Sunday, July 18, 2021

1.3 Family Confessions

Miss Susan Kirkland was 35 years old when she first met Mister James Veder at the National Furniture and Accessories Expo in Edison, New Jersey. She recognized him immediately. He was THE name in containerized cargo systems, as well as a big name in shipping and warehousing. What she hadn't known was that he was tall, trim and wore an easy smile above a dashing cleft chin. James Veder, for his part, had no idea who the petite blonde with the piercing blue eyes that seemed to miss nothing was, but a few inquiries soon told him. A corporate vice president already, and for such a wide-spread, hard charging company as Star-Ways.

Thus began a torrid two year affair born of mutual admiration and lust, but finally cemented in love and at the end of those two years, marriage. Three years into the marriage, with both of them securely atop their respective career paths, Susan announced she was going off her birth control and hoped to give him a son. It was only four months later that she announced their success.

Gregory Nathaniel Veder was born nine months later, a healthy young lad of ten pounds four ounces. He was named after James' grandfather Gregory, and Susan's grandfather Nathaniel. Susan immediately arranged her retirement from Star-Ways and took a very generous 'golden parachute' settlement for her years of outstanding leadership.

Young Greg was a happy, outgoing child for the first six years of his life, seemingly possessing the keen eyes of his mother; always looking everywhere, seldom missing anything, as well as his father's easy smile and friendly face. But a few months after his 6th birthday, his father died suddenly and cruelly, leaving Greg and his mother alone for the first time in his life. From that point on Greg was quieter, incurious and strangely disassociated from life around him. Mr. Hamada, his 1st grade activities teacher described it “as if he was in one of those old so-bad -they're-good Kung Fu movies, where everyone speaks out of sync with their actions. Greg seems to always be out of sync with everything around him, including himself.”

So it remained until that fateful day ten years later, when Greg Veder had the second worst day of his life and he triggered.

The 20 questions started then. “Did you have an accident on your bike? Are you okay? Where have you been? Are you okay? What happened.”

“Mom, hang up the phone and come home. We'll talk about it when you get here.” I interrupted. She paused. I waited the half second to make sure she wasn't just drawing a breath. “Okay, bye!” and hung up.

Thirty minutes later we sat facing each other in front of the fireplace. The TV was on, showing the local news channel's coverage of the efforts to put out the fire at Winslow, and show the damage caused by the explosion. The volume was down to a murmur. I explained about the explosion, about Sophia Hess, about the terrible trio and their crusade against Taylor Hebert. I explained my suspicions about Sophia and Shadow Stalker. I told her everything.

“So, you are now a parahuman,” mom said with a sigh. “Does that mean you're going to be a cape?”

“I was assuming, I certainly can't go back to school with these.” I answered, waving my tendrils.

“You're a Junior this year. We'll just have to home school you the rest of the way. You've always been bright enough, just... unfocused. You might even be able to pass the GED exam now.”

“Home school does sound right. We can do that anywhere, and it keeps me under the radar for two years. I have these tendrils, but they don't limit me physically, and I'm a tinker. Right now I'm resisting the urge to rush out to the garage and tinker with my bike.”

“I've always heard that tinkers have a hard time starting out, because they can't afford the materials they need to begin building their tinker stuff, and because they are actively pursued by the various parahuman groups, who always need tinkers. You're the one who has followed the cape stuff, not me, so tell me what you know.”

“Okay mom,” I nodded. “According to everything I have access to, including the PHO boards...”

“Excuse me what is Pho?” she asked.

“It's an acronym for the ParaHumans Online forums on the internet, and they agree with how you just described the tinker situation. Even confirmed capes have cited the same thing, so it seems solid.”

“All right then, you need a source of materials and the money to buy them, and a place where you can build your tinkertech and train to use your tendrils. You also need to be away from Brockton Bay while you do. It's not safe for you here, and won't be for some time I imagine.”

“Okay, what did you have in mind?”

“Well, Brockton Bay was my place. This was where I grew up. Your father's roots were in a much different place...”

Leaving Brockton Bay was not a-few-days-and-gone experience. There were utilities to shut off, newspaper deliveries to stop. The house would be 'shuttered' professionally by a company hired for the purpose. Susan was on the phone almost all day long and some of the phone calls were lengthy, some involving loud laughter, some loud yelling and swearing. It seemed equally distributed. While she did that I spent my time filling up a brand new laptop with plans, designs and ideas. I felt the luxury of having the funds to build almost anything I wanted but at the same time was worried about burning through those funds too quickly.

Friday, July 16, 2021

1.2 Triggers and Tendrils

I triggered while staring at a bomb. The bomb and I were duct taped to concrete poles 30 feet apart in a crawl space under Winslow High. That evil bitch Sophia Hess, now proven to be Shadow Stalker, hadn't even bothered to blindfold me, regaling me with her sure knowledge that Greg Veder would be reviled forever in Brockton Bay as the mad bomber who blew up Winslow High School. She told me it would be a better fate than I deserved. At least I would be remembered because I was otherwise entirely forgettable, unremarkable, worthless and clueless."Asses to ashes and dork to dust. Amen," She said as she did a sloppy sign of the cross and laughed. She was still laughing as she left.

Thirty feet away from me the timer was counting down. It did so for three hours. When the counter showed ten seconds, I closed my eyes and began to babble at the top of my lungs. I will not embarrass myself by repeating my words.

As I babbled, eyes closed, I suddenly realized I was touching the wires, so I grabbed one and pulled. When the shattering pain and stabbing flames and the endless pressure quit washing over me, the rushing in my head and the pounding of my heart began to subside, I decided I'd better open my eyes. Everything around me was a smoldering ruin, there was no longer a building above me, just rubble and wreckage, yet I was not kaput, finis, muerto. The bomb had gone off, the building was destroyed but I was alive!

Oh and I no longer had arms. I had tendrils.

I found my bike in the parking lot, keys in it and a suicide note taped to the seat. In the note I confessed to every petty  crime and bit of bad conduct that had occurred at Winslow during the two and a half years I had been there. Since the Intruder was part of the evidence, it had been left untouched.

I stashed my stuff in the garage and used the garage entrance to get in the house. The car was gone and all the lights were on. I knew mom wasn't home so the first thing I did was take a shower. I was covered in crawlspace gunk, duct tape residue, and lord knows what I picked up during my trek across the Docks. The hot water felt good. It felt good to be clean again, and it felt even better to confirm in the mirror that besides my arms, nothing else had been changed, though I thought I had lost some weight generally. I weighed myself I had gained 30 pounds, despite looking like I had lost 20. My tendrils, it seemed, were denser than my arms. Much denser.

I grabbed a t shirt and a fresh pair of boxers from my dresser and put them on. When I sat on my bed to put on my socks, I realized I'd forgotten them. I turned where I sat and reached for the dresser with a tendril. It stretched the 10 feet to the dresser, opened the drawer and hesitated. I wanted a pair of my black ankle socks,  The end of my tendril suddenly bloomed out like an anemone, waving a small mass of tendril-fibers before moving down to hover over the drawers contents. I could suddenly sense the colors  and relative sizes, shapes of everything in the drawer. I could even sense the difference between the fabrics. I “knew” which ones were the black ankle socks I wanted and grabbed them, the tendril shrinking back to my normal arm length. 'Cool', I thought as I put on my socks.

I really needed to get back to the garage and start tearing apart the Intruder. I had a ton of ideas for fixing it, but I stopped in the kitchen and used the house phone to call my mom first, letting her know I was home, safe and in the garage fixing my bike.


1.1 The Shadow Knows


I woke up. Shattered with pain, I woke up. Fire licked deeply at me and knives stabbed every inch of me. Every joint I had was stretched, twisted and tortured. I woke up. My eyes opened in shock... and it was all gone. The pain, the fire, the torture all gone. I gasped a deep, back-arching breath and lay there shuddering in relief, staring up at the familiar stars on my bedroom ceiling. I had once again slipped into the nightmare memory of that night until it had once again spit me out.

“Greg, are you all right?” My mom came banging in through my bedroom door.

“Yeah mom, I'm fine,” I grumbled.

“The nightmare again?” she asked. Yeah, I answered, shaking my head. “I thought I told you you didn't need to run into my room every time you heard me?”

“If I hear noise that sounds like a teenage boy, I stay out,” mom said, blushing. “When I hear screaming, I come in.”

“That's the first one in a week though,” I sighed. “It's getting better.”

“You're getting better,” mom added. “You're making progress, and not just with handling the nightmares. It has only been a month after all. These things take time.”

I had made progress. More than the old Greg Veder would have been capable of. I was so not him anymore, to the point where I felt like I shouldn't even answer to that name. Too many old connotations. Too many old mistakes to live down and regrets to get past. All thanks to my trigger event. A month ago yes, but the prelude to that had begun almost two months earlier.

I was one of the many bystanders to the abuse Sophia Hess, Emma Barnes, Madison Clements and their minions put on Taylor Hebert.

We were not innocent bystanders, we were complicit in our silence. Old Greg and I felt particularly complicit, because he once thought that Taylor was his friend and had a chance to be more than friends. The old oblivious Greg didn't get many social cues, but even he finally got that he was wrong about that. She barely tolerated him, and then only because she was basically a decent person and I was harmless.

That all changed after the locker incident.

When Taylor came back to school a couple weeks after the locker, she was different. Not so much that you would notice unless you had been semi-obsessing over her. Guilty as charged, I admit. 
What I noticed was that she was no longer surprised when the terror trio or their henchmen cornered her. She still didn't do anything about it, but she somehow knew when it was coming. Expecting it, she had a chance to gird her loins, so to speak. Sometimes it let her escape; a push from behind that missed, a tripping attempt that she avoided.

It wasn't immediate, but eventually the old me, Oblivious Greg put some of the pieces together. His other obsession, capes, brought some of their pieces into it as well and at the initial moment of crystallization, two things clicked into place. First, the conviction that Taylor had triggered during the locker incident. No clue as to what her trigger resulted in, but he was sure she had triggered. Oblivious Old Greg's second light bulb was the fact that Sophia Hess was Shadow Stalker, a member of the Wards. A cape. She was the right height, right build, and had a matching sneering, superior attitude. It also explained how things kept disappearing from Taylor's locker. SOPHIA HESS WAS SHADOW STALKER!

Thus did Oblivious Greg turn into Bold, Daring Greg who began stalking Sophia Hess and Shadow Stalker. His cell phone capturing pictures, video and audio of whatever seemed suspicious. Mostly the suspicious stuff centered around the terror trio and their campaign against Taylor.