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What's the Frequency, Madison? [Worm, Time Travel]

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Synopsis:

October 9th, 2009. It was a date that had burned itself into Madison's brain...
Introduction

Swordchucks

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Synopsis:

October 9th, 2009. It was a date that had burned itself into Madison's brain through months and years of obsession. It was the date when she had taken that first step to ruin. That date when she'd taken the coward's way out and clasped hands with the devil. She could fix it, though. What was the brain, if not a series of waves? Waves could travel through space and time, if you knew how.

And she knew how.

Notes:

This was my NaNoWriMo attempt for 2022 and the first one I every did "for real" by starting at the start of November and getting to the 50k word threshold by the end of the month. Now I'm going back through and editing the chapters so that I can post it in a few "real" places including on AO3. It will probably get some amount of continuation, as well.

Originally, I posted this in my drafts thread under the title Frequency, but the long title was always What's the Frequency, Madison? It's a reference to the REM song (which is about an older person trying to understand the younger generation) which is also a reference to that time Dan Rather was attacked by a time traveler from 2265 who needed to stop his television station from broadcasting signals directly into his brain.
 
00 Prologue
I didn't set out to become obsessed, but that didn't stop it from happening, anyway.

Brockton Bay was a hellhole. It had been a hellhole since I was a little girl, and being half destroyed by Scion's rampage hadn't done anything to improve it. My family moved out of the city after Leviathan, but we actually moved back after Scion… which was more a statement on how shitty everything else became than anything. The Bay ended up being better off than a lot of Bet because of the portal to Gimel - and all of the resources it brought with it - but only barely.

In the days after the rampage - what some called Gold Morning, I think - things got back to 'normal' with a painful slowness. I supported myself with odd jobs here and there - my family having long moved on to Gimel. Not me, though. I couldn't move on.

I didn't realize why, at the time, but it was because of the obsession I had forming inside of me.

My obsession had a name, though I didn't realize it at first. Taylor Hebert. She was the key to so much of what had happened and also a symbol of how my own life had spiraled into chaos.

When I looked back on my life and tried to understand where it all went wrong, it ended up with her. What I had done to her. How we had interacted. My sins. I wanted to make amends, but it was impossible. She was gone, as far as I could tell, and no one would even talk about her. Talking to Glory Girl that one time, once the Internet came back, had helped, but I still needed more.

Without solid leads on Taylor, I turned introspective. I couldn't find her - I couldn't fall at her feet and beg her for forgiveness or whatever - but I could look at my own life, at least. I could see where I had gone wrong.

I was bullied in middle school. That wasn't an excuse or anything, and I definitely didn't deserve pity for it, but it was a factor that shaped me.

When I got to high school, I came with a plan. I wasn't going to be bullied anymore. My house at the time had been in a little sliver of the zoning map where I would be going to a high school that wasn't the same as the vast majority of the kids from my middle school.

For a normal kid, it would have been a tragedy to be separated from her friends like that.

For me? Little, waifish Madison Clements who got passed over by the puberty fairy? It was an opportunity to start fresh.

That summer, my mom acted like I'd given her everything she ever wanted when I suddenly took an interest in makeup and clothes. Part of the reason I had been bullied in middle school was that I was a bit of a nerd and hadn't bothered with my physical appearance much. I didn't know if it was normal teenage rebellion - mom certainly loved that kind of thing and was always pushing me to wear more dresses and do my hair - or depression that kind of snowballed. Whatever it was, I resolved to change myself, so I did. Somehow.

Gone was my uniform of cheap, snarky t-shirts and jeans to be replaced by clothes that actually fit me and did a lot to disguise the fact that I had the build of an eleven year old boy. I took a bath every single day and even combed my hair and did just enough makeup to look natural. It was kind of dumb how much makeup it took to look like you weren't wearing any, but I learned the tricks.

Mom called it 'girl boot camp', but I thought of myself more as a phoenix rising from its ashes. Because I was still a nerd on the inside, no matter what the outside looked like.

Things had gone right from there. Winslow was a shitty school, but it hadn't always been a shitty school. Its equivalent in another city might have been the result of generations of racial oppression and economic depression, but the Bay's fall from grace had been relatively recent. Winslow had been a good school, once upon a time, and there were a surprising number of middle class families still sending their children there. People that were still making decent enough money to get by but not so decent that they could flee to the suburbs. If things hadn't collapsed entirely, Winslow's spiral into complete squalor would probably have completed in a decade or two, but in that moment, it was still true.

That's where I fit in. Mom and dad did their best, but they were teenagers when they had me. If it hadn't been for my grandparents, we would probably have been in abject poverty like so many of our neighbors, but we somehow bobbled along as upper lower class with dad working for grandpa and mom picking up odd jobs when she could. There was always food and I could dress well if I didn't mind shopping at thrift shops, but we weren't rich or anything. It was good enough that I could fit in with the middle class kids or the lower class kids, depending on what I needed to do.

Winslow's social landscape was mostly segregated by year levels. Most classes were divided by year, though there was some crossover, and all of the classes with primarily freshman had lunch at the same time. There were some social cliques that crossed the year divides - especially the gang kids, though they were mostly older kids - but the general population just didn't mingle like that.

That's how Emma rose to power so fast. She didn't have to compete with senior girls for popularity and only barely had to pay attention to juniors and sophomores. Sophia standing behind her as an unofficial enforcer certainly helped things along, too.

I only really entered her orbit sometime in late September of freshman year. School had been in session for a bit and I was still carving out a little niche for myself - making friends and allies and remaking myself into a popular kid. I didn't exactly like Emma at first - she reminded me too much of the bitches that had made my middle school years hell - but she was a little better at the popularity game than I was. My choices were to attempt to stand apart from her or to find a place in the pecking order that was forming under her.

Years later, I could admit that I picked the coward's option. I saw the big strong bully - because that's what Emma always was, even if she usually sugar coated it - and I decided to curry her favor lest I feel her wrath. Standing on my own would have been better, but it would also have been more dangerous and the thought of falling back into the status of a social pariah was terrifying.

I don't know if Emma picked up on that about me - the fear - but it wasn't too long before she decided to test me. I didn't remember the date before I became obsessed with that sequence of events, but it was easy enough to figure out. October 9th, 2009. It was the Friday before we had a three day weekend for Columbus Day.

That was the day I first joined in on the bullying of Taylor Hebert.

That was the day I became the very thing I hated most of all.

The things that came after that, I researched as fully as I was able. There were videos here and there, some from news clips and some off the wikis - more like shrines - that were slowly coming together to document the last days of the old world. Taylor's crimes. When she was outed. What came after.

I constantly asked myself how much of that was my responsibility. Glory Girl said she'd done some good things, but most of the information I could find was on the bad. She'd killed a lot of people, and at the end she'd done something 'controversial' that no one would talk about. I think that's what Glory Girl had been referring to when I talked to her.

What had she done? Had it been good? Bad?

My obsession only grew.

Months passed. Odd jobs were enough to get by and I managed to find a printer. I had a wall covered in pictures and articles and I pushed little pins right into the drywall behind them so I could hang strings of various colors. It was something you would expect to see in the home of a serial killer.

I didn't intend to kill anyone. I just needed to understand. No, I needed to do more than understand. I needed to fix the issue. I needed to find a way to make amends for what I had done. Penance.

I didn't go out anymore. Not socially.

I went to work, scavenged some paper or ink, paid my bills, and I researched. If I could find Taylor Hebert, what would I tell her? Would she attack me? Try to kill me? I wouldn't blame her if she did - and I wasn't even sure I would try to stop her.

It wasn't healthy, of course. None of it was. I spiraled and spiraled and eventually… I broke.

Then it became so clear.

The printer had parts I could use. So did my computer. So did the light fixture in the shitty little one-room apartment I paid too much for. So did the battered old TV that some former tenant had left that hadn't worked since Leviathan, most likely.

Brainwaves were just that - waves. Waves could propagate through any medium with enough power - air, water, even space. Waves could even propagate through time, if you twisted them just right.

Where would I send them? Well, that was obvious enough. I already knew the date. The point of no return. The time when I had stood at a turning point and let the devil take me down the primrose path.

I didn't leave my room for three days as I got everything ready. No one came to check on me because I had no one.

My obsession became a manic effort and it wasn't until I had the 'helmet' seated on my head that I realized this might not be the best idea. I'd turned a plastic pasta strainer into a framework for the electrodes that would be collecting my brain waves for their trip into the past. I had no idea if it was safe, and with the kind of voltage I was working with - thank you, old TV transformer - it almost certainly wasn't.

That moment of clarity ran headlong into the fact that I just didn't care if I lived or died.

I pushed the button.
 
Last edited:
01 Returned
My first thought wasn't very helpful, but in retrospect it was very amusing.

I remembered Emma as being prettier.

It was certainly a petty thought, but it was also a true one. For a young teenager, Emma was reasonably attractive, but she just wasn't the dazzling supermodel my memories had painted her to be. Part of that was probably my foreknowledge of what an evil, rotten individual she was, but part was probably just the shadow of adult perspective putting things into context.

Emma definitely dressed well and played the part, but that was all it was. She was still only fourteen and a bit gangly. Her features were nicely symmetrical and she was bursting with potential, but even then beauty was only skin deep and all that.

The experience of hurtling my brain waves through time had not been pleasant and I wished - far too late - that I'd targeted a time when I wasn't standing in the middle of a crowded public space. I was left reeling - dizzy - and more than a little nauseous. The lunchroom was too loud. There were too many people. You didn't see crowds like that on Bet anymore, and here it was just a normal day in a high school lunch room. Two, three hundred kids in a big room and that was perfectly normal.

I put a hand on the back of a nearby chair to keep from falling over.

"Well, are you going to do it or what?" Emma asked again, her eyes cutting meaningfully toward my hand. I followed her eyeline and realized I was holding a bottle of juice from the vending machine, the top already twisted off.

Oh. This.

This was the moment.

This was the point in time where I had taken that plunge into evil that I didn't surface from for almost two years.

This was that point in time that I had wished, time and time and time again that I could take back.

This was my first contribution to creating the monster that was the Warlord Skitter.

How many died because of this? How many of the black marks on my soul could be traced back to this very moment.

"Why?" I asked. My thoughts were running wild and I was starting to feel a little faint. Something about time travel did not agree with me. At all.

"Why what?" Emma asked, her manicured eyebrows arching in confusion. "You show that you have what it takes to put that slut in her place, and you're in."

"Did she cheat on you?" I asked, the words leaving my mouth before I could stop them. "You're always calling her a slut and a whore… is that why you're so mad?"

Someone tittered from the side and I realized that we weren't alone. There was a small group of six or seven girls standing there, waiting for me to dump the juice all over our collective punching bag. Sophia was behind Emma's heel, looking like she would have stabbed me with her eyes, if she had been able. Fortunately, that wasn't her power.

Wait, power? Oh, yeah, she was Shadow Stalker. Maybe a Ward? Maybe not. I couldn't remember the details or the timeline. I definitely hadn't been obsessed with her. I had never actually been told that she had powers, not officially, but it hadn't been hard to figure out with all of the rest. She and Emma were frankly shit at hiding it and only the absurdity of it kept more people from connecting the dots.

"What?" Emma hissed, her voice as sharp as Sophia's stare. It was a dire warning, and the person that had laughed made a soft 'eep' sound as the venom in her voice somehow cut through the cacophony of the lunchroom.

"Some of your insults are very telling and she seems - well, she's weird, but she never actually seems to do anything bad. Like, if she wasn't fucking around on you, why do you even care?" It had been a working theory I developed after everything went bad, and while it did fit the facts as I knew them, it could also have been incredibly off the mark. Unfortunately, Emma's reaction didn't clarify anything. Some part of me - the part that wasn't punch-drunk from having itself slammed itself into the brain of my fourteen year old self - was telling me to shut up. Screw that part of me. "Like, she'd have to be an idiot to step out on you, but you're way out of her league. We could just get you a better girlfriend - oh, wait, are you and Sophia an item now? That would exp-"

I never even saw Sophia move. The next thing I knew, I was airborne, which wasn't great with the rest of me already feeling like I was floating. Light as I was, I was probably only off the ground for a split second before I sprawled across the table behind me, scattering trays and food in all directions. The juice bottle was gone from my hand and people were yelling.

It was definitely not how I had planned for any of this to go.

oOoOoOoOo

"I didn't do anything," I whined. Mom was giving me the evil eye any time she wasn't watching the road as she drove me home. After the incident in the lunchroom, I had seen the nurse to make sure I wasn't going to die and was then promptly marched to the office. Two days suspension for fighting for both Sophia and myself. Weren't zero tolerance policies just the best?

"The principal said you started a fight in the cafeteria." She paused for a moment as she made a turn. "And then lost."

I winced. The second part really wouldn't help my reputation at Winslow. Nor would the black eye I could feel forming.

"It wasn't much of a fight. I got sucker punched for standing up for someone," I mumbled, though it was half-hearted. I was still a little out of it, but the truth was that I had been on a kind of numb autopilot. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised that I had managed to trigger a Sophia explosion, and I had a feeling that I'd put myself permanently on her shit list.

I closed my eyes and pushed my face against the window. The glass felt nice and cool, though I had a feeling mom would make me scrub my face print off the window later.

"You can stand up for someone without getting beaten up in front of an audience," mom grumbled some more, but there was no real heat in it.

Our relationship had been different since the end of middle school, when I had started my Ugly Duckling Transformation plan, but I still felt like it was too easy for me to disappoint her. She never really said so, but I had a feeling that if I hadn't been born, her life would have been very different. She'd talked about wanting to go to college a few times - back in the future that was now my past - but she never had. Given that she'd finished high school and gone into labor during the same week, there was no real mystery as to why her life hadn't gone that way.

As badly as I had screwed up with Emma and her crew - I had wanted to redo things, not make myself her number one target - getting out of school early was probably a good thing. I was still rattled and disoriented, and I certainly could have made a bigger mess than I had.

Mom's old beater burbled to a stop in our driveway, and I limped inside to collapse onto my bed. Mom had to go back to work, though I could hear her making a phone call downstairs - probably to let my dad know what a horrible thug I had become and that I was grounded forever - as I slowly drifted in and out of lucidity. The nurse had pronounced me free of a concussion, but that didn't mean I lacked brain damage. It was just self-inflicted.

My thoughts slowly stabilized themselves and I got more lucid. Mom poked her head into my door and sternly told me not to go anywhere before disappearing back to work, and I had nothing better to do than think.

Having two sets of the same memories, one much fresher than the other, collapsing into each other was disconcerting even without the future memories, but that wasn't surprising. Not being entirely sure which version of me that I was - future me or present me - was at least kind of unexpected. I would have expected to be future-me in a younger body, but I really felt more like present-me with some extra memories.

The fact that future-me had become an obsessive shut-in that hadn't really been living probably didn't help with that feeling.

The other major thing I discovered was that my powers were gone.

I had no clue how that worked, but somehow… I had un-triggered. I supposed it made sense if I was really present-me with some extra memories that I was now before I had triggered, but I hadn't made an in depth study of what made capes into capes. I would have thought that my powers wouldn't let me build something that would do that, but that was exactly what happened. I had a bunch of jumbled, somewhat disconnected memories of working on a device and knowing how it worked at the time, but in retrospect none of it made any sense.

I'd wanted to go back in time to fix things, and that was exactly what I'd managed to build a machine to do. However, without my powers I couldn't even begin to understand how that had been possible.

When I got bored of resting in bed, I found a notebook and started doodling out a list of what I could remember. Unfortunately, my unhealthy obsession with Taylor Hebert had been overly focused on what transpired between us and then how her life had gone afterward. I hadn't been in my right mind at the time. If I had, I would have done something useful like memorize winning lottery numbers or something.

That left me with few resources. I was cute - when I wasn't sporting a black eye - and people tended to like me. In the other timeline, fully half of Emma's followers had actually been my followers, though I preferred to think of them more as friends than minions. Unlike some people, I wasn't a villain in training.

I had some vague knowledge about a lot of future events - unless they changed - and some very specific knowledge about future events I was pretty set on changing - which would hopefully be worthless. I was mildly horrified to realize that manic future-me hadn't thought to ask some important questions before trying to change the past like 'does this mean Scion is going to kill everyone'. Given how my attempts at finding out what had happened during Gold Morning had gone, I didn't have much confidence that I would have actually found answers to that question if I had gone looking, but future-me hadn't even paused to ask.

Another asset that I had was that I had confirmation that I was capable of gaining powers. If I could figure out how that actually worked and the fact that I knew I could gain powers didn't somehow make it impossible for me to gain said powers and… well, that was a circular thought pattern.

I also knew about Sophia's powers, though that was a dubious asset. She was a psycho and would almost certainly kill me to keep me quiet. Which might lead to me getting powers… but those wouldn't be of much use if I were dead.

More immediately, I also had my phone and quite a few people were texting me about what had happened. Future-me had always been good about playing innocent and with a little planning, I could use that to my advantage. In truth, I was never sure why Emma had hated Taylor so much. I was nearly positive that it wasn't because they dated, but it was one of the more rational explanations for what had happened.

I considered pushing that as the official story, though only for a moment. 'Outting' Emma that way would also 'out' Taylor and it seemed like a bad idea to 'out' anyone in a school with a sizable Nazi presence. It would probably make Taylor's life worse than just joining in on the bullying, I decided. Thus, I mostly just played dumb as I responded to messages about why Sophia had hit me.

Dad came home at some point and asked me what had happened. I gave him a short version of what happened - leaving out how I'd kind of drunkenly wandered into that minefield. He'd done that thing where he said I shouldn't fight, but he'd also given me a fist bump because I'd apparently gotten into a fight for a good reason.

Later that evening, I realized that mom was more annoyed that I lost than that I had gotten into a fight, which told me a whole lot about how mom's high school days had gone.

oOoOoOoOo

I decided that, in retrospect, if I was going to get suspended, picking the Friday before a three day weekend was a pretty good time to do it. It was the following Thursday before I was back at school and my black eye was no longer the swollen mess that it had been for most of the weekend. A little more makeup than usual and you couldn't even tell that I had the thing. It had looked absolutely atrocious in the middle there, but now it was just a couple of purple spots.

Emma had clearly attempted to do some damage control of her own, but I'd sown enough doubts via text messages during my absence that it hadn't been entirely effective. My reappearance set the rumor mill into overdrive and I used that to my advantage.

"Maybe it's all Sophia after all? She just sees Hebert as competition?" I whispered into one ear. I wasn't going to 'out' people as a primary theory, but a few whispers couldn't hurt too much.

"I hear Emma is on medication that's making her unbalanced," I snarked to another.

"You know, the stress of keeping those modeling jobs is getting to her and she's been really temperamental lately," I intimated, making a barfing motion. "Gotta keep that weight down somehow."

Emma really didn't understand how dangerous I was. The first time through, I had been more than happy to be her minion, but I'd blown that all to hell this time. Now, she was going to deal with a me that she'd helped create with skills she hadn't even learned yet.

Of course, my words couldn't stop Sophia from getting physical with me. She was still learning all of the tricks she had perfected in the other timeline, too, and the shoves and trips were far from subtle, which got her in trouble again before the week was out. I tried to make sure there were plenty of rumors about why she was like that, as well.

One week and only a single full school day after I arrived back in the past, the seemingly inevitable march of an aspiring queen bee to unite the freshman class under her control had stalled. Fractured camps arose as Emma's soft underbelly was exposed. I was sort of the leader of one, though I really had no desire for leadership. Were this the first time through, I might have, but it just felt hollow to me.

It was only the next day - Friday - that I finally had a chance to talk to Taylor Hebert again.

One of the guiding 'features' of worm is that powers rarely provide real fixes to the problems that spawned them. In fact, a lot of powers double down on aspects of the trauma so that it never really gets better. The dynamic here is a little different, but mostly in the sense that the 'solution' the power gave Madison might be worse than no solution at all.
 
Really interested to see where this goes, given that unlike your typical peggy sue/time travel plot, Madison was never in a position to learn any of the critical details that would allow her to solve the Scion Problem. We are also pre-locker so decent odds of that being butterflied away as well.
 
02 Cold War
"Is it true?" Taylor asked, surprising me. I had forgotten one of my favorite pens in English and went back for it after the last bell. Finding it hadn't been hard, but by then most of the kids had cleared out, giving Taylor a perfect chance to corner me. Well, not exactly 'corner' me, but talk to me alone.

"Is what true?" I asked in return, suddenly nervous. I'd been carefully avoiding interacting with the object of my obsession since I came back in time. I wasn't sure if it was out of fear that I'd screw it up as badly as I had my first interaction with Emma or something else. In retrospect, such an encounter was inevitable and the fact that I hadn't come up with a plan for it in the week of time that I had already spent in the 'past' was dumb. Realizing that reality didn't make a plan appear out of thin air, however.

"That you picked a fight with Emma over me." There was a spark in her eyes that I had never noticed as a kid, and I had to wonder if I had just missed it or if it was something that the bullying had extinguished.

I held out my hand and wiggled it from side to side in a vague gesture. "Kinda. She wanted me to dump juice on you, and I thought that seemed really shitty. I might have said a few things after that which made Sophia mad, which isn't particularly hard."

Taylor nodded, the light glinting off her glasses as she did so and I could almost see a little steel settling into her spine. "You didn't have to do that… but thank you."

She was hard to read, but it seemed genuine so I gave her a nod of acknowledgement and we stayed there, staring at each other for a moment. I had no idea what else to say and apparently she didn't, either. Then, she dropped her eyes down and to the side and her posture slumped again, as though whatever motivation she had found had just as suddenly departed.

Before she could shuffle away, I felt like I had to say something. This was my chance to really make amends for what I had done in that other, horrible timeline. "Wait," I said, not even really knowing what I was about to say. "You don't have to… you know."

She looked back at me, blinking in confusion.

"Sorry," I mumbled as I tried to find my verbal footing. "What I meant to say is that you look like you could use a friend. We should hang out sometime."

Her posture withdrew a little more and I realized I wasn't making anything better. High school had only been going on for a month and a half, but Emma was relentless. A month of her ire would probably feel like an eternity if you couldn't fight back, and it had obviously affected Taylor. She'd obviously learned not to trust vague platitudes.

I hastened to change tactics, silently cursing myself for not planning this encounter out beforehand yet again. "You remind me of me," I blurted out, which again gave her pause. "I mean, last year. I wasn't in a good place last year. I got picked on a lot and I ended up changing schools to get away from it." Truth, of a sort. "I think you could probably change just a few things and you'd fit in with the popular girls in no time."

That got me the ghost of a wistful smile. "I'm not really interested," she mumbled, but I could tell that her rejection wasn't forceful. I had just offered the wrong thing and had to push a little more in a different direction.

"Tomorrow's Saturday, right? Why don't we go out for the afternoon and maybe go shopping or something."

"I can't really afford-" she started but cut herself off while looking decidedly embarrassed. I was sure she was thinking about Emma's shopping habits since they had been friends for a long time.

"Oh, no, you can. I- well, my family isn't very well off. I mostly hit thrift stores and do some of the alterations myself. I don't think I own an article of clothing that I paid more than ten bucks for. Well, there's probably a winter coat and a pair of boots that I got for Christmas, but nothing I bought personally."

The ghost of a smile returned to her face as I babbled. "I… alright, maybe. If I don't have plans."

It was a start, I decided.

oOoOoOoOo

"I don't like to admit that the movies exist," I declared. Taylor and I - well, middle school me - had a lot in common, including our love of the Maggie Holt books. It was fun to let myself be that girl again, even if it was only for a little bit.

Taylor snorted. "Me, either. Mom refused to let me watch them before I read the books. It made the movies even worse, but at least they didn't ruin the books for me." She looked away, sadness crossing her face, but it was only for a moment. I knew her mom died, but I couldn't remember any of the details. Well, none of the useful details. I remembered some of the crap that Emma used to spew about it and that made me feel bad. If I was a better person, wouldn't I have wanted to come back in time and save her mom?

"How about this?" I asked as I pushed my dark thoughts aside and plucked a top off the rack before twirling it so that it was facing her.

"Maybe," she hedged. She was warming up to our thrift store trip, but it was slow going. I was guessing that she lost her mother before Taylor really got interested in clothes and makeup which was an odd similarity we shared. Not that my mom died, thankfully, but that neither of us had been interested in being girly when we were in middle school.

"You should at least try a few things on. You might like it. Or not. The downside to thrifting is that some days it's a lot of hunting for nothing," I intimated like it was some big secret.

"I guess…" she hedged again but it didn't really take me much more effort to get her into the rickety changing booth in the back of the store. The woman running the shop kept a sharp eye on us in case we were shoplifters intending to pilfer two dollars worth of used clothing.

"How is it going?" I asked after a minute and got a muffled reply. It took another minute before Taylor cracked the door open to show me that we'd really misjudged the sizing on the first shirt and it hung off her like a tent. I snorted. "Well, not that one, obviously."

She giggled and shut the door in my face which just made me roll my eyes and smile. She was relaxing and that was great.

I wasn't entirely sure where I was going with this second chance at life, but it seemed alright. Keeping Taylor from becoming… whatever she had become the first time was good. I hadn't done any damage to her in this life, but I still felt responsible for making sure she was set on a better path. I would never learn the answers to many of the mysteries that surrounded the life of the future version of Taylor that I had once been so obsessed with, but that was a price I was more than willing to pay. It was my penance.

In the end, she did end up with a couple of new shirts that worked for her and not much else. I had a denim skirt that I remembered finding and loving in my last go through. It took several hours, what with taking the bus between places but neither of us ended up spending more than ten dollars and we had fun.

I counted that as a win.

oOoOoOoOo

I didn't suddenly find myself in one of those shitty Aleph teen comedies where one whirlwind shopping montage solved everything. We definitely had a good time, but on Monday, Taylor was more or less the same as she had been on Friday. She did say hello back when I greeted her at one point, but that was the only change. We weren't suddenly best friends or anything, but I hoped that she'd recover a bit more if I could keep Emma off her back.

My plan for that appeared to be working well enough. Emma was certainly distracted away from Taylor by my efforts, which gave the girl some breathing room. I knew the social landscape of Winslow better than Emma did due to my future-knowledge, and we weren't even really playing the same game. Future-Emma had been able to do truly absurd things to Taylor because she'd achieved complete social dominance over our grade level, but I had no real desire to establish myself as the 'queen bee'. I just wanted to make sure that Emma wasn't in charge and it was a lot easier to keep your opponent from winning than it was to win yourself.

I had mostly forgotten the details of high school, but between what I did remember and my more experienced perspective, I had a great deal of insight into people and events. I didn't have the heart to use it to destroy people - not anymore, anyway - but those same skills could be used for good.

Someone was struggling with math? I put them in contact with someone that I knew liked to tutor. Someone was going to a big party that I remembered getting raided? I suggested they might want to skip it because it seemed sketchy. Someone was getting picked on? I did what I could to defuse it. It seemed like everyone had a problem, and a large number of them could be solved with a friendly ear and a few connections.

By the end of the month, Emma's frustration at my popularity was visible and I started taking precautions against her inevitable retribution.

Acts of petty spite - like tripping in the hallway or glue on my seat - were easy enough to avoid. After living through the end of the world, there were few insults that could rile me up, and having a generally positive reputation blunted her attempts at starting rumor campaigns against me. Worse for her, her bitchiness turned off some of the people that might otherwise have flocked to her side, especially when the target was someone that had a reputation for just being a nice person.

No, Emma wasn't the one I was worried about. I could handle Emma. What I was more concerned about was Sophia.

It didn't take too much effort to avoid using my locker. I ended up cleaning it out and finding people that didn't mind sharing books in a couple of classes so I didn't have to try to carry everything all the time. Just to be sure, I even took the lock off the door and had the school office remove it from my name in the system. That probably violated some policy somewhere, but the secretary hadn't actually seemed to give a shit and did it anyway.

Present-me hadn't originally noticed, but it had been funny exactly how many kids tried to stand up to Emma or Sophia only for it to be discovered that they had drugs or other contraband in their lockers shortly thereafter. It certainly was strange how often that happened to the enemies of someone that could phase through solid matter. Very suspicious, and that was in addition to all of the more direct physical assault she got away with.

Thus, I did my best to inoculate myself against it. I didn't leave my stuff unattended. I didn't maintain control over locked spaces which could be used to plant things. I didn't walk down stairwells without checking my surroundings. For the most part, I was saved from the physical bullying because I was barely five feet tall and a petite five feet at that. Reputations aside, she wasn't going to be earning any macho points by beating me up, and I was quite good at playing up minor injuries for maximum sympathy.

I had to suffer through a few scrapes and dings in the process, but eventually it got through to the duo that knocking me around was just damaging their reputation more than it was helping.

By mid-November, things had settled into a kind of cold war. Emma and Sophia had their little core of followers that collectively hated me almost as much as they hated Taylor, but I had a much bigger circle of casual friends that kept it in check and contained. It wasn't so much that we were competing factions as I was acting as a kind of vaccine against the rot of Emma's bitchiness so that the student body didn't get completely overrun.

And that was a metaphor that definitely would have needed more work if I ever intended to say it out loud.

"I already hung out with you," Taylor whined. She seemed different from a month ago. Calmer. Lighter. She didn't look like she'd scurry back under the cabinets if the lights came on.

"That was like a week ago. Two. It's been a long time and I want to hang out again." I had several reasons for trying to stay close to Taylor. The obvious one was that I still felt guilty for what I had done to her in that other timeline, and I wanted to make sure it didn't happen again. I had shed the worst of my obsession along with my suicidal time traveling, but I still found myself paying more attention to her than I otherwise would have. I had been fixated on her for a long time and it was hard to shake that kind of thing.

A second reason was that I didn't really have a good shopping buddy - not that I really had one in the first timeline, either. The truth of the matter was that my family was entirely too close to the poverty line, even by the standards of Winslow, and I disguised that fact by spending a lot of time hunting for bargains. It helped that I could get away with shopping in 'kid' sizes half the time which tended to be cheaper, but the most of it was because I dove through thrift stores like they held hidden treasure. Taylor's family was in just the right level of poverty to appreciate it without looking down on it for one reason or another.

The third and least expected reason was that I found that I actually liked her. My Ugly Duckling plan involved taking those pieces of my middle school life that would have made me unpopular - like my nerdy love for books and entirely too much knowledge about Internet culture - and burying them deep down inside where no one would ever see and use them against me again. That didn't mean they were gone, just well hidden. I found myself sharing those bits of myself with Taylor, too. I kind of thought we could become good friends and make each other better.

"I'm not above offering bribes," I declared. "I have a gift certificate for two movie tickets and I need to use it this weekend. I don't think I can use it for just one ticket at a time, so I need a plus one." The certificate was one of the random things mom got as a tip from one of her odd jobs. If I had to guess, someone had gotten it for Christmas a year before because the expiration date really was just before Thanksgiving.

"What movie?" she came back after a brief hesitation, and I knew I had her. I normally avoided the mall during November - and the rest of the year, for that matter - but this seemed like it would be a fun day. We could even hit the food court. It was going to be great.

And everything was wonderful and they all lived happily ever after. The end.
 
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I mean, Madison's intentions and actions are nice but... The world still needs Taylor to kill Scion and she hasn't triggered here! I guess she'll take a different path to the same destination.
I kind of hope everyone dies, and terminator Madison go back again to figure out what had gone wrong.
 
03 Free Concert
Even after living in the Bay for most of my life, I still felt physically rattled by the sheer loudness of gunfire.

No matter what the Internet says, even the Bay doesn't have roaming firefights going on night and day. Hearing the sound of gunshots in the distance wasn't uncommon at night, but actually being right up close to it, especially in an enclosed area, was still rare.

Perhaps I should back up.

I invited Taylor out for another Saturday afternoon. It was two weeks to Thanksgiving, but that just made it better. With big crowds around, there was much less chance we would randomly run into Emma or one of her bitch squad. That was great because I kind of liked having Taylor as a private friend.

I kind of felt like our relationship was equal parts project, penance, guilty pleasure, and genuine friendship. The project was obviously where her 'big' sister Madison helped her figure out how to get out of her own ugly duckling phase. The penance should have been obvious as I still had a massive karmic debt to pay off to the version of Taylor from my original timeline. It was a guilty pleasure in the sense that Taylor and middle-school me would have gotten along really well, and the friendship part was self explanatory.

"So, the mall is still useful, even if you never plan to buy anything," I lectured as we walked around. "Fashion doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes."

Taylor bumped her shoulder into mine, which was a bit of an accomplishment. She was almost a foot taller than me so she had to duck to give me the nudge. "You did not just butcher that quote like that."

I giggled. "It's true, though! A few months ago, stuff from the mid nineties was all the rage and if you looked, you could find tons of it in thrift stores. It wasn't quite the same, but if you can claim something is 'vintage', you get extra points!"

That made Taylor snort softly before she stifled her own laughter. Getting her to poke her tiny beak out of her shell was sometimes easier than others. Emma had burned her, but not too deeply. Even if I had technically played no part in it this time, I still felt responsible for making sure she recovered from even that much.

Plus, if I was being really honest with myself, screwing with Emma was fulfilling. After what she'd done in the other timeline and what she'd convinced me to do, she deserved to have someone foil her plans. Sophia did, too, but there wasn't a lot I could do with a cape. Maybe if I was still a cape there would have been, but that ship had sailed.

I had briefly considered trying to get my powers back, but I wasn't entirely sure how it had happened the first time. There was no single event that stood out… I was absolutely obsessed with the wrongs of my past - with Taylor and what I had done with her - and then one day, I just woke up with a solution in my mind. A little internet research showed that Tinkers were prone to tunnel vision, especially at the start, and I didn't entirely realize I had powers until I was almost done building that probably-suicidal time travel device.

I really hoped that what I was experiencing was real time travel and not some sort of alternate universe thing because if it was just a different universe, my other-timeline parents were going to hear about my crispy corpse eventually. Wasn't that a pleasant thought?

Regardless, there wasn't anything I could do to fix the situation so I had to put it out of my mind.

I checked my watch. "The movie is in like an hour. Want to hit the food court? My treat?"

Taylor rolled her eyes. "Yes, but I'm paying for myself. Dad gave me a twenty this morning and told me to have fun. If we keep hanging out, he's going to want to meet you, though."

I very carefully schooled my features at that. Other-me had met Mr. Hebert once and only once, and that had been at that kangaroo court of an administrative hearing where Blackwell dug in her heels. I'd gotten an earful from my parents after it was all over and it had been one of those moments I obsessed over in the coming years. Faced with a chance to confess to being a little shit, I had denied and covered it up, but it was one of the few times I realized what I was doing was bad. Not long afterwards, it had been Leviathan, and it hadn't seemed to matter… but it did.

"That'd be cool. Parents love me," I airily declared, instead.

oOoOoOoOo

Back to gunfire. You heard it on the wind most weekends in the Bay. It was there, distantly, and you hoped it didn't come close to you. Sometimes, you'd find a bullet lodged in a wall or a doorway in the morning - daylight was almost always safer - but otherwise you didn't think about it too much. It bred little habits like making sure there was heavy furniture along your outside walls and sleeping far from windows, but other than that, you tried to ignore it and hoped that it would ignore you.

When you're in a packed food court and some psychos start shooting? That's a lot harder to ignore.

In school, they teach us to get under our desks at the first sign of danger, and that is great advice for the first moments, but at a certain point, it just leaves you trapped. During the shooting drills, they assume someone can get to and lock the door to keep the gunman out.

Food courts don't really have doors. Not useful ones, anyway.

Fortunately, we didn't dive under the meager cover of the tables. We were walking around after tossing the trash from our lunch, and when the screaming started, we were standing close to the Burger Hut counter. It only took a second or two of hesitation before we dove through the little swingy door at one side of the counter and took shelter with the two workers who were just as terrified as us.

"Is there a way out of here?" I hissed at one of them after I got my shaking under control enough to form words. The worker I was talking to shook her head but couldn't seem to find words to elaborate.

"Not from here. The Taco Shack next door has an exit," the other worker hissed back, but by then the screaming on the other side of the counter had faded.

Against my better judgment, I raised my head up behind the cash register and leaned to the side enough to see that the majority of the crowd had stampeded out of the food court, leaving just a handful of people wearing masks in its wake. I immediately ducked back down.

"There are still guys with guns," I whispered forcefully and we exchanged frightened looks as we cowered closer together. In theory, we should either hide better or make a break for the nearest exit, but none of us were willing to move.

I looked to Taylor, hoping some of that steel that made her a warlord would somehow shine through, but it didn't. It was too early or she just wasn't that person yet. Maybe she would never be that person, I realized. Hadn't that been my goal? Well, it seemed like stopping someone from turning into a homicidal badass meant that you didn't have a homicidal badass around when you needed one.

"What you doin' back here?" a rough voice declared and one of the workers we were hiding with whimpered. "Come on out. All of you."

We stayed frozen for a moment and he must have pulled the trigger on his gun because there was suddenly a horrific burst of noise and the smell of something burning. Crashes and impacts sounded as the bullets hit the wall in the back of the Hut. Someone screamed and I had no idea if it was me or not.

"Move it or I'm litin' up the fuckin' counter next!" the voice yelled and somehow we managed to find our feet and the four of us shuffled fearfully out from behind the counter. There were maybe a dozen people being herded toward the middle of the food court by a handful of goons while more watched on and others took up posts to view the main body of the mall which led away in a couple of directions from the open area we were in.

"Put 'em in the middle!" a guy in a shitty costume commanded. It wasn't clear if he was a cape or just an asshole that thought he was in a band from the 80s, but the amount of puffy hair and do rags dangling from his body made him a fire hazard. "It's time to get this party started!"

I tried not to look at the handful of bodies that were laying unmoving on the floor. There was a stage area which had been done up for pictures with Santa, though it was empty at the moment. There were maybe twenty of us in all - people too scared or hurt to run or that had taken cover in dead ends like we had - that got herded to the area in front of the stage. They forced us to sit with our hands on our heads as the thugs organized things.

There was a hiss of pain beside me and I realized that the blond girl was familiar. She was clutching her side and her face was drawn in clear pain. Another girl, shorter with darker hair, was fretting over her and looking just as upset.

Things clicked in my mind as a fact floated up in my future-memories. Glory Girl. She'd been shot in some sort of attack on a mall around this time. It had been a big deal in the news because the aftermath had seen an up and coming gang wiped off the map like it had never existed. I hadn't remembered the details, but I knew a bunch of people died both in the attack and after. The fact that the other girl must have been her sister - her sister that I knew went to the Birdcage for something I was never quite clear on - didn't help anything.

Glory Girl must have caught my look of recognition because she nodded weakly. She mouthed something that looked like 'play along' and I gave her a nod back, though I wasn't sure what I was playing along with.

I pointedly moved my eyes to the side so that I wasn't looking at her. Whatever she had planned, I didn't want to ruin it by drawing attention to her. Given how badly she was bleeding, I wasn't sure she'd accomplish much more than bleed to death, but she hadn't in the other future.

A couple of the gang members held up phones toward the stage and the guy in the shitty costume jumped on it.

"Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen! We are the Chorus, and I'm your master of ceremonies… Screamer!" I winced at the last as his voice hit an impossibly high note and my whole body felt like it was vibrating for a second. It was horrible. "Maybe you know or maybe you don't, but the Bay's shittiest - that is the BBPD and their asshole friends - grabbed a few of our boys last week, including my gal pal Power Ballad. We are demanding their immediate release! You have twenty minutes to give us a call-" he rattled off a phone number "-or the show will really get started!"

Something cold coiled in my stomach. I had been afraid before, but this… this sounded horrible. The only thing we seemed to have on our side was an injured Glory Girl. I risked another glance at her and found that she had her eyes closed. Her sister was crying even harder than she had been before.

If I had my powers, I could have… well, nothing, probably. I'd been a Tinker. Tinkers were useless if they didn't build something ahead of time. That's why there were so many memes about taking them out early and avoiding their lairs. If I was a brand new Tinker with no gear, I would have been just as useless as I was right then.

My eyes drifted to Taylor, who was just as terrified as me. I tried to send comforting vibes, but I really had none. Instead, I risked grabbing her hand in mine, probably squeezing too tightly. The goons weren't really enforcing the 'hands on the head' thing anymore after none of us had fought back.

Minutes passed and one of the phones held by the gang rang. There was a hushed angry conversation that went on for some time, but didn't seem to be going anywhere. Eventually, Screamer got back on the stage and more cameras came up. "I guess no one is taking us seriously! It's time for a demonstration!"

The goons shifted, most of them pointing guns at our group. One of them, a big guy with a bandana over his face, moved forward, heading for me. I steeled myself for getting singled out, but he instead grabbed to my side. I was ready to be murdered by these idiots, but what happened was even worse.

He pulled Taylor to her feet and said something to her about her father in a low angry voice. She shrank back from him and he hauled her forcibly to the stage.

It was too much.

Somehow, I found my courage and sprang to my feet. I screamed like the crazy person that I obviously was as I ran forward with no real plan other than to try to stop what was happening. That plan only lasted until one of the gangers hit me across the face with a pistol. I felt something in my face crack, and I fell to my knees, blood streaming from my nose and all of my thoughts fleeing. My ability to form rational thoughts was severely diminished and my body was in too much shock for me to do much more than make groaning noises.

I heard Screamer start to scream again and then Taylor screamed, too. It went on for a horrible moment before I passed out.

Oh, it's that mall event. If it's cliché by this point, that's probably at least partially my fault as this is the third time I'm using it in a story. However, here's the fun part. Anyone want to guess what powers come from these conditions?
 
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Cluster trigger, Amy Taylor and Madison, Taylor got physical threat for a trigger, so maybe brute power of transforming into bugs, Amy would be canon power, not sure how to guess Madison, she probably won't be tinker this time.
 
Cool story. Very entertaining so far. Although I kinda hope they won't trigger. I quite enjoy the 'regular person's' perspective a lot in these kind of settings.
 
Good catch. Fixed and thank you.

fingers crossed for kiss-kiss combo
Cluster dynamics are fun, but I tend to use them sparingly. They exist because a bunch of shards want to run an experiment (like, "I want to test my power x against your power y, so we'll make the hosts want to kill each other" or "Let's see if our powers are better when used in combination, so let's make them like each other a lot") and shards are bad at people-ing.

Although I kinda hope they won't trigger.
I can see the draw of such a story, but this one doesn't go that way.

Cluster trigger, Amy Taylor and Madison
I realized after posting that this was probably not a story where anyone's going to get everything right because I don't perfectly follow the rules. There's also slightly more going on than is apparent on the surface. A lot of it will be made clear in the next chapter on Saturday.
 
This entire series of events is obviously because Queen and Shaper got to kill Dad and Madison's shard missed it by a minute. Kicking itself and it's host back in time to get in on the patricide is just good strategy. I'd be annoyed too if I could time travel and nobody thought to ask me about mom faceplanting into a planet for years.

On a related tangent, I wonder if Scion is even still a thing. Worm time travel tends to fall under two categories, actually just weird pre-cog, or very limited in some way. This appears to be real time travel since Mads has the opportunity to trigger again and the way the shards are set up hers couldn't have info-dumped her without being connected to a host. I would guess hers was a somewhat broken second gen shard that got past some restrictions it shouldn't have. I've always preferred time travel powers to not work for the entities themselves. Either because of scale or because they're unique. Eden dying being a set event would make Scion not even considering time travel as a solution make more sense. It also heads off the clusterfuck of trying to write a Scion confrontation. The way Worm handled it worked because it was an unexpected fight won with a silver bullet. Big S really is overpowered for the setting.
 
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very limited in some way.
It's limited, we know this from WoG about questions of "why didn't Scion repair or warn Eden from the future?" , but I'd say it's only "very" limited when it comes to hosts.

As well, we know from at least three high level precogs don't "calculate" the future, but actually perceive it as an abstract object directly.

Time travel in Worm is something I'd say is both more, and less rigid than most people assume.

The "It's all just calculation" seems to be a false generalization from details of Coil's power.
I would guess hers was a somewhat broken second gen shard that got past some restrictions it shouldn't have.
The title, as well as the other mentions of frequencies and waves, imply that Madison's shard is, or is related to, or similar to, Scion's Stilling, a.k.a. the Golden Fuck You beams that can do whatever you want.
 
I wasn't sure if I was going to like this at synopsis, but the concept was novel use of Ward...And I'd say I do like it.

Despite that I usually find Worm high school scenes and high school AUs in general distasteful reading.

You've managed to avoid their usual problems without ignoring them in the narrative, which is almost entirely about them, even if the narrative is bit heavy on tell in terms of Madison's successes: we only see her talk to Taylor and her parents past the opening - which suggests to me there might be a case of unreliable narrator here, hm.

Anyway, I did expect protagonist to get some [conflict]. Though I've a nagging this isn't really equivalent trauma to Mads original trigger; she's hurt and may die, but isn't really in misery, y'know? Being a hero.
 
I've always preferred time travel powers to not work for the entities themselves.
It could be something as simple as the fact that what Madison did was basically suicide and the Entities can't conceive of erasing themselves that way?

Despite that I usually find Worm high school scenes and high school AUs in general distasteful reading.
Hah, I feel that. It's intentional that I don't focus on the high school drama because I personally find it annoying.

Random comment, but you know what always annoys me in a story? When people order food and drinks in restaurants. Like, why is that interesting? Why would I care what they ordered?

she's hurt and may die, but isn't really in misery, y'know?
Ah, you're missing what's going on. She's helpless while Taylor, the (former) object of her obsession, is being murdered where she can't get to her.
 
It could be something as simple as the fact that what Madison did was basically suicide and the Entities can't conceive of erasing themselves that way?
They do it all the time, when they have children, they basically die and the children are exact clones.

But I think there is an easy explanation, why Scion didn't save Eden, he himself didn't have the power, because he gave it away, the same reason he didn't just rebuild Eden, why it didn't warn them, they already use precog, this was just part of their precog, Eden just fucked up, the same as canon.
 
04 Trippin'
I woke up to someone yanking on my arm pretty hard. It was unpleasant and everything was really loud.

"Come on," was yelled into my ear and the sound of fighting and screaming wormed its way through the groggy fog that had filled the space between my ears. I forced myself to wake up a little.

The mall.

The food court.

The events before I passed out hit me like a truck, but that ultimately didn't help me understand what was going on very much. Part of that was no doubt from my recent head injury - though it wasn't really hurting anymore - and part of that was from the fact that everything was positively alive with moving lines that were giving me an intense sense of vertigo.

"We have to move," was yelled again and I turned to the side to find Taylor. She was even more alive than everything around her with the strange moving lines. They were positively radiating off of her in swirls and waves and it was mesmerizing and nauseating at the same time.

I closed my eyes and took a breath. When I opened them again - to more frantic pulling - I was able to focus well enough to get to my knees and crawl behind Taylor away from the worst of the noise. Shifting position reminded me that someone had very recently done their best to redecorate my face with a hard object as a bit of blood dripped down my face and onto the floor. It didn't hurt anymore - probably shock, I realized - but the sight of it was almost as nauseating as the weird lines that were crawling across everything.

There was actual fighting going on past the stage - on into the mall a little - but some positively radiant sheets of light and wiggly lines provided a barrier between those and us.

There were other people around us, some not moving and some looking for cover and some waiting for the curtain of light to flicker out - which happened from time to time - so they could go in or out of the fighting.

My case of overwhelming vertigo became a little less overwhelming, though it was easier if I looked at the floor than if I looked at people - especially moving people. There were so many lines and so many layers of lines that it was dizzying. I didn't know how I could process that much input at all, even if I was doing a bad job of it.

We found shelter behind one of the stands that held the trash cans and napkins. It wasn't much - especially not when you considered the bullet holes already in it - but it was better than trying to hide under one of the tables or something. Hiding behind a counter would probably have been better, though that hadn't worked out very well for us before, and there was a lot of empty space between us and the nearest restaurant. The cover from the little stand, a fair distance from the fighting, and staying low would have to be good enough for the moment.

A blur moved past us and I very nearly passed out again as I was positively bombarded by data as lines exploded around it. Distantly, I realized that it had been a person moving at a high rate of speed. Wasn't there a speedster in the local Protectorate?

"She's hurt." A voice said. Taylor? Yeah, probably. I'd been with Taylor.

"Shit, you're covered in blood," a new voice said and I felt a bloody hand settle on my neck. That drew my attention and there was a face I was vaguely familiar with staring at me. "Actually, you're fine."

"You're kind of cute, too," I said in response, my words barely slurring. It seemed like the polite thing to do. It was true, and she had just called me fine, after all.

Her eyes narrowed, though I could see some faint lines moving around that led to some redness on her cheeks. "No, I mean you aren't injured." Oh, that was Glory-Sister. Panacea.

"What about the blood?" Taylor asked and she seemed to be giving off even more lines than before. She touched my cheek, too. "You're right. She must have healed somehow."

Panacea looked at Taylor in confusion and I realized that the lines were kind of dancing between the two of them, almost playfully. "Pretty!" I declared and impulsively reached out to run my fingers through them. Instead of lines, I ended up putting my hand on Taylor's face, too.

"What's wrong with her, then?" Taylor asked and Panacea shrugged. "It's like she's drunk."

"No clue, but I don't see anything wrong with her. Not really. Her brain is really active, though," she said, like I wasn't sitting right there. They could just have asked me.

"Everything is pretty lines," I whispered to them, loudly, like it was a secret but a secret I wanted them to know about. "The last time I got powers, it was nothing like this. Everywhere, waves and lines and currents. They're dancing around you two like little angels, if angels were lines. Angels that are angles? Maybe that's Biblically accurate?"

"Yeah, alright," Panacea said and pointedly didn't look at me. "She's definitely acting like she's high and I can't see a reason for it - I don't think so, anyway. That seems like something I should be able to tell. I think. Can we get her to move? We are way too close to the fighting," she said and shuddered. I didn't blame her. One brush with death was enough for a day, in my opinion.

"She's been agreeable so far. There's supposed to be a way out at the back of the Taco Shack."

Amy leaned around the side of the trash cans and looked around for a moment before retreating to rejoin us. "Too far. Aunt Sarah's shield is down, and even if they have the assholes pinned down for the moment, it's too exposed."

"You're smart," I told her. "I'm glad they let you out of the Birdcage." She rudely swatted my hands away when I tried to poke at her cheeks. I had a feeling she'd be adorable with dimples.

The dull roar of combat was getting easier to pick apart. There were occasional explosions - which I think someone in New Wave could do - and there were screams from the asshole that had tried to kill Taylor. There were also plenty of bullets being fired, though so far they hadn't impacted our current cover. Then again, it was only a matter of time before that became a problem.

Or it was a problem for right the fuck now.

Two guys in bandanas skidded around the corner and ran behind the trash cans we were cowering - I mean, that we were strategically positioned behind. One of them actually went sprawling when he tripped over my legs. Which totally hurt. Rude.

"FUCK!" the one that didn't trip screamed, and I recognized the guy that had singled Taylor out earlier. The one that had picked my friend for death. Suddenly the lines dancing around everything didn't seem so funny and I started to reach out for them.

Before I could do anything - which was mostly a matter of deciding which of the many, many waves around the man I wanted to grab and YANK - Taylor jammed her hand into his face, and he fell down, apparently unconscious. Meanwhile, Amy snatched up the gun that the other one had dropped and a very specific set of waves around it suddenly went very still. The gun dissolved into gray dust. My eyes went to the still conscious guy and I idly wondered if I could do the same thing to him that Amy had just done to the gun. I could see the waves and I felt like if I reached out, I could make them do what I wanted them to.

The realization of what I was considering sobered me up pretty quickly. Melting a dude by semi-accident wasn't how I would want my day to end.

"I give up," the guy whined as the gray dust from the gun drifted to the floor.

Taylor poked a finger into his face and he immediately fell unconscious.

oOoOoOoOo

I was mostly sane - or, at least, much saner - by the time the Protectorate and New Wave finished beating up the remaining gangers. Or was that gangsters? I wasn't sure I knew the right term, but I always avoided saying gangbangers because of the internet.

Apparently, when the three of us had triggered - because that is definitely what had happened - something about it had made Screamer zone out for almost a minute. When he had gone slack-jawed and unresponsive, the other gang… members had panicked. In the confusion, the PRT struck before it could get even more out of hand.

By some miracle, there were no deaths beyond three people killed during the initial attack. Several of the gang members were going to be in the hospital for a while, as were quite a few bystanders, but they were all alive. Fortunately, the injured people didn't include Taylor or myself.

I quietly exchanged contact information with Pana-err… Amy Dallon before she was swept away by her family. She didn't stick around to heal people or anything, but I realized that wasn't so strange. Back in the other timeline, she had been Panacea, the well known and trusted healer - up until she ended up in super prison for some reason. Here, she was just a kid fresh to her powers that no one really understood yet. They'd probably make Glory Girl get checked out in the hospital, too, since it was only because of Amy's work that she wasn't in critical condition from a gunshot wound, and I doubted that anyone would trust that her healing worked as well as it did without some proof. I remembered that being a thing in the other timeline for a while - most healers were nowhere near as good as she was.

Before we could go, we had to give statements to the BBPD, but eventually we were let go with the rest of the innocent bystanders. They wanted to call our parents for us, but I just needed to be out of the mall as soon as humanly possible and Taylor seemed to have the same thought. I was sure that if they hadn't been so overwhelmed by the sheer number of injured people, they would never have let us go without an adult, but we managed to convince them - mostly by sneaking away while no one was looking at us.

"So, that happened," Taylor said woodenly as we settled into a seat near the back of the bus we caught away from the scene.

"Yeah," I agreed.

"Should we…" she started and then trailed off.

"We should probably talk, yeah. My place?" I asked. "Dad is probably home, but he won't bother us."

"Alright," she said and then there was silence for a while as stops came and went. A certain tension built with it, but it wasn't entirely unpleasant.

I should have been figuring out what I was going to say to Taylor. Instead, I was watching the pretty patterns come and go past the window. Everything was wreathed in many layers of lines though I was getting a lot better at functioning while observing them. Not only were there a lot of lines, but they came in all sorts of varieties, though I was starting to pick up on a few patterns. Some lines only seemed to be active around things that were alive, and some only moved around objects. There were so many kinds of lines that I would likely have to do a lot of work to figure out all of them, and I almost wished for my old power back.

I hadn't really enjoyed Tinkering that much - not that I'd had a ton of time in which to do it - but it had been a lot simpler. I could have done without the feeling like my power was the one driving my body while I was building stuff, but it hadn't required me to figure things out on my own in the same way that I felt like this one would.

During our bus ride, I did make one important observation. I could 'see' the lines inside of objects, but not inside of people. I was pretty sure there was some rule about powers doing that - working on living things or on objects but not both - but I couldn't remember the specifics. Given that I could still see all of the lines immediately outside those living things, I suspected it wasn't necessarily much of a limitation, but it seemed like an important one.

After I sobered up a little, the memory of what Amy had done to that gun was enough to make me hesitate before messing with any lines, myself. That certainly hadn't been a power Panacea was known for back in the other timeline, though I was pretty sure I could replicate it. She had just made certain lines around and inside the gun go flat instead of rippling and curling like most lines did.

"Dad, Taylor's here!" I declared as we swept through the front hallway of my house. It was very small and with two working parents - and a fairly lazy me - not exactly 'clean' but it also wasn't dirty enough to keep me from bringing friends over. Dad was in the kitchen, doing dishes in preparation for dinner.

"You're supposed to call if you're bringing guests!" he yelled as we scurried past. "Nice to meet you, Taylor!" he offered with just a tinge of sarcasm as we ran up the narrow staircase and into my room.

I shut the door and then collapsed face first on my bed. Fortunately, the paramedics had given me wipes to get the blood off my face and the mess that was formerly the front of my shirt was dry or I would have ruined my bedding in the process.

"Uh-"

"Just a second," I mumbled as I lifted myself up enough to pull a pillow under my face. I proceeded to press my face into it and scream as hard as I could. It helped a tiny bit.

I was breathless when I rolled over and sat on the end of my bed. "Holy fuck, what happened today?"

"Well, we went to the mall," Taylor started, a tiny, brittle smile playing across her face like she was wrestling with the insanity of it all. "Then some guy tried to murder me because my dad got him fired from the union 'for no reason' which I'm sure is going to turn out to be a really, really good reason if I ever ask dad about it. Then you and I both became parahumans along with Amy Dallon, who is apparently Glory Girl's sister. Then I figured out that my power is pretty much a copy of Amy's power, which is this amazing biological thing that can heal people or knock people out with a touch. Only I don't think that's really my power because I can kind of feel your power, even though I don't think you've used it yet, and I feel like I could copy it if I wanted, which means that the other power was a copy, too. Oh, and Amy can make a gun turn into dust with her bare hands, which kind of felt like it was a separate power which I could also have copied if I had wanted to. I sort of felt like your power was gearing up to do something before I knocked out that last guy. Oh, and you recovered from a broken nose like immediately. Then we had to talk to the police and came here."

"Oh," I said, my voice small and distant. "Is that all?"

"Well, I think you might have been flirting with Amy when your brain was all messed up right after waking up."

"Oh, god." I could feel all of the blood in my body rushing to my face.

"Possibly me, too."

I just whined.

"I mean, I'm flattered, but if that's best you can do, I'm not sure-"

"Please stop," I whimpered.

"I think I'm going to absolutely freak out as soon as I let myself stop talking," she said very matter-of-factly. "I almost died today and holy shit."

I reached out and pulled her into a hug. It was kind of awkward because she was a lot taller than me. "It's going to be okay," I lied.

I was now well and truly out of my depth.

So, I realized that my invitation to guess powers wasn't entirely fair given that I didn't precisely follow the rules.

Taylor has a trump power, in no small part because QA cheats and used the fact that she was being targeted by a power as an excuse. She isn't aware of any distinct secondary powers yet.

Amy got her canon power plus a secondary power that's apparently derived from Stilling. Instead of "fuck off" beams, she can just dissolve molecular bonds in touch range. It's kind of minor, but when you consider her main power, it's much more terrifying. She doesn't know what, if anything, she got from QA yet.

Madison got a different expression of Stilling than she had before along with a secondary power that gives her regeneration. QA may also be responsible for her being able to process the sheer amount of data that Stilling feeds her, too.

I didn't really do anything with pings from Screamer or the Protectorate members in attendance, in no small part because too many powers tends to lead to chaos when trying to write the story.
 
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Oh god. Taylor the power copier?? Even if its just restricted to copying her cluster's powers... Whew she has strong healing and attack then.

Did Amy not notice the corona pollentia or something? She might not know enough to recognize parahumans yet. And since she does have an attack element of her power that's not fucking up peoples biology (?), maybe shell get more action this time and not be stuck in a hospital too much. Maybe Madison can help with that.

Coil is always a problem that limits the possibilities of parahumans in the Bay... If not with the protectorate as a child soldier, they're trying to get recruited by gangs or they become puppet mercenaries of Coil. Does Madison even know about Coil or was he not the sort of person a civilian would know about? The unmasking of capes in canon "by" the Undersiders would've been a big deal to know.
 
Welp, that's an escalation/departure from normal rules alright. Though on the other hand, semi-public identities the New Wave knows. Excuse to join the team, or to be targeted when the three don't meet (though fat chance of that, going by pre-chapter post).

Having someone explicitly blab out future secrets and ignored is pretty unusual too. Not the concept in itself - it's a reason why some peggys keep quiet - but actual event happening.

A blur moved past us and I very nearly passed out again as I was positively bombarded by data as lines exploded around it. Distantly, I realized that it had been a person moving at a high right of speed. Wasn't there a speedster in the local Protectorate?
I assumed this was Victoria, actually.

She didn't stick around to heal people or anything, but I realized that wasn't so strange. Back in the other timeline, she had been Panacea, the well known and trusted healer - up until she ended up in super prison for some reason
Her being a hospital healer might not even happen this time around, what's with having a more combat suited power enabling more patrols....

...Then again, maybe not. Her power was quite combat-suited in the first place tbh and she didn't hesitate to use it as such, as with arthropodokinesis against Skitter.

Apparently, when the three of us had triggered - because that is definitely what had happened - something about it had made Screamer zone out for almost a minute. When he had gone slack-jawed and unresponsive, the other gang… members had panicked. In the confusion, the PRT struck before it could get even more out of hand.
Interestingly, this is lot longer than usual - with Scrub Trigger, Lisa barely stumbled.
Before we could go, we had to give statements to the BBPD, but eventually we were let go with the rest of the innocent bystanders. They wanted to call our parents for us, but I just needed to be out of the mall as soon as humanly possible and Taylor seemed to have the same thought. I was sure that if they hadn't been so overwhelmed by the sheer number of injured people, they would never have let us go without an adult, but we managed to convince them - mostly by sneaking away while no one was looking at us.
"You're supposed to call if you're bringing guests!" he yelled as we scurried past. "Nice to meet you, Taylor!" he offered with just a tinge of sarcasm as we ran up the narrow staircase and into my room.
Probably should call about other things too, like how you ran from the police after being nearly killed and publicly gaining superpowers via traumatizing event.

On that note, the emotion I got from the chapter was confused/dizzy. Good job for those, but if you wanted to communicate extreme trauma (such as from trigger), kinda need bit more than last 3 lines and adrenaline high.
 
She might not know enough to recognize parahumans yet.
She almost certainly has to 'ask' her power to do stuff for her and she just forgot to ask?

Her power was quite combat-suited in the first place tbh and she didn't hesitate to use it as such
Amy's trigger event includes a lot of violence and in canon she just didn't like being near fights. I think it's a perfectly reasonable character trait to have.

Interestingly, this is lot longer than usual
It certainly is. I originally had him passing out, but realized afterwards that it wasn't great so I just had him zone out for much longer than he should have.

if you wanted to communicate extreme trauma (such as from trigger), kinda need bit more than last 3 lines and adrenaline high.
They're both in shock. The next chapter is the aftermath.
 
Oh hell yes, that's one way to make Taylor an absolute terror! I hope she ends up friends with Amy, because all three of them desperately need positive human contact.
 
So a cluster trigger with QA, Shaper, Fragile One, what ever Maddies is, and screamer.

Oh ha, there's a lot to unload there.
 
Thanks. Fixed.

I hope she ends up friends with Amy
Clusters usually go one of a few ways... 'friends' is definitely a way.

So a cluster trigger with QA, Shaper, Fragile One, what ever Maddies is, and screamer.
The cluster is just Shaper QA, and Stilling. Frankly, that's powerful enough, even if they have to work under host restrictions.
 

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