Interlude 6.A

“Chris!”  Liz left the others behind as she ran ahead.  He barely had time to turn around before she slammed into him, literally enveloping him into a fierce hug.  It only lasted a moment before she pulled back, her hands on his shoulders.  “Look at you!  You’ve gained weight!”

His bewildered expression spoke volumes even as he said a cheery “Hi!”  It was the woman next to him who was glowering that drew Liz’s attention.  She was a few years older than Chris, but younger than Liz herself.  Still, this was a good thing.

“Oh my god,” she said, looking to the woman.  “Are you his girlfriend?”  She turned back to Chris.  “Is she your girlfriend?  Your wife?  Or…?”

“Girlfriend,” he said with a wide smile.  Her energetic act was apparently infecting him now as he turned to the woman.  “Karen, this is…”

“Kathy,” Liz said in a perky tone.  Despite her taking everything up a little bit, she honestly was happy to see him.  It wasn’t often that she got to see a familiar face and actually got to interact with them.  “Wait, you don’t remember me, do you?”

“No, no,” he said, shaking his head.  “That’s not it at all!”  He took a breath before his slightly pudgy smile faded a little.  “Yeah, actually, I’ve got no clue.  Sorry.”

Liz laughed.  “It’s okay, I got adopted before you did.  I only learned that you got picked up a couple of years ago.”  His eyes lit up at that, and she nodded eagerly.  “We used to talk when you worked the food line.”

“Oh!  Okay!”  He quickly lunged in again to give her a brief hug before pulling away.  “Oh, we rarely get anyone from the Orphanage around here!”

It made sense.  Burlington wasn’t exactly off the beaten path, but despite its closeness to New Brockton, there were better and faster roads to most communities.  Still, that was a good thing for them.

Liz turned to Karen, holding out her hand.  “If you’re hooked up with Chris, you’re good in my book.  Pleased t’meetcha!”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you too,” Karen said, giving her hand a polite shake.  She was still on the defensive, huh?  Whatever, she could get over herself.  Liz didn’t have any interest in anyone from the Orphanage.  That felt gross somehow.

Instead of dwelling on it, she turned back to Chris.  “How are you doing?  It’s been ages!”

“Oh, well!  I’m…”  He began to nod slowly, his smile draining away.  When he finally spoke, his enthusiasm was gone.  “I’m doing.”

She frowned a little.  “Jordan, huh?”

“Honey.”  John pulled up next to her, wrapping an arm around her waist.  “Maybe it might be best if we didn’t have this conversation on the open street, hmm?”

Ha, good call.  Karen was already relaxing.  Yeah, suck it, bitchtits.  Not that she and John would ever hook up; he didn’t swing that way.

Hell, John wasn’t even his real name any more than Kathy was hers.  They’d met working two different conns against the same mark, and he’d rather suddenly supported hers when she’d come under scrutiny.  It only made sense that she’d shared some of her good fortune when her game won out before his had.  Ever since then, they’d been partners in crime.

“Come on,” Chris said, sliding a hand into Karen’s back pocket.  “We’ll go to the workshop.”

“Before we do,” Liz said quickly.  “Introductions!  John, my fiancée.”

John jerked his head back with a wide grin.  “Ay, how you doin’?”

“This here is Emi.”  The younger girl waved a little, playing shy.  Coy thing.  Clever.  This would be her second winter with them, but she was surprisingly skilled.  “And next to her is Brenda.”

Brenda was holding onto Emi’s arm, a headband over her eyes.  “Hello,” she said, not quite looking at Chris and Karen.  Brenda had only been with them a few months, and she still wavered between insanely helpful and more trouble than she was worth.  Not that they’d kick her to the curb; they were criminals, not heartless.

“It’s good to meet all of you,” Chris said.  “Come, this way.  I was going to work tonight, but Karen was trying to get me to take a night off anyway, and I so rarely get company.  What have you been up to?  Uh, when were you adopted?”

Damn, he moved fast.  But that would only make things easier.  They focused on getting caught up as they walked, him eagerly blabbnig anything that came to mind, and Liz telling half-truths when the truth would be too close.  There had been a difference of a year between the two of them leaving the Orphanage, but he’d been adopted but she’d up and left a year later — she was old enough.

Keeping it close to the truth meant that he might have vague recollections of her, enough to put him at ease.  Telling half-truths kept him from getting too close to her rap sheet.

But when he’d said that he had a workshop, he seriously hadn’t been fucking kidding.  She’d seen factories smaller than this building.  It had a fucking lobby, with tables, chairs, and even a couple of nice couches.  That she seriously hadn’t expected; she’d known he was a Tinker of some sort, but beyond that…

“So what brings you to Burlington, anyhow?” Chris asked as they all settled into the couches.

“Winter,” John admitted, a depressed tone in his voice as he unbuttoned his jacket.  “We all were working on a ship, but with winter on the doorstep, the Captain decided that it was going to be too dangerous to run.  So, he gave us the pink slip until spring.”

Liz nodded.  Pure balderdash, but it sounded really good.  “Cost of living is way too high in New Brockton, so we picked out a village at random.  We hoped that we could pick up some work here in town for the winter, then sign back on when he opens back up in April.”

“Ah,” Chris said, nodding.  Karen looked like she was buying it, too.  Good.

“So…  Jordan.”

Chris’ face dropped into a frustrated frown.  “It’s…”  He paused to glance around before relaxing again.  “It’s bullshit.  It’s been three days, and the papers are making him out to be Jack the Ripper.”

“Hey,” she said, leaning forward.  “There’s no way that he’s guilty.  You know that, I know that.  Shit, anyone who knows him knows he’s innocent.”

“Wait,” Emi said, feigning ignorance.  “You’re talking about…?”

She gave Emi a patient smile.  “This is Chris Abrams, brother to Sarah Abrams and Jordan.  Survivors of St. Louis and the Hero of Agamemnon.  Yeah.”  Liz was careful not to mention the Butcher of New Fairfax.  She glanced at Chris.  “He made their armor, from what I hear.”

Chris chuckled weakly, lowering his head a bit.  “Yeah.  I actually have some ideas for new designs, but I’ve been too busy to really work on it.”

“You said that you worked on a ship?” Karen asked, eyeing them closely.  Shit.  Liz had hoped that Chris would be in charge of hiring, but it looked like the girlfriend was handling the business side of the company.  Double fuck.  Also, fucking gold digging bitch.  Liz hated her type.

“I was a stevedore and ran rigging,” John said quickly.  “My power works well for heavy lifting.  Kathy here was one of our catch-alls, Emi was invaluable when one of the sails tore, which happened way too often.  And Brenda here was the ship’s cook and helped fix any damage below decks.”

“I’m not blind,” Brenda said before anyone could form the question.  She said it fast enough that it could be taken as her having to answer it way too often.  Good girl.  “I’m just very, very sensitive to light.  So it was easier for me to hide below deck and either cook or do paperwork for Captain Miller.”

“You mean all the paperwork,” Emi said under her breath.  Good girl; they were going off script, but keeping it together nicely.

Karen nodded slowly, but Chris was grinning at Emi.  “You did sewing?”

Emi meeped softly, as if the attention was unwelcome.  Bullshit.  “Well, uh, y-yes.  I came to New Brockton to b-be a seamstress, but nobody was hiring.  At least I can do a bit on the ship, but I’m still learning the heavy canvas.  It’s not that I can’t do the stitching, I’m just not so used to the thick material, and because it’s so old sometimes I’ll get done and a day later, there’s another tear.”

Karen looked at John.  “And you’re a Brute?”

“Mmm.”  He nodded.  “Not so much on the regeneration, and don’t ask me to stand on anything that might break, but if you have it, I can lift it.”

The same gears were turning in both Chris’ and Karen’s eyes.  They’d have a job offer by the end of the day.  Just as planned.


“Well,” Jordan said, rising to his feet with a pleasant smile that didn’t reach past his nose.  “I’ve been going for a long time today.  Too long without food and a good fight, and now my body’s about ready for a nap.  Do you all mind if-”

“Go ahead,” Liz said with a smile.  “I think you’ve earned it.”

“Right.”  It was eerie how smoothly he moved to retrieve his halberd and rifle, setting them next to the duffel bag.  Or how he settled down so that he wrapped himself around it, using it like a body pillow despite the fact that there was a ton of hard and heavy stuff in it.  “If you need anything, wildlings or whatever, don’t hesitate to holler.”

“Sleep well,” Emi said happily.

The four of them were content to settle in, John poking at the fire.  It was almost five minutes before Brenda held out her canteen.  “Since he’s asleep, can I have some more stew?”  She must be able to peek out from her bandanna.

“You didn’t warn us about how creepy he is,” John said as he moved to get more for Brenda.

“I told you all that he was odd,” Liz reminded him.

Emi rolled her eyes.  “Odd is one thing, but yeah, I get the creepy.  I’ve never seen someone smile so broadly and it not reach his eyes.  Or after something like that, go straight for food.”

“That last part makes sense,” John said quietly as he carefully put the open canteen back in Brenda’s outstretched hands.  “I mean, whatever was going on there between him and his sister, it was obviously hurt him.  His voice was breaking, so I’m pretty sure that he was crying.  And then the way that he just stood there for almost an hour?  Yeah, that’s raw pain right there.

“Thing is, I think that he responds to pain with action.  Keep himself busy, keep going no matter what.  So long as you can put one foot in front of the other, you’re going to be okay.  Act now, feel later.  Might also be why his smile is like that.”

“Yeah, no.”  Liz sighed softly.  “Every time that I ever saw him, he either was smiling just like that, or had this, I dunno, vacant look on his face.  Hella nice guy, just a little odd.”

“And a whole lot of dangerous.”  John’s dark eyes burned into hers.  “We heard them fighting, but what?  Was he playing with them?  Suddenly he fuckin’ disassembled them, tore ’em to shreds.”  And, if what Brenda had said was true, if they hadn’t put their hands up he would have disassembled all of them.

“And I told you all, the only classes he took were either fighting, parahuman classes, or some sort of science class.”

“And dancing,” Brenda said quickly.

“And dancing.”  She narrowed her eyes as she looked at John.  “Acting surprised after he says that he doesn’t know who Robin Hood is.”

“Hey,” John said quickly, pointing at her.  “You don’t have to take English to know who Robin Hood is.  And I know you all had movies and stuff there.  When he was little, they must have shown him the cartoon.”

“Yeah, and it might not have gotten in.  Like I said, he was a special case, and everyone pretty much knew it.  He was…”  Liz sighed, shaking her head.  “Hope, I think.  For the adults, at least.  Over half the kids there near the beginning were special needs of one form or another, and he was in a real bad way.  Him recovering like that?  Being able to live the life he does?  It was hope that all the other kids might turn out okay.”

“How old was he?” Emi asked.  “When he got to the Orphanage, I mean?”

“Dunno,” she admitted.  “Like I said, I knew of him, but didn’t know him.”  She needed to get attention off of her, so she turned to John.  “Why don’t you enlighten us as to what you found out from his brother?”

John ran his hand through his dark hair.  He looked good, especially at his age — he could easily pull off being in his mid-twenties, even though he was a decade older.  It wasn’t a surprise that he could easily find a port of call in a village, except for the ones where people like him were discouraged.

“Well,” he said, and then let the moment draw out for a few seconds.  “Mostly, it’s all blown out of proportion.  He wasn’t as good of a source as I would have liked.  Or at least, before I saw Jordan in action.  He described our man as fearless, unstoppable in battle.  His eyes really lit up, and he got… Well, he believed that Jordan could do anything.

“He said that his brother was focused, and whatever he focused on would be done.  He might break it into smaller pieces and focus on each one, though.  Jordan’s goal was to join the Wardens, so he needed to be a good fighter, he needed to be able to analyze a crime scene or the like, and he needed to trigger.  So he learns fighting from the best that he can find, he skips the basic classes and dives right into the advanced stuff…”

“And he becomes a mercenary,” Brenda said.  “I heard Chris mention to you that when Jordan met with someone to get his questions answered about how he’d trigger, that’s when everything started to go wrong.”

John nodded, a wry grin on his face.  “You got good ears.  Anyway, he said that Jordan did need someone to keep him grounded.  He’d see a goal and he’d go after it full bore, and unless someone was watching him to break him out of it, he wouldn’t do anything else.

“Of course, again, all this is influenced by the views of his brother.  I would have liked to grab his sister, too, but it was better that we kept our distance.”  He looked to Brenda.  “What did you get out of Karen?”

“Not much,” she admitted.  “Mostly the same thing.  Kept close to his sister; they were the tightest relationship she’d ever seen.  At first she thought they were married until they called each other Bro and Sis.  Not terms that she approved of.  She thought that only jerks used those terms, but she got over it quick.

“The two switched who was the leader between them at the drop of a hat, wordlessly.  Sometimes, the two would hold conversations without saying a word, just flashing hand signs to each other.  But Jordan was always keen on helping everyone, even the rude selfish guy.  If he thought that you might want help with something, he was right there.  It was something of a joke, but she said that it was sweet.  Like a puppy in a way.

“He took the night shift, but he also trained pretty hardcore.  Like, if they weren’t traveling and he wasn’t getting a nap in, he was training.”  She paused to eat another spoonful of soup.  “And that’s pretty much it.”

Emi raised an eyebrow.  “That’s it?  You spent an awful lot of time with her.”

Brenda smiled softly.  “I was teaching her.  Her math and reading skills were really getting good.”

“I get the feeling you would have preferred staying,” John said quietly.

There was a long silence, but just before Liz spoke up, Brenda finally sighed.  “A part of me really would have.  I liked it.  Doing the numbers, making sure the business was going to run smoothly.  Teaching.  It was… nice.  No looking over my shoulder, worrying about if I was going to say or do the wrong thing or have to rely on my power…  Or if the police were going to come after us.”

Not that they would have.  The moment that the group of them latched onto Chris, the cops had almost treated them as untouchable.  Almost.  But they knew to watch themselves over the winter; it was far better to hunker down than to be on the move when it was bitterly cold out.  No need to make even the Dragon’s Teeth in town want to do a background check and force them to abandon the plan.

The townsfolk had taken a while to warm up to them, though.  They were polite, even friendly, but the fact that they worked for Chris gave people an edge of unnecessary politeness for the most part.  He very easily could have ruled Burlington, and they knew it.  Knew that he was shorting himself on the deals that he made.  It made folks nervous.

All of the bigger industries in town relied on him now.  The cannery, the paper mill, the glue factory, they all needed him to operate.  All that he had to do was shut down the power or start charging a major fee, and they’d all suffer.  The cannery more than anything; without those induction forges, it would grind to a complete halt and might not be able to start back up again.

In half a decade, he’d transformed the city.  In a moment, he could take it all away again, or worse.  The addition of the teleporter and the Dragon’s Teeth to the city had made that even more clear to them.  Liz couldn’t blame anyone for being skitterish around him.  Their recent prosperity depended entirely on his whims.

But that was neither here nor there.  “You stayed with us,” Liz said, her smile creeping into her voice.

“I prefer this lifestyle,” Brenda said simply.  “Making an honest living was nice, and he paid well, but…  I enjoy this more.  And our friendship.”

Liz’s smile softened, and she felt her heart melt.  Unlike Jordan and Emi, they hadn’t planned out how they’d recruit Brenda.  That had been natural, organic.  Stumbling into each other, a whispered offer of help in getting out of a tough spot, an offer of partnership on the spot.  They’d only realized later how sheltered of a life the girl had lived, and though she didn’t speak of the religious beliefs, the cult she had escaped had definitely left her with some seriously fucked holes in her knowledge.

Shit, she hadn’t even known who Skitter was.

It was nice to have the seemingly sweet gal of the group say that she valued her friendship with them enough to leave behind a lifestyle that she enjoyed.  Saying that she enjoyed the running from village to village pulling cons was a partial lie, and Liz knew it.  Brenda enjoyed spending the money, but getting it left her mildly uncomfortable.  And Chris, he paid more than some of their cons did.

“Thank you,” Liz said sincerely, and was met with a sightless, beaming smile.  After a moment, she rose to her feet, moving over to the younger girl.  Almost sixteen years old, unless they’d missed her birthday in the six months they’d been traveling with her.  “I’m gonna remove your bandanna, fold it up into your headband again.”

“‘Kay.”

As she settled into her work, Brenda’s eyes closed as she dug back into her food, John coughed softly.  “Anyway.  If I had to peg Jordan from what I’ve heard and seen so far, I’d put him as somewhere between the Soldier, Stalwart, and Dreamer.  His dreams may be broken, but he still fits.  We’ll need to keep an eye on him the first few towns we go to, make sure that he doesn’t flip us to the pigs.

“I don’t think he’ll do that, but it’s the possibility that we should keep in mind.  He wanted to be a cop, so we might offend his sensibilities.  The Stalwart means that once we have his loyalty, we’re in like Flynn.  The Soldier archetype means that he’s more of a follower than a leader.  It doesn’t mean that he can’t lead, it means that once a goal is set out for him, he’ll follow it.  Task-oriented, in other words.”

Liz nodded.  They’d come up with a bunch of archetypes a long time ago, a shorthand to describe potential marks so that they could be on the same page when planning a con or a heist.  Brenda was still learning them.

“Loyalty shouldn’t be hard,” Emi said, playing with the hem of her shirt.  She’d made it herself; she’d been positively thrilled when Chris had bought her that fancy sewing machine and had remade all of her clothes from scratch.  Liz wasn’t sure if she missed the clothes she’d left in Burlington or not.

“Oh?” Brenda asked.  “If he wanted to be a cop, then I’d think it’d be harder.”

“Aha,” John exclaimed, pointing into the air.  Everyone glared at him or looked to Jordan, who didn’t even so much as twitch.  Small favors.

He spoke again, more quietly.  “To gain his favor, we must seek what offends his sensibilities.”

“Right,” Liz said with a nod.  “We find people that he gladly would have taken down to swindle, then slowly scale into better cons.”  Her eyes met John’s.  “Ideas?”

“A few,” he said slowly.  “We’ll avoid anyone having to do with Nexus, naturally.  But…  I think I know of a few people.  There was a group of people in New York C who were producing narcotics at the behest of Teacher.  The Heartless attacked them, but a few escaped and scattered to the winds.  If he can get his teleporter up and running again, I think that I know where a few groups of them are operating out of.

“Narcotics, a far worse threat than folks trying to survive by conning.  People who work, or at least used to work in conjuncture with Teacher.  People who escaped the Heartless.  All three of these things combine into something that wouldn’t harm his conscience and put a degree of trust in us.”

That was good thinking.  John had contacts all over the place — you never knew where one would pop up.  When they’d first approached the subject of using her history with the orphanage, he’d gotten in contact with a large number of them.  She hadn’t known why, but now things were clear.  Clever.

“It sounds good to me,” she said as she handed the folded bandanna back to Brenda.  As the fifteen-year-old put it on over her eyes, she addressed everyone again.  “All those in favor?”  Four hands went up.  Good, that was everyone.  “Then the plan’s clear.  We find civilization, and we head out.”

Everyone fell silent again, content to wait for Jordan to wake up.  Thankfully, it was only another five minutes or so before he sat up with a mighty yawn, so powerful that tears started streaming down his face.  He stretched, then rubbed at his wrists as if there had been something around them.  She couldn’t see anything beyond his armor.  Maybe it wasn’t fitting right any more?  That would make it awkward when he changed into the one that they’d helped make…

“Hey,” he said with a sniffle, that small smile still plastered to his face.  “Sorry about that.”

“It’s fine,” Liz said with a smile.

“Did I miss anything?”

“Not really.  Emi and I thought we heard a stream while we were out foraging, so we were thinking that we could follow that.  If we can’t find a village or something, it’ll at least get us close to the coast eventually.  Then we can follow it until we find civilization.”

He nodded, that smile turning slightly sympathetic.  “I’m sorry that I don’t know where we are.  I know the coordinates that were given to me with the teleporter, but I was just setting it for somewhere away instead of somewhere that I knew.”

“Perfectly understandable,” John said with a chuckle.  “We might not camp out often, but it’s good for us.  We occasionally need that small reminder of what frontier life is like, yes?”

“Yeah,” Jordan said, returning to his normal smile.

“I was wondering,” Emi cut in.  “You were pretty badass back there.  Can you teach us how to fight like you do?”

Outwardly, Liz turned to look at Emi curiously.  Inwardly, she was cursing.  What was the little snot doing?

Jordan blinked, his upper face showing surprise even if that smile didn’t budge.  “Like I do?  No.  No, I don’t think that I can teach anyone how to fight like I do.  See, I had the best teachers, and I started training when I was, uh, four.  I think.  I haven’t stopped since.”

He paused to yawn again, a fresh line of tears running down his face that he quickly wiped up.  “That’s a lot of training from an early developmental age.  I’ve had over a decade and a half to hone my reflexes and train my muscle memory.  I’ve trained every single day of my life in some form or another.  Getting to my point, unless you’re helped by your passenger, would be pretty impossible.”

He took a deep breath before continuing.  “Besides, that last bit of fighting?  Um, I originally got trained on how to improve the flow of adrenaline to my amygdala, allowing me to enter into a state of heightened fight or flight.  I found, uh, other ways to improve it, too.  Learning that was insanely hard, and I know that it would be impossible to teach someone else.

“Besides, it’s really, really dangerous.  You aren’t really in control over your body, and it’s hard to tell friend from foe, you know?  You’re going entirely by reflex.  Now, my reflexes are geared towards fighting through heavy training.  But if, say, maybe a fire-based para were to attack and I were to go into that, even if there was an easy way to win the fight, it might trigger that flight reflex and I’d bolt.

“But you all…  I  don’t think that you’ve developed that reflex very well.  Not by how you fought.  If I were to teach you that, you’d probably get yourselves hurt even worse than if you just straight up panicked and ran.”

He trained himself to do that?  How the actual fuck?

“Oh,” Emi said, lowering her head a bit.

That seemed to give Jordan pause.  He took another breath before his smile grew a little, still not quite reaching his eyes.  “That doesn’t mean to say I can’t teach you.  Heck, I might be able to teach you some tricks that I can’t do.”

That made her head snap up, a hopeful smile on her face.  “Really?”

“Sure.  Move next to the fire and teleport next to me, as close as you can.”

Emi bounced to her feet and did as he asked, one moment next to the flame, and then right next to him faster than a person could blink.  There was that weird sucking, clapping noise, and the dying flames moved towards where Emi had been.

Jordan’s smile was a little more eager now, his eyes lighting up.  “Okay, what’s your range?”

“Only where I can see.”

“Right,”  He smiled warmly.  “Basic Mover, Teleporter type.  You create a vacuum where you were, then displace the air instantly where you teleport to, pushing it out of the way.  It’s a little too basic, though — there’s a mechanic that I’m missing.  But your clothes and hair don’t really move when you teleport, so it probably makes a thin cushion of air around you.  Let me guess, you can move a little, but you encounter resistance?”

Emi giggled, clapping her hands over her mouth.  “How do you do that?”

Ah, clever girl.  She was forging shared interests, working the loyalty angle.  Liz was honestly impressed; the 18-year-old had learned a lot over the last two years.

“It’s a skill,” he said dismissively.  “Anyone can learn it.  Like…”  He looked to John.  “As your strength improves, your speed slows and your weight increases.  You took a heavy punch without flinching.  You aren’t a Brute, not really.  You’re a Breaker, altering your density.  Can you make yourself weaker?”

John blinked.  “Maybe?  I never really tried.  I mean, what would be the point in that?”

“Timing.  Begin a jump, and right before you lift off the ground, kick your power in and make yourself weaker.  With the amount of force you’re applying to the jump, you should be able to go way higher.  That is, if you can do it.  You can also turn your adjustable weight into a weapon.  Say, hiding on a branch that shouldn’t support your weight, then dropping down on someone.

“I mean, I wouldn’t take a hit while you’re weaker, you’d probably break bones, but still.”

He looked to Liz.  “Kathy, you’re obviously a Blaster, but I’m thinking you might be a Breaker, too.”

She nodded once.  “My power creates a whirlpool thingie, and anything within the whirlpool makes the blast stronger.  It can work on just air, but if I angle it into something else, or make the whirlpool big enough that it eats into the ground or something, then I can get a huge boost to my power.”

Jordan nodded.  “You’re basically creating a disc, breaking down matter to turn into energy.  Possibly charging the particles as they travel along the disc.  Your passenger is adding extra oomph when the disc breaks up something solid.  Think of it as a mini black hole, with the event horizon, only instead of trapping material it shoots it out again.”  He paused a moment, his grin growing a little.  “Let me guess, the disc part doesn’t affect living matter?”

Liz felt one corner of her mouth twisting upwards.  This actually was kind of impressive.  “Yeah.  Seriously, how’d you know that?”

Jordan chuckled a little.  “More and more people are triggering without the Manton Effect as the rules break down, but it’s best to double-check.  That and it doesn’t affect your hands.”

How about that?  Perceptive little fucker.  “Fair warning, though.  Its power depends on how I position my hands.  If I cup my hand, it’ll only light a cigarette, but it can seriously hurt someone if my hands are far enough apart, especially if I can get some good stuff in it.”

“I figured.”

“Speaking of.”  Everyone turned to John.  “Mind if I smoke?”

His smile didn’t change, but some of the light faded from Jordan’s eyes.  “Sure.”  Jordan wasn’t happy with it, but he wasn’t arguing.  He’d make a shitty poker player.

As John got out his tobacco pouch, Jordan continued.  “I can teach you all something that works well with your powers.  Kathy, you’d do well with something that focuses on mobility and kicks.  Either get in close to the enemy or pull back so that you can use your power.  Getting in close, you may be able to destroy weapons before they can use them, or even act as a shield.”

A good thought.  She’d never thought about it like that, it was mostly a way to open locks and the like to her.

“Emi, you’d be better served with sweeps, kicks, and elbow strikes.  Teleport behind your enemy, begin a spin and lash out.  You might lose some power, but the spin would help give the air pressure around you time to normalize, and you’d also get the benefit of surprise.

“John, ironically I’d say you’d be best at boxing.  Changing your density allows you to not worry so much about breaking the bones in your hand.  Throw a normal punch and change your density at the last possible moment.  Once you learn how to snap your muscles right, you could probably cause a concussion even in Brutes.”

“I’m down with that,” John said before licking the paper, sealing the cigarette.  “The fine art of pugilism fits me just fine more than kung fu would.”  He put the cigarette in his mouth and leaned to Liz.  She quickly made an almost-fist, holding a rock near her hand.  As the rock caught the tiny disk, portions disappeared, and the cigarette lit.

“What about me?” Brenda asked.

Jordan chuckled a little.  “Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about you.  See, I’m thinking that there isn’t anything specific that I can teach.  If you follow your power, it should take care of the rest.  However, it works on possibilities.  Like, I doubt that your power would show you doing a backflip or something because that isn’t in your skillset.

“So for you, I’d focus mainly on some basics across a wide range.  I’d work on building your reflexes, strength and stamina.  Throw in some parkour, maybe.  That way, when you do use your power, you can do more to keep yourself safe while contributing to the fight.”

She smiled a bit.  “Cool.”  She paused before tilting her head to the side, her strawberry blonde hair starting to hide the blindfold Liz had made.  “Thank you for teaching us.”

And like that, even his smile disappeared.  It wasn’t quite a frown, but it was damn close.  “Yeah, well.  There’s a reason for that.”  He shifted uncomfortably where he was sitting.  “See, that team we fought?  They were all cadets because the Wardens thought I’d go down easy, or turn myself in.  That won’t be the only team they send after me.  The next team will be far, far stronger and more experienced.  It won’t be cadets, it’ll be a proper Warden Response Team, ready for as many of my tricks as possible.  Which means we’re going to have one heck of a fight on our hands if they catch up to us.”

Well fuck.

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3 thoughts on “Interlude 6.A

  1. Thank you for reading this interlude.

    I wanted to do some more showing and not telling. We can present a face to the world on purpose, but we rarely know how that face will be taken for sure. Jordan is a person who smiles naturally, but not everyone takes that smile the same way. I designed Jordan with certain flaws, and I need to show him from the outside in order to make some of them apparent. We rarely know our own flaws as well as we think we do.

    I know the Liz/Kathy thing might be confusing, and I’m sorry. There’s no elegant way to handle it, or if there is, I haven’t figured it out. But Liz thinks of herself as Liz even though she readily responds to Kathy. That’s her identity inside, and I can’t betray that. That’s part of the depth of her character.

    Lastly, a good portion of the story is about consequences. You don’t honestly think that I’d have Jordan defeat a bunch of Wardens without there being consequences, do you?

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    • I thought the Liz/Kathy split made sense. It is essentially just method acting. You come up with a part, play it as deeply as you can, but in the end you are still you and not the character. Same thing when she refers to Tony as John.

      I also really like having an outside perspective on Jordan. Most of the other ones we’ve seen have been people who already see him in more of a positive light, so some of the little details are different. Everyone basically agrees that when he goes terminator he is a force to be reckoned with, but the fact that some people might see him as more of a Stepford Smiler is really interesting.

      We know that he does the smiling thing even when he doesn’t feel like it, because he wants to put other people at ease and not have them worry about him. It is both ironic and sad to think that every time he did so it was incredibly obvious what was happening and that nobody was fooled by it.

      The quick power analysis bit at the end was interesting, but I am kind of surprised Liz doesn’t realize the deeper implications of it. Jordan saw the group get in a minor scuffle, and not even with himself, and already has a better grasp of their capabilities than they do. Chris might have mentioned it to them but it should still be obvious just what that mindset means. Jordan is in a constant state of threat assessment and is scarily competent at it.

      On the idea of consequences, I am suddenly noticing multiple parallels between the story now and Worm. Heroicly minded character with super powers (the armor still counts, as he himself mentioned) joins up with a group of villains who aren’t as bad as most. There is also an unfortunate disagreement with the local authorities which leads to escalating tension between them and the heroic character. Add in an incredible tactical and analytical ability, and a probably unhealthy level of determination given a goal, and this is starting to look more similar than not.

      I hope that it is clear that the above is a very positive thing. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite serials, and one of the best done stories set in the Wormverse. Keep up the great writing.

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      • Oh, dang! Thank you! That’s actually a typo. When I was first coming up with characters for Setanta, John’s name was Tony. I had no idea how he would factor into the story, but I like to come up with complex characters that I could slip in on a whim.

        Meanwhile, Tony (from the Orphanage) had the name of “Bryan.” When I sat down to write it, however, I realized that having a character’s name that was so close to one of the main cast of Worm would be problematic. (I ran into this same problem with Emi, who was named Lisa. …And Greg, but I didn’t realize that until it was far too late.)

        Bryan became Tony, and Tony became John. Which was itself problematic because a character named John appeared in the first few chapters. Anyway, I’m still having trouble identifying John as John. Liz isn’t supposed to know his real name, just that it isn’t his actual name.

        I’ve been itching to give an outside perspective on Jordan for a while now. I’m glad that it finally happened. Most people that we’ve seen him from are either close to him and don’t even see any oddities that he might have, or are looking at him in select circumstances. These, too, are select circumstances, but we’re seeing him from the eyes of a stranger.

        I hope to do more interludes where we can see how others view him. I have ideas, but as always, if they’ll ever come to exist is another question.

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