My heart was hammering in my chest, and I knew that between one of these heartbeats and the next, one of the Nine could spot us.  If it was Jack or Shatterbird, we could be dead or bleeding out less than a second later.

You still think this is a good idea?

Probably.

“Set up,” Grue ordered.

I unclipped the carabiner and hopped down.

Let’s see what kind of equipment they’ve brought.

Working alongside Bitch and Sundancer, I helped bring the boxes we’d strapped to Bentley’s side to the edge of the rooftop.  We hurried back, Sundancer giving me a hand up.  I almost didn’t feel the pain of my legs with the tension and adrenaline that thrummed through me.  Or maybe that was the industrial strength painkillers Coil had provided.

…I guess the boxes are just full of the explosives?

Also I’d be wary of accepting painkillers from Coil.

I didn’t want to think about the fact that the drugs I’d taken might be the same ones that he’d used to drug Dinah.

Yeeah. At least she’s right there with me on this.

“Come on, Taylor,” Grue said.  He tried to pull me to my feet, and I didn’t move.  “We can deal with all that later.  Right now, we’ve just got to get away.  We survive.”

Man, the Nine just keep fucking over Skitter’s territory. Shatterbird, Mannequin, now Burnscar…

“Survive,” I muttered.

I’d been prepared to die against Mannequin if it meant removing one monster from the world.

Honestly, I can’t blame her for that part. I was more disturbed that she briefly seemed to have lost the will to live because the Nine had compromised her mission to save Dinah.

It was a pretty good indication of how much I valued my life at these days.  I’d cut ties with my dad, dropped out of school, helped get Lung arrested and started chain of events that had led to the ABB terrorizing tens of thousands of people.

Which it seems I wasn’t quite off the mark about.

Taylor is so deep down the rabbit hole of negativity that she’s very close to being straight up suicidal.

I’ve never seen Taylor as a protagonist meant to be emulated. She has some very good qualities that it doesn’t hurt to mimic, of course, but overall she strikes me as a cautionary tale, especially in later Arcs. A tale about what happens if you don’t focus on yourself from time to time, don’t allow yourself to be happy or value your accomplishments.

Taylor is miserable, and I think a large portion of the story so far has been meant to show how she ended up like that, so we might avoid making the same mistakes.

I’d served as a distraction so a power-hungry supervillain could kidnap a girl and keep her drugged up in some underground cell for months.  I’d stood by to let a man die.  I’d become a full-fledged villain.  Pledged to protect people and then let them die horribly.  Not once, not twice, but three times.

You did the best you could.

“Mom.  You’re going to have some fucked up kid, and then you’re going to die of an OD before it’s even grown up.  It’s not fair that you leave some kid that’s more retarded than me, or some deformed freak for Brian to take care of.  Not fair on him, and it’s not fair on the kid to make them put up with the dick, either.”

Ouch.

“Fine,” her mother said, standing.  “I’ll get the papers myself.”

I should probably acknowledge that I’m not sure Aisha’s actually saying any of this for Celia’s sake so much as for her own. She wants to get it out, and since her mom can’t notice her unless she wants to be noticed, she can say it to her face without consequences – for good or bad.

Aisha sighed.  Was it cowardice that kept her from confronting her mother, or the knowledge backed by years of experience that it wouldn’t make a difference?

Bit of both, perhaps?

Maybe, if everything with the Nine worked out and Coil got control of the city, maybe she could get her mom some help, or report her to the police.

Hm, yeah, might work. For now, though, I’m sure the police have a lot to deal with.

Aisha stared her mother in the eyes.  She didn’t deactivate her power.  “Mom.  You gotta stop.”

“Where are the rest of the papers, Sam?” her mom asked, oblivious.

Yeeah, if this is sinking in at all, it’s not showing any signs of it yet.

“Kitchen.”

“But I don’t want to get up.  I’m comfy,” Celia whined.

“Hey, you managed to misplace an entire package of papers, deal with it yourself.”

“You keep going down this road, your kid is going to be born without a face or something,” Aisha said, her voice quiet.

That is not entirely impossible, especially in this ‘verse. Though it doesn’t sound like anyone’s (known to have) been born parahuman yet.

“You know how hard school was for me?  Even as far back as kindergarten, I couldn’t sit still.  Teacher tells me three things, and by the time they’ve gotten to the third, I’ve forgotten the first.  And Brian doesn’t have any of that.”

That… sounds like ADHD, potentially. Not necessarily, but we’ve got the two main ingredients right here: Attention Deficit (seemingly manifesting in part as poor memory, which is absolutely a thing with ADHD), and Hyperactivity.

She sat down on the coffee table, directly opposite her mother.  Reaching forward, she plucked the spliff from her mother’s lips and dropped it, grinding it under her toes.

Heh, that must be a weird experience from the point of view of someone who doesn’t realize Aisha is there.

I guess Celia would perceive it as dropping the spliff herself, but how would her brain lie to her to fill the blank of how it got ground against the floor?

Her mother blinked a few times, then reached for her rolling papers.

I guess maybe she didn’t realize it ended up on the floor, just that it disappeared.

Aisha used her hand to cover the papers and whispered, “No.”

Ooh, how does this manifest? Does what she says enter her mother’s subconscious, or does that get wiped too?

Again, the dazed blinking.  Her mother asked, “Sam?  Got any more papers?”

“I just gave you a full package.”

If Aisha were feeling prankish, she could uncover the package of papers once Sam looked. That would probably escalate, though.

“The hell?  Maybe that hit me harder than I thought,” Aisha’s mother giggled.

Ah, right, I suppose that’s a reasonable rationalization for her brain to come up with.

How easy would it be to just carry this stuff away?  She could hand it to Coil for some brownie points, and he could decide what to distribute.  It would be out of her mother’s hands, and money would become a limiter on her mother’s habit.

That would probably be a decent idea, except Coil distributing it would just put it in the hands of other people and fuel similar problems in other families. But as far as saving Celia, it’s not bad.

If the drugs weren’t around, maybe Sam would leave.

Maybe, if Aisha got rid of the drugs, her mom would have an excuse to get things back on track, somehow.

Maybe. Still feels a bit too hopeful for the setting, though.

The city was paying people who joined the clean-up crews.  Three square meals, simple and bland but they gave the essential nutrients, and they gave you twenty dollars for nine hours of work.  Fuck around or slack off, and they just kicked you off the crew for the day, no pay.

I suppose that’s not too bad.

Idle hopes.  Aisha had spent long years wishing her mom could pull it together, dating back to just after the divorce, when a bad day was still better than most good days were now.  Or maybe that was nostalgia and a child’s eye view.

Who knows. Either way this is something I really can’t blame Aisha for entertaining.

No.  If she got rid of the drugs, it was more likely that someone would erupt in anger.  Sam or her mom, getting violent, verbally or otherwise.  It would do more harm than good.

Yikes. Yeah, I suppose if neither of them noticed the thief, they’d each assume it was the other, or Jennifer.

“Come on, Jennifer,” Celia urged her friend.  She took a long draw from the spliff she held in her fingers. “Oh fuck!  Sam, you jackass!  This isn’t just weed, is it?”

Not cool, dude.

“Thought it was.”

“There’s a kick to it.  Amp or something.”  Celia took another puff.  “Amp.  Hey, Jen, join in. Have some of what Sam’s having.”

Ah, I guess he didn’t know. I mean, if he’s telling the truth, but I believe him.

And they continue to press Jennifer. I’m still not sure Jennifer doesn’t have some secrets in store for us – she seems quite out of place in this group, so it’s thus far unclear why she’s in this chapter. Maybe Wildbow just needed a third party to prompt something down the line, though.

“But H is fucking scary,” Jen protested.

“So you hear.  But why is it scary?”

Because it’s a strong drug that fucks up lives. That’s enough for me.

“It’s addictive.”

Yes, thank you.

Seriously, that part’s scary enough on its own.

Aisha tuned out the sound of her mother and Sam cajoling the woman and walked over to the table.  Her mom didn’t notice her.  Nobody ever noticed her, and they noticed even less ever since she’d gotten her power.  It was like a dark joke, a grim comedy.  Just when she’d started to figure things out, grow up and catch people’s eye, the world went to hell and she got her powers.

Yeeah. Usually the powers seem to help the recipient out in their trigger event, but Aisha’s power seems more like something that adjusted itself to her general problem and amplified it.

Although not being noticed and being able to make people forget her existence ought to make it easier to get away from this family.

Now she became invisible if she lost her concentration.

Interesting. Her power works backwards – it’s passive and she has to actively keep it turned off if she wants to, not actively use it.

No, it was less this scene and more the discovery that her mother was pregnant that nailed her in the gut with a profound kind of sadness.

Oh shit, that’s right. The child would be a half-sibling of Aisha and Brian, and it seems like neither of them knew about it.

I wonder what kind of power the child might end up with if they survive the apocalypse. Probably something to do with hiding. Maybe shrinking to a size that gets into small hiding places easily?

The first place her mind went, before joy at the idea of having a brother or sister, before anger at her mom for letting it happen and not using protection, was hope.

Hope was really not where I thought that sentence was going.

What kind of hope are we talking here? Hope that it might help Celia shape up her life? Hope that the child doesn’t have to grow up with their biological parents? Hope that the child can replace Aisha herself?

“Sam, do you have any papers?”

“Rolling papers?  I thought you were going clean.”

Come on, Celia, don’t tell me you’re going back on the one redeeming feature you’ve established.

Tell me you’re talking about some other sort of papers.

“It’s just weed.  I need to have something.”

Ugh… fair enough, though. Addiction is hard to just turn off at will. That’s kind of the main problem with it.

At the very least she’s stepping it down, in the best case scenario helping her gradually go completely clean.

“I… what is it?”

“Little bit of everything.  Come, sit.  Try some.”

“What is it?”

Jennifer seems a bit more reluctant than the other two to actually use this stuff. Maybe she’s a friend of Celia but wasn’t a Merchant?

Sam seated himself at the table, by one set of the lines of powder.  He picked up a pinch and put it on his tongue.  “H.”

Ah. I may be about as street smart as a teacup, but I do know what that nickname refers to.

…at least I think I do.

…alright, fine, I’ll look it up just to be sure. *does so*

Oh, right, it was heroin, not hash.

Teacup, guys.

“You’re too old to be pregnant,” Sam commented.  She kicked him again.

Hmm.

Does she not want to tell him the real reason she’s abstaining, or is this just Sam exaggerating her age as a burn?

“Not that old!”

Jennifer emerged from the washroom and stopped in the doorway, staring at the scene.

Hello!

“I didn’t think you’d actually use any of the stuff.”

“Jen, hon,” Celia said, “We’ve got enough to go around.  Even if we only sold half, we’d be made in the shade for five or ten years.”

Ah, alright, definitely some trade planned. I feel more confident in the former Merchant suggestion now.

“And you just took it?”

“Leaders of the Merchants got killed, everyone else decided to run off with what they could carry of the stockpiles.  Sam and I decided to play it smart.  Sam got his truck, and I guarded the stash from the other assholes.  Paid off.”

Aaand confirmed. 🙂

I’m not gonna lie, that’s not a bad idea.