Shade – 4.3

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It was Sveta who said it, not Rain.  “If they go inside, we’re going to lose track of what they’re saying.”

“Have they said anything yet?” I asked.

“No,” Rain said.  “The woman doesn’t talk so it would be a one-sided conversation.  If they’re here, they’re here for something.  I want to know what.”

“Anything you guys do risks blowing your surveillance,” I said.  “You might gain more information if you leave it alone.  Just saying.”

“I might miss something vital,” Rain said.

“You might,” I said.  “It’s really up to you guys.  If you need help, I’ll back you up.”

Tristan walked forward, and half-sat on the desk, head turned so he could keep one eye on the image.  “Hypothetically, if we did act on this, what would we be doing?  Picking a fight?”

“We could,” Ashley said.  “Rain said they were injured and needed maintenance.  It would be timely, it would keep them injured and out of the picture.”

“On their turf?” Tristan asked.  “With who knows how many villains in the immediate area?”

“And it would blow our surveillance, like Victoria said,” Sveta said.

“You’ve been quiet on why they’re after you, Rain,” Chris said.  “You never talked about your trigger event.”

“As a rule, it’s not good to ask people about their trigger events,” Sveta said.

“As a rule,” Chris said, “It’s vital information about who we’re fighting and why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

“Chris,” Sveta said.

“Sveta,” Chris said.  “Detach from your emotions, focus more on their emotions.  Are they passionate?  Driven?  Is it personal?  If any or all of the above are true, it changes the rules of how they act.  They might act even if they are injured or needing to do some maintenance.”

“People don’t act by rules,” Tristan said.

“Some people do,” Chris said.  “Byron does, or did, based on what you said.  They might.  But we need more of what Rain knows about who and what they are and where they come from to know that.”

Kenzie turned around in her seat.  “I was just telling Victoria I didn’t like the idea of her prying into my past or where I come from.  It would feel pretty gross and unfair if we pushed Rain to do it now, when he obviously doesn’t want to.”

“Hypocritical might be the word you’re looking for,” I said.

“I’m learning so many words today,” Kenzie said.

“Putting all that aside, is there any way to listen in, if they went inside?” Rain asked.  “They’re a block away from where Prancer went before.  If they go there, what can we do?”

“I could rig something,” Kenzie said.  “But it would be fragile and iffy.”

“I can’t help but notice we’re changing the subject,” Chris said.

“Look.  Just- I need this,” Rain said.  “I’ve told Tristan everything and I’ve told Sveta some of it.  If Tristan thinks it needs to be said, he can say it.  He’s more objective.  But I really want to know what they might say, I want to start making preparations now.”

“I’ve been keeping my mouth shut,” Tristan said.  “I’m in a weird place, knowing what I do, not wanting to betray a friend.  I feel like if I said anything at all, even if the reasons were good, it would still be betraying Rain.”

“I can take apart things,” Kenzie said.  “Kludge it together for an emergency thing.  It won’t take long but we’d need Sveta to hurry over there to plant it and that’ll take a few minutes.  If that’s what we’re doing.  I don’t want to break my things down if we’re not doing this, though. ”

“I’m probably going to regret saying this, but I’ll stand up for Kenzie,” Chris said.  “It’s going to be shitty if she starts taking apart good work so she can get it done in time, and then Rain doesn’t hold up his end any.  That’s not fair and it’s going to lead to resentment.”

“I don’t care about fair,” Kenzie said.  “But thank you, Chris.”

“Don’t thank me.”

“I’m going to anyway.  It means a lot.”

“No it doesn’t.  I just don’t want the headaches,” Chris said.  “And Rain is being the biggest headache on the team.  Maybe except for me, but I don’t have anyone trying to kill me and I’m not really asking for anything, so I think I can get away with it.”

Rain ran his fingers through his hair, turned and took a step to one side, like he was going to walk away or pace, and then stopped, because he couldn’t take his attention off the screen.

Tristan was in a hard place, knowing what he did but having a friendship on the line, Sveta maybe wasn’t as much of a friend to Rain but she was also more sensitive and kind, and she didn’t know as much.  Rain didn’t really have other allies in the group he could turn to.  Certainly not Ashley.  Not Chris.  Kenzie just wanted to know if she should get started building her thing.

Somehow, he ended up looking at me.  He looked spooked.

“If Kenzie builds the thing, I can fly over and plant it,” I said.  “I don’t mind showing my face there, it fits with the plan, there’s a lower risk of the surveillance operation getting discovered, it works.”

Rain nodded, tense.

“But I do think Chris may be right.  If the group is extending a hand to you and you’re not extending trust back, that may not be fair.  You should share something.”

“Okay,” Rain said.

Kenzie spun around.  She grabbed one of her flying eyes and pried open the side, pulling out a black rectangle.  She swapped it with a spare.

“It’s personal,” Rain said.  “It’s emotional.  Not helped by the dreams, by the possible personality bleed across the cluster.  Some things I’ve caught lately made me think there might be some.”

I listened, my expression still, arms folded, mostly watching what Kenzie did while Rain talked.  I was going to have to deploy this thing.

Kenzie popped open the jewelry case with the camera she’d put in Ashley’s eye, then tore off the section under the lens.  She flicked at parts with her fingers to get them spinning and then held onto others, unscrewing them in the process.

“They blame me, for the events around the trigger.  I’ve told Sveta all of this.  The dreams are biased, selective, cherry picking from my perceptions.  They make me out to be more of a bad guy than I am.”

“I don’t think you’re a bad guy at all,” Tristan said.

“I’m not a good guy either.  And maybe that’s because of the bleed coming the other way.  I feel like a completely different person than I was then.  And I know – I think Snag is too.  I’ve seen his perspective and his dreams, and he’s willing to murder now?  Maybe the agent took half of my anger from back then and divided it among them, aiming it back at me.”

“What happened?” Ashley asked.

“I fucked up.  I had a chance to save them and I didn’t,” Rain said.

I looked away from where Kenzie was spinning things to screw in the eye-camera beneath the major lens of the flying eye, looked at Rain, and saw how miserable he was.

“How does Erin fit in?” Sveta asked.

“She doesn’t.  She knows the story but she hasn’t seen the dreams.  I think if she saw the dreams like the three members of the cluster did, she’d hate me too.  But she doesn’t.”

“And ‘of 5?'” Chris asked.

I turned my head.

“My username, online,” Rain explained.  “I don’t know what happened to the fifth.  It’s complicated.  I can think of a few people it might be.  People that didn’t make it.”

Kenzie turned around.  The camera looked worse for wear.  I realized it was the nice one, with the adaptive camouflage or whatever it was.  Panels were missing and wires exposed.  She beckoned me to approach.  I did.

“Put the lens side against the wall or the roof.  There’s a plunger on the side here, you see?”

In a groove along the side, normally meant to aid in aerodynamics or something, the metal rod ran flush with the body.

“I see,” I said.  I looked at the screen.  They’d walked past the place where Prancer had gone inside.

“Put it up against the surface, then slowly, super slowly push that in.  There’s no resistance built in, so you could push it in in half a second if you weren’t careful.”

“What would happen?”

“We’d lose it.  That’s four days worth of work and the eye camera is six days worth of work, and some of those parts were hard to get.  Please don’t push it in fast.”

“How slow do I depress it?”

“Um.  Take, like, a minute, to get it from here to here, if you can.  Be ready to stop if I tell you to.”

“How are we communicating?”

“Phone?” Kenzie asked.

“Phone,” I said.  “Got it.”

I checked I had my phone with me, that it had battery, and then got my earbuds, plugging them into the phone and then putting one into my ear.  I collected the football-sized camera.

“Give me something to eat?” I asked.  “Granola bar or something?”

Chris walked over to his bag, fished for something, and then tossed me a bag of chips.  I caught it, then caught the paper-wrapped meal he threw my way.  I put everything into a bag.  My mask, computer and notebook were in the bag already, which was good.

“It’s not kiss-kill,” Rain said.  “Or, like Victoria said a few days ago, it’s kiss-kill with good cover.  I’m weaker than them, and the dreams give them a reason to hate me.”

“I’m good to go?” I asked.

“I think so.  Thanks for doing this,” Sveta said.

I gave her a pat on the shoulder as I passed.

“Thank you,” Rain said, with sincerity.

I was at the door when Tristan said, “Might not need the camera after all.”

I looked back.

They hadn’t gone indoors.  They were in a parking lot.  A group of people was standing around a van.  They had masks on.

“I’m still going to go,” I said.  “We don’t know where they’ll go or what they’ll do.  Patch me in somehow?”

“I’ll video call you,” Kenzie said.  “We’ll talk to you and you can look at your phone to see what’s happening.”

“Okay,” I said.  “That works.  That’s going to do a number on my monthly limit.  I might have to get an unlimited plan.”

“They don’t have any of those anymore, not after the end of the world,” Kenzie said.  “I checked.  And they get peeved at me when I borrow anything, so I have to be really careful with my cameras and junk.”

I could have responded, but I didn’t want to get stuck in a conversation.  I let myself outside, then flew from the top of the fire escape.

Might have to have a conversation with the big hero teams to see if they have any options, I thought.  It would be nice to have the fancy earbuds that the Wards used to have, or just a special phone plan that let us handle higher-bandwidth operations.

My phone rang in my ear, startling me even though I’d expected it.  I thumbed at my phone to answer it.  Rather than any of the others, it was the audio from Kenzie’s camera, observing the interaction between Snag and the group in the parking lot.

“…Snag.  This is Love Lost,” Snag said.  Recognizable enough.  His voice was a deep growl.  That was his ordinary voice, it seemed.

“Love Lost?  Shouldn’t it be No Love Lost?”

There was a brief pause.

“She doesn’t talk,” Snag said.

“That might make negotiations hard.”

“We’ll be fine,” Snag said.  “I’ll cover things.”

“Your friend isn’t coming?  Cradle?”

Cradle was the potential third, then.

“He isn’t.  Just me, just her.”

“I’m Secondhand, this is Last Minute, Final Hour, and End of Days.”

Still flying, I pulled my phone from my pocket, being careful not to drop it.  I hated using my phone while airborne.  It was so easy to let my guard down.

“Your name doesn’t match,” Snag said.

“I don’t mind,” Secondhand said.

I could see the image on my phone.  I made the reel gesture to zoom in on the one I wasn’t familiar with.  Tall, with an elongated face and head, bald, with an elaborate waxed mustache, and round sunglasses.  He wore suspenders over a shirt that was rolled up to the elbows.  The arms crossed over his chest were muscled.  A bit of a steampunk vibe, even though his clothes weren’t that old fashioned.

The time manipulators had another teammate, then.

“You wanted to meet.  Here we are,” Secondhand said.

“We’re similar in how we approach things,” Snag said.  “Maybe we can trade, teach each other something.”

“Maybe,” Secondhand said.  “Sounds good.”

“Maybe the deal’s lopsided in your favor, but you give us a hand when we need it.”

“Ah, I thought that was coming.  We heard you were recruiting.”

“Mm hmm,” Snag made the sound, and it came off more like growl than agreement.

“The more the merrier?” another member of the Speedrunner’s group asked.  It might have been End of Days.

“The more the merrier,” Snag repeated, sounding the furthest thing from merry.

“Why don’t you take a look and tell us what this means to you?” Secondhand asked.

There was a pause.  I looked at my phone.  The back door of the van opened.  Snag approached, with the woman -Love Lost?- hanging a bit back.  She had curved claws at her fingertips and thumb, with a thin framework of rods and bands at the back of her hands to keep those claws in place.  She had more glittering around her feet and ankle.  A mask covered her lower face.

“Victoria?” Sveta asked, through the phone.

“What’s up?” I asked, holding the phone to my ear, so I could use the mouthpiece there.

“Kenzie’s handling the camera and things.  I’m hanging back, Tristan’s close.  We’ll be your people, mostly.  Can you tell us anything about the Speedrunners?”

I was glad I’d checked my books and notes.

“Seattle.  B-list villains, but that’s partially because Seattle was setting a really high bar around the time they were active,” I said.  “Partially.  They’re time manipulators, but complicated by the fact that they have at least one tinker in the group.  It could be that they’re all tinkers.  A family thing like how forcefields run in my family.”

“They don’t look like family,” I heard a voice.  It might have been Chris, or Rain speaking with a funny tone.  Probably Chris.

“That’s what they’re talking about sharing, then,” I heard Tristan.  “Tinker know-how.”

“Probably.  Um.  Each of them has a power, but they augment that by having tinker stuff they wear.  Secondhand can cover a lot of ground really fast, but can’t affect anyone or do much while he’s doing it.  Can’t hurt you, can’t move stuff, can’t set traps.  But we already talked briefly about him earlier.  He’s the one doing regular sweeps of the area, looking for trouble.  The tinker stuff he wears reduces the strain on his body and lets him operate like that for longer.  And it means that when he pops out of that mode, he does it with a boom.  It gives him some offensive ability.”

“That doesn’t feel B-list,” Tristan said.

“I’ll get to that momentarily.  I’m doing these guys out of order.  Final Hour, he has a targeted slow.  One target at a time, if he’s aware of them, he can slow them, as an ongoing thing.  He can swap it with a moment’s notice.  Tinker gear applies other effects to slowed targets.  Makes it so being slow also crushes you and makes it hard to breathe, or chills you.  Makes it so he can target a friend and make it so they fall slow, and reduce the impact of their landings.  He had a thing which screwed with-”

“This works,” Snag’s growl interrupted me.  “I could do something with this, if I had time to study it.  I could use the engines you’ve got here to make emotion effects I channel through my tech last longer, or prolong battery life.”

“Good,” Secondhand said.

A pause.  A metal on metal sound.

“What’s she saying?” Secondhand asked.

“Love Lost likes that.  She thinks she could do something with it.  Right?  Yeah.”

“Alright.  Doesn’t tell me much,” Secondhand said.  “How about you show us something?”

“It’s damaged, but you should get the picture,” Snag said.

I checked the phone.  He was using one of his overlong, mechanical arms to pull off his other arm, holding it out by gripping it at the midpoint, the shoulder near End of Days and the hand near Secondhand.

It was my first clean look at the whole group of Speedrunners, as Kenzie zoomed in the camera.

Secondhand was fairly normal in build, with goggles and a flat-top cap.  He managed to not look old-fashioned.

Last Minute was shorter, stout, with a lot of muscle and fat both.  His gadgets hung from a high-tech belt.

Final Hour was more muscular, with tech wrapped around one of his arms, ending in a blunt design that resembled a brass hairdryer, with red smoke pouring from the fans and vents along its length.  Aside from the brass helmet he wore, which covered his entire head the armor covered only half of his body.

End of Days, well, I’d already gotten a look at him.  He wore a mask that wrapped around his head in a broad band, from eyebrow to cheekbone, with the black sunglasses on top of that, but it was hard to imagine how he’d be less recognizable when his facial shape, lack of hair, and mustache were all so apparent.

“Keep going,” Tristan said.

Where had I been?  Final Hour, right.  “He could attach an EMP thing to his slow that slightly hampered powers, made machinery grind to a halt.  All through this oversized thing he wore that covered his arm and hand.”

“He’s wearing it now,” Sveta said.

“Okay, right, can’t see while I’ve got the phone to my ear.  Foresight said they were using Final Hour to mask their business dealings.  He was their heavy hitter and he might still be.  I was thinking he might be using the EMP thing or something like it to keep people from looking in.”

“I hope they don’t use it,” Kenzie said.

“Probably wouldn’t work outdoors,” I said.  “Last Minute moves things backward in time.  Emphasis on things.  Not people.  Carries an assortment of tinker boomerangs, bombs, weapons.  If Secondhand didn’t have the tinker-ish name, and if there wasn’t a chance they were all lesser tinkers, I’d say Last Minute was a contender for the team’s tinker, with his arsenal.”

“What’s the catch, or what’s the tinker component?” Tristan asked.

“From what little I remember, his gadgets don’t act the same when moving in reverse, or it has added functionality while being reversed.”

“Fuck me,” someone said.  I thought I heard someone else groan, too.

“Yeah.  Boomerangs fly a different path, or split apart so one version carries forward and one retraces its path,” I said.  “That sort of thing.”

I’d slowed while flying, and now I stopped.  I didn’t want to enter the territory and draw attention when it wasn’t quite time.  I had a sense of what Birdbrain and Braindead did, and there was a risk Secondhand would do a patrol when the meeting concluded, to see what their potential business partners were doing.

I settled on a roof, walking as I landed, then stopping to stand on the corner of the roof.  Cedar Point was on the other side of the water, on a peninsula across from me.

“End of Days?” Tristan asked.

“I don’t have a clue,” I said.  “Nothing about name or appearance stands out to me.”

“Fuck,” I heard a voice.  Rain, I was guessing.

“Why are they B-list?” Tristan asked.  Not the first time he’d touched on that.

“Because the tinker stuff is limited.  The batteries take time to charge,” I said.  “When they were active in Seattle, they had something like twenty days between the jobs they pulled, and they had weaknesses.  The batteries ran out if engagements were prolonged and once that happens they lose a lot of their muscle.”

“They might have recruited End of Days to cover that weakness,” Tristan said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “It’s not out of the question.”

The Speedrunners took longer to examine Snag’s arm than Snag had taken to examine whatever they’d shown him.  I watched through my phone, grieved a bit for my monthly limits, and waited.

On the screen, Love Lost stepped away from the meeting, walking down the length of the parking lot.  She stood with her back to the group, hands at her sides, fingers and claws spread.

“I like her,” Ashley said.  “Good style.  It’s going to be a shame to smash her face in.”

If we engage her,” Sveta said.  “If we even go that far.”

“Of course,” Ashley said.

“What’s she doing?” I asked, more to myself than to the group.

It took a few more seconds, but someone walked down the street.  A woman with a purple hood and antlers.

Prancer’s partner.

“Love Lost saw her coming,” Tristan said.

“Sensed,” I corrected.

“The woman- Love Lost, she has the emotion aspect of the power,” Rain said.  “Maybe it includes some emotion sense.  Detecting people.”

“If so, I’m glad I didn’t just drop in nearby,” I said.

Velvet said something.  The camera didn’t catch it.

“Sorry!” Kenzie said.  “Sorry!  I didn’t have the sound camera turned that way.  It’s finnicky.”

“Don’t turn it toward those two, stay focused on Snag’s group,” Tristan said.  “Velvet’s already walking away.”

“It was brief,” Rain said.  “I think she’s just checking on things, making sure it’s all peaceful.”

Love Lost rejoined the group.

“What did the queen of Hollow Point want?” Secondhand asked.

Love Lost was silent.

“Right.”

“Are you done with my arm?” Snag asked.

“Oh, yes.  Go ahead.”

“Mm.”

“I have a question, and it’s one I’d regret not asking,” Secondhand said.  “Who are you with?”

“With?” Snag asked.  “Ourselves.”

“I’ll elaborate.  We’ve got a few cliques forming already.  Bitter Pill in charge of the brains, watching, listening, planning the longer-term plays.  Not necessarily here, mind you.  Could be jobs elsewhere.”

“Mm hmm.”

“Beast of Burden in charge of the hostiles, the ex-cons, ex-birdcage, ex-covert military, ex-cage fighters.  The ones who are good or even eager when it comes to hurting people.”

Snag commented, “We’ve had conversations with a few of them already.  Beast of Burden included.  We’re looking for people who are good or even eager to deliver the hurt.”

“Great.  We’ll keep that in mind.  Final clique worth talking about, you’ve got Prancer in charge of the organization side of things.  The diplomacy, recruitment, and a lot of the lower-key, ongoing business.”

“And?”

“And I don’t think we’re going to divide up into factions and end up fighting each other.  I say clique because like attracts like and sooner or later, you’ll get pulled into one of the major groups.  Each serving a role.”

“We’re our own group,” Snag said.  “We don’t care what clique you belong to.  You want access to our stuff to study and see what you can learn?”

“We’d have to talk about it among ourselves, but I think we’re leaning that way.”

I looked at the phone, as the Speedrunners exchanged looks.

“Yeah,” Secondhand said, after assessing the others.  “Let’s assume we’re good to go forward with this, but we won’t set anything in stone until my friends and I have had a conversation.

“Preliminary offer: we pay you fifteen thousand dollars, and we give you access to our tech for study,” Snag said.  “You give us access to your tech, and you lend us a hand when the time comes.”

“For this job you’re planning?”

“If you want to discuss it, I can invite others who’ve pledged to help.  We’ll discuss in one of Prancer’s venues.”

“Maybe.  We’d have to talk it over.  What timeline?”

“Soon,” Snag said.  “Anything more should wait for the discussion.”

“How difficult?”

“Hard to say.  I don’t want to tell you something and have it reach the wrong ears, and there are a lot of wrong ears.”

“Give us some idea.”

“Eight or nine young people with powers, is our best guess.  Mostly teenagers.  We don’t know who else, or what the exact number of adult capes, allies, or other resources they might have.  Teenagers are easiest to track, because they move more.”

Someone spoke, and I had to view my phone to check who it was.  Last Minute.  “Hard to say?  That sounds easy to say.  A minimum of eight or nine people with powers is difficult.”

“With the recruitment we’re planning, we’ll outnumber them three to one,” Snag said, in his characteristic growl.

“You’re talking people with powers?  Not mooks, not henchmen?”

“People with powers.  All going well, we’ll have them outnumbered three to one even if they call in help.”

“Pulled from Cedar Point?”

“Pulled from many places.  We have a thinker contact and that contact is calling in friends.  This contact and their friends are capes with names you’ve heard of, that everyone has heard of.  We have Lord of Loss committed to the job.  We have one or two others of similar caliber who may or may not participate, but who will contribute meaningful resources if they don’t show up personally.”

“You don’t do things by half measures,” Secondhand said.

“We don’t believe in half measures,” Snag said.  “In the bigger job, or in our deal with you.  Tech for tech, fifteen thousand for the job, but I’d like the two things bundled together.  We establish a working relationship and even a mutual dependency before the job starts.”

“Mutual dependency?”

“A reason for people to second guess themselves before wondering if they can drop away at the last minute and they won’t be missed because the crowd is big enough.  It was known to happen at events like Endbringer fights, before Gold Morning.”

“Speaking for myself, not having consulted the group…”

“Of course.”

“I don’t mind that approach.  We’d have to discuss the money.  Spread across a four person team, it doesn’t amount to that much.”

“When I did the community center job…” Snag started.  He paused, letting the statement hang.

“You did it with stipulations and expectations.  Stipulations handled, expectations met,” Secondhand said.  “We’re aware.”

“That counts for something,” Last Minute said.  “It needed doing, and it was done well.”

“Trust that we intend to do this well,” Snag said.  “The three of us have spent a year steadily working toward this.  If you want more money, we could discuss it.  We’d want references to justify it, a guarantee you’ll earn your keep.”

“I think we could manage that.  Instead of money, though…”

“Hmm?”

“Cradle.  He’s your best tinker?”

“He can be.”

“Maybe you sweeten the pot.  Include his work.”

“That can be arranged.  You give us your references and recommendations in exchange.”

“Alright.  I like the sound of that.  We’ll talk.”

“Good,” Snag said.

Secondhand put out a hand.  Snag reached out with his giant mechanical hand, enclosing it around Secondhand’s hand and forearm.

They all shook hands.  Snag’s giant mechanical hand made for a peculiar image as it met Final Hour’s hair-dryer stub of a limb and the two shook.

When steampunk-ish End of Days gingerly took Love Lost’s clawed hand in his bare hand, he bent down, kissing the back of it.  With her back to the camera, it was impossible to see her reaction.

The Speedrunners split up into two groups, two getting into an older car, and two getting into the van with the tech in the back.

Snag and Love Lost walked back the way they came.  Love Lost turned her head to watch as the cars pulled out of the parking lot and then drove past the pair of them.  The camera that was perched on the edge of the building slowly turned to follow the pair.

As the camera zoomed in, the sound clarifying, the metal noises of Snag’s hands periodically touching the road and Love Lost’s claws clicking were very audible.

Kenzie must have changed something, because the sound faded into the background.

“Good?” Snag asked.

Love Lost gave him a singular nod.

“They’re good to have.  Versatile, and it’s good to have that tech.  I can think of ten things I could do with that.”

Another nod.

“You’re good for the meeting at the pub?”

A final nod.

“Pub,” I heard Tristan say.  “Kenzie?  Do we deploy Victoria?”

“I have an address.  Only pub in Cedar Point, I think.  Across the street from where Prancer went inside.”

I brought the phone up to my face.  “Love Lost might be able to sense people, and there’s Birdbrain and Braindead to account for.”

“It’s up to you, Victoria,” Tristan said.  “But it would really, really help if we could get more of this kind of exchange.”

I stepped off the roof, realized that someone was standing on the sidewalk on the far side of the street, staring at me, and saw the alarm on their faces.  I gave them my best heroic salute as I started flying instead of falling from the roof of the two-story building.

“Ashley and Rain are kind of quiet,” I said, to the phone.

“I don’t like phones, where I can’t see faces or reactions,” Ashley said.  “I’m fine.  This is good.”

“I’m not so fine,” Rain said.

Understandable.

Right.  I’d maybe talk to him after, or encourage him to reach out to Yamada.  Even better, he could get around to making that call to the hero teams.

But for now, going into enemy territory, I needed to look after myself and the mission.  I now needed to make prompt decisions for things that I’d hoped I’d have a few days or weeks to think about.

“Radio silence unless it’s an emergency, or you need to tell me to stop deploying the camera, Kenzie,” I said.

I heard a faint ‘boop’.

No assistance, now.  Just me and my intel.  I put the white mask on.

Primary concerns: Braindead and Birdbrain.  Clairvoyants both.

Braindead was a tactical thinker, who could designate a set area in three dimensions, setting out a rectangular prism where he sensed everything in the area.  He could cover a small town with his power and have a general awareness of everything that happened in that town, but if he designated a smaller area, he got more clarity, more attention of simultaneous things at once, and he was aware of stats.  Non-numerical values for abstract things like physical wellness, martial combat capacity, and run speed, for everyone in the area.  Smaller area, more and more accurate stats.

The drawback was that he was a twenty-something guy that spent an awful lot of time sitting in a chair with a diaper on, drooling, mumbling, and feeling acutely uncomfortable.  When his power was active, and for a time after, he was unable to act on his knowledge himself, or even to effectively defend himself.  He had been on the side of the good guys, once, which was why his power information was such common knowledge.  Something had changed or snapped.

I flew just over the rooftops.  It wasn’t me flying at a height where I could pull my phone out, because there was a very real chance I could fly into something like a power line or chimney.

Braindead’s power operated in three dimensions.  X, Y, Z.  A set area of north, south, east, west, up, and down.  If he wanted all of the stats and information, and if he wanted to minimize the other drawbacks of his power, like the recovery time, up and down were often the variable he could sacrifice.  He could cover an area three city blocks wide along the west-east axis and three city blocks long along the north-south axis, while only covering six to ten feet of up and down.

Against Braindead alone, flying high and sticking to rooftops was a really safe bet, to stay out of his realm of awareness.

Against Birdbrain, that was a weakness.  Birdbrain was a tactical clairvoyant of a complementary stripe to Braindead.  Top-down clairvoyant awareness, much like if Kenzie operated solely through tinker eyes-in-the-sky pointed straight down.  She also had thinker powers of another sort, worked into the main clairvoyant power, but she wasn’t an ex-hero, and the information wasn’t in files.

She was really good with a gun, highly mobile, and thus she was very good at defending Braindead while he was incapacitated.

If I stuck to rooftops, Birdbrain would detect me quickly.  If I went to the ground, I’d be in Braindead’s realm.

I flew under things when I could, just to try to throw Birdbrain for a loop.  It took me a second to orient myself and find the buildings I was looking for, even when I knew they were part of the downtown strip.

No sign of Snag or Love Lost.  They were already inside, I hoped.  With luck, I would be able to get the camera online shortly.

I set down on the roof, my forcefield down, and put my bag down in the corner of the roof, against the raised lip.

Fully aware that it was very likely that an eye in the sky was watching my every move, I used my body to block the view of the bag’s contents, and pulled the camera out, placing it against the corner, where the bag would shield it.  I got my notebook out, opened it to an empty page, and put it across the corner of the roof, before pulling out the chips and what turned out to be curry in a pita wrap.

Curry in a pita was not a mix I’d run into before, but I wasn’t going to complain.  I put the wrap on my notebook, weighing it down, and the chips by my bag, against the ledge of the roof.

My backpack shielded most of the camera from view, the notebook’s placement shielded any view of it from above.

I had to take it slow.  I sat on the roof, leaning against the ledge, opened the bag, and adjusted the plunger.  I reached into the bag, and discovered they weren’t chips, but a salted pork rind thing.

Urg.

I ate a few, penned down some general observations of the neighborhood, and then adjusted the plunger slightly downward, as part of the process of reaching down to fish for another mouthful of overly-salted pork things.

It took maybe a minute and a half to two minutes, because of the regular pauses here and there.  I heard the ‘boop’ through my phone, took that as my signal, and pulled my phone out to cancel the call, being sure to keep it at an angle where someone watching from above me couldn’t see the phone’s face or display.

I was nervous, remaining where I was.  Every moment I was here, I was guarding the camera, the camera was presumably filming, and we were getting information.

Every moment I was here, I was being watched.  My forcefield was down, because having it up risked it damaging the roof, building, or the camera.  The locals were getting time to figure out what to do with me.

We wanted to stir the hornet’s nest, to keep it stirred to exhaust resources and keep them from being particularly effective villains.  Those same hornets could sting.

I ate some of Chris’ curry in a pita, just to look like I was on a typical stakeout or patrol, and I wished I’d brought a drink.  I took notes, with an eye to graffiti and symbols, to names and sayings.  Things I could look up later, to see if I could divine any other names or personalities that had settled in Cedar Point.

It was maybe five minutes in total before they decided they were uncomfortable with me being where I was.  Across the street, a big guy in costume emerged.  Blond haired, a metal mask with fur on it, and a combination of metal and what looked like horn or natural armor plates on a brown costume.  His gauntlets looked menacing, with fur, metal, and studs.

He looked pretty B-list, all in all.

He beckoned for me to come.  I wondered if I should gather my bag.

I decided to take a risk, leaving it where it was.  I flew down to the street below.

“I’m Moose,” he said.  “You’re unwelcome.”

“The last time I came, you guys called Tattletale.  She told me to get lost.”

“Yup,” Moose said.

“To me, hearing that, I’m inclined to think I should show up more,” I said.

“Ahh, nope,” he said.  “No, I think you’ve got the wrong inclination there, Glory Girl.”

I shrugged.  “What can you do, Moose?”

“What I’m going to do, Glory Girl, is I’m going to tell you how this is going to go down.”

“Do tell,” I said.

“Two brutes, like you and me, heavy hitters, we’re liable to have a brawl.  I’ll avoid breaking anything breakable because I have an investment in Hollow Point here.  You’ll avoid breaking stuff because you’re one of the good guys.  You don’t want that bad PR.”

“Makes sense,” I said.

“We’ll have a really polite knock-down brawl, as such things go, and you’ll trounce me.”

“I’ll trounce you?”

“I said I’d tell you how this was going to go, and I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s going to go.”

“Thinker power?” I asked.

“Only thinker power I got is decently good common sense,” Moose said.

I nodded.

“So you’ll trounce me.  Thoroughly.  You’ll embarrass me, even.  Not because you’re a girl and I’m a guy, but because you’re strong and you have more experience, and because fighting someone who flies is a massive bother.”

“You could surrender.”

“Can’t.  Invested in this place.  But there’s more to it, Glory Girl.”

“Not my name anymore, by the way.”

“Oh, really?  Sorry about that.”

“I don’t have another to give you, not yet, but I thought I’d let you know.”

“If you’re going to stay, I gotta fight you and I gotta get trounced.”

“That’s a shame,” I said.

“But there’s more to it.  I’m pulling from that common sense, now.  You’ll trounce me, I’ll be embarrassed, and in the time it takes for that to happen, others are going to show up.  They won’t interfere, but they’ll stand around and they’ll be ready to fight you if you’re insistent on staying.  You’ll be outnumbered and they won’t be inclined to play fair, except that they’ll let you leave if you’re willing to leave.”

“Which I will.”

“Good to hear.  Except… can we just skip straight to the part where you leave?  I don’t want to be embarrassed and you don’t want to run scared from a group of menacing looking capes.”

“I’m supposed to run scared from you instead, Moose?”

“You can knock me around as you make your exit, if you’d like.”

“Really?” I asked, a little incredulous.

He shrugged.

“This isn’t a trap?”

“Nope.”

I used my flight, and rose up off the ground.  He didn’t react.

I flew at him, forcefield up, fist out.

He met my fist with his, moving faster than I’d expected.  The shockwave from the impact knocked me back and up into the air.  I righted myself and hovered on the spot, ten or so feet off the ground.

The shockwave was weird.  Intense, and focused.  There was more to that Brute power.

“I can’t embarrass myself too badly,” he said.  “There’s an audience.”

I looked.

In the window of the pub, Snag had risen to his feet.  Love Lost was sitting, still, watching through the window.  There were a handful of others.

I met Snag’s eyes momentarily, and tried to look a little surprised.

Then I flew at Moose again.  I pushed out with my aura.

His reaction to the fear and awe was to strike out, a solid punch, not a reckless one like most would throw reactively.  I didn’t follow the awe with an attack, and I was glad I hadn’t, because the chances were good that I would’ve been hit.

Instead, I used his momentary bewilderment to fly over his head, because it was easy to do, it required him to turn around.  Better yet, it involved a lot of readjustment of footing and balance, at the same time he was recovering from the emotional hit.

Watching, waiting, feeling more like the warrior monk as I used this approach, I tried to identify the time his footing was still off, his awareness of me imperfect, and I dove, striking him with one foot in the collarbone.

In the process, the wretch decided to strike out too.  It hit him across the face, knocking the mask off.  I saw blood, and the tracks of fingernails.

He fell, and he sat there, his head turned away from me, one gauntlet-covered hand moving to his face.

“You okay?” I asked, flying up and looking away.  I didn’t want to be accused of peering beneath the mask.

“I’ll mend,” he said.

I didn’t wait, and I didn’t look back.  Back to my notebook, to my bag and book and Chris’ meal.  I packed it up, collecting the camera.

When I’d crossed the water and reached the edge of the neighborhood where the hideout was, I called the others.

“Thanks for that, Victoria,” Sveta said.

“How’d we do?”

“We didn’t get the very start and we didn’t get what would’ve been the end, but we got some, and I think everyone’s happy with that,” she said.  “You okay?”

“I’m alright.”

“Come back.  We’ll talk, and you can see what we got.”

I flew back.  I didn’t fly in a straight line, being mindful of any possible pursuers, and I flew lower to the ground as I drew closer to the building where the place we were renting was.  I landed at the edge of the lot and walked to the fire escape.

Ashley, Sveta, Kenzie and Chris were all present.  They were watching a distorted and monochrome image of the inside of the pub, projected on the wall.

I noted the absence of Tristan and Rain.

“He ran,” Ashley said, her voice low.

“Rain?”

“He got spooked,” she said.  “Tristan went after him.”

“To reassure,” Sveta said.

Chris reached past Kenzie to hit keys on the keyboard.  The image on the projector screen changed.

“You suck at that,” Kenzie said, elbowing him.  “Here.”

The image was distorted, as if viewing something underwater, with a film of grime on the lens.  The sound, however, was only slightly muted.

“You really want this kid to suffer.”

“We want him to face a fate worse than death,” Snag said.  “But we can’t have that and have him dead at the same time, and we need him dead.  If he suffers as much as possible along the way to that conclusion, we’ll be satisfied.”

“If you’re paying, we can satisf-”

The message cut off as Kenzie hit a key.  She looked back at me, shooting me what might’ve been an attempt at a reassuring smile.  Not so reassuring.

“We’ll figure something out,” I said, to myself as much as them.

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113 thoughts on “Shade – 4.3”

  1. Sweet, getting some of the good dirt about Rain. I’m most interested in him right now, so it’s cool to have his backstory getting some early light.

    1. Luckily, you don’t need a Cauldron vial to develop some of your own. Unluckily, it comes with a crippling weakness…being constantly annoyed at everyone around you.

      1. Luckilly/unluckilly that power is not so rare among named characters in this verse… it is still not incredibly common, and absent from most institutions/organizations, its just not as rare as in a lot of fiction.

  2. A) Moose is best.

    B) Anyone else getting the vibe that Rain was a totally shitty guy who totally earned what is heading his way…. exceot now with all the personality blurring stuff, he no longer IS the jerkass who earned all this hatred.

    C) I’m actually liking this “Full logic” Chris or whatever he’s got going on. I’m wondering if he would make a pretty good leader/tactician if he got the opportunity to take that role…

    1. Chris is definitely growing on me a lot, and I love Moose. He’s fantastic. I’m absolutely 100% suspicious of Rain at the moment. Maybe his teenage looks are a disguise, even?
      The person who’s backstop I’m super interested in right now is Kenzie. Wildbow has dropped a few teaser tidbits but I want the whole story

    1. Based on what Snag said, they’ll need more people to get where they’ll only be outnumbered three to one.

      Time for bed.

    2. Well if Team Therapy pulls off some three on one odds wins they may want to make Team Therapy their official name. Cause you gonna need therapy after fighting them.

      1. You had it right the first time:

        complementary, adj.
        1 : serving to fill out or complete
        2 : mutually supplying each other’s lack

        Presumably they don’t just give each other praise and free stuff. Incidentally, this sort of thing is why I’m still annoyed by idiomatic usage advice in the comment threads. It’s even worse than grammatical advice.

        1. I don’t know, a complimentary power might be pretty cool. You would always know what to say to someone and always have free refreshments or popcorn or something.

          1. Heck if it’s strong enough you could give your foes pause as they stop and go “Oh, thanks.” Get a good enough one in and then while they are blushing and trying to think how to respond, you can escape.

          2. Complimentary powers are probably too positive for a shard to come up with.
            The only way you could provoke someone would be to be nice to someone else in front of them and somehow build up jealousy, not much as strife goes by.

            The write-anything-anywhere hitman could generate better conflict in his sleep.

    1. “And ‘of 5?'”
      Second single quote didn’t auto-format into a closing quote.

      “another member of the Speedrunner’s group”
      > Speedrunners’

      “Aside from the brass helmet he wore, which covered his entire head the armor covered only half of his body.”
      Possibly missing comma after ‘head’.

    2. Is this the typo thread? I had some trouble following the bit where Victoria describes Final Hour’s giant brass hairdryer. She’s looking at her phone, narrating what it looks like, but then she switches to talking about it in the past tense and tells Sveta she can’t see her phone while holding it to her ear.

      Deliberate misdirection to keep her own team from realizing she can see the video feed? TIME SHENANIGANS??? Find out next tuesday!

    3. “I’m not a good guy either. And maybe that’s because of the bleed coming the other way. I feel like a completely different person than I was then. And I know – I think Snag is too. I’ve seen his perspective and his dreams, and he’s willing to murder now? Maybe the shard took half of my anger from back then and divided it among them, aiming it back at me.”

      Continuity-Rain uses “shard” to indicate his passenger, but we’ve never seen a human describe them that way, only the aliens.

  3. Moose is quickly becoming one of my favorite minor characters. In fact he’d without a doubt be my sole favorite if we didn’t also have the incredible sideshow that is Ratcatcher. Or Tempera who I’m really hoping shows up again soon. Gotta say I think the minor characters in Ward are a major step up in Wildbow’s already fantastic minor character game.

  4. This is it. Ward’s apex.

    While writing in her notebook with her right hand, LightVictoria adjusts the plunger with her left ! She takes a pork rind… and eats it ! (cue salty sparkles)

    Things can only go worse now. Entirely expected, mind you.

    1. They’re certainly trying the same kind of thing. Make it look like they’re just studying while they do something else, out of view of the people they know are watching.

    2. That’s surprisingly apt! If Victoria is Light, her invisible creepy forcefield must be Ryuk!

      Wait, who is L? Tattletale, aka TT?

  5. “The speedrunners split up into two groups, two getting into an older car, and two getting into the van with the tech in the back.”

    Shouldn’t “speedrunners” be capitalized?

  6. Dang, Rain is very boned. Sounds like their only option is gonna be to get the jump on these villains before they can get all their ducks in a row.

    (But yeah, I agree with the assessment that Rain did something that deserves all of this- but then the parts of him that let him do awful things to others got split between the rest of the cluster so they could use it on him.)

    1. He got an abiloty perfectly suited for a 90’s or an early 00’s horror film.

      Imagine this, he uses his power on your leg while you’re running away, and the impact against the ground uses enough force to activate his power.

    2. “Deserves” might be a bit much. Nobody really deserves the bad things that happen to them. Not even many/most criminals, as long as nonviolent things like drug possession are crimes.

      Just thinking out loud here, but a pretty girl like Erin might provide motivation for a young and insecure guy like Rain to do a lot of things. Such as to focus on her alone to the detriment of others in a stressful and dangerous situation. For example. But that also precludes doing something truly awful, because how would that impress her? Unless she’s actually the evil mastermind, manipulating him with her womanly powers that, um, probably aren’t anything near as ancient as the actual powers the alien is giving them.

      This comment might have gotten away from me a little bit.

      1. >a little bit

        You think?

        But no, yeah, I do agree that few things actually deserve such harsh response, but I have a feeling that what Rain did might have been one of those things- considering how much he wants to avoid talking about it, and that one member of the cluster is gone, it’s likely something pretty heinous (worse than murder) that would possibly make the members of Team Therapy who he hasn’t told just drop him and leave, if not turn on him immediately.

  7. Okay Rain, I understand that trigger events are personal, and you seem to be afraid of how they’ll think of you when they learn what you did. But you’ve got a group of supers who’s biggest regret is that they can’t make you suffer eternally and want you dead. And they are recruiting a bunch of other villains and making a lot of connections. So that small group of allies you’ve got? They need to know. If they are putting their lives on the line for you, they deserve to know. And if for no other reason than to keep one of them from throwing out “And that’s the person you are defending, and the horrible thing they did and why they deserve to die” at a bad moment and causing hesitation.

  8. I love how pragmatic Moose is. “Look, we both know you’re gonna beat me and then leave, can we try to make it quick?”

    1. 1) Moose is quickly becoming my favorite Wormverse side character

      2) Oh hey, I’ve seen you around Giantitp I think, it’s kind of odd seeing people from forums in other places.

  9. I feel like Snag and Love Lost are overthinking things a little here. Gathering up thirty capes is the kind of thing that firstly draws a lot of negative attention and secondly isn’t likely to work out well because of personality clashes. Maybe they’ll have enough professionals that they can work together, but managing them is going to be a lot of work and unless Tattletale puts in a lot more effort than I see her expending to kill a random teenager she’s not going to be very helpful. They’d be better off just grabbing a few heavy hitters like Lord of Loss to back them up, get rough numerical parity and then hit Rain, that way there’s less of a chance of someone talking to the Wardens on account of it’s a hit on kids and some supervillains have standards and there’s much less of a coordination headache. As it is, if they just throw thirty capes at Team Therapy they’re going to get in each other’s way and they could potentially push Sveta or Ashley to cut loose and get most of their hires killed.

    1. The trouble there is, there’s few heavy hitters at Lord of Loss’s standard. Lung, certainly; but when he faced Vicky, she was well aware she was outclassed, and Moose knows he was outclassed here by here.

      Tattletale will put in a lot of effort, if she’s paid sufficiently. And she’ll help with the coordination, too. Three capes for each member of Team Therapy is… Tricky. Three flyers for Vicky, three brutes for Sveta, and so on. Three thinkers/tinkers that don’t need eyes for Kenzie.

      And, under absolutely no circumstances, get Blindside involved. They’re a great leveller, if you’re outnumbered. He’d hamper Snag & Love Lost more than the others. Especially as Kenzie could keep eyes on them and he’s lost to Vicky before.

      1. If Tattletale wanted to help… and not “help.” She would do to Team Therapy what she did to Coil.

        Men with Guns and head shots. No capes needed.

        Tattletale is not taking this seriously. She wanted Victoria to go there. She is setting Snag and Co up for a fall.

    2. I thought Snag implied that tattletale is also bringing in some of her friends – possibly other ex-Undersiders. Although I’m expecting her to screw them over…

      1. Yeah, but of the old Undersiders I think it’s very doubtful Rachel would care enough to jeopardize her friendship/alliance with the Wardens via Vista and Miss Militia by agreeing to help out with a dubiously moral hit, Cozen’s a thief, not a murderer, Parian and Foil are more about ignoring the Undersiders crimes than helping commit them and Aiden is like, ten. The only one I could see being on board is Imp, and kind of her defining thing is that you haven’t heard of her. So I don’t think Tattletale will be calling in the Undersiders but rather high-profile criminal contacts like Lung or former Birdcage inmates.

    3. If they really want to off Rain they need to shoot him in the head when he’s not aware of the threat. They’d need a small handful of people. Or maybe a professional action figure delivery boy/girl.

      Instead, they seem to be planning to go up against Team Therapy in some sort of all out battle. This is a particularly bad idea when the stakes are life or death. FFS, Sveta’s main challenge is not killing people, and she tanked Scion shots to protect her team. You don’t fight to the death with that.

      Also, I’m betting they try and kidnap Erin. If they were planning on ganking Rain at his house they’d be planning on doing it before the cavalry arrives. On the plus side that would prevent Sveta from just getting dropped in the middle of them. On the minus side, that will probably end with the entire villain team getting slaughtered.

      1. I made a comment about this… No one seems to be using guns except the high schoolers in the beginning who got non functional versions of them.

        Most capes aren’t brutes and can’t take a bullet… Aka more people would be using guns.

        With the exception of Victoria, every single member of team therapy would lose to a Pvt. Jenkins with an M16.

        1. There’s a reason that kill orders existed y’know: Killing people doesn’t exactly make you look good, and everyone around you, villains and heroes alike, very well may rally against you in an effort to get you to stop murderizing people you don’t like. In this particular case though, they totally should be rolling up with a bunch of AR15’s and filling him with lead if his death is their main goal.

          1. In the US and several other countries, police use lethal force…. We still get a ton of murders.

            Kill orders keeping the lid in things made sense in the context of endbringers and super powerful and well integrated Cape organizations like the Prt and yang ban.

            But again imagine if someone argued that, in Mogadishu, the fighting warlords are hesitant to use murder as a tool.

        2. I feel like controlling the flow of guns is easier when you have a lot of people who don’t need guns to be deadly more or less running the world, who can step on the supply line that you need to mass-produce guns pretty easily, meaning you have to import from offworld, and they have Thinkers watching the portals. You’d end up with relatively few weapons being made by the kind of hobbyist who builds their own flintlocks or something.

    4. There’s also the matter of what will happen as a consequnce of going up against the others, and if something happens to someone else. Kenzie and Chris straight up are kids. The Irregulars aren’t a thing anymore and it seems from Glow Worm that most of the remaining ones don’t think highly of Sveta and Weld now, but anything happens to Sveta, Weld will call in favors. And Victoria’s got family. One of whom is Amy, who’s got a decent ammount of supervillain community clout herself. I’d imagine at least a few guys might not want to risk getting on the bad side of if they start making those connections.

      The question with any kind of job for guys like this is “Will it be worth it?” Which both means pay, and the shit you’ll have to deal with later.

      1. They’re not going to connect the dots with Victoria yet, and probably not with anyone, because Therapy have decided to play their membership close to the vest. Most of the villains involved in this doomed endeavor probably see Rain as alone except for his non-para girlfriend, about whom they DGAF. Any villain aware enough to connect Victoria to Amy will run the other way, but how many would be that aware? Maybe Prancer is, which would be why he sent an obviously outclassed Moose out to negotiate with her.

        As observed above in a different thread, Sveta is highly unlikely to need Weld’s help. Her primary challenge is avoiding insta-kills against every person in her considerable reach.

    5. Yes, and they suspiciously sketched out a summary of their stratagem standing out-side, susceptible to being snooped. Sort of suspicious sounding, if you’re the suspecting sort.

  10. Aw, man. It’s good they played it safe, I guess, but I was really looking forward to a fight . . .

    #TeamRain #TeamTherapy

    (I like Rain, screw the haters)

  11. Are these the beginning’s of a civil war that ends the age of capes? Amy gets pulled in to one side through her biological father, and Victoria can’t let go when she needs to cut losses?

    1. Yeah … given the number of forces that each side has connections to, this assassination plot is looking more and more like an Archduke Ferdinand scenario.

      Snag’s managed to gather representatives from most of the main villain groups, while Rain (through Victoria/Sveta) has connections to Weld’s and HT’s Warden teams as well as a couple paramilitary groups – if Victoria called in all her connections to help defend them, we could get a pretty nasty and drawn-out battle. Which means that Snag/Tattletale would call in reinforcements, and the heroes (seeing their forces overrun by hitmen) probably would too, both sides likely attacking on entirely new fronts in order to draw their enemies away. The as-yet-uninvolved villain factions might see this as a coordinated attack on villaindom, and go all-in before the heroes finish off their allies and come for them next; the heroes, in response to this, might be forced to go all-in to fend them off (with negotiation very difficult given the number of independent factions on each side).

      At this point, it’d have devolved into all-out civil war (with Snag and Rain pretty much forgotten in the chaos). This is the point where all those normals with guns get fed up with everything and get together to shoot every parahuman they can find who isn’t bulletproof.

      War, of course, brings broken triggers (likely distracting Valkyrie and the other Warden heaviest hitters). The three blasphemies will likely get involved, because that’s what they do. The injunction against killing has likely fallen by the wayside, at least when the normals with guns get involved (although most heroes and villains might still pull their punches against each other). Even if everyone individually wants the war to stop, nobody can – it’s fight or be destroyed by all of the other factions fighting in this war. There’s also the nuclear options of the various tame class-S threats, or Teacher’s mysterious instrumentality project from the epilogues, or just some other Earth saying “fuck this” and chucking a literal nuke through the portal.

      And then there’s the massive wildcards of Earth Cheit and Earth Shin, and all the other class-S threats on the sidelines …

  12. This may be a minor nitpick but the story so far is feeling very small. Yes, it’s following Victoria in Earth gimel which seems to have taken most of earth Bet’s eastern US so we get a limited view… Bonesaw and Amy… The two most powerful and useful medical capes have so much free time that Ashley, a C grade damsel in distress clone, can get regular appointments. Yamada’s time is more booked up than Bonesaw’s?

    That said, two years after the world ended… There are pubs and abandoned buildings? Someone built an expensive structure out of steel and concrete in the middle of a housing shortage with 100 million homeless refugees and then left it.

    If you make non capes that desperate, they’re going to use guns. A human with a gun is a Blaster 8 easily.

    Heck, hero teams and villain teams should be taking a cue from Coil or the Prt and have trained non powered back up who use lethal force. Remember how in Iraq, disbanding the army led to Isis and huge sectarian crises and fighting?

    Well, the entirety of Earth Bet’s non cape military just lost their jobs.

    Basically, the world does not feel ended enough. The society should be more like Berlin or Tokyo in 1947 or Somalia now. Like really desperate and dirty. Instead it feels like the world just went through a bad breakup where now people are crying on the couch and getting therapy. That is too mild a response. More than 5 out 10 people on Bet died The worlds in Pact, Twig, and original Worm all felt more dangerous and bleak than this one.

    Instead, I keep feeling some authorial thumbs on the scale to keep things safe and happy so a lovable group of scamps can go play hero. I love the characters and their interactions but the world they inhabit doesn’t make sense.

    Take the costumes, for example. In Worm and most other super hero fiction, the first purpose of a costume was to keep the true identity secret to protect loved ones.

    In Ward, no one seems to be worried about that and instead treat the costumes like Project Runway. I don’t feel the necessity of them. I get that Tattletale and some of the big hero teams wanted to keep “cops and robbers” going and maintain a truce, but they seem way to successful.

    The answer for “why should I wear a mask” seems to be “for marketing purposes” when it should be “Let me tell you about Turbulence. A minor hero before golden Morning, moved to earth gimel’s North Carolina. Made mini tornadoes and started doing the hero thing. Long story short, he got sloppy, lost his mask in a fight. A week later his family was wife and nephew, his only surviving family, were found chopped up in a ditch. Turbulence killed himself 3 days after.”

    If the reason this does not happen is because Contessa/the other more enlightened villains prevent it than their should be evidence of that.

    Like, “Did you hear about Nitro?
    Pulled a bank job and ended up, took hostages and killed the three kids when he made his getaway. A week later, a every villain pub within 200 miles received a finger, or a toe or whatever wrapped in bits of his costume.”

    I don’t know… The world feels artificially small, fuzzy and non lethal. I get this is necessary for Victoria to countenance allowing the kids to fight, but it hampers the world building. It’s all written beautifully and I love the characters, I just have trouble believing in the world.

    1. > If you make non capes that desperate, they’re going to use guns. A human with a gun is a Blaster 8 easily.

      Here’s the PRT’s guidlines for an 8-rank power:

      > Evacuation of civilians should take priority for all squad members. Engaging should be avoided outside of specific missions and tasks. Capes should engage only when supported by their team to ensure a minimum of complications or danger.

      On the contrary, a civilian with a gun could be outmaneuvered by a single brute or mover pretty effectively. I’d say a human with a gun would be more of a Blaster 5-6.

      > Well, the entirety of Earth Bet’s non cape military just lost their jobs.

      It’s been stated before that, due to the nature of parahuman conflict, that conventional military on Earth Bet is much smaller than it is in our world. Specifically, operation desert storm, 9/11, and all the resulting conflict in the Middle East never happened, meaning that the U.S. wouldn’t have the same reasons for an inflated military that ours does. Other countries probably experienced similar situations.

      > If the reason this does not happen is because Contessa/the other more enlightened villains prevent it than their should be evidence of that.

      > Like, “Did you hear about Nitro? Pulled a bank job and ended up, took hostages and killed the three kids when he made his getaway. A week later, a every villain pub within 200 miles received a finger, or a toe or whatever wrapped in bits of his costume.”

      Truce-breaking doesn’t mean being taken out by Cortessa, I doubt she gives a shit about whether some B-list villain starts murdering. Rather, it means having to deal with lethal force from every hero team you come in contact with, forever. It’s not as though truce-breaking is a death sentence (after all, the villains in this chapter are talking about outright premeditated murder), rather, it’s a cost-benifit analysis about what kind of hero response you want to be dealing with in the future.

      Good points overall though, I especially agree with the housing situation – feels a bit too much like they’re just in a slightly unstable modern city. Although powers certainly speed up the reconstruction, it’s hard to believe that humanity could be at this level after only two years.

      1. >Good points overall though, I especially agree with the housing situation – feels a bit too much like they’re just in a slightly unstable modern city. Although powers certainly speed up the reconstruction, it’s hard to believe that humanity could be at this level after only two years.

        I’m not sure why people find this difficult to believe.

        After Gold Morning, all the government red tape that slows down construction went right away.

        Even more importantly, a large part of these reconstruction efforts are sourced from Accord’s plans. Remember, Accord worked for Cauldron for years, writing their contingency plans. Indeed, almost the only positive thing those wretched monsters did was properly plan for rebuilding, if a miracle happened.

        Lastly, you have Teacher, Number Man, and Tattletale in a secret mastermind race to see who can grab the most pie. Plus, there’s entire planets full of un-touched raw materials. The North American temperate rain forests are pristine, the entire Middle East is full of un-tapped oil, the very richest deposits of copper and gold and silver are still there, un-touched.

        How many worlds did Khepri blast open with Labyrinth and Scrub during the last phase of Gold Morning? Fifty? A hundred?

        A Thousand?

        That’s a lot of room and a lot of resources, all linked together through ‘The City’.

        I am not in the least surprised there’s lots and lots of empty stuff.

        1. Not empty built stuff. End of Worm it was established that villains were building work camps and running people’s lives based on the provision od food and shelter.

          I. E. Those are scarce commodities.

          1. Scarce in that they need to be harvested before they’re usable, and perhaps the tools to do so were scarce. At first. That’s a short-term problem with an obvious and inevitable solution. I’m sure the villains are mostly fighting against that inevitability–with varying degrees of success–but there are probably some taking a more Skitter-like approach too.

          2. Some resources will be far more abundent than on Earth Bet. No humans means no forests have been cut down, so plenty of Timber. You can build log cabins for housing, burn it for fuel, all sorts of things. Mineral veins are untouched too. All the surface deposits that are easy to get to that got mined centuries or millenia ago on Bet are still there. What’s more you know where they are, because it’s the same on every earth. I imagine the survey maps for those were among the first things sent through.

            What’s lacking is infrastructure and refining capabilities. You know where the crude oil deposits are for example. But you’ve got to build a refinery, which itself will need manufactured components. You also have to either transport the crude oil to the refinery, or the refined fuel away, or both. That requires tankers, pipelines, all sorts of industrialized stuff.

            That said I’m wondering what kind of resources a Earth with a population of 12 million could be sparing. You’d think they’d be getting kinda interested in gaining more and getting more living room.

    2. You also have to consider that this is from Victoria’s point of view, and Victoria’s family has for the most part made it out of Gold Morning okay and have managed to find houses, probably through connections to the Wardens. So since Victoria’s family has ended up okay around a lot of other people that ended up okay, it’s gonna seem like the world is more okay than it is. There also seems to be special treatment for capes, probably to keep them from lashing out like the noncapes did in the protest. Also, I’d imagine guns are pretty scarce right now with not much manufacturing and most people not owning a gun and fleeing before they could stop by gun mart to pick a few up.

        1. Khyber Pass rifles are heavily dependent on having access to scrap from what I can tell. Processed material that has been discarded, or stolen, that can be reworked into the firearm and ammunition. That means that production is difficult, acquiring resources is difficult, and all of those are on a version of Earth that has seen human civilization. Also, the Khyber Pass rifles are partly based on a native gunsmith tradition in Afghanistan for expertise-I’m not sure how much of a tradition exists in the US.

          You will get a few, obviously, which is why there are guns in the story at all, but with both the government and many major criminal groups inclined to stomp on gun production to keep hold of their monopoly on force, it’d be hard to set up anything major.

        2. If more guns make this world that much darker, then it would make sense that government and *heroes* are actively trying to shut down arms manufacturing and restrict distribution. Moreover,*villains* would probably be doing the same thing, but with fewer ethics. Capes, in general, have every incentive to try and reduce the proliferation of guns, precisely because they are such a powerful equalizer.

    3. In regards to Gimel’s level of devolpment: You said “well, the entirety of Earth Bet’s non cape military just lost their jobs” and so did to pretty much everyone else on Bet. I’m almost certain tons of office drones have learned a fuckton of practical skills, as they’d often have nothing much to do with themselves other than aid in reconstruction.

      Regarding firearms: Yes, guns are an amazing equalizer. Which is precisely why the overwhelming majority of capes have a strong incetive to clamp down on arms prolefration. Through as many avenues as possible, from scrubbing the internet as best they can of information on how to make them, to imprisoning ilicit manufacturers, or engaging in the wholesale confenscation and stockpiling/destruction of guns and related manufacturing equipment.

    4. I would not be surprised if there’s some extreme disparity going on. From my rough understanding, it seems like there are 3-4 main classes of people left after Gimel. Capes and those with useful skills or resources are probably fairly comfortable, they’ll likely have first dibs on luxuries and good housing. Then there’s those who have settled in and found some sort of living, even if it’s worse than their life on Bet, I’m thinking the workers for the construction unions in particular. There’s those who have managed to get to off Bet but haven’t found stable employment yet and are living in dire straits, I would not be surprised if there are huge slums or “tent cities” we have not seen yet.

      Lastly, there is a not at all insignificant portion of Bet’s prior population who are still on Bet. The story mentions there are refugees coming in all the time, even years after GM.

      PS: Sorry for the double-post!

      1. I want to see the tent cities. Victoria being unaware of the downtrodden seems unlike her.

        She was on patrol in Brockton Bay when the Empire, AZN Bad Boys, and the Merchants were active. She must have seen some truly horrible, horrible stuff.

        But this isn’t what we get from this arc. She is pissed at Tattletale for “reasons” when there are undoubtedly drugs, prostitution, gangs like the Fallen, and real social ills around everywhere.

        The idea of several independent hero teams operating without an overarching legal or information system seems like it would be ineffective. Villains going around and advertising themselves with costumes seems counter productive unless they have an active need to be intimidating.

        Also, the idea that names have to go with powers really needs to be examined. For heroes, it makes some sense as they want the branding, but for villains it makes no sense.

        Why would you want to advertise your capabilities in an easy to understand mnemonic for your enemies? Look at Coil, his name was good branding but it gave no clue to his actual powers and it took Tattletale months to figure out what his power was. The name “Glory Girl” didn’t advertise her Alexandria package (yes, it’s a bit different, but she is flying invulnerability, and super strength.) If her name was, “Barrier Broad” people might have gotten an idea of how her invulnerability worked.

        Having a name that tells your opponents how you operate is a bad idea.

        1. I think basing the name on powers was just to help with brainstorming since they were looking for names. Also, Victoria seems to have a grudge against Tattletale, and it’s one thing to know about tent cities another one to see them. It’s easy to pass things like tent cities and other people’s misery when you’re not looking at it everyday.

    5. >Bonesaw and Amy… The two most powerful and useful medical capes have so much free time that Ashley, a C grade damsel in distress clone, can get regular appointments. Yamada’s time is more booked up than Bonesaw’s?

      This makes sense to me. Damsel is A) a cape with a pretty powerful ability, B) technically a hero, C) a valuable object of study due to her closeness to the shard, and it’s not like her hands would necessarily take Bonesaw a great deal of effort to maintain.

      >Take the costumes, for example. In Worm and most other super hero fiction, the first purpose of a costume was to keep the true identity secret to protect loved ones. In Ward, no one seems to be worried about that and instead treat the costumes like Project Runway. I don’t feel the necessity of them.

      Well as long as a costume covers your face it should do a pretty good job keeping your identity a secret. It’s just such an obvious aspect of getting a costume nobody bothers to mentions it. Plus this is from Victoria’s perspective, and her identity was public, so it’s natural for her not to think about secret identities that much.

      I agree with your other points though, this is slower and cozier than Worm, Pact, or Twig. In some ways that’s a good thing but(and I never thought I’d say this) maybe Wildbow needs to escalate a bit more.

      1. One clarification: from how Victoria deliberately avoids even the impression of trying to peek behind Moose’s mask when it was knocked off, I think it’s clear she thinks a lot about secret identities. But I see the rest of your points anyway.

      2. Bonesaw and Amy have the entire backlog of humans … just normal basic humans, with horrible medical conditions that required a massive industrialized medical system to support. That medical infrastructure is gone.

        Entirely.

        So Bonesaw is probably under the same pressures that Amy was under back in the day of having to save people and build surgical devices to save the unsaveable. Her time is very, very valuable. Making sure Damsel, an S9 clone, has a hand is not a priority. If Damsel got mad and tried to kill someone, many people would just kill her. They killed several hundred S9 clones as a matter of course.

        So this means that Riley is using some of her very limited free time to help Ashley.

        When she could be building new legs for a 5 year old with a deformed spine.

        Again… the world doesn’t seem despserate enough.

        1. Bonesaw was personally responsible for Ashley’s inhuman hands, so it makes sense she’d prioritize fixing her as part of her “redemption”.

        2. What gives you the impression Bonesaw is so busy? She didn’t seem especially harried when we saw her last interlude.

          I think what you mean is she *should* be trying to save everyone with pressure on her every waking moment. But all indications are to the opposite, that she really is seeing Ashley in weekly appointments.

          As for all the people dependent on constant hospital care to cling to life, well, I assume they either found mundane-provided medical care, or they died, like so, so many others. Perhaps even now, most injuries that could theoretically be treated just aren’t.

          This is a story, not an in-depth sociological survey! (Sorry, that comment is meant for the forum in general, don’t take it personally 😉 )

          1. I took that to be sort of like how Amy was out to the bank with Victoria when it was robbed. Bonesaw probably sets time aside for non medical stuff.

            There would however be an infrastructure around her because A) She is super dangerous B) She is super useful.

            She’d have people acting as her secretaries (whether she wanted them or not.) because desperate people would keep trying to accost her for miracle cures otherwise.

          2. @Matthew

            One’s health would have to be in pretty bad shape before bothering Bonesaw would seem like a good idea… You have a problem. So you get S9 to help you. Now you have at least two problems.

          3. Is Bonesaw even common knowledge to the point that she’s have people asking her to cure their cancer? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wardens are trying to keep her under wraps.

  13. I’m having no problem believing there’d be abandoned buildings in this chapter.
    Anywhere else on Earth Gimel, no, but this is Hollow Point, where all construction was halted was halted by a dispute over labor and materials. That would leave several buildings half-finished, and then Prancer’s Villains’ Local #666 moved in.

    Any construction workers still in town at that point were doubtless temporary residents. The average working Joe has at least as much sense as a squirrel, so I’d expect them to do what any squirrel would do when faced with an invading cape mob: grab their nuts and run.

    1. Remember how Brazilians abandoned the favelas when they became crime ridden hell holes? Or how rohingyas in Bangladesh ran away from the refugee camps because there were criminal gangs there? Or how people fleeing across the Mediterranean stopped because the people smugglers are dangerous criminal thugs?

      You don’t, because it doesn’t happen.

      No one in this story feels desperate enough.

      AZN bad boys was running slaves and prostitutes in Brockton Bay at the beginning of Worm. The world has ended and all that ugliness got ended with it? It makes no sense. It should have gotten worse.

      1. Lot less empty space IRL than on Gimel, and a lot less people left alive after GM than there are IRL. Makes it much less of a headache to build.

        I think it was mentioned at one point in the story that the reason there is a lot of empty buildings is that many were *incredibly* shoddily constructed because they were in such a rush to build things after GM. After a few years those buildings would be falling apart and, having built better buildings in the interim, people decide to move out.

        1. This may be a problem of how I’m imagining it. But the feeling I get is that Hollow Point is supposed be a Detroitish abandoned area… but an area being abandoned that way makes no sense in the context of this world.

  14. Guys, we’re missing something IMPORTANT here. This is the second time that Wildbow has offhandedly mentioned pita wraps right before shit takes a turn for the the worse. It can’t be a coincidence. The only possibility is that there’s a Mediterranean food oriented probability shaker behind EVERYTHING. All the way back to gestation 1.1.

    1. To clarify, by shit taking a turn for the worse, I mean a negative event which spurs the MC to pursue a goal sooner than they’d originally planned.

      1. Not dramatic enough. It’s actually her long lost twin sibling. Their actual powers are the manipulation of inanimate matter, and manipulating events using inanimate matter.

  15. 1) Chris and Moose. Now we have two capes with GCS (Good Common Scenes). However Moose version of GCS looks ridiculously powerful, probably he got Abaddon shard.

    2) >> “We want him to face a fate worse than death,” Snag said. “But we can’t have that
    >> and have him dead at the same time, and we need him dead.”

    Why do they need him dead? That can’t be because they need his power (they’re not seem to be interested in killing each other, at least not yet and if Rain isn’t lying hes power is the weakest).
    Looking forward to see what’s going on here.

    1. Rains power is a pretty strong power, it’s just not a very strong ‘hero’ power. His breaking lines are basically one hit one kill against a pretty big range of people / buildings/ weapons / etc. if you don’t mind a lot of killing it’s a very strong power. But if you are a hero, you do mind a lot of killing. You mind it very much.

    2. They need him dead for extra power-boost days. Every day someone in their cluster takes turns being extra strong. The fifth in their cluster died, and now every fifth day one of the remaining four trades off being extra strong. If Rain dies, every fourth and fifth day they’ll have a chance at more power, AND they’ll benefit from 1/3rd of those days each instead of 1/4th.

  16. It continues to kinda bug me how almost no one in this story talks like human beings. They mostly talk like either a therapist or a textbook on parahumans. Obviously this is at least somewhat on purpose since Victoria pointed out that Team Therapy has internalized a lot of the therapy way of talking, but it’s still kind of annoying. Just a minor complaint though.

  17. Are we sure they are going after Rain? Seems like overkill. Rain might be overthinking it, unless he is more powerful than he says.

  18. Moose is great! The character building is really well done, especially how the interlude prepared us to him but from a specific and limited point of view, and now we get another view of him, it gives him so much relief. I love that there are so many interesting people in this story.

    The bits of action (Victoria strategizing and working on her warrior monk) really show how strong Victoria’s hero itch is. I think I have already said it, but I hope that Victoria helping the group does not hinder her own development.

    Also: is a Rain going to dish his dark secrets? How much of a liar is he? What is actually going on that they are building an army in order to torture/kill one kid?

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