Shade – 4.6

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“Help me understand how this makes any sense at all,” Natalie said.

We were outside of a bagel place, close to the station nearest the Wardens’ Headquarters.  Natalie had bought a salad with chicken bits in it.  I’d never liked eating cold chicken, so I’d picked up a salad without the extras, and a toasted bagel sandwich with fish, black olives, tomatoes and cream cheese.  We sat at a table outside.

Natalie was wearing a shirt with a folded collar under a work-suitable navy-blue sweater, with black slacks.  I’d seen Kenzie wear a similar outfit a few days earlier, though Kenzie had had a skirt, and Kenzie had worn it better.

The group’s ‘lawyer’.  She was just a student, but mom’s verdict was that she knew her stuff well enough to serve, and she had a good sense of what was happening in the future.

I explained, “The area we were surveilling had a team of heroes come through, at our urging.  They had a brief interaction with the embedded villain population, suggested they might be sticking around, and then left.”

“And they were followed?  By the entire group of villains?”

“By two, Hookline and Kitchen Sink,” I said.  “They were angry following the discussion, were previously established as exceedingly violent, and they have criminal acts that are awaiting process.”

“They’re not in the nine percent?”

“Is it nine, now?  I was hoping the number would go up, not down.”

“Nine now,” Natalie said.

“They aren’t.  I think most of the villains in Cedar Point are trying to stay clear of that line,” I said.  I took a bite of my sandwich, then wiped the cream cheese from the corner of my mouth with a flick of my thumb.  Thoroughly disappointing.

Nine percent.  I’d known it as the ten percent, which had been a neater, rounder number.  With the courts badly behind, only a certain number of crimes and criminals were being rushed through court, and it wasn’t based on the time of the deed.  There was something which might have resembled a balance right now, but it was slipping fast.  People wanted to focus on getting themselves sorted out, there was plenty of work with reasonable pay, and the people who thought they could game the system ended up falling into the ten percent.  For those who did, the hammer came down hard and decisively.

There was, however, a population of people who’d realized they could get away with things if they avoided being among the nine or ten percent worst offenders.  It seemed to me that the gap was widening as people got more settled in and dissatisfied.  I knew some areas were using a lottery system to deter the lesser criminals, choosing the crimes they’d act on and prosecute by drawing them at random.

“Do you and did you know the crimes these two have awaiting process?”

“Hookline dangled someone out of a fourth story window.  Witnesses saw.  He was presumed to be acting as collections for a money lender.  The neighbors heard shouting about debt, not when Hookline was there, but in general, with the victim and his partner.”

“And you know this how, if it wasn’t pursued?”

“It was reported on in the paper for that area, a few months ago.  I have a copy of the article on my laptop.  I had to take the picture with my phone so it’s not the best.  Do you want to see it?”

Natalie shook her head.  “I’ll believe you.”

“After the article there was a reaction to Hookline.  Some public gatherings, anger, some backlash against the money lender.  Hookline left.  No telling if he was made to, fired, or if he wanted something easier.  Ended up at Cedar Point.”

“And the other one?  Kitchen Sink.”

“One of a couple who worked under Beast of Burden, who was crime boss for New Haven.  Sink handled collections for the protection racket.”

“Any serious crimes?”

“He trashed one business in a way that made it very clear his power was at use.  He creates semi-random items and flings them around, and the business had a lot of semi-random items flung around, shelves trashed, windows broken.”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“I have no idea,” I said.  “Victim didn’t pursue anything.  Authorities aren’t going to do anything if the victim isn’t talking.”

Natalie’s forehead wrinkled.  It was a weird contrast for someone who had a whimsical pixie cut with a curl at the front and oversized glasses, to seem as joyless as she did.  She didn’t seem to like her meal, and she seemed interested but not excited or engaged by this.

I ate more of my bagel sandwich, letting her think.  It would have been so much better if it was salmon, but it wasn’t.  The olives were mushy and lacked bite, which made me wonder if they were old, scavenged, imitation, or if they’d lost something in transport.  The worst thing was the bagel – I’d eaten here before and it had been better then.

“You assaulted and battered two individuals,” Natalie said.

“Let me get my laptop out.”

“They didn’t make the first move, by your own admission.”

“Their intent was clear.  They had weapons.  I’ll show you the video.”


I fished my laptop out of my bag, packed up my bagel and set it aside, and set the laptop down so Natalie could see.  It was a bit warm from being in my bag and being left on low-energy mode, but the boot-up was fast.  I already had the pertinent files and videos in a folder.

“First video, overhead view.  Do you have headphones?”

“I do.”

I waited until she had them out.  She put them on, and I plugged in the jack.  I hit the spacebar to start the video.  She watched, putting her arm up and over the top of the screen, to shield it from the sun.  I offered my own arm to help.  The video came in at an angle, zooming in, and showed most of the conversation, followed by Hookline and Sink’s retreat.

When she started to take off her headphones, I held up a finger, then navigated to the second video.  It showed same events, but a better view of Houndstooth’s group, and then expanded out to show how Hookline and Sink were closing in.

Natalie watched the fight and the follow-up, with Sveta and I retreating.  Moose did the work of freeing Hookline from underneath the car I’d blocked in.

It was hard to see in the noonday sun, especially when I was half-standing, my arm out to help shade the screen, but I could see Hookline’s reaction, slapping away Moose’s hand.  He stalked off, and Sink belatedly followed, something held to his bleeding nose.

“Clear intent to injure,” Natalie said.

“That’s what I said.  I did mention the weapons.”

“There’s a view, and it isn’t my view,” Natalie said, reaching for her salad, “that if you have a power then you’re armed at all times.  Sometimes judges hold that view.  I would rather assume that you would have a judge that held that perspective and be wrong, than to assume the opposite and be wrong.”

“Right,” I said.

“A better option would be to inform the heroes.”

“Couldn’t.  Clairvoyants with some clairaudience,” I said.  I opened a sub-folder, clicked an image, and let it pop up.  A boy in a wheelchair, a woman pushing it.  He wore a helmet with a fake brain under glass at the top.  She wore a bird mask.  “They’d hear anything we communicated, so it was radio silence.”

“You could have dropped down in front of Houndstooth and told him about the situation.”

“Similar risk.  We don’t want to hint at the prior relationship and we do want to suggest there’s a growing presence of heroes, to give them reason to second guess.”

Natalie sighed.  “I’m not a very conservative person in reality, but I do think your situation needs a conservative eye.”

“I can agree with that,” I said.

“With a citizen’s arrest, there needs to be an actual arrest.  I recognize you had to leave after the other villains showed up, but normally the process of performing an arrest like that needs clear indication of a crime in progress or one just committed, and it needs the authorities to be involved.”

“Citizen’s arrest?” I asked.  “Capes get a lot more leeway with those.”

“One second.  The process would be for you to contact me and contact the authorities, before anything happened.”

I opened my mouth to respond.

“Where possible, and it wasn’t possible here.  I get that.”


“You would, with my counsel and go-ahead, step in, take action, and then wait for the authorities to arrive.”

“Authorities who are only acting on nine percent of the cases,” I said.  “Why a citizen’s arrest and not an arrest with standing?”

“A costumed arrest?  We don’t know for sure if they’re going to allow those with the new legal system.  I’d rather lean on something tidier that we can be fairly sure will carry forward.”

I leaned back in my seat.  “That’s a lot more conservative than I anticipated.  Operating as if capes aren’t a thing?”

“I think capes are going to be a thing,” Natalie said.  “But we have reason to believe they’re going to be a thing people are going to want to handle in a different, more careful way, now.”

I packed up my sandwich and pitched it into a nearby trash can.

“No good?” Natalie asked.

“Bagel was flavorless and textureless.  It looked great and tasted… not like it looked.”

“They got popular, so they started freezing excess bagels and defrosting them to serve.”

I made a face.

“We’re making strides, Victoria, but I think we’re in for a culture shock when people realize that as much as they’ve been waiting eagerly for things to get closer to normal, we’re not going to get a lot of the old normal we’re eager for, and we’re going to get some of the less pleasant parts.”

“You’re talking about the law?”

Natalie shrugged.  She was holding her plastic thing of salad, spearing some with a plastic fork.  Before popping it into her mouth, she said, “Lots of stuff.”

My laptop was taking up some of her table real-estate, so I closed it and pulled it closer to me.

“Expectations,” she said, once she was done swallowing.  “If I’m working with you, I need to know what yours are.”

“That’s a simple question with an answer that could take me a day to get through.”

“Your mom wanted me to ask you if you were still looking for work,” Natalie said.

I tensed a little.

“I was asked to ask the question and pass on the response if you gave it.”

“When we pay you, it’s not for you to be a messenger between me and my mom.  If I want to talk to her I can call her.”

“Okay,” Natalie said.  “She had something else to pass on.”

“And I’m not interested,” I said, my voice firmer.  “Thank you.  I will get up and walk away.”

“Please don’t.  Really, please don’t.  There are a lot of things I want to talk about sooner than later,” she said.  “During our last meeting, I know it was brief, but I wanted the lay of the land.  I was hoping this meeting would be a chance to get a more comprehensive sense of what you wanted to do, and what I’m doing for you.  Both of your mother’s questions tie into that.”

“Did you talk to her about our meeting?”

“No.  Not for the last one.  For this one, I went to someone lateral to her.  She approached me independently with these things, and told me to reach out to you if you didn’t reach out anytime soon.  Because you would want to know.”

I wished I hadn’t thrown my lunch away.  I would’ve liked to have something to violently toss into the wastebasket, as an outlet for what I was feeling.  I shook my head a little.

“It’s relevant,” Natalie said.  “And it’s important.  I promise.”

I shook my head more.  All around us, people were going to and from lunch.  There was actually a city-like stream of cars on the road toward the center of the megalopolis proper.

“Tell me then,” I said.

“There were two attempted breaches into our email server last night.  It looked like it was directed at your mother.  They put a moratorium on sending and receiving email for three hours while they did some backend stuff, and there was another attempted breach partway through that.  Tech people are looking into it.”

I nodded.  I looked at my laptop.  Cedar Point, except I wasn’t aware of anyone who would be especially good at that stuff there.  The speedrunners were tinkers, but nothing suggested they were tinkers with talents that translated to hacking into the email servers in the Wardens’ headquarters.  Bitter Pill was a full tinker, but her specialty put her even further from that kind of operation.

Houndstooth appears, adding to pressure, Sveta and I make our appearance, and a little while later, an attempted look at a close relation’s emails.  I could see the thread.

Would Tattletale have succeeded?  If she had the power to see weaknesses, it could extend to security systems.  During the bank robbery, she’d done something to gain access, though I couldn’t remember particulars.  It had been ambient noise around then.  She’d also collected info on Empire Eighty-Eight.

Someone they hired?  Was the fact that they didn’t go straight to Tattletale important?  A sign of a schism?

“My mother thinks it has something to do with me,” I concluded.

“She was called in for confidential discussion this morning, she got out of the meeting, said she couldn’t get in touch with you, and told me to reach out.  I think so, yeah.”

“I can’t have you being her messenger.  It’d impact how this arrangment works,” I said.

“Even if it’s pertinent?  Letting you know things like the possible breach into emails?  That they’re looking into people close to you?”

“The problem is that it’s always going to sound like a good reason.”

“Could it sound like a good reason because it is one?  Sometimes, even?”

I drew in a deep breath.  I collected my laptop and put it into my bag.

“Don’t leave, please.  I don’t want to drive you away.  I do want to understand,” Natalie said.  “The first and last thing I said at our last meeting was that I was concerned.  I’m more concerned now.”

“Why ask me about whether I was looking for work?”

“Because she asked me to ask you, if I thought it was appropriate, and I thought it might be.”

“Of fucking course,” I said.

“Don’t get angry,” Natalie said.

“I’m not angry with you.”

“Before we got derailed, I was talking about expectations.  You flew into that scene with no hesitation.”

“I’m invincible,” I said.  A lie, yes, but I wasn’t about to trust her with the truth.

“I know that, but isn’t there always some risk you’ll be hurt, or that there will be some consequence?  You’re paying me, you’re involving your family, and the hack could be the tip of the iceberg.  I have to wonder, how much are you putting into this?”

“I know my own limits, Natalie.”

Are you looking for work?”

“Are you going to report to my mother and tell her if I’m not?”

“No,” Natalie said.  “And I’m offended that you’d ask.”

“I’ve been pulling occasional shifts here and there doing cape work.  Keeping the peace at protests, standing guard here or there, in the general vicinity of cape functions.  I volunteer too.”

“Is the volunteer stuff as a cape?”

I sat back in my chair, and shifted the position of my bag.  “Yeah.  Pretty much.”

“It doesn’t seem like much of a balance.”

“You’re aware I’ve never had that balance?” I asked, in my best ‘get real’ tone.

“You went to high school once upon a time, didn’t you?”

“As the girl that was an out and open superheroine,” I said.  “Because of a decision my parents made.”

“I haven’t seen my dad in years.  I don’t even know if he survived.  I know what it’s like to have parent issues,” Natalie said.  “I do get it.  But is this really what you want?  Your mother is concerned-”

I grit my teeth.

“-I’m concerned.  I can definitely see the similarities between you two.  You’re both firm in your convictions and it seems like you both give things your all.  She’s usually the first one in and the last one out at work.”

“Can we stop talking about my mom?” I asked.  Angrier than I’d intended.

“Okay,” Natalie said.  She stopped there.  “Give me a second.  I’ll compose my thoughts.”

I gave her a few seconds.  My ankle crossed over the other, and the top foot tapped against the ground.  My fingers fidgeted with the strap of the bag that laid against my chair.

“I’m your lawyer.  For you and your team.”

“Not my team.  Just a team I’m looking after.”

“There’s an implication of overseeing and ownership, but okay.  I’m the lawyer.  I can give you counsel, and if I know who you are and who you want to be, I can tailor that counsel.  My tendency is to be conservative, because there’s a lot we don’t and won’t know.”

I nodded.  “There’s a degree to which I want conservative.”

“I hear you.  I would strongly encourage something more lawful.  Calling first, letting authorities know, checking with the lawyer, doing what you’ll do, working with authorities after.”

“Not every situation allows for that.  Having a plan is great, and I’m all about laying stuff out and being smart about things.  Sometimes there’s no time, and you have to make choices.”

“Yes,” Natalie said.  She paused, fixing her glasses.  “Yes.  If these are the three stages of the plan, with prelude, action, follow-up, maybe you can skip one, and you can explain it away to the authorities.”

I nodded.  “That’s not unreasonable.”

“Except…  If you have to skip two and rush the other, is it possible that you shouldn’t have acted at all?”

“We should have just let Houndstooth’s group get attacked from behind?”

“Or waited to send them in,” Natalie suggested.  “Or not had them come in at all, if you couldn’t be sure you’d be able to handle the lead-in and follow-up.”

I drummed my fingers on the table.  “There’s more to it.  These guys are in contact with people.  If we let them operate as normal, try to catch them in the act, they’ll use their leverage and catch us first.  We have to apply some sustained pressure.  Test their relationship with their contacts.  We’ve talked it over with other groups and they agree it makes a degree of sense.”


“They were one.  They really liked it, even.”

Natalie’s brow wrinkled.  “You said sustained.  Do you have more lined up?”

“A team is going to call a local realtor, looking into the possibility of moving in.  We’ll see if they react.”

“Then?” she asked.

“We might have some more people lined up.  Another group might be passing through, and we’ll be more ready if something comes up.  My cousin is swinging by.”

More brow wrinkles.  “You’ll pressure them until they crack.”

“Until they start to.  Then we or someone we trust targets that weak point.”

“When things crack, it’s often sudden.  Hook and Sink would be an example of that.”

I nodded.

“If it’s sudden, it’s hard to take the necessary steps before and after,” Natalie said.

“It could be,” I said.

“You don’t have to give me an answer right now, but please think about what you want this to be.  You can act faster and more flexibly if you’re loose with the law, but you’ll lose your chance at getting a big success past a judge’s desk.  I can help you if that’s the route you need to go.”

“But you think we shouldn’t go that way.”

“The people on the team are young, so you need to think about what you’re teaching them.  You need to think about your balance of real life and cape life.”

“I’m not-” I started.  “I never got that.  Even before I had powers, the cape life had taken over.”

“I can understand why you would resent her for that, but-”

“That’s not it,” I said.

She sat there, waiting like she was expecting me to elaborate.

I almost got angry.  I pushed that back.

“I’m not going to get into particulars,” I said, calm.  “It’s between me and her, and it would make things messy.  Nobody benefits from that.  Least of all you.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “I’ll think about what you said.  About what I want, what I’m doing, keeping an eye out for balance.  The team and what they need.”

“The kind of counsel you need me to be.”

“Yes,” I said.  “Absolutely.  But I need something from you too.”

Natalie nodded.

“Don’t involve my mother in this.  Don’t pass on information, give hints, or respond to hints.  Lawyer-client confidentiality should be in effect.”

“I’m not a lawyer, exactly.  I can and do intend to do that, absolutely, but-”

“Act like one, here.  Please.  She’ll convey her side of the story, probably not in an obvious way, and I need you to be neutral.  I won’t be sharing my side, but assume I have one.”

“Okay,” Natalie said.

“I can’t get into that stuff.  I can’t afford to,” I said.

“She does care about you, you know,” Natalie said.  “She might not handle it in the best way, I don’t know the details, but I know that she is smart and caring, and both of those things are magnified when it comes to you.”

I stared at her.  My first thought was that I wanted to strangle her, because of the frustration I felt even before what I’d just said, her going against it, and how she seemed to not get it at all.  Even with an absent parent?  I wondered if it was something wholly different, like a parent that had left and cut contact of their own volition, rather than a parent that she’d cut herself off from.

My second thought was to tell Natalie what my mother had done, and to hope she understood.  Even if I knew it would blow things up, cause chaos, screw up Natalie’s relationship with a superior.

I could see the worry on her forehead, as she looked at me.  In that look, I could see that I was the bad guy here.  I was the one Natalie thought she had to worry about, and my mother was the smart, capable, caring professional.

Anything I did in reaction to this would only make me seem more unreasonable.

“Thank you for meeting with me,” I said, pushing the emotion back, doing my best to sound normal.  “Are phone payments okay?”

“They are,” Natalie said.

I took a minute to get everything sorted out, glad to have something to focus on, then tapped my phone against hers.

Sixty dollars out of my account.  A glance at the screen verified my account standing.  I had two hundred for rent to Crystal, seventy five for utilities.  Even before any possible temp jobs in costume, I had enough to get through next month, two or three more meetings with Natalie or even fewer with anyone we replaced her with.  Natalie was cheap and willing and I didn’t disagree with her non-family related advice.  It made sense.

“Thank you,” she said.  “And thank you for lunch.”

“I’ll see you later,” I said.

She was the pawn, not the problem.  My mother had chosen her for a reason.  A play of a sort, possibly unintentional or automatic.  It wasn’t a play my mom had made because she was a mastermind, natural or otherwise.  It was just how she was, how she navigated people.  Everyone close to her had had to learn how to deal with it.

The tragedy was that as much as it was a conscious or unconscious bid for a reconnection with me, it would achieve the opposite.

I put my music on, and walked to the nearest bit of park so I could take off without causing too much of a commotion.

I let myself into the headquarters.  I was secretly glad to find I wasn’t the first person in, seeing Kenzie at the desk, wearing the same clothes from yesterday.

As that fleeting sentiment passed, I was alarmed, seeing Kenzie at the desk, wearing the same clothes from yesterday.

“Kenzie?” I asked.

“Oh!” I heard her speak, though she didn’t move.  Kenzie-at-the-desk winked out of existence.

“…Kenzie?” I tried again.

“I’m on my way!” she said, through the computer speaker.  “I was hooked in by phone and forgot I had a virtual me set up to appear if I called.  It’s only half done.  I’ll be there soon!  How are you?”

“Don’t dive too deep into the team stuff or tinkertech, Kenzie,” I said.  “Take a break, turn off your brain every once in a while.”

“I turn off my brain by tinkering,” she said.  “It’s like how on some computers you can push the number so high it goes back to zero, except it’s brain activity.”

“Kenzie,” I said.  “Put the phone away.  Close your eyes.  Don’t fuss about things.”


“Is there an emergency?”


“Then hang up, put the phone away, close your eyes, and don’t worry.  Everyone’s coming, we’ll tackle some things, compare notes, and all will be good.”


“Bye Kenzie.  See you soon.”

“In… twelve minutes.  About.  And Rain is coming, but he’s going to be later.  He’ll arrive in-”

“Hang up the phone,” I said.  “Or I’m going to start unplugging things at random.”

“Bye then.”

I didn’t respond, because it was apparent that Kenzie had to get the last word.  The ambient noise came through the phone for another few seconds before she hung up.  The cube to the right of her desk went dark.

It was strange to be in the space when the others had yet to arrive.  Normally, my focus was on the task at hand, here.  I wanted to be the rock, unmovable, in case others needed to reach out.  It was hard to be that with Natalie’s words in my mind and the room empty.

The whiteboards were people’s thoughts encapsulated.  Mine was numbers to call, things to do, a rough timeline of events, with the next being Auzure’s call to Cedar Point.  They were Houndstooth’s recommendation.  I added notes about the hack.

Kenzie had her costume notes, tinker notes, some drawings in erasable marker of her face, a circle with large eyes, a kiss-shaped mouth, and two buns, and various hearts and stars.  She had two boards, one mounted on the wall behind the one with two legs and four wheels, and the tinker notes spilled out from the side of the one in front to the one in the back.  So did the stars and hearts, for that matter.

Chris’ was at the other end, opposite her desk.  I walked over to it, glancing at the others on the way.  There were some names written down, but most had been erased.

Zoological or Zoologic?
Hodgepodge or Hodge?  Podge?

Note to self: bring books for Rain

All written in the bottom left corner.  ‘Chris’ was in the top right corner, the ‘h’ smudged where a sleeve had rubbed up against it mid-write.

Ashley’s board was empty, except for a very elaborate, stylized rendition of her name.  Kenzie had found some fonts and displayed them on the whiteboard for tracing.  Ashley had okayed this one.

Just ‘Ashley’.  Nothing else figured out.

Rain had two boards, like Kenzie.  One on wheels, another on the wall behind.  Unlike Kenzie, they weren’t even remotely organized by topic.  Snag, Love Lost, Cradle, ‘5’, known acquaintances, tinker hands, contact pads, timeline for Snag’s operations, known places the cluster had been with lines drawn to names of acquaintances, name ideas with ‘handbreak’ crossed out because Tristan had apparently vetoed it, a crude calendar with the names of cluster members filling in blanks, Love Lost due tonight… and so on.

Just red marker and some brown, presumably to put in different words in gaps yet keep them distinct.  Or because Kenzie had stolen the red marker to draw hearts.

Tristan’s was next to Rain’s, and Tristan’s was mostly devoted to team name ideas, room layouts, broader organization and schedule, and some minor notes on money spent.  Byron hadn’t really showed up in the hideout, but Tristan had still devoted a quarter of the board to him.  A list of movies.  Aimed at letting Byron maintain a degree of communication with Chris and Rain, it seemed, from the comments on the side.

Sveta was taken up by a mix of art and names.  She’d written out names not in a list, but as solitary words.  Images had been drawn around them.  Beneath ‘Moor’, a girl’s hair, wavy, with a fish head poking out to the right from between the two curtains of hair.  It was very detailed for art on a whiteboard, with each scale getting a texture.  Above ‘Lash’ was a feminine figure in stark black lines with back arched, head back, and breasts pointed skyward, the breasts so pointed they could have been used for Kenzie’s geometry homework.  To the right of ‘Cirrus’ was a face drawn out in lines, frowning.  ‘Berth’ was sitting in the bottom right corner in tiny text.  The image was so small it was barely legible.  It might have been Sveta’s rendition of herself, potato-shaped with arms and legs flailing.  A line was drawn between its head and the word ‘no’, a speech bubble without the bubble.

I felt oddly fond at seeing it.  That kind of mental working was inexplicable to me, but I liked seeing the hints of it.

After Sveta was my whiteboard, neatly organized, then Kenzie’s two, which I’d already noted.

I wanted to help them.

No.  The boards didn’t convey it, the boards were things as they should be, even, but they needed help.

On so many levels, they needed help.

The by-proxy interaction with my mother had affected my mood.  Natalie’s words and concerns had too, but it was hard to know how many of those were my mother’s and how many were her.

The concern, with emphasis on the word like I could remember Ashley doing…  Even after I’d been hurt by the Nine, had worse done to me by my sister, and gone to the hospital, I couldn’t remember my mother ever expressing concern for my activities as a cape.  If such was expressed in Natalie’s expression and words, then I could believe it was Natalie’s.

Concern for what I was doing, the path I was walking?  I could see it being my mother’s, through Natalie-as-proxy.

It made me sad and angry and frustrated all at the same time, and I didn’t have any outlets for that.  The punching bag hadn’t yet arrived and been set up, and I wasn’t about to throw myself at the villains.  Not that I wanted to operate that way.

The villains were so simple, so easy.  Cedar point.  Bad guy central.  I was supposed to dislike what they did and I did dislike it.  I didn’t see anything redeeming in them, I had the power to stop them, and I wholly planned to.  If I could mess with Tattletale in the process?  Bad guy, I was supposed to dislike her, she’d done little that redeemed her, and it was personal, besides?  Yeah.  Fuck yes.  But I’d do it smart, not by impulse.

Others… not so easy.  My dad.  Gilpatrick.  Mrs. Yamada, even.  They were the good guys and they hadn’t handled things perfectly.  I felt varying degrees of heartbreak because of them but I couldn’t blame them.  Not easy.

My life was filled with people I wanted to get angry at and couldn’t, because they were fundamentally broken and flawed.  My mother.  My sister.  Amelia.  Amy.  I’d said her name and thought about her for ten lifetimes’ worth, in just the span of two years.  I felt vaguely ill that I was doing so now, even if it was for the sake of doing as Natalie had asked me to.

The only thing I hated more than being victim to other people’s emotional impulses and fucked-upness was when those other people were so close to me that it all came down on my head.  The furthest thing from easy.

The door opened, interrupting my thoughts.  I turned my head to see.

Sveta and Ashley.  Tristan absent, even though he would normally catch the same train.

“Hi,” I said.

“What are you doing standing in the dark?  At least turn the lights on,” Sveta chided me.

“There’s more than enough light from the windows,” I said.  “It’s bright out.”

“I’d expect that behavior from Ashley, not you,” Sveta said.

“Sounds right,” Ashley said.

Sveta flicked the switch, looking up as the lights took their time coming on.  It made me think of my mom.  Turning on the lights, even when not strictly necessary.  I could remember visiting friend’s houses and feeling like something was odd when other parents didn’t do it.

“What are you doing?” Sveta asked.


“Uh oh.”

“Constructive thinking.  I think.  I hope.  Had a chat with Natalie.”

“Uh oh,” Sveta said, again, as she sidled up to me.

I gave her a light push.  She smiled, righted herself, and half-stepped, half-stumbled right next to me.  She gave me a hug from behind, setting her chin on my shoulder.

Familiar sensation, there, in an eerie not-familiar way.

“Tristan’s walking the sprogs,” Sveta said.  “Rain’s late.”

“Kenzie mentioned,” I said.  “The second part.  Sprogs?”

“Chris and Kenzie.  I thought it was clever.”

“It was.”

She nodded, head moving against my shoulder.  “You’re looking at the boards?”

I gestured in the direction of the whiteboards.  “Natalie wants to know our mission statement, so she can fine-tune her advice.  She wanted a lot of things, some harder to put into words than others.  I’m looking at the whiteboards, trying to figure out what the thread is and how I can help.”

“Your board is empty, Ashley,” Sveta said.


“Are you going to call yourself Damsel of Distress?” I asked.  “For that matter, what are you doing, costume-wise?”

“If you’re going to tell me not to wear a dress while I’m out with you all, you can fuck off,” Ashley said.

“Not wearing a dress could help with the Manton issues.  You’re more likely to use your power to blow up the edge of a flapping dress than the part that hugs your body.”

“You can fuck off,” she said, again.

“Ashley likes dresses,” Sveta said.  “We’ve had conversations about it.  She thinks I should wear some, and I’ve had to repeatedly reinforce that I don’t have the legs for it, because I don’t have legs.”

“They multiply a lady’s grace,” Ashley said.

“You can’t exaggerate a negative,” Sveta said.

“You’re attached to the image,” I observed.

“Obviously,” Ashley said, turning to face me.

She was attached to just that image.  I wasn’t sure if she had multiple versions of the same dress, but she didn’t change things up much.  She had, however, bought the new dress in Cedar Point, and we’d seen on camera as she considered nail polish.

She wanted to change, maybe.  But… how long had she stuck to this style?  I’d fancied taking Sveta shopping, but now I was intrigued by this puzzle.

“It’s a shame you damage your dresses,” I said.  I indicated the hem of her dress.  “Are you learning to tailor or do you hire someone?”

“I’m studying it.  Saves me money.”

“Okay, so… I have a bit of a crazy idea,” I said.

She narrowed her eyes.

“Bear with me,” I said.

“Bear with her,” Sveta said.  “Victoria knows fashion.”

“You’re leading up to this like you know I’ll hate it.”

I nodded.

“Out with it, then,” Ashley said.

“Hair,” I said.

“No,” was the response, without a beat missed.

“I can’t promise it would work, but hair can confuse the Manton effect.  It might be that the power gets confused because it’s a part of your identity and a part of you, but it’s not alive either.  There are parahumans who impregnate their costumes with hair to make them resistant to their own powers.  There are some who have costumes that are just hair, or mostly hair, but those are pretty scanty, as you can probably imagine.”

“I think I’ve heard of that parahuman,” Sveta said.  When I arched an eyebrow, she said, “The hair impregnation thing.”

“I’m not going to cut it off,” Ashley said.

“That’s fine.  I’m not even sure it would work, and it would be a shame to do it if it didn’t.”

She nodded.

“You could try saving the hairs that come free while you’re sleeping or brushing your hair,” I said.

“How much would I need?” Ashley asked.

“If it did work, you might not even need much.  A strand every quarter-inch or so, along the length, or along the parts that are likely to get clipped by your power.  Maybe a bit more.”

“And it’d be white hairs on a black background,” she said.

“You could, you know, not wear black?” I ventured.

“I like black,” she said.  “It’s elegant.  It works.  The black dress every woman has in her closet for occasions is black for a reason.”

I was actually enjoying myself, because of the puzzle, and because it was my longest interaction with Ashley that hadn’t come to blows.

“Dye it?” Sveta asked.

“Doesn’t work,” Ashley said.  “I have natural silver-blonde hair, but I use my power-”

She put her hand to the side of her head and used her power.  I stepped back, stumbled into Sveta, then reached out to help her catch her balance.

Ashley’s hair settled back into place.  Her pupils took a long few seconds to reappear.

The door swung open.  It was Tristan, looking alarmed.

“We good,” Sveta said.

“My eyes and hair lose their color,” Ashley said, in a non-sequitur for Tristan.

“You’d lose the dye,” I said.  “Probably.”

Kenzie and Chris appeared behind Tristan.  He let them in.

“What happened?” Chris asked.

“Talking fashion,” Sveta offered.

“Which involves reality-shattering explosions, naturally,” Chris said.  He grinned.

He was wearing a newer t-shirt, with a gorn-metal band’s album cover on the front.   Not my style.  He was broader around the middle, but I diplomatically avoided mentioning it.

“You’re taller,” I observed.

“One and a half inches taller,” Chris said.

“He went with the indulgence thing yesterday,” Tristan said.

“Yeah,” Chris said.  “I knew there was a risk I might be useless for the day, putting myself in a state where I just sit around, eat, play games.  So I fucked off.  I’ll hit anxiety a few times in the next while, but I’ll make it mad twitchiness so there’s some more motive behind it, instead of it being paralyzing.  That’ll be fun.”

“That sounds like you’re going overboard.  Shouldn’t you be balancing things out?” I asked.

“Shouldn’t you be minding your own business?” Chris asked.  “Go talk fashion.  I’m fine.”

He walked over to his corner, near where his whiteboard was.  Kenzie moved to follow, and Chris turned around, reached out to grab her by the shoulders, and turned her to face us, before going back on his way, to his whiteboard.

“Fashion,” Tristan said.  “Okay.  We’ve got some stylish and artsy people here.  I’m not so up there on girl-fashion, but I’ll contribute what I can.”

“Ashley is married to this look,” I said.

“Married is the wrong word,” Ashley said.

“How would you put it?” Sveta asked.

“A long time ago, when I was still finding my way, I didn’t even have the clothes on my back, not intact ones.  I had no friends, no family, and law enforcement was after me.  I had nothing.  I spent a lot of time thinking about who and what I wanted to be.  Characters I liked, clothes I liked, people I’d thought were elegant and imposing.  I found this.  I built this,” Ashley said.

What had her role models been, for aesthetics?  Cartoon movie villains?  Evil sorceresses and witches?

“When you had nothing, you found this, and you want to hold onto that,” Sveta said.  “I can understand that.  I hold onto things that were important to me once.”

“Like Weld,” Kenzie said.

“Among others,” Sveta said, giving me more of a hug.

“I don’t want to hold onto anything,” Ashley said.  “I am that.  People spend their entire lives trying to find the right image for themselves and I found it when I was Kenzie’s age.”

“I don’t think you’re going to win this one, Victoria,” Tristan said.

“Theoretically speaking,” I started.

“Alright.  I’m getting out of the line of fire,” Tristan said.

“Don’t be mean,” Kenzie said.

“Call with Auzure in a short bit.  Rain might miss it,” Tristan said.

Theoretically speaking… can I put something out there?” I asked.

“Can I stop you?” Ashley asked.

“Tell me to and I’ll stop right here.  You can do your thing.”

Sveta rocked her head left and right on my shoulder, chin digging in, until I shrugged her off.  Ashley considered.

“Theoretically,” Ashley said.

“Theoretically,” I picked up the prompt, “You’re going to be a hero.  You have a crystal clear image of what you’ll look like as a villain.  Your every expectation is that you’ll stop being a hero at one point and return to villainy.”

“That’s not theory.  That’s fact.”

“But what is theory is… what if, to avoid your hero self and villain self getting mixed up, you tried something different, in the here and now?  It keeps your villain persona distinct.”

Ashley folded her arms.

“Different how?  I get the impression you have something in mind,” Sveta said.

“Pshht!” Ashley made the sound, shushing Sveta.

“Don’t pshht me.”

“What if, theoretically,” I said, “You cut off the hair?  White hair for a white costume.  You can still do something with black accents here and there, but we can go more… white goth.  Or something in that vein.”

“I’m not goth,” Ashley said.  “And I’m not cutting my hair.”

“Theoret-” I started.

I saw her expression change.

More seriously, I said, “You cutting your hair could be a commitment.  You could go back to being the long-haired villainess, but only after a period of time.  You’d be locking yourself into being a hero in the meantime.”

“A hair-based time commitment,” Sveta said.

“There’s no reason to do it,” Ashley said.  “To preserve my costume?  For that minor gain, I’m supposed to risk looking like a simpleton?  No.”

“What kind of black accents?” Kenzie asked.

“No,” Ashley said.

“Black around the eyes, like heavy eyeliner, maybe decoration in the hair, or as part of the mask, something to frame the edges of sleeves and dress.”

Kenzie went still.  She gave Ashley a sidelong glance.

“What?” Ashley asked.

“Back before Mrs. Yamada told me I wasn’t supposed to give anyone a birthday present, I was thinking about what to get you.”

“If Mrs. Yamada said no, then there’s probably a reason,” I said.

“The group was new and Ashley and I were only just starting to talk, so it would’ve been weird, I think.  It wouldn’t be for just Ashley either, it’d be for the group.”

“Spit it out,” Ashley said.

“Eyes,” Kenzie said.  “I can put these things in your mask and it would project over your eyes.  We could have you wear a white costume, and then there would be bits that are black, and then we could make your eyes totally, one hundred percent black, or totally white.”

“Hold up,” I said.

Kenzie turned my way.

“When you say something like ‘I can make this’, I have to ask… how easily?”

“Super easily.  A few hours easy,” Kenzie said.  When I didn’t shut her down, she turned to Ashley, “We could have it so smoke comes off of your eyes and trails behind you as you walk.  or blurry light, like when you wave a sparkler in the dark, or particles, like shapes, or blurs like your power makes, or-”

Ashley put a hand on top of Kenzie’s head.  Kenzie stopped talking.

“Do you want to?  Do you like it?”

“If I went to buy you a gift, to balance it out, so it was equal, what would you want?”

“Went?  I don’t want you to go anywhere.”

“I meant some other time.”

“No gift,” Kenzie said.  “Hang out.  Talk with me.  Come on, we can use your whiteboard.  We’ll talk and take notes, and figure out what your costume might be.  Let me search for things on my phone-”

Kenzie took Ashley’s hand and led her to the whiteboard, tugging her along.  Ashley didn’t object too much along the way.

Near Kenzie’s computers, Tristan had his arms folded, his eyebrow raised.  Sveta had her head cocked to one side as she studied me.  Chris was dumping his bag out on his little table.

“She’s not hard to figure out or anything,” I said, quiet enough that only Sveta would hear me.  “At one point she said we were pretty similar people.”

“That leaves me with way more questions than answers,” Sveta said.

Tristan called out, “Don’t get too into it, you two!  We’re listening in on the call with Auzure soon!”

Ashley raised a hand, waving him off.  Kenzie was just nonstop background chatter now.

“What are you thinking?” Sveta asked.  “You’re introspective today.”

“Extraspective, right this moment,” I said.  “Thinking about the big picture.”

“Think out loud.”

I shrugged.  “The team.  How it fits together.  How I fit into it.”

“A bit of introspection then.”

“No, not exactly,” I said, the thought clarifying as I said it.  “How’s Weld doing?”

“If he could get tired he’d be dog tired.  I need to have a talk with him soon, before things get to a point where I don’t see him ever,” Sveta said.  “I hate to add anything to his plate, but I have to be assertive.”

“I’m glad you have him,” I said.

Sveta smiled.  “I’m glad I have him too.  Even if he’s tired and gone most of the time.  Why are you asking about him?”

“When Jessica- When Mrs. Yamada asked me to sit in with the group and help out.  She asked Weld first, didn’t she?”

“Ah, you caught that,” Sveta said.  The smile disappeared.  “I’m sorry.  I wasn’t sure if you did, and I didn’t want to risk hurting your feelings.”

“Was I second choice?” I asked.

“I don’t think so.  Sorry, I don’t know for sure, but Weld was asked and he said no, but he said he’d be free a little while after.  She could have waited and had Weld sit in, but she chose you.”

“And she seemed okay, almost relieved, at me doing this,” I said.

“As okay as she is with any of this,” Sveta said.

The display on the wall lit up.  The trill of the phone filled the room.

“They’re calling us first,” Tristan said.  “Everyone come.  Seems like Rain is going to miss this.  Sucks.”

We gathered at the desk.

“We need something to call you,” the woman’s voice on the other line said.  “Dido speaking, with Auzure.”

“Dido, this is Capricorn.  You’re on speaker with most of the rest of the team listening in.  We’re working on the team name.  We’ll have something soon.”

“I wanted to go over the particulars, make sure we do this right.  We’re going to be calling…”

I mostly tuned it out.  Tristan had it handled, and it wasn’t rocket science.  I wasn’t that fond of Auzure, either.

Natalie had asked me what I was doing.

I’d been asked to be here.  I was damaged, and Mrs. Yamada knew it.  Why was I here, then?  Yesterday, I might have said it was so I could provide this kind of direction and guidance.  So I could talk to the lawyer, handle situations like Kenzie’s and Ashley’s, and be a friend to Sveta.

Was I right?  Thinking that Yamada had felt like she’d done her job in putting me here?  Was I overthinking things after my talk with Natalie, paranoia rearing its ugly head again?

“Beautiful,” Dido said.  “Should we conference you in?”

“No,” Tristan said.  “We’ve got a number you can call, it’ll route through to them, and it won’t be as blatant as a conference call.”

“Lovely.  I wondered if I should mention something.  Good to work with people who know what they’re doing.  What number?”

Sveta mouthed the word ‘slimy’ at me.

Water off my back, now.  I’d just dealt with my mom and this was easy by comparison.

Tristan gave the number, and the call was terminated.

He checked his phone.

“Rain wants to know if people are okay with him inviting Erin.  They’re still half an hour away.  She gave him a ride and they stopped along the way.  He says he’s safe, no trouble, but he wants to talk, and he wants her here when he does.”

Tristan’s voice was just a bit tight.

“I have suspicions,” Sveta said.

“I know, I think,” Tristan said.

With that, I felt like the musings crystallized.  I wouldn’t know until I talked to Jessica, but I had more of an idea.  Things made a degree of sense.

“Not here,” I said.

“Hm?” Tristan asked.

“Gut feeling, but we’ll meet him to talk somewhere nearby, as soon as this call is wrapped up and we’ve seen how they respond.  Half an hour should be plenty of time.  But let’s not do it here,” I said.

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104 thoughts on “Shade – 4.6”

    1. Also the grammar in the frozen bagel sentence doesn’t really make sense, I think. Either sentence structure or extra commas

    2. “this arrangment”

      “Sveta was taken up by a mix of art”
      “After Sveta was my whiteboard,”

      “hard to know how many of those were my mother’s and how many were her.”
      >my mother’s and how many were hers.

    3. “Cedar point.  Bad guy central.”

      Shouldn’t Cedar Point be capitalized?

      “We could have it so smoke comes off of your eyes and trails behind you as you walk.  or blurry light, like when you wave a sparkler in the dark, or particles, like shapes, or blurs like your power makes, or-”

      Given the other “or”s later on, that first period should probably be a comma

  1. Victoria’s not exactly wrong about TT here.

    As far as Victoria knows; Tattletale is actively supporting and protecting a large coalition of villains that is slowly wearing down a city and making people pay protection rackets.

    1. She’s not entirely right though. She’s got a much more black and white view there than actually exists. And we know for a fact that TT has done a lot to help things out and keep everything from being a smoking crater. I’m just imagining Vicky will bring down TT at the worst possible time and someone like Teacher’s going to advance a plan that’s MUCH worse than what TT was doing.

      Victoria no matter what she says is very much one of the people who wants it to go back to normalacy, the way it was. But it won’t happen.

      1. Tattletale could try explaining this grand plan of hers, so as to avoid unnecessary conflict with people trying to help.

        Instead of threats and condescension.

        1. Yeah, I think part of the reason she isn’t doing that is the whole conflict drive thing. It’s just not the way her mind works to be that straightforward naturally and her shard certainly doesn’t want her to do the right thing.

        2. No one would that would back the plan would believe TT though, and those that would believe her would be opposed to it because obviously they’d be better at being supreme overlord. To the heroes, she is a known liar, a manipulator, and a villain. If she said the sky was blue a good number of people would walk outside and look up. To the villains she’s all that and competition as well.

        3. Yes, yes, both sides could approach this more civilly if they viewed each other as potential allies rather than potential enemies. But each knows the other views them as a potential enemy, so they have to do the same. The Prisoner’s Dilemma in action…and strengthened by a history of distrust born from each making the other’s life worse.

          They should look for allies in other places.

          1. You should check out an ‘Introduction to Game Theory’ video on Youtube so that in the future you might be able to bring up the Prisoner’s Dilemma in relevant context.

      2. Tattletale’s still a villain, though. Sure, she did help stop the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean she should get a free pass to do whatever she wants forever.

        1. The Well I was responding directly to the concept that TT never did anything good. She’s done a lot of good things, including running a shelter post Leviathan, and helping ensure Brockton Bay wouldn’t be written off, and showing up for every Endbringer fight she can. The Undersiders aren’t villains because they are evil, or even selfish. They are villains because they are fucked up, and all of them are people that in some way the System failed, so they can’t trust authorities or governments.

  2. While I liked the whole fashion talking between Victoria and Ashley (and I half agree with the whole not-wearing-dress-all the time), I absolute don’t agree with Victoria’s views of what kind of colors would make people heroes or villains. I mean, you can wear black/grey all the time and be a hero (hello, Batman, anyone? One of the biggest HEROES ever? Black Panther? Black Widow? Punisher?- well, the last one is more like a vigilante than an actual hero, but he’s still in hero in my books) or wear white and be a freaking villain, doesn’t really matter. Victoria have some twisted prejudices regarding the clothes people wear and their personalities/feelings/ideas, which is not very good. If Ashley likes black and she wants (temporarily) to be a hero, then she should be allowed to wear an entirely black costume, without any other discussion. People will appreciate her actions, not how she looks like. Also, if she prefers having long hair, then she should have it, without being judged. Hmmm, don’t like Victoria’s attitude when it come to someone’s preferences in their looks.

    1. It’s about separating Ashley’s villain and hero personas and making then visually and physically distinct.

      Thus, the black villain dress becomes a white hero outfit (dress probably).

      Opposite colors, opposite sides. It has nothing to do with black being the villainous color.

    2. Don’t let Glenn Chambers hear you saying that.
      He’d rant about how image is important, that there’s only one chance for first impressions (unless you are Imp) and that first impressions color opinions rather heavily and semi-permanently. How certain nightmarish things aren’t marketable and how others (read: the team) might be judged by association.
      And, from a rational perspective, he’d be right.

      Personally, though, I’ll agree with you over Glenn.

    3. Reminds me a bit of the Good Colours, Evil Colours Trope. Different colours can mean different things depending on a characters alignment.

      To use some examples from the page, Black can be the colour of your typical evil, card carrying villain. But in a heroic context it associates itself with the idea of Anti-Heroes or the idea that dark is not necessarily evil. Like with Batman, Black Panther and so on (Even Skitter and Grue to use some Wormverse examples)

      Whereas White in a heroic context can mean your typical hero, messiah, greater good. Flip that around to a villainous context and you get insanity, zealotry, sterility and your corrupt/manipulative characters. Can’t think of any Wormverse examples for this one off the top of my head, besides Doctor Mother if I recall. She fits the manipulative, sterile won’t-get-my-hands-dirty type villain right?

        1. Oh thats right!

          I forgot about him because I usually associate him with Gold instead of white. But looking at the TvTropes page it seems both work because Yellow is also associated with both complete madness and villains that are completely feared by everyone.

        2. Seriously, I never thought about it, but Scions color scheme can be interpreted in so many ways depending on where you are in the story. He chose his skin color to be gold so he would be set apart from humanity, not being lumped in with any one race and being associated with the positive connotations people have about gold. Yellow, at this point, could also be associated with warmth. I mean, his very first act after his appearance was to heal cancer in somebody who would later become a cape/hero.
          He got the white body suit together with his mission from Kevin Norton to do good, help people, provide disaster relief; so we have the association with purity, serenity and overall goodness.
          Then we get the point of view chapter about the entity and we have that meeting between Scion and Jack and suddenly, the white becomes a symbol for the ‘blank slate’, the insanity, the void. The gold becomes menacing, something cold, alien, indestrucible. Or, like you said, yellow for madness.

          I might be putting too much into this, here, but it’s fascinating how much (conflicting) meaning we assign to simple things like colors…

          1. Remember in Asian cultures White is associated with death. Also dirt shows up worst on it.

            Or maybe Victoria just has a very black and white worldview? Get it?

          2. There’s also a hero wearing a yellow (and blue) uniform and he’d indeed one of the most heroic icons: Wolverine, and while he’s feared by his foes, he’s loved by anyone who doesn’t have evil in their hearts. Superman also has yellow around his S symbol and a yellow belt. And as negadarkwing said, in India (for example) when someone dies, their widow/widower wears white clothes as mourning, while in our christian culture, the color for mourning is black. So, people interpret colors as they want, this doesn’t mean anything, you can be a good person and wear only black all the time (I personally like to wear black and dark colors and goth clothes and I’m not a destructive supervillain) or you can adore pink/white and other pastel colors and be a HUGE JERKASS. Colors/clothes/looks doesn’t define people, only how they decide to live their lives and what they’re doing to make themselves pleased/or hated by others. I never judge people in this way and yes, I have a feeling that Victoria sees the world in white and black: doesn’t like her mother, doesn’t accept her sister (she doesn’t even give her a second chance, despite Amy didn’t really do anything bad on purpose. It was an accident and Victoria should accept this and make peace with her poor sister), she still hates Lisa (Lisa, despite being a villain, did a lot to save the world) and at least Victoria should admit this and get over their past disagreements and try to find a common ground to fight against the future dangers. As much as I admire her dedication to hero life and he bravery and caring side towards her allies, Victoria is a very judgemental and unforgiving character and I hope she’ll become a better person in the future.

          3. There are two very simple explanations for that.

            1. Different cultures. It would be ridiculous if every culture on Earth associated the same colors with the same things (aside from red; blood, fire, and other reddish things are powerful indicators of danger that transcend culture). Today, we’ve had access to other cultures for long enough that we can borrow from their cultural motifs without being completely baffling (though they might be a tad alien).

            2. Cyclic tropes. As a largely theoretical (and oversimplified) example: One of the reasons that the Man In White trope works to suggest moral ambiguity is that (in Western culture) white normally acts as a signifier of goodness, and dressing someone in white clothes (generally using fashions that don’t look quite right in white) visually pretends that the character is a good guy without looking wrong when the twist is revealed. So people copy that villain’s design, and man-in-white becomes a standard creepy villain design. Then that standard design is subverted in some major work, and man-in-white becomes a standard design for offputting but benevolent characters. And the cycle repeats, until we have a healthy history of white being both good and evil.

      1. Also Purity. A member of Empire 88, she glowed- her eyes generated enough light you couldn’t look at her face, making masks cheap for her. She wore white, because that glowed better. That’d be the zealotry, though she was probably trying for the virtue and… well… pure connotations of the colour. Pity she let Kaiser talk her into helping stop crime by beating up black people.

    4. I totally get where you’re coming from. But I think something more subtle was going on here, something Victoria had given some thought into. Notice how she eases into the topic. Her main intentions here were to gently lead Ashley to disassociate from her slaughterhouse nine persona. To something dramatic and thematically an invert of her old look.

      Heroes being more or less edgy in look compared to villains, that is more or less a PR culture here in wormverse. With so many capes around and a lot more villains, the heroes where forced to come up with ways to disassociate themselves from the idea that they were scary. The vigilante heroes on the other hand look pretty edgy like the villains.

    5. I think Victoria is trying to get Ashley to distinctly separate herself from her past self. That, or save her the time it takes to fix her dress after every mission.

    6. It’s not about the colour, it’s about the context. Convincing Ashley to commit to this hero thing, to present herself differently to show that she’s going to act differently.

    7. Alexandria, in her interlude, is wearing a black costume when she first meets Legend, Eidolon, and Hero. They actually have a similar discussion because Legend doesn’t think it sends the right message. I wasn’t paying enough attention during her other appearances (that I’ve read recently) to know if she kept that outfit though.

  3. Wait, is this team a villain team? This team is a villain team isn’t it?

    Ashley is ex-S9 and planning on returning to villainy.

    Kenzie is probably going to follow.

    Rain is Fallen.

    Sveta is a murder squid.

    Chris is assorted eldritch horrors.

    Cap is two people who like hiring assassins.

    That’s three villains, one murder squid, one eldritch horror pack and two assassin masters. Guys, I think this is a villain team.

    1. Hey I’m just waiting for that big moment where Vicky does something that makes people go from “Man Vicky’s really a heroic person” to “Fucking Hell Victoria? Got some moral myopia and so hypocritical!” It’s coming I tell ya!

      1. She’s already showing signs of reverting to her old ways under pressure. And of not having discarded her family’s black-and-white morality.

        1. Honestly I’m a little bit reminded of what happened with Taylor after the time skip. She spent two years being a ward, but it really felt like she reverted pretty damn fast to her bad habits.

          I always felt bad for the Chicago Wards. They got skipped over, and kinda dumped like they were chopped liver by Taylor at the end there. Tecton seemed like a pretty decent guy, Golem was pretty major and the rest seemed likable enough. Wonder how many of them are still alive and what they are up to.

    2. Particularly with her connection to Weld, I can’t see Sveta being a villain under any circumstances. I could see her not necessarily being a hero a la the Irregulars. The closest to villainy I could see for Sveta is a revenge spiral.

    3. It would be hilarious if Wildbow pulled that again and hardly anyone saw it coming. But I really doubt it’ll happen (thus increasing the chance of it happening.)

  4. “What had her role models been, for aesthetics? Cartoon movie villains? Evil sorceresses and witches?”
    Quick, someone show her Malifecent!

    Never mind, Kenzie is on the case.

    1. Well he could pull a Theo and pick a name to piss the Fallen off. Maybe something multi-armed from another religion like Hinduism or Buddhism.

  5. All that talk with the lawyer about their interaction with Hookline and Sink, and no one mentioned the obvious thing. Victoria and Sveta could have simply waited until the last second to intervene — until Hookline and Sink caught up to Houndtooth and were seconds away from attacking them.

    1. Maybe it wouldn’t matter? Natalie emphasized the process more than the situation. If you want to rumble, first call me, then after I understand what’s going on we’ll call “the authorities” together, and some sort of paperwork will exist. A big reason to wait until Sinkline actually attacked would be that then HT & co could actually testify that they were actually attacked.

      After all how could anyone trust any “evidence” Therapy could offer after the fact? Looksee can generate anything she wants you to see in person as well as in video. In person you might have tinker-powered countermeasures. Video is just data, though, so reasonable authorities will discount it completely. That’s actually coming for us IRL too, what with this deepfake stuff that’s all the rage. WB has given us multiple examples of this. I expect that later in the story we’ll get a shock involving visual misdirection that won’t require any foreshadowing, because we already got some here and with the visitor’s pass. We even saw Victoria *suspect* a trick in progress, only to have Looksee adamantly deny it, just after the warning from HT.

      I have to admit that Looksee was my first suspect the second the email hack was mentioned, too. Victoria is TT-obsessed, but we know from the prologue that Looksee is a hacker. She knows how Victoria feels about her mother, so she has a motive.

      1. “A big reason to wait until Sinkline actually attacked would be that then HT & co could actually testify that they were actually attacked.”

        Which is why they should have waited until the last second, as I wrote. There is a significant difference between “they were moving quickly in Houndtooth’s direction” and “they had Houndtooth in sight and were readying their powers for a strike”. That last is the equivalent of a sniper aiming a rifle at someone. No reasonable person is going to argue that you have to wait for the sniper to actually fire in order to intervene.

        1. “I was sure they were going to do something bad, immediately” is not a defense in law any more than “I was sure they were going to do something bad, eventually”. Natalie was talking about lawful things they could do, which would give them such a defense. Judges aren’t omniscient and they aren’t unbiased. The only way they can do their jobs is by following procedures. Before Golden Morning, there was “arrest with standing”, which extended a certain trust to certain capes. The new society is reconsidering that, with good reason as evidenced by Victoria’s own past behavior. In the new regime, judges might not just trust capes who claim to be trying to do right.

          Maybe staying within the law isn’t going to work for Therapy. In that case, we really have to wonder what their interest in Hollow Point is? In that sense it’s almost a good thing that Snaglost and the Reindeer Gang are teaming up. Preventing the assassination of a team member makes more sense to a disinterested outsider than, “I don’t like Tattletale, and she has something to do with this situation.”

          1. That is just incorrect. If you see a person (who is not law enforcement) coming up behind someone and pointing a gun at them, it most certainly is legal for you to forcibly intervene.

          2. There was no gun in this scene? Just a dude with a rope and another dude with various common items? Neither of which rope nor items were currently in criminal use? I sympathize with Therapy, but in a court proceeding their assault on Sinkline would not meet with approval. Even actual law enforcement would have been expected to announce themselves and give lawful orders rather than opening fire from cover. This isn’t war. Normal human beings are trying to live in the City.

            In public, one should be careful about shooting even other armed people. How do you know the sneaky gun person isn’t an undercover cop? Perhaps they are staging some sort of artistic performance? In one’s own home, there is more leeway, depending on where one lives…

          3. You seem to be intentionally misunderstanding, since it is absurd to argue that it is wrong to intervene when someone is aiming a gun at someone and seconds from shooting, and you cannot possibly have missed the metaphor I explained before as a gun representing powers. Furthermore, no where did I advocate “opening fire from cover”. I said intervene. In this context that would mean using the minimum force necessary to prevent Hookline and Sink from harming anyone.

      1. I don’t think Hookline and Sink were yet in range of Houndstooth for an attack. I think if they were, then Houndstooth would have gotten involved in the tussle when Victoria and Sveta started fighting.

        When I say “wait until the last second”, I mean that Hookline and Sink were in range for an attack on Houndstooth and had powers aimed or locked-and-loaded or whatever the equivalent would be to having a sniper aiming a rifle at Houndstooth. At that point, no reasonable person could argue that Victoria was wrong to intervene.

  6. Perhaps Rain could be Fracas. Fracker. Fraccer? Whatever. Fracas. Related to Cassation, his annulling movement power.

    This is the first time I’ve ever caught up with Wildbow’s writing. It is so exciting to wait for installments! (+!) (+!!) I’m having a Kenzie.

  7. Kitchen Sink creates semi-random objects? That’s interesting from both a lore perspective (it could give insight on how much human stuff shards can grok) and a power perspective (“Need a knife? Hold on, let me see if I can pull one out…um…is a letter opener good enough?”)

    I feel sorry for Natalie. She tries to pass along a message, and blindly stumbles into nasty family drama. Hopefully this prepares her for if she ever runs into Amy…

    “Not every situation allows for that. Having a plan is great, and I’m all about laying stuff out and being smart about things. Sometimes there’s no time, and you have to make choices.”
    There’s the old Glory Girl we all knew and loathed! But seriously…when Victoria’s on edge, she slips into her old bad habits. Something to watch out for.

    “She does care about you, you know,” Natalie said.
    You know what I said about Natalie being prepared? Forget it. She clearly hasn’t learned her lesson, despite running into it multiple times this conversation and just being told to stay neutral. Natalie’s too busy trying to fix the problem to realize that she would probably help more by staying out.
    (Assuming that Victoria’s closer to right…but I’m not sure that pushing her is going to be constructive in any way.)

    “I turn off my brain by tinkering,” she said. “It’s like how on some computers you can push the number so high it goes back to zero, except it’s brain activity.”
    …Kenzie, that’s not supposed to happen, and it causes all sorts of bugs.

    ‘Chris’ was in the top right corner, the ‘h’ smudged where a sleeve had rubbed up against it mid-write.
    Oh, is Christ left-handed?

    The villains were so simple, so easy…I was supposed to dislike what they did and I did dislike it. I didn’t see anything redeeming in them, I had the power to stop them, and I wholly planned to.
    We need to arrange a time for Vic to meet with Foil.

    “Hair,” I said.
    “No,” was the response, without a beat missed.
    “I can’t promise it would work, but hair can confuse the Manton effect.”

    …That’s clever. I can’t believe I never thought of that idea before! I might need to steal draw inspiration from this if I ever get around to writing one of those superhero stories bouncing around in my skull.

    “What kind of black accents?” Kenzie asked.
    “No,” Ashley said.

    Sorry, Ashley. Kenzie’s on the bandwagon; if you don’t try harder and quicker to pull her off, she’ll sweep you on sooner or later.

    “If he could get tired he’d be dog tired. I need to have a talk with him soon, before things get to a point where I don’t see him ever,” Sveta said.
    Maybe you could drag him and Victoria on a forcibly-take-a-break thing.

    “Rain wants to know if people are okay with him inviting Erin.
    The plot thickens…see you on Tuesday.

    1. Well I’m pretty sure that Carol does care about Victoria. And she cares about Amy. The problem is she is not handling things well in doing a family reconciliation well AT ALL. And if you don’t know the whole sordid mess you are going to be very confused on just why any talk of messages or wanting to see Vicky from Carol sets Vicky off so much. Especially when Vicky was the one who went to Carol for the start of the legal stuff.

    1. Not here. Tattletale doesn’t hack computers, she gets the passwords. Passwords don’t trigger firewalls or defences, because that’s what the password is for. She used the CCTV in the Protectorate HQ in Brockton Bay to keep abreast of what the government heroes were doing. Unless Dragon’s set up something so people can only log on from verified devices, to stop people like Tattletale and Teacher from getting access.

      Kenzie, meanwhile, trying to find out stuff about Vicky to keep her happy, when we already know she’s good enough at programming to make bots? Yeah.

      1. “Not here. Tattletale doesn’t hack computers, she gets the passwords. Passwords don’t trigger firewalls or defences, because that’s what the password is for.”

        Unless someone was smart enough to set up two factor authentication. Then when it fails, it notifies the user someone tried to log in from a new strange location. Or she got locked out after 23 guesses or something. Or she entered a suspiciously accurate list of answers to the recovery questions that weren’t quite right.

        Seriously a lot of hacking is getting passwords. And security systems are designed to detect that now.

        1. Do they have two factor authentication in the post-apocalypse?

          And Tattletale’s power might get her the second factor code to enter. Or she’ll already have the password to the second email.

          Things get a bit trickier if there’s a fob, mind.

          1. Two factor identification isn’t very hard to set up once you have internet and mobile phones running. The technology boils down to “If a user connects from a new computer, send them a mail/SMS with a code before logging them in”.

            Dedicated spies can beat unprepared targets by stealing or hacking their phone (especially if most phones have outdated software with known vulnerabilities), and circumventing whatever protection *they* have.

            Another obstacle for Tattletale would be that, rather than easy passwords like “iloveamyandvicky”, government-assigned addresses may have randomly generated passwords like “3541ss119em40k”, in which case Sherlock Holmes powers are useless.

          2. And for that matter, who set up this telephone system on their planet? Can it be trusted? How sure are they that TT didn’t oversee its construction, complete with the ability to silently monitor anything plus her own suite of backdoors?

      2. Tattletale can guess passwords, but not flawlessly. Remember a bit in, I think it was Scion’s interlude, she started forcing her way through Dragon’s automated systems by guessing at the password hints, but she had to call Defiant for one of them.

  8. There is no way that Chris going from three straight days of “Indulgence” into “Anxiety” is going to end well, is there?

    1. Depends on who you mean for “Well”. Maybe not so well for him and the team, but possibly pretty well for the readers.

  9. Even with the whole end of the world thing, I’d kind of expect the Wardens to have multiple-factor biometric authentication for their secure servers. I mean, real-life smartphones are starting to have finger print scanners and we know the old PRT had retinal scanners for getting into secure areas. Combine those with low-tech things like passwords and security questions and whatever tinker tech security the wardens might have, and five-factor authenication doesn’t seem out of the question.

    1. Biometry is exceedingly terrible at security in our world to begin with. The sooner you all learn this, the better.
      When you add biotinkers in the mix, it simply turns into a complete fiasco.

        1. It’s more a problem of how easy it is to copy your fingerprints (and retinas, even) with not-that-expensive equipment. Look it up.

  10. I almost want to see Ashley go through a fashion montage just to see her annihilate every single thing they try to make her wear, and pairs of hairdresser scissors getting too close.

    1. Fortunately, it sounds like you already have, using your imagination! Just like I did reading your idea!

      What soundtrack do you imagine it set to? Pandora hasn’t given me anything appropriate all day

  11. “Just ‘Ashley’. Nothing else figured out.”

    That’s a particularly poignant quote about someone who might literally have picked her own name.

  12. Am I the only one who doesn’t know why calling Chris and Kenzie “sprogs” is supposed to be clever? Google says sprogs is British slang for children, but that makes it sound more stupid than clever to me. Is Sveta supposed to be from that island in her original Earth or something? I didn’t think she could even guess.

  13. How exactly is a justice system that can only prosecute 10ish percent of crimes also supposed to be as strict on vigilantes as Natalie is implying?
    That’s basically asking to turn all parahumans into criminals by default, and if that’s the way things are going, it’s a system that needs to be torn down before it starts.

    1. It literally isn’t, Natalie is just playing it excessively safe , because you never know when it will start working, and when it dies, it’ll likely be stricter to capes than before.

    2. I think the implication is that — if the team ever gets around to actually arresting people — they want to be able to convict them officially, which will be difficult if the heroes did not follow proper procedure. I do not think that Natalie was implying that Victoria and Sveta would actually be convicted of a crime for what they did.

  14. Handbreak/Handbrake is such a good name for Rain! He can stop dead, as if he had pulled a handbrake, and he throws things with his hands that make things break, and he makes mechanical hands that break.

    I dunno where the emotion-based power fits in, tbf.

    1. If he guilt-trips you into pausing a moment, he kinda pulled your handbrake.
      There might be better down the line, but this one’s pretty neat.

  15. Probably my favorite of Sveta’s names is Cirrus. It’s a pretty clean break from Garrotte, and I like that she’s thinking of abstract imagery that fits her self-image rather than the murderous effects of her anxiety.

  16. It’s really interesting rereading Worm while reading this, especially with the parts I happen to get to at the same times. For example, I just read Carol’s interlude recently, where she finds out what happened with Amy and Victoria, so I’m pretty sure Vic is wrong about something. See, Carol maintaining balance between her cape and non-cape life is very important to Carol, and it seems really likely that she’d bring up similar concerns when talking to Natalie about whether or not her daughter is working.
    Also, Kenzie excitedly talking about what she could do to Ashley’s eyes kind of reminded me of Bonesaw.
    But I think the most important thing here is that Chris is left-handed! Actually, there was a lot I liked in this chapter. I really hope they all have hero names soon.

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