Shadow – 5.7

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It was an overcast day.  Our nights were dark with the city power rationed and most apartments and businesses left unlit, and emerging from that to a day where the sun couldn’t shine through had an effect on the mood of the Megalopolis.

I was fully in costume, and I was surrounded by people who weren’t.  New Haven wasn’t the closest settlement to the Fallen camp, but it was close enough that people were bound to pass through.  It was the time of afternoon where everyone who had work was working, too late for lunch, too early to end the work day.

There were still people at the coffee shop, favoring very relaxed clothing.  Some were students, part of one block or another, with no work for them for the moment.  Most were keeping an eye on me.

Image was so important.  I had my hood down, because it was large and heavy enough to be warm, and I didn’t want sweat in my eyes later, when it mattered.  Having the hood down and the metal mask at my belt meant that I could present a fairly friendly face.

The coffee shop was somewhat industrial in feel, with a floor of poured concrete that had been altered after pouring to give it a look very similar to wooden floorboards.  The bottom half of the employee’s counter and the counters that jutted out from the walls with stools lined up beneath them were more concrete.  Everything else was wood.

I waited in line like everyone else, encouraging the woman in front of me to stay in line when she offered to let me cut ahead.  It could have been fear, respect, or help.  Free coffee for the cop or feeling the pressure of a parahuman standing behind her.

There were looks from people who were clearly bothered by my being around.  There wasn’t much I could do about that.

On the other side of the coin, one of the teenagers who weren’t in school was trying to surreptitiously take a picture of me with his phone, which I noticed because the girl sitting next to him kept jostling him and trying to get him to put it down.  Interest of the positive but borderline troubling sort.

I was reminded to check my phone.  Kenzie was only a little way away, and was messaging to ask where to meet.  It looked like Tristan had it handled.

The woman in front of me finished collecting her order.Two boxes of donuts and other assorted breakfast desserts, stacked on top of one another and tied with twine, and one thing of coffees, plastic with four cup-holders and a handle in the middle.  I  already had a soft drink, and I wedged it between the coffees before picking it all up.

“Are there others in town?” the barista asked.

“Others?”

“Capes?”

“We’re passing through,” I said.  I keyed my voice to be audible by others.  We were close enough to the Fallen camp it wasn’t out of the question that they would have people planted here to keep an eye out for trouble.

“Okay.  A lot of the ones who show up cause problems.”

That would be because this area of the city was relatively close to this group of the Fallen.  There was another that was even closer to them, but it was small and somewhat disconnected from the city.  A few houses, a gas station that doubled as a hardware supply and grocery store, and a dentist’s.  Here, at least, there was a place to watch movies.  I could imagine Rain’s peers piling into cars and driving into the town, and the headaches that no doubt followed.

“I’m more interested in solutions than problems,” I said.

She smiled slightly.  Her eye flicked to the next customer, and I took that as my cue to get out of line.

“Have a nice day,” I said.

As I turned around, the teenager at the one table put his phone down.  His female friend looked unimpressed with him.

“Want a photo?” I asked him.

“Hm?  No.”

“He does,” the girl said, sounding as displeased as she’d looked.

“Here,” I said.  I put the donuts and coffee down on an empty chair on their table.  I stepped back a bit, then flew, so my toe was barely touching the ground, my other leg bent slightly.  I turned my body so the white gold color of my breastplate would catch the light coming in through the window.  I put my hood up, and the ornament at the peak of the hood with rays forking up slapped my forehead.

I’d need to figure out something to do about that.

He had his phone up by the time I settled into my pose, both hands on my hood, the parallel spikes that extended up from my shoulder now pointing back.

“Got it,” he said.  “Thanks.”

“Can I see?” I asked.

He showed me.

“Is something happening?” he asked.

“Somewhere else,” I said.  “I’ve got a ways to go to get there, though.”

Not technically a lie.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I’m figuring that out,” I said.  “But I’m thinking I’ll name myself after a star.”

“Cool,” he said.

“And I should get this to my people,” I said, dropping out of my flight and rapping a finger on the lid of my cup.  “You take care.”

“You too,” he said, a grin passing over his face.  He nudged his friend.  “See, told you it wasn’t a big deal.”

“Could’ve been,” she said.  She shot me a smile.  “Sorry about him.  Bye.”

I winked at her before collecting my things and heading for the door.

It was stupid and people had probably been rolling their eyes at me in there, but I was left smiling.  I liked being in costume again.

I kicked off of the ground and flew skyward.

The others would be arriving.  Friendly faces.  Some unfriendly ones.  New Haven was our meeting place.  There was a portal here, and it was one I was familiar with.  If I didn’t want to go through the portal in New Brockton, but I wanted to go to Brockton Bay, this had been the most convenient option.  It had been where the patrol block passed through and focused most of its work.

Speaking of.

I found my place in the town and spotted the bus.  New paint, some windows covered up rather than replaced, but it was the bus.  I flew to it, timing my landing so I landed next to it while it was at a stop sign.

The door opened with an agonized sound that suggested some repairs still needed to be done.  Jasper was in the front seat.

“Hi,” I said.  A hand covered in coarse hair appeared from the side, giving a wave, and I poked my head in to see.  Gilpatrick was sitting in the seat just in front of the stairs.  Bald, bushy eyebrows, hairy arms, and Patrol outfit.  I gave him a small wave back.

“Hi,” Jasper said.  “You look way different.”

“Should we get out?” Gilpatrick asked.

“Not unless you have questions,” I said.  “You got the documents?”

“Yes,” Gilpatrick said.  “New Haven patrol is already at the location.  Others are still to arrive.  We’ll coordinate and figure out where we need to go once everyone’s here.”

“Don’t take the main road north or east.  Take the dirt road to go east instead of the highway.  The road you want to go down doesn’t have a name.  Just turn northward at the giant cow.”

“Giant cow?” Jasper asked.

“Wood.  Someone had to be the first to build a giant cow, I guess,” I said.

“In a time when resources are scarce and we need to do all the building we can, someone built a giant cow?” Jasper asked.

“Let it go,” Gilpatrick said.

“Here,” I said.  I stepped into the bus, put the box down, and used one of the back-swept spikes of metal on my glove to cut the twine.  I handed Gilpatrick the box.

“Thank you.”

“Stay safe,” I said.

“Hey, before you go,” Jasper said.  He adjusted his sleeve.

“Don’t,” someone said, behind him.

His sleeve up, he turned around to show me.  A playing card, with a jester’s cap on it.  ‘Jester’ was spelled out beneath.

“Everyone’s giving me shit about it,” he said, but he smiled.

“You actually did it,” I said.  “You like it?”

“Yeah.”

“Then that’s what’s important.”

He smiled.  “Yeah.”

“Are they calling you Jester like you wanted?”

“They have to, don’t they?” he asked, still smiling.

“Yes they do.”

“Don’t encourage him,” Gilpatrick said.  “Get in touch after, okay?  We’ll chat about how it went, catch up.”

“Will do.  Thanks for everything,” I said.

“Anytime.”

I collected the remaining box of donuts and the tray of coffee.  I flew back and out the door of the bus rather than back down the stairs.  The door was still closing, screeching shut, as Jester put the bus into motion.

The patrol would be part of our extended perimeter.  Evacuating the citizens and containing the problem to just the Fallen camp were almost mutually exclusive things.  We couldn’t let people go without risking that they’d cause trouble elsewhere.  We’d funnel them into the patrol block.

It’d be three buses or vans filled with young men and women.  All would be seventeen and older, uniformed, with guns and some semblance of an idea what to do.  There would be instructors, many of whom were ex-PRT, and many graduates.

The others had already gathered, situating themselves in a parking lot with aborted construction of a store partially blocking them from view.  Kenzie had arrived, and laid down at the back of the van, helmet off, legs bent at the knee and dangling over the bumper.  A woman that was very clearly her mother stood a few feet away, her back to the open van door.  Tristan, Sveta, and Chris were there, standing a distance away.  Only Chris was uncostumed.  He wore a beige sweatshirt with the hood up, and jeans.  The ‘sash’ he kept with him for wearing in costume was wrapped around his shoulders like a scarf.

I landed.

“There you are,” Tristan said.

“I spotted Gilpatrick.  Two of our four truckloads of Patrol guys are here.  The other two are on schedule, I think.”

“Are those donuts?” Chris asked.

“And coffees, with one soft drink,” I said.

I handed over the box, giving Chris his soft drink.  I distributed the coffees, giving one to Sveta and one to Tristan.  Kenzie pulled on her helmet and jumped out of the back of the van, running past her mother.

“You sure you don’t want a drink?” I asked Kenzie.  I’d asked in earlier phone conversation.

“Have stuff in the car.”

I looked back toward the ‘car’, the van, and made eye contact with Mrs. Martin.

Steel rings at the back of Mrs. Martin’s head kept her dreads away from her face in a deliberately messy style, the metal of the rings a contrast to the hair and the skin that was closer to real black than brown.  A series of steel bangles hung from her neck and one wrist, carrying on the aesthetic.

She wore an amazing bohemian-style top, predominantly red, the pattern detailed, the fabric as light and loose as it could be without floating off of her.  The sleeves were cut so they technically stopped at the elbow, but the excess fabric at the bottom edge of the sleeve was such that it grazed the skin of her legs, beneath her shorts.  Her sandals were stamped straps of red leather that went from her toes to encircle her ankle, red on black skin.

She was young enough she might well have been a teenager when she had Kenzie, clearly fashionable, she was slim, and she had more poise than some superheroes I knew.

Put all of those things aside, and she could have been any parent at a PTA meeting, with stress lines in her face that didn’t match her age, and a rather normal face beneath her very striking makeup.

“Mrs. Martin?” I asked.

“Irene,” she said.

“Hi Irene, I’m Victoria.”  I smiled and put out my hand to shake hers.  She didn’t shake mine so much as she put her fingers in my palm.  A little bit at a loss of what to do, I shook it as best as I could.  She took it in stride.

A bit of a diva.

“I love this,” she said.  She brushed her fingers down the front of my breastplate, then plucked at the fabric of my sleeve.

“It’s new.  Made it yesterday.”

“In one day?”

“Kind of.  It was a group effort.”

“We added to my suit too,” Sveta said.

Kenzie’s mother gave Sveta a careful look.  Sveta’s body had curls and sweeping lines extending up from the shoulder, out from the elbow, and out of the collar of her top, which was more of a costume top than her other clothes.  All had been painted.

“It’s good work,” Kenzie’s mother said.

“My mom is kind of an artist,” Kenzie said, as she came back from the donut box, two donuts in hand.  “She works with my dad right now.  She does interior decorating.  She makes houses look nice for sale, dad sells them, and she helps the families find the kinds of things they want after they buy.”

“I’m an aesthete, not an artist,” Kenzie’s mom said.  “I appreciate others work and do what I can to make others appreciate those works.  I can’t create much of my own.”

“Aesthete,” Kenzie said.  “Got it.  Do you want a donut, mom?”

“No,” her mother said.

“You mean ‘no thank you’,” Kenzie said.

Her mother gave her a look.

“Manners, please,” Kenzie said.  “We’re with my friends.  Don’t embarrass me.”

Irene Martin clapped her hands together, sharp, and turned to me with a smile.  “I don’t want to fight.  Are we going to get this machine out of the back?”

A part of me wanted to address the aborted conversation, but Tristan jumped in before I could.

“I gave it a shot, Victoria, but I’m far from being strong enough,” Tristan said.

I glanced at Kenzie, who smiled.  I decided to let the subject drop.

“I strapped it up before I wheeled it in,” Kenzie said.  “I hope that helps.”

“It does,” I said.  “Out of the way.”

They stood back.

I hope you like the costume I made for us, I thought, as I released the wretch.  As far as I could understand it, I was effectively wearing clothing with room for three of me, too many sleeves, too many pants legs.  I was putting my hands through two sleeves, into the matching gloves, and I had the benefit of the strength.  If I was quick, I could do things before the other arms and legs started moving about, around me, in front of me, behind me.

I hauled it back as smoothly as I could.  The others backed away more as I brought the large cube out onto the ground.

Mrs. Martin adjusted the back of the van to fix the ramp.  She turned around.  “You have what you need?”

Kenzie climbed into the back and came out with some smaller cases.  She put both donuts into her mouth, biting down into them to hold them, so her hands were free enough that she could pull three straps over her head.  She retrieved the donuts.  “Yes.”

Her mother shut the van door.

“I won’t be home for dinner, probably,” Kenzie said.

“Will you need another ride?”

“Probably not.  I’ll make my own way back.  I’ll be late. You and dad can have a date night or something.”

Irene Martin didn’t respond to that.  She glanced at the other members of the group.

“It’s just a suggestion,” Kenzie said.

“You wouldn’t tell me what this is, but it’s serious, isn’t it?”

Kenzie groaned.

“Is it?”

“It’s pretty serious.”

“Will I get a phone call tonight, telling me you’re in the hospital?”

Kenzie groaned louder.  “Go.  Thank you for the ride.  Enjoy your day.  Enjoy time with dad.  Okay?  You don’t have me around to bother you.”

Irene Martin threw her hands up.  Kenzie gave her a push, and Irene walked around to the driver’s side.  She turned around there.  “Victoria?”

“Yes?”

“You could come over for dinner some night.”

“Yes,” Kenzie said.  She did a double take, between her mom and me, then turned to me and said, “You could.”

“I-” I started.  I wanted to connect to the team, help them, and divine any underlying crises or subterfuge.  It was the first time I’d seen the two of them even remotely on the same page.  It seemed fine.  “Sure.”

Kenzie pumped both fists.

Irene Martin pulled away.  I turned to face the other members of the group; Tristan, Sveta, and Chris were very different people, and all faced me with expressions of alarm and horror.

“Yes, awesome,” Kenzie said, as she joined the group, depositing her things.  “I can show you my main workshop.  We could have a great dinner, my parents are top notch cooks.  Do you like pasta?”

“I do, yes.”

“There’s a dish I love and we haven’t had it in months because I couldn’t find a good place for Italian sausage, but I did the research on my own and found one place with good reviews.  I could ask my mom to make it.  Oh, and you like cape stuff, I have some magazines, and if you want them for your collection, we could collab.”

Chris approached.

“My mom seemed to like you a lot, I haven’t ever known her to do that before.  A lot of people-”

Chris took Kenzie’s hand.  Her eyes lit up as she kept talking.

“-seem to like her a lot, she’s a charmer, but she hasn’t invited-”

He maneuvered the donut Kenzie was holding into her mouth.

“-amfohn oher beguh,” Kenzie said, around the donut.

“Don’t talk while you eat,” Chris said.  “You’ll choke.”

Kenzie nodded.

“Let’s focus on the mission,” Chris said.

Kenzie nodded.

Tristan provided the update on where things stood.  “Advance Guard is here.  They didn’t want to meet.  They’ll go to the north end of the compound and work south from there.  The Wardens’ backup are running late.  Transportation issues.”

“And Rain?” I asked.

“No update,” Sveta said.

“Ashley?”

“One message.  She saw the clairvoyants getting ready and she took the opportunity to send something.  She’s on her way.  Beast of Burden and his group are participating, but they’re not cooperating with Prancer’s group.  They’ll be independent and it sounds like they’re out for blood.”

“Let’s get this thing situated, while we still have a chance,” I said.

A convoy of vehicles traveled down the highway.  The cars ranged from the sleek and black to the ones that hadn’t weathered the end of the world so well.

Kenzie’s camera tracked them.  There were several pickups, and some members of the various factions stood on the backs of the pickups, hair or capes flapping in the wind.  One pickup had Moose in the back, with Etna sitting in front of him.  Another had Beast of Burden, who was heavy enough the truck couldn’t bring others.  He wasn’t huge, but the armor had heft and the back of the truck rode low to the ground.

Ashley was sitting in the passenger window of a vehicle, one of the three rustier, more worn out vehicles in Beast of Burden’s convoy.  One hand maintained her grip, so she could have her head and upper body outside the vehicle, hand out in the wind, hair flapping in the wind behind her.

Behind them, four mutant dogs the size of cars were running at a speed that kept up with the cars.  They were meat and armor plates, with no rhyme or rhythm, for the most part.  We weren’t in a position to zoom in or get any detailed looks, but I knew from past experience that up close, the meat would look like something between raw meat from an animal that had just been flayed, and the scale of a crocodile, dark and condensed down.  One of the dogs, the one Bitch rode, was different from the others, symmetrical, leaner.

There were other cameras, but with only laptops to go by, we didn’t have a lot of screen real estate to go between them.

I hit the spacebar on the keyboard of my laptop.  The camera switched to an overhead view of the dirt road outside the Fallen compound.  We had the information on the Fallen the Wardens had provided.  The address was one part of it.

We also had some notes on the parahumans within.  A lot of them were strong.

Nobody was emerging from the Fallen’s area.  There were no visits to the nearby town with its gas station, no visits to New Haven, and nobody going to work.

Kenzie’s cube was off to the side of the road, set in a ditch surrounded by tall grass.  I’d dropped straight in and flown straight up and out to minimize any scent trails and tracks.

I hit the spacebar again.

The Patrol.  They were settled at the edge of the woods, gathered in small groups that formed a loose line.  Vehicles were parked, boxes placed on the ground and used as seats.

I struck the key once more.

Advance Guard were more focused on the mission.  Mayday was doing a lot of talking, while Mapwright went around touching people.  Each person she touched had their eyes flare pink.  The organization of the group was interesting to see, with the core members at the middle, others forming a loose ring around them, and the peripheral and utility members, I was assuming, at the very fringes, forming a second ring.

I hit spacebar.

Back to the first feed.

Alt-tab, and I switched to an overhead map.  Advance Guard had sent it to us in a message.  It gave a view of the forest and roads, lines struck out for cliffs or other barriers.  She’d avoided detailing the settlement itself.

We had the details.  Thinkers had always avoided scanning for the Mathers family because using a thinker power on or near them had a way of causing severe problems for the thinker.  A strapped to a hospital bed screaming kind of severe.

I alt-tabbed back to the video.  Tattletale either wasn’t present, or was in a car, not on a dog.  I studied the cars until I was pretty sure I recognized the one from the night prior.

“They’re here.”

I was bewildered on two counts.  That I heard Tristan’s voice but it sounded off, in a way that made me think someone had died or something had gone wrong.  The other half of it was that I thought he meant the villains.  Tattletale.  Here somehow at the same time they were clearly elsewhere, on the video on my laptop.

It wasn’t Tristan speaking oddly, but Byron speaking normally.  His armor was the same general style as Tristan’s, but it had a blue tint, and it was scale, not plate, with fins and conch spirals instead of spiraling horns.

And it wasn’t the villains, who had somehow traveled the rest of the distance.  It was the Wardens.

I smiled.  “Good to hear.  How are you doing?”

“Nervous.  I think the kids are too.”

The kids were sitting with their backs to the side of the building-in-progress.  Nobody had come into the parking lot since we’d arrived.  Kenzie and Chris were chatting.  They’d decimated most of a box of twelve donuts between them.

“Yeah,” I said.  How much destructive power was packed into those cars, with those dogs?  How much was packed into that compound of Fallen?

I folded up my laptop and slid it into my bag.  I deposited it with Kenzie’ stuff.

“Anything I can do?” I asked.

“Do?”

“To help you be less nervous.  To make this easier.”

Byron shook his head.

“I appreciate you being here.  I appreciate you being here too, Tristan, I know you’ve been part of this since the beginning, but it matters.  It matters more that you’re willing to make this leap, Byron.”

“I was a hero once.  I wasn’t that bad at it,” Byron said.  “I don’t want kids and innocents to get hurt.  I happen to think… a big way for kids and innocents to not get hurt is for this team to have never happened.”

“We’re doing something good here, today,” I said.

“And I’m here,” Byron said.  He shrugged, and his armor made a sound at the gesture.

I didn’t have a response for that.  I got my things together and beckoned the kids.  As we walked beneath the building, Sveta dropped down from the roof, reeling in her arms with enough force she wobbled mid-step.

The Wardens were a block away.

Narwhal.  A big name.  She was tall and her horn exaggerated that fact.  Her body was covered in scintillating shards of forcefield that looked grey-blue in the light from the sky above.

Weld was there.  He had a bag with him that had to have weighed a hundred pounds.  Gear for a teammate.

There were seven others.  They were faces I didn’t recognize.

And, last but not least, Vista.  She had to be seventeen now.  As old as I’d been when I’d been hospitalized.  She’d updated her costume to show the skin she hadn’t been able to show as a Ward, with legs bare, shoulders and arms uncovered, and she’d dressed up other parts, with new gloves and boots with less cloth and more armor, and a redecoration of the breastplate, so it had grooves running through it.  There was a texture to her visor, to the point that it just looked like a pane of opaque green glass, etched with ripples.  She had a scarf loose around her shoulders more than her neck, which made me think of Miss Militia.

“Hey, little V,” I said.  “Not so little anymore.”

“Hey big V,” she said.  “What a time to meet, huh?  We need to hang out.”

“We do.  So much,” I said.

She approached and gave me a hug, the breastplate of her armor clacking against mine.  She squeezed me and I squeezed her back.

“I heard you were better,” she said, quiet.

“Great to see you,” I said.  “It seems a lot of other Brockton Bay names are appearing.”

“Tattletale.  Rachel.  Foil.  The other Undersiders.”

“Yeah,” I said.

We broke the hug.  She gave my arm a pat as she stepped back.  Weld clasped my hand.  His other arm was already around Sveta.

“You’re down for this?” I asked.

“You know I am,” Weld said.

“Oh yeah,” she said.  “Point me at the bad guys.  I’ll turn their world upside-down.”

“They’ll be here in a minute,” I said.  Tristan wasn’t here, so I was the de-facto leader on our side.  “You’ve read the doc?”

“Yes,” Narwhal said.  “Vista, would you do us the honors?”

We weren’t far from the edge of New Haven.  The surroundings began to distort.

“My cameras!” Looksee cried out.  “Ugggh.  They don’t like so many powers and so many of those powers are from your city.”

“You’re staying, Looksee,” I said.  “Narwhal, do you have a group hanging back?”

“Our thinker and our blaster,” Narwhal said.  “They’ll keep your tinker safe.”

“Don’t talk their ear off, Looksee,” Chris said.

“My cameras do not know how to deal with this power,” Kenzie said, oblivious.

The space ahead of us continued to fold into itself.  Street, road, grass, trees and field all compressed.  The effect was to create something that looked almost like a portal.

Two portals, I realized.  The angle of the other wasn’t clear, to the point the distortions masked it.

Our groups parted ways.  From a city under an overcast sky to foliage.  The forest was dark.  Chris was the first to walk through.  Eager, even.

“Phones on vibrate, careful from this point forward,” I said.  I changed my phone.

Sveta, Byron and I passed through, entering the forest at the periphery of the Fallen camp.  Paths cut between the trees, left by animals and not people.

It was dark, and for the most part, we were well camouflaged, in the dark.

Ahead of us, Chris was crouching.  He had a hand at the corner of his mouth, and he was working out the wire from his external braces.  His mouth yawned open and he looked incredibly uncomfortable as he adjusted, head twisting this way and that.

From the central pocket of his hooded sweatshirt, he pulled out a disc.  He tapped it twice.  A projection wrapped around him.  Camouflage.

It didn’t make him transparent.  It did seem to pull things from his surroundings and create a patchwork exterior.  Bark, grass, greenery, a slice of fur.  The patches didn’t line up, so it looked more like a nature-themed scrapbook collage than a second skin.

I saw him part his lips in a smile, and the projection disc seemed to take a moment to remember what teeth and braces were.  The teeth were there on their own, then they became part of the collage.  The metal bits of the braces, sans wire, were next.

He had a second disc.  He pressed a button.

A projection of Looksee appeared, crouching as well.

“Cameras are showing them on their way.  I’m putting it through to your phones, but it might be-”

Chris adjusted something on the disc.   The volume of Looksee’s voice dropped second by second.

Nearly mute, she turned to Chris, hands on her hips.

“If she’s reporting something, let her,” I said.

I pulled out my phone.

The camera footage flickered violently, with patches here and there where undulating lines of code flashed pink against a red background.  What I could see at the fringes were that Hollow Point’s convoy was a minute away.

If the shrinking of the glitchy area on the phone was any indication, Vista’s adjustments would be gone by the time the villains turned up.

“I’ll let my brother take point.  We trade places as we need to,” Byron said.  “We’ll play this by ear, like we used to.  Remember that innocent lives are on the line.  Even among the Fallen.”

He blurred.

“They’re our priority,” I said.

“Deal,” Tristan said, as he settled in.  He was just a hair more obvious than Byron had been, with the red tint to the metal, standing amid a forest of greens, browns, and grays.

Her volume back to ninety percent of normal, Kenzie reported, “Advance Guard is at the twelve o’clock, Wardens to the nine.  We’ve got the five o’clock point, road is to our north at the four, running into the camp from the east.  The Patrol block is on standby at the two.”

I mentally mapped it out.

“I’ll save my changes,” Chris said.  He moved into an area of deeper shadow, and the projection overadjusted for a moment.  “For now, I’ll skulk.  I’m good at skulking.”

I frowned at him.  “You hang back.  Your job is to escort people out.  Direct them to the Patrol group, who can figure out how to deal with them.”

“I know,” he said.  “I can do other stuff.”

The phone wasn’t quite as good a view as the laptop had been.  The images were squashed, the figures too small to easily make out.  I saw the white blur of Ashley’s hair, saw her disappear into the vehicle.

The dogs lagged behind the cars and trucks.  Some of the cars fell behind as well.

As the majority of the convoy turned north off of the highway, Tattletale’s group, dogs included, continued on into New Haven.

“Be safe, Looksee,” I said.  “There’s a not insignificant chance she’d target you and use you to find Rain.  They have the dogs.”

The projection of Looksee nodded.

The convoy continued to disintegrate.  The road as the road made its gradual turn, where it would stab into the Fallen camp from the east.   Whoever Beast of Burden had driving was happy to ignore the road and drive into field.  Truck tires spun through mud, kicking up detritus.

Depending on where they came in, they might run into the Patrol block.

The bulk, however, were heading down the main dirt road into the camp.

“Tattletale is parking,” Looksee reported.  “They planned to situate themselves around here.”

“Shh,” I said.

I could hear the crackle of stones being kicked up by tires on the dirt road, tires tearing through loose terrain.

I could see them.   A hundred feet away, barely visible through the gaps in the trees, they were going way too fast down the unfamiliar road.

When the last of the vehicles passed us, we moved toward them, so we’d be at their tail.  Chris’ temporary projection-costume altered rapidly to absorb the surroundings.  It got weird here and there where it caught a flash of Tristan’s armor or my face.

I heard the distant detonation that marked the first shot fired, the start of the war between the Hollow and the Fallen.   I couldn’t tell if it was a trap laid for the vehicles or a power used by the raiding attackers.

We picked up speed.  I took flight, and flew fast enough through the trees that I needed to put my hands out, touching and deflecting trees in passing.

My plan was to draw close enough that I could identify what was happening.  That would let me help coordinate the group.

If one side was clearly overwhelmed from the start, it dramatically changed how we would be approaching this.  The Fallen being annihilated was bad in its own way, much as Hollow Point’s group being annihilated.  One suggested civilians would die at the hands of reckless attackers.  The other promised retaliation from the defending party, aimed at a nonspecific enemy.

There was something that mandated a change in our approach, from the very moment the explosion sounded and the engagement was started.  It wasn’t what I’d expected.

Gunfire.  From both sides.

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148 thoughts on “Shadow – 5.7”

  1. Bow…. you’re such a tease. ^___^

    Anyway Menzies mom is Interesting, I love how She’s already automatically in Victoria’s reasonably good books, and almost the same for Victoria in turn just from looking over each other’s wardrobe choices.

    Also I LOVE how Chris just has Kenzie handled, the donut moment was adorable lol.

    1. > …finished collecting her order.Two boxes of donuts and other assorted breakfast desserts, stacked on top of one another and tied with twine, and one thing of coffees…

      Missing space after period. Also, here it sounds like the woman ahead of Victoria is the one ordering deserts and coffees.

    2. >war between the Hollow and the Fallen

      Might be a typo, not the usual way that you have named the Hollow Point villains.

      >A strapped to a hospital bed screaming kind of severe.

      It’s probably correct as is, but it feels like “strapped to a hospital bed screaming” should be hyphenated to unify it as an adjective.

    3. The road as the road made its gradual turn, where it would stab into the Fallen camp from the east.

      The first half of that sentence is supposed to say something else.

      1. What code do you use to get that blockquote effect? Is blockquote still in use in whatever version of HTML is used here?

        1. Here’s a test:

          What code do you use to get that blockquote effect?

          If that worked, then you just need a preceding <blockquote> tag and a trailing </blockquote> tag.

    4. “handle in the middle. I already”
      Double space after ‘I’

      “I deposited it with Kenzie’ stuff.”

      “between the Hollow and the Fallen. I couldn’t tell”
      Triple space.

    5. > “They were meat and armor plates, with no rhyme or rhythm, for the most part.”

      This should be changed to “They wore meat and armor plates”, as this sentence is referring to Bitch’s dogs.

    6. “Advance Guard […] She’d avoided detailing the settlement itself.”
      In this context, ‘she’ can only refer to Advance Guard, which doesn’t make sense.

  2. This might end up having an end bringer level of cape deaths. Cultists armed for bear, with power backup vs criminals armed to take out a village with power backup. How many human shields do you think the fallen are going to use? My guess is “all of them”.

  3. It seems like Victoria is getting a sharp reminder that the old unwritten rules don’t apply anymore. They worked when there was coordinated forces who’d punish anyone who stepped over the line, and reputational concerns, but neither of those remain in the post apocalyptic fuedal world we have now.

    The coffee shop was a nice reminder of how average people realte to parahumans, that odd mix of respect and fear.

    Kenzie’s Mother is surprisingly chill. Though knowing this universe I’m sure there will be some terrifying secret to be uncovered with that family.

    Interesting to see Bitch’s dogs described by someone outside her team, similar to how Tattletale is so much more scary from Victora’s point of veiw than she was from Taylors. It was easy to forget how creepy and monstrous they were in Worm given we got the perspective of Bitch playing fetch and feeding them.

    1. Heh, people complained in the comments that there was too little of lethal gun shooting.

      Well. *The rules have changed*.

      My bet on Kenzie’s parents is that they do not exist. This is why Irene turns down the food. Projections don’t eat. This is why Kenzie talks to Irene so possessively and authoritatively. She has admin control!

      1. That seemed plausible earlier, when her Dad said like two words the whole time he was around, but Mom has a personality and that personality seems nothing like Kenzie’s. The fact that both of them are weird is totally understandable given who Kenzie is. Mayday considered it a real trauma to have been around her for less than a year. Mom and Dad have been around for the long haul, and it shows.

        1. Assuming Kenzie’s parents are projections, why would one expect them to have Kenzie’s personalities? It would make more sense for them to be more like her simulated chat-bots/pseudo-AIs/conversation-cameras, based on her real parents’ personalities, just as some of her chat-bots were based on her past and current teammates.

          Based on her interaction with her chat-bots, I would assume that they learn and evolve over time mostly by interaction rather than programming; some of them demonstrated learning new behaviours based on Kenzie’s input on the chat. It would make some sense that the first such chat-bots that she might develop would be for her parents, and that they would be significantly more advanced as a result of existing and evolving for that much longer. This would fit with Kenzie “training” her parents by interactions, rather than by reprogramming. It could also explain why Kenzie is so excited about her mother exhibiting entirely new and likely unprogrammed behaviors, like inviting guests for dinner. It could also explain the way she encourages them to go on dates and spend time together, where they would both be learning from the mutual social interaction.

          Alternatively, it may be that for some reason Kenzie treats her parents as though they were her chat-bots, even though they are flesh and blood. That would be kind of weird, but not too weird on a Kenzie-scale.

        2. Another reason it seems plausible to me is that Houndstooth mentioned Kenzie having foster parents in Shade 4.4. If her parents were as successful as they seem to be here, how did she end up in the foster system?

          (I guess it’s possible Kenzie to have been in foster care while in the Wards and somehow get back to her parents after Gold Morning, but there’s definitely something odd going on here.)

          (On the other hand, evidence against mom being a projection: where did Kenzie get that sense of style from?)

          1. Idk, Kenzie could very well have been put in foster care after the whole Mayday affair. CPS may have wanted to investigate her parents due to her inappropriate behavior with adults. Not too far fetched.

            That said, Yea they’re total projections

      2. What’s there to complain about? I thought it was established in Worm that guns are of limited usefulness in a cape fight. It’s almost implied by showing up to a fight that a cape has one way or another of neutralizing guns as a threat. People sure kept trying though.

        I can see why the Fallen would hand out guns to everybody; they’re mostly normals, and mind controlled people probably work together as a unit pretty well. But Hollow? Did they spot a tactical weakness specific to the Fallen? And how can Vicky even be certain of what she’s seeing? I suppose we’ll see what Rain is doing before getting answers…

        1. Yeah, basically. It was less “people” and more “one very persistent person who responded to every comment even vaguely related to future action with ‘OMG where are teh gunz!'” Best I can tell, a guy who couldn’t shrug off the little nagging concern, but also couldn’t put in the thought to come up with an actual explanation, and so resorted to comment spamming. It’s almost amusing if you care to go back and find which post it was on.

          1. I was that one persistent person and I was having 2 issues.

            1) I had an issue with the way Rain did not think about guns even though he is surrounded by them and they are far more lethal than his powers. Even knowing that people are coming to KILL him, he wasn’t looking into it.

            2) Victoria and the Team Therapy seemed far too blase about putting young people in the direction of lethal force.

        2. The Fallen are mostly “normal” which means that guns are very effective against them, so I can see why the Hollows would have guns against them.

          As you said, the Fallen likely have guns because they are mostly “normal”. And guns in a cape fight aren’t necessarily useless – Victoria can tank a single shot every second or two. A short burst of machinegun fire would kill her though – the first bullet to hit her shield would knock it out, the remainder would hit her body.

          There are a lot of capes who have no immediate defence against guns. Tattletale, for all her powers, is otherwise normal. So is Rachel. So is Imp (although her abilities make it harder for people to remember she is a threat).

          Nailbiter, Lovelost, Ashley, Prancer, Tristan/Byron, Kenzie and a few others are easily fleshy enough to go down to a bullet. That’s not to say that hitting them is easy – but if they got shot none of them are hinted as having abilities that would make them more survivable than a regular human.

          Obviously someone like Weld would have a field day getting shot at. I’m fairly certain that something like armor piercing rounds or a missile would actually damage him though.

          Thankfully in this post-apocalyptic world such things should be hard to come by.

          I get the impression that escalation is going to be a key part of this story. There are some capes who want to stick to the old “cops and robbers” rules, and then there are those who are quite happy to ignore them and use lethal force, escalating the situation.

          1. Late in Worm Weld was literally torn apart by the other Irregulars, pretty sure you’re going to need literal thermite or metal eating acids to cause significant damage.

        3. There were several reasons guns were or limited use in Worm, starting with the fact that Taylor already had an effective long-range offensive power. She didn’t really need a gun. And she still carried one, and shot several people over the course of the story.

          As for Ward, well, this is the first really serious to-the-death fight we’ve seen, and apparently everyone but Victoria bought guns. Going as well as can be expected, I guess.

          1. I don’t think there’s anything too new or surprising in the Fallen using guns. The very first supervillain encounter in Worm featured Lung rallying his armed henchmen and ordering them to shoot to kill.

            We also know Empire Eighty Eight used guns, according to the thug Victoria interrogated, and Coil’s mercenaries obviously relied on guns and even heavier weapons like lasers, sniper rifles and mortars. Bakuda and the ABB held off all the factions attacking them mainly with guns and some bombs for a comparatively long time. So in Brockton Bay, at least, guns were actually the norm for the established gangs. Tattletale carried a gun from the start. Trickster used guns. Taylor got on to using a gun.

            I’m actually not sure how that’s supposed to jive with cops-and-robbers, but I guess the idea there is that cops-and-robbers mostly involves cape fights. As it relates to gangs and or the armed police/PRT, I suppose it might be something like rival armies sending out champions to do battle.

            Mostly, though, guns didn’t come up too much because they weren’t very relevant in the later parts of the story. Not much armed henchmen could have done against Leviathan or the Slaughterhouse Nine. The ABB’s armed henchmen were pretty much handled by Taylor alone, when she came up against them, and the same with Coil’s mercenaries.

            I think my favorite demonstration of this might have been the second Lung fight. Sure the ABB had guns and traps, but the attacking villains had Skitter, who could find and attack them anywhere, Sundancer who could melt anything from long range in a second, Newter who could run on walls and disable with a touch, and Fenja and Menja who could tank bullets. Guns aren’t useless, but against an array of capes unpowered henchmen aren’t going to last long even if the capes are holding back.

          2. I took that there were two sets of rules for villains. One, when engaging heroes, hold back and don’t kill. They’re not trying to kill you, and if you kill one, things get serious. So don’t use guns, tone down the powers a little, keep things less than lethal. Scaring the shit out of them so they run away is fine, beating them to a pulp and stringing them from a lamppost isn’t. Knocking them out and leaving them for the paramedics is also an option. This is the cops and robbers; the Undersiders, as a group of parahuman heist-types, usually conflicted with hero groups.

            Two, when engaging other villains, depending on your personality, power set, and morals, killing them is fine. Nobody gives a shit if a villain dies, except his immediate associates. There are exceptions, however. Skitter didn’t like to kill, and often went up against villains that she couldn’t kill- at least, not easily, and not with a gun she could put in a utility pouch. This is what happens when parahuman drug barons duke it out. Conflicts between the Azn Bad Boys and Empire Eighty-Eight, Coil’s Crew, or the Archer’s Bridge Merchants about territory would be this type. Marquis claimed to have killed Iron Rain, Kaiser’s sister, and that murder is one of the reasons he was sent to the Birdcage.

      3. Stop that talk lol. They’ve physically interacted with the world, including a POV character. There’s absolutely no overlap with Kenzies tinker focus either.

        Pretty sure Kenzie wasn’t actually with them a few times though, like when she didn’t let Chris touch her bag.

  4. Yay for finally getting Vista on screen! Yay for Vista’s adult costume! Triple yay for Victoria’s impromptu PR event.

    Kenzie kinda confirms Brockton as the Worst/Best place to get powers, I guess?

    An excellent chapter WB, and a most mean cliffy.

    1. I’m sure this has been discussed to death before but Brockton Bay does seem to have produced a disproportionate number of very effective/important capes. Taylor, Dinah, and Amy all played a big role in Gold Morning and are Brockton Bay natives.

        1. Kind of? The base strength of them was a bit weird though, and isn’t affected by conflict. Space-warping, all possible futures seeing, forget-me-waves, those are powerful things. But not all the capes from BB got their powers there, quite a few like bitch and tt were brought there by events, ie the war zone. So you aren’t wrong, quite a few Brockton bay capes are considered from there due to that, but the base power-level of the ones that triggered there is up there and likely has to do with some plot of sion/eden that got foiled by stuff and things. Strong shards intentionally seeded in the hoped they would splinter off into fun new things after experiencing conflict maybe?

          Backing up my first comment/sentence, taylor didn’t get a stronger power due to conflict, except some minor increases in range. She got better at using it in weird unexpected ways though, due to conflict, and it splintered off to another host as a result.

      1. I think a large part of it was Taylor, for two reasons. First, towards the end of the story she went out of her way to focus on capes she knew well or at least had a good measure of, both recruiting them to her strike teams and keeping a closer eye on them in general and with the Clairvoyant. So the amount we saw of Brockton Bay capes was more disproportionate than it first appears. And second, she was (and the Undersiders as a whole were) very good at keeping others alive. Taylor in particular went way out of her way and put herself at incredible to save others. I think this had a real influence on their survival rates, the Wards withstanding.

        As for Brockton Bay itself, that was also definitely a factor. The relatively unusual balance of power between heroes and gangs attracted a whole lot of people, including Lung, Coil, and I think E88. All of them attracted and recruited powerful capes in different and similar ways, and of course the heroes had to match that, bringing in more powerful capes too. We know BB had a disproportionate number of capes (something like top 6 cape cities at the start of the story?), I think it’s fair to say that for a lot of the same reasons they had a disproportionately powerful percentage of those capes.

  5. Makes sense that Kenzie’s cameras wouldn’t like Vista, since she laid down some technobabble earlier about them recording over space, not time.

    I really hope this doesn’t go south as fast as I already know it’s going to.

  6. A group of in-fighting criminal parahumans with lethal weapons fighting a Fallen sect known for mental fuckery?

    I feel like this will just spiral into a “mutual destruction” scenario. Which, funnily enough, would probably be the best option for Victoria… if she didn’t care about civilian lives that is.

    1. Worse than that: Undersiders are also known for mental fuckery. It’s mental fuckery and guns all over the place – and team therapy is critically vulnerable to both.

  7. Two typos I found:

    “…of me finished collecting her order.Two boxes of donuts…”
    Missing a space between the two sentences.

    “I deposited it with Kenzie’ stuff.”
    Missing an “s” after the apostrophe.

  8. So much good flavor for the calm before the storm. It’s good to see the solid escalation before the war, because it looks like things are about to get intense. Mundane weapons aside, the spread of powers in play means this battle will play out on many levels.

  9. Did anybody else notice how the narration changed Jasper to Jester after his tattoo reveal? It was subtle, and made me smile.

    Also, like the ‘Little V’ and ‘Big V’ thing. They really do need to hang out. I wonder if Vista still talks to Imp. They used to get on quite well, as I recall.

    And Brockton Bay did have a lot of powers that interfere with cameras. Vista, Imp, Grue, Purity, and Fog all can stop cameras working.

      1. If Bakuda wanted to ‘interfere’ with a camera, she’d blow it up. She might be able to come up with a bomb that blows up in parallel worlds, thus forcing Kenzie’s eye cam to manifest itself, or a bomb that specifically disables cameras, but… Why bother, when she can just trap it in a time stop, or warp it a bizarre shape, or burn it, or freeze it, or freeze it in ice that’s on fire?

        Lung, Kaiser, Golem, Circus, Faultline, Spitfire, Purity, everyone but Amy from New Wave, Aegis, Browbeat, Rachael, Fenja, Menja, Hookwolf, Cricket, Rune-or-Othala (the telekinetic, whichever that is), Stormtiger, and Miss Militia can all ‘interfere’ with cameras that way.

        That said, Uber the Fail Tinker and Clockblocker should go on my original list.

  10. I wonder how the Undersiders’ plan to kick Teacher in the balls without looking like assholes is progressing, or going to progress, especially now that Group Therapy is stepping up their game!
    I’m pleased as punch to see Bitch in action again!

    1. Well, I don’t think Teacher has been mentioned in the narrative for the entirety of Ward. He may have been dealt with. No, I don’t believe it, but allow me my fantasy of them dropping Teacher off in some world without any people to use his powers on and left to his own devices for survival (i.e. to starve).

      Actually, I don’t wish that on anyone. It is, however, very difficult to come up with humane methods of incarceration for capes without the level of wealth and infrastructure that existed in the pre-GM world. I’m against capital punishment but what else do you do with the worst parahumans?

      1. What if March is working with Teacher/under Teacher’s influence? In his epilogue chapter Teacher talks about joining powers and “putting the whole back together.” March is recruiting cluster capes-offering assistance to Rain is probably about more than just targeting Foil. She may be interested in Rain’s (seemingly) unique power sharing arrangement with his cluster. Its possible that the Undersiders have already fought (but haven’t defeated) Teacher. This would explain March wanting to also “deal” with Tattletale, even though they have never been shown interacting.

        1. I probably just forgot, but how exactly did Teacher survive being dropped down an elevator shaft in the epilogue? Or did I just remember that from another story entirely…?

          1. I probably forgot Teacher bring *actually* dropped down an elevator shafts Or did I read a story that involved characters workshopping plans that were entirely hypothetical…?

          2. Yeah I thought it was at the end of Teacher’s epilogue when Imp dropped him down an elevator shaft a la Rorschach. Will probably look it up later but at work atm so I can’t spend too much time searching for it until later.

          3. Well turns out he wasn’t dropped down an elevator shaft. Tattletale and Imp were just discussing plans for dealing with him. I suppose I just imagined the scene well enough to think it was an actual thing that happened – unfortunately that’s actually pretty common for me to do. My bad there.

      2. If you just walk up to someone and cap them in the face it’s technically not capital punishment.

        Or throw them down an elevator shaft. Whatever.

      3. How long is infrastructure going to be a problem for a determined Dragon? Starting with one Starcraft-esque miner unit (a.k.a. Colin), it would be trivial for her to map the most efficient development curve for her goals. I bet she could have a continent of some uninhabitable Earth totally mined out by now if she needed. And not just one of the little ones

        1. You know what would be REALLY horrible? What if Dragon was behind the robot army?

          She could have turned evil over the timeskip. Maybe Saint was right all along.

          1. No. There’s several reason’s that’s stupid.
            1-First off it’s a cliche that all AI go evil and try to kill everyone. Having an AI that’s actually benevolent without having to be chained is a nice change.
            2-It’s against every single bit of Dragon’s character and her development from the previous story. Suddenly making characters evil in the sequel is always a bad idea. And again, with everything presented for Dragon in the last story doing so for a cliche like evil AI would be dumb.
            3- And perhaps most tellingly, if those were Dragon’s creations they’d be much, much, much more dangerous. Also someone dug up the Reddit post by Wildbow and put it on Spacebattles about possible re-asignments for Protectorate members, and one was the city the Robots were quarentined in. It greatly predates Dragon being unshackled.

  11. “In a time when resources are scarce and we need to do all the building we can, someone built a giant cow?” Jasper asked.”
    How else do you appease the dairy god? Besides you’ve got an entire earth of untouched forests, your good on lumber.

    I got to snicker at everyone arriving at the super fight in old trucks, and Kenzie being dropped off by her mom. Come one where’s the style? Kenzie you need to arrive in some sort of giant flying eyeball! At the very least the Hollow Point crew should be in a bullet themed zeppelin! And somebody needs to fall out of the sky and do that three point landing pose! Presentation counts!

    1. I assume the concern was less over lumber scarcity and more over labor scarcity. Most construction companies were liquidated during Golden Morning (by which I mean their employees were melted).

    2. Vicky is kicking herself for not thinking of the dairy god line.

      Pizza and wyrm had good ones too, awesome 🙂

  12. >“Oh yeah,” she said. “Point me at the bad guys. I’ll turn their world upside-down.”

    From context it’s not clear if “she” is Sveta or Vista.

        1. I don’t recall Vista’s power ever doing anything like upside down. I think it more clearly references Sveta, who can actually turn somebody upside down and leave them hanging. And she could also need pointing, I can see her just leaving navigation to others.

          1. Whoa, what. I didn’t even notice Sveta was there. Now that I read it again it does make more sense in terms of conversational flow if it’s Sveta, since she just came in with Weld and Weld just spoke.

  13. Not sure why everyone was so alarmed by the conversation between Vicky and Kenzie’s mom… was it because of the whole “We need to be careful how much social contact Kenzie gets” thing? Because one dinner doesn’t seem like enough for everyone, including Chris, to be horrified. (Though Chris might have still been under the effects of Mad Anxiety? I don’t know, he didn’t seem particularly freaked about anything else that was happening…)

      1. Yeah. I mean just imagine how embarressing that’d be for Kenzie. It’d probably be something kinky too, like her father is watching from the closet or a chair, and almost always dressed as Legend.

    1. I understood that as being scared of Kenzie going into hyper loquacious mode complete with twinkly eyes and everything right before the critical stealth mission because Victoria accepted her mom’s invitation.

    2. I don’t think Team Therapy is as hung up about limiting Kenzie’s social interactions like her previous team. I think they were acting horrified because they know more about K’s family dynamic than Vic does, so they’re like: “OMG, don’t accept! There’s gonna be Drama!”

      Five bucks says Irene is a psycho.

  14. Aw, Vista calls Bitch “Rachel.” I guess they’re sort-of friends. Maybe she can help talk Rachel down if Tattletale ropes the other Undersiders into her “torture a guy to death in exchange for unpaid labor” thing.

  15. Well. They said war, they meant it.

    In truth, it’s actually the old way of doing things, 99% non-lethal cops and robbers, which struck me as unrealistic all along. Taylor used to spend a huge amount of effort on *not* killing people with her absurdly lethal power, and half the other capes out there had to do the same. In other words, it always struck me as odd that there weren’t more unintentional fatalities on all sides just due to how dangerous powers really are. If it fell to me to write a setting full of people with lethally dangerous powers but where most folks do not automatically get superhuman toughness to go with it? It would make more sense to me to write it as ‘an armed society is a polite society’, where people try really goddamned hard to avoid any violent conflict, and when it does become violent, it’s fast, unpleasant, and ‘power levels’ do not matter as much as who draws first.

    Cauldron were bastards, but the way the Numbers Man operated generally made sense to me.

    So, yeah. This both worries the hell out of me, but also makes more sense to me.

    1. Taylor’s power isn’t “absurdly” lethal. There’s lots of intermediate stages of bug-bitten pain, and she can keep them from injecting venom if she’s paying attention.
      I mean, could.

  16. Still worth mntioning that Bron considers the team only secondary in threat to innocent lives as compared to a cross-regional villain gang war.

    And again description of Rachel proves her to be Khorne’s favorite dog-ter. Raw, pebbled flesh hounds? Check.

    Bitch for the Bitch Dog! Bones for the Bone Throne!

  17. Kenzie info-dumping until Chris put the donut in her mouth was adorable and wonderful as heck <3

    and Vista! The "little v" "big v" interaction was wonderful

    aaaaaaah I really don't want the characters I like to die, especially not this early on…!

  18. I’m kind of thinking that Hollow Point are going to get trucked? They’re “villains”, but the Fallen are the real thing. Also the Fallen have plenty of unpowered well-armed cannon fodder. They’ve got a lot of capes, but unless some of the Reindeer have previously unrevealed powers, they’re going to be surprised. Prancer kind of has no personality, so he won’t be any big loss, from a narrative perspective.

    Also TT has totally been playing Prancer, not telling him that all the branches have been called in. I wonder why? I almost suspect that she’s planning to use the Fallen as some sort of pawn in her larger war with TPTB over all the resources in the multiverse. If so, she is totally going to also leverage Victoria into a play for Amy. Undersiders think big.

    1. Hollow Point has villains. What they lack are teamwork and supervillains…both of which the Undersiders have in spades.

      It could also be that Prancer is in the way. Maybe Tattletale wants Cedar Point. Maybe she fears HP will become a force to be reckoned with in the future. Maybe she worries the infighting will spiral out into something worse than a (controlled) clash between Hollow Point and the Fallen.
      (Or maybe she had a contract to help Prancer and wants to drop out without harming her trustworthy-if-paid reputation.)

        1. Wait. Tattletale isn’t outing Ashley to the Hollow Point villains. DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS!? Tattletale ISN’T being a tattletale!!!

          She’s gonna have to change her name…

          1. She’s never been a tattletale. Maybe the name is meant to be ironic.
            Seriously, Skitter alone conducted two separate treacheries as a member of the Undersiders and Tt never told anyone. She didn’t out any Cauldron capes, that we saw. She didn’t even tell anyone that Dragon was an AI.
            She did out Cherish, I guess. And got an immediate stab to the face for it.

          2. Wait I seem to recall that TT outed Cauldron in its entirety? As in, no one who wasn’t a member, customer, or victim of Cauldron had any idea it even existed, much less what it did or who was in it… Even the customers and victims were mostly in the dark until TT opened her big fat mouth.

        2. It could be something important.

          Or something simple like:
          Ashley isn’t going to sabotage the raid + Ashley isn’t going to sabotage the hunt for Rain = Not my fucking problem.

    2. It’s totally possible Tattletale has screwed up here and not put the pieces together and a lot of people are gonna die as a result. She pretty clearly isn’t doing well physically or emotionally, her best friend committed suicide in the most dramatic way possible, and her teammates are all off doing their own things for the most part.

      1. TT totally knows what happened to Taylor. Wasn’t that clear from the epilogue? Contessa knows, and there’s no way she has managed to avoid TT’s presence for over a year. All it would take would be for any of several topics (that TT loves to discuss) to come up: Gold Morning, Cauldron, PRT, shards, Earth Aleph, Valkyrie, etc. Boom, TT knows it all.

        Of course, she might still miss Taylor.

          1. @MyNicker

            Huh, that’s really cool! I had not seen that before and it honestly makes more sense this way. The bullet brain surgery had always struck me as a weird last minute deus ex machina. I had genuinely felt that Worm would have ended better with Taylor’s death. Coma is good.

          2. Wow that is far-fetched. WB might have to search for some time, to find an editor for publication who will let him do that.

            Why wouldn’t a version of Alec be alive and well on Aleph? (Of course him somehow being in the immediate vicinity would be silly but it is the epilogue.) How is “brain surgery with a bullet” impossible, but “brain surgery with a bullet that is precise enough to affect the content of a coma dream just fine? Besides all Contessa had to do was destroy the corona whatsis. Some actual brain surgeon or cape healer could have saved Taylor from dying afterward. That would have had to happen anyway? It’s not as though time stops whenever a brain is damaged enough to cause a coma. Contessa didn’t say, “I hope you find peace in the 1.3 seconds of life you will have remaining before your brain bleeds out.”

            This would turn everything we know about Contessa on its head. She isn’t a moron; she knows very well that the reason Khepri saved the world in the only way she could save the world is that Contessa chose for Khepri to do that. Contessa is able to perform complicated actions in service of a goal; that’s kind of her thing. She has certainly done more impressive things than hit a small target from close range. Since Khepri is the problem to solve, Taylor wakes up with Khepri gone, and Chekhov’s gun has been rusting above the fireplace ever since Bonesaw hung it there, why wouldn’t the simplest explanation be that Contessa shot her corona whatsit?

          3. OK, on re-reading, Alec shouldn’t exist on Aleph, since he’s too young. I don’t have an explanation for that, but maybe a brief moment of imagined recognition doesn’t require explanation? This is too minor a detail on which to hang a radical reinterpretation of everything we are told in the epilogue. So far as I can see it is the only detail that points in that direction, since corona-whatsitectomy is no more farfetched a bullet surgery result than coma-dream-programming.

        1. “and there’s no way she has managed to avoid TT’s presence for over a year”

          >Path to avoid interacting with or being near Lisa Wilbourn in anyway, shape, or form.

          or

          >Path to not letting Lisa Wilbourn figure out what happened to Taylor Hebert.

          ^ There, a way for Contessa to avoid Tattletale for over a year or keep Taylor’s fate a secret.

          1. Right, but it might be worth re-reading the final epilogue of Worm. It’s ambiguous, but:

            Lisa specifies that she specifically invited Dinah to the memorial ceremony and war council of the Undersiders alliance, and put a certain amount of effort into convincing her that Taylor is dead. She then tells Imp that she’ll keep looking after things in the Taylor department. Exact words.

            Strongly suggests that nope, Lisa knows Taylor survived and is concealing that fact from other Thinkers and actors.

            If you wish to see the reference, go to the last epilogue, and search for the trigger word ‘Cassandra’.
            https://parahumans.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/interlude-end/

          2. @Lee

            I think that might be a little beyond Lisa’s abilities.

            Literally thousands of rouges, Heroes, and villains know what happened. The truth will eventually come out.

          3. Are you referring to everone eventually finding out that Taylor is alive, or everyone eventually finding out that Taylor was Khepri?

            If the latter, then yep, that’s getting out sooner or later. If the former, that might happen too. Hope it doesn’t, but such is life.

            What I was commenting on was that the Worm epilogue suggests that Lisa and Aisha know that Taylor’s alive.

    3. Well I don’t know about personality, but I found Prancer’s backstory and interactions with Velvet to be quite interesting and sympathetic. (Also the perfect set up for tragedy. You’re right, at least one of them is doomed…)

      @Warren Peace — good point about Ashley.

      1. I kinda like Prancer’s thing where he was a sleazy scumbag, and then *realised* that he was a sleazy scumbag and decided to really turn his life around and become a legitimate pillar of the supervillain community.

        I mean, it’s not gonna end well, at all.

        Moose is lovely, though. He’s a real gent. I hope he hasn’t done anything too dreadful that we’ll find out about.

  19. “I’m figuring that out,” I said. “But I’m thinking I’ll name myself after a star.”
    Hm…you seem like the kind of person who’d like Harrison Ford’s stuff. Maybe him?
    Oh, you meant one of the nighttime stars? Hm…Bellatrix means “female warrior,” but that’s kinda on the nose. Aladfar, Alathfar, and Altair are all eagle-related star names. Betelgeuse apparently means something like “the hand of Orion” if you trace the etymology back far enough. Libertas is a good name, too. Meissa means “the shining one,” while Mira means “wonderful”. Tonatiuh is a star and the Aztec god of the sun, so that name’s probably already taken. So are the boring ones like Sirius and Polaris.
    Also, apparently there’s a star called Lich. It’s a pulsar with planets.

    “Do you want a donut, mom?”
    “No,” her mother said.
    “You mean ‘no thank you’,” Kenzie said.
    Her mother gave her a look.
    “Manners, please,” Kenzie said. “We’re with my friends. Don’t embarrass me.”

    “I won’t be home for dinner, probably,” Kenzie said.
    “Will you need another ride?”
    “Probably not. I’ll make my own way back. I’ll be late. You and dad can have a date night or something.”
    Irene Martin didn’t respond to that.
    “It’s just a suggestion,” Kenzie said.

    I want to see Kenzie interacting with her parents more. They seem like they have an…interesting dynamic.

    There was something that mandated a change in our approach…It wasn’t what I’d expected. Gunfire. From both sides.
    I’m not surprised. Firearms are dang useful whenever you want to drive off someone you’re fine killing or maiming. Prancer, Tattletale, and Mama Mathers probably all have suppliers. (Maybe not Mathers, if their farm shotguns are numerous enough.)

    1. How ’bout Corona ? A bit too ‘on the nose’ with Shards, maybe, but it nicely mixes the astral theme with Victoria’s various invisible-in-normal-situations AOEs.

        1. Area of Effect. He’s referring to her aura and to the wretch, both of which are powers that effect an area around her. It’s a term that’s derived from gaming, where it’s used to describe abilities that effect an area rather than a single target.

          1. Huh. I appreciate the detailed explanation, I saw Area of Effect on the list of acronyms and dismissed it as not relevant.

    2. I bet it’s Libertas! Wikipedia says: “Libertas (Latin for Liberty) is the Roman goddess and embodiment of liberty”.

      Sounds like a better, more outwardly-focused and conscientious version of Glory Girl, whose style was vaguely reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty if I remember correctly.

    3. Dang you know (or at last bothered to look up) way more about stars than me. I was running a quick list through my head at work. I’m pretty sure it’s not Betelgeuse or Altair because they’re kind of taken, at least in our reality. I hope it’s not Sirius because that’s too easy to make fun of and doesn’t fit her focus on image. I didn’t even think of Polaris but it seems too simple. Then the only other ones I knew were Arcturus, Denub, and Vega. Oh, and Alpha Centauri, but that goes in the pile with Sirius for names I am strongly opposed to.

      I thought Veritas would be a cool name, so I like Libertas too.
      I’m just glad she’s narrowing it down. She wants to make an impact, but she keeps introducing herself as “Still-working-on-a-name” and nobody is gonna remember that. At least she has a cool costume.
      When she said that some people might think it’s dumb to stop and pose for a photo, I thought of what Taylor’s reaction might be. Would she see it as showing off? Wasting time when there’s a battle looming? Important for the image of capes? It probably depends on where she’s at herself for this hypothetical.

  20. Reading how Victoria’s costume accommodates for ‘the wretch was an oddly emotional moment for me. Kinda something like heartwarming but that’s not the right word for it.

    The meeting with Vista (little V!) and the discussion of other Brockton Bay people was very nostalgic. Wow. A very good chapter.

    I was not expecting we’d get to the fight proper in this chapter, so it ended where I expected and I don’t really feel the cliffhanger that some have mentioned.

    Kenzie continues to be rather worrying.

  21. I am becoming increasingly suspicious of Kenzie’s family dynamics. First off, Shee seems very in charge of her parents when we’ve seen them. Secondly, they seem to basically never impeede her. Additionally, Kenzie really seems to have a extreme need for involvement with those people she’s with, which does not seem to mesh with a two parent (seemingly somewhat functional) family. Either there is something deeply wrong under the surface, or they are ultra high-end chatbots, running over one of her cameras, just like she does at team activities with herself. Include a inner robot to allow interactions, and it’s done.

    Theory– Kenzie’s trigger came out of some form of neglect/ isolation. . Shards generally require intense need . Her powers all focus on being with people or people equivalents. This makes me think her parents died/ deserted her at some point and she built new, idealized one’s. She triggered early, and early triggers tend to be strong powerwise and tend to be more driven by their central obsessions. Unless I am off in my math she triggered at about the same age as bonesaw did, and she’s not a second gen cape. So she is likely as deeply off as her, just not quite so omnicidal, and more need and friendly. Could easily be wrong, but the shoe fits very well.

    1. She mentioned triggering because of the most embarrassing situation rather than neglect. Might have lied, but being able to build big boxes (to hide inside of ?) that manage cameras (to be aware of everyone around) feels like a perfect fit.

  22. Really want to see Rain go against Beast of Burden, just like the idea of the weight of his armor making Rains blades OP as fook and useless pretty much everywhere else.

    Wonder what Aisha is doing.

      1. Pretty sure being that close would put her in range of Kenzie’s big-box-of-record-everything.

        And we know that Imp being in frame causes all sorts of alerts to pop up on Kenzie’s screens.

    1. If she could control where her force field appeared, instead of it just popping up around her, it would basically be a Stand, too.

  23. > They’d decimated most of a box of twelve donuts between them.

    So, they’d eaten very nearly 1.2 donuts between them?

    I know it’s a lost cause and that current usage of “decimated” has already jumped the shark, but can people casually consider using the word “annihilated” in place of “decimated” sometimes?

    “Annihilated” literally means “made nothing / wiped out”, which is what people usually mean these days when they say “decimated”.

    And “decimated” originally / literally means “reduced by a tenth”, with a fascinating and macabre history behind it:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimation_(Roman_army)

    Yep, I know, it’s perfectly acceptable to use “decimated” when you mean “very nearly wiped out” these days. It’s like “comprised of” all over again. We lost the language battle. I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.

    1. I appreciate your defense of the English language. The misuse that annoys me the most, recently, is “strong” used instead of “vehement” or the like.

    2. A lot of people including Ashely can annihilate a box of donuts. That’s not what they did. In any case, annihilate is “utterly destroy” and modern meaning of decimate is “remove a large part but still leave quite a lot”.
      Non-native speaker here.

    3. @Mlibby:

      Correct English is worth fighting for, so keep fighting that good fight. Grammarians and Lexophiles unite! There are so few of us and so many of *them* (those who don’t care that the phrase “I could care less” actually means you COULD care less than you do; i.e. you care somewhat).

      Fight for clarity.

      Fight for comprehension.

      Fight for the English language!

      -Barrendur

    4. Respectfully, language is in the service of humanity, and it is not humanity that is in the service of language. The tool must change for us, and not us for our tool. You understood what was meant; that is sufficient! We must not hold our language silly![FOOTNOTE 1]

      [FOOTNOTE 1] “Silly” used to mean “holy”. “Sillie Marie, pray thee for us”. The word evolved from “silly” to “innocent” over time. Then from “innocent” to “ignorant”. And finally from “ignorant” to “borderline insane”. And thus are the meaning of words decimated.

      1. And thus, this comment section becomes yet another battleground between prescriptivists and descriptivists…

    5. You’d almost think that the person saying it stopped attending school at sixteen and then was living in a post apocalypse with reference books so limited that they’re trawling through random magazines and detritus for material.

      The character isn’t the author.

    6. So I think it’s pretty clear that the answer to my original question ‘can people casually consider using the word “annihilated” in place of “decimated” sometimes?’ is clearly “no”.

  24. Contessa-“Path to tricking Tattletale.”

    Of course even if she does know Taylor’s alive there’s still ways to twist that knife.
    “So how’s your best friend?”
    “Alive, well and happy on another Earth.”
    “Oh so it turns out the key to saving her was to get her as far away from you as possible?”

    1. I took Contessa at her word when she said she was going to chill out and take a break from the Path. What is her interest in keeping TT in the dark, or in making TT miserable? Since TT is a typical supervillain and wants mostly to rule the world, they might be on opposing “sides”. Also since Contessa is human she probably will use the Path for small or vital problems like staying alive. My read of her now is that she doesn’t want to run the gauntlet of 1,000-step paths like “make sure Earth Bet wins” or “make sure TT loses” anymore.

      Unlike most characters who met TT, I never got the feeling that Contessa ever really disliked her. Certainly not as much as she disliked Dr. Mother. It would make sense for Contessa to feel some solidarity with Undersiders, since like her they were swept up in the current of the Path. If anything she might feel guilty because it was her decision that swept them up, even though she might have thought she was sweeping up Coil and also that decision saved humanity. (This seems similar to other subthreads arguing about how guilty TT should feel for saving Victoria’s life?) Contessa seemed to show real compassion for Taylor, at the end?

  25. Thinking back, I feel like non-lethal weapons should’ve been more relevant in Worm than they were. Trickster would have been even more difficult to fight if he could just switch bombs with wherever he pleased, or if he could switch active pepper spray canisters next to whoever he was fighting. Or couldn’t Stormclaw direct blasts of concentrated pepper spray towards people?

  26. It’s been a long slow build to get here, but I think we’re finally going to get our first real look at how Victoria is an unreliable narrator. The way she views the world and how capes function within it is going to get thrown into the meatgrinder of the post-apocalypse and the results will probably not be pretty.

    And in that sense, I think the cafe scene was really meaningful. Victoria still sees the world as a place in which heroes pose for fans in coffee shops. She still sees the world as a place in which fan interactions and good PR are not just part and parcel of the hero business, but almost the Point of hero business. It’s important to her sense of self and her ideology that she can be that kind of hero for people. And in the past (in Worm) she somewhat failed to live up to that ideal, being so rough and tumble and being somewhat uncontrolled. But now she’s clarified that ideal, found her place in it, and is trying to live up to it. Only to be exposed to the reality that the world she crafted that ideal for no longer exists.

    1. And when I talk about Victoria being an unreliable narrator, I’m kind of talking about the stuff I’ve seen in the comment section recently. People asking how in the world cape combat can function as it does, why guns aren’t employed more, how the hell everyone can be so casual about the idea of dying in cape combat, that kind of stuff. I think, in a way, that kind of stuff is a product of Victoria’s unreliable narration. Deep down, she does not believe that cape combat will escalate in that manner. She’s still operating with righteous cops and skulking robbers and while she’s aware that the situation may change in a macro way (because of war or the like) she doesn’t really think about the underlying reality of this new world being too different.

      And that’s sunk into the storytelling. Readers have been asking in the comments “why not X, why not Y, why not Z” and the reason the story hasn’t answered that isn’t because the answer to those questions is necessarily “no”, but because to Victoria those questions don’t even exist. And that’s a veil that’s about to get very, very roughly ripped off her worldview.

      Y’know, in a way this is kind of like Taylor’s first Lung fight in Worm. That was the first time we saw cape combat, got introduced to the reality of it, and it defined the world forever after. This time though, we’ve seen a bunch of cape combat so far. But the ‘first fight’ moment, I think, is still yet to come. It will be this fight. The first fight in which the rules have changed. And while it’s taken much longer to get to this point than it took to see the first fight in Worm, I feel like its impact on the story’s direction will be similar.

  27. >“Wood. Someone had to be the first to build a giant cow, I guess,” I said.
    >
    >“In a time when resources are scarce and we need to do all the building we can, someone built a giant cow?” Jasper asked.

    Having a giant wooden cow is important. Period.
    Because when world’s gone mad there only one thing that a powerless man can do. Cut trees, build a two-story wooden cow.

    It might not be prettiest job in the world, but it OUGHT to be done.

    https://mikeeasley.co.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/20170730_133625.jpg

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