Expansion 20.4

Morning came, as it was want to do, my arm long since regrown, and I still hadn't fully caught up on all the bullshit that'd happened while I'd been out, though I was getting a better handle on it. Meanwhile, the PRT continued to completely shit itself, and I considered making a few calls, if only to fuck up Contessa's plan, but doing so might fuck up Herb's plan, so I decided to hold off until the man himself said it was fine. Meanwhile, with how much the city had grown, there were a lot of aspects to learn about.

My 'City of Tomorrow' quip to Flamel had been more on point than I'd thought, with how many separate new technologies and techniques that were being implemented in the construction of New Brockton Bay, courtesy of Accord's plans. The novel practices being put in place were far reaching and complex, in ways I hadn't realized until I saw them in action. The city was still under construction, but even now the interconnecting networks that managed the transferal of goods, the movement of people, and so on were emerging, everything just. . . working.

In comparison, though a good deal of our data came from hacking my brother's servers, 'Lotus Row'. . . wasn't. The buildings I'd created for him were great, but, once I'd gotten 'sidelined', he'd not waited for me to recover, moving forward with his own construction efforts. He was patching some of the problems with Tinkertech, but, well, there were already signs that it wasn't working, and, being Tinkertech, it didn't scale.

Furthermore, his supply networks kind of sucked, mostly just piggybacking onto mine. Which my people were allowing, but subtly screwing him with fees just as he screwed us on any individual thing he asked for, and, ultimately, we were coming off the better for it. That said, if we were busy fucking each other over, the United States Government was bending us both over the table and going in dry. If we weren't pulling money practically out of the ether, our production of Ruby and Obsidian Oak costing just the labor it took to cut and process it, along with wear and tear on equipment, we'd be screwed, but not having to worry about the price of creating those materials meant that, even with the sixty percent tariff slapped on our goods, going both ways, we were fine.

Actually, screw fine, we were still thriving, at least in part because of the lower internal taxes between all the parts of NBB and its new citizens, as we didn't have to worry about New Hampshire's BS, or the Federal Government's past that. More than that, though, we also had a great deal of under-the-table income from Arachne Assemblages, and from the selling of Anomalous Materials, only source-able from the Zones, and thus commanding a high price.

Selling them legally wasn't exactly banned, but it had been slow-rolled by various agencies, including the PRT, and thus there was an odd loophole where bringing them out of New Brockton Bay was illegal, but selling them wasn't. It was obviously structured in such a way to try and force us to sell to the PRT and other government-backed institutions, but we just sold it to Toybox, or really one of their shell-companies, and they handled the transport.

No, we were already making money, and supporting ourselves, despite the so called 'US Government' actively trying to bleed us, and, as more people arrived, and more industries were created, things would only spin up even faster, and we'd be able to do more. Taylor had restarted 'Dryad's' construction efforts, which had been the only thing holding us back, and now? Now the only reason the sky wasn't the limit, was because that was thinking too small.

With one not so small problem.


All of this recovery, all of this progress, all of this prosperity was entirely dependent on removing that interstellar parasite, or it would all be for nothing.

And that. . . that would be something I'd get one shot at.

Setting an alarm, and slipping into that other world, of Flame and Possibility, I looked over my Core, still slowly burning Flesh, Blood, Bone, & Viscera into honest Flame, and then turned my gaze upwards, to the Constellations high above. It'd shifted, the powers I'd Seen, and Understood, over the previous few days now hanging in my personal sky. A number were in an odd sort of in-between state, simultaneously Major and Minor powers, wasted as the former, but they would be hard to integrate as the latter.

However, I ignored them to move to one Major Shard, one that burned with the Flames of Death & Negation, but one I needed more than any other.

STING was held back with an interweaving network of Purple & Red Flames, and, approaching it, I lifted hands, stained the same colors, floating up to a familiar junction. The first one came undone with barely a thought, unlocked with no more effort than it would take for a heart to beat, and I got to work.


The alarm went off, the pattern hitting the Acoustokinetic Bubble I set up around it, the power flaring in the specific pattern I'd memorized to better try and cross the inter-world divide, and I sighed, releasing the locks, and letting them snap back into place.

All one hundred and thirty-four of them.

The pain in my head, like a thousand red-hot needles, faded. It. . . wasn't pleasant, but, compared to ITERATION's tender mercies, it was manageable. I'd jumped up in skill, nearly doubling in proficiency in only a few weeks, which suggested. . . unpleasant things.

That it wasn't time, but experience, which determined my growth, that it was my struggle against that rogue Shard, pushed past the point of breaking, that had let me close that gap.

But. . .

I couldn't do that again.

Not now.

Possibly not ever.

The alarm went off once more, pulsing through Acoustokinesis, and I stepped Away, opening my eyes to see that Taylor had woken up, and was walking over with breakfast. Turning off the persistent notification that I'd overstayed my time in my Sea of Flame, I lifted an eyebrow as she set it down. "You set an alarm," she shrugged. "Thought you'd be hungry."

I wasn't, but I didn't want to say no, so, nodding in thanks. I took a bite of the pancake, which was actually quite good. Explaining what I'd discovered, my teammate was oddly happy, even when I pointed out the implications. "Do you need it this month?" she questioned, not sarcastically, but as a serious inquiry.

"No," I replied, shaking my head. "With Jack Slash dead, the event that was supposed to set Scion off is no longer on the table. Mind you, the very thing about me that lets me wreck Precog plans is the same thing that means I could be what sets it off early, but Jack. . . he had a very specific Shard that let him do what he was going to do, so the chances of another setting it off is small. I could do it just by saying hello, but The Warrior's kind of an idiot for anything that isn't the Cycle, so as long as I'm not an idiot we're fine. Which, of course, means we're all doomed," I tried to joke, but it fell flat.

"Okay," she nodded, not commenting on my poor attempt at humor, "then you went from two to fifty without having to go through that. If you're right, and it requires experience, then we can make sure you get it, but in more manageable amounts."

"Two?" I questioned, wondering how she'd picked that number out of nowhere.

"Yeah, two," she nodded. "You said it was like holding things in place with your hands, right?" I nodded back in agreement. "Most people just have two hands. So you started there, and learned how to do more. That means you can learn how to do the rest." She chuckled, "I started with two, and now. . ." She reached out through the Insect Network, and highlighted her connection to her armor insects, walking beetles that were flesh-crafted to look like her in the biological power-suit Panacea had made for her, and they all lifted an arm as one.

The girl's optimism was misplaced, but, regardless, I did feel a bit better. "You can already move a thousand different things at once. I wish I could just hand it to you. You'd have it cracked in five minutes."

Surprisingly, she shook her head. "But, didn't you say each one was more complicated. What was number one-hundred?"

"Oh, it was a little weird, but not that bad," I shrugged. "Honestly, it was holding everything else in place that was the pain. You see, it was a twenty-two dimensional hypercube that needed to be realigned, only, of course, there were six of them, and each shift in one shifted something else in the other five, w̶h̴i̷c̶h̴ ̴w̸a̶s̵ ̸k̷i̵n̴d̸a̸ ̴h̷a̶r̶d̶ ̸b̷e̷c̴a̴u̵s̷e̴ ̸ b̴͜͟͝l̸̛ù̴̵̕͜é̴͢͞ h̵a̶d̵ ̸a̷n̸ ̸e̶x̵t̵r̴a̵ s̷̻̩͔͔̫̲̈̽ȯ̴̥̬̘͔̖̽̓̇͋̅͗͒͜͝ͅf̴͈͇̻͊̒̒̕͘̕͠t̶̨͕̦̿ v̶͔̲̾ạ̴͐l̶̹̏̽ú̴͓̬e̷̦̒ ̷͚͇̐̆a̴̧̾̿d̵͓͉̊d̴̛̤e̶̛̫̮ḑ̷̻̐ ̵̛̘t̷̬̳́̈́ò̵͈̇ ̶̻̄ͅi̶͗͜͝t̶̠̔ ̵̖͖̀̅ë̶̯͎͊v̵̳̮̾e̵̡͙͂̕r̴̰͍̈́y̵̺̽̍ ̶̣́̂t̸͍̘́i̷̺͖͋m̴̡̤̎ë̷͖̤́͑ ̷͉̈́͘ỳ̶̳͇̏o̶̭̙͛ǔ̵͒ͅ ̵̹̫̎̃ṣ̷̄̓p̸͉̎͠ȗ̵̝͉ṉ̶́̈́ ̸̖̮̏i̷͖̿t̷͖̿ ̴͈̼̊͠t̸͚̮̏h̴̬͆̄ṟ̴̚i̸̲̞͗c̵͔̩̋e̷̪̊͑,̴̠̈́ ̸̧̠̉w̶̡̄h̵̡͎̾̐í̷͙̻͑c̵̲̬̐́h̵̡̼̓,̵̗͐̿ ̵̥̞̈͊h̴̗̬̒͠o̴̩͛͆o̶̧̿̕ ̵͉̓b̶̫̝́͠o̴̙͋y̴̭͋,̸̠̮̓̓ ̴̳̬̍t̸̜̠́͘h̶̰̘́r̵̰͑e̷͉͒ẁ̵̨͈͂ ̴̥̅̐m̷̼̅ě̶̢͉ ̴̝͘ỏ̵̼̬͋f̸̰̓f̸̪͈̈͂ ̵̬̄͂f̷̺͍̈́̓o̵̚͜r̷̹̄ ̵̨̓̅a̶̡̺͗ ̷͍̥̈́b̴̗̂i̸̬͇͆͑ẗ̵̘͑,̵̣̅ ̷̛̬͍b̶͍̖͐̀ű̵̥̞̈t̵̻̉-

Taylor cut me off, "Lee, trust me, you're better at that kind of thing than I am."

I blinked. "Are, are you sure? I mean, yeah, it's a little hard to explain at times, but you've been learning!"

She shook her head. "Trust me. My power, my first power," she corrected, with a small smile, "It's complicated, a little, but after a while it wasn't doing new things, just doing more things. From what I can tell, you're doing both. That's pretty impressive."

"I, I mean I guess," I shrugged again, feeling a little awkward. "But what you're doing is just as complex." I prodded the IN, indicating a Dryad that was adding the finishing touches to a structure. "You're taking parallel processing to a ridiculous degree. If you ever want a bit of a boost to your Shards, I'm drawing in a lot more energy now, and diverting some your way wouldn't slow my own recovery. I'm already dumping a lot into slot creation, Shard development, and the reconstruction of the ones that the Nine broke off."

Taylor started to say no, but held her tongue, visibly weighing her decision, before telling me, "Not now, but, later?"

"Sure," I replied, and shrugged, realizing I was doing that a lot. "I-"

Feeling a familiar presence nearby, I turned to the door as it opened, Herb walking inside. For some reason he glanced at my left arm, before his eyes shifted to our breakfast. "I'm not interruptin' anything, am I?" he questioned, with a slightly teasing tone. "If you two lovebirds are doin' a brunch-"

"What is it, Herb?" I asked, before he could keep going. "If you're here, your counter-Contessa plans are over? I was trying to keep my actions small so I wouldn't mess them up."

"You were?" he questioned, surprised. "Thanks man. Nah, that goose is pretty good and cooked, and the Colonel ain't got shit on me. Actually, can you pick a number between one and twenty?"

"Seventeen," I replied, seeing what he was doing, and not bothered that I was denying my brother my people's resources in doing so. I Saw the Flames of his power explode outwards, reaching out in a thousand directions, doing a thousand things as the man's eyes went distant for a moment. "Got what you needed?"

He nodded, "Yeah, Cauldron's gonna a call a meeting in fifty-three seconds, and I needed a refresher."

I hadn't thought of that as a reason for his arrival, but the how of how he knew that fact was easy, if he was mainlining Gauge's power, as well as that of a few other Thinkers. Something did it occur to me, though. "Hey," I said, Herb already walking out, the man turning on his heel to shoot me an inquisitive look. "Why don't we. . . why don't we go on another trip?" I questioned, the other man's look now surprised. "With Cauldron on the ropes, the quarantine they've put me under should be shaky, if not broken, and if they don't make a fuss-"

Herb's power writhed for a moment, and he nodded. "They won't. That'd be. . . kinda like old times. Liked Maine that much, did ya?" he teased.

"Not another Maine," I argued. "That was a hunt for new powers. For this, something lighter. Maybe looking into setting up a satellite office for the Penumbral Defenders or something?" I suggested.

"Or we could just take a vacation," the man shot back, before sighing. "But that's not your style. Yeah. Lemme check with Contessa's Power. . . ." Again, his power erupted, an instant of furious activity that blazed like a small star. "Yeah, that'd work. I'll get it in seventy-nine seconds," he explained at my confused expression. "Broke. As. Fuck," he smiled conspiratorially.

Not having expected such a rapid answer, I sat up a little straighter. "So, when do we leave?" I questioned, everything I had could be put off for-

"Monday, nine-thirty," he replied, turning to face a point in the air. "Gotta take this. Seeya later?"

"Sure," I shrugged. "Oh, and remember, Seven-"

"teen," he finished with a nod. "Got it."

He shifted stance slightly, and took a pose like he was motioning to someone as a rectangle of light opened, facing away from us. "Ah, shit, wondered when you'd call," he told whoever was on the other side, striding through, Doormaker closing it a moment later.

"So, Monday," I said, more to myself, only to realize that I didn't know what day it was. I knew the date, but-

"Today's Thursday," Taylor supplied, and I laughed, nodding to her in thanks.

"Okay, so in four days," I stated, a little unnecessarily. "Kinda surprised he didn't want to today, or tomorrow, with it being the weekend and everything."

The girl looked a little confused. "That fast? There's a lot of things we still need to do, and-"

"Sorry, that was dumb," I apologized, because of course they'd have things to do. I could feel Taylor extending her attention in hundreds of directions, and something the size of the city almost certainly couldn't just be left alone so suddenly. "It's just, well, before, when something happened, we just. . . did it."

Again, Taylor looked confused, which just made me feel stupid, before understanding dawned. "Oh, right, Overwatch handled a lot of stuff, and the things you took care of, you didn't have much warning for," she explained, more to herself than me. "We could leave today, if we had to, but, do we?"

I lifted a hand, to say that we didn't have the time to waste, but. . . we did, didn't we?

"I, uh, guess we can," I replied a little numbly. Even when we'd had weeks without a significant incident, it was always one thing after another, working on whatever I could to try and keep all of the metaphorical plates spinning, never knowing when the next bomb would drop, only sure that it would eventually. "So, I've been setting up Vials and covering everything that happened while I was out. Is, is there anything you want me to do?" I asked, feeling unsteady, for reasons I couldn't explain.

"Relax?" she asked, then laughed at my incredulous look. "Give me a sec. I can't read things in the future like Herbert can."

I nodded, turning my attention back to my breakfast, which was really good, some kind of apple-cinnamon pancake thing that was thick like it also had some kind of french-toast element, and waited, passively watching her work her Shards, trying to see if I could isolate which parts were her, and which parts were her Shards having grown in response to her. The formations were quite interesting, and I wondered if I could use similar patterns in future Vials.

Finally, she nodded. "Since you're back, and back for good, you could meet some of the people who run the departments," she suggested, adding an "if you want to," when I hesitated.

"No, that's good. I. . . I. . . why didn't I think of that?" I questioned, the fact that I hadn't before baffling.

Taylor finished her bite. "Because you lead from the front," she replied, as if it were obvious. Looking at her, she shrugged. "You try and do everything yourself, so unless you call the meeting, you don't go to any, because no one calls you to one. You have people like me, and Herbert, and Overwatch to handle things, because there was so much shit happening all the time."

She smiled. "We spent weeks trying to find it all, after. . . while you were recovering. Trying to find everything you'd just started doing on your own, and even handing half of it off took dozens of people working full time. Herbert took over the PD because no one else could handle it all, and he cheats by using Gauge's power all the time. We were managing, and now, with you back, we'll do even better!" Taylor grinned, so full of simple and honest confidence in me that, to be honest, it made me uncomfortable.

"Well, my thing is powers, more than anything else," I stated. "That and combat, and we don't have any of that right now. There isn't any of that right now, is there?"

"Nothing our people can't handle," she answered, and, reaching out, she directed me to a few men with assault rifles firing on some Akatas that were running for a gate, mowing them down with ease.

"Um, those things are Alien levels of reproductive," I pointed out, but it was already covered.

"Amelia made a counter-agent. See?" she questioned, one of the men tossing a canister into the middle of the corpses, which released an electric-yellow mist that settled quickly, the Akatas seeming to deflate. "No worries."

I watched that for another moment. "How much are we paying that girl again?"

That got a laugh from my teammate. "Less than she's worth, more than she's comfortable taking."

"Good." Shaking my head, I continued, "Meeting department heads is a good idea, and, actually, you're in charge of Arachne Assemblages, so, what kind of Tinkers do you need?"

"Kind of Tinkers?" she echoed, confused.

"Yeah," I nodded, "I've been Pathing Vials, and they're actually pretty straightforward with a bit of Ȩ̵̡̖̠̩̀s̷̥͓͍͕̠̾̈́̂ŝ̴̢̟̟e̵͔̮̜̯͑̓̚n̸̼͉̆̏c̸̙͛e̷̯͖̻͚͓̍̅͛͘̚, so the things I can do with them are a lot more open ended. I already came across a few, and loosened some of the repair requirements, though I couldn't do a hard override. They get kind of snippy about it," I disclosed, "but the way that Shards view Tinkers isn't the same way that Hosts do, so there's actually a lot of leeway when it comes to expression. And, hell, if you've got any that really are having problem with their Shards, I could go talk to them like I did Sheryl's."

Taylor was struggling a little with it, but asked, "You talked with Dekotara, to change her power?"

"No, I talked to her Shard," I clarified. "Host-Shard compatibility can get kinda tricky, and its expression worked with what Sheryl wanted when she lived in a trailer park, and thus the Merchants, but was causing some friction with the new direction she wanted to go in with her life, and so I tweaked it. Didn't really know what I was doing at the time," I offered, blushing a little in embarrassment at my simplistic mistakes. "But now that I do, I can be a little less hamfisted about it. Actually, I should probably talk to Sheryl and see if there's anything I can do to help it settle in a little better. Seriously, that was kindergarten fingerpainting level shit, even if it worked."

There was a moment of awkward silence.

"Oh, and I can assist Tinkers, which is kind of thing that's not supposed to be possible?" I questioned, and my teammate nodded. "Huh, didn't know before today. But, pre-Trigger modification is a lot easier than doing so after the fact, even for Entities, though if it's the Host-level interaction I think it's better to do so after its bonded, since Hosts are, you know, people, but, well, that's a me thing," I shrugged, my memories-not-my-own detailing vastly different practices, which I wasn't going to do, even if I did have R̴̹͒̌E̶̥̻̕A̴̟̻͆́P̶̼̠̂̚ -access, which I didn't on another Entity's Shard.

Taylor just stared at me for a moment, before smiling, and nodding. "I, yeah, do you want a list? I've had some kinds of Tinkers I wished we had, but I didn't think to just, just make them," she laughed.

I opened my arms, smiling back, glad to have something to do, "Well, that's why I'm here."


The weekend came and went without much fanfare. Flamel, when I checked in with her, was busy, though quickly told me that she still had more than enough raw reagents to work with. Cauldron continued to fall apart, the origin of the Case-53's coming out to, well, saying that people weren't happy would be putting it lightly. The Triumvirate were also receiving a crash course in Contessa's fallibility, absolutely certain that there was another Endbringer out there, this one some kind of malignant Thinker, that had waited until the right time to strike at them.

I'd checked, and they didn't think it was me, which was good, and they'd, with a bit of nudging from Herb, had pretty much decided to let me do my own thing, unable to truly cut us off to continue the Parahuman Feudalism experiment, even going so far as to requesting resources from us, which Herb was providing them in exchange for 'minor' favors, favors that boiled down to giving us access to several different world's tech bases, which our own little Thinker collective and engineering core were busy tearing apart to come up with new uses for.

It wouldn't pay off soon, but when it did?

City. Of. Tomorrow.

On a bit of a less positive note, I met a lot of the various officials who were in charge of various things and. . .

Well, they kind of creeped me out.

They were just. . . flat, in a way that Parahumans just weren't, and I'd realized that I hadn't talked to a single non-parahuman after I'd woken up, after my run in with the Nine. Honestly, I wanted to hand out Tempered Vials to everyone in upper management, just so I could get a better handle on them, but, after kicking that over to our thinktank, which was a thing we had now, I was told that was a bad idea for a number of reasons, the first of which being the same reason that the PRT were made of non-Triggered Hosts, preventing the appearance of a super-powered elite class.

Which, we kind of already had with our legal system, but it was kind of a 'House of Commons' thing, combined with avoiding the appearance that powered people got positions of power, instead of the inverse.

So. . . yeah.

Another discovery, while I could copy the powers of the people that'd received our original Vials, including Respawn, when I dropped by Æonic's territory and asked him to let me get a scan on them, which he'd agreed to in return for a couple Vials I'd Tempered, I couldn't access those copied powers, all of them locked up just like STING was, or any power that messed with my physical form.

So. . . yeah.

Ironically, the day I could get the magic sword I needed to slay the Wyrm of Scion was going to be the day I got five extra lives with which to do that very thing. Æonic's power, as well as Herb's, I couldn't even copy at all, and trust me, I tried.

But now, it was finally time to head out, Quinn having already made the necessary arrangements. Dekotara had built a 'battle van', which looked much like a normal RV, if a bit more ostentatious than normal land-yachts, until it was activated, then it was a chrome-covered, laser-spewing, flying monstrosity that could tank artillery shells and fire back in kind, just as she wanted it to be, and I'd helped a little, to her confusion but pleased surprise, to bring it up to the spec she wanted, and then a little more. She was going to be driving it down, along with Taylor, myself, Theo, Herb, and Hedera of all people.

I'd honestly been surprised, but Brix's daughter was apparently still carrying a torch for Herb, or had lit a torch for him, or. . . either way, while the age gap was a little much, with her being nineteen and him in his early thirties, she was an adult, and, honestly, I would've said that in terms of mental age she was probably older than he was, though nowadays that seemed to no longer be the case. Either way, not my problem, and the one time I'd made the mistake of teasing him about that age difference he'd tried to turn it into a talk on how I should just 'go for it' with Taylor, despite the girl being sixteen.

I'd asked Karen if she'd wanted to go, but Mouse Protector was. . . skittish. She hadn't taken me overriding her Shard very well, which was kind of understandable, and was trying to recreate what I'd done with it, to limited success. She'd turned down any offer of help, and. . . well, I just got the impression that she didn't want to be around me, so I respected her wishes, but made sure she knew that, if she needed help, or even to talk, I was there for her.

Herb had apparently invited Amelia as well, but, unsurprisingly, the girl had said no, likely not wanting to be away from her workshop. She'd been persnickety enough when I'd asked for a mere half an hour of assistance, I wondered what he was thinking, asking her to leave for a week or two, but, again, she'd decided to leave the PD, so she wasn't one of mine any longer.

The six of us clambered inside and left at nine-thirty sharp, and, driving through the city, especially as a passenger, was a surreal experience. From above, flying and Striding around, it'd seemed so much. . . smaller than it did from the ground, the spires of wood and steel almost unearthly as the more finished sections of the city around Eclipse slowly gave way to those under construction, then empty shells waiting to be filled, our vehicle driving around the walled off Yellow Zone, where members of the PD and of the city guard patrolled it, the sounds of gunfire distant, only audible because I could 'hear' them through Acoustokinesis.

Taylor put a hand on my shoulder, and I hadn't realized I'd been about to stand, to go assist, until she did so, and I slowly relaxed down into the synth-leather couch, which was both comfortable and could stop armor-piecing rounds so well it made Kevlar look like cotton.

I had a good time working with Sheryl on it.

Soon enough, we were moving through the cleared streets of Southern Brockton Bay, not yet New Brockton Bay, passing through the walls I'd created to protect the city from attacks both within and without, the gates opening and letting us through without us needing to stop, and then we were out, which felt. . . odd.

I'd left the city before, a number of times, but always through teleportation, only once before by literally crossing its border, and that felt a lifetime ago. With a bit of applied Aerokinesis I poured myself an ice-cold glass of sweet tea and sipped it, watching New Brockton Bay slowly shrink into the distance, as we drove on the highway, through forests and hills, off to our next destination.

It felt oddly sad, yet just as oddly hopeful, which was silly, but emotions were, and this species of Host was more emotional than most, yet a few also possessed a core of strength that many previous ones hadn't.

"To Boston!" Herb called, holding up a drink of his own. "Hopefully this trip won't have any werewolves!"

The answering "To Boston?" from the others was a little confused, as I rolled my eyes.

"Herb, there were no werewolves in Maine," I chided him.

He, however, just sent me a smug look. "Hey, you saw at least one!"

"Yes. You," I shot back. "When you used your shapeshifting to be a werewolf!"

The man just took a sip of his drink, then declared, in victory, "So you admit there was one," to the laughter of the others, and I just sighed, shaking my head, and went back to watching the landscape slowly slide by.