes beyond the extent they’re familiar with from Aleph, things might get awkward. Or if it shows the wrong president, like the newspaper (though I doubt Wildbow would use the exact same tipoff again). Or if it mentions organizations like the Protectorate. Or…

And Luke talking about their parents slightly supports my idea that he’ll take the news badly.

Krouse navigated past where Oliver was lying on the ground, blankets balled up so he had something to lean against, a book in his hands.  He stepped around the coffee table and set Jess in the one empty armchair.

What’cha reading?

Maybe it’s Fade.

Then he walked over to the TV, blocking it with his body, and pressed the volume button at the top until the sound was off.

“What the hell, Krouse?” Luke asked.

Yeah, what the hell, the volume button is at the top?

“Asshole,” Cody said.  He was sitting in the adjacent dining room.  “We might finally get a chance to find out what’s going on.”

Yeah, uh, about that.

That’s exactly why he’s doing that. So he can let you know what’s going on on his terms.

Though I can’t imagine Cody will be happy to realize Krouse has been hiding it. (And Jess, but I doubt that’ll matter as much to him.)

“You’re going to find out because I’m going to tell you,” Krouse said.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Luke asked.  “Is this that thing you were putting off telling us yesterday?”

Okay, looks like they’ve stayed the night, and then reached dinnertime. Really not hurrying anymore with the whole Noelle situation, huh?

Krouse nodded.  He saw Jess shifting position as though she were trying to face everyone else, met her eyes and shook his head just a little.

She frowned, but she kept quiet.

Are they going to keep on the downlow that she knew it too?

“Spit it out,” Cody snapped.

“We’re a long way from home,” Krouse said, shrugging.  “Better you hear it from me than find it out on TV.”

Marissa frowned, her eyebrows knitting together.  “Long way from home?  But-”

You’re not in wherever the hell your town is anymore.

“We’re still in Madison.  We’re just… we’re not in our Madison.”

You don’t want to be in Madison, that little harpy sucks.

Apparently Madison is the capital of Wisconsin. Nice. I can get behind the Travelers being Midwesterners.

I don’t know why I even have an opinion on that but I do.

He stopped to let that sink in.

“Oh fuck you,” Cody snarled.

Do you think he’s bullshitting? Or did you piece together that he’s been hiding it?

Oliver was looking around the room, seeing people’s expressions change.  He looked at Krouse, “I don’t understand.”

“When the building fell, that was her bringing us through?” Luke asked.

“Yeah.  From Earth Aleph to Earth Bet,” Krouse confirmed.  He saw Oliver’s eyes widen as he belatedly understood.

Oof. Poor Oliver seems to be the one most affected by this, even if it took him a moment.

“Wait,” Marissa said, “But… what?”

“You knew too, Jess?” Luke asked.

“I- yeah.  Yeah, I figured it out.”

Luke, meanwhile, seems to be rather cool about it.

“It’s what we were talking about, after we first got to this house,” Krouse said.  “I convinced her to keep quiet.  Figured it wasn’t crucial to know just then, and with the screaming in our heads, we didn’t need the added stress.”

Jess stared at him.  He glanced at her, then turned his attention to the others.  I’m better at being the bad guy than you are.

She made that decision herself before Krouse even found out, but he’s taking the fall for hiding it.

Krouse is a good kid.

“You had no right,” Cody said.

“Probably not.”

“So you were keeping us in the dark?” Luke asked.  “Deciding it was for our own good, deciding for us?”

Luke seems to be in the same boat as Cody, even if he’s a bit more level-headed.

And I mean, that’s valid. But Krouse has a point too.

“That’s the gist of it.  I think you’ll look back on this and see why I did it.  We needed to look after ourselves, look after Noelle, and we couldn’t do that if we were thinking about how we had no way of getting home.  I strong-armed Jess into being quiet, hid one or two pieces of evidence.  Hate me if you have to, but it made sense.”

Yeah. Yeah, it did.

“But we- is that why you told us we should stay here instead of heading out?”

Ohhh. That’s why they’re sticking to this house and not trying to get out of the perimeter.

Krouse shrugged. “Part of it.  Another part of it was just like I said; we can’t be sure the heroes have found and defeated all the monsters the Simurgh dropped into the city.  Maybe they won’t ever get all of them.  But yeah, no point leaving because there’s no home to go to.”

There is the issue of getting Noelle and Luke medical attention, though.

“But how-” Oliver started.

He didn’t get a chance to finish.  Cody was on his feet in an instant, his chair falling to the ground.  He rushed Krouse, gripping him by the shirt collar.

It was only a matter of time.

Once he had a hold, he swung Krouse around to one side, shoved him, throwing him across Jess’ lap and into the coffee table that sat between her and Luke.

Leave Jess out of it, dude.

Luke tried to stand from his chair, but Cody pushed him back down.  While Luke fell back, Cody stooped down to seize Krouse’s shirt with one hand, striking at his face with the heel of the other.

I definitely get the sense that he’s got some experience with fighting.

“You fucker!  Lying to us?  At a time like this!?  Fuck you!  Fuck you!”

More than he has with making his points in a civilized way.

…wait. Lying? Is he counting keeping it hidden as lying, or does he just straight up not believe Krouse is telling the truh now? This sounds like the latter.

Krouse tried to shield himself with his arms, but it didn’t help much.  He brought his knees up to his chest, between himself and Cody, then kicked outward, forcing Cody off.

Cody fell back, nearly hitting the coffee table in front of the couch.  It would have been a good opportunity to close the distance, to hit back, but he didn’t.

Stick to defensive fighting, Krouse, I think that’ll do you more good in the long run.

Krouse took the opportunity to stand, tenderly touching the spots on his cheekbone, chin and nose where Cody had landed some good hits.

“Fucker!”  Cody shouted, from across the room.

I mean I guess there’s a case to be made for accepting it and turning the other cheek.

“I… well, I guess I deserved that,” Krouse said.

“Krouse-” Jess started.

“Hm?” he turned her way, touched fingertips to his nose to check for blood.  Only a little.  “It’s fine.”

As long as Cody keeps it at this level. He seems to be done for now, even if he’s still angry.

Better they’re mad at one of us than both of us.

“Fine?” Cody growled.  “We’re fucking stuck in a world with Endbringers like that psycho alien bird bitch!  And we’ve got you playing head games with us on top of that!”

Okay, he does believe, he’s just counting previous hiding of the truth as lying.

“He wasn’t playing head games,” Luke said.  He winced as he moved his injured leg from his footrest to the ground.  Not exactly.”

“Thank you for saying so,” Krouse said.

Luke seems to be understanding. I like Luke, I just kinda wish we’d seen more of what makes him tick. And like, I wouldn’t be opposed to him being Ballistic for that very reason, but ultimately I think Cody would be more interesting with all this previous tension between him and Krouse tying into Ballistic’s distaste for Trickster. If he’s Luke, we’re gonna have to establish the reason for the tension between Luke!Ballistic and Krouse on top of everything we’re doing with Cody now.

“Don’t thank me,” Luke said, angry, “I’m not on your side.  I’m just saying you didn’t fuck with us for your own gain, you fucked with us because you thought it was in our best interests.”

Then again, this is exactly the kind of thing that can lead to respecting someone without liking them.

One of these boys isn’t around by the end of this, and it’s still a big question how that happens. The tensions between Cody and Krouse may very easily be how.

If that’s the case, I do kinda hope Cody survives and shows up later (while Trickster is still around).

“So that’s it?” Cody asked.  “It’s not just that we’re pawns in some crazy chess game the Simurgh is playing.  We’re stranded here?”

There exist silver-border cards (formally unplayable joke cards) in Magic the Gathering that let you bring in other cards from outside the game, or even things from other franchises. That’s what happened here.

“Yeah,” Jess said.  One word.

“There’s got to be ways home,” Luke said.

Yes. There is one that I know of. Trouble is, they’re not likely to want to help you, especially once they figure out you have their product.

“Probably,” Krouse replied.  “But they won’t be easy to find.”

“What are we supposed to do?” Oliver asked.  “If we go to the police-”

…they won’t know what to do, and you won’t have any evidence, and there’s the whole “scared of interdimensional travel and the Simurgh” thing…

“They’ll realize that we’re probably pawns in the Simurgh’s game plan,” Krouse said.  “We’ll be detained.  And let’s not forget, they killed that superhero, because he might have been caught in her web.  Odds are pretty fucking good that we’re caught in it, between the coincidences Jess mentioned and the fact that the Simurgh pulled us from our world to this one.  The people in charge?  They won’t fail to notice.”

Exactly.

“You think they’d kill us?” Oliver asked.

“It’s hard to believe, but I find it hard to believe they killed the cape and they did.  Yes.  I think they’d kill us..”

Yeeah. That guy was a an established force for good. You? You’re a bunch of kids who don’t exist in any records, who won’t be missed by anyone in the world.

When a minute passed and nobody spoke up, Krouse turned the volume up for the television.

…final decisions.  In the meantime, plans are underway to build permanent blockades around the affected area, with concrete walls placed South Midvale Boulevard to the west, Capitol Square to the east, and Haywood Drive to the south.  A quarantine processing center is already established at St. Mary’s Hospital, servicing city residents who were not evacuated before temporary blockades were set up.

Possibly worth taking Noelle there? But then you might be found out when records are checked.

Restitution will be offered to citizens displaced from their homes, paid for with international funding.  Authorities report that no catastrophic damage was done, and the situation was quickly brought under control by the first responders to the scene.  Chicago Protectorate leader Myrddin is quoted as stating, ‘This is a win for the good guys.  Scion arrived early to put the pressure on within minutes of her arrival and Eidolon delivered the final blows, driving her off.  We’re getting better at fighting these guys, and it’s showing.’

Scion and Eidolon, working together. Seems familiar.

So… it really sounds like the people who remained inside the quarantine are all now stuck there, being given support from the outside only via the hospital’s “quarantine processing center”.

However, insider sources in the PRT suggest that things are not so glowing.  A vault holding the equipment of now-deceased supervillain ‘Professor Haywire’ was accessed by the Simurgh.

Haywire was a villain? Huh. Somehow that never occurred to me as a possibility.

And that explains why this city in particular allowed the creation of the portal. So the Simurgh wouldn’t be likely to pull that off elsewhere, unless she created everything needed from scratch.

Shortly after, the source alleges, the Simurgh activated a large-scale replica of the devices, depositing large amounts of foreign bodies in the heart of the city.  Among these bodies, multiple reports say, were innumerable monsters with superpowers and hazardous materials.  When asked, the Chicago PRT director declined to comment, except to say that there have been no breaches of quarantine and there is no indication of risk to anyone in the vicinity of the quarantine zone.”

I wouldn’t be sure about it staying that way. But maybe the monsters breaching containment wasn’t the true purpose of sending them here. Maybe they were only a diversion, to hide the true reason she was messing with Haywire’s stuff, which had nothing to do with the large portal and more to do with the less noticeable transfer.

“MWBB coverage of the Endbringer attack will continue for the rest of the day, but next, we have a story of-

MWBB… Monsters With Brains Bulletin…

Krouse turned off the TV.  “St. Mary’s?”

“Not in our world,” Jess said.  “And we’re running a lot of risks by going…”

“We don’t have a choice,” Krouse said, looking at Noelle. “We’ll find a map, and we’ll need a car, with half of us unable to walk.  Let’s get Noelle to a hospital, ASAP.”

Yeah, time to do that.

Seems like a good stopping point for the night. 🙂


[Session 3]

Third session, third keyboard. This time I’m on my usual computer, using an old mechanical keyboard. It works pretty well for how old it is.

Anyway, let’s get Noelle to a hospital.


Right, before we start, have a song with Worm vibes:

I’ve been getting into Within Temptation lately, after my sister introduced me to them. They’ve made a lot of good stuff, and a lot of it would fit Worm — this is just the specific track that made me think the most of Worm.

Hell, the entire genre of symphonic metal seems to be well suited for Worm.


Finding the car proved to be the hardest part.  There wasn’t a car in the garage of the house they were borrowing, and though Krouse saw a car in the driveway of the neighboring house, he couldn’t find a set of keys in any of the obvious locations.

I suppose it’s because people evacuated. We know from 8.1 that they’re not supposed to go by car (unless otherwise instructed by authorities), but a lot of people still would.

Also surely one of these kids knows how to hotwire? I don’t know, it just seems like one of them should inexplicably know that. They just have big hotwire energy. Jess in particular, even though she couldn’t drive without special accomodations.

Be nice to know how to hotwire a car.

Hah!

In the end, they headed out as two teams.  Krouse was joined by Marissa, while Oliver and Cody formed the other team.

Go back and ask if Jess knows how to hotwire.

Oliver and Cody sounds like kind of an awful combination, but better than Krouse and Cody. And I’d much rather have Marissa joining our POV than Oliver.

It was dark, the streets were empty, and snow still drifted in dense clouds.  Few places had lights on, but that proved fortunate, as those places tended to be businesses.

So… places more likely to have an excess of vehicles?

They found a car rental place, but metal shutters on the window barred their access.

Oh, car rental, that’s perfect. If they can get in.

The keys are probably in a safe or something, Krouse thought.

Dammit, he’s right. I didn’t think of that.

They ran at first, jogging lightly as they hurried from place to place.  As they ran into continual failures, failed to find a car they could use, they slowed to a brisk walk.

Failure has a way of doing that.

It meant preserving their stamina, even as the slowness of it made Krouse anxious.  Every second spent looking was a second that Noelle had to wait.

You stayed the night, as far as I could tell. I’m sure a second more or less doesn’t matter too much at this point.

Settling in and leaving her to linger in a nigh-unconscious state had been their only option before they’d heard the broadcast.  Now, though…

Hmm. I guess.

They passed the area with the restaurants and patios as they continued searching for a usable car.  Every time he passed a car, he peered inside to see if there was a key in the ignition, if maybe it had been left abandoned by the owner.  No luck.

Maybe if they get lucky they’ll find this person’s car:

12647028_10153407406742005_4896195373497197614_n

This is pointless.

He checked another car, wiping snow from the window, then hurried to catch up to Marissa.  She was checking the cars on the other side of the street.

Unfortunately your odds aren’t great, unless people in Madison are dumb about their car keys.

“No luck,” she said.

“Can I ask what you saw?” he asked.

…as in, what the Simurgh showed her? That’s potentially very personal.

She saw herself holding a nice pair of socks.

“What?”

“When the Simurgh showed you stuff.  What did you see?”

“Why does it matter?”

Very personal and kind of coming out of nowhere.

“Because I’m trying to get a sense of what her game plan was.  Cody told me that she reminded him of me.

Okay yeah that’s fair. Best to know if the Simurgh was setting up anyone else against you.

Brought up all the bad memories of times I gave Cody a hard time, times he thought I slighted him or whatever.  I’m wondering if it was the same for you.”

Marissa shook her head.  “If I say no, will that be enough?”

It should be. She clearly doesn’t want to talk about it, so Krouse shouldn’t pry. I think he has enough sense to accept that.

“I won’t force you, obviously.  But… I’ve been trying to think about all this the way shes thinking about it.  Anticipate her moves.  It’d help a lot if you shared.”

Good luck anticipating the moves of something with her level of omniscience.

If you want to beat the omniscient at chess, you need a horse-themed neighbor and a way to cheat. Though your means of cheating are likely to blow up in your face if discovered.

Marissa made a face.  He couldn’t see a lot of her face, with the white scarf that was wrapped around the lower half, but he saw the grimace, the skin wrinkling on her nose.

Yeah, she’d really rather not. She might tell anyway, if only because this is a story and it’s bad form to bring it up like this and not let us know at least a little.

“Okay.  It’s fine, don’t stress about it,” he said, hurrying to check more cars on the other side of the street.

She called out after him, “I was on stage!”

I think this is the kind of thing that makes people think Krouse is manipulative even when he isn’t. When seen through a certain lens, it can look like he just manipulated her into telling him against her wishes, but I don’t think he meant to do that at all. He just asked, explained his reasons for asking, and was fully prepared to drop it until she changed her mind.

He stopped, turned.

“I was on stage.  It was just before I stopped doing all the dance and music stuff.  The whole thing then had been lyrical dance.  But I’d been rebelling…”

I’m sure lyrical dance means something like dance that’s supposed to evoke the story or mood of the lyrics to its music, and I’m sure it’s beautiful, but all I can picture is YMCA.

She trailed off.

“I don’t follow.”

Yeah, uh, rebelling how exactly?

“I was fighting with my mom, top of our lungs screaming at each other, always about stupid stuff.  The color of my dance uniform, and what I was eating for dinner, the amount of homework I was or wasn’t doing.

Ah, the direct in-your-face you’re-not-the-boss-of-me type of rebelling.

So I stopped practicing.  Started hanging out with friends like I’d wanted to do for years.  Thought I was getting back at my mom, that I’d get on stage, and I’d get fourth place, and she’d be pissed, whatever.”

Did it backfire on you?

“But?”

“I froze.  It’s never really happened to me before.

Ahh… Aimed for fourth, got last?

My mind went blank, I, um, I couldn’t even bring myself to move, or pull one coherent thought into my head.  I was sweating, breathing hard, to the point that I almost thought I’d finished, except I hadn’t even started.”

This sounds like straight up a panic attack.

“Scary.”

“It’s… it’s worse than that, but it wasn’t scary so much as… devastating?  I don’t know if I explained it right, but it’s like, I managed to get a little of my own strength, break away from my mom’s grasp, and all the pressures she put on me, become my own person.  And then I’m standing there on stage, and I feel a bead of sweat run down the inside of my leg and for just three seconds, I-“

When you become your own person, suddenly all the pressure on you is on you rather than on the version of you you’ve been pressured into being…?

She stopped.

Krouse didn’t want to interrupt, and Marissa was busy talking, so he took over checking the inside of the car windows as they walked.  He peered inside the next car. “You thought you’d pissed yourself.”

Awkward.

I know that feeling though.

“…I don’t know why I said that out loud.  You fucking mention that ever again, and-“

“I won’t.”

Let us never speak of this again.

It was another ten seconds before she continued.  “I must have turned bright red.  I’d felt strong, felt independent for the first time in my life.  And then it turns out like that.  And she’s in the audience, front row.  My mom.  She’s smiling, because she thinks it’s a victory for her.  The rebellious daughter discovering that mom was right about everything after all, you know?  That’s how she probably saw it.”

Were this any other work, I’d question whether Marissa interpreted this smile correctly.

But more likely than not, this is just genuinely a huge “fuck you” magnet.

Krouse nodded.

“That smile?  That was what the Simurgh showed me.  Except it lingered.  Couldn’t shake it.

She knew how much that’d get under her skin.

The smile of an oppressor who knows she’s securely in power.

I’m picturing Marissa’s mom as movie Dolores Umbridge and nobody does this kind of smile better than her. Unfortunately Imelda Staunton is probably a little too old for the role now, but I think anyone trying to portray Marissa’s mom in a live action Worm adaptation should look to her for inspiration.

Odfestudiohq_25252824252529

Almost as if it was the Simurgh doing it and not my mom.”

That kind of thing might be effective against Jess, too. Like, Jess is clearly shaken by the sense of inevitability, the sense that whatever they do the Simurgh is winning.

Obviously Jess would lack the context if shown Marissa’s mom doing this (I kind of doubt the Simurgh can show you anything other than your own memories, anyway), but I mean, something conveying the same sort of smug victory as though it was coming from the Simurgh could work.

Krouse scraped at ice that had packed against one passenger-side window, peering inside.  “What happened after that?”

“Here or back then?”

“Back then.”

“I had a bit of a breakdown.  My grades went to hell, I stopped doing everything, all of the music, all of the dance, all of the after school stuff.

Did that make the smugness fade into anger?

Retreated to my room.  Wound up going to therapy, but my mom sat in on all of the sessions, and how could I get better when the person that’s ninety-percent to blame for the problems is in the room with me?

Fuck off, Umbridge.

…okay, time to fess up: I don’t remember their su– oh, right, it’s Newland, isn’t it.

Anyway, was this a result of Dolores Newlandbridge being unreasonable about staying out, the therapist being incompetent, or both? I’m inclined to say both. Not recognizing the need to have Mrs. Newland leave the room and/or asking Marissa — Marissa, not Mrs. Newland — whether she’d like that is a failure to provide the basics of therapy.

It’s nice to see therapy being an actual option for people in fiction for once, though, even if it didn’t work out.

Stopped going to that therapy until I could get a therapist who’d be for me and just for me.  That’s where I met Noelle.

Oh good, she actually did manage to get someone more competent?

Chris backed me up in general, but it was Noelle that helped me find my way.”

The guiding angel.

He could see her face fall, understood why.  “I’m sorry about Chris, by the way.”

Yeah, oof. Can we get some Fs in the asks?

(Sorry, Sharks.)

“He was a genuinely good guy.”

“Yeah.  Sorry I didn’t get to know him more.  He was always more your friend than our collective friend.  But he was nice enough.”

“And without Chris or Noelle, there’s nobody left in the group that I really could talk to,” Marissa said,

This might go a long way to explaining the difference between Marissa as we see her here and how she appears latearlier. She’s out from under her mother’s thumb, but she has to deal with all new pressures alongside the other Travelers, and both of her closest friends, the two best suited to helping her are out of commission, either by death or by whatever the fuck kind of monstrous transformation is happening to Noelle.

“So it’s the same for me, now, kind of.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “You can talk to me, if you need to, you know.”

And since everyone is under the pressure, and taking it differently, this becomes less true because they’re all trying to deal with their own shit at the same time. Krouse in particular seems to channel it into trying to maintain some control and focus for the group, which doesn’t mesh well with how Marissa takes the new kind of pressure.

She snorted.

There was a break where they only investigated the cars.  Krouse knew he should be on the other side of the street, looking for keys, but it was fruitless.  There was an expensive looking hotel at the end of the street that had a parking garage, and he held out hope that the place would have valet parking.

Oh yeah, that’d help.

Oliver had been saturated with self-doubt, loathing, all the things that made him introverted, passive, even whiny.

Why are we thinking about Oliver now? Trying to guess at what the Simurgh might have shown him?

He’d been brought to tears at one point, even.  Marissa had been brought back to the stage, her focus turned to her relationship with her mom.

The common thread between the Simurgh visions we know about is relationships. With Marissa and Cody, they were shown negative relationships, reminded of the negativity.

Krouse, on the other hand, was shown his positive relationship with Noelle. The Simurgh wanted him to be reminded of how much that mattered to him, to continue prioritizing Noelle above all else. Which makes sense, since whatever is going on with Noelle in the future was likely one of the main purposes of sending them all to this world in the first place, and she presumably needed to survive for the Simurgh’s plan to work.

His laser focus on Noelle is also likely to lead them into the situation that forces the use of the vials. I’m still thinking he might end up administering a vial to Noelle himself in a fit of desperation if the hospital thing falls through (which would also explain why several Travelers blame Krouse), but that still doesn’t explain why the rest would take theirs, especially Jess.

What purpose does that serve?

I do think Krouse is looking at this through the right lens.

Maybe Oliver would’ve been much more useful as a party member if his self-doubt hadn’t been cranked up?

The only thing that Krouse could think of, and he had to ask Luke to get a third data point, was that the Simurgh had wanted to distract them.

But from what exactly…?

Cody, meanwhile, had been set against Krouse, and Krouse’s attention had been turned to Noelle.

…Luke? They might be getting distracted from the one we’ve been continually distracted from, the one who doesn’t seem to be around later for mysterious reasons…

(Assuming Cody is Ballistic. I still can’t seem to make up my mind on that front.)

This doesn’t strike me as the kind of maneuvers she’d be making if she was planning something for years from now.  This is more imminent.

Can’t it be motherfucking both things?

“What are you thinking?”

“That I need to talk to Luke about what he saw.”

Yeah, before it’s too late. I don’t know how she’d get under his skin, but if I’m right that he’s what they’ve been distracted from, it could be really bad.

“To make sure he’s okay?”

“That, and to round out my theory.  With your situation, what you were talking about with the aftermath of the stage fright, was that it?  There was nothing afterward?  Things got better?” he asked.

Hmmm.

“Yeah.” Marissa shrugged.  “It was good to be free, to have time to myself, without my mom, um…”

Crushing you?

“Your mom’s intensity?”

“Intensity.  Yeah.  But it sucks, because I’m a year away from the point where I could move out.

Well, it looks like the Simurgh forced that issue.

So you’re what, 17?

Maybe more, depending on how long it takes me to get first and last month’s rent together.  And until then, I’ve got to put up with dinner conversations where every other sentence has a hidden barb, a prod to accomplish something, or a dismissal of the stuff I’m actually interested in.”

Eesh.

Also, I’m listening to a Spotify “radio” based on one of Within Temptation’s albums, and it just brought up the Nightwish song “Endless Forms Most Beautiful“, which opens with these lines:

Come on, hop on, let’s take a ride
Come and meet the travelers who came to town
They have a tale of the past to tell
From the great dark between the stars

If that isn’t this Arc, I don’t know what is.

She’s talking like all that’s still a consideration.  We’re a long way away from that stuff, from our families and having to worry about rent.

Yeah, I noticed that too. It’s understandable that she hasn’t quite internalized it yet, though, or the idea that there’s no way back.

Krouse knew she’d feel worse when it hit her, if she kept thinking that way.

“You don’t need to worry about any of that now, at least,” Krouse said, trying to sound nonchalant, checking the next car.

Hmm. He means well, but I’m not sure this was the best way to go about it.

He didn’t hear a response.  Turning back, he saw her eyebrows drawn together in a frown.  He asked, “Sorry.  Was that too blunt?”

Maybe a little, yeah. That or she just realized something else and we’re transitioning into a different conflict.

“No.  Um.  I dunno.  Is it strange I miss my mom?”

Not really. Brains are weird like that.

“You know your feelings better than I do.”

“For years, I’ve dreamed about running away, or getting enough money together to move across the country and cut all ties with her.  Only now a situation like that’s been dropped in my lap, and I realize I might not see her for a long time, if ever, and Chris on top of that…”

The thing is, just because you find yourself missing someone doesn’t mean that they’re good for you. Brains form the weirdest and unhealthiest of dependencies and attachments sometimes, and sometimes that leads to emotions that don’t make much sense even with logic pushed to the side.

“I think these circumstances would make anyone feel lonely,” he said.

Marissa nodded.  “How are you holding up?”

How Are Your Feelings

“Just want to get Noelle help.”

“And your hand?”

Oh yeah, his hand injury. I pretty much forgot about that. I think he might have too.

“Hurts like a bitch.  But it feels silly to complain when we have bigger problems and other people are hurting more.  And I’m getting antsy, taking so long doing this.  Looking in the car windows isn’t getting us anywhere, and it’s getting too dark.  Let’s check the hotel.”

Seems reasonable.

“Okay.”

They crossed the street and found the front door of the hotel unlocked.  Only half the lights were on, set for daylight rather than evening, and the interior was abandoned.

Welcome to the Hotel Wisconsin… such a lovely place, such a lovely place, such a lovely face…

“Everyone really did evacuate, didn’t they?”  Marissa asked.

You don’t fuck around when the Endbringer alarms go off.

Krouse hopped onto the front desk and swung his legs around to the other side before hopping down. “Two ways to deal with the Simurgh, I guess.  Far easier to be preventative than to clean up the mess afterward.”

Oh, absolutely. Especially when any efforts to clean up the mess might be part of the mess.

He opened a drawer and found a mess of business cards, each organized into neat rows with elastic bands around them.  The next drawer was locked.  “Mars!”

April! Wait, fuck, that joke doesn’t work in English. Uh… Jupiter?

Marissa returned from the employee-only hallway beside the front desk, “What?”

“Can’t get this open with one hand.  Want to try?”

She tried and failed to get the drawer open.

Locked. Might be a good sign there’s useful stuff in there.

Struck by inspiration, she hurried back into the hallway and then came back with a toolbelt.  It took less than three minutes to get the drawer open.

Excellent work.

Half of the drawer were largely empty, containing only two credit cards, a piece of jewelry and a paper noting procedure for managing the lost and found.  The other half of the drawer was sectioned off with a grid of wood panels, with keys and slips of paper in some and plastic cards with numbers in stylized golden letters in the others.

The credit cards are pretty much useless without Tattletale here, and I guess someone might like the jewelry but it’s not helpful. The keys look like what they were after, though, so jackpot!

(I see no moral issue with taking anything they find here, as whoever owned it won’t be allowed back into this area to retrieve it anyway. It’s practically a no man’s land full of abandoned, irretrievable property at the moment, and anything they find is up for grabs, especially anything they need for their collective survival. Although if they happen to run into the owner of something outside the quarantine they might want to give what they found back.)

“Score,” he said.

A dozen keys in hand, they made their way to the parking garage, stopping at the stand with all the brochures to find one with a map of the area.

Krouse, come on, that’s not a score, that’s a dozen, get your numbers right…

Marissa got in the first car they found.  Testing the remaining keys, Krouse made another nearby car beep.  Seven of us, and Noelle should lie down.  This works.

Beep beep meow.

They opened the metal paneled door to the parking garage and hurried back to their cars.  He followed her out.

The plan had been to loop around and find the others.  If they couldn’t, they were to beep and signal them.

Lots of beeping going on. Now we just need a meow to complete one of the dumbest Homestuck references I’ve made in a while.

With things this quiet, it wouldn’t be too difficult to hear the horn.  Still, he’d rather not have to.  There was no guarantee the freaks weren’t still around.

Yeah, unfortunately they’re smart enough that they’d know a car horn meant someone was there to find.

Two people would be hard to spot in the gloom and the curtains of falling snow, but cars with glowing headlights?

The car might provide some protection and mobility, but who knows what kind of powers they might have.

Oliver and Cody were nowhere to be seen.

He beeped twice and waited, while Marissa drove ahead and did the same.  A minute passed as they staggered their movement across the area Oliver and Cody had headed off to.  The pair didn’t show up.

Welp, that’s a problem.

Either Oliver and Cody were in trouble, or-

He peeled out, driving past Marissa.

Or… what? Or Cody’s stubbornly refusing to go to Krouse? I don’t think he’s that far gone.

Was the gut feeling his own, or was it something implanted in his head by the Simurgh?

The wheels skidded on the snowy surface of the road.  He didn’t have far to go.  If he was wrong, he knew this would cost them only a little time.  If he was right, though-

So worth checking, then. Seriously, though, if this hunch is an alternative to them being in trouble, and it’s this bad, it’s probably them being trouble somehow.

There would be a car parked outside the house.  There was; Cody had left it sitting in the middle of the street, by the fence.

So they found a car and didn’t alert Krouse and Marissa. Dick move, Cody.

Krouse pulled his car to a stop and climbed out.

The soldiers on the other side of the fence were still there.  All but a few were inside their vehicles, now.  Others were outside, smoking.

Have they just kinda been watching these crazy kids do their thing?

They didn’t seem to care about what was unfolding ahead of them.

Krouse rushed into the house.  He glimpsed at Noelle.  She didn’t seem to be any worse, and Oliver was beside her.  Jess shot him a concerned look, but Krouse wasn’t waiting long enough to exchange words.

I think Cody finally managed to piss Krouse off with this stunt.

He rushed towards the kitchen.

Luke was standing, one leg bent and off the ground, holding a door frame for balance.

Oh, hey, you’re up. *squints at Luke*

“Cody-” Luke started.

“I know,” Krouse replied.

There was only one car. Did they only find one car, or did Cody take the other?

There was a noise as someone ascended the stairs.  Cody burst into the kitchen.  “Where are they!?”

Fuck. We’re doing this, then. I think I predicted this at one point?

Honestly, this makes it less likely that Cody is Ballistic. Between this and the thing about Luke understanding but not liking Krouse’s decisions, the scales are tipping back to Luke.

“And you call me the asshole,” Krouse said.

“Fuck you.  You hid them.”

Of course he did, look at yourself.

“Close, but no cigar.  We did leave the suitcase in plain sight, took the canisters out.”

Fair. Still “hiding them”, but fair.

“We”? Does Jess have them?

“Where!?”

“But we didn’t hide them.  Jess and I destroyed ’em, before we started cooking dinner.”

Okay, yeah, that’s obviously a lie, given future knowledge. Though I think I’d make the same call if I’d been reading this without that knowledge.

That could be an interesting experiment, by the way. Having someone read this Arc first, before going back to Gestation, just to see how it shaped their experience, both of the world and of the Travelers’ later appearances.

Bullshit.”

“We weren’t going to use them,” Krouse shrugged.  “It’s a bad idea.”

I know you don’t always trust the reader with your thoughts, Krouse, but you can tell us, what did you actually do with them?

“You fucker!  Making decisions for the rest of us!”

Krouse shrugged.  “Cope.”

Yeah, uh.

Cody wouldn’t deal well with having an official team leader, Krouse or otherwise, without having to do a lot of growth first.

Cody turned towards the area where Luke was at the door frame.  “Luke.  You’re going to stand by and let him act-“

I think Luke partially agrees with Cody on the “making decisions for the rest” thing, but is better at dealing with that.

“You don’t have any ground to stand on,” Luke said, interrupting.  “Not that Krouse is doing much better, destroying those vials before we had a chance to discuss it further, on top of what he’s already pulled, but the worst Krouse has done thus far is lie by omission.

A very human concept.

Lies of omission can be very effective. Especially if you never speak an untrue word.

You lied to my face.  Said you were looking for something to help transport Noelle.”

You know what, I might be a little frustrated with Luke sitting back through most of this whole thing, not getting all that involved in anything, resulting in the effects of the situation on him not really getting any focus compared to the rest, but when he does get to shine, he’s pretty great. Narratively, I think Cody as Ballistic would generate more drama and be better that way, but personality-wise, I’d prefer Luke all the way. Cody’s kinda annoying at this point, while Luke might be one of my favorites (like… third after Jess and Krouse).

Actually, y’know what, let’s formalize that list. Favorite proto-Travelers as of halfway through 17.6:

  1. Jess
  2. Krouse
  3. Luke
  4. Marissa
  5. Noelle
  6. Cody
  7. Oliver

“I’m willing to bite the bullet,” Cody said.  “I’ll take the hit.  I’ll drink the stuff, or inject it, whatever.  And if the Simurgh has things set up so I get fucked over down the road, I’m okay with that.  I can still use whatever powers I get to get us out of here.  Maybe get us home.”

I don’t think he quite understood the scope of the Simurgh’s down-the-road fuckery. It’s not just about him getting fucked over, it’s about him fucking over a bunch of other people in the process.

I can sympathize with the hope, though. The hope that maybe he’ll get a power that can bring them home. This is born from desperation, not hunger for power.

“Get us home?” Krouse asked, “Like it’s that easy.”

I mean, you have a point, but… you also don’t really know that it isn’t, do you?

Hell, Cauldron has already produced one person who could do it, why not another?

“Everything comes down to money,” Cody said.  “Think about it.  We get a few million bucks, pay one of those mad scientist types, and they get us home.

…he’s not wrong. Their best shot at going home would respond well to a few million bucks. They won’t respond well to using the vials, though.

Maybe I die or something in a few months or a few years.  But I’m not staying here!  I’m not putting up with this fucking dynamic!”

Hah! The Travelers are so dysfunctional that Cody’s willing to fuck himself over just to get out of here.

(Another point for Luke.)

Krouse noted Marissa coming in through the front hall, standing behind him.

“What dynamic?” Luke asked.

Specifically Krouse-Cody, or the entire group?

“The one where he comes out on top!  Where everyone else is okay with the shit he pulls and then pats him on the back when that shit works out in everyone’s favor!”

Have you considered that maybe you’re the one with the problem here?

“The Simurgh fucked with your head,” Krouse said.

“No!  This has been bothering me for a long time!”

Yeah, so she brought it to the forefront.

“Listen!” Krouse raised his voice.  Cody glared, but didn’t speak.  Krouse continued, “She fucked with your head, brought that simmer to a boil.  She wanted this.  She wanted Luke and Noelle and Oliver to be distracted, that’s why she made them remember the things they did.  She wanted you to hate me, and I think she wanted me to go just a little too far.”

…by laserfocusing on Noelle, yeah. Yeah, this all checks out. I guess the things she showed Cody weren’t so much another distraction as the thing being distracted from.

“Krouse,” Luke said, his tone a warning.

Poor Luke just wants everyone to get along, doesn’t he.

Krouse’s tone was matter of fact, calm.  “I will.  I’ll admit it, I’m a crummy person and Noelle seems to like me anyways.  You have no conception of how major that is, or of the hurdles we’ve had to get past to get even this far in our relationship.

I have only the most superficial of ideas myself and even so it’s major.

So yeah, I’ll go too far if I’m pushed, right here, right now, because I have to protect Noelle.”

“if I’m pushed”. Nice and sneaky way of turning this into a threat.

Cody folded his arms.

Krouse continued, “It’s probably what the Simurgh wanted, maybe even why she made me as reckless and violent as I was when we ran into those supervillains.  So I’d cross that line once.

That’s a major recurring element of this story. Once you cross the line, it’s so much easier to cross the line again.

She set me up so I’d do it, like she’s set you up so your resentment’s at a fever pitch.  If you attack me, I’ll probably kill you.”

And the sad thing is, I don’t think Krouse is lying or exaggerating at all. He’s fully prepared for it to come to that.

And it’s been a likely ending to the Krouse-Cody story from the beginning, in the case of Luke being Ballistic. One boy too many.

“You’re talking out your ass,” Cody snarled the words.

“I’m done with you,” Krouse said.  “You can’t let go of shit, can’t see far enough past what’s between the two of us to know how shortsighted you’re being.  Our situation right now?  We’ve got priorities.  Noelle is number one, but the rest of these guys come in a close second.

I’m with Krouse here. He’s pretty much listing exactly why Cody is getting annoying.

So I’m going to go help Noelle and get her into the car I brought, and we’ll get her and Luke to a hospital.”

Cody only glared.

Yeah, follow those priorities.

“And Cody?  If she suffers at all because you wasted time, then I’m going to make you answer for it.”

Krouse turned his back on the guy, making his way to the living room.

Yeah, this is fair at this point.

I’m guessing there’s a whole faction of the fandom that sides with Cody, but no. Team Krouse all the way over here. Or even better, Team Luke.

“Need help?”  Marissa was on his heels.

“Help Jess.  I can carry Noelle, and I want to be out of here sooner than later.”

Time to get moving.


It’s getting late, there’s still a lot of chapter left, and I think that verbal smackdown is another good stopping point. Fuck Cody.


[Session 4]

Alright, let’s read the rest of this!

“Okay.”

“Luke?” Krouse said, “Want to use my shoulder to steady yourself?”

“I can use Oliver.”

I’m kinda prone to exaggerating height differences between characters in my head, as some of you might’ve noticed with me describing one OC as half again as tall as another when they’re both within normal human height ranges. (My excuse is Eris has similar trouble accurately judging heights.)

Basically I’ve been picturing Oliver as practically a halfling compared to Luke and Cody, which results in a pretty silly mental image of Luke leaning on Oliver.

Krouse nodded.

One by one, they made their way to the cars Krouse and Marissa had brought.  It took time to get Noelle settled in with blankets around her.  Even a little cold left her whimpering and moaning, struggling with less strength than a baby might have offered.

At least she’s responsive at all now.

Her eyes never opened, and she couldn’t even lift her arms beneath the blankets, after they were in place.

Whatever is happening to future Noelle, I don’t think it’s simply a side effect of being affected by the Simurgh song while knocked out. If that were the case, it’d be far more common.

However, it may very well be a side effect of taking a Cauldron potion while in this sort of state and shortly having her head messed with. We know they take mental examinations to make sure the client is ready for it (unless the client pays extra to skip them), and I think it’s been indicated that Deviations are more common if their heads aren’t quite there.

But then the question becomes, why did it take so long to set in? And why do the Endbringers appear to take an interest in it, to the point that she might have been why Leviathan attacked Brockton Bay?

Which also raises a tangential question — how much communication is there between the three of them? Could the Simurgh inform Leviathan of her plans re: Noelle? What if she couldn’t, and Leviathan attacked because he saw Noelle as a threat, something which the Simurgh had predicted and wanted him to do?

Who the fuck knows.

All the while, Cody stood in the doorway of the house, staring.

Don’t fuck with this, Cody.

It was only after Krouse and Marissa had pulled away that Cody made his way to his car and followed.

Yeah, good. Keep your distance for a little bit.

“Need help!” Krouse shouted, as he pushed the hospital doors open with his foot.  Noelle was in his arms.

People have made Loss edits of this scene, haven’t they.

That’s only barely a question.

There were only twenty or so people present.  No staff.

Did they evacuate the hospital staff…?

Plastic panels had been boarded up so that they blocked half of the access hallways.  The front desk, too, was similarly blocked off.  A camera sat on the desk, pointing forward.

Ah. No direct contact with the quarantined patients.

This was supposed to be a “quarantine processing” setup, but what exactly does that entail?

Krouse went out of his way to avoid putting himself in front of the camera.  He banged on the plastic panel that hung over the front desk’s window.  “Hey!  This girl is dying!”

For the record, I’ve been fully prepared for the hospital not being particularly helpful for a while.

Please wait,”  a voice said.  It sounded over an intercom or something.

“She’s waited way too long already!”

Stay calm and be patient.  The staff at this facility are strictly limited to the volunteers who were willing to undergo the quarantine procedure themselves.

So… the ones who were willing to stay behind and deliberately leave the rest of the world for the sake of those surviving in the quarantine, possibly for the rest of their lives?

That would leave them understaffed, yeah.

As such, this facility is currently understaffed.

Was it an automated message?  No.  He didn’t get that vibe.

“Sit, Krouse,” Marissa said.

…Dragon?

Krouse settled Noelle into a chair, then sat beside her.  “Fucking creepy.  I think that thing in the booth is an artificial intelligence.”

Maybe not Dragon herself. Dragon’s pretty good at passing as human, and it makes sense to isolate her from the cause and effect too (other than the necessary communication during the actual fighting). Also, Krouse has already heard Dragon without coming to this sort of conclusion or noting similarities between this AI’s voice and Dragon’s.

“No shit?” Luke asked.

“No shit,” Krouse said, his leg bouncing up and down restlessly.  It had to have been at least eight hours since the initial injury, but the minutes that were passing now that help was so close were a special kind of torture.

Hm. I guess if they did stay the night, they got up early? I’m confused.

He studiously ignored Cody, who was standing on the other side of the waiting room.

You can tell he took their last confrontation to heart. Cody, who is usually all up in Krouse’s face at every moment, is now noticably keeping his distance.

The others in the waiting room included two nuclear families,

Nuclear?! Sure they make things blow up sometimes, but that’s because they’re magic, not radioactive!

a collection of older people who might have come from an old folks home and five men in protective gear that looked like what a firefighter might use, but they had the word ‘Rescue’ emblazoned across their shoulders.

More volunteers, perhaps?

“We get asked about where we came from,” Krouse murmured to the others, “We stick as close to reality as we can, but we don’t name people or places.

“here, duh”

Better to look dumb than name a place that doesn’t exist.  Any tips, Jess?”

“Nine-eleven didn’t happen here.  Endbringers did.

Oh, interesting.

They have one dollar coins in this America, not bills, and they phased pennies out.  Um.

Huh. It seems the differences between the worlds go further back than I thought, or the dollar coins replaced dollar bills at some point.

Here in Norway, coinage goes up to 20 NOK (a little over two dollars these days), with the next value, 50, being a bill. I was around for the 0.50 coins being phased out. (Before that, any costs paid in cash would round to the closest .00 or .50. Now it’s to the closest whole.)

I expect in the Wormverse, NOK isn’t worth much of anything anymore except to collectors. Thanks, Leviathan.

There’s an installation on the moon, half-built and abandoned.  I don’t know.  Stuff is different.”

Dammit, Mannequin, come back and finish what you started.

“Is any of this even liable to come up?” Luke asked.

“Don’t know.  Better to be safe,” Krouse said.

Probably not the moonstallation, but the dollars might. Especially if you had any on you when you got sent here.

Two people in nurse’s uniforms hurried out of the mouth of the hallway.  One, a man, approached Krouse and his friends.  Krouse stood from his seat.

Hi. Are you going to be of any help?

“Situation?” the nurse asked.

“Two moderate injuries, one severe,” Krouse said.

“She’s the severe one?” the nurse asked.

I mean some people might describe later Krouse as “severe”, but for now, she’s the one with a severe injury.

“Yeah.  Stuff fell on her.  Her stomach’s turning black.”

“We’ll look after her,” he said.  He whistled.  “Esme!  Stretcher!”

Esme is a name with such a “rich and superficial fashionista” vibe. I can’t help but picture Esmé Squalor from A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Doesn’t help that Esmé Squalor spent some time disguised as a nurse.

Tumblr_p7dpj7U2fm1vg1svoo9_400

The other nurse ran to get one.

“Only six of us volunteered,” he said.  “Lots of rules, lots of drawbacks, when it comes to the quarantine.  We were on the outside, but we get treated same as you for coming in.  Can’t blame others for not being willing to make the sacrifice, but it’s tough with the limited staff.

Sounds like I interpreted that correctly. So do you ever get to exit?

Who else is injured?”

“Impaled hand,” Krouse raised one hand.  He pointed at Luke.  “And sliced leg.  If you’re going by priority, put me last.”

Makes sense to treat the leg first anyway.

“Not critical?”

“No,” Krouse said.  He looked at Luke, “No, right?”

“I’m okay for now,” Luke said.

Yeah, it’s mostly Noelle.

The other nurse had arrived with a stretcher.  The pair checked Noelle over, then loaded her onto it.  She disappeared down one hallway

(I didn’t cut off the quote; Wildbow’s missing a period here.)

Krouse sank into his seat.  It was out of his hands now.  He could finally let himself relax just a little, finally-

Oh for fuck’s sake, Krouse, don’t tempt fate like that.

Sir?

Hmm. Did he pass out?

It was the intercom by the camera.

Hesitant, he stood, then he stepped closer, still avoiding the camera.

Hmm?

Please take these papers and distribute them to your companions.

Information about how they’re trapped in the quarantine forever?

Krouse took the stack of paper.  They were stacked together in packs of six.

Be informed, individuals within the quarantine area must meet the prerequisites noted on those sheets before they can be permitted to process out and re-enter society.

Oh, there is a chance of getting out legally. Nice. They’re not dooming entire societies to live out their lives in bubbles all around the world.

Under the D.D.I.D. measures, individuals found to be circumventing the listed procedures and strictures or violating the post-release conditions will be criminally charged.”

Well, that’s one thing that might deter regular people but not concern any supervillains in the quarantine area in the slightest.

“What?”

Do you require further explanation of the D.D.I.D. measures?

Sure, won’t hurt.

“What measures?”

To be processed out of the quarantine area, individuals are required to undergo ten months of twice-weekly checkups with a rotating body of quarantine processing agents.  Eight of those months will also involve weekly sessions of counseling and psychiatric evaluation.

“Ten months?”

Could be worse. I was half-convinced they might never let the quarantined people out legally.

Ten months, correct.  Further, anyone processing out of quarantine is required to accept a tattoo marking their D.D.I.D. status.

What does D.D.I.D. stand for, anyway? Don’t Do It Dirty?

Each such individual will be placed on a list, with twice-weekly checkups with quarantine processing agents continuing indefinitely.  Attendance at any official or non-official function with more than ten individuals present requires permission from a quarantine processing agent, a minimum of forty-eight hours in advance.  The individual in charge of the function should be notified of your D.D.I.D. status upon your arrival.

All of this makes sense but sounds really inconvenient.

Any employers should be notified of your D.D.I.D. status at the first opportunity.  Anyone selling or renting property to you should be notified of your D.D.I.D. status at the first opportunity.  Financial institutions should-“

We get it.

“Stop.”

The remainder of details are noted on the sheets provided.  This counter can answer any further questions.  The operator overseeing the quarantine area can answer any further questions.  As noted on the sheet, the operator can be contacted-“

This AI really needs to use the word “or” more.

Out of universe, though, that vaguely inhuman structure is a great way of conveying the impression Krouse has of it.

“Stop.  Shut up,” Krouse said.

The mechanical voice went silent.

Krouse turned to leave.

“Boo hoo. You have hurt this counter’s robofeelings.”

“Sir?  There is one other matter to discuss.”

Krouse turned back.  “What?”

Regarding the care of the young woman, will you be paying the balance?

Welp. That could be a problem.

“I don’t have any money.”

Understood.  If you will provide the name of your financial institution-

“Yeah, uhh… my bank is in another world. Whoops?”

My financial institution… a world away.

It dawned on Krouse, belatedly, that he was a person without an identity.  His driver’s license, his banking info, his birth certificate… they didn’t count for anything here.

The driver’s license could still work if nobody bothers to check the records. And if it looks the same as an Earth-Bet driver’s license.

“Why?”  Krouse interrupted it.  “Can’t you guys pay for it?”

I’m so glad I live in Norway.

I mean, we do have to pay a part of the hospital bills, but not nearly as much as over there.

Of course.  You will be reimbursed for costs incurred in the course of your processing.  But the process will be expedited if you pay now.  Failure to do so could mean additional delays.”

Fuck that noise.

“That’s ridiculous,” Krouse said.  He thought of the credit card he’d taken from the drawer. If he used that…  No.  Too dangerous.

Wouldn’t you need a code anyway? Or is that not a thing with credit cards? It’s been a long time since I used mine.

(Edit, a couple paragraphs later: I was thinking of a charge card. I do use my credit card often and they do require codes.)

But there had been any number of stores that had been left abandoned.  “I can pay cash, if given a chance to go collect it.”

So remember what I said about looting earlier? That still applies. It’s not theft if the person who owned it would have no opportunity to come and get it back.

But will this counter even accept cash? The cash would be objects moved from the quarantine.

These measures were put in place to ensure that we are able to track anyone undergoing quarantine processing, as well as those who may be attempting to circumvent processing.  We will require a credit card or a bank account number.

I guess you do need to use the credit card you took, then. Somehow.

“If I don’t?” he asked.  “My stuff got destroyed in the attack.”

Again, we can contact your financial institution on your behalf and start the process of restoring your accounts to your control.  If you do not pay, you will not be processed.”

So… they can get medical attention but without this payment, they won’t be let out legally?

(I never expected them to leave legally anyway.)

“And my girlfriend?”

The patient will not be processed, either.

“If I say I don’t have the money, and I can’t pay her fee?”

So this whole thing is frustrating, but honestly, if anyone didn’t expect something like this to happen, they haven’t been paying attention to how this story works whenever any sort of government or institution comes up.

“We will request financial information from the patient at the first opportunity.

That won’t work either, but at least it’d put the whole thing off until she’s well enough to speak.

Noelle, Krouse was almost certain, didn’t have a wallet on her.  No, they’d left her purse in Luke’s apartment, and that was in shambles.

If there’s even anything left of the building, it’ll be at least as tricky to navigate, and the area might still have a bunch of the “monsters” still hanging around.

So not the best place to go back at the moment. Besides, the card wouldn’t even work unless someone on Earth-Bet has the same account number at the same bank, with the same PIN.

“If she can’t pay?”

“We will attempt to contact her financial institution.”

“If you can’t?”  He searched for an excuse, “She was confused, before she went unconscious.  She might have hit her head.  If I can’t give you that information and she can’t give it to you, what then?”

I guess it’s worth figuring out how it would go down before proceeding.

Then the department will pay.  But quarantine processing will not continue until you have provided identification and financial information to verify your identity.

Okay. So the medical side of it is fine.

Getting out of here, on the other hand, will require some circumvention.

Krouse returned to his seat, set his hands on his head.

Fuck you, Simurgh, he thought.  Fuck you and fuck this foreign Earth.

Yeah, that’s very much deserved.

“Krouse?”  Marissa asked.  “Was it about Noelle?”

She’s forcing our hands.

Oh yes, definitely. You’re gonna need to drink those vials to get out of here.

“Quarantine measures,” he said.  He shoved the papers at her, half-crumpled in his hand.

She took them with a gentle touch that stood in stark contrast to the force he’d just used, as if afraid to provoke him further.

A flash of the broken meekness that would come to define her later…

“What do you mean?” Luke asked.

Krouse spoke in a low voice, “I mean we don’t get out of this quarantine area without I.D. and bank info, which we don’t have, and even then, we get treated like criminals for the rest of our lives.”

Yeah… I’ve already decided what to name this chapter, unless something better comes up. The D.D.I.D. status is very reminiscent of registered sex offenders.

“There’s got to be a way around it.”

“No.  I don’t think there are.  They’re on the watch for that stuff.  For anyone trying to slip past the system.  So we either need to take ten months to process out of here, with enough psychiatric counseling and talks with quarantine officers that we’re bound to slip up somewhere, and we’d have to get flawless I.D. that’s going to meet the standards for their checks-“

…or you drink.

“Which is impossible,” Cody said.  He’d approached and was listening.

This does concern him too, so I’m not too bothered by him breaking the streak of keeping his distance.

Krouse nodded.  “-and we’d get treated like criminals for the rest of our lives, or we take option two, we try to escape, and again, we get treated like criminals for the rest of our lives, only we deserve it.”

Unless you succeed without anyone knowing about it…

…and given what it’s looking like you’ll need to do to succeed, keeping a low profile seems almost as laughable as it did with Hollik and co.

Another family came in the front doors, finding chairs to settle into.  Two twenty-somethings and two people who looked more like grandparents than parents.  They were sitting close enough that Krouse couldn’t continue risk being overheard.

Conversation over for now, I guess.

(Also since I already pointed out one typo this session, I might as well point out the missing “to” in “continue [to] risk being overheard” as well. I don’t do this to nitpick, I do it because I know Wildbow has read at least parts of this liveblog and believe he would want to be alerted to typos so they could be fixed.)

He fell silent, and the others read the papers detailing the quarantine protocols.

It was two hours before the male nurse returned to the lobby with news about Noelle.

Good news? Or are we keeping up the bad news streak?

Krouse didn’t even finish listening before dashing for the door.

She awake finally?

I don’t think we’ve seen this many section boxes in one chapter since 15c.

I can relate. I’ve been working on a pair of chapters for one of my MLP fics (for quite a while now) that have a whole bunch of section lines in them.

“Well played,” Krouse said, as the car skidded to a stop outside the house they’d borrowed.  “Well fucking played, Simurgh.”

Is Noelle with you? Please, I want her to talk.

He stepped out of the car.

Permanent damage.  Removing the majority of her lower intestine.

Oof.

He didn’t step into the house they’d borrowed.  He headed straight for the house next door, the one they’d broken into when they were looking for house keys.

Huh? What are you up to?

Interrupted blood flow, infection, possible signs of necrosis.  She’l require a colostomy bag even in the best case scenario.  In the worst case scenario, well, there’s any number of ways this could end badly for the patient.

Ohh. He’s on his way to find the vials, isn’t he. These are just more reasons why she’d need the healing from the vial even when she’s gotten medical attention, in addition to the issue of getting out.

(Another typo. “She’ll” is missing an L.)

End badly, Krouse thought.  She’ll die.

Heading inside through the side door, he locked it behind him and made his way to the living room.  The canisters were sitting under the couch, along with the papers.  He flipped through them.

May offer moderate to complete healing.

Canister A:  F-1-6-1-1, ‘Deus’, 85% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 15% mixture.
To be consumed by Client 1

Canister B: R-0-9-3-6, ‘Jaunt’, 70% mixture.
           Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 30% mixture.
To be consumed by Client 2

Interesting. So these samples seem to have been mixed with another… how does “Balance” tie into any of their powers? Is it simply a stabilizing mixture?

Deus sounds like Jess’ power. A jaunt is a short travel, so maybe Krouse’s?

Canister C: C-2-0-6-2, ‘Prince’, 55% mixture.
           Added: O-0-1-2-1, ‘Aegis’, 30% mixture.
           Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 15% mixture.
To be consumed by Client 3

A three-way mixture? Interesting.

“Prince” sounds likely to result in Master powers (unless someone at Cauldron has read Homestuck), while “Aegis” is presumably defensive. None of that really seems to fit anyone.

I suppose it’s also possible that Aegis is named after the hero and messes with how your body works, but I don’t think Aegis was that big of a name.

Canister D: M-0-0-4-2, ‘Vestige’, 75% mixture.
           Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 25% mixture
To be consumed by Client 4

“Vestige” would make some sense for Oni Lee.

Canister E: X-0-7-9-6, ‘Division’, 80% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 20% mixture
To be consumed by Client 5

Canister F: E-0-7-1-2, ‘Robin’, 60% mixture.
Added: C-0-0-7-2, ‘Balance’, 40% mixture
To be consumed by Client 6

“Robin”? What? As in the bird? As in the sidekick?

It’d be oddly fitting if Cody ended up with “Division”. It also reminds me of Faultline.

Why does Cody end up with a vial and as far as I can tell not Oliver? I smell a confrontation coming up.

“Can’t even say what they do, huh?” he asked.  “Because you want to leave maximum room for us to screw up, is that right?”

Well, no. It’s because the specifics vary. I’m sure the Simurgh enjoys it though.

He could hear a car on the road, the crunch of heavy snow beneath tires.  A car door slammed.  He flipped back several pages to reread the directions.  Nothing more complicated than drinking the stuff.

Is that Cody?

But which one?  He stared at the list, muttered, “Jaunt.”

Called it.

Maybe Prince for Ballistic? …actually no, the Aegis part doesn’t fit him much, maybe Prince/Aegis is Noelle’s?

The rest have me stumped.

A small laugh escaped his lips.  Didn’t a jaunt mean a short trip?

“I’ll just take a little jaunt over to Earth-Bet, mom, back in a few hours!”

“Well, that’s as fitting a choice as any,” he said.  He could hear the others making their way inside.

Yeah, uh… I can’t imagine Cody is going to keep his cool now.

He screwed off the top of the canister and withdrew the vial inside.  “A toast!  If I’m screwed no matter which path I take, then at least I’ll go forward with courage!  Fuck you, Simurgh!”

Hold on, I gotta go mix some more squash for myself.

*wanders off to the kitchen, returns with a full glass*

Alright, I’m ready. *lifts glass*

A toast to courage, and fuck the Simurgh!

Marissa and Oliver appeared at the entrance to the living room just in time to see him tossing the contents of the vial back.  They rushed forward to stop him and only succeeded in catching him as he fell.

Ooh, ooh, do we get visions? Please?

Pain.

It was like cold electricity, moving through his body at a speed of an inch a second.

It’s fun how descriptions can be arguably nonsensical like “cold electricity”, yet as the reader you still know exactly what that means.

He saw fragmented images, faded, blurry.  A crystal formation, growing in fast motion.  Two crystals, each somehow alive.  They moved by creating more of themselves, letting the crystal behind them die.  He sensed that years were passing, but they moved together, insistent.

Crystals… We’ve seen what appeared to be Dandelion births and deaths, but this… Are these crystals worlds? Then again, we’ve also seen Dandelions display this sort of duality, picking partners and moving together.

The second they made contact, the entire world was turned to crystal in a heartbeat.

Dammit, Lucas.

Another heartbeat later, the world shattered.

So… Dandelions touching is really bad news?

Another image.  Creatures that folded and unfolded through space, existing in multiple worlds simultaneously, too many to count, spreading out from the remains of a world.

Oh, that’s how they fuck? Fair enough.

Do Dandelions find crystal formations to be lewd? If someone gets a crystal power, does that imply the Dandelion that bestowed it was really immature? Is Steven Universe a porn show for them?

Or… were the crystals an entirely different kind of being that acted as parents for all Dandelions? I do like the idea that they change in appearance before spreading their seeds though. They’re named Dandelions for a reason.

A third scene.  Falling towards a barren planet, seeing the descent with countless eyes that weren’t quite eyes.  And a fragment of an idea… that the world had the same general shape as Earth.

This isn’t the first time we’ve gotten some indication that the Dandelions are in some way physically headed towards Earth, even if they can appear psychically when giving people powers. I expect they’ll arrive around the same time the final threat does, but can’t defeat it on their own.

That is, if the whole thing isn’t a flashback.

Landmasses in the right place, if not quite the right shape.  No water… but still Earth.

Okay that’s probably neither Aleph nor Bet, then. The lack of water would on its own make me think super prehistoric times, but the continents are in roughly the right places, suggesting approximately the same time, on a geological scale.

Another option is it’s the future, a vision of the post-apocalyptic world, of what the Dandelions might arrive to find if the final threat isn’t defeated.

(And maybe even then. Ward is likely to be post-apoc even in the best case scenario Dinah could see. I think there might exist a best case scenario she couldn’t see, but I don’t know if we’ll head down that route.)

“Krouse,” Marissa whispered.

“All good,” he smiled.  He struggled to his feet, then nearly lost his balance.

Clearly C-0-0-7-2 didn’t do him any favors…

He had to put one hand on Marissa’s shoulder to keep from falling to the ground.  “It’s all good.”

Is Cody going to wait until they know if Krouse did get a superpower before taking one?

Why?”

“Because I’m brave and stupid and because she’s the only one who ever gave me the benefit of a doubt,” he said.  He tried to walk and fell.  Marissa caught him.

…he’s testing it isn’t he. He took it himself first to make sure it’s safe for Noelle, and to see if it’s what it claims to be.

That’s why, narratively, he got the hand wound.

“You can’t,” she said.

“Can too.  ‘Cause I’m pretty sure it worked.  Not sure how.  But it worked.”

Try it!

This particular power might take a little testing to figure out.

He felt a pressure behind him.  A matching pressure to his right.  He turned to look, to see what was happening, and only saw the flatscreen television and a heavy speaker poised on the edge of the bookshelf.

Swap them…

There was a chord, as if a string stretched between them, vibrating, and the television was suddenly sitting on the bookshelf, the speaker in the midst of the entertainment center.

Doesn’t seem like he did that on purpose, which makes sense. Accidental first uses are a tried and true superpower trope and one I like a lot.

The television fell with a crash, and the remains of the screen danced across the floor.  Marissa shrieked.

“See?” he smiled.

I really like Krouse’s attitude in this scene.

“Krouse-”

He was aware of the pressure, aware of the reaching.  He tried to push it to move, like he’d move his hand, and it did.  He couldn’t exactly feel the shape, but had a sense of the heft of the thing he was pressing against.

Interesting. Like a pair of switcheroo arms.

He pressed the other presence against the coffee table, but didn’t feel the same chord.

Not the right size, I guess.

Could expand and contract it, he noted, as if he were opening or closing his hand.  He tried expanding one.  No, that made it worse.  Expanding the one around the coffee table, grabbing, what, air?

Can he do that and create bursts of high or low air pressure? Nothing we’ve seen from him before indicates he can.

The chord.

The desk from the front hall crashed to the ground and tipped over just beside them.  The coffee table settled in the front hall.  Again, Marissa made a noise of alarm, a yelp.  “Krouse!  Stop!”

Pffft. Poor Marissa.

“It’s all good,” he repeated himself.  “Because I’m going to help her.  Fuck the Simurgh.  Fuck destiny.”

“Fuck destiny” is something a lot of fictional characters I like can agree on.

He stopped when he saw Cody in the hallway.

“They’ll accept this too,” Cody said, “Our friends, your friends really, they’ll let it slide, won’t they?  I get threatened, treated like shit, and you?  Well, you get the breaks.”

Them’s the 8r8ks.

I do expect Jess to be upset, at least.

Does Cody get one as a peace offering? Krouse seems in the mood to do something like that right now.

“Pretty much,” Krouse said.  “But if it helps, you’re doing it for you.  I’m doing it for her.  For Noelle.  Because I love that girl, and she puts up with me, and I’ll probably never find another person like that again.  Not in our world and not in this one.”

Awww, that’s so sweet, Krouse, way to practically guarantee things end poorly for the two of you in the future ❤

“You’re not capable of love,” Cody said.

Oh fuck off.

Cody has had understandable points from time to time, but he’s gradually lost all sympathy and that line, right there? That shit ain’t cool. Fuck you, Cody.

“We’ll agree to disagree.”  Krouse pushed the presence against Cody, surrounded himself.  No, not quite.  I’m smaller.  Need to suck in some air…

I guess he can do this, and it accounts for the discrepancies. I imagine it causes popping noises if he sucks in enough, or even gusts.

They swapped places in a flash.  Cody staggered.

Krouse nearly fell, too.  He caught the rails of the stairwell to balance, grit his teeth in the anticipation of pain.

Again with struggling to balance after taking a potion with a sample literally named “Balance” in it. I realize that sample probably didn’t have anything to do with balance powers, but it’s still minorly ironic.

No pain.  He clenched his bad hand, the one that had been impaled.

Ah, there we go. I was wondering when he’d check his hand.

It was healed.

“All good,” he said, knowing he was saying the same thing over and over, rambling.  “Guess I’ll need one for her.”

He grabbed the heaviest book from the coffee table, then reached for a canister…

Kinda tricky to keep someone from grabbing something when they have this power.

I get the feeling Cody’s about to try, though.

He could feel it, but couldn’t get a lock.  He turned around, looked.

There.

Oh, just discovering the line of sight limitation.

The book was replaced by the canister the second he made eye contact.  He nearly dropped it.

Krouse smiled.  “Not too difficult.  Not hard.”

Yeah, you’re getting the hang of this pretty quickly.

He whirled around, nearly lost his balance.  “Well, I’ll meet you guys at the hospital.”

You gonna flicker your way over there, or just drive?

“Krouse!”  Marissa shouted.  She stepped forward, reaching for him.  He pushed his power into her and Oliver, switched them so that Oliver was within a few feet of him.

Not gonna lie, I forgot Oliver was in the room.

Oliver backed away, scared.  Krouse had expected as much.

“Hypocrite!”  Cody shouted.

“I know this is shitty,” Krouse admitted.  “And my excuses, my reasons for doing it, maybe they don’t make up for what I’m doing.  But I’m okay with you guys hating me if it means helping Noelle.”

Cody is right that this is somewhat hypocritical, but hey, Cody, he left you with the rest of the canisters. Feel free.

I wonder if drinking multiple would have similar effects to having a second natural trigger event like Grue.

He headed outside, stepping through the side door, glanced around.

The garage of the house he’d just left was still open from where they’d investigated.  It had a car sitting inside.  He smirked.

Is he gonna switch the car with the one he’d been using so he doesn’t have to cross the road?

He had to wait until he had both Marissa’s car and the one in the garage in sight before he could lock on to both.  He pushed his presence into each, didn’t find it particularly difficult to get a hold…

They switched.  Marissa’s car made a crashing sound as it settled in the garage.

That sounds expensive.

He got in his car, then pulled it into the driveway, just in front of the garage.  Cody was just stepping out of the side door.  Krouse saluted him.

See ya!

Then he swapped himself and his car with the one that was now on the street.

Imagine being able to do this out in traffic. I could see that being an actual tactic Trickster might pull in a police chase.

(Even if they’d be targets more for the PRT.)

They didn’t have keys to that car that was now blocking the driveway.  It would buy him time.

He shifted gears and drove.

Vroom vroom. Noelle, here we come.

“Hey, No’.” He said.  He sat down beside Noelle’s bed.

Hey, no, bad puppy.

She opened her eyes, smiled just a little.

I wonder how much she’s been filled in on what’s going on.

He smiled back.  “You’re finally awake.”

“Morphine helped.  Hurt too much to even open my eyes, before.”

She speaketh!

Seems she hasn’t had time to be filled in properly, but might have caught some of the earlier talk.

“Sorry.”

“Hey, Krouse… things are pretty fucked, aren’t they?”

You can say that again.

“Hey, Krouse… things are pretty fucked, aren’t they?”

“Yeah,” he said.  He smiled a little.  “So you caught some of what we were talking about?”

She nodded slowly.  She closed her eyes with such languidness he thought she was falling asleep, but it was only a slow-motion blink.

The upside is this lets you do more things in the blink of an eye.

“Yeah, things are supremely fucked,” he said.

She nodded a little.  “I’m due for another surgery.  They gave me one short one, and now they’re replacing my blood, see?”

It’s okay, Noelle, Krouse is here to tell you all about the merits of alternative medicine.

I’m looking forward to seeing how her power manifests before it turns into what we kind of half-know from later, assuming she even seems to get one.

“I see,” he said, eyeing the blood bags.

“…I kind of wish we’d done more boyfriend and girlfriend stuff,” she said.  “Sorry.”

…oof. Does she not think she’ll be able to?

Either way, I don’t think it’s something to apologize for.

“Don’t need to apologize.  You did what you had to.”

“I could die,” she said.  Her voice was feeble, quiet.  “They’re cutting too much out, and they can’t wait any longer, but my condition’s bad, so I could die on the table.”

Hey so question how would you feel about a superpower?”

“You’re not going to die.”

“And even if I live, I’m gonna be ugly.  Nice big plastic plug in my belly, with a bag of shit attached.  Which is really ironic, you don’t even know…” she trailed off.

…how so?

“I sort of figured it out,” he said.

She nodded.  “Big scars, bag of shit.  Is why I wish we’d done more, before.  Won’t be any good to look at, after.”

“I don’t care about scars.  But it doesn’t matter anyways.  You’re not going to die, and you won’thave scars.  Or a colostomy bag.”

She turned his way.

“You see, I found out about this thing they have in this world called ‘homeopathy’–”

He asked, “You catch any of what we were talking about?  Back at the house?”

“Only some.  Um.  I can’t distinguish the reality from the delirium dreams.”

Considering what the reality is, I can’t blame her.

“I suspect the delirium dreams made a little more sense, if that helps,” he said.

Hah.

He set the canister down on the short table beside the bed.

“What’s that?”  Her eyes widened.  “That wasn’t a dream, then.  Krouse, no.”

Oh nice, she remembers that part. No need to spend time explaining, other than the healing.

Yes.  You’re going to take this, and it’ll help.  You’ll live, and you won’t need surgery.  Then I’ll get you out of here, and we’ll go home.  Somehow.”

“I don’t- no, Krouse.  People were saying…  They were scared.  This… this isn’t some minor thing.”

I suppose she would’ve gathered the Simurgh was involved at the hospital.

“No.  It’s big.  It’s huge.”

“There were only six,” she said.  “And there’s seven of us.”

For now. And even then Oliver doesn’t seem to get one.

Wait, so she’s aware that Chris didn’t make it, then?

“You deserve special treatment, after what you’ve been through.  And I want to make sure you get better.”

“No.  It’s… it wouldn’t be fair to the others.”

There’s a shortage of one and that’s enough for her to not want to take it, even though she’s the only one who arguably needs it (aside from as a means of escape).

Though to some extent she seems to be making excuses.

“Screw the others.  Cody, at least, can go fuck himself,” Krouse said.

Be very careful with those words when you’ve got a power, Krouse.

“No, Krouse.  I… there’s too many things, too many warnings, and stuff you guys were saying about poison-“

He could hear footsteps in the hall.

Maybe demonstrate that you’ve already taken one?

“What if you take half, then?” he asked.  “Only half.  It’ll be fair to the others.”

That. That sounds bad.

That sounds like exactly the sort of thing that can make things weird.

He drew the vial, then found a paper cup by the sink.  He poured half into the cup.

“See?”  He handed her the glass vial

“Krouse-“

This might be your biggest mistake.

Someone’s going to come in any second now.

“It’ll work,” he said.

“And if it doesn’t?  Or if that horrible stuff you guys were talking about comes true?  The… what did you call it?  The cause and effect?”

I wonder if future Noelle is still worried about that.

“If it happens,” Krouse said, “Blame me.”

“I don’t-“

I don’t recall when, but I’m fairly sure it was indicated at some point that Noelle does seem to blame Krouse to some extent.

“Please,” he said, the word barely above a whisper.  He hadn’t realized he was saying it out loud before the word had left his mouth.

She gave him a small nod, and he helped her to drink.

I’ll take the blame.  I’m okay with being the bad guy, he thought.  Just so long as you get to live.

*Billie Eilish intensifies but is promptly blasted out of the room by Lord Dominator*


End of Migration 17.6

And so homeopathy saves the day once agahahahahaha no.

This was a big one! Between the rest of the team learning of their true situation, the town they’re in finally being named, insight into Marissa’s Simurgh visions, Cody trying to sneak a vial, Krouse laying the smackdown on him, another unhelpful institution (though better than expected; the hospital part worked out alright, if no well enough for Krouse), details on the sample labels for the vials, a Dandelion vision that might’ve been steamy, Krouse getting the hang of his power, Noelle finally waking up fully and quite possibly an indicator of why things are fucked up with her power—

*takes a deep breath*

–there is nothing this chapter is if not jampacked with good content.

Next up: We’ve given vials to two out of six characters (not counting Oliver here) and left the rest with two of the others. Cody has expressed interest in using the vials, but how will we get Marissa, Jess and Luke on board? I suspect that will be involved in the next chapter.

Also, the end of this one noted people coming. It seems likely we’ll find out who they are next time, and they may very well be Marissa, Cody and Oliver. Confrontations abound.

Maybe something will happen to the other half of Noelle’s vial, preventing Oliver from using that?

Speaking of which, we’ll probably either learn what Noelle’s power is supposed to be, or find that she didn’t seem to actually get one at first. I doubt the effects of drinking only half the potion are immediately dramatic, or the cause of what’s happening to her in the future would likely not seem so mysterious.

Should be interesting. See ya there!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s