Interlude 18z: The Breaking

Source material: Worm, Interlude 18 (Donation Bonus 3)

Blogged: October 27-30, 2020


Moving right along!

It seems we have an Interlude on our hands. The obvious guess would be Eidolon, catching us up on his perspective of things before the Undersiders butt in, but it seems like Wildbow rarely goes for the obvious option these days.

Maybe we’ll still get the perspective of someone present for the Noelle crisis, one of the thus far unnamed capes from the meeting?

After 18x, I speculated that the Arc’s Interludes might have a theme of “people with power even if they don’t look it”, but I don’t feel 18y followed up on that idea, so I don’t think I can really use that to speculate here. Although maybe it could be tweaked to gaining power — 18x having power over Scion thrust onto Lisette, 18y being about attempts to get a power for Theo.

It’s an extremely weak supposition in a story about superheroes.

So given that we’re back to my usual inability to speculate effectively on Interludes, I think our best bet is just to jump into it.

GERONIMOOOOO!


Thursday, June 16th, 2011, 22:11

I think that’s a slight rewind? A few weeks, just around the time the Nine were in town, if I’m not terribly mistaken.

Very specific timing there, too.

“Are you comfortable?  Is there anything I can get you?” Jessica Yamada asked.

Yamada… I think that’s a Japanese name, though Jessica of course is more American.

Being given the full name like this implies more character relevance than the line she says does. Is she the POV character here, or is she serving the actual POV character (in which case knowing the full name of one of the serving people and using it in the narration might be a characterization tool)?

“A… okay,” the staff employee said.  What had her name been?  Worthwhile?  No.  Worth-something.

Okay, looks like Jessica is the POV character, and the full name is immediately contrasted by her failing to remember the name of the person she’s waiting on. A nice little inversion of the usual dynamic with names in a context like this.

Staff of what?

She was elderly, and took more time than was necessary to go through the letters, “M… okay.  M, n, o, p, q, r,s t, u…”

(missing space between “r,” and “s”)

Sounds like Worth-Something is rather preoccupied.

A… M…

A… M… E… L… I… A…

said Victoria after an unfortunate run-in with human transmutation

“Stop,”  Jessica said.  “I can guess.”

“I have to continue,” the older woman said.  “Patient’s right to communicate.  T, u, v, w, x, y… Y.  Third letter is Y.”

…ah. I was joking, but apparently I was onto something.

We’re visiting Victoria today.

“We’ve been over this, Victoria,” Jessica said.  “You know that’s something I don’t have any power to give you.”

Imagine this one unpowered nurse breaking into and out of the Birdcage just to satisfy one of her patients.

Victoria blinked three times, the signal for the alphabet.  The older woman started.  As Victoria’s right eye was the only one open, she started with the second half.  “M, n, o, p… P, okay.”

Right eye… that implies she’s down to two eyes, which sounds like progress.

Victoria switched eyes, closing one and opening the other.  First half of the alphabet.

“A, b, c, d, e, f, g, h…”

Another blink.

The first word that comes to mind is PHONE, but it seems difficult to use a phone like this.

Then again, the technology exists in our world to play Minecraft using just your eyes, so who knows what tinkers could pull off.

“Phone?” Jessica interrupted, before the reading started again.

A blink.  Affirmation.

“I’ve explained you can’t phone her.  She’s gone to the birdcage-”

I mean, there’s not much reason to deny most Birdcage inmates phone-like communication via Dragon. She’s already recording what’s being said in there, and presumably has ways of communicating into the Birdcage, so relaying something should be relatively harmless as long as she kept a close watch on what was being relayed.

Plus, a system like that would have made it easier to get important information from one of the inmates to Dragon. It’d still be subject to atmospheric interference, of course.

Jessica paused.  Her own heart rate was climbing, her breathing involuntarily quickening.  She felt a bead of sweat running down the back of her neck.

No matter her shape, Victoria’s gonna Victoria.

The old woman had stepped out of her chair, backing away.

“Stop that,” Jessica said, her voice firm.  She’d managed to keep her voice from trembling.

The sensation didn’t fade.

I don’t think this is going to help, Victoria. But I can’t blame you for trying. Not a lot of things you can try.

“She went to the birdcage because she wanted to,” Jessica said.  “And we let her because there were serious concerns about her unleashing an epidemic if she had another psychotic break.”

“we” let her? Implying Jessica or her organization had some say in the matter? Interesting. I suppose Jessica might be with the PRT or another part of the government… silly me thinking she’d actually work here, to be honest, given the way she didn’t remember Worth-Something’s name and seems less concerned with the “patient’s right to communicate”.

Three blinks.  To the old woman’s credit, she stuck to doing her job.  “A, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i… I, okay.”

Copying this quote into the WordPress editor makes it clearer, but with the sans serif font on the Worm site, I honestly thought for a second that she skipped J and K.

“Victoria,” Jessica said, and she wasn’t able to hide the tremor this time, “if you want to communicate with me, I’m going to insist that you turn your power off.”

Victoria reduced the effect of her power, scaling it down to a general sensation of unease.

Hah, fair enough.

Maybe they should teach Victoria Morse code. Seems much faster than this counting through the alphabet stuff, and she could use one eye for dits and the other for dahs to make it even clearer.

Or she could use light bursts of her power as dits and strong bursts as dahs.

“Thank you.  Returning to our previous topic, Amy had to be contained somewhere.  Everyone involved agreed on that point.  There was too much danger, otherwise, with the possibility of uncontrollable, incurable plagues that could eat through plastic or metal.”

I can’t actually argue against it. She was pretty far gone by the end there, and while it was a rather focused kind of far gone, it could easily develop further after what happened to Victoria.

Jessica waited patiently as the staff member went down the list.  I.  D.  O.  N.  T.  C.  A.  R.  E.

Fair.

I  don’t care.

Thank you, Jessica, I was certain that said “Id ontc are”.

(Extra space between “I” and “don’t”.)

“Others do care, Victoria,” Jessica Yamada informed her patient.  “Amy cared.  She knew her own limits and her own potential, for good or for ill.  It wasn’t an easy decision, for her or for the authorities, but that decision was made with everyone’s best interests at heart.”

I’m… not sure how much that was on her mind at the time. She mostly seemed to think “I’m bad like my dad, and I did a really bad thing like my dad, so I should be in the Birdcage like my dad.” But she may well have emphasized how dangerous she’d be if she went full Pandemic in order to convince authorities to put her there.

Again, the letters.

N.  O.  T.  M.  I.  N.  E.

I do think that’s the one person whose best interests Amy did have at heart. That she thought it’d be better for both of them if Amy left what was left of Victoria’s life.

But that didn’t account for the love Victoria still had for Amy. Neither the artificial romantic love nor the real sisterly love.

Not mine.  Not in my best interests.

Ohh, and here I thought a notmine was an animal, a relative of the ermine.

Thank you for being able to read, Jessica.

“She didn’t feel that she could fix you, or that it was right to use her power on you again.”

Looking at the lyrics, Fix You is actually a surprisingly fitting song for this relationship.

Two blinks.  Negation.

“You… that’s not what you meant?”

There’s a little more to it, yeah.

Blink.  Agreement.  Three blinks to signal for the board.

A.  L.  O.  N.  E.

“The board” presumably refers to how the alphabet list acts like a ouija board, which just gets me thinking about ways to implement an actual ouija-esque setup controlled using her eyes.

Also, Alec could totally go into the psychic business, using his power and a ouija board to mess with people.

I could also totally see him and Brian doing penis ouija, early on. And that’s an assertion I think I’ll leave without context. 😛

“Not entirely, Victoria,” Jessica said, her voice gentle.  “There are others who care about you.”

No blinks, now.  Long seconds passed.

Staring. Challenging.

“Back to my original question.  Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable?”

B.  A.  T.  H.

I can imagine that’s quite an ordeal.

“Excellent,” Jessica said.  “We’ll see what we can do.  Anything else?”

Two blinks.  No.

“I’ll be seeing you for a longer appointment next Tuesday, then,” she said.  “Tell any of the staff if you would like to get in touch with me before then.  I’m on-call, twenty-four-seven.”

Jessica’s exact position in this continues to elude me. What is she, a PRT representative tasked with overseeing Victoria’s treatment from a distance? There’s nothing indicating she’s a therapist or anything like that, and the local staff seem to be more closely involved in actually taking care of her, but it’s Jessica who asks if they can do something like a bath and says they’ll see what they can do.

One blink.

Jessica exited the room.  The door sealed shut as it closed behind her.

Hopefully what she does after this visit should help clarify it a bit.

“Well?” the head nurse asked.

“Some headway,” Jessica said.  She took off her suit jacket and folded it over the nearest chair.  Her back was drenched with sweat, shoulder-blade to belt.  “Hard to endure.”

Victoria doesn’t make it easy for them, with the use of her power.

“She’s upset.  Understandably.”

“I know.  But I’ll take her on as a patient, and hopefully we can get her in a better head space.  Thank you again, for letting me overstep my duties.  It helps me to open a dialogue if I can offer her something she wants or needs.”

Okay, so she is a therapist? And the weirdness with the asking what they could do for her was a deliberate step outside of what a therapist normally does.

“You can’t offer her what she really wants.”

“But a bath is a good starting point.  Is it doable?”

“Yes.  We’re well equipped for disabled patients.  We’ll lower her in with hoists.”

Seems reasonable.

Jessica’s narration never once commented on Victoria’s physical state, which I find interesting. Part of the horror is in letting the reader imagine the details for themselves, of course, but even for a second or third visit like this seems to be, you’d expect some comment. And then there’s the implication that she only had two eyes, and “disabled” is a hell of an understatement for how she was last time we saw her.

So all in all I have to wonder if they’ve made enough headway on her physical state that she’s starting to appear more humanoid again.

“She won’t break?  Or tear?”

“No.  She’s far more durable than she appears.  For better or for worse, she retains her invincibility.”

Ah, right. That’s definitely not ideal for surgeries. Don’t wanna have to shoot her every time you need to make an incision.

“I see.”

“Who’s the next patient on your caseload?”

“Sveta.”

I didn’t realize thebootydiaries was a cape.

“Garotte.  I know you’ve heard the instructions about the protective safeguards a thousand times-”

Garotte?

Jessica sighed.

“-But I have to go over them anyways.  There are regulations, Jessica, as you well know.  You’ll be wearing a type-C reinforced protective suit.  The suits include both an inner and outer layer, the inner layer-”

Definitely one who cares about doing her job by the book, this one.

“Has a button in the palm.  I can withdraw my fingers from the outer glove and press the button.  At random intervals, you’ll buzz me surreptitiously…”

“And we expect you to press the button to verify that you’re okay.  You can press it twice in the event of an emergency.”

At least she’s willing to roll with Jessica saying part of these Special Containment Procedures in her place.

“The damn thing has malfunctioned and interrupted three of my last seven sessions with her.”

Pfft. Malfunctioned how exactly? Constant buzzing? The button signal not going through and the local staff assuming an emergency?

“It’s what we have for the time being.  If you don’t verify your own safety or if you signal an emergency, we’ll employ containment foam through the sprinkler system.”

Oh that’s great, if it malfunctioned in the latter way that means she’s gotten surprise foamed three times in the last seven sessions.

“And I’ll be stuck here for another hour, with another four pages of paperwork after the fact.”

Ahahaha she totally did

“Is she your last patient for the day?”

“No.  I’m scheduled to see Nicholas after.”

Let’s hope you don’t get foamed, then!

Really, if this is a known problem, she should probably do her best to schedule Sveta last when she can.

“Sadboy.”

Nicholas, when not preceded by “Saint”, is one of the most emo common names I can think of, so that tracks.

Jessica didn’t correct the head nurse.  She hated using the codenames; it reinforced the idea of the patients being less than human.

Is Sveta not a codename, then? Or maybe you don’t know her legal name.

*checks* Nope, Sveta is a real Slavic name.

“Yes.  I’ll see him, then I’m done for the day.  I’m on rotation with the PRT for Friday-Saturday, then I have Sunday all to myself.”

I forget if it was mentioned where this facility was, back when we learned Victoria was to be sent there. I think it was, hold on…

Pennsylvania.

So Jessica probably doesn’t work with any Protectorate capes, Wards or PRT folks we know well.

“Any plans?” the head nurse asked.

“I’ve learned not to make any.  There’s always a crisis of some sort.”

Reasonable, in that line of work.

They’d reached the changing room, and Jessica pulled on the protective inner-suit.  The suit fit close to her body, smelled faintly of someone else’s sweat, and consisted of a stretching mesh covered in fine chain link.  The entire thing was reinforced by a grid of metal bars, complete with oiled hinges at each joint, so she had a near-full range of motion.  Zipping it up, it went straight up her neck, the bars running vertically down her throat.  She couldn’t look down without getting jabbed in the soft flesh beneath her jaw.

So Sveta’s power is probably physical, given this armor-like protection.

Also I just realized, if Sveta is an actual name, my joke about thebootydiaries probably fell flat. She’s not actually named Sveta, like the joke would imply to anyone who knew that was an actual name. I was referring to how thebootydiaries is known for calling people “sweaty :)” in place of “sweetie”.

Oh well. Not every joke can work out as intended. Such is life as an ignorant liveblogger. 😛

It made it harder to get the outer suit on.  The entire thing was one piece, like footie-pyjamas, and the fabric was heavy, with alternating layers of insulated fabric and more chain mesh.

Another possibility is electric powers, with insulation outside and diversion inside.

She liked to go into situations armed with knowledge.  When she’d been new to the job, fearing her first week of work at the asylum, she’d researched all of the protective measures, even running down the patents that were public access to see what they entailed.

Arming yourself with knowledge like that is a very good idea in this story.

Odd as it might have sounded, she’d stopped doing that as of late.

But why? I mean I get that it’s supposed to indicate more confidence and less fear, but this is a setting where knowledge is power.

Although maybe the knowledge was making it clearer to her why she should by all rights be more scared.

It wasn’t due to a growing confidence.  Just the opposite.  Now that she had a better grasp of what her patients were capable of, it was easier to hope the people designing the safeguards were doing everything they needed to.  It was better than researching it and knowing they weren’t.

Yeah, that.

The heavy fabric exterior suit fit her like hazardous materials gear, bulky, broad, leaving a great deal of empty space between her body and the fabric.  Protective airbags of more reinforced cloth inflated to fill that space.

She stepped into the dock, and the door behind her shut.  The next door opened.

The room was empty.  The wall had a mural painted on it, ocean waves and beautiful architecture that Jessica couldn’t place as belonging to any particular era or culture.  There was a short, translucent table littered with painting and drawing supplies, and what looked like a cat’s tiered scratching post, extending floor to ceiling, securely bolted to both.  Mirrors were fixed to the wall, to show that the room’s resident wasn’t hiding behind it.

Is she a case 53 who turned almost fully into a cat?

Although that probably doesn’t jive much with the protective gear, aside from being thick to prevent scratches.

“Come on out, Sveta,” she said.  She clenched her teeth and braced herself for the ambush.

She’s the meanest little kitty so we named her Sveta

(R.I.P. Sparta)

Sveta had been waiting above the door.  Tendrils snaked around the neck of the protective suit, and cinched tight in a moment.

Ah, more of an eldritch squid type thing?

Even with her full knowledge of the suit’s protective qualities, Jessica felt her heartbeat quicken.

Deep breath.

Her breath caught in her chest as she heard the faintest, almost inaudible sound of metal creaking.

Stronger than you’d expect, naturally.

More tendrils had caught her legs and arms, and even lashed across the room to catch the only points available to hold, the two-inch diameter bolts that held the scratching post ‘bed’ to the ground.

“So sorry,” Sveta whispered.  “Sorry.”

And this is what we in the industry call mixed messages.

Jessica felt her arm jolt as one set of tendrils lashed up the length of her right arm to catch her gloved fingers.  Each finger was pulled in a different direction, but the metal reinforcement in the outer glove held, and her hand wasn’t crumpled like tissue paper.

This feels very deliberate. Kind of seems like Sveta is attempting to break out and is aware of the emergency button.

“Relaxation exercises, Sveta.  Don’t try to fight the instincts all at once, don’t worry about me…”

Sveta convulsed, contorted, and every part of her drew tighter.  Jessica heard something metal give way, felt a small component tap her shoulder, bouncing around the interior of the outer suit before settling in her boot.

Wait, who’s saying that line? Is that Sveta using her name as a stand-in for “I’m doing”, or is Jessica trying to talk Sveta out of this?

Calm.  Sound calm.  “…Just focus on your extremities.  Flex them, release them, repeat.”

Okay, it’s the latter.

I wonder how many times Jessica has been through this.

Another contortion.  Jessica forced herself to take a deep breath, simultaneously cursing whoever had let this defective equipment go back in the changing room.

“I’m so sorry,” Sveta said.  “I’m trying, but it’s making it worse.”

So Sveta definitely has instincts that control her to a great extent.

It’s very reminiscent of Noelle, just less Endbringery.

“Take your time,”  she replied, defying every instinct that was telling her to get out of this dangerous situation: to press the button, fight or panic.  Like Sveta’s, her instincts weren’t serving her best interests here.  Unlike Sveta, she could fight them.

“Please, take your time, stopping your attempt to choke me to death is no rush at all.”

Sveta contorted, and an airbag gave way in the suit’s midsection.

“Oh!” Sveta said.  She’d noticed, and the realization coincided with further constriction.  “Oh, I’m sorry, Mrs. Yamada!  No, no!”

Yeah, this suit definitely needs replacing after this.

“It’s fine,” Jessica lied.  Too many things were going wrong with the suit, all at once.  Why?  There had to have been an altercation between another staff member and a violent patient.  The only reason this many safeguards would be giving way would be if the suit had sustained recent damage.

Or if it was sabotaged. But really, who’d do that? You don’t seem to be on bad terms with the staff.

Except it had gone unreported, and the suit had gone back on the shelf.

“Should have- we should have done this through the glass,” Sveta moaned.  “I’m sorry.  I like you.  I don’t want you to die.”

Might be time for the emergency button if this goes much further, but if the suit has been sabotaged, it probably won’t function.

“We’re striving to socialize you, right?  That’s our goal?  We can’t do that without regular human contact.”

“I’m going to kill you.  I don’t want to but I’m going to.  I’ll-”

I continue to wonder if things like this happen as a result of a faulty or missing corona pollentia, giving someone a passenger without the required brain pieces to consciously control it.

Which is still a possible consequence of drinking half a vial. We know not every instance of that has to go Endbringer-tier like Noelle, because Oliver got a significantly less Endbringery passive power from the other half of the same concoction.

Sveta here might be the result of something similar, possibly done deliberately in Cauldron’s testing process. If not as part of a test to see what happens with a half-dose, then as part of figuring out what a full dose would even be.

“Hush,” Jessica said, sounding far, far calmer than she felt.  “Take-”

She nearly said take a deep breath.  She corrected herself.  “-a few seconds and keep doing your relaxation exercises.  Flex your extremities, relax them.  Flex, relax, steadily work your way up, inch by inch.  Look at me.  I’m not worried.  I’m in this suit.  I feel safe.  Okay?”

Taking a deep breath would be bad or impossible for her?

Does she not breathe? Does she even have a mouth, is the whispering telepathic?

“O-okay.”

“I want you to think of all the progress we’ve made since the start of the year.”

“But something popped in the suit just now.”

“Oh, that was just half the stuff supposed to keep me alive, don’t worry about it.”

“We wear the same suits for multiple patients.  That was a safeguard to protect any patients that might collide with us.  It’s not meant for you.  Don’t worry.”

Jessica hated lying to her patients.

It’s a good lie, at least.

“It’s not- it’s okay?”

“It’s okay,” Jessica soothed.  “You remember our goal, right?”

“Christmas?”

Now, hold your reindeer, Saint Nicholas is the next patient. You’re not there yet.

“I think you’re well on your way to your goal.  That’s what you think of when you’re trying to be positive, right?  You can celebrate Christmas with a few other patients, people who you can’t hurt.  I just met one of them, I think.  A new patient of mine.  She’s someone who could use some friends.”

Sveta and Victoria. Sounds like a good combination.

Of course, Victoria may have had enough of people failing to keep their instincts in check for a while.

Like a dozen frog’s tongues, tendrils snapped across the length of the room to the ‘bed’, encircling it. In another second, as though each tendril were elastic bands stretched to their limits, Sveta had shifted there, her tendrils gripping the post as she hung from it.  Jessica was free.

Nice.

Sveta was little more than a very pale face with thin tendrils streaming around it like hair.  Small organs dangled from the largest of the tendrils that extended from the back of her face.  A small symbol marked the girl’s cheekbone: a stylized ‘c’, in black.

Called it!

I like the design choice of the tendrils being like hair on her disembodied head.

Also I believe this marks the first time two Wildbow story titles have shown up back to back in the text of Worm. And in the middle of a string of four-letter words, too! Presenting Wildbow’s next story titles: More, Than (Twig 2), Very, With (Parahumans 3) and Thin (Twig 3).

It took Sveta a second before she relaxed enough to let the tendrils uncoil from the post.  The tendrils settled in the air, in a rough facsimile of where a person’s limbs might be.  She’d positioned herself so that the organs could rest on the ‘shelves’ on the post.

Just standing around like a normal human being with your pal Sveta.

“I’m sorry,” Sveta said, eyes downcast.

“I’m fine.  I understand,” Jessica soothed.  She shifted position, and one tendril snapped out to catch her leg, gripping her around the knee, squeezing and twisting with a strength that could have torn every ligament in her knee and wrenched Jessica’s calf from her upper leg.  Sveta flinched, closed her eyes for a second, and the tendril moved back to the post.  The suit had held.  No damage done.

Cauldron did a fine job fucking things up for this one.

“Can… can you tell me about her?  The girl you just saw?”

There’s probably some patient confidentiality that keeps her from going into much detail, but a little of the superficial stuff should be fine.

“I can’t talk to you about my patients, just like I couldn’t tell them about you.”

Sveta clutched the pole harder.  “I understand.  Was she… was she a bad guy?  Like me?”

Depending on how far the confidentiality goes, she might not even be able to answer that.

“Do you think you were a ‘bad guy’?”

And so she deflects onto a more personal topic.

And it makes sense that if Sveta’s instincts were in full control for a while, she’d be seen as a bad guy (or, well, girl*).

But that’s not what Jessica is asking. She wants to know whether Sveta sees who she was as a villain, as a bad person.

(*: the specific phrase “or, well, girl” is the only way you’ll ever see me make this note. I blame Wander Over Yonder for that one.)

“Do you think you were a ‘bad guy’?”

“I killed people.  Yes.”

“It wasn’t you.  It was your power.”

I’m with Jessica on this. Killing people is obviously bad most of the time, but if she was or within reason believed herself to be physically incapable of stopping herself, it doesn’t make her a bad person.

Taylor would probably disagree with me.

“I still killed people.”

“I think that’s a good topic for today’s session.  But there’s a few things I want to cover first, before we get into the meat of it, so let’s put a pin in that topic for now.”

Odds that they’ll actually get back around to the topic before something interrupts?

“Okay.”

“She was a superhero, I can say that much without betraying any confidence.”  And you’ll hear it from the staff sooner or later.  Better to hear it from me.

Why?

“There may be wiggle room.  Maybe I could convince one of the hospital staff to stop by, and she could tell you a bit about the new patient through the intercom?  If the patient gives consent?”

Seems fair. Consent and trust are the main reasons for patient confidentiality, after all.

Sveta’s eyes lit up.  “Yes please.”

“I can’t make any promises.”

“I understand.”

“Now, have you been keeping that journal?”

I wonder how many tendrils she can write with at a time.

Sveta snatched a notebook off of the small table with the art supplies, reaching out and bringing it to her faster than the eye could follow.  She passed it to Jessica with just as much speed and force.  Even with the air bags filling the void in the protective suit and offering a cushioning effect, Jessica had to take a step back to catch her balance.

Even with containment foam, Sveta must’ve been a nightmare to catch.

“May I?”

Sveta nodded, bobbing the mask with the mass of tendrils behind it.

Why does this notion of a mask with a bunch of prehensile tendrils out the back feel so familiar? It’s been gnawing at me for a while now and the mention of the face as a “mask” made it worse.

Oh.

That’s why.

Between Grace and the Steward Sveta, Wildbow was really on a roll with accidentally predicting Infinity Train in this Arc.

The bed-post contorted into an ‘s’ shape as the girl twined around it.  It indicated some kind of negative emotion.  Jessica paged through the recent entries.  The letters of the words were exaggerated, and they got more so as the writer got agitated.  Worries, daydreams about being human, the vividness of her imagination when she pictured places like she’d drawn in the mural, her day-long spell of depression after waking up from a dream where she’d been human, in bed with a boy…

Sensing a pattern, here.

…the mural. “ocean waves and beautiful architecture that Jessica couldn’t place as belonging to any particular era or culture”. Memories of Cauldron’s world? Although my impression was that world didn’t really have much of a sapient population other than Cauldron, and Cauldron’s architecture was… pragmatic.

Jessica closed the book.  None of this was so unusual, capable of explaining the sudden anxiety she saw now.  “Can I ask what’s bothering you?”

“I… why aren’t you scared of me?”

Oh… it’s an attitude she’s not used to, so it worries her.

“Because I have no reason to be,” Jessica lied, meeting the girl’s eyes.

The truth is that it’s because I’ve spent more time in the company of monsters than Legend, she thought.  Trust me, honey, you aren’t the scariest I’ve run into, not by half.

I wonder if any of the “monsters” dropped into Madison would end up here. I suppose they’d probably be left running around in Madison until heroes could remove them, though, because of the Simurgh quarantine.

That paragraph preceding the section box, mixed with the timestamp at the beginning… methinks we’re doing flashbacks to some of those scarier monsters.

Please tell me people have done jokes about Jessica acting as therapist to the Endbringers.

Friday, June 17th, 2011, 10:15

Oh, huh, we’re going forwards. Maybe we’ll follow up on Sveta and V– wait no she said Friday was PRT time. Active cape therapy time?

“You’re not the person that was here last week,” the redheaded boy said, shutting the door behind him.

They switched his therapist?

“We rotate.  The PRT doesn’t want any therapist developing a bond to the point that they could manipulate a cape.

Oh, so that’s what she meant earlier.

Sounds like a bad idea for the therapy, but okay.

By rotating through three or four for a given area, they can ensure that one therapist will be able to identify manipulations on the part of any of the others.”

I suppose that’s reasonable enough on the surface. But it’s kind of silly to take this stance on therapists and not, y’know, all the other people in a cape’s life that could manipulate them. If you’re going to be paranoid of stuff like that, you’ll want to cut them off from their parents, for one thing.

This arrangement goes against the one big thing therapy needs. Trust.

“Doesn’t that kind of defeat the point?  Not letting us develop a bond, no trust?”

Yes. Yes it does.

Yes, Jessica thought, but she said, “It’s not my place to say.  Is that what you’re hoping to get, here?  A one-on-one relationship?  A bond of trust?”

“Therapy?”

“And now it begins,” he said.  “Answering questions with questions.”

Classic, right?

“An unfortunate fact of the job.  Would you like to sit?”

The boy let himself sink into the chair.

“What should I call you?” Jessica asked.  “I prefer to use real names wherever possible, but I understand if you’d prefer the confidentiality of a codename.”

Who’s to say a codename isn’t a real name?

I mentioned between sessions last time that I have some weirdly strong (especially for a cis person) opinions on the nature of names, and this, my beef with the term “real name” being reserved for one’s birth or legal name, is one point that is rather central to that. I hold to the idea that any name you choose to identify with is “real”.

Kristian is a name I was given at birth. I’m Kristian because I’ve always been Kristian and don’t feel any particular need not to be. I’m Kristian because it’s a name I accept. Kristian is a real name.

Krixwell is a name I built from scratch. I made it, grabbing Kri from Kristian, adding an X because Xs are cool, and eventually portmanteauing the result with the name of a video game character on a whim while playing his game, which stuck because Krixwell Jace felt more complete than Krix Jace. I’m Krixwell because it’s a name I chose. Krixwell is a real name.

It sometimes feels more real than Kristian, even though Kristian is also one of my real names and I’m totally cool with being known as Kristian in meatspace. Heck, yesterday I almost introduced myself to a new English-speaking coworker as Krixwell, because in every other context where I’d speak English, that’s who I am.

Elementarion. El for short, though I got called everything from E to Element. That’s another name I went by for a while, made up on the spot when I signed up for a silly Android game that was the basis of one of the friendliest communities I’ve ever been in. I still have friends who met me as Elementarion, and while I eventually discarded it in favor of Krixwell, I still look at the name and think, “that’s me”. Elementarion is now disused, but it’s a real name.

And conversely, one has every right to decide that a name isn’t a real name. Due to a habit I once had of making a new name on every site, I have had many names in my time on the internet. krijac98, TheCrazyCat, Hiatus, Barbute, OldHeavens, just to name a few. Not all of them are “real names” and not all of them ever were.

And say I didn’t want to be Kristian, even if that was who my birth certificate and legal documents said I was? Well, then I wouldn’t be. I’d be Krixwell Jace, a guy who in some contexts would be referred to as Kristian. It wouldn’t be my real name, even if it remained my legal name.

…like I said. Surprisingly strong opinions on this topic, especially for someone who isn’t nearly as directly affected by this as trans people and others who don’t accept their legal names are. I don’t know why I feel so strongly about this, but I do.

And so I have to thank the internet for normalizing the idea that yes, if you really want to, you can be named Lifesupport404.

“Clockblocker.  Dennis.  Whatever.  You get crucified, drawn and quartered if you betray our secret identities, right?”

So she does work with capes all the way up to Massachusetts or Maine or wherever the heck Brockton Bay is. Nice.

“Nothing that graphic, but the penalties are severe, and they include extensive jail time, and forfeiting the credentials it took me eight years to get.  You strike me as someone who’s paying a great deal of attention to the workings of the system.  Where people are, how they’re operating.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it, that Clockblocker would pay attention to the clockwork?

“I have to, don’t I?  You ignore that stuff, you get fucked,” Dennis said.

“That’s the second time in two minutes you’ve brought up consequences.  Is that something that concerns you?  Consequences?”

Given how he’s been known to act, and the points he brought up against Skitter, I’d say that tracks.

“In the last three months, my dad’s leukemia came back, Leviathan destroyed a third of my hometown, the Endbringer killed my best friend and teammate, and another of my teammates, the Undersiders abducted one of my teammates-”

“Shadow Stalker.”

Showing that she’s up to speed on events.

“Yeah.”

“I talked to her after that incident.  Anyways, I’m sorry to interrupt.  I’m trying to frame it all in my head.”

That’s a little on the edge of confidentiality, isn’t it?

“They left her so fucked up she went and broke her parole.

Oh please, “breaking her parole” would be just another Tuesday for her.

Um.  It’s all been unravelling.  People I care about and rely on are getting knocked around, screwed over by dumb luck or because they let their guard down.  Aegis, Gallant, Amy and Victoria, Battery, Shadow Stalker…”

Consequences all around.

Incidentally, this is a place where the Browbeat retcon should be acknowledged. I know Browbeat was relatively new so Clocky didn’t have as much of a bond with him yet, but he’s making a point of mentioning as much of the shit that has happened to the people around him as possible.

Notably he referred to both Aegis and Gallant as “my best friend and teammate, and another of my teammates,” and after the retcon that looks like Clockblocker is straight up forgetting Browbeat also died. (Though you really just need the word “two” after “another” to fix that one.)

I still maintain that it was better when Browbeat had simply moved out, as rep for the capes that would go with their families in a situation like that, but if you’re going to make an edit like this one you need to be careful and look for every little place it needs to be acknowledged.


It’s 1 AM and I’ve got a minor headache, so I think I’ll call it there for the night.

*closes draft*

*reopens draft*

Wait a minute.

Browbeat’s death was edited in because he never came up again and people latched onto that and memed about him coming back later in the story… and now as a direct consequence of the retcon, I’m here, later in the story, calling for him to come up again in a place he previously wouldn’t ahahaha


And I’ve just been informed that before the edit, there was actually a throwaway sentence somewhere indicating that Browbeat was among the capes that were called in to take on Noelle. The irony here just gets thicker and thicker.

[End of session]


Huh. Who would’ve thought Senator Palpatine worked with Cauldron?


The power generator is now on version 1.3.1. New of today:

  • It’ll sometimes output powersets in the format of the 1960’s Spider-Man theme. If your name involves a creature, the second line will match… sometimes.
  • It also matches creature transformation powers to your name if applicable… sometimes.
  • Look, a cape named Owl doing whatever a turtle can and transforming into a cheetah doesn’t make much sense but it’s too funny to remove completely.
  • Some name formats can now end in “Man”, “Woman” or “Enby”. I couldn’t very well add the Spider-Man theme without “Spider Man” being a valid name output. Though I’m not sure it can pull “spider” from the built-in generators…
  • Noun balance has been redone, and agent nouns can come out of calls for concrete nouns.

[Session 2]

Commercial break’s over! Let’s get back to psychoanalyzing our favorite clock guy!

“Did you care about Shadow Stalker?”

“She was a teammate.”

So was Browbeat.

“I know.  But the way your thoughts seemed to connect there, it sounded like something more.”

Really? I don’t see it.

Dennis shrugged.  “It makes me sound like a sleazebag if I say it, but I can get away with that here, right?”

Heh. She was hot, wasn’t she. As long as you looked at, like… just her body and nothing else…

…honestly, no, even when dismissing age concerns (by assuming an aged-up version of her or an aged-down version of me), I have a hard time thinking of her that way regardless of how I spin it. Not my type physically, and the personality would be a hard pass.

She let herself smile a little, “Yes.”

“She was hot, and when you spend four or five hours a day with the same people, and you’re a guy, and the one girl in the group that’s around your age is that good-looking, maybe you look forward to seeing her.”

Fair enough. Maybe it could even have worked out.

“That doesn’t make you sound like a sleazebag.  It makes it sound like a perfectly normal teenager with a mild crush.”

Did you just call your client “it”?

“Maybe?  Not really; I couldn’t stand her as a person.  It still sucked balls, hearing what I did about her going to juvie, on top of everything else.”

It’s good to know Clocky saw beyond the superficial.

“Did you see yourself in her shoes, at all?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re very mindful of consequences and the dangers you’re facing.  Are you afraid you’ll suffer a similar fate?”

So the thing is… Sophia deserved what she got, at least the official stuff. But while Clocky knew she wasn’t a great person to be around, he didn’t actually know about any of the stuff she deserved it for. He talked about the Undersiders driving her to break parole in a way that implied he didn’t even know she was constantly doing that in the first place, and he obviously has no idea how she acted towards Taylor in civilian guise. He likely doesn’t know Sophia tried to outright slit Skitter’s throat before she was taken.

With all of those factors he didn’t know about, mixed with the fact that he spent so much time with her, bonding with her as a teammate, it’s no wonder he’s far more sympathetic to her than the average reader will be at this point.

And that paints the Undersiders in a much darker light for him, and makes it a genuine possibility that they would go after him the same way. Add their apparent involvement in various other incidents, and they’re kind of a nightmare.


Accidental scroll, caught Clocky(?) saying “I regret this” and some talk of Amy in the upcoming paragraphs.


“I dunno.  No.  If I’m worried about anything like that, it’s that there’s a worse fate waiting out there for me.”

“A worse fate?”

The most fitting kind of nightmarish fate to go with Clockblocker’s power would be some form of frozen-but-conscious “I have no mouth and I must scream” scenario.

“With all the stuff the capes bring to the table, there’s a hundred bad endings that are possible that wouldn’t have been possible thirty years ago.  You hear about what happened to Victoria and Amy Dallon?”

Oh, she’s intimately familiar with that one.

Victoria.  The vivid mental picture disconcerted her briefly.  “Um.  Yes I have.”

“Case in point,” Dennis shrugged.  “And there’s all the stuff that went down with the Slaughterhouse Nine, too.”

“Scary business.”

I have no mouth and I must scream… down in the bay, feeling everyone’s suffering.

Dennis shrugged.

“Are you sleeping well?”

“Way I’ve been working, sleep isn’t a problem.  Head hits the pillow, I’m out.”

I wish it were that easy sometimes.

“And the stress of all of this, it’s not affecting your diet?”

“No.  I mean, my diet’s not great, but that’s just trying to work around shift schedules and crap, you know?”

That’s a mood though.

“I know,” Jessica smiled.  “Work makes it hard on me too.  I was going to walk you through some coping methods for anxiety, but it seems like you’re getting by.”

“Too busy to think, really.  I prefer it that way.  I don’t know if anxiety’s the right word.”

Hmm. Depression may be more fitting, if you insist on putting a diagnosis on it.

“No?  What word would you choose?”

He paused.  “I dunno.”

“Take your time.  It’s not a big deal if you can’t come up with one.”

“It’s… I feel like there’s probably a word, in another language, but English doesn’t have it.  Not despair, but… that feeling you get when you’re losing?”

Resignation? Hopelessness?

“You feel as though you’re losing?”

Dennis nodded, leaned back in the leather seat.  “We’re fighting a war.  The consequences don’t seem to hit the bad guys as hard.  We fight Leviathan, and people act like we won, because the casualty rates were lower than they’ve been in nine years.  Slaughterhouse Nine come, and again, there’s a lot of people who act like it was a victory because only half of them made it out of the city.  Nobody but me seems to notice that, hey, those guys still lived.  They escaped.”

He always has been a glass half-empty kind of guy.

Or in this case, draw half-defeat.

“Maybe they share the same thoughts you do, but they don’t want to face that reality because it scares them.”

“Maybe.”

Hm. *checks 12.2*

On top of all of this, Clockblocker was present for Coil revealing Dinah’s prophecy of the end times. He might not believe it, but he has heard it, which could be another concern weighing on his mind. Especially since he’s already keenly aware of Jack and the others making it out and how that’s not a complete victory.

There was a long pause.

“Looking at the general notes from your last appointment, you gave the a-okay for him to mention that you were working on some coping mechanisms for your anger?”

Vista. Losing Vista too, that’s gonna hurt. She’s still alive by 18.6 as far as we know, but Tattletale revealed that after the Wards left to deal with Draconia Blaze, the Spinosaurus. And there’s no way Noelle would be keeping Vista around her family’s home, given her sending the heroes there, so they’ll likely believe she’s dead for some time longer unless Miss Militia got in touch about it.

“Yeah.”

“Do you want to keep working on that, or do you feel like it’s more under control?”

“It’s pretty much under control.  I was… my dad was dying, then.  Amy healed him.”

It’s nice that she was able to do that before everything went vaguely Picasso-shaped.

“I see.”

“I… I regret this.”

Coming to therapy? Or maybe becoming a Ward?

“Regret what?”

“Joining the Wards.  The rules, the bureaucracy.  It’s… fuck, I mean, I appreciate having the resources.  Guys to make the costume, even this.”

The clockwork. He blocks it. So it doesn’t feel right to work within it.

“Talking to me?”

“Sure.  Make sure my head’s screwed on right.  But at the same time, being stuck in a classroom after Leviathan attacks, because the rules say I have to be in school a certain number of hours a day?  It’s fucked.  I wonder if the villains are winning because they don’t have to worry about that stuff.”

I mean… in part, yes. Yes, they are.

“Could be.”

“I don’t get it.  I almost think I could be okay with things if I understood them.  Why the fuck do they get away with this shit?”

This puts an interesting spin on his interrogation of Skitter. It’s not just about prodding for prodding’s sake, or being confrontational. He wants to understand.

“I can’t give you the answers you want, and I’m afraid that answers to questions of that magnitude aren’t going to appear nearly as fast as we want them to.”

“I know.”

“But you’re very observant, Dennis.  I’ve already said as much.  I find that we often find what we’re looking for the moment we stop actively searching for them.  Perhaps spend less time looking for the answer, and keep an eye out for opportunities to learn the answer.”

Such as when you’re sitting in a van with one of the more confusing villains, willing to engage in discussion…

“Psychobabble,” he said, smiling a little.

It does make a little sense. Relax and let the answer come to you at its own pace.

“Sorry,” she said, returning the smile with one of her own.

That was neat. Who’s next?

Friday, June 17th, 2011, 13:01

Only three hours, this time. Guess that’s why we needed the clock.

“Jessica?” Weld asked, peeking his head in the door.

Weld was the one who wanted therapy set up for the Wards in the first place, if I remember correctly, so I suppose it’s not surprising if he knew Jessica from before.

“Come in,” she said.  “It’s good to see you, Weld.  It’s been a little while.”

Weld closed the door and settled in the reinforced chair she’d brought into her office in anticipation of the appointment.

Heh. It can’t be easy, preparing for all the various capes’ idiosyncratic needs.

“Have you picked a name?” she asked.

He chuckled lightly.  “I’m Weld.  That’s it for now.”

Sounds like she wants him to pick a civilian name. And so we’re back to the idea of real names and I swear I’m not writing another ten-paragraph rant.

But if he only identifies as Weld, who’s to say he even needs a civilian name? Especially a case 53 like him, who would be hard pressed to have a secret identity, a meaningful distinction between his cape self and his civilian self.

She nodded.  Studied him, at ease in his chair, hands folded across his stomach.

“So.  A lot’s happened,” she said.

“Endbringer, Slaughterhouse Nine.  Losing control of the city.  Did you come from out of town?”

He’s so (outwardly?) casual about it all compared to Clocky. I kind of love the contrast.

“Yes.”

“Was it on the news?  What’s been going on here?”

“It has been.  I try to catch the eleven o’clock news, and it seems there’s a new story every night, detailing recent events in Brockton Bay.”

The nation’s eyes. It’s an interesting thing, seeing how relatively localized so much of what’s going on feels juxtaposed with these occasional reminders that the developments in Brockton Bay are being watched on national TV. Perhaps even international.

“What kind of picture does it paint?”

“Of?”

“Of the city.  Of us?  The villains?”

I suppose TVs weren’t exactly a priority to replace after Shatterbird, but you’d think they’d get some sense of this through the internet.

“Things look worse than they are, if you go by what’s on television.  It paints a positive picture of the local heroes, I have to say.  Not entirely undeserved, if you ask me.”

“Thanks for saying so,” Weld said.

Of course. Focusing on the worst part for views, but glorifying the heroes.

“You don’t sound convinced.”

“I’m not.  It’s only been five days since the Slaughterhouse Nine fled.  Smoke’s clearing, and I’m not liking where we’re at.”

So I guess this section is a big part of why we jumped back so far, aside from wanting Victoria to be a new patient.

“Where are you at?”

“Villains who took territory before everything went to hell are still holding the territory after.  Us?  We’re not in good shape.  We lost Battery.”

“I heard.  I’m sorry.”

“We got hit harder, and while they’re picking up the pieces, nobody’s jumping to help us.”

“No?”

I mean… did you, really? The Merchants were almost completely wiped out. The Undertravelers in particular didn’t outright lose anyone, but they were definitely being given a run for their money too. Amy and Victoria is a situation that went tits-in-every-direction-for-artistic-purposes, but they weren’t actually Wards.

“Flechette’s going back to New York before too long.  Nobody’s replacing her, or any of the ones who died.  Maybe they think we’re cursed, or maybe it’s career suicide to try to help a city that can’t be helped.”

Oof. They’re low enough on people as it is.

“Does that matter to you?  Career?”

“Some.  There was mention of me maybe climbing the ranks.  I’m marketable, but I’m a freak, too.”

She thought of Sveta.  “It sounds like you’re being unfairly harsh on yourself.”

Relatively speaking, being made of metal is one of the less freaky oʊtcomes, yeah.

“It’s how it was explained to me.”

“I see.  That’s unfortunate, that a colleague would make you out to be a freak.”

Yeah, rude.

“Water off my back.  Honest.  It doesn’t bother me.”

“Is there anything-“

She stopped as his phone rang.

Hm?

“Sorry,” he looked genuinely guilty as he reached for the phone, “Way things are-“

“I totally understand.  Please, go ahead.”

He answered.  “Weld here… yes.  Skitter?  With Parian.  I understand.  No, I get it.  We’ll see if we can track her.”

So that was this day. Nice little point of reference.

He was already out of her seat.  “If it’s okay-“

“Go.  You have a team to lead.”

“Flechette said the local villains in power just made a move on a Rogue friend of hers.  I’ll… could I wrangle a longer session next week?”

“That could be arranged.  Go,” she said.

If you squint, “made a move on” almost makes it sound like Skitter was flirting with her, heh. I for one would be totally down for a Flechette – Parian – Skitter chain added to Skitter’s polycule of awesome girls and Grue.

He was at the door when she called after him, “and Weld, I want you to pick a proper name!”

What’s wrong with “Weld”?

Friday, June 17th, 2011, 18:01

Busy day.

“Fuck them!  Fuck her!”

Not everyone’s having a great one.

Who is this? Sophia? Does PRT rotation include a visit to parahuman juvie?

“Lily-“

Oh. Right, dealing with a not-too-happy Flechette in the aftermath of our reference point.

At least I was right about who “her” was, still. Unless Flechette has found reason to be pissed at Parian for going along with things?

“Fuck!  Fuck!”  Lily paced.

“Lily, please, could you sit?”  Jessica asked.

I suspect if she did, she’d likely be back up and pacing in two seconds flat.

Lily stopped, resting her hands on the back of the armchair.

“It’s clear something happened,” Jessica said.  “You ask me to come, and that’s totally, one hundred percent okay, but I can’t do anything to help until you explain what happened.”

“They got her.”

Even knowing the other side of things, after everything Clockblocker and Weld said, that sounds so much more ominous. There’s reason for Flechette to fear something happening to Parian along the lines of Shadow Stalker or Glory Girl.

Jessica felt her heart sink.  “Who?”

“Parian.  Skitter got to her.”

“The Rogue your teammate mentioned.  Was she hurt, or killed, or-“

“Turned.”

Sort of.

“Turned?”

“She changed sides.  Ran into Skitter, with Ballistic wreaking havoc in the background.  Knew something was up.  Tattletale fucking with our heads or something.  Then Skitter goes into this good cop bad cop routine, but she’s using Ballistic as the bad cop, the idea that if we don’t go along with her plan, he’ll try to kill us.  Makes Parian an offer she can’t refuse.”

I honestly love stuff like this, where what we the audience know was genuine is misinterpreted as skilled manipulation.

I like the implication that Flechette thinks Tattletale has a power that affects other people’s minds.

“Power?  Money?”

“Money.  Two hundred thousand dollars, so that Parian’s friends and family who were mutilated by the Slaughterhouse Nine could pay for surgery.  So Parian could go to school.”

“A lot of money.”

It really is.

“And she asks Parian to leave.  And it’s… it rips my heart out, because she’s my one good friend here.  Because she’s more, I… I can’t remember if I’ve talked to you about it.  You PRT therapists all sort of blend into each other.”

Another reason why the rotation thing sucks.

“she’s more” ❤

“We’ve talked about it.  You had feelings for her.”

Lily folded her arms on the back of the chair, rested her forehead against her wrists.

“Did you tell her about those feelings?”

“No.  No I didn’t.  I was thinking about it, but now I can’t ever, because if it pushes her away, she’ll be totally, completely beyond my reach.  Completely on their side.”

Ouch. Yeah, that’s a tricky one. And at the same time, there’s also the possibility that the opposite would happen, that it’d draw you together and pull her back.

“Do you think she reciprocated?”

“I don’t know.  Sometimes, I thought yes.  Other times, I thought yes, but not nearly as much as I had feelings for her.  And there were other times I thought definitely no.  But I couldn’t ask because by the time I got up the courage, the Slaughterhouse Nine had murdered most of her family and her friends, and the ones who weren’t dead were… altered.  Fuck, my feelings weren’t even on the third page of the list of priorities there.  It was about taking care of her, helping her.  It’s what you do for friends.”

For what it’s worth, I think she reciprocated.

I do like this attitude, that the romantic angle wasn’t a priority in the face of everything else, but the interpersonal connection still mattered.

“It is.  It sounds like she was lucky to have you.”

“And then Skitter waltzes in and… it’s like, she slithers right past your defenses.”

Slithering is Coil’s job, Worm or no Worm.

“How’s that?”

“I can’t even put it into words.  You run into her, and you can’t even look straight at her without feeling your skin crawl.  Like when someone’s got something wrong with their eye and your own eye starts watering… only with her it’s because of the bugs.”

Outsider POVs on characters like Skitter are such a treat.

“Okay.”

“And then she talks, and she sounds so idealistic, and naive.  I don’t know how you sound idealistic and naive with a swarm of cockroaches and bees crawling over your face, but she does.  And so you let your guard down.  And then she starts making sense.  And that was the point where Sab- where Parian started lapping it up.”

Ahaha, I think “I don’t know how you sound idealistic and naive with a swarm of cockroaches and bees crawling over your face” is my new favorite thing anyone’s ever said about Taylor Hebert.

“Did she make sense to you?”  Jessica asked.

“I had a feeling about what was happening, said as much.  Now, I don’t know.  There’s only two good answers for it.”

Either she was right or she’s a damn good manipulator?

Lily walked over to the door and picked up the satchel she’d brought into the office.  She returned to the chair and sat, plopping the satchel down on the coffee table.

Oh! Yes! She retrieved the armband!

“What is it?” Jessica asked.

“The thing that lets me know which of the two it was.”

And that’s very confusing in its own right, because it shakes Lily’s foundations. That’s reason enough to swear on its own.

“And what are those two answers?”

“Either my gut was right, and Skitter was just feeding us info that Tattletale prepared, just to fuck with us… or Skitter was right.”

“And this satchel contains the answer?”

“It does.”

Do you… intend on revealing it?

“May I?” Jessica leaned forward.

“No.”

Flechette would be a surprisingly good troll if she had the attitude for it.

Jessica stopped.

“I can say no, right?  You don’t have the right to search my things.”

“You can,” Jessica said, leaning back.  “And I won’t touch it.  What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” Lily said.  Her eyes were damp.  “Doesn’t matter.  Doesn’t change what happened with Parian.  Won’t change the choice she made.”

Aw 😦

Whether or not Skitter was right, Parian still chose her help over Flechette’s.

A tear fell free, and Lily wiped it away with her sleeve.

“Fuck, so stupid.  I go up against Leviathan, go up against the Slaughterhouse Nine, and this is what fucks with my head?  This is the moment I want nothing more than to go home, to go home and just crawl under the covers?”

Brains and hearts operate on their own rules.

Also you signed up and were trained for dealing with danger. Dealing with emotions and relationships? That’s a whole other battlefield.

“You could.”

“Can’t.  I… It’d mean I couldn’t do the costume thing again.  Not the same way.  Gotta tough it out.”

Lily didn’t look tough, Jessica observed  She looked like a heartbroken, homesick teenager.

Can’t she be both things?

(Missing period.)

She couldn’t say that, though.

Jessica stood from her chair and approached the girl.  When Lily realized what Jessica was doing, she gratefully accepted the offer of a shoulder to cry on.

Aw.

Lily’s cell phone rang.  She pulled away, breaking the hug, but she didn’t answer the phone.  “Never fucking ends.  Didn’t think it would be like this.”

Weld is just right back to duty. Flechette takes a moment to herself. And I think she’s right to do so.

“Are you going to answer?”  Jessica asked.

“Can’t.  Not like this.”

Therapy is very much a situation where sending a “busy” signal is 100% valid.

“May I?  I’m not sure if it’s against the rules, but-“

“Yes.  Please.  But-” Lily paused, and the cell phone rang again before she spoke, “Don’t mention I was there?  With Parian?  I wasn’t supposed to be.”

Naughty Lily, sneaking off to see your girlfriend on duty…

Jessica nodded and answered.  “Mrs. Yamada answering for Flechette.”

Miss Militia here.  Could you please inform Flechette that Triumph has been hospitalized?  Anaphylactic shock.”

Sheesh, I forgot those events happened in such quick succession.

That’s right, though, the mayor mission was set up in the same meeting as the Parian mission.

“Which hospital?”

“Oh god,” Lily said, eyes going wide.

The one attached to the PRT headquarters.  Flechette knows where.

“We’re in the building,” Jessica said.  “I understand if you’re busy, but could you contact me in my office, when you have a free moment?”

Can Flechette hear what Miss Militia is saying, or does she just have “Which hospital?” to go off?

I mean, some people keep their phone volume pretty high.

I will.

Jessica hung up and returned the cell phone.  “The hospital in this building.  It’s Triumph.”

Lily stood, pocketing the phone.  “What happened?”

“Anaphylactic shock,” Jessica answered.

And Flechette will of course immediately connect the dots to Skitter.

“Skitter.”

Jessica didn’t answer.

Lily wiped the tears from her face.  She drew in a deep breath, then let it out slowly.  Her expression hardened, her shoulders squaring.  There wasn’t a trace of the emotion she’d shown just moments before.  “Do I look okay?  Presentable?”

Hm. I wonder if part of this sudden determination is that she wants to get Triumph’s story.

And maybe Triumph got hers, including the bit with the armband, and that’s part of why he’s more willing than you’d expect to take the Undersiders’ side on things later?

Jessica nodded.

“Thank you.”  Lily was already moving, snatching the satchel from the table, striding for the door.  It slammed shut behind her.

See ya.

Jessica sat in her chair and tried not to dwell on just why it bothered her that Lily had been able to switch personas so easily.  Did the career demand it?  Why couldn’t a teenager just be allowed to be vulnerable, at a time they felt vulnerable?

It’s a hard job, being a therapist. Being faced with all the sorrows of the clients, burdened with the expectation of being the one with the answers, the one who has it together. Being constantly reminded of just how hard people have it in the world.

It’s hard to put a vent inside a vent.

The phone rang five minutes later.

“It’s Miss Militia.  You wanted me to contact you?”

“Yes.  I just… I’ve seen half your Wards today.  They aren’t doing well.”

I wonder if we’ll see the other half in the last third of the chapter.

So far this is a far more effective single-chapter Wards Interlude than Interlude 3 was, though of course it has the advantage that we actually know the characters and what they’ve been through. Interlude 3 had the burden of trying to introduce them all at once — yes they’d already been introduced by name and power, but personality was a whole other matter — while also setting up the Amy/Gallant/Victoria subplot, all within one chapter.

In the end, Sentinel was rather necessary, not just for setting up post-Leviathan Brockton Bay, but also to pull off what Interlude 3 only superficially managed to do.

“I know,” Miss Militia said.

“They’re losing faith.”

“I know.”

And they’re not alone.


And I believe that’s a good point for another session break.

One last thing before I go, though, because I meant to mention it between the first two sessions and if I forget again I’m probably going to get asks about it:

I did eventually figure out what was meant by Garotte. It confused me at first because I thought Sveta was a cape name rather than a civilian name, and so “Garotte.” didn’t parse as the head nurse supplying Sveta’s cape name. It just seemed like a random word, likely some terminology I didn’t get.


[Session 3]

It’s time to wrap this up! We’re getting 20% cooler.

Saturday, June 18th, 9:01

There was a knock on the door.

Who’s next? Kid Win? Or since it’s a new day with new duties and the phone call with Miss Militia felt like a capper on the Wards, maybe one of the adult capes, like Assault?

“Come in?”

“Hi.  I’m Kid Win,” the boy said.  He wasn’t in his suit, though.

Yay! I was hoping he’d get a section.

He looked like he’d just come from the shower, and his brown hair was still damp.  He extended a hand and Jessica shook it.  “Clockblocker said we had a different therapist this week.”

“Protocols.  Can I ask how Triumph’s doing?”

Protocols, she says, and then immediately asks a question that seems a little off-protocol.

“He’s okay.  Recovered.  Assault and some of the others are more upset over it.  We’re calling in the big guns.”

It’s only reasonable with the way the battle against the Undersiders is starting to

*ahem*

drag on.

“That must be a relief.  To have others pick up the slack.  To deferring some responsibility, after having a heavy burden on your shoulders for some time.”

(To deferring?)

To Jessica’s credit, once she’s gotten affirmation that Triumph is indeed doing okay, she immediately spins it back to her client and how it affects him.

Kid Win shrugged.  “Dunno.  I am excited to see Dragon’s stuff.”

“I can imagine.”

Ah yes, the tinker nerdboner.

A silence stretched on.  Jessica tried to get a grasp on this boy, reconcile him with the one filled with self-doubt that she’d read about in Mr. Camden’s files.

L E G E N D 😃

“Um.  I still don’t really get what we’re supposed to do here,” Kid Win said.

“We talk.  It’s safe territory.  A place where you can vent about your issues.”

“I kind of prefer to work through problems on my own.”

That’s valid, but it’s worth noting you’re showing marked improvement after just a little bit of external validation and support.

It’s… also a heck of a mood.

“It’s very common for tinkers to be introverts.  But sometimes we all need a person to bounce ideas off of.  Non-tinker ideas.  Sorry, it’s a rule I have.”

Hah! Probably a good idea to head that off early, yeah. Between superpowered nerdery and the ADHD, I’m sure once he really got going he could talk her ears off about tinker stuff.

Kid Win smiled sheepishly, “I kind of subjected Mr. Kiles to a rant about types of modular equipment, a few days ago.  I think he needed therapy by the time I was done.”

See? Ahaha

“Do you have any ideas you want to bounce off me?  It’s been a rough month.”

Kid Win shook his head.

Don’t want to be a bother? Don’t have the ideas organized enough in your head to put them out there yet?

“Nothing?”

“I don’t know if this is me.”

Hm? Identity issues, impostor syndrome, fear of not matching people’s expectations?

“If what’s you?”

“Needing to bounce ideas off people.  Needing therapy.  All my problems so far, they’ve stemmed from me trying to fit myself into everyone else’s mold.

Oh. Yeah, that’s fair.

That’s exactly the kind of issue that often arises for us ADHDers, and he’s showing a good deal of reflection by acknowledging it.

It’s only when I broke away from that, started thinking on my own, that things started to make sense, all the pieces of the machine working in unison.”

Yes!

“Given your tinker background, I’m not sure I can tell: is that a metaphor, or a literal machine?”

Both, I should think, given how his troubles manifested in his work.

“Metaphor.”

“Okay.  Your life didn’t start making sense until you stopped worrying about what others think.  But I’m not being judgmental, and I don’t intend to change your mind about anything.  I don’t want to make you conform.”

You know what I really like about this chapter? It’s that Jessica comes across as genuinely competent. Far too often in fiction, if characters ever get access to therapy, the therapists are incompetent hacks of no use. Wildbow here is painting therapists like Jessica as people who want to and do whatever they can in order to help, and therapy as something that can help, even if it’s a lengthy process and the realities of the setting make it difficult.

Jessica is currently dealing with a client who believes that, due to the way his brain works, there isn’t much she can do for him. She’s faced with addressing that before she can get to the deeper issues. But the difference between this scene and similar cases in many other works of fiction is that Jessica’s assurances come across as more than empty words.

At least, to us.

“I’m… I still don’t think I want the therapy,” Kid Win said.  “Can I opt out?”

But if the client isn’t willing to cooperate, it really is hard for her to do anything, and not wanting therapy is a valid choice.

“I’m afraid not.  Why don’t you want it?”

…that is, if it isn’t mandatory anyway.

“I’m more comfortable going the other route.  I’d rather walk my own path and be a little screwed up, than walk everyone else’s path.  I’m okay with thinking in a way that’s outside of the norm.  I’ve been happier since I started down that road.”

Ahh this is so good!

“How does that impact your duties with the Wards?”

“It doesn’t.  I mean, I stick to the rules,” Kid Win said, with a measure of confidence.  “Funny, how it’s easier to do that when I’m being more unconventional.”

Once upon a time, this guy made a laser cannon fit for fighting an Endbringer and brought it to a bank robbery without clearance.

“I’m still not sure I understand.  Can you give me an example of what you mean by unconventional?”

“It’s like… if I did this therapy thing, and I mentioned how I’m not bummed and pissed off about what’s going on with the villains and all that, if I talked about how I’m actually happier now, when everyone else is miserable and stressed, I feel like you’d talk me out of it.”

Well, back before the villains really got started, this story was partially a high school drama. Even though you weren’t involved with that, being happier with this is reasonable on a metaphysical level. 😛

“I don’t want to do anything like that.”

“If you ask me a question,” he asked, “Do I have to answer?”

No.

That’s the kind of rule that would break the whole premise of therapy.

“You wouldn’t get in trouble, no.  Is there a particular question you don’t want to answer?”

Kid, if you really don’t want her to figure stuff out, this is the question not to answer.

“It’s not that.  I… I guess I’m saying I’m done here.”  He reached into his pocket and withdrew a pair of headphones.  “No offense.  But I feel like having thirty minutes to kick back and take some notes on stuff is going to be a hell of a lot better for my mental health than talking.  No offense.”

Don’t therapists like to say that therapy is the client’s time? So using it like this is totally valid.

She was offended, but she didn’t say so.

Heh.

Saturday, June 18th, 11:06

“Um?  Hi?”

So I guess it’s Vista’s turn now.

“Please come in.  Would you rather me call you Vista or Missy?”

So she already knows the civilian name in this case?

Also, “would you rather me call you” strikes me as grammatically odd.

“Vista.”

“Vista it is.  Nice to meet you.”

Vista sat down in the armchair.  It took her a second to get comfortable.  Her feet didn’t touch the ground if she sat all the way back, and she was forced to sit awkwardly upright if she couldn’t lean against the chair back.

She’s so smol compared to everyone else.

Maybe she could use her power to make the chair back closer to the edge.

“I heard they called in the big guns.”

“Dragon.”

“Pretty big as guns go,” Jessica said.

I know a setting where cannons end up getting invented under the name “dragons”, so yes, they’re pretty big guns…

“Are you doing that on purpose?”

“What?”

Is she instinctively pitching her voice up?

“Talking down to me.”

“No.  I didn’t think I was talking down to you.”

“It sounded condescending.”

Jessica took a deep breath.  “What can I do for you, Vista?  Is there anything you want to share?”

Vista just… knocked Jessica back so hard she just kind of reset.

“Have you been here?”

Brockton Bay is kind of a mess.

The non-sequitur caught Jessica off guard.  “I’m not sure I follow.”

“Have you been in Brockton Bay since this all started?”

“No.  I travel for work, and stay in hotels.  On the weekends, or when I’m not working, I stay in Boston.”

“How are you supposed to help when you don’t understand?”

Jeez, Vista’s going for the throat.

It’s not surprising, really, that she’s one of the more therapy-negative clients. She prides herself on her maturity and mental strength, and hates being seen as the child she by all rights should have had the chance to be, and so to be forced to talk to an adult about the way things are affecting her mental health… it’s the kind of thing that might make her reel because it sounds like “hey, we don’t think you can cope with this life on your own, go talk to an adult about it, she’ll help you through it”.

The question might have sounded accusatory, but it rang as more curious instead.

Huh.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I’ve been trying to help the others, and a lot of the time I can’t.  So how can you do it, when you don’t even know?  When you have no idea what we’re talking about?”

oh my cod

she’s asking for professional advice

she wants to know how to be the therapist of the team

the heart

aahhh

“I went to school for a long time.”

That’s really what it boils down to, isn’t it. Knowledge and experience, not of the battlefield but of the minds of those on it.

Eight years, she said earlier. That’s more than half of Vista’s age.

“Does that teach you how to talk to someone when their mentor’s just been attacked?”

Mentor as in Triumph?

“Are you talking about Triumph?”

“Is it why you ask a lot of questions?  Because you don’t know?”

Well, yes. Also to make people think.

“I ask questions,” Jessica said, “Because only you can give your perspective on things.  I know a lot of what’s happened.  Some from research, some from your colleagues.  But the only opinion and viewpoint that matters to me when you’re in that chair is yours.”

Because dealing with that is her job. Not dealing with the things those viewpoints are about.

“Hmph,” Vista huffed..

Doubled period.

I mark typos because I want to help Worm be the best it can be and have reason to believe Wildbow reads my blog. Me marking the typos may result in him finding and fixing errors he hadn’t noticed before, so I’d feel remiss if I didn’t help out.

In that sense, I suppose proofreading is a bit like therapy. I take the text, the perspective offered by Wildbow, and try to help by pointing out things Wildbow might not have noticed about that perspective… okay fine, that metaphor is a stretch.

I’d talk about it extending beyond pointing out typos to other parts of the liveblogging process too, but let’s be real, it’s not that often that my other “insights” would be useful to improving the story. I’d be a pretty terrible therapist.

“Where do you stand?” Jessica asked.  “What’s your view on things?  Summing it all up?”

“Sucks,” Vista said.

Simple, compact. Vista doesn’t waste space.

“I can believe it.”

“When I go on patrol, I can’t go alone, not until I’m fourteen.  So I spend the most time with everyone.  I hear what they say, and we talk about everything.”

How did Noelle end up finding her on her own?

“If there are doctors and field medics, maybe you’re the equivalent of a field therapist?” Jessica suggested.

She certainly seems to be trying to be.

Vista wasn’t amused in the slightest.  “Don’t be condescending.”

“I’m talking the same way I would with anyone else.  I promise.”

There was a pause.  Jessica sat quietly, letting it stretch on.  In a pinch, a resounding silence could prompt a patient to open up.

Silence: A useful tool in negotiation, discipline and therapy alike.

Vista finally said, “Weld said I’m the team’s heart.”

“I can imagine him saying it.”

Heh. Jessica knows Weld better than she does anyone else here, knows that’s exactly the sort of thing the metal kid would say.

Vista gave her a dirty look.  “I couldn’t help Shadow Stalker, but Weld said she was beyond helping.”

You get Sophia to listen seriously to a 13-year-old talk about feelings and I’ll… I dunno, eat a hat or something. Seems like a popular delicacy for such situations.

Jessica nodded.

“…But I think I got through to Clockblocker.  For a while I thought he’d fly off the handle at Weld.”

Oh yeah, you really helped there.

Jessica almost replied, but kept her mouth shut.

Careful, Jessica. Confidentiality is being tested.

“I feel like there’s two ideas and they’re playing tug of war with my head,” Vista confessed.  She gave Jessica a look, as though she were daring her to say something.  “Yeah.  One part of me, it’s like… I want us all to stay together.  Aegis died.  Gallant died.  Battery died.  Velocity died.  Dauntless died.  Browbeat died, Armsmaster retired and Shadow Stalker went to jail.  And now even after it’s all over, Triumph gets hurt?”

Oh, hello, Browbeat, you actually did get edited into this chapter? Nice. I stand by my opinion that Clockblocker should also have mentioned him at least in passing, but it’s good to see this chapter didn’t go fully forgotten.

Also, what gave you the impression it’s over?


Meanwhile in a Discord meme channel:

[meme]

IT’S ELEPHANT’S FOOT FRIDAY!!

TAG A FRIEND TO IMMEDIATELY RECEIVE 8000 ROENTGENS OF RADIATION

@raymancer


“I think I’d feel pretty spooked, after all that,” Jessica said.  “It’s a lot of people to be losing, in the space of a month.”

Oof, yeah.

It’s easy to forget sometimes just how condensed this story’s timeline actually is.

“I just… I want to do what I can to keep us together.  Keep people fighting.  But..”

(One or three periods, never two.)

I would assume the other idea is to just give up, so you don’t lose any more?

“But what?”

“The other part of me?  The colder part that’s being very logical, very rational?  It says that won’t happen.  We won’t stay together.  Can’t.  One by one, horrible things will happen to us.  My friends will die, and if they’re lucky, they’ll die fighting. And I’m somehow okay with it.  What does it really matter when the world’s supposed to end in two years?”

Oh.

Ouch.

Also, it’s interesting to see a partial parallel between Vista and Regent of all people.

“I… I’ve heard about that.  It’s pretty strictly limited to the PRT, though, and there hasn’t been any strict confirmation.”

I’m surprised how far they’re letting this information spread.

“We don’t have very good precogs,” Vista said.  “Not ones that can see that far ahead and still make sense of it all.”

I’m reminded of those cute comics by ieatedanimation where Missy and Dinah happened to be friends at school. I really like that idea, though I don’t think it’s canon.

“Does it… are you bothered?  Looking at things that way?  Thinking that your friends will die violently?  That the world will end?”

It kind of sounds like, if anything, she’s bothered by how unbothered she is by that.

“No.  I’m… very okay with it, when I think about it clinically.  It’s the way things are, isn’t it?  The way the world works.”

What about when you don’t think about it clinically?

“I don’t think so,” Jessica confessed.

“That part of me, that feels like that?  It’s telling me I’m going to die.  It’s inevitable, it’s soon, and it’ll be horrible,” Vista said.  “Therapy that.”

Ahahaha that last bit got me. “Now here’s a fucking challenge for you!”

I’m not convinced that just because Vista is still alive for Noelle’s purposes means she’ll stay that way afterwards. But I think I’d prefer it, if only to deal with the psychological aftermath of being used that way.

Am I cruel to characters? Sometimes.

Was she serious, or was it a challenge?

Yes.

“Okay,” Jessica said, somber  “I’ll try.”

(Missing period )

“Just like that?”  Vista’s eyes widened a little.

“Just like that.  Believe it or not, I’ve handled worse things than a young woman torn between fatalism and wanting to help her friends stick together.  I can’t tell you anything about your teammates, but I can arm you with some tools, so your field-therapy is more effective.  If that part of you is better equipped, maybe it’ll get a bit of an edge in that tug of war that’s going on inside your head.  Sound good?”

That does sound good. Teach the young padawan.

…Vista would abhor being called a padawan, let alone a youngling.

Vista nodded.

I guess we don’t get to share those tools.

Sunday, June 19th, 17:39

Jessica fumbled to find the ringing phone.  She had to move the pizza box and the bag of chips to reach it, reclined back on her bed the second she hit the call button, muting the television.

Sunday is her time to herself (a word I totally did not just type as “hrtdrkf”), but… there is always a crisis.

Why would you hit the call button to answer?

The pants she’d put on only for long enough to answer the door and pay the delivery guy slipped to the floor.

Mood.

“Yeah,” she said, suppressing a sigh. “No, I’m not busy.  Isn’t he Richmond’s patient, though?  He’s away?  Fuck me.  Okay.  I’ll be there in an hour.”

Whomst?

Monday, June 20th12:50

Huh. Guess that was just to pay off the “there’s always a crisis” bit, and the actual crisis wasn’t that relevant to show us.

Jessica paced back and forth in her office.

Somehow, when she’d left after seeing the Wards on Saturday morning, she’d let herself believe that things were largely resolved.  Dragon had been en route.  Not just one suit, either.

Oh, sweetheart. You underestimated the Undertravelers, like so many before you.

When she’d heard, on Sunday, that the suits had left the city, unsuccessful in their mission, she’d allowed herself to believe that things, at least, hadn’t gotten worse.

I wonder, did Chariot ever stop by?

She’d seen Clockblocker in the morning.  There had been a shift conflict with Weld having to watch Vista on her shift, and he’d rescheduled for the afternoon.

Oh jeez, the bomb. Kid Win. All of them trusting Chariot too much. The “reporters”. Yikes.

At least in the future, they’ve been set on the path to figuring out something is seriously wrong with what they think happened.

Now this.  She’d never felt more useless.  The Wards had intervened to stop a mad villain from attacking the local debate, and it had all gone tragically wrong.  They hadn’t finished tallying the dead.

The Wards were okay, at least.  Physically.

Yeah, um. Coil? You really have no mercy for kids’ psyches, huh.

Nobody came to her office all day.  Too much to be done.

…too busy dealing with shit to seek help for dealing with it.

Waiting nervously, restless in her inability to offer any assistance at all in a crisis like this, she headed up to the roof and bummed a cigarette from one of the interns, smoking for the first time since grad school.

It’s like I was talking about earlier… it’s a job that takes stress off the clients, but some of that stress has to go somewhere.

And not being able to take the stress off… that creates more.

Tuesday, June 21st6:10

Jessica sat on the edge of the roof, legs dangling.  She was on her fifth cigarette.

I make no secret of the fact that I’m heavily against smoking, and it’s very unfortunate that Jessica is getting back into the habit. But honestly… I can’t blame her.

Also please tell me the edge of the roof is just a nice smoking spot.

“Mrs. Yamada?”

The voice startled her, because it didn’t sound quite human.  She turned around.

Hm? It doesn’t seem likely that Sveta is up here.

Oh.  Wow.

Eidolon.

Huh. Hi there. Come for some rooftop therapy?

“Could I ask for a few moments of your time?” he asked.

Or maybe he’s after information for Cauldron purposes? In which case he might butt heads with Jessica’s commitment to her confidentiality.

The edge of that rooftop still makes me nervous. I don’t trust Eidolon, but hopefully he prefers subtler methods if Jessica becomes an obstacle somehow.

Though from what I’ve seen so far, the man has not an ounce of subtlety in him.

“I… yes.  I should warn you I predominantly work with juveniles.”

“I know.  I’m not looking for therapy.”

“Oh.”

He didn’t say anything as he crossed the rooftop.  Somewhere downstairs, the local heroes were gathering.  The Undersiders were present as well.  Another threat.  Flechette had been right.  It didn’t end.

Huh. We’re actually catching up. See, that’s what I mean — everything feels like it happened so much longer ago than it did.

Granted, that’s something that gets exacerbated by the liveblog format. Especially when I slow down like I have this year.

She felt a pang of sympathy for her Wards.  Vista had asked her how she could dispense advice, when she hadn’t experienced it for herself.  The response that Jessica had been unable to frame was just this.  That if she did, if she found herself under that same pressure, she wouldn’t have the objectivity.  Besides, if she was unbalanced, how could she hope to offer any aid to another person?

That’s the problem, though. Nobody is ever perfectly balanced and objective. Yet we try to help each other anyway, doing the best we can manage. Like Vista, a hero not for her power but for her determination.

It was a bittersweet thing that nobody had asked her to.  She wanted to help, but she was glad she didn’t have to, because she wasn’t sure of her own emotions, now.

Who therapizes the therapists?

Except Eidolon was asking.  One of the most powerful men in the world.

He sat down beside her.  He pulled his hood back, letting it fall around his shoulders, then undid the clasp for his mask. He set the glowing mask down on the edge of the roof, beside her cell phone and cigarettes.

Unmasking? Are you sure you’re not here for therapy?

He looked so average.  Heavy cheeks, thinning hair, a big nose, thick brows.  More ugly than attractive, but not so much that he’d draw attention walking down the street.

Between the phantom motif, the waning power and this unmasking feeding into implications of the phantom motif re: self-worth and projecting a false image of himself and/or feeling like a ghost of himself, Eidolon is pretty solidly the mid-life crisis cape.

And still, she felt like it was hard to breathe, as though his very presence sucked the air away.  She felt like she might if someone had a gun to her head, with no intention of pulling the trigger.

At least so far he really does seem to have no intention.

He’s got this aura of importance, of power, and I think he struggles to feel like he fills it.

And so he shows her, takes off the mask to show he’s an average dude underneath.

But he said he’s not heere for therapy.

It was there, devastating power that could end her existence in a heartbeat.  The fact that he didn’t plan to use it didn’t matter.

This, Sveta, she thought, is why I can be around you and be so calm.  Because I’ve been around monsters like this.

That’s… an interesting take. Rather reminiscent of Jemily, actually, except it’s not applied across the board.

“I wanted to talk to you,” Eidolon said, sounding very normal, “because there are few I can trust to listen.  I might have found a priest, but it’s late, and there are so few good ones out there.  I’ve used psychometry to view the past few days of your life.  You’ll do what I need you to do.”

Excuse me what

Concerns about how “psychometry” jives with the academic hypothesis that only the Simurgh can read minds aside, Eidolon, dude, you just point blank told her you’d committed a major privacy violation against both her and all her clients in this timespan. And you expect her to be okay enough with that to “do what [you] need”?

This better be important.

How am I supposed to respond to that?  “I… okay.”

No, you’re supposed to say “what the fuck dude”. Unfortunately, he’s got a Glory Girl-esque fear/respect aura going even if he’s not actually using a power that gives him one.

“I’m losing my powers.  Slowly but surely.  If this goes much further, mankind may lose this war.”

Wow. You really think highly of your own contributions, huh.

“I don’t understand.”

“Against the Endbringers, there are really only two individuals who can stop them, drive them away.  Scion is one.  I’m another.  Each of us is worth a hundred other capes, if not more.  I’m not boasting when I say this.

I hate that he’s very arguably right.

But my powers are getting weaker every day, little by little.  Whatever vast, improbably deep well parahumans tap into to use abilities, I suspect mine is running dry.”

I suppose part of the idea is he’s so powerful that he inherently drains his lifetime supply of power quickly while other capes barely make a dent on it.

A hundred other capes… Eidolon vs the grand 100-cape masterpiece Bonesaw suggested to Amy (“capeamari”), anyone?

“Are we supposed to clap?”

“And only Scion will be able to stop them, after you’ve lost your powers?  I’m sorry.  I’m thinking slowly tonight.  Been awake for a long time.”

“It’s fine.  You’re exactly right.  They really only need two or three critical victories, and it all ends.  And they will win more without me there.”

And it’s not always clear what was or wasn’t a victory. Madison? That was a victory.

Jessica nodded.  I can’t process all this right now.

Two years.

“When I fight, Mrs. Yamada, I feel as though my lost power is somehow within reach.  Reserves I have not yet touched, maybe.  Or a fresh well.  It is something, but it is there.  The problem is that I rarely get to truly fight.  Do you understand?”

Like Tattletale talked about. Putting himself up against Endbringers in part because then he gets to truly fight and the power becomes available to him.

“Yes.  I think so.”

“I hope that tonight is one of those moments.  I hope to fight, to fight seriously.  With the information we have about this threat, I can feel confident that the situation would be salvageable if I fail.  Even in the worst case scenario, this could be ended with a strategic missile strike.  In my absence, the heroes would have weeks to adjust, to change their battle plans and compensate, before the next Endbringer arrived.”

Where’s Noelle, Mansley?

Also, dude. Seriously? What exactly do you think the worst case scenario here is, that could be ended with a missile? You’re the worst case scenario! Dozens, maybe hundreds of evil yous, loose on the northeastern US, destructively unleashing the power that you claim equals a hundred capes, each! Empowered and twisted! Last time that many madmen with this much power were let loose on a setting I know, it was remembered for thousands of years as the Breaking of the World, and for good reason!

I gave you the benefit of the doubt that you were only presenting this whole thing as the reason you went in to hide the Cauldron angle — wait, actually, maybe that’s what he needs Jessica to do? Corroborate that story should things go south?

Eidolon, I hope for your sake that that’s what you’re doing, ’cause if it isn’t and what you’re saying here is genuine… you may just be a fucking idiot, as opposed to a fool with hints of a workable plan and too much confidence in it.

Two years feels like a long time all of a sudden.

“You’re talking about dying?”

“Here, at least, I can fight this monster, and where I might never make the gamble against an Endbringer, I hope to fight this thing to the death.  Hers or mine.”

Or half the coddamn continent’s.

And yet, at the latest point in the future… he’s not fighting. Was this all a part of the ruse, or were the talks on Noelle’s initiative?

To the death.

He continued, “If I can find that untapped well of power, then it will be worth it.  If I can’t, then there’s no point to me existing anyways.”

He really is the mid-life crisis cape.

“Surely you have something else to live for.”

He gave her a look that was both incredulous and pitying.  She felt a pang of sympathy for Vista, and how she’d reacted when she felt like she was being condescended to.

He

He pities her?

For what? Naïvety? For still thinking there’s stuff to live for?

For a man in all green, he sure is a walking pile of red flags.

Maybe life doesn’t offer anything suitably interesting or profound to a man who’s been as powerful as Eidolon is, she thought.

Perhaps not, and yet he pities her.

“I…” Jessica said, “Why me?  What am I doing?”

“You know, now.  If I die, you can explain what happened.  But I’ve read you, and I don’t think you will tell others until the fight is over, and you won’t tell others what I planned if I succeed, tonight.”

That does track.

Is he planning to fake his death, as some part of Cauldron’s schemes surrounding Noelle? Perhaps even get Noelle in on it, have her create a copy to act as his “corpse”?

She stared at him.

“If you were a priest,” he said, “I would have you say a prayer and bless my endeavor tonight.  I will settle for having you wish me luck.”

“Good…” she had to get her words in order, “Good luck.”

He nodded.

Good luck, man. You’ll need it to not fuck everyone else over.

Seriously, though, Cauldron aside the main thing he’s got going for him is that Noelle might not actually want to use her power on him because the clone would be too destructive and hard to control.

Then he took off.

Next chapter’s gonna be quite interesting. But I knew that already.


End of Interlude 18z

So that was excellent.

Jessica Yamada is a good character, and a refreshing portrayal of a therapist as both human and competent. And… I mean, just look at what we got to see via her. This managed to be a much better Wards Interlude than the actual Wards Interlude (though I suppose it also had more space to do so; chapters have grown significantly longer since Interlude 3), all in the middle of also letting us check up on Victoria, introducing an interesting new C53 in Sveta/Garotte and giving us a closer look at Eidolon’s preparations for whatever the heck he’s trying to do with Noelle.

Next chapter, some shit’s going down. I don’t think Eidolon’s plans will go quite how he expects, even if all of what he just said to Jessica was a misdirection. I don’t believe his actual plans include being cloned except maybe to serve as a “corpse” if he gets Noelle to join him, and I also don’t believe we’ll end the next chapter or two without that happening anyway. It’s time for the sunrise.

See you 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