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Entanglement [Worm AU fic x2]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Sep 19, 2016.

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  1. Threadmarks: Index
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    We're all familiar with the idea of Taylor showing up in an AU where things are different. So what happens if she's in said AU, and also in her own familiar universe? And then they swap over?

    Why don't we find out?

    PS: Apologies to those people who hate locker scenes. There's a locker scene.

    Index
    Prologue: Causality is a Harsh Mistress
    Part One: Not in Kansas Any More
    Part Two: Confusion Intensifies
    Part Three: My, That Was a Long Nap
    Part Four: Learning About the World(s)

    Explanation: The Story So Far
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2022
  2. Threadmarks: Prologue: Causality is a Harsh Mistress
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Entanglement


    Prologue: Causality is a Harsh Mistress


    Causality is a strange and slippery thing.

    In the macro-scale of the observable universe, event A leads to consequence B. Things happen in a logical fashion; there is a timeline that the theoretical observer can follow, to learn how things happened.

    However, when events are being observed in the pico-scale universe, down near the Planck constant, events sometimes occur simultaneously with results, or even occasionally after them. Cause does not necessarily lead to effect. Quantum entanglement experiments have famously shown that photons can be linked over quite a substantial range, to show identical reaction to stimuli despite not being connected in any understandable way.

    For the most part, however, these causal oddities do not affect the macro-scale universe. However, in the odder corners of the multiverse, reality may be nudged in unusual ways. Take a variant Earth, with a few minor but significant changes. It is shadowed, separated by the thinnest of dimensional membranes, by another Earth. The sister planet – call it Terra – holds many similarities to this particular version of Earth, but there are also a few definitive differences. Certain cities and islands, for instance, are still there, while super-powers – and the changes wrought by them – are not.

    The multi-dimensional spacegoing parasites which have infected this Earth's local sheaf of possibilities with parahuman potentiality are unaware of Terra. It exists in a dimensional direction along which they are unequipped to travel. In a very real sense, the laws of physics that hold Terra in their sway quite literally do not allow these creatures to exist in that specific local spacetime.

    And yet, causality intrudes once more. One might assume that, having a vastly different history over the previous twenty-nine years and change, these two worlds would be literally poles apart, with no similarity, no shared frame of reference. And for the most part, this is true.

    But for a certain few aspects, it is not, because causality has decreed otherwise.

    The nexus point is the L̵̯̙̹̟̺̤̓͑ͫǒ̢͉̥̣̾̇̉ͩ̃c͍̰̬̞̞̺͗̓ͨ͊͊k̈́̐̇̓e̪̯̠ř̟̮̣͙̣̤̋͛ͤ͊ .

    Many millions of words have been written about the Locker, and the consequences of what happened there. Sentient beings who know nothing else about the history of that Earth are aware of the Locker. It is where, in one particular world-line known as Earth Bet, a girl was set upon the path that led to her greatest feat and her darkest fall; an apparent death which led to a life renewed.

    This … is not that story. Or rather, it is not precisely that story.

    For in this story, there is not one Locker, but two. There are two girls called Taylor Hebert, both betrayed by a girl whom they considered their best friend. Each one is imprisoned in the Locker, mired in filth, screaming, begging to be let out. How each of them came to this point is a slightly different tale, as Earth is different from Terra.

    But now, events begin to converge. The screams are approaching the same pitch, the motions of attempting to escape are mirroring one another. And then, for one significant moment, within the noisome prison, that curtailed micro-universe known as the Locker, they are identical to one another.

    Entanglement.


    End of Prologue
     
  3. Threadmarks: Part One: Not In Kansas Anymore
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Entanglement


    Part One: Not in Kansas Anymore


    The locker door opened abruptly; I tumbled out, writhing, still screaming in terror. I was out of my head; my wits had long since deserted me. Someone tried to restrain me; I clawed and bit and struggled, my mind still trapped within the locker.

    Eventually, mercifully, someone sedated me.

    I slept.

    <><>​

    Earth Bet

    I awoke. A nurse was bending over me, smoothing my sheets down. I screamed; she leaped back in fright. My arms were already strapped to the bed, probably as a precaution against a sudden and violent awakening. What do you know? I had a sudden and violent awakening.

    I thrashed and screamed, not knowing what was reality and what was false. Odd visions in my head, strange noises in my ears, added to my memory of what had gone before, and I wanted to be free, to be gone from this place. I had no idea what was happening to me, and the more I struggled, the more firmly the restraints held me down. There was a man there, whom I might have recognised as my father if I were less agitated. But I did not, and so I fought to be free.

    Coolness flowed into my veins from the IV, and I slept once more.

    <><>​

    Earth Terra

    I lay in the hospital bed. The restraints had been removed; although I was still a little shaky, I hadn't done much more than scream a few times. The nurse had been rather shaken, but Dad had apologised to her and then held my hand. I had cried, quite a bit, but he never let go.

    I sniffled, then pulled a tissue from the box on the bedside table and blew my nose. “Sorry.”

    “Don't worry about it,” the man in the suit told me. I think his name was Wallis. “I saw that locker. I'm surprised that you're doing as well as you are.”

    “It's not the first time they've done something to me,” I admitted. “Nothing as bad as that, but … yeah. Not a total surprise.”

    His brows drew down. I was surprised by the anger in his expression. “And nobody did anything to stop it?”

    Dad squeezed my hand; I squeezed back. “I tried telling them. The teachers. But nothing ever happened. Emma's dad -” I stopped, wishing I could take the words back. I hadn't meant to say that, not in front of Dad.

    “Emma?” His voice was strangled. He didn't want it to be true. “Please don't tell me …” His eyes searched mine, imploring.

    I grimaced and looked away from him. The FBI man raised an eyebrow. “Who's Emma?”

    “Her best friend,” Dad ground out. “Emma Barnes. When I see Alan, I'm going to -”

    “No, Dad,” I begged. Pleaded. “There's a reason I didn't tell you. If I snitch on Emma, I'm screwed. It'll be worse than ever before.”

    “More to the point, Mr Hebert,” Wallis said. “If you make a move against this girl's family, it'll muddy any case that we might be able to make. We're going to have to gather evidence, and that evidence has to be untainted.”

    Dad frowned, brought back down to earth. “Tell me, exactly, why the FBI is taking an interest in this case,” he requested. “I mean, I expected the police, sure, but why you guys?”

    I didn't say anything. It was something I'd been wondering about too.

    “It's very simple.” Wallis turned a page on his notebook. “This goes far beyond an ordinary crime. In the case of a shooting or a stabbing or even a basic assault, such as shutting you in your locker without anything special in there, the police would be handling it. But this situation is different. Toxic waste is classed as a biohazard, and I'm here to look over the case to see if it needs to be punted up the chain."

    "And if it doesn't?" asked Dad. "Does this get dropped back to the police again?"

    Wallis shook his head with a reassuring smile. "No. Once you've got the FBI's attention, you keep it. No matter what, it's still a biohazard pure and simple. It probably won't get classified as a WMD, but even so, whoever did this is facing severe consequences."

    “Will – will Emma be expelled?” I was hopeful.

    He laughed briefly; my heart sank. But his next words buoyed me up again. “Miss Hebert, if she's found guilty, that's the least of what'll happen to her. Attempted murder, deprivation of liberty, misuse of a toxic biohazard, bringing said biohazard into a school … she'll be lucky if they don't try her as an adult. Worst case – for her, that is – is if my team decides that it's worth classifying it as a weapon of mass destruction. As I said, that outcome's highly unlikely, but if it did happen, then Homeland invokes the Patriot Act, and there's a good chance that she goes away as a terrorist.”

    I blinked. Emma? A terrorist? “But … but …” I stumbled for words. “Wait. What's the Patriot Act?” I certainly didn't recall anything like that from my Social Studies class.

    Both my father and Agent Wallis were looking at me oddly. “What?” I asked.

    “Kiddo, you know what the Patriot Act is,” Dad said. “You did a presentation on it in seventh grade. Got an A minus for it.” He grinned, turning to Wallis. “She wanted to do a diorama of the World Trade Centre, with smoke coming out. The teacher wouldn't let her, because it would actually involve setting fire to her project. She was convinced for months that's why she didn't get the A plus.”

    Wallis nodded judiciously. “It would've been a safety issue. Not to mention being a little insensitive. This close to New York, there's almost certainly someone who lost friends in the attack living here.”

    “Yeah, I know a few -” began Dad, then looked at me as I shook my head. “What?”

    “No, Dad, I don't know anything about the Patriot Act,” I insisted. “I did a presentation, yeah, but it was about the PRT, and I did a diorama of the Protectorate base. But I made the force field out of cellophane and it collapsed on the base, and I still think they docked me points because of that. Not the World Trade Centre.”

    “Hmm.” Wallis peered at the IV bag. “Okay, I think we're done here.”

    “What?” I sat up a little. “I'm not sleepy. We can keep going. Emma wasn't the only one.”

    Wallis shook his head slightly. “Miss Hebert, you're not tracking well, and it sounds like you're describing a scene from a comic book.” He closed his notebook and stood up.

    “No,” I insisted. “That happened.”

    Dad sighed. “I'm sorry, kiddo. But it didn't.” He took my hand. “The doctors say you've had a terrible shock, and you're also on drugs that have probably made you not quite sure of what's real and what's not. Mr Wallis will be coming back later once we're sure you're lucid, okay?”

    “But I am lucid,” I insisted. “Ask me anything.”

    Wallis sighed. “All right. What happened on September the eleventh, two thousand and one?”

    “Um.” I tried to think back. Too late for Leviathan, too early for Simurgh. “That's a little unfair. I was only six years old. How am I supposed to remember what happened on a particular day when I was six?”

    “Trust me, Miss Hebert, everyone remembers what happened on that day.” His voice was gentle, but his gaze never left mine.

    “Oh, right!” I grinned triumphantly. Something big had happened in two thousand one. I'd thought it had happened earlier in the year, but right now I wasn't going to try to trust in my memory. “Ellisburg. Nilbog took over Ellisburg.”

    Right away, from the looks on their faces, I knew it was the wrong answer. “Um … didn't he?”

    Agent Wallis shook his head again, and there was regret on his face. “No, Miss Hebert,” he said sadly.

    I tried again, wildly. “It's not when Leviathan sank Kyushu, is it?”

    If anything, the look of regret deepened. “I have no idea what you're talking about.”

    He opened the door; Dad stepped out in the corridor with him. At first, I only caught snatches of conversation, but their voices gradually rose.

    “ - not going to drop the investigation -” That was Dad.

    “ - course not. But if her trauma is so bad -” Wallis's voice was soft and understanding.

    “ - once she's off the drugs - “

    “ - psychiatric testing -”

    “She's not crazy.” That was Dad's voice, coming through clearly.

    “Mr Hebert, I never said she was. But you heard her. Speaking about things and events which she may well have made up on the spot. Possibly because of the trauma. I'm trained in picking up lies and evasion, and all indications are that she believes what she's saying. I can't risk having her fantasy world spill over into our investigation. So we have to be certain that her head is clear and that she's not suffering from any delusions when I get the next statement from her.”

    There was a long silence. “God damn it,” Dad muttered.

    “Hang in there, Mr Hebert,” Agent Wallis told him. “This is just a minor setback. We'll get there.”

    Dad came back into the room and shut the door behind him. “Sorry,” I mumbled. “Didn't mean to sound crazy.”

    He shook his head as he chuckled sadly. “That's okay. You probably couldn't help it. I remember when I had my appendix out and had a bad reaction to a sedative. The nurses later told me I'd been throwing my pillow at the wall, to kill the psychedelic spiders.”

    “But I'm not making stuff up, and I'm not remembering it wrong,” I insisted. “I get good marks in World Affairs, at least when they're not stealing my homework.”

    The look that came over his face then was a mix of compassion and worry. “Taylor, what if I could prove that what you're saying is wrong?”

    I wasn't quite sure where he was going with this. “Well, you can't, but sure, go ahead,” I agreed.

    Pulling up a chair, he sat down next to me. “All right then. You say you don't know anything about the Patriot Act, or nine-eleven?”

    My head tilted as I thought about this. “They're linked, aren't they? Nine-eleven … you're not talking about nine-one-one, are you?” I paused, and he shook his head. “Okay … wait, that date Mr Wallis quoted. September the eleventh. Nine, eleven. So something big happened on the eleventh of September in two thousand and one, that caused something called the Patriot Act to be created …?” I trailed off.

    The lines on Dad's face etched themselves a little deeper. “You really don't know any more than that, do you?”

    I spread my hands in confusion. “It's what I've been trying to tell you.”

    He closed his eyes for a moment, and sighed. “Okay,” he said, opening them again. “Let's start with what you were talking about. The, uh, PTR? The Protectorate?”

    “PRT, Dad,” I corrected him automatically. A suspicion was beginning to creep across my mind. What if there's a Master who's made everyone in the city forget that the PRT and the Protectorate even existed? And that I'm immune because of what I've just been through?

    “Okay, PRT,” he agreed in good humour. “So what's it stand for?”

    My suspicion grew. “Parahuman Response Teams, Dad. You know this one.”

    “No. I don't. And what are 'parahumans'?”

    This was really, really weird. But maybe if I explained it carefully enough, he'd remember. “Superhumans, Dad. Capes. Heroes, like Alexandria. Villains like, uh, Kaiser. Parahumans. You know.”

    “Superheroes?” He was looking more and more confused. “You're talking about superheroes?”

    “Well, yes.” Finally, he gets it.

    He shook his head yet again. “But … superheroes are fictional. They don't exist.”

    “But they do exist!” I was starting to get frustrated. “The PRT has a base right here in Brockton Bay! The Protectorate has a base here! How can you say they don't exist?”

    “What's the Protectorate?” he asked blankly.

    “Only the nationwide government super-team,” I told him, trying not to sound too sarcastic. “Like I said, they've got a base right here in the city.”

    “Oh, really?” he asked, coming right back at me. “I'm guessing it's a secret underground base that only you know about?”

    “Uh, duh, no,” I retorted. “It's the big thing on the oil rig in the middle of the bay, with the glowy force-field around it. I can show you if you want. It's not exactly inconspicuous.”

    “Okay, so show me,” he invited, pulling back the curtains. Brockton Bay General was situated on a hill, and has a good view of the bay. “Where is it?”

    “It's right …” I scanned the bay, then looked again more carefully. Come on, where is it? “It's right …” I began again, my eyes quartering each section of the bay. “Um …”

    Eventually, I had to admit defeat. “I can't see it,” I admitted in a small voice.

    “Because it's not there.” To his credit, Dad's voice wasn't triumphant. He sounded more sad than anything.

    “No, it's there, I know it is,” I insisted. “They must've turned it invisible or something.” I didn't know for a fact that they could do that, but with Armsmaster I wouldn't rule anything out.

    “Taylor.” Dad's voice was patient. “It's the year two thousand eleven, not twenty-two eleven. We don't have super-heroes, or force fields, or invisibility. Now, I don't know what comic books you've been reading, or TV shows you've been watching, but you have to understand that all of this you're talking about isn't real. And the longer you insist that it is, the harder it will be for Agent Wallis to make his case about you being fit to give evidence about what happened to you.”

    Finally, his words began to register on me. He really meant it. Doubts began to assail me. Was everything I thought I knew just some huge dreamworld overlaid on what was real?

    “Uh, okay,” I mumbled. “Um, can I ask one more thing?”

    “Anything,” he said at once.

    “Can you go to the nurses' station and ask for their oldest, most worn-out phone book? The one that's always stuck at the back of the cupboard?”

    He frowned. “Can I ask why?”

    “Um, I'd rather just check on something before I say anything,” I hedged.

    “Okay then.” He left the room, but not without another odd look. I lay back in bed, trying not to fidget. My thoughts collided with one another, and I could make neither head nor tail of them.

    Dad doesn't know anything about the PRT, the Protectorate or capes.

    The Protectorate base isn't there.

    Nobody else seems to remember anything at all about them.

    Is the PRT building even there?

    Have I been out longer than I thought, and there's been some event, and everyone's repressing the memory of there ever having been capes?


    That idea chilled me, especially when my mind circled back to the idea of there being a Master forcing everyone to forget the very existence of capes. My fingers twisted against each other.

    The door opened and Dad came in again. “Okay, got it. So what did you want to check?”

    I didn't answer him; taking the book, I checked the date on it. Two thousand three to two thousand four. That should do it. Opening it, I began to check the P's. Dad watched, his brow furrowing. I went through the P section twice, in both the yellow and white pages, before acknowledging that there was no listing for 'Parahuman Response Teams' or even 'PRT'. Then I leafed over to where it listed government organisations. If the PRT was anywhere, it would be there.

    It wasn't. I stared at the page for the longest time.

    What does it mean?

    Closing the book again, I ran my thumb over the worn corners. This was an old book. When it was printed, I'd been in middle school. But the PRT had been a thing, then. It should have had a listing.

    But it didn't.

    Again I asked myself the question. What does it mean? I was starting to get the horrible feeling that I knew the answer.

    “Taylor?”

    I looked up at Dad and handed the phone book back to him.

    “Did you find what you were looking for?” He knew I hadn't.

    I shook my head. “No.”

    “Is there anything you want to talk about?”

    Again, I shook my head. “Can I … be alone for a bit? Please?”

    “Okay. I'll be outside.”

    Standing up, he took the book with him. The door closed behind him.

    I lay there in the bed, in the sterile hospital room, and tried to think.

    What's going on? Where am I? How did I get here? Because I'm sure as hell not on Earth Bet any more.

    I had never felt so alone in my life.


    End of Part One
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2022
  4. Nightgazer

    Nightgazer Cute Lil' Pegasus Gone for Good

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    Ah, poor Taylor.

    Is the next one going to be the POV of the other Taylor?

    I wonder how she will see things?
     
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  5. Chojomeka

    Chojomeka Tingle tingle kooloo-limpah

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    Man at some point Taylor's never gonna want to leave Terra....but she's gonna isn't she?
     
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  6. jrbless

    jrbless You needed worthy opponents.

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    This *really* won't help her state of mind. Especially if, as I suspect, this version of Taylor (on Terra) doesn't have powers, and the version of Taylor transferred to Earth Bet from Terra now does. Now Bet!Taylor has powers, in a world that has had superpowers for almost 30 years, and she has no clue for what any of this means.
     
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  7. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    To clarify:

    (T)Taylor transferred from Terra to Earth Bet.
    (B) Taylor transferred from Earth Bet to Terra.

    (T) Taylor has powers, and has no idea what that means.
    (B) Taylor knows about powers, but is in a world that has no idea what that means.
     
  8. nobodez

    nobodez Bringer of Context

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    Very interesting.
     
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  9. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Aw. I hoped both had powers :(
     
  10. Pyro Hawk

    Pyro Hawk Unsure if Phoenix or Kitsune

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    The question is can they swap back? And by that I mean, before the two worlds start to connect in more than one way...
     
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  11. Zackarix

    Zackarix Hera's Divorce Lawyer

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    Is Agent Wallis supposed to be Armsmaster's counterpart? It would be funny if they met.
     
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  12. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Yes, he is.
     
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  13. Extras: The Story So Far
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Crossposting from SB.

    1) There are two worlds. As noted in the prologue. (Which some people thought I should have left out.) One is Earth Bet. The other will be called 'Earth Terra'.

    2) Earth Bet allows entities and shards to exist in its local spacetime. Earth Terra does not. Earth Terra is, in fact, a close cousin to our Earth, with Brockton Bay inserted into local geography.

    3) The version of Taylor from Earth Bet is called Taylor (Bet). The version of Taylor from Terra is called Taylor (Terra). They are not hard to tell apart.

    4) Taylor (Terra) has been swapped over to Earth Bet. Taylor (Bet) has been swapped over to Earth Terra.

    5) A trigger event occurred at the moment of swap.

    6) Taylor (Terra), on Earth Bet now has Skitter's canon powers. Taylor (Bet), on Earth Terra, does not.

    I hope that deals with any lingering confusion.
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2022
  14. Threadmarks: Part Two: Confusion Intensifies
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Entanglement


    Part Two: Confusion Intensifies


    Earth Bet
    Taylor (Terra)


    I didn't know what was going on. I was barely aware of where I was. The memories of where I had been would not go away; if I fell asleep I would wake up, screaming and choking and trying to escape once more. Worse, while I was awake, I was assailed by strange noises, bombarded by lights and moving images behind my eyelids.

    It would have at least helped if the images made sense. But they were fuzzy, blurry and downright incomprehensible. Nor was it in the least bit helpful that I occasionally got the feeling that I was in ten thousand places at once.

    My mind was one of the last places that I held sacrosanct. There was no other place that I could be at peace. With the school faculty ignoring whatever the principal's daughter did, she could bully me at her leisure, so there was nowhere in the school I could go and be safe. At home, I was away from Emma, but there was the situation with the Russells to deal with as well. Which I suspected that I was handling badly. So that was a no-show.

    And now even my mind was going. I was losing it. In my lucid moments, I decided that I had to be going insane (or had already done so) because sane people did not see and hear things that weren't there.

    It didn't help, of course, that the sedatives I was still on didn't help me think clearly enough to work at simply ignoring or repressing the strange impressions that I was getting. I was awake, but I was fuzzy-headed enough to not be able to think clearly.

    Dad was there. He held my hand. I tried to squeeze it back. That, at least, helped. A little, anyway. But then I drifted a bit, and when I could focus again, he was gone. Hot tears squeezed between my eyelids. I was becoming more awake, more aware. If I had just been able to talk more coherently, I could have told him about what was going on inside my head. We could have worked it out. I was old enough to know that Dad couldn't magically fix everything, but he could certainly help.

    At least he got them to take those damn restraints off of me.

    I lay there, trying to ignore the flashes of light (dimming now, for some reason) and the odd noises. Sleep was hard to come by; not that I wanted to sleep, what with the nightmares. I drifted, slipping in and out of a vague level of unrestful slumber.

    And then, in the early evening, I woke up.

    <><>​

    Earth Terra
    Taylor (Bet)


    “Where's Agent Wallis?” I asked.

    “He'll be coming around to the house to talk to you later in the week,” Dad told me. “Do you need a hand getting changed?”

    I snorted. “I've been in the hospital for two days, Dad. Not two years. Gimme clothes and privacy, and I'm good.”

    He smiled at my retort and retreated from the room; the door closed behind him. I sat up in bed and swung my legs over the side. The floor felt strange under my feet, the way it always does when you spend too long lying down. I felt weaker too; that was probably an after-effect of whatever drugs they had me on to get me through the trauma.

    I smiled wryly. As bad as the locker had been – and it had been bad enough – if it finally helped get Emma and the other bitches off of my back, it might just have been worth it. In the long run. Maybe.

    I had made good use of my time – and the TV in the room – while Dad was away. The nurses had been kind enough to supply me with all the magazines that they could pile on to my bedside table. I had devoured the lot, with the TV playing in the background.

    Gradually, piece by piece, I had assembled a picture of the world I now found myself in. There was no Scion; in fact, there were no capes at all. That was the biggest shock. Capes had been around for thirty years, give or take. Longer than I'd been alive. They were a fact. They were a thing. Remove them from history and things were … different.

    Fortunately, there were also no Endbringers. Which raised a speculation in my mind. Capes and Endbringers are connected in some way. Did capes somehow cause them? There was no way to tell.

    No capes, no cape shenanigans, no Endbringers, meant that the world was a very different place. Switzerland was still there. I had come across an article on the Large Hadron Collider, and it was amazing. For all that this world had no Tinkers, the fact that they still managed to build something like that was kind of astonishing.

    Of course, in Earth Bet, something like that would probably be used to engrave someone's name on the moon, as opposed to pure scientific research.

    On the other hand, it was also disheartening to see that bad things still happened in the world. Kyushu was still there; so was Newfoundland (I checked). But since Nine-Eleven (I still didn't have all the details on that, or the Patriot Act) we were apparently at war. With the Middle East. (Which, absent Behemoth, was still producing oil. So there was that too.)

    It shouldn't have been so depressing, but I'd had this idea in the back of my head that supervillains and Endbringers were responsible for most of the bad stuff in the world. The Nine, for instance; they killed towns. Endbringers destroyed cities. But even without them, people still stole stuff and murdered each other. And gay rights were stuck in the stone age; America was still squabbling about whether to allow gay people to marry each other, for crying out loud.

    So, there was no Protectorate, and no PRT to oversee it. No Birdcage for the really bad villains. On the upside, no S-class threats. I found an article on the President, and had to smile. Wouldn't the Empire Eighty-Eight throw a shit fit over that one. I wished him all the luck. He didn't seem to have an easy job, even in a world where powers didn't exist.

    I couldn't wait to sit down at a computer and really sink my teeth into the background of this world; if I was going to appear sane enough to testify in court, I had to look like I knew what was going on. This was my one big chance to get Emma and Sophia and Madison – even if they weren't my Emma and Sophia and Madison – out of my hair, and I was gonna grab it with both hands.

    It took me a little longer than I expected, but I got myself dressed; I even managed to bend over to put my shoes on without fainting, though I did feel a little woozy.

    Maybe I can talk Dad into swinging by Fugly Bob's for a burger on the way home. If there is a Fugly Bob's in this world.

    I hoped there was; it would be one more connection to where I had come from. Not that I was sure how I would ever get back.

    It must have been the wooziness that triggered the idea; I was halfway through putting the other shoe on when it struck me. Holy shit, what if I can?

    Straightening up, I worked the idea through, excitement mounting inside me.

    Fact one: I was in another world.

    Fact two: I had gotten here from the locker (I ruthlessly stilled the internal quiver that even thinking about it gave me).

    Surmise: What if I had somehow gotten powers in the locker, and the power was to step between universes?

    I mean, this obviously wasn't Earth Aleph, but it could be another one. Well, it was another one. Obviously. But what if my power was to move from one universe to another? Either swapping with the 'me' that was there, or stepping into her body?

    Slowly, I sat down on the chair. Either of those options had unpleasant connotations for the other 'me', the one that belonged in this world. She had either popped up in my world without any sort of warning (and wouldn't that be fun for her) or I was walking her body around like a puppet.

    Oh, god. I hope she's still alive.

    I've got to try to switch back.

    Closing my eyes, I concentrated. I knew exactly where I wanted to be; in my world, where I knew what was going on. Be it ever so crappy, there's no place like home.

    I breathed in. Concentrated. Breathed out. Concentrated.

    Nothing happened.

    I tried harder, holding my breath and pushing.

    Absolutely nothing happened.

    Crap.

    Does this mean I can't do it, or does it mean something worse?

    I was just preparing myself to try yet again when there came a knock on the door. “Taylor? You okay in there?”

    I sighed and shot a betrayed look at my worn sneakers. I bet that would have worked if those were ruby slippers. “Yeah, Dad,” I called out, standing up from the chair. “I'm good to go.”

    With a deep breath, I did my best to put the other-Taylor's potential plight out of my mind until I could do something about it. If ever.

    <><>​

    On the way home, Dad and I chatted. I tried not to gawk too much at the scenery, but it was difficult. There was so much there that was familiar, but so much more was different. And it wasn't just missing landmarks, either; the city looked newer, more prosperous. And no gang tags. Intellectually, I knew that there weren't any cape-led gangs, so they'd be a lot more low-key, but it was still a jolt.

    “So … are you feeling better … from yesterday?” he probed delicately.

    I smiled at him. “Yeah, lots. Sorry for my outburst. I must've sounded like a total loon. It's all my fault, really.”

    “Really?” he asked. “How so?”

    I manufactured a sigh. I can't tell him the truth, so here goes. "I kind of constructed a world inside my head. Being bullied, you want to be strong, you know? So I made up a world where superheroes existed and all that comic-book stuff is real. Where I could be a superhero and beat up my bullies. I put a lot of work into it, got all the details down. So when … well, when that thing happened, I must have retreated into my superhero fantasy world, to get away from what was really happening to me. And yesterday, I wasn't really firing on all cylinders, so I guess I went with what seemed real at the time." I paused. "Does that make sense?"

    “Huh.” He sounded relieved. “So you are feeling better, then.”

    I shrugged. “Well, it's not totally gone. But I'm working at it. I intend to live in the real world from now on.” Oh, I so wish.

    “Glad to hear it.” His smile made him look at least ten years younger. “So when Agent Wallis drops over, do you think you'll be able to give him details?”

    “Oh, sure,” I agreed, but inside I was less certain. I hope the 'me' who lives here has also been keeping a journal. Otherwise it's gonna be an uphill drag. Especially if the bitches who live here have been doing things differently from the ones that I know.

    “You know,” he offered diffidently, “maybe you shouldn't just forget your fantasy world. Write it down. Maybe you can make a book or something out of it. I know I'd read it.”

    “I guess,” I replied. “Though I still haven't worked out any sort of plot. It's kind of haphazard, to be honest.”

    “It was just a thought,” he said. “Oh, I forgot to tell you. The indictment came through.”

    “Indictment?” I asked. What indictment?

    “Oh, sorry, sorry.” He shook his head self-deprecatingly. “You've been under a lot of strain. Theo's dad is going to trial. Finally.”

    “Oh. Right.” Frantically, I wondered who the hell Theo was, and what his dad was being tried for. I vaguely recalled that 'indictments' were something handed down by a grand jury, so whatever it was, it had to be bad. But Dad seemed pleased by it, so I manufactured a smile. “Excellent.”

    “Just don't bring it up unless he does, okay?” he suggested. “He might be a little sensitive on the subject.”

    “Sure, I can do that.” Given that I didn't know who the hell Theo might be, that was an easy promise to make. “So, uh, what are they getting Theo's dad on, anyway?”

    “RICO, of course.” He shrugged. “I'm just glad that part of it's done. It's been hell on both of them.”

    Both of whom? This was frustrating; it was kind of like walking into a movie halfway through and not being able to ask anyone what was going on. “Well, yeah,” I agreed non-committally.

    That seemed to satisfy him. He leaned over and turned the radio on. I would rather have listened to the news – any information about this new world would be welcome – but the music was nice, too. Some of the songs were almost familiar, or maybe it was just that I hadn't heard them for a while.

    <><>​

    “We're home.”

    I was jolted out of a light doze as the car turned into the driveway; I heard gravel crunching under the wheels. It surprised me that I had been able to drop off at all, considering the number of things that I had to think about. Of course, I wasn't at my best, so sleep was probably a good thing.

    Opening my eyes and looking around, I was treated to another surprise. The house looked good. The lawn was newly mown, the flower garden recently weeded, and the house itself bore what looked like a fresh coat of paint. A really fresh coat of paint. In fact, it was still being painted.

    I stared at the pudgy-looking kid – about my age, maybe – who was up on a ladder, industriously working a roller back and forth over the wall, and barely restrained myself from asking who's he?

    Dad stopped the car and got out. “Nice work, son,” he called out. “It looks really good.”

    I got out of the car as well, shading my eyes as I looked up at the wall. It was actually a rather pretty shade of blue.

    “Thanks, Da- I mean, Mr Hebert,” the kid replied, swiping the roller over a patch, then rolling it through the tray wedged into the top of the ladder.

    Dad shook his head. “Theo, please call me Dad or Danny. If we're gonna be a family, I don't want you calling me 'Mr' Hebert.”

    This is Theo? Okay. I filed that information away. Gonna be a family. Right. His dad's been indicted by a grand jury for racketeering. Wow. And I thought this world was gonna be kinda boring.

    “Taylor?”

    I looked at Dad, who was staring anxiously at me. “Uh, yeah?”

    “You can close the car door and come inside, you know.”

    With a start, I realised that I was still standing in the open door. Stepping back, I closed it; the car went bip-bip as Dad hit the key fob. Having a car that would electronically lock – that was new. As I started around the car, Dad stepped up to the ladder. “You can take a break now, Theo. Come on inside, too.”

    I walked over to the path and up to the front steps. As I was about to avoid the bottom step, I took a closer look and realised that it didn't look rotten any more. Cautiously resting my weight on it, I didn't even hear a creak. With an ever-increasing sense of unreality, I climbed the rest of the steps.

    As I did so, I heard Dad talking quietly to Theo. “Now, I know you two haven't been getting along, but if you could do me a favour and let her be for the moment, please? She's been through a lot.”

    I didn't hear Theo's reply, as I opened the front door and stepped inside, but it made me wonder. Things were obviously different on the home front here in this world.

    Inside, the house looked … nicer. It had a brighter feel to it. There was a sofa in the same place, even if it looked newer and softer than the one I was used to, and I flopped on to it. Even the short walk from the car had tired me out, just a bit.

    Dad and Theo came in next; now that we were out of the glare of the sunlight, I could see that Theo was daubed here and there with blue paint. He pulled off the hat and sunglasses he had been wearing and wiped his face; I still didn't recognise him from anywhere. I tried to decide whether to make a friendly overture, or just leave things as they were. However, before I could make up my mind, Theo spoke.

    “Hey, Taylor.” His voice was soft and diffident. “I'm, uh, glad you're out of the hospital. Are you feeling better?”

    “Yes, thanks,” I replied. “It's good to be home.” Weird, but good. Anywhere's better than being in the damn psych ward.

    Even that mild answer put a smile on his face. Christ, how much of a bitch have I been to him? “Want something to drink?” he offered. “I made up some fruit punch this morning before I went to school. It should be nice and cold.”

    “Thanks,” I said again. My guess was that Theo's mother was the other part of the equation, and 'gonna be a family' was a strong hint that she and Dad were an item. I wasn't quite sure how I felt about having other people in the house, but right now I didn't want any more difficulty in my life, so I was willing to let it slide. Even if it felt really weird to think about Dad being with someone other than Mom.

    Theo brought me a glass of the punch, and I took a sip. It was tart and cold and sweet, and I drank more of it. Before I knew it, the glass was empty. “Thanks.” I paused. “Uh, Theo?”

    He'd been standing there, as if not sure to stay or go, and blinked when I said his name. “Uh, yeah?”

    How do I say this? “Um, I might have been a little hard on you? But what's just happened, it's given me a bit of perspective. So can we make this a clean slate? Start fresh?”

    “What, really?” He smiled tentatively. “You mean that?”

    I nodded. “Yeah. I mean that. Friends?”

    “Friends.” He beamed at me and held out his hand, before realising that there was dried paint on it. “Uh …”

    “Trust me,” I told him dryly, “I've had worse.” Leaning forward, I shook his hand, paint and all. “Thanks for giving me a second chance.”

    “No, uh, thank you,” he blurted. “I mean, I know you're not too happy with all this, and I can kinda understand. I've had to deal with a new mom in my life too, so yeah.”

    “Which reminds me, Theo,” Dad noted from the kitchen. “Your mom said to tell you she was working a little late with a client tonight. She should be in about six or seven. Want to help me with dinner?”

    I felt a faint stab of jealousy at that; I was the one who helped Dad with dinner. Something must have shown on my face, because Theo gave me a slightly worried glance. “Um, Taylor, do you want to help too?”

    I decided that right now, I didn't really feel up to it, so I leaned back on the sofa and shook my head. “Nah. Invalid, here. Think I'll be lazy and let you guys wait on me hand and foot.”

    That earned me a smile from Theo; he took the glass from me and headed into the kitchen. “I've just got to go and wash up first,” he told Dad.

    “That's fine,” Dad replied. “I'll get started.”

    I was as good as my word; lying back on the couch, listening to Theo and Dad chatting as they prepared dinner, I began to slip in and out of a doze. It was good to be in relatively familiar surroundings, even with the strangeness that seemed to be a hallmark of this new world. And the couch was very comfortable.

    After a while, I slid into a deeper sleep. And then I woke up.

    <><>​

    Earth Terra
    Taylor (Terra)


    I sat up on the couch with a gasp, eyes wide. Looking around wildly, I saw the familiar surroundings of the living room, all the little touches that Kayden had suggested which made the place look so much nicer. Ignoring the tiredness in my limbs, I jumped to my feet.

    Had it all been a dream? The hospital, the weird stuff happening in my head? It was gone now, as if it had never been. “Dad?” I called out uncertainly. What if this is the dream?

    “Taylor? What's up?” Dad's head popped around the kitchen door. “Are you all right?”

    “Yeah, yeah, I think so. I think I just had a really weird dream,” I told him. “It was horrible. I got locked in my locker, and then I was in the hospital.”

    He grimaced. “Um, kiddo, that actually happened. You've been in the hospital for two days. I only got you home this afternoon.”

    I crossed the room and hugged him, hard. “I must've been really out to it. I only just now woke up.”

    He hugged me back. “Not really,” he told me, his voice still concerned. “We were talking most of the way home. About this fantasy world you made up for yourself to get past the bullying.”

    Fantasy world? I had no idea what he was talking about. But then I saw Theo. Breaking free from Dad, I hugged him, too. Normally, I wouldn't have, but right then I was so glad to see anything familiar that I didn't care.

    “It is so good to see you two,” I told them. “Where's Kayden and Aster? I want to hug them, too.”

    “Uh, they'll be back soon,” Dad said with a bemused grin. “I'm not quite sure what's caused your change of heart, but I'm glad to see it.”

    I shook my head. “I was just … I don't know. I guess I'd gotten used to the two of us, and I didn't see how more people could fit into our family. But after going through that, I think I need all the family I can get.”

    “Which reminds me,” Dad replied. “I'm going to be arranging therapy sessions for you, until I can be sure that you're feeling better about the whole thing. But first, we're going to be talking with Agent Wallis about what's been happening to you.”

    Agent who? I yawned. “Um, sure, but right now I think I need to lie down. I feel really tired.”

    I wasn't faking it. The feeling of lassitude that swept over me was getting stronger by the second. I barely made it up the stairs, and when I got to my bedroom, I flaked out face down on the bed without even taking my shoes off.

    <><>​

    Earth Bet
    Taylor (Bet)


    I came awake with a jolt, staring around in some bewilderment. What the hell? Why am I back in the hospital?

    It was like I'd never left; there were IVs in my arm as well as those round sticky sensor patches attaching me to the machine beside the bed. I couldn't understand it. But Dad took me home. Was that all a dream?

    Then I saw the bedside table. It didn't even have one magazine on it, much less the dozen or more that the nurses had given me. All it held was a pencil and pad. Nor was there a TV in the room, where I clearly remembered there being one before.

    Wait. What if …

    Between managing the IVs and the cords, and my own weakness, it wasn't easy climbing out of bed, but I pulled it off. Leaning heavily on the IV tower thingy, I stumbled toward the window. The sensor patches pulled me up before I reached it, but I could grab the curtain. Pulling it back revealed evening falling over Brockton Bay, and the view of the bay itself.

    And in the middle of the water … the Protectorate rig, encloaked in a glowing force field, casting its soft light over the waterfront. I felt a sudden release of tension; my knees buckled. If I hadn't already been leaning on the IV thing, I might have fallen over altogether.

    I'm home. Oh, thank God, I'm home.

    Which means other-Taylor is also home. She was sitting on the couch. She's good. That's good. We're all safe. All I have to do is tell Dad I'm all right, and I can go home.

    Which was about the point that I noticed the oddity in the back of my mind. Occasional sounds and muted lights were popping in and out of my awareness. What the hell?

    I had thought that swapping with an another-universe version of myself was my power. Wait, maybe this is my index. Maybe I can look in on other versions and pick which one to swap with.

    Struggling back into bed, I closed my eyes and started trying to focus on the little points of light. But instead of looking into other worlds, or hearing conversations from other universes, all I got was weird fuzzy pictures, and jumbled sounds. Well, this is helpful.

    Taking a deep breath, I focused harder. The images grew brighter and dimmer, more focused and fuzzier, without any rhyme nor reason to them. I wish they'd stop moving, I thought petulantly.

    They stopped moving.

    I felt a burst of surprise and excitement. I can tell them what to do? Okay … look around. Slowly.

    Each viewpoint looked around. I zeroed in on what seemed to be the clearest one. At the same time, I got an idea of a location; a direction and a distance. It was a little outside the hospital. The area was lit, and I was looking at what seemed, after some consideration, to be a man. But from above, and upside down. I silently told the viewpoint to rotate; after a second or so, it did. I was looking down at a man standing at a bus stop. But the view was really fuzzy.

    A few moments later, I realised that another viewpoint was also of the same man, from a different angle. I was still trying to figure this out – this has to be the crappiest clairvoyance I've ever heard of – when a feeling of extreme lassitude began to wash through me. Shit, I realised. We're swapping back.

    I had just seconds to act. I had to leave other-Taylor a message. Snatching the pencil and pad, I scribbled a note, hoping that muscle memory would serve where lack of light let me down. By the time I had finished, I couldn't keep my eyes open; tearing off the sheet, I folded it roughly and shoved it down my top.

    I never heard the pencil and pad hit the floor.


    End of Part Two
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2022
  15. Zackarix

    Zackarix Hera's Divorce Lawyer

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    So the two Taylors can switch. That makes things both easier and harder at the same time.

    Going to the PRT and somehow getting her universe-hopping verified would probably be one of the best ways of getting resources to deal with it, but this is Taylor Hebert, so I very much doubt that will happen.
     
  16. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Especially considering that neither of them have the slightest control over the phenomenon.
     
  17. jrbless

    jrbless You needed worthy opponents.

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    At best, they could start a diary or journal and put it where they will see it right when they wake up. When they see notes in it that were written by the "other" Taylor, they'll know something is up. That's the most straightforward way for them to get a handle on what is happening. Whether or not this idea occurs to them is a different question altogether.
     
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  18. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Nice twist there! Switching back and forth... quick thinking there, Taylor, with the notes. Good thing they kept a diary as well, hopefully it'll contain more than just bullying records. Poor Theo, though - he'll be very confused by Taylor's changes, I guess.
     
  19. nobodez

    nobodez Bringer of Context

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    "Dad? Yeah, I think I'm jumping between different Earths. Yes, it sounds odd, but it does explain both my 'imaginary universe' from the hospital and the fact I keep changing slightly in personality. I can't control it, but it seems to be only me and your Taylor. I love you, and I'm pretty sure she does too. So, please, go easy on us… me while we… I figure things out."

    Yeah, like that'll happen, we're talking teenagers here.
     
  20. DieKatzchen

    DieKatzchen Know what you're doing yet?

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    I was hoping they'd be able to switch back. I'm not sure how much I would have enjoyed the both of them deciding they'd had a psychotic break and adjusting to their new lives.
     
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  21. Nightgazer

    Nightgazer Cute Lil' Pegasus Gone for Good

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    • This is your third Necromancy warning. Please don't force us to take harsher measures.
    How did you get it to have that efgect on the word locker right now?
     
  22. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    It's called Zalgo. Basically, it's an overlay on any font.

    You can find it here.
     
  23. Nightgazer

    Nightgazer Cute Lil' Pegasus Gone for Good

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    Thanks!^_^
     
  24. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Y̨̝̟͉̪̟̞͚̱͓̬̬̣̭̞̬͖̻̬͟͜o̷̧̮̰̟̝̪̰̝̪̺͈͔̪̬͎̗͘u̢̧̲̫͓̙͍̭̖̜̺͍̺̠̖͜͞'͢҉̛̘̰̳̘̩r̡҉̭͓̝̱͖̣̬̯͔̦͇̳͙̣̫͟e̵̵̸̛̻͉̳̥͇̗̠̹̺̱̟͞ͅ ̸̸̶̘̘̪̭͉̙̣̱̩͟͡w̸̶̝̪͖̥͎͚͔̩̕͝ȩ͙̝̙̳͉̠̠̻̪̙͍̗̦̦̮̜̪͞ĺ̛̖̤͚̲͡͠c͞͏̴̶̠͙̣̗̪̦̩̜̳͔̲̳ơ̴̷̵̷̘̻̹͉͔̲m͟͞҉̲̫͎͔͕̪͉̰͎̤̳é̴͘͏͓̮̭̹̜̖̪̳̣̟̼̘̬̜͈͢
     
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  25. Threadmarks: Part Three: My, That Was a Long Nap
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Entanglement

    Part Three: My, That Was a Long Nap

    [A/N 1: Apologies for the almost six-year hiatus. This will now be updated regularly.]
    [A/N 2: This chapter commissioned by Fizzfaldt and beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]
    [A/N 3: I have tightened up the terminology from the original posting, and updated the Story So Far informational post (not available on FF dot net or Patreon, sorry) to reflect this.]


    Earth Bet
    Taylor (Terra)


    I wasn't sure how long I slept for, but when I woke up, my world came to a screeching halt.

    What the hell? Why am I back in the hospital room?

    Had the whole 'waking up on the sofa' thing been an unreasonably realistic daydream? Why did this keep happening to me? I'd been home, damn it. Safe in my own bedroom, away from hospitals and lockers and Principal Barnes totally ignoring everything Emma did to me.

    I sat up in bed as best I could, looking around to see if I could figure out what was going on. Was I suffering a series of mental breakdowns? Because that would not be great.

    Just as the weird lights and sounds at the back of my head started up again, I noticed something crinkling inside the hospital pyjamas I was wearing. Right now, I decided, I would take any distraction, so I fumbled for whatever it was. It turned out to be a page from a notepad, hastily folded.

    Leaning back on the pillow, I clicked on the bedside light, fumbled my glasses onto my face, and examined my find. There was writing on it; or rather, scribbling. But I could read it with ease, because I wrote in exactly the same way when I was in a hurry. My English teacher had once described it as "what one might achieve if a particularly clumsy spider, having fallen in the inkwell, is now hurrying off in search of a towel".

    Well, now I could tell Ms. Howell that she could shove her critique where the sun didn't shine, because there were more of us who wrote like this. The next question was, who had written it and why had they shoved it into my pyjama top?

    U R not crazy, the note said.

    I paused, considering that. The hallucinations in the back of my head gave me serious cause to dispute that particular claim. Still, there was more to it.

    2 worlds. 2 us. Swapping.

    Wait.

    What the fuck?


    I re-read the line, just to make sure I hadn't misinterpreted a scribble. It still said what I thought it had.

    Two worlds. Two versions of me. We're ... swapping?

    Well, as far out into the Twilight Zone as that sounded, it would serve to explain a whole shitload of things. How I seemed to keep jumping from place to place, for one thing. And there was apparently another version of me somewhere out there, the original owner of this body? She was the one who'd been talking to Dad? She got to go home?

    Okay, now I was willing to concede the 'not crazy' aspect.

    Now for the next and last line. U C > bug eyes. Superpow

    It trailed off with a fading line I was almost certain meant that other-me had been falling asleep while trying to write it. This part was also harder to decipher.

    I quickly figured out that the first bit meant 'you see'. But had she meant 'greater-than bug eyes' (whatever that meant) or ... was it an arrow?

    I saw bug eyes?

    My eyes were better than bug eyes?

    I looked at the last bit. My other self had been halfway through a word when she realised she was about to pass out, so she hadn't finished it. Superpow … what?

    That was when the last piece of the puzzle dropped into place with an almighty clang.

    I had a superpower, like in the comic books. To look through the eyes of bugs.

    Son of a bitch.

    So that's what that's all about.


    The little dots of light were still in the back of my head, but now I knew what they were (or at least, I was fairly sure of it) they were a lot less scary. I wasn't going nuts, and I wasn't about to get a butcher knife and go hacking up strangers because of the voices in my head. Because the voices in my head were a bunch of bugs.

    Closing my eyes, I focused on one particular dot; almost immediately, it came forward until I could make out details. Fuzzy, but they were there. Now that I was paying actual attention (instead of wishing they weren't there, I now got other details. Such as vaguely fuzzy sound—bug hearing was crappy—and also a distinct location. Somewhat below me, and a few dozen yards away.

    Hmm. Bugs can fly, yeah?

    Almost as if responding to my thought, the bug—a moth, I realised—flapped its wings. The more attention I paid to the 'bug channel', the more information I got. When I pulled back for a moment and swept my mental gaze over the rest of the light-spots, I found I could understand where and what they were with much more clarity.

    Returning my attention to Moth Number One—I felt silly naming it, but I had to define it somehow—I told it to fly to where I was. There was a barrier above it, but it was able to fly down and around it, then I could feel it tracking upward toward me.

    This was the moment of truth, the point that would decide whether I was having an extended hallucination, or—

    —there was a tiny thump on the window as Moth Number One landed on it from the outside. It could see the light of the reading lamp from inside the glass, through the curtains. But more importantly, I'd heard it land!

    My heart was beating out of my chest with excitement as I slid out of bed. Rearranging the cords on the IV tree, I made sure I wouldn't yank anything out. Then I carefully made my way over to the window and pulled the curtain aside.

    There sat a large moth, on the window.

    In its senses, I saw the curtain whooshing aside, and a large shadowed figure inside the glass. It wasn't frightened; bugs didn't do 'fear'. They had pre-programmed reflexes for if they detected a threat, but even that wouldn't trigger with me right now; if I told Moth Number One to stay there and let me squish him, he'd stay there. It wasn't even a question.

    "Wowww …" I murmured, as quietly as I could. In response to my unspoken command, Moth Number One turned in a circle, first to the left and then to the right. He fluttered his wings and then held them open, because I wanted him to.

    Sliding open the window, I took him onto my finger. It was deeply weird, getting the feedback from both directions at once. I stared into my human eyes with my moth eyes and vice versa, like the craziest funhouse mirror ever. Finally, I let him go, telling him to fly away and do whatever it was that moths did at night.

    He fluttered away; in seconds, I lost sight of him, though I knew exactly where he was. But a few seconds later, I wasn't even paying attention to that. Moth Number One was no longer a priority.

    Because I'd just seen what was out in the bay.

    Leaning on the IV tree a little more heavily, I gawked unashamedly, because the thing out there was like something out of a science-fiction movie. It might have been a repurposed oil rig or something similar; I'd never been near one in real life, but I'd seen pictures. That wasn't the crazy bit. The crazy bit was the unmistakeable rainbow-pearlescent force field surrounding it like an upturned fishbowl.

    Superpowers. Right. Okay, then.

    All of a sudden, being able to control bugs and see through their senses was a whole lot less unbelievable. Also, considerably less world-shaking. I stared at it until the chilly air coming in through the open window gap made me realise I was wearing pyjamas and not a winter-weight jacket. Then I closed the window and stared some more.

    Either I was having the mother of all hallucinatory trips from whatever they were giving me in the IV lines, or there was a lot about this world I'd found myself in that I just plain didn't know about. I wanted it to be a weird reaction, because that would mean I wasn't in a world where random teenagers could wake up in a hospital bed with the ability to control bugs. Unfortunately, it didn't seem as though I was going to get what I wanted.

    My next puzzle was simple: where had other-me gotten the pad and pencil from? They hadn't been on the bed or nightstand when I woke up. Best guess: she'd dropped them. Shuffling around the bed, I looked down at the floor and saw the pad lying where it had fallen, but I couldn't see the pencil anywhere.

    Ugh. I bet it's rolled under the bed.

    While I was technically capable of crawling under there after it, the multitude of lines attached to me said nope. Also, I was still feeling a little fragile for acrobatic endeavours. Bending down to pick up the pad was about the limit of what I felt capable of, right now.

    Damn it, I need that pencil.

    And then I smiled. The solution was staring me in the face … or rather, the back of my mind. I flicked through the dozens and dozens … hundreds and hundreds … holy shit, how many bug signals have I been repressing? Quick answer: lots. Longer answer: a number with lots of zeroes after it. And all those were within just a few blocks.

    How many bugs in Brockton Bay? I have no idea, and I'm not sure I want to know.

    Choosing to ignore all but the ones closest, I reached out to Moth Number One again, who was flying around doing moth-y things. He turned around and headed back toward my window. From what I realised must be a bus shelter, I called in another moth of similar size—he could be Moth Number Two: Electric Boogaloo. I didn't want them bashing into the window, so I shuffled back over there and opened it up again.

    Moth Number One fluttered in through the window, with Boogaloo right on his tail. They landed on the floor next to the bed and scuttled underneath, searching the darkened area for the pencil. I had a really good idea of how crappy their eyesight was, but their antennae were amazing.

    It took them less than a minute to find it, then they cooperated to roll it out right next to my feet. Telling them to work in unison was easy. Crouching down, I grabbed the pencil and took the two moths in hand at the same time. They'd done me a solid, so I gave them a free lift back to the window and let them take off before I closed it again.

    Well, that was different.

    Climbing back into bed, I settled the covers over myself, belatedly realising that even with the window closed, the room wasn't exactly warm. The toasty warmth soaked into me as I took up the pad and pencil. Other-me had given me the clues I needed to crack the puzzle and figure out what was going on.

    Without the note she'd left me, I'd still be thinking I was cray-cray. Now I knew it wasn't me. It was the world that had gone bonkers.

    Nibbling the back end of the pencil thoughtfully, I mentally composed the note I was going to leave for other-me. If this swapping was going to be a regular occurrence, we needed to establish a line of communication.

    <><>​

    Earth Terra
    Taylor (Bet)


    When I woke up face-down on the bed, I knew instinctively that we'd swapped again. Fact one: this was no hospital bed. Fact two: I was still wearing the sneakers this world's Dad had brought in for me. Fact three: there was a certain lack of bugs in the back of my head.

    Rolling over, I sat up and looked around. It was dark out, so I switched on the bedside light. Immediately, I was jealous of this world's Taylor. She might not have a Miss Militia lunchbox—sadly not collectible, and somewhat battered—but her computer was a sleek, shiny brand of laptop I didn't even recognise, instead of my clunky old machine with a dial-up modem and a CRT screen. This thing looked like it could be used to hack into the Pentagon.

    The entire room looked more prosperous than mine, but in a weird way. The wallpaper looked newer, the bed larger and more solid, and the wardrobe was substantial enough to host hidden pathways to a dozen fantasy worlds, all at once. (Did this version of me read C S Lewis? I hoped so).

    My own world was technically more 'fantastic' than this one, but ordinary old humans had managed to go places and do things, here, that capes hadn't managed yet back on Bet. They were gearing up to launch a fourth unmanned rover to Mars toward the end of the year, and we hadn't even sent one. Capes and Endbringer attacks tended to draw the attention.

    I shook my head. A world without Endbringers. It was going to take some getting used to.

    There was a knock on the bedroom door. "Taylor, dinner's ready!" It was Dad's voice.

    Forcibly, I reminded myself that this wasn't my Dad. He looked the same and talked the same, but he was the other Taylor's Dad. Not mine. I was just … borrowing him for a while.

    "Coming!" I called in reply. Getting up off the bed, I kicked off the sneakers and peeled my socks off. The carpet felt nice on my feet; a lot nicer than the linoleum in my own room.

    Dad gave me a concerned look when I came out of the room. "How are you feeling?" he asked quietly. "I can bring something up for you, if you want."

    "No, I'm good." I gave him my best approximation of a carefree grin. "Just let me wash my face and hands, and I'll be down."

    "Good, good." He gave me a quick side-hug. Not gonna lie; it was nice. "And then, once you're ready, I am going to want to know all the details about what Emma's been doing." His jaw, normally unassuming, was set in rigid lines. "I don't care if Zoe is the principal of that place, she and Alan need to know what's been going on."

    Aunt Zoe's the principal of Winslow here? Well, okay then.

    "Uh, sure," I mumbled. "I'll, uh, do that." Now, more than ever, I hoped the other Taylor had been keeping a journal, like I had. Otherwise, I wouldn't have a leg to stand on. I couldn't give Dad or Agent Wallis details that I didn't know about.

    Fortunately, the bathroom was in the same place I remembered it being. I made use of the facilities and attended to my ablutions, admiring the non-grimy mirror and the sparkling porcelain. Things weren't exactly grungy back home, but I remembered them being slightly more run-down than this.

    When I made my way downstairs and got to the kitchen, there was one more surprise lying in wait for me. Not a huge surprise, given that I'd been clued in on the existence of Theo's mom; what I didn't expect was the baby in a crib alongside the mousy-haired woman who was sitting next to Dad. I blinked behind my glasses and tried not to stare too much. With double the number of people normally in it (the baby didn't really count) the kitchen felt crowded.

    The thought flashed through my head that maybe I should've taken up Dad's offer for a meal in my bedroom. Unfortunately, it was too late to get back to that, short of a dramatic faked fainting scene. "Uh, sorry I kept you guys waiting," I said awkwardly.

    "That's all right, Taylor hon," said the woman warmly. "You've been through a terrible ordeal. I'd be the last person in the world to tell you that it's all in your head."

    That was the funny thing; it was all in my head. But somehow, I suspected the joke would fall very flat indeed. So instead, I nodded. "Thanks. I appreciate you all for being patient with me."

    This had the potential to be very awkward indeed, seeing how I knew Theo's name but not his mom's or his little … brother? Sister? The blanket was pink and frilly, but at that age it wasn't a solid indicator of whether the rug-rat was a boy or a girl. It seemed that retreating into 'uncommunicative teenager' mode was my best option there.

    Dad nodded approvingly at my words, and the woman positively beamed at me. Even Theo smiled briefly before attending to his meal again.

    When I got my own—at least that hadn't changed—I was impressed all over again. We had what looked like salmon, with a sauce that made my mouth water, and a variety of vegetables. I suppressed the automatic comment of wow, we're eating fancy tonight when nobody else seemed to be extra-impressed with the menu.

    That wasn't going to stop me, though. I made sure to savour every single bite. I might only be visiting this world—what was I going to call it, anyway?—but I was sure as hell going to enjoy the fringe benefits.

    "So, Kayden," began Dad, halfway through the meal. "How was work today?"

    Thank fuck, now I've got a name for her at least, I thought. I still didn't know the baby's name, but it was a start.

    "Actually, it went really well," she said. "I closed with one client and we're moving ahead as of next week. And another one called up, so business is looking good."

    Which gave me zero clues as to what she did, but that was okay. I didn't have to actually know that right this second. And I knew how I could find out.

    "That's amazing," Dad said, and shared a look of happiness with her. "I'm glad it's going well for you. Compared to how it could've gone, I mean."

    "No, no, you're right," she agreed. "Oh, and that reminds me. I got a call today from Alan Barnes. The last of the paperwork for the divorce should be finalised by the end of the week. Theo and I can finally walk away from the Anders name forever."

    I blinked. I knew that name. Not in the sense of 'Kayden Anders', but … it wasn't exactly a common name, and there was exactly one prominent figure in my Brockton Bay who had it.

    It doesn't have to be Max Anders. It could be someone else altogether. Something else I would have to gather context on my own about.

    We sat, and ate, and I listened to their chatter, and I mentally composed a whole swathe of questions to ask the other Taylor. Because if I was going to be spending time in this world, I wanted to be able to know what I was talking about.

    <><>​

    Earth Terra
    Taylor (Terra)
    The next morning


    I awoke with a gasp, looking around for the IV tree and blank hospital walls.

    They weren't there. I was in my bedroom, wearing my pyjamas, lying in my bed. There were no bugs in the back of my head trying to get my attention. Silence … blessed silence.

    Sitting up in bed, I looked around for anything that might have changed. Nothing had … except for the laptop Dad had gotten me for Christmas. (I still loved that thing). I always shut the cover down for the night, and someone (other-me, duh) had left it open.

    Swivelling my butt out of bed, I grabbed up my glasses and plonked myself down in front of the computer. Clicking the mouse woke it up and I saw, right in the middle of the desktop, a text file marked I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.

    Considering the world I'd just come from, I wasn't surprised. I double-clicked the file and it opened up.

    She wasn't kidding. She had a lot of questions. Conscious that I was on a time limit here (we only seemed to spend a short interval in our own worlds as opposed to each other's), I started typing.

    <><>​

    Earth Bet
    Taylor (Bet)


    I knew even before I opened my eyes that I was back in Bet. The bug senses in the back of my head gave me the biggest clue. Plus, the hospital room didn't smell anywhere near as nice as other-Taylor's room. She had an amazing house, and once I got past the stranger factor, Theo and Kayden were pleasant company.

    I hoped she'd find the questions I'd left on her laptop. (I'd figured out the password after three tries). Which reminded me; I reached into my pyjama top and found the note she'd left me.

    What is that thing in the bay?
    Did you know we can control bugs?
    Are superheroes and supervillains a thing here?
    Should I let people know I can control bugs?
    Is swapping us between worlds your power?

    (If it is, please stop).

    How did you get us out of the hospital?
    Do you have a journal too?
    Is there anything I need to know about before I go home?


    Taking a deep breath, I began to scribble answers.

    This was going to take some figuring out.

    It was a good thing there were two of us working on it.



    End of Part Three
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2022
  26. Simonbob

    Simonbob Really? You don't say.

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    I wonder if a Tinker like Armsmaster can actuly affect/see this one, given the IRL Earth doesn't allow Entities to even exist?
     
    Wolfsroses59 and Ack like this.
  27. an1979

    an1979 D'oh.

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    Taylor (Terra) speaks about principal Barnes in the first part - but her principal should be Zoe.

    Anyway, is that "character swap" needed for something because I see a lot of potential problems with justifying identical negligence from two different people.
     
  28. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Principal Zoe Barnes, yes.

    In Earth (Terra), Alan Barnes is still a divorce lawyer (note: he's handling the divorce proceedings between Max and Kayden Anders) while Zoe Barnes is the principal of Winslow.

    Canonically, Zoe Barnes was at least as negligent as Alan about not noticing the split between Emma and Taylor. Also, Emma was more than a little spoiled.

    So it's not a stretch to have Zoe being the negligent principal in this case, and her being Emma's mother adding the extra level of protection that Sophia not being a cape or Ward in this world would lose out on.

    (Taylor's English teacher is Ms. Howell, who was the vice principal in Arcadia in canon. I'm swapping a few people around because why not).
     
  29. Threadmarks: Part Four: Learning About the World(s)
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Entanglement

    Part Four: Learning About the World(s)

    [A/N 1: This chapter commissioned by Fizzfaldt and beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]

    [A/N 2: In case anyone is wondering, this fic is built around short, sharp chapters, between 3K and 4K words.]



    Earth Bet
    Taylor (Terra)


    I was getting used to this, but I didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Just for instance, when I saw that I was back in the hospital room, I knew exactly which world it was. Once I got out of here, that would probably change. I made a mental note to put together a list of landmarks to discreetly check for if I wasn't sure. It already sucked to be stuck in a hospital room because I'd had no idea what was going on inside my head, with my powers.

    Paper crinkled inside my pyjama top and I fished for it, anxious to see the answers OT (well, I couldn't keep referring to her as 'other-Taylor' all the time) had for me. I'd pushed the limit with answering her questions; it was good that I could type as fast as I could. As it was, I was pretty sure I'd fallen 'asleep' at the laptop.

    I briefly wondered what that looked like from the outside. Did whichever body I was in blink or shudder or even fall over while we were handing off custody? I'd have to find my camera and record myself, to see what it looked like. OT was probably curious about that too. Because duh, she was basically me.

    "Okay …" I mused, unfolding the paper. OT's scrawl was just as messy as mine. If someone not in the know read this, they'd probably think I was writing the questions and answers to myself as a quiz kind of thing.

    What is that thing in the bay?

    That's the base for the local Protectorate team. Government superheroes. The ones Brockton Bay have are Armsmaster, Miss Militia, Assault, Battery, Velocity. Look it up on PHO.

    Did you know we can control bugs?

    I do now. Holy shit. That's amazing. I just thought we could see through their eyes and stuff.

    Are superheroes and supervillains a thing here?

    Yes, and definitely yes. There are two three supervillain gangs in BB right now. Empire 88, Azn Bad Boyz, Merchants (sorta)

    Should I let people know I can control bugs?

    Fuck no! DO NOT DO THAT

    Is swapping us between worlds your power?

    No.

    (If it is, please stop).

    I honestly have no idea how that's happening

    How did you get us out of the hospital?

    Smiled and agreed with everything your-dad said.

    Do you have a journal too?

    Yes, definitely. Closet, top shelf, under the tacky Xmas sweater from Gram.

    Is there anything I need to know about before I go home?

    Lots n lots. Dad's not with Kaiden. (No idea who she is, or Theo, or the rug rat). Just me and him. Our house is in same place, but shittier than yours. Winslow principal is called Blackwell, not Aunt Zoe. You're gonna hate my computer. My password is Dad's birthday, but with month and year swapped. First superhero was Scion, golden man. PHO is Parahumans Online, I've got a tab on my compu

    The words trailed off. I knew exactly what that meant; she'd been too sleepy to write any more, and she'd shoved the paper down her top before she passed out altogether. But the information she'd given me was invaluable. I read through it again and again.

    Okay, so superheroes were a thing, and the government had dedicated heroes in some sort of nationwide team (unless the whole thing was based in Brockton Bay, which I honestly couldn't see) called the Protectorate. It was actually a pretty cool name for a superhero team, I had to admit.

    Also, you didn't just admit to having powers. I was guessing masks were definitely a thing. I began scribbling more questions as I thought things through. Did people just accept masks as given, or did they try to figure out who was behind them anyway? If I ever decided to go out as a hero, could I assume that nobody would recognise me without my glasses, or would I need something more substantial? Would a domino mask do the job, or was a half-face or full-face affair more desirable? How did super-battles work anyway, if masks were likely to obscure the vision?

    OT said swapping wasn't her power. So either someone was messing with both of us, or maybe it was a power we shared now, over and above the bug control? I didn't know how powers worked. Maybe if I could find an expert in the field? How long had powers been around, anyway? (I scribbled that question down). Couldn't have been World War 2 or before, or the world would be totally different, every comic book ever to the contrary.

    Secret to getting out of the hospital: don't appear crazy. Got it. Smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave. I could do that, definitely.

    Journal. Journal was good. I would need to read that thing cover to horrific cover, and then show it to this Blackwell person. Hopefully she wouldn't have the same protective-Mom mode that Aunt Zoe had been stuck in ever since Emma and her dad got mugged a few years ago.

    Finding out that Dad and Kayden weren't a thing in this world was a surprise, but not a huge one. Divergences were a thing, after all. Like, well, super-powers. I wondered what she and Theo and Aster were doing in this world. And if Max Anders was still going down for RICO and funding domestic terrorism.

    Password, check. (I'd totally forgotten about giving her mine. It was nearly the same anyway, but I jotted it down just in case).

    Okay, so Scion was a well-known hero? I was just memorising the name Parahumans Online (which I suspected was what OT meant by the 'PHO' reference earlier) when the door opened. Hastily, I tore the page off the pad and closed my hand around it.

    A nurse came in, followed by other-Dad. "Hi, Taylor," he said with a cautious smile. "How are you feeling?"

    "Better," I said honestly. "Lots better. I'm still probably gonna be showering about three times a day, but at least I can see straight." I sat up in bed and swung my legs over the side. "Can I go home now? Please?" I knew it wasn't home-home, but it beat the living daylights out of being in the hospital.

    Other-Dad (okay, OD) smiled; it was like the sun had come up. "Let's see what we can do about that."

    Smile and wave, boys, I reminded myself. Smile and wave.

    <><>​

    Earth Terra
    Taylor (Bet)


    When I woke up next, I was sitting at other-me's desk, with her laptop shoved back so I could pillow my head on my arms. Which reminded me; I'd have to come up with a nickname that was easier to say. Maybe OM? I'd go with that, for the time being.

    Getting up, I stretched mightily, feeling my back pop into place again. I still couldn't get over how fancy her room looked compared to mine, or how there wasn't any superhero stuff on the wall. I wondered how OM would react to the fact that I'd once owned a pair of Armsmaster-branded panties. Knowing me, she'd probably laugh her head off.

    I sat down at the desk again and dragged the laptop back toward me. It was still awake, which meant I hadn't been out for long. I wondered if I could buy a cheap camera from somewhere and record the changeover, just to see what it looked like. Actually, considering all the cool stuff OM had, she probably got a lot more allowance than I did; I could probably afford a decent camera instead.

    Anyway, that was a plan for later. Right now, I wanted to see if OM had found the list of questions.

    She had indeed, and she'd answered them too. Theo was Kayden's stepson (not 'Kaiden', like I'd thought it was spelled), not her biological son, but Aster (cute name) was hers. Kayden's ex was one Max Anders, which meant holy shit, either this is a really weird divergence, or my world's Max Anders is a criminal too. That was just too bizarre for words. Other me's Dad had already told me he was going down for RICO, which I seemed to recall meant criminal racketeering and stuff like that.

    I'd never met the man personally—Dad was an important person in the Dockworkers, but not that important—so all I knew of him was from what I'd seen on TV. Handsome, smiling, presiding over fundraisers and charity dinners, he was one of Brockton Bay's most influential businessmen.

    Was it even possible he was a criminal in Earth Bet? That was something I'd have to look into … well, we'd have to look into.

    I scrolled farther down the answers. Emma, Sophia and Madison were definitely the prime suspects for shoving me into the locker. Some things, it seemed, never changed. But here, Emma's mom was principal of Winslow. I had to say, I'd be really interested in how that happened. Apparently, Aunt Zoe had been hyper-protective of Emma ever since she (Emma) and Mr Barnes were mugged a few years ago. In her eyes, Emma could do no wrong.

    On that note, OM's journal was exactly where I'd left mine, except her closet was a hell of a lot bigger. She'd even hidden it under the exact same butt-ugly Christmas sweater Gram had given me, the one with Rudolph showing a love heart for a nose. Some things really didn't ever change.

    I reminded myself to familiarise myself with it before Agent Wallis came to talk to me about it. It wouldn't do to not be able to quote chapter and verse on stuff that had supposedly happened to me. (Well, it had, but me me.) It was still bizarre that the FBI, no less, were interested in the locker thing. It was almost like the authorities were actually interested in solving crimes.

    She hadn't been able to go into much detail about nine-eleven and the Patriot Act (from the look of her typing, she'd been trying hard to answer all my questions before she dropped off again, and she'd just about managed it) but she did tell me to Google it. Which was another point of congruence, that they had Google here. I went through the rest of the questions, gradually building a picture of the world that was both weird and familiar at the same time.

    Sitting back in the chair, I stared at the ceiling while I tried to assimilate it all. America had been involved in several wars since the date that Scion would've arrived. There were two separate wars in Iraq, and one in Afghanistan. One of those wars, if I was understanding things correctly, was somehow connected to nine-eleven and the Patriot Act.

    But still, no Endbringers or supervillains, just ordinary people being assholes to each other. And they still had Kyushu and Newfoundland, so that was a plus.

    I closed my eyes and shook my head. Capes had been a huge part of culture since Scion's debut. They'd stamped their mark right across society; I'd been aware of it for my entire life. If they'd ever been here and just vanished one day, the effects would still be plain to see. But they'd never been, and I was still having trouble fitting my head around that.

    Dad knocked on my bedroom door. "Taylor? Are you awake?"

    Given that I was not only awake but sitting at OM's laptop, there was only one answer I could give. "Sure, Dad. What's up?"

    "Agent Wallis called. He had some things to deal with, but he'll be over in an hour to talk to you about what happened at Winslow. Are you ready to talk to him?"

    I grabbed up the journal. Time to see how much I could absorb in half an hour. "I will be."

    <><>​

    Earth Bet
    Taylor (Terra)


    Riding in the car across this alternate Brockton Bay was both scary and disorienting. The city honestly looked almost as though it was under siege or something. Crumbling infrastructure, crappy roads after we got five minutes north of Brockton General, weird damage that looked like claw marks on the sides of buildings … I wanted to hug other-Taylor. Just growing up in this place would've been depressing as crap.

    And then I saw a bunch of flying people up in the sky, and my incipient bad mood just evaporated. They looked amazing, exactly what I would've expected to see in a summer blockbuster style movie … except this was real. One of them was even generating a force field to carry some of their teammates along. "Holy shit," I whispered, forgetting that I was supposed to be used to this sort of thing. "Did you see that?"

    "Yeah," said other-Dad, peering up at them through the windshield. "Don't often see New Wave's whole roster out and about at the same time. They're definitely going somewhere in a hurry. Wonder what's happening?"

    New Wave. I stored that name away to check out at my first convenience, and dredged up the names OT had given me. "Maybe they're going to fight the, uh, Asian Bad Boyz, or Empire Eighty-Eight?"

    Fortunately, my total lack of familiarity with the names didn't register with him at all. "Probably not the Empire," he mused, gesturing at a red and green slash of colour on one of the buildings we were driving past. "We're in ABB turf now. Sounds like Kaiser might be trying to take some territory, and Lung's objecting."

    The fact that he was referring to what had to be supervillains with such casual familiarity was beyond surreal. I peered around nervously, wondering what the villains looked like if the heroes looked so cool. "Isn't this, you know, kinda … dangerous?" Being out and about while supervillains were duking it out on the streets, I meant.

    He paused for a moment, and looked at me, his eyes widening slightly. Shit, I thought. He's figured it out.

    "Jeez, Taylor, I'm sorry." He shook his head with a grimace. "The doctor said not to let you get worked up. It's okay, we'll be home soon, and you can have a nap in the peace and quiet."

    I breathed deeply, still looking around for any signs of supervillains battling it out, with or without heroes involved. Luckily for my rattled state of mind, I didn't see anything or anyone to fit that description. What sort of a world have I been dropped into?

    When we pulled into the driveway, I immediately saw what OT meant about the house. It was the same house on the same lot, but it wasn't the house that I'd grown up in. Along with the rest of Brockton Bay, it looked dingier than my home, and the flower garden had weeds in it. Didn't OT or her dad even have the time to attend to that?

    I got out of the car and stood looking up at the house until other-Dad climbed out of the driver's seat and locked the doors. Carrying the bag containing toiletries and pyjamas that he'd brought to the hospital, I followed him around to the back door, where the same fake rock still probably hid the same spare key. Cognitive dissonance was rattling my cage even more now, the achingly familiar interspersed with the weirdly unfamiliar.

    He unlocked the door and entered, and I followed. Inside, the house was … drab. Even when he switched on the light, it felt smaller than my house, more cramped. Our house is in same place, but shittier than yours. Yeah, got that. Was it just me, or were the walls thicker, reducing internal space? Why would that even be a thing?

    "I'll … I'll just go have a shower and change," I ventured. "Maybe catch a nap." God, I hoped OT's bedroom was in the same place. Surely she would've said something if it wasn't.

    "Yeah, probably a good idea." OD was peering at me, and I tried not to flinch away. Even if this wasn't my Dad, he was still OT's father, and he cared. "Taylor, we've got to talk about what happened at Winslow, sometime. You know that, right?"

    I nodded jerkily. "Totally." Wondering how OT was going with this same conversation with Dad, I went along the entrance hall, then up the stairs.

    Just stepping into 'my' room in search of clothing was a dismaying affair. My closet was about half the size of the one I was used to, and most of my stuff just wasn't there. An ancient-looking desktop rig made me realise exactly what OT had meant by how I'd hate her computer.

    I spent a few moments admiring a large wall poster portraying the Protectorate that other-Taylor had mentioned, posing like they were about to fly off and save the world from some unimaginable evil. As cool as that other team had been … High Wave? New Wave? Whoever; these guys looked even better. The trouble was, they weren't named, so I had no idea who was who.

    Tucking the crumpled-up notes under the computer mouse, I rummaged for clothing. Very quickly, I found that what I'd reserved for Winslow-only wear was all OT had.

    Welp, I can only work with what I've got.

    Grabbing something that didn't look too grungy, I headed along to the bathroom. The hot water was nice, though I didn't recall the pipes rattling quite so much. Showered and dried, I got dressed in the clean clothing and went back to 'my' room.

    All I wanted to do was collapse face-first and sleep until I woke up in my own bed, but I had more urgent priorities. Pulling out the computer chair, I sat and faced the outdated monstrosity in front of me. With a little bit of searching, I located the power switch, and turned it on.

    And waited.

    Eventually, it decided to boot all the way up, but in the process making it absolutely clear that it was not in favour of this. I didn't care. The universe wasn't catering to my wishes, so the computer didn't get a say in the matter.

    OT's password got me into the system, then I actually had to log on to an internet server to get online, which made me frown. What year was this again? Twenty eleven, or two thousand one?

    Well, if I was going to get online, this was what I had to do. I clicked the icon, and heard a noise that I hadn't expected to hear ever again in my life; the sound of a dial-up modem doing its handshake with the server at the other end of the line. I revised my estimate of the effective year back to nineteen ninety-one.

    "Holy fuck," I muttered. "And here I thought superheroes would make things better. Where are the flying cars and light-speed laptops?"

    Not in this household, that was for sure. I could only imagine that the superheroes were keeping all the good stuff for themselves.

    Finally, it logged on, and I found the tab OT had mentioned. There was so much I didn't know about superhero culture, and I didn't want to get caught on the back foot by assuming anything. Clicking on it, I found myself entering the ParaHumans Online website.

    Roaming through the threads, I began to read the ones that sounded interesting. It all seemed fun and games, until I happened on the one marked S-Class Threats.

    That was when my eyes started getting wider and wider. There were images of things called Endbringers, and collated statistics of their depredations worldwide. (I'd thought Brockton Bay was in bad shape. No. Just … no.) Pictures and articles about the Slaughterhouse Nine, Butcher and the Teeth, Nilbog, and others.

    Silly me, I'd thought the local villains were the biggest threat I'd have to worry about.

    Stop the world. I'd like to get off, please.



    End of Part Four
     
  30. Pyro Hawk

    Pyro Hawk Unsure if Phoenix or Kitsune

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    Sure, superheroes might mean that tech and all advances faster if their powers aren't specifically ordered in such a way to inhibit that (they are in Worm-verse). But something that's just as destructive and damaging to societal advancement are the villains. That said, this is also entirely solvable if society has the post-superpowers monopoly of force end up on the side of advancement. But if there's more villains than those who want to benefit society or even just do their own thing? That slows it down.

    Now consider what might happen if the superpowers end up pushing the monopoly of force firmly into a balance between advancement and collapse? If you've done that, what happens if it flips towards the side of societal collapse? That's what's happened to the Worm-verse. Even worse: it was designed to do that, which means the easy and otherwise known ways around the problem actively have counters already in place to stop them working.

    In regards to the swap however: I wonder just how possible it will be for the Taylors to bring the slightly more advanced tech over from the 'IRL' world to push Earth-Bet forwards a decade or two in terms of tech. That's something for later however, as it requires a lot of planning and preparation before anything can happen. Not to mention I wonder how much just the disrupted trade the fragmentation of the world on Earth-Bet means 'modern' tech isn't actually as useful due to the different conditions it was designed to operate under.
     
    Ack and Zackarix like this.
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