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Taylor Hebert, Medhall Intern [Worm Fanfic]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Feb 26, 2019.

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  1. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    I assume this is talking about Sophia's mother rather than Sophia herself? Because you failed to say so.

    'she' -> 'she had'

    And now I'm cheering for Greg Veder. Well, it's less weird than cheering for the nazis...
     
  2. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    About to fix both those problems.
     
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  3. AnonymousMemberNO115

    AnonymousMemberNO115 Know what you're doing yet?

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    I really like how the story has been going so far only i am kind of worried that it is kind of going into the direction of a dead end.
    • I mean either the story is going to more or less stay out of the cape and gang side of things and then there will not be much of a problem but i am kind of wondering what direction the story will have to go into then?
    • The second option is of course that Taylor & Greg find out about the dark side of Medhall but i cant see them joining up with Nazi's so that seems like a dead end more or less. (if they go and try and reform the Nazi's that might work in the story but seems very unlikely to work in the "reality")
    • Another option is that coil does his thing and unmasks all the E88 parahumans and well, they still find out about the dark side of Medhall but it will be more like ripping off a bandaid and then the story could focus on keeping Medhall together under new management, maybe even throughout the troubles with Leviathan and the other destruction in the bay but that would also mean that a lot of the characters we have gotten invested in having to more or less drop out of the story so that might be a hard one.

    So yea, like the story so far but i am really unsure where this story is supposed to go in the end.
     
  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    We shall see what we shall see.
     
  5. Mastersgt

    Mastersgt Versed in the lewd.

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    psychiatric center? Asylum? Pretty sure that with how the Gov. in WORM works, that if they can nail her with those murder charges she would be going to the Birdcage.

    Also, I know it does not really fit in this story(since this is not really a lewd, or at least one with Sophia), but personally I always picture Shadow Stalker as a young Teyana Taylor.

     
  6. Scopas

    Scopas Know what you're doing yet?

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    Hell yeah! What an absolutely awesome chapter!

    And attaboy, Greg! Mah boy is becoming a man, bless his nerdy head and janitorial hands!
     
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  7. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    It would be hard to get her all the way to the Birdcage, given that she's a minor. Public opinion and all that.
     
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  8. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    I have a suspicion that the person who did get hurt was a non-white member of the staff.
    Out of all the people they could have spilled the identity of the only black ward to, it just had to be Kaiser's civilian identity. Not that it would have changed much with Taylor putting the pieces together, but still.
    Ironically, this is probably the good end for Sophia in this scenario.
     
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  9. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Nah. The Merchants.
     
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  10. Scopas

    Scopas Know what you're doing yet?

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    I mean, Piggot doesn't know who Anders is at night, nor Medhall's connection to E88. And at this point, Sophia's gone completely off the reservation, has essentially become a spree killer, and is in a building full of noncombatants. Even if she did know he was Kaiser, she probably should still tell him about Sophia's identity if only to minimize the civilian casualties.

    Plus, before she informed him about Sophia's secret identity, she took measures to protect the rest of the Hess family, which is the real concern when de-masking capes.
     
  11. NavigatorNobilis

    NavigatorNobilis Follower of the Second Star

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    That's actually perfect; I've tried to match my mental image of Sophia to a real picture before, but this one is a perfect fit.

    Also; great chapter. I'll be looking forward to the fallout from all of this!
     
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  12. ShellOG

    ShellOG I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    You spoil us. This was a pretty big chapter and tied up a lot of plots.

    But I guess... we shall see what happens next.
     
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  13. apocolypse1011

    apocolypse1011 Getting out there.

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    Phenomenal story and chapter! I have to wonder how much of Shadow Stalker's recent actions were a result of Alexander's apparent surreptitious mind whammy at the school (outside influence) versus her powers changing her outlook and how she thinks (her own fault). I'm personally leaning toward it being that the mind whammy just unleashed what was already there, since in Chapter 6 Alexander basically said he somewhat reduced Sophia's critical thinking and judgment making abilities temporarily and it would take a while to wear off.
     
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  14. Scopas

    Scopas Know what you're doing yet?

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    I don't think the mind whammy helped anything, but I honestly think that Shadow Stalker still maintains the majority of the blame. It's kinda like if someone gets drunk and murders their neighbor - the alcohol reduced their critical thinking abilities and impacted their judgement, but they're still culpable for their actions. Plus, even when Sophia was "sober", she'd already attempted murder multiple times and displayed explicitly sociopathic behaviors. I think she'd have turned murderer sooner or later, but Victor's mind-fuck acted as a catalyst, moving a future inevitability up in the queue to the present.
     
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  15. apocolypse1011

    apocolypse1011 Getting out there.

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    Sorry if I was a bit unclear in what I wrote, but that was pretty much the point that I was trying to make except you said it much more clearly.
     
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  16. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    This is exactly the situation.

    What Victor did was basically kick the first stone that started the avalanche. Sophia was keeping her darker urges in check because she vaguely knew it was a bad idea not to, but when the reasoning not to took a holiday, the 'fuck it, why not' urge took over. And once a bad habit is indulged in, especially to that degree, it's gonna need a whole new intervention to get her back on the wagon, because it feels so good to just do what you really want to do.
     
  17. Threadmarks: Part Eleven: Moving On
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Taylor Hebert, Medhall Intern

    Part Eleven: Moving Forward

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

    Tuesday Morning
    Winslow


    As I entered the school, people seemed to ease away from me, unwilling to present the appearance of bullying me or even getting in my way. For some, this may have felt like being a social pariah. I'd been there, so this was nothing. In fact, it was rather welcome.

    I went to my locker and opened it, not without a quick glance around, but my zone of privacy was operating at full strength. It seemed the downfall of Emma's clique, plus the determined efforts of the teachers to make me untouchable, had put the message out. Taylor Hebert is no longer an acceptable target.

    I was just fine with that. Collecting my books, I closed my locker and locked it, then turned my head as I heard a familiar footstep.

    "Hey, Taylor." Greg looked happy to see me. "How are you doing?" After yesterday, he meant. It was a valid question. A lot had happened yesterday.

    "I'm fine," I said, and it was true for a given definition of the word. I was feeling better, though Justin's death was still a body blow whenever I thought about it. "How's the Two-Gun Kid?"

    His expression morphed from a grin to confusion in the space of half a second. "The what again now?"

    It was my turn to grin teasingly. "Thought you might not have heard that one. Someone got security footage of how you took down Sophia, so Bradley and the others were calling you that when I left yesterday afternoon." I elbowed him gently in the ribs. "It suits you. I'm just glad you took note of where the fire extinguishers were."

    He rolled his eyes. "Trust you to bring that one up. They made me go through and count every single extinguisher on every floor, and what type was where. It took me three attempts to get it right. I still think they moved some around on my second try."

    "Well, you got it right in the end." I glanced at the slight bulge of the dressing under his shirt. "I'm also glad you thought to use the ironing board for protection."

    "Trust me, me too." He touched the spot gingerly. "If I hadn't, I'd be in surgery alongside Mr. Grayson." Or dead, he didn't have to say.

    "Yeah." I nodded in agreement, with both what he had and hadn't said. "When's that gonna be okay?"

    He half-shrugged. "The nurse who cleaned and dressed it said there was no sign of foreign substances. So I guess I should be glad Sophia didn't dip her arrows in shit or something. It should be okay by Saturday or Sunday. I might even get a cool scar out of it, to impress the chicks." With the old Greg, I might've thought he was being serious, but his self-effacing grin told me he was kidding.

    "None of that, buster," I told him with a chuckle. "There's only one girl around here you need to worry about impressing, and I'm already impressed."

    Was it just me, or did he blush slightly when I said that? There was a lot about teenage boys I still didn't know, even though Greg and I were getting to be pretty good friends by now.

    I slugged him lightly on the shoulder as the first bell went. "See you in World Affairs."

    "See you there, Taylor." Grinning all the way across his face, he turned and strode away, a whole new level of confidence in his stride.

    Which was, to be fair, kind of justified. After he'd gone off to be treated by the nurse, I'd heard how he'd rescued Ms. Harcourt and the other women, and stayed out to confront Sophia when he could've just run away. I wasn't kidding when I said I was impressed by all that. Hell, Ms. Harcourt almost smiled when she spoke of him.

    I headed to Mrs. Knott's home room and settled down behind my computer. While we were waiting for everyone else to trickle in, I booted it up and looked for articles on what had happened at Medhall on Monday. It appeared Mr. Anders was putting the screws to the PRT for not doing anything to rein in Sophia from her continued attacks on me and for not warning the police about her status as a cape, which had allowed her to escape from custody. This had allowed her to murder Justin, and nearly murder Tracey, Mr. Grayson, Greg and of course me. Not to mention whoever else would've died or been injured if Greg hadn't stepped up and done their damn jobs for them.

    I blinked as I saw the announcement that a lawsuit had been filed against the PRT on behalf of those harmed by Sophia, to the tune of ten million dollars. This wasn't just for the benefit of me and Greg; Tracey and Mr. Grayson were also in line to be recipients of the payout, as well as Justin's family, wherever they happened to be. Director Piggot of the local branch of the PRT had been reported as responding to questions about this with what I suspected to be the most pissed-off 'no comment' in the history of that phrase.

    It wasn't entirely her fault; I was willing to admit that, at least. Which wasn't to say she was totally, or even mostly, without fault in the matter. In Brockton Bay (I'd checked this up) the Wards were administered by the PRT, not by the Protectorate. Something about there not being enough room for them on the converted oil rig the adult team used for a base, or maybe it wasn't safe enough.

    Anyway, I was perfectly okay with accepting that Sophia had been a psycho from the beginning; joining the Wards hadn't actually been the reason for her going off the rails. But she hadn't wanted to join voluntarily (I'd checked that up too) and had only been shoehorned into the Wards after bending the rules pretty hard on what vigilantes could and could not do.

    It was amazing what someone could dig up if they were really willing to go looking online.

    So Director Piggot hadn't turned Sophia into a raving sociopath, which meant she'd accepted Shadow Stalker into the Wards, knowing that she was there because she'd committed crimes, and promptly ceased to invest in any kind of effective oversight on her actions. She could be as pissed off as she liked; an ounce of prevention (Sophia Hess straight off to cape juvey) would've been far preferable to the shit I'd gone through, though the thought of Sophia's expression when she realized she'd been taken down by Greg Veder was almost worth it.

    No, when I considered all Sophia had done while basically being protected by the PRT, I had very little sympathy in my heart for Director Piggot.

    The bell to actually start class rang, and I settled down to pay attention. It was a little hard to concentrate with everything I had to think about, but I managed. After I dealt with the day's project—a spreadsheet that would calculate the differences in tide times over a month—I went onto PHO and browsed the threads there. Medhall wasn't involved with the cape scene, of course, but an impressive number of people had found out about Greg's takedown of Sophia.

    Fortunately, nobody had linked him to his online persona of Void Cowboy, at least yet—I had laughed my ass off when he confessed to being the idiot behind that username—but it had to be at least as bad for an unpowered intern to have been the one to take her down. The authorities were trying to keep his name quiet—apparently some people get upset if a normal takes down a cape, who knew?—and for the most part this was holding. In the few places where it wasn't, all they had was his first name.

    After Computers came World Affairs. I waved to Greg when I saw him, and took a desk next to his. This was not my usual practice—normally I'd be snagging a seat right next to the door, so as to make a fast getaway—but I was doing a lot of things these days that weren't 'normal' for me. Crawling into cars teetering on cliffs to save my boss, among other things. Madison and Julia might still be attending the class, but Mr. Gladly was finally doing his job and ensuring they couldn't bully me unhindered, which made life so much easier for me. I'd have to go and speak to Principal Blackwell about the massive amount of vitriol that was still piling up in my school email account—it seemed some people never learned—but at least I was pretty sure I'd get a fair hearing this time.

    "Hey, you." He gave me a nod and a smile. "How'd things go in Computers?"

    I shrugged. "They're still hitting my email. I'll go talk to Blackwell in lunch period."

    He winced. "Ooh, ouch. Being made to actually do her job? That's going to have to sting."

    "Yeah." I chuckled. "Couldn't happen to a nicer person. So hey, did you hear about the lawsuit?"

    He looked attentive; a new thing for him, but one that I approved of. "I'm listening."

    His expression started at amusement when I told him who was suing the PRT, and his eyes widened when he learned about the amount and who were the intended recipients. "Wow, really? Think we'll actually get any of that?"

    This was another change in his aspect. The previous Greg would've been mentally rubbing his hands and considering exactly what he was going to spend it on. This one was actually utilising forethought and not assuming everything would turn out okay just because he wanted to.

    "Dunno." I'd seen this sort of thing before, with the Dockworkers. "They might not win the case, but given the situation, that's unlikely. It might be knocked down to a lower figure, even to just a symbolic win. The PRT might make the local Director fall on her sword as a gesture to make everyone happy. This is all intended to score political points, not to specifically benefit us."

    "Ahh." He looked enlightened. "I can kinda see it, yeah. So what we should be doing is sitting back with popcorn, and if we actually get anything material out of it, that's just a bonus."

    "Bingo." It seemed we were definitely on the same page. He didn't even protest the concept of the PRT and Medhall as political entities, which of course they were; just not traditional ones.

    "Good morning, everyone!" Mr. Gladly entered the classroom, full of vim and vigour as usual. Or like Greg had confided once, full of wind and bullshit. I couldn't actually argue with him on that. "How are we on this wonderful Tuesday morning?"

    The response, as could be expected, was lacklustre in the extreme. I grunted along with the rest. It wasn't that I didn't share his enthusiasm—well, okay, I didn't—but going into life-and-death situations twice in one day had dulled my already-minimal appreciation of basic classroom banter. Greg went one better; he produced an amazingly realistic snoring sound.

    Of all the responses, that was apparently the one Mr. Gladly took issue with. He walked down the rows of desks, carefully not looking at me, and planted himself in front of Greg's desk. "I'm sorry, Mr. Veder," he said. "Am I boring you?"

    I took a second to feel mild surprise about Mr. Gladly dropping his 'Mr. G' persona—Greg wasn't the only one displaying atypical behaviour, it seemed—before clearing my throat to get his attention. "Mr. Gladly, maybe you haven't heard? Yesterday, Greg took on an armed intruder in the Medhall building and beat them unconscious. That person is now in police custody. You might have read about it in the news." You're really going to have to up your game if you want to top that shit, I didn't have to say.

    The room went so quiet, I almost heard it when Mr. Gladly blinked. I was pretty sure I did hear a few jaws dropping around the room. Greg gave me a pained sideways glance as if to say, Really?

    I returned him a half-shrug and a quick grin. At least I didn't mention the Two-Gun Kid part.

    "Ah. Isn't that kind of … dangerous? Foolhardy, even?" Mr. Gladly puffed himself up into some variation of The Responsible Adult. "He should really have waited for the police."

    "True, but he was in the process of getting my supervisor's boss and several members of her staff out of the line of fire when the intruder showed up, so he didn't really have a choice in the matter." I smiled slightly. "There's no doubt he saved lives. I was right there when Max Anders personally congratulated him." Chew on that, you pompous ass.

    "I see." He visibly stopped himself from directly asking me if I were telling the truth, and stepped away from Greg's desk. "Well, uh, moving along. Yesterday, you all gave your presentations regarding a hypothetical project to green the Sahara. It will come as not very much of a surprise that one of your presentations was far and away better than everyone else's. Specifically, Taylor and Greg." He didn't mention Sparky, which surprised nobody. I hoped the guy would get at least a passing grade for not wrecking our presentation.

    "I still say that's not fair," Julia said, just loudly enough to be audible. "Just because Taylor's the new teacher's pet …"

    "Miss Morrow!" Wonder of wonders, it turned out Mr. Gladly could raise his voice when needed. "One more outburst from you, and I will be sending you to see Principal Blackwell. I have perused the source material Taylor and Greg used, and it is clear that they've studied it and made exemplary use of the material without actually copying it word for word. Your presentation was also good, but I'm not going to penalize them for using the resources at their disposal. Now, do you have anything more to say?"

    Julia looked over at me, then at Madison. When Madison said nothing—even now, the marks of the beating Sophia had given her were barely visible under her makeup—and hunched down in her chair, Julia huffed out a sigh. It was clear there wasn't going to be any support from that direction. "No, Mr. G."

    "Good." He went back to his desk and took up the stack of assignments. "All of you passed, though I will say some of you could have honestly put a little more effort into it." Walking around the classroom, he handed us back the papers we'd put in on Monday. As I'd already seen, ours was a lot thicker than everyone else's, with the one by Madison and Julia coming second.

    The moment my copy landed on my desk, I snatched it up and looked for the mark. In his familiar scrawl, Mr. Gladly had written 97% - Very good! Please see me after class.

    Frowning slightly, I turned to Greg, who was looking at an identical message on his, down to the percentage Mr. Gladly had awarded us. Sparky lifted his head briefly to glance at his own mark; twisting my neck, I made it out to be 51%. Could do better.

    Well, that answered that. Mr. Gladly was totally aware of who'd done the work and who slept through basically every class he had. Leaning across toward Greg, I tapped the 97% with my fingertip. "Wonder how we lost the three percent?" I asked quietly.

    "No idea. Maybe it's his way of balancing the fact that we got access to the Book when nobody else even had the chance to?" He shrugged. "Hey, this is the highest mark I ever got in this class. Not gonna jinx it by whining about three lousy percentage points."

    When he put it that way, it made sense. "Yeah, true. So I wonder why he wants to see us?"

    That, I couldn't answer. It was probably about the Book, but exactly what Mr. Gladly wanted to talk to us about regarding the Book, I had no idea. As with most questions in life, we were going to just have to wait and see.

    <><>​

    Whatever it was, Mr. Gladly didn't see fit to touch on it during the lesson. He waxed lyrical about how Gesellschaft and the Three Blasphemies had altered the European political landscape just by the very fact of their existence, and how they'd had much more effect than similar sized groups of heroes. Greg put up his hand after a while and asked about the Simurgh's attack on Switzerland, and if that couldn't also be seen as a political terror attack.

    Half the class nodded and murmured in agreement, while the other half, led by Julia and her cronies, tried to mock him. "The Simurgh isn't a supervillain!" she said out loud.

    "Why not?" I asked boldly. "She uses powers to mess people around. There's a kill order out on her. Why can't she be defined as a supervillain for this situation?"

    "Because supervillains rob banks, doofus!" That was one of the boys who hung around Madison. "You ever see the Simurgh do that? Endbringers are different."

    Greg cleared his throat. "I'm pretty sure 'must rob banks' isn't down anywhere in the job description of a supervillain. Have the Slaughterhouse Nine ever robbed a bank? I bet Crawler couldn't even fit through the doors. Doofus."

    Silence fell briefly as everyone there tried to recall if America's most hated villain gang had ever stooped to that supervillain staple. I was reasonably sure they hadn't, if only because every single one of them was so notorious that they'd never be able to spend a dime without someone calling the PRT on them.

    Mr. Gladly broke up the impending argument before it could start again. "Good points on both sides, people. Julia, you're right in that the Simurgh isn't usually seen as a supervillain. Endbringers are considered more to be something you evacuate cities for rather than a mere human committing a crime. However," he continued, raising his voice slightly when people on both sides of the argument started putting their two cents' worth in, "Greg is also correct that the Simurgh's influence on the people of Lausanne did indeed alter the political situation, just as if she were a normal supervillain. The main difference is that her influence happened all at once and we've been dealing with the aftermath ever since, while the others have had to work at it to stay relevant on the scene."

    Dang, I thought. Mr. Gladly's really stepping up. I didn't know he had it in him. The cynical side of me suggested he was only making the effort so I couldn't say he'd let Julia bully me. I wasn't so jaded that I was going to refuse the assistance, though. It was, as Dad was fond of saying, about damn time.

    With Mr. Gladly's interjection, everything settled down again. Greg seemed very pleased with himself, and I was quite happy we'd had each other's backs. The number of times I'd been in situations where anything I said or did was shouted down immediately, and I was mocked for even opening my mouth, compared to this time … the contrast was stunning. Was this how ordinary people got to live? I'd take it.

    The lesson rolled on. Julia looked like she was seething, but lacking her accustomed support from Madison and the wilful blindness from Mr. Gladly, she had no outlet for her bile. When the lunch bell rang, Greg and I packed up our books but waited to see what Mr. Gladly wanted with us. Julia lingered also, drawing out her departure as long as possible.

    "Julia, did you want something?" asked Mr. Gladly, still straightening up his desk.

    It was clear to me what Julia wanted: us, outside the classroom where no interfering teacher would be able to see what was going on. She looked around as Madison slipped out the door along with the last of her cronies. Apparently realizing that her will held no sway inside the room where none of us actually wanted her there, she pushed her hair back from her face in a nervous gesture. "Uh, not really?"

    I gave her a brief wave. "See you later then, Julia." Better later than sooner, that's for sure.

    Shooting me another poisonous glance, she grabbed her bag and headed for the classroom door. Mr. Gladly watched it close behind her, then quite clearly put her out of his mind as he took the Book out of his desk drawer and turned to us.

    "I've been reading this." He shook his head. "I haven't gotten even halfway through it, and it's absolutely brilliant. Every time I turn the page, the author covers another detail I wasn't even aware of. Your presentation made me think it might be possible, and the book utterly convinced me in every way."

    "That's nice, Mr. Gladly," I said neutrally, trying not to think of Justin's cheerful face as he handed the envelope holding the Book over to me. "Is that what you wanted to tell us?"

    He frowned and shook his head. "No. Well, yes, but I would really, really like to get in touch with the author. Whoever it is, they're brilliant beyond words. I've got a few contacts in the publishing industry, and if they're struggling to get their ideas put into print, I could definitely make that happen. These ideas need to see the light of day. If you could put me in touch …"

    I shook my head as he trailed off expectantly. "I'm very sorry, Mr. Gladly. I don't know who the author is, just that they were willing to loan this to me as a favour to a friend of mine."

    "So can you ask your friend …?" His voice had the tone that clearly conveyed, this is an obvious idea, why aren't you doing it already?

    I shook my head again, my throat closing up. Greg put his hand on my shoulder for support. "She can't," he said quietly. "He's dead. It was very sudden. I can ask around at work, but I don't know if anyone else there knows the other person."

    "Ah." Mr. Gladly's whole expression slumped. "Could you do that for me? Please? This, right here, has the potential to change the world. There are people out there with the resources to get this done, who just don't know it can be done."

    "We can try." Greg seemed to have taken over the conversation, which was just fine with me. "But we're not due back at Medhall until tomorrow afternoon, so we won't be able to get an answer to you until Thursday. C'mon, Taylor, let's go."

    I headed out the door with him, not sure what I was going to do if Julia had decided to hang about anyway. But the hallway was clear; my best guess was that her coterie had gone ahead and she hadn't felt like trying to confront us on her own. "Thanks for that, just now," I said after the door had closed. "I … it was too …"

    "Hey, I get it," he said sincerely. "I miss him too. Anyways, we're a team. Medhall interns stick together, right?"

    "Damn right." I grinned weakly, and high-fived him. "So, um, I'm gonna go see Blackwell now, if you wanted to head to the cafeteria …"

    "Pfft, as if I'd risk going in there alone and getting ambushed by a bunch of Julia clones." He rolled his eyes. "I'm going with safety in numbers, thanks."

    I was pretty sure he was sticking around to make sure I got to the office safely, but I didn't call him out on the lie. Besides, it felt nice to have someone watching my back. Someone who was actually competent and could think ahead, as opposed to the version of Greg who'd stepped out of the elevator with me on my first day at Medhall. That Greg, I'd tolerated. This Greg, I liked.

    "Yeah, probably a good idea." I didn't have to specify why I thought it was a good idea. We both knew. "So, uh, is it just me or is Julia still rabid about trying to mess with me?"

    "Absolutely frothing at the mouth, yeah." Greg seemed a little relieved at the change in topic. "I think I've got it figured. Emma was queen bee of our year, but she's been taken out of Winslow. Sophia was her enforcer, Madison was basically her court jester, yeah?"

    I giggled involuntarily, imagining Madison wearing garish red and yellow with the weird hat. The image was so wrong and yet so right. "That's definitely one way to put it, yes."

    Greg's smirk told me he had the same mental image I did. "So yeah, I'm thinking she's angling for the top job herself. Ems and Soph are out of the picture, and Mads is basically trying to pretend she never even heard of you, much less met you, but Julia's got it into her brain that the way to becoming queen bee is to push you down into the dirt again, just like Emma had you. So she's trying to recreate what Emma did back when we started at Winslow, but …" He gestured eloquently.

    "But she doesn't have the support structure to do it, not like Emma did," I finished. "And she can't ambush me by pretending to be my friend until it's time to sink the knife in. Also, she totally doesn't have any little secrets from my past that she can dig up and throw in my face, like Emma used to."

    "And of course, you've got me," he pointed out. "Emma was able to chase away anyone who even looked like backing you up. That shit isn't gonna fly with me."

    "Well, duh, I've got you." I bumped my shoulder against his. "And I really, really appreciate it. Also, you need to see the security footage of you putting Sophia on the floor. Bradley says your form needs work and your follow-through lacked finesse, but he was smiling when he said it. Me, I think you looked totally badass."

    Greg flushed a little, but recovered quickly. "Bradley? Smiling? Surely you jest. I'm pretty sure that man had his sense of humour surgically removed at birth."

    I laughed out loud and dredged up a line I'd seen in an old comedy show. "I'm not jesting, and don't call me Shirley."

    Greg's laughter joined mine, echoing down the hallway.

    <><>​

    Principal's Office, Winslow High

    Carrie Blackwell looked down as her intercom buzzed. She glanced at the two suited people who sat on the guest chairs before her desk. Despite the fact that the chairs were lower-set than her own, they dominated the room. "I need to take this."

    The male member of the pair gestured smoothly. "Go right ahead. We need to see how you conduct business, anyway."

    That's what I'm afraid of. She pressed the button. "Yes?"

    Her secretary's voice came through loud and clear. "I have Taylor Hebert here. She says she has a complaint to report to you."

    Carrie's eyes widened. She didn't miss the two people leaning forward, their interest suddenly heightened. What she wanted to do was send the Hebert girl away until later, but these days she rarely got what she wanted. "Send her in."

    "Yes, ma'am."

    A moment later, the door opened and Taylor Hebert stepped into her office. Immediately, Carrie ran her eye over the girl, trying to figure out what was occasioning the complaint. Her clothes were clean and tidy, her hair neatly brushed, and the scrape on her cheekbone was more than a day old.

    "Miss Hebert." Carrie saw the girl's eyes stray toward the two suited people, and did her best to regain her attention. "What appears to be the problem?"

    "My email account." The girl took a sheet of paper from her pocket and unfolded it. When she slid it over the desk, Carrie's eyebrows rose at the insults being offered toward Taylor. Some of them were both disgusting and inventive, all at the same time. "It seems some people haven't gotten the message, or think throwaway email accounts make them anonymous enough to keep attacking me." Her gaze, when Carrie looked at her face, was forthright and steady. "This is just a small sample."

    "I see." And Carrie did see. Oh, for fuck's sake. How hard is it to stop bullying one teenage girl? "I will have this dealt with as soon as possible."

    "Thank you." To her credit, Taylor Hebert didn't show any overt signs of skepticism at Carrie's statement. "I appreciate it." Turning, she left the office. The damning sheet of paper lay in the middle of the desk.

    Following the click of the door latch engaging, the suited woman stood up. "May I see that?"

    Though worded as a request, it was anything but, and Carrie knew it. She handed the sheet over to the representative from the school board, and watched as the pair of them discussed it in low tones. Somehow, she knew, she would get the blame for this too, even though she was trying to stop the bullying once and for all.

    It was just the way her luck was going at the moment.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Greg, who'd been waiting in the outer office, exited with me. I waited until the door closed behind us both and we were a ways down the corridor before I spoke again. "Think she'll do something about it?"

    "I can almost guarantee it." Greg spoke with the confidence of newfound experience. "Right now, after the Emma and Sophia shit-show, she'll be off balance. If you keep pushing, she'll have no choice but to do her job, especially when you have actual evidence to back you up."

    "And of course it helps that there's nobody to give her an excuse to sweep it under the carpet. Emma's facing legal charges, and Sophia's … well, where Sophia is." I had to be careful about what I said in public, but Greg and I both knew what I meant. Especially since he'd helped put her there. Two-Gun Kid, hah.

    "Yup." He'd definitely caught the inference, from the pleased look on his face. "So, lunch now?"

    "Lunch sounds good."

    We'd started eating lunch together in the cafeteria after the locker incident; I'd bought his lunch the first time around as a thank you, and now we just bought our own and sat at the same table. It was friendly and companionable and we got to talk about our respective days at Medhall, and what we expected to be doing next. The best thing was, wonder of wonders, without Emma and Sophia to stir people up (and with Blackwell's strictures from on high) people didn't actually bother us.

    I gave Greg my money and he went through the lunch line while I snagged a table and sat down. He was familiar enough with my preferences by now that I knew I'd like whatever he got me. Sure enough, he came back with a pita wrap, a banana and a cranberry juice.

    Julia was across the room, eating with Madison and the others, and I knew they'd seen us. But these days it seemed a teacher was always wandering through the cafeteria, so she didn't have the chance to bring them over en masse and start anything. Besides, if she did? I was about done with rolling over for that shit, and I knew Greg was too. We wouldn't start anything, but we sure as hell wouldn't back down either.

    Just as we were about to get up and head off—the bell would be ringing shortly, and I had Art class to go to—a few guys came past our table, laughing and joking with each other. I tensed, but it didn't look like they were part of Julia's crew. One of them brushed past our table, which I thought nothing of until I spotted the folded note that had been dropped on Greg's tray.

    "What the hell's that about?" I asked, turning my head to look at them. They were all pretending the brush-pass had never happened, joining up with some buddies of theirs and heading out of the cafeteria. Not one of them looked back.

    "I dunno." Greg picked up the note and unfolded it under the table. Curious, I leaned over and looked for myself.

    Veder, Hebert, you seem to be strong, right-thinking people. Are you interested in joining a club where you can meet other people like you, who can see what's wrong in the world and are interested in fixing it? Call this number if you are.

    I met Greg's eyes; he looked as confused as I felt. "What the fuck?" he asked. "Did we just get asked out of the blue if we want to join the Illuminati or some shit?"

    "Search me." I held out my hand for the note and turned it over a few times. The writing was the only thing on it. "I didn't even know Winslow had clubs. I mean, apart from the sports teams." I'd heard there'd been a photography club up until a just few years ago, until someone stole all the cameras.

    "So, a secret society then." Greg rolled his eyes sarcastically. "Oooh. Spoooky. Mysteeerious."

    I had to chuckle at that. "Definitely pretentious as fuck. Are you gonna call the number?"

    He shrugged. "Not all that interested, to be honest. I've got school work and Medhall stuff, and this just sounds pointless to me. High schoolers sitting around making big plans about how they're gonna fix things once they're old enough to do anything about it? Pass."

    "Yeah, me too." I frowned, thinking back. "Weird thing is, they didn't look all that nerdy to me. I mean, did they have the vibe of someone who'd be into that sort of thing?"

    Greg hunched one shoulder in a half-shrug. "Not … really? I guess? I mean, I used to be a total dweeb. We both know it. Back then, I would've jumped into something like this feet-first, and honestly believed I was making a difference in the world even while everyone else made fun of me. But you're right. Those guys didn't look like that."

    "Oh, well." I got up from the table. "Takes all kinds to make a secret society, am I right?"

    "Guess so." Greg stood up as well. "See you when I see you."

    "See you then." We headed off toward our respective lockers, to get our books for the next class.

    School went on.

    <><>​

    Later
    Hebert Household


    I had the ironing board out, making sure my work blouse was crease-free for tomorrow, when Dad came in the back door. "Hey, Taylor," he called out. "Did you have a good day?"

    "Better than yesterday, that's for sure." I put down the iron and headed into the kitchen to give him a hug. "Greg and me got ninety-seven percent on that assignment. How cool is that?"

    "That's pretty damn good, yes." He hugged me back, then ruffled my hair playfully. "So how's the boyfriend?"

    "Da-ad!" I squawked, scandalised. "Greg's my friend, and he's a boy, but he's not my boyfriend. He's just … you know … Greg."

    "Oh, sorry, my bad." He seemed far more amused at the error than he should've been. "It's just that you two hang around a lot together, and you talk about him all the time. Honest mistake."

    I rolled my eyes in the best teenage-prescribed manner. "Seriously. I'm allowed to have a friend who's a boy without him being my boyfriend. Sheesh."

    "Never said you weren't." Dad was barely hiding a smirk now. Parents sucked. "So how's the not-boyfriend, anyway?"

    "Oh, he's fine. He's a lot less of a doofus than he used to be back before we started working at Medhall, which is totally a good thing." I tilted my head, remembering. "Actually, funny thing. Someone dropped a note on the table when we were having lunch. An honest to goodness invitation for both of us to join a secret society. How weird's that?"

    The smirk was replaced with a frown. "A secret society? In Winslow? That does sound strange. Did they say what they get up to in their secret society meetings? Smoke pot? Play Dungeons and Dragons? Smoke pot and then play Dungeons and Dragons?"

    I gave him an irritated look. "No, it said something totally different. Where are you getting all that stuff from, anyway?"

    He put his hands up placatingly. "Hey, your stodgy old dad might've done a few silly things in his youth. It was a fair question. But I hope you're not thinking of walking into this sort of thing blind."

    "No, me and Greg weren't even going to call the number." One of the phrases cropped up in my mind, mainly because I'd been thinking over it. "Part of it said that me and Greg, uh, looked like strong, right-thinking people, and asked us if we wanted to join a club where we could learn how to fix what was wrong with the world, or something like that."

    All humour dropped away from Dad's expression. "Did it actually say that? Right-thinking? Fix what's wrong with the world?"

    I blinked. "Uh, yeah. That's basically what it said, yes. Why?"

    He shook his head definitively. "Then you're doing the right thing by staying away from them. Far away. Don't talk to them, and most of all don't give them any reason to think you're interested."

    "Dad, you're worrying me." I was understating the matter. His tone was deadly serious, and it was putting chills down my spine. "What is it? Who are these guys?"

    He heaved a sigh. "I always worried that this day would come. That sort of phrasing is used by white supremacist groups, like the Empire Eighty-Eight. You and Greg have shown that you've got backbone, and you've both clashed with the Hess girl, so someone's decided to try to recruit you."

    "Shit." If chills had been running down my spine before, now they were having a full-on track meet. "Someone thinks I should be a Nazi?"

    "Not so much 'should be' as they'd like you to join because you did something they approve of." Dad spread his hands. "People like that interpret behaviour the way they want to see it."

    I facepalmed. "So because Greg tackled Sophia after getting beat up by her, they think we hate black people?"

    "Well, from the sounds of that note, they certainly hope you do." He shrugged. "The trick is to say 'thanks but no thanks' in a way that doesn't offend them."

    "Gotcha." I took a deep breath. "Okay, right now I think I'll call Greg and let him know what's up. Then tomorrow at Winslow we'll just be oblivious." I swept my hand above my head. "All the hints—whee!"

    "Yeah, that should work." Dad sounded hopeful, which was a good sign. "Give him my best, while you're at it."

    "Sure thing." Feeling more certain about things, I went back into the living room. The last thing I wanted was to get mixed up with the largest gang in the city. Hell, if I had a total brain meltdown and joined, and Mr. Anders found out, I might end up losing my spot at Medhall. There was no way I wanted to risk that.

    Picking up the phone, I dialled Greg's number. His mom answered, but that was okay. She was a sweet lady, who only wanted the best for Greg. "Hi, Mrs Veder. Yes, it's Taylor. Is Greg there, please?"

    <><>​

    Later That Night

    As I lay in bed on the edge of sleep, my drowsy brain kicked up random snippets of things that I'd seen and heard through the day.

    … Two-Gun Kid …

    … why can't the Simurgh be a supervillain …

    … Mysteeerious …

    … how's the boyfriend …


    That one jolted my mind a little, and I lay there turning it over in my head.

    I hadn't pushed back so hard because I disliked Greg. In fact, I liked him just fine.

    It was more the surprise factor. The idea of Greg being my boyfriend had simply never crossed my mind before.

    Now that it had, I needed time to get used to the idea before I could think it over properly.

    In any case, did Greg even see me as a romantic interest, or just as a friend?

    If he was interested, surely he would've sent me a signal by now. Asked me out on a date, or given me flowers, or something.

    My last thought, as I slid away into sleep, went along the lines of, At least I'd always know what he was thinking.

    <><>​

    Winslow
    The Next Morning


    When I got off the bus, Greg was waiting for me in the parking lot. "Hey, Taylor!"

    "Oh, hey, Greg. How you doing this morning?" I went over and gave him a side-hug. The revelation about who the note was from had been somewhat of a shock to him.

    "A bit better now that I've had time to sleep on it," he assured me. "I mean, what are they gonna do? Beat me up if I don't wanna join? Pfft, Bradley's gonna be teaching us how to handle ourselves, and I'll take anything he can hand out to us over what those jerks can do."

    "Yeah, but don't raise your voice about it too much, okay?" I didn't think anyone was listening in, but I glanced around just to make sure. "All we've gotta do is pretend we've got no idea what they're talking about. And if they start talking about black people, just say something like, 'Oh, like my neighbour Ryan', or whatever. Once they get the idea that we've got no problems with minorities, they should give us up and start trying to recruit elsewhere."

    "Yeah, that sounds like a good idea." He nodded seriously. "Your Dad's pretty smart. Where'd he learn about stuff like that?"

    I rolled my eyes. "Oh, the Empire tries to get their hooks into the Dockworkers every now and again. Dad is beginning to think it's more of an initiation ritual for the enthusiastic new bloods than an actual serious attempt to infiltrate anymore. They show up with the spiel, and Dad politely tells them that the Dockworkers aren't interested."

    "Huh. Yeah. I can just see that." Greg grimaced. "But you know, I was just thinking. Sophia … the way she was getting around attacking people, is it just me, or was she about the best recruiter for the Empire out there?"

    The idea came as a bit of a shock, but the more I thought about it, the more it made a twisted kind of sense. "Actually, I hate to say it, but you're right. If I didn't have Medhall and you, and if one of those guys had come up to me and said they'd protect me from Sophia and all I had to do was show up at a meeting or two …" I paused, thinking it through. "Would I be a bad person if I said I'd be tempted?"

    Greg put his arm around my shoulder, returning my side-hug from before. "You'll never be a bad person, Taylor. And we're never going to have to find the answer to that one, thank God."

    "Yeah." I snuggled into the hug, finding it comfortable. "I like things the way they are right now, thank you very much."

    He squeezed my shoulders. "Me, too."



    End of Part Eleven
     
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  18. Enochi

    Enochi Not too sore, are you?

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    Eh not sure if I like the romance sub-plot. Its fine but eh I dunno wasn't an angle that drew me to the story. A good set-up chapter but I look forward to more Medhall scenes as I feel that's the best part of the story.
     
  19. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    It won't be a huge part of the plot.

    Taylor's more of a Useless Girlfriend than anything.
     
  20. Robert Stadler

    Robert Stadler Making the rounds.

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    I like the sort-of resonance between this chapter and Slippery Slope. It's nice to balance out the "Taylor joins the E88" story with "Taylor joins Medhall but is in no way remotely sympathetic to the neo-Nazis, and will be horrified when she learns of the connection."
     
  21. Scopas

    Scopas Know what you're doing yet?

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    Excellent shout-out at the end. It got a very appreciative chuckle out of me. I do like it when Danny isn't an idiot, seeing how he seems pretty capable in canon when he's not being absolutely crushed by emotional weight and his own failures as a parent, so it's good to see him warning T&G. I'm not a huge fan of romance in Worm, but I am liking the relationship between this Greg and this Taylor. It's quite wholesome and doesn't feel at all forced or toxic, which makes it practically unique in Worm.

    Overall, this was an excellent cool-down chapter. I bet the Book in Gladly's hands is going to cause some sort of fuck-up down the way, though, especially if Gladly tries to claim credit for Accord's ideas or something equally stupid.
     
  22. Crazael

    Crazael Could be wittier.

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    While i totally get her concern, and under normal circumstances it would absolutely be a valid concern, i can't help but be amused by the idea that he likely ordered the receuitment in the first place.
     
  23. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    But what if he doesn't take credit for it? After all, Gladly is pretty focused on finding the true author.

    It would be so funny if helping out with a random homework assignment is what finally gets one of Accord's save-the-world plans set in motion.
     
  24. Robert Stadler

    Robert Stadler Making the rounds.

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    I assumed that that's where this story is going. It also fits with the theme of non-powered individuals' being surprisingly effective when they actually approach problems sensibly.

    I do wish we had gotten to see Sophia's self-reflection after she was defeated by an unpowered Greg Veder, armed with nothing more than an ironing board and janitorial supplies. Hopefully that will be in the next chapter.
     
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  25. RJ_The_Berg

    RJ_The_Berg Getting out there.

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    I’ve been waiting months for this chapter!

    Generally agreeing with people that the romance angle is nice, but not the things drawing me in, with Medhall and Taylor’s interactions with them being the main draw.

    I agree.
     
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  26. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Know what you're doing yet?

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    I think it would be even more amusing if Taylor says something to the effect of not wanting to risk her position at Medhall by joining the E88 and that she wouldn't want to disappoint Mr. Anders by her joining a gang like the E88.
     
  27. Crazael

    Crazael Could be wittier.

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    I can just imagine the barely controlled groan of frustration when he finds out about it.
     
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