Pitch – 6.6

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Narwhal faced down the Fallen, standing in the middle of the road.  A crowd of patrol block soldiers stood behind her, with the buses lined up.

The soldiers with guns were only slightly less intimidating than the array of forcefields she’d conjured up, arranged above and to either side of her with the blades pointing forward, each one slightly tilted in angle compared to the one next to it, so they all pointed at the one point ahead of us.

I floated above her.

“It’s over,” Narwhal called out.  “The Crowleys are running, the Mathers leadership is gone.  Half of your town was leveled and legitimate authorities are going to be staying there to make sure everything’s healthy as people move back in.”

And we’ll provide some resources to anyone that wants out for good, I thought.  I hope that pans out.

Healthy,” the Fallen woman in the lead said.  “Healthy food is stuff you have to choke down.  Healthy body means doing grueling work.  That’s you saying it’s going to fucking suck.”

Yeah, she didn’t look like someone who ate her vegetables.

“I’ve done this kind of thing before.  I fought warlords,” Narwhal said.  “I helped the villages after.  I delivered supplies to isolated settlements.  A lot of people want this to have a happy ending, and experience tells me that ending is possible.”

A guy called out, “The only happy ending I want is the kind you use your hand for, bitch!”

There was some raucous, tense laughter from the group.

I felt such disgust, looking at them.  It wasn’t the joke- I could imagine Chris or Rain saying something like that and it being something that pushed the envelope.  They wouldn’t have said ‘bitch’, though.

I couldn’t understand them.

My phone buzzed.  I flew to the ground, off to the side of Narwhal, and brought my phone to my ear.

“Tattletale here.  Can we talk?”

“Standoff with the remaining Mathers Fallen and Narwhal,” I said.  I assessed the situation.  “I think Narwhal has it handled.”

“I’d think so.  I’ve found the Crowleys, they covered their retreat, and now they’re on the move.  They borrowed a fleet of cars from a town north of here, and they’re heading east.”

“East?  Boston?  New Brockton?”

“I’m betting the Boston district of the Megalopolis,” she said.  “They’re taking a route using roads that are barely roads, they’re so rustic.  If you take the major highway, you could get ahead of them with time to spare.  Give me what I need and we’ll help.”

“We being?”

“Undersiders.  I can twist Prancer’s arm, promise to help him bounce back if he’ll lend me people.  I could also give you the information for March.  She’d help, but it would have to come from you, not me.”

“Do I want her help?”

“She’d do the job and she’d do it well, if she thought it would help Rain.”

“But?” I asked.  I was still keeping an eye on the situation with Narwhal and the Fallen.

“You know the Graeae twins?  They’re part of her group.”

“A bit.  They helped Rain out.”

“They were two of three, originally.  They had another brother, and they’re triplets and cluster-mates at the same time.  Big bro went off the deep end.  Kiss and kill are messy enough when you’ve got family bonds, but the brother went full kiss, full kill, at the same time, like where the venn diagram overlaps.”

I felt my skin crawl, and darker thoughts bubbled up, as I drew some parallels.  I kept my voice level as I said, “I’ve read about that.”

“Whichever order that goes in, it’s… it’s not good, Victoria.”

“Thanks,” I said, my voice curt.  “Let’s speed along to the explanation.”

“With my power, I can usually figure people out.  With March, I can’t.  When that happens, it’s because there is no answer, or I’m asking the wrong question.”

That was more information than I’d ever had about Tattletale’s power and its limitations.

“You should know I’m baring my throat and showing you some weaknesses as a gesture of good faith,” Tattletale said.

Or as a manipulation tactic.

I watched the Fallen advance a little, but kept up my end of the call.  In a pinch, I would fly in and stall.  I drew out the thrust of Tattletale’s explanation, something that I seemed to have to do with regularity.  “You think you can’t figure out if March is one or the other because she’s both?”

“Or neither, but saying it’s neither would mean it’s so far afield it’s not sensible.  Which would fit her.  Either way, if she really likes someone, that isn’t a good thing.”

“You’re saying not to rely on her, then?”

“Know what you’re getting into.  She’d be useful to have if you pick this fight.  It’s a lot of Fallen and they’ll be going to somewhere there are friends.”

“Understood,” I said.  I was distracted as I replied; the Fallen were more agitated now.

“We know they’re projections!” the Fallen woman jeered.

Narwhal looked at one of her team members.  I imagined it was the kind of disappointed look that went with a sigh.

She looked at me, and I nodded.

My phone beeped, loud.  I twisted my head around, burying my eyes in the crook of my elbow, bringing out the Wretch.

The flash was so bright I could briefly see my bones through my arm, with everything else being a mottled pink.

The Fallen were left partially or wholly blind.  Some screamed, others opened fire.  Narwhal already had her barrier up.  The forcefields glowed as they absorbed the fire.

Our trap worked.

“Sounds like you’re busy.  We’ll meet, and you can bring some of your people this time, if you want.  You can glare at me, I’ll fill you in on the why and the what.”

“That’s only if we agree.”

“Let’s keep this simple, Victoria.  I’m trying to play ball.”

“You were ops for an assassin that came after my teammate.”

“I’m trying to play ball with this.  If you put him in jail, I might have to break him out, or he’s going to break out on his own.  He’s a tinker, among other things.  The places they’ve got aren’t that good, trust me.”

“If you or your people help him, we’re actually going to have a problem,” I said.  “But whether we release him in exchange for your help isn’t up to me.”

“I’ll send you some stuff.  Use it to convince others.”

Captain Marcial scrolled through my phone logs.  Another captain, Gaymon, was standing next to her, arms folded, watching the screen.

“Using this phone is a hassle,” Gaymon said.

“I’d have given you better if I had better,” I said.  “She texted all that to me, and I don’t know how to put texts on a laptop, or where I would even get a laptop out here.”

“Whatever,” Gaymon said.

I frowned a bit, but I didn’t want to make an issue of things.  I knew some of the patrol blocks were more anti-cape than Gilpatrick’s, and Gaymon had given me that vibe and cemented it in place with his attitude.

Gilpatrick, Sveta and Chris were next to me.  Ashley was a short distance away in the company of ‘Jester’, the both of them sitting on a rock by the ditch.  Rain was lying across the long seat at the rear end of a bus, resting and avoiding any and all disturbances after the attention from Scapegoat.

Shortcut from Advance Guard was lurking around the periphery.  Thankfully, he was staying quiet and sticking to the background.

“This Tattletale, you trust her?” Marcial asked.  She was a slim woman, with a nose that had been broken at least twice, and a thin old scar that parted her eyebrow.  Like Gilpatrick, she was ex-PRT.  She wore a raincoat that was open in the front, because it couldn’t close around her body armor.  The hood kept the drizzle off of her face.

“No,” I said.  “I don’t really trust her.”

“Not so compelling, then,” she said, looking back down at the phone.

“It’s… not a point in her favor,” I said.  “But I’d rather operate under the assumption that she’s telling the truth about where the Fallen are and what they’re doing.  I’m going to go after them and, if she turns out to be right, put myself at risk.  If she’s wrong, I’m flying for a few hours when all I want to do is get my gunshot wound looked at.  Take that for what it’s worth.”

“So you do trust her.”

“I trust that the Fallen are dangerous.  That trust means I’m willing to accept the hassle and the risk.”

“That Tattletale is yanking our dicks?” Captain Marcial asked, her voice about as uncaring and dry as was possible.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Children present,” Sveta said, quiet.  Her arms were folded, and one finger moved, pointing at Chris.

“I don’t care,” Chris said.

“I don’t care either,” Marcial said.  “If they can fight, they can hear some bad language.  This feels like a wild goose chase or a trap.  We’ve already been stung a few times.”

“We know they went somewhere.  Our tinker thinks there’s reason to believe Tattletale is right.  They used guns today, multiple witnesses can testify they put civilians in the line of fire to use as human shields, and tortured others.  There’s a chance they bring that behavior to a settlement.  I think it’s worth using the only lead we have, after they slipped our perimeter.”

“They being the Crowleys?”

“Yes,” I said.  “Possibly with some scattered Mathers, and the Clans, and the remaining Bikers.”

I wasn’t sure how keen the Bikers would be when it came to playing along, but I wasn’t going to bring that up.  Marcial’s approach wasn’t warming me to her, and I was reluctant to give her fuel for her suspicions and delaying tactics.  It was her call when it came to her patrol group and what they were prepared to do.  She had authority over her group in the field like Gilpatrick had for the Bridgeport patrol.

I was keenly aware of Captain Marcial’s geographical position, as well.  She was in charge of the patrol block from New Haven.  They were the closest neighbors to the Mathers camp of Fallen.  The same town with the shop where I’d picked up the donuts, and with the people who’d been camped out watching for trouble, that Looksee had fooled and helped bring into custody.

If anyone was going to turn out to be a Fallen sympathizer, a thing that was happening with some frequency, I wouldn’t be shocked if that anyone was Captain Marcial.

“Crowleys aren’t on paper as being a big threat,” she said.

“Crowleys aren’t on paper as having gun toting soldiers either,” I said.

“We took the same road they did when we came here,” Chris said.  “You can smell the gunpowder in the air, mixed with the smell of cigarettes, alcohol, gasoline and body odor.”

You can, Chris,” Sveta said, stressing the ‘you’.

Gaymon’s superior approached.  I’d caught the man being called Captain Bash, but I wasn’t sure if it was a nickname or real last name.  He didn’t look like a Bash, with a shorter than average stature, skinny physique and a bit of a receding hairline- I could imagine it being the sort of thing where a tall muscular man was nicknamed Tiny.  The PRT director in my hometown had confided in me at one point that she’d been nicknamed Lady, and from her lack of grace and finer manners, it might have been the same sort of thing.

Bash indicated the phone, “What’s this?”

“Villain says she knows where the Crowley bunch went, after Scapegoat helped them push past our perimeter.  Gilpatrick’s cape says they want to follow up on it.  If this is to be believed, the Fallen went north, to the Meridian stretch, and then they’ll go east.”

“To a populated part of the city,” I pointed out.

“And?” Bash asked.

“We’re trying to decide if it’s worth going after the jackasses,” Gaymon said.

“It’s more complicated than that.  We can get better info, but it costs,” I said.  “And I need the approval of my whole team on this, first.  I want to make sure we have the other resources we need if we’re going to pay this cost or convince the rest of my team.  If we can work with what we’ve got, though, that’d be ideal.”

“I’ll defer to Gilpatrick and Marcial,” Bash said.  “You make the call, we’ll help, whatever happens.”

“Again,” I said, trying not to let the combination of Chris and Bash sidetrack things too much, “We have witnesses.  They came armed and they fought hard.  This wasn’t the prankster, pain in the ass, public nuisance Crowleys.  This was something more vicious.”

“Because they were defending their home?” Marcial suggested.

“I trust her, Liz,” Gilpatrick said, speaking just a moment before I said something I would have regretted later.  “If she says it was serious, I believe her.”

“This is your girl from the community center?”

I frowned.

“She is,” Gilpatrick said.

“The wrecking ball.”

Fuck me, was she trying to push me?

“She kept my people alive and safe.  She protected civilians.  Considering the fudge-cluster that was, I’m happy with how she handled it.”

“Disaster follows in your heroine’s wake, huh?” Marcial asked, still in that same dry tone.

I closed my eyes, then measured out my response, “It’s my feeling that when you have powers, it’s your responsibility to take action in the face of disaster.  So yeah, you’re going to see me a lot on the scene of bad stuff going down.”

“Cluster fudge, bad stuff,” Chris said.  “You don’t need to censor for my benefit.  I promise you, I’ve heard worse.  I’ve said worse.”

“Don’t interrupt,” Sveta told him.

“I understand that you’re defensive, Victoria.  You put a lot on the line,” Marcial said.

“I’m not-” I started.  I clenched my fist.

“It’s okay.  This is how I function.  Ask anyone who works under me.  I’m asking the questions others are going to ask after we’re done.  Why do this, are we sure, wasn’t there some indication it was a trap?  Succeed or fail, they’re going to wonder, and I intend to have the right answers for them.”

“Okay,” I said, though I didn’t feel okay with it.  The annoying thing with how she ‘functioned’ was that I had a hard time going back and finding the thread of the conversation again.  Chris’ commentary didn’t help.  “Defending their home, you said.”

“Mm hmm,” she said.  She looked at Gaymon as he nudged her.

“The supporting images aren’t very clear,” Gaymon interrupted, holding up my phone.  “Especially on a screen this small.”

“Yeah,” she acknowledged him.  “I don’t think anyone has satellite footage that’s worth three fucks, yet.”

I pressed, “They were armed and ready for a small war.  This isn’t limited to the guns people brought with them and the rifles they had for hunting.  There were assault rifles and whole groups with a matching gun in each person’s hand.”

“I bet if you asked them, they’d say it was a good thing they were armed and ready, since a small war came to them,” she said.  When she saw my expression, she added, “I’m anticipating the responses we’ll get, that’s all.”

I took a deep breath.  “Okay.  Do you have any questions?  Do you need anything?”

“Do you want your phone back?” she asked.

I started to approach, and she tossed the phone my way.  I had to fly a bit to catch it one-handed.

“We’ll let you know what we decide,” Gaymon said.

I turned to walk away, and Gilpatrick told his peers, “I’ll be right back.”

He walked with me, as I walked up to Sveta and Chris, put a hand on Sveta’s shoulder, and had us all walk over to where Jester was talking to Ashley.  From there, I indicated we should walk a little further away for our pow-wow.

“Sorry,” Gilpatrick said.  “That is how she operates.”

“She make a lot of friends with that ‘function’ of hers?”

“No,” Gilpatrick said.  “I’d never pretend she has many allies or friends.  She was New York PRT, and if you ask the New York PRT, they’ll say- they would have said that they were the best in the country.

“A few PRT teams would have said that,” I replied, with a sigh.  “Does she live up to her own hype?”

Gilpatrick gave me a one-shouldered shrug.  “Her ass is so covered it’s bulletproof, and that’s a skill a lot of people overlook.  People who matter trust her when she talks because she is very good at explaining things to people who know nothing.  Again, a skill.”

“That definitely doesn’t make friends if she wins important people over to her side when multiple others try and fail,” I said.

“I won’t comment,” Gilpatrick said, in a conspiratorial way I wasn’t sure someone else would catch.  I was right.  It was something that had happened.

“That’s politics.  Is she good at her job?”

“Depends on what you see as her job.  I’d like to think I’m a better teacher and shaper of our youth.  She’s better at going after the bad guys.”

“Worrying.”

We met with Ashley, where she’d found a rock to lean against.  Jasper put the phone down beside her, then walked over to stand by Gilpatrick.  I really wondered what he’d been talking to Ashley about, and why he’d even gone to talk to her in the first place.

“How’s everyone?” I asked.

“Patched up,” Sveta said, patting her prosthetic shell.

“Good,” Chris said.  “Did what I wanted, mostly.”

I raised an eyebrow at that.  He’d seemed slightly dissatisfied earlier.  He only shrugged.

“I’ve been talking to Jester and Looksee, getting caught up,” Ashley said.  “It’s a good distraction.”

Ooh, she’s into archery,” Looksee said.  The phone rested on the rock between Jasper and Ashley.  “Badass.”

Ashley raised a hand, indicating the phone, “See?  Distraction enough.”

“Wait,” I said.  “Say again, Looksee.  Who is into archery?”

Marcial.

“Why Marcial?”

Because she’s our biggest obstacle, and I was looking for clues.

“Looksee, you can’t spy on people,” I said.

“Please,” Sveta said.

Is it really spying if the information is a mouseclick away?

“Yes,” Chris said.

Oh, hey, Creepy Kid.  Tattletale was asking about you.  I didn’t say anything, of course.

“I’m apparently Creepy Kid now,” Chris said, to Sveta and I.

“I told you, you need to pick a name, or it’s going to get chosen for you,” I said.

“I don’t have good ideas,” Chris said.  “The good names are taken.  The shortlist is Dramaturge, Cryptid, Cryptozoo-”

Looksee snorted audibly over the phone.

“Don’t laugh, Looksee,” exaggerating her name.

“Looksee is good!  Victoria said you can make any name work if you do good enough, and I did good today.”

“Well enough,” Chris said.

“Everyone did well,” I said.  “You included, Looksee.  I know that wasn’t as close to the frontline as you want, but the camera drop, outlining the cables-”

“Threads,” Looksee said.  “With force around and to them.”

“Okay,” I said.  “And the fake cable coming at Cradle.  It was good.”

“She was telling me about it,” Ashley said.

“It was good,” I said.

“If you keep saying that, she’s going to blow a fuse,” Chris said.

“Oh, completely changing the subject, Capricorn is coming back with Vista.  He’s a couple of minutes away.”

“I’ll go say hi in a second,” I said.

“This whole thing is dizzying,” Jester said.  “I don’t know how you do it.”

“In a way, I grew up with it,” I said.  “Was different, back then.  I dealt with more known quantities.  Or I thought I did.  No Marcials.  I never thought I’d miss having my mom as team leader once I flew the coop.  I considered it a good day when my aunt was the one in charge, and I still found it stifling.”

“It’s not all people like Marcial,” Gilpatrick said.

“I know,” I said.  I had to make a three-quarter turn to lightly punch him in the arm, because my injured arm was the one closer to him.  “We’ve got people like you and Jester.”

“The fact that you’re using that name and you’re putting us in the same sentence pains me,” Gilpatrick didn’t move his lips as he murmured the words.

Jester cleared his throat, looking at Gilpatrick.

“I’ll give you one thing,” Chris was saying in the background, “The camera thing was a good play.  Brutal.”

“Thank you, nice of you to say,” Looksee said.

“It was,” Sveta said, “But I don’t like how that was worded.  Brutal and good shouldn’t be put together like that.”

Chris went on, “I wanted to make a joke before, but speaking takes concentration when you don’t have the mouth you’re used to.  Now it sounds dumb, because I’d be saying it out of nowhere.”

“Say it.  Say it,” Looksee said.

“Looksee?  More like look out,” Chris said, and he chose the most deadpan tone of voice he could manage, in a way that sucked any of the residual humor out of the line.

Looksee laughed all the same.

“I hate to be a wet blanket,” Sveta said.  “But, please, almost caving in someone’s skull was an emergency measure, not a thing to be encouraged.”

“Seconding that,” I said.

“You seem to have your hands full,” Gilpatrick said.

“Feels like it,” I said.  Even if I had perfect control of the Wretch, every hand available would be full.

Ugh.  I didn’t like thinking like that.

“You guys talk,” I said.  “I’m going to go see Capricorn.  He should be there soon.”

“He paused to rest,” Looksee reported.  “He’s a minute away.”

“Good enough,” I said.

“I’ll come,” Ashley said.

I hesitated.  I’d wanted to fly.  “We’ll walk fast?”

She nodded.

We skirted the larger meeting, where Mayday had joined the discussion with Marcial, Bash, and Gaymon.  Gilpatrick took my leaving as an excuse to go, too, but he took a separate path.

Only Ashley and me.

“What did you talk to Jester about?” I asked.

“We didn’t talk much.  He brought the phone, and he managed it so I didn’t have to, asked how you were doing, we talked briefly about you.  He was curious about powers.  Looksee did most of the talking.”

“Talking about me?”

“Nothing bad,” she said.

I looked back over my shoulder.  The group was still gathered.  “They’re doing better than expected.  Sveta’s quiet.”

“They’re relieved that Rain is okay,” Ashley said.  “And they’re resilient.”

“And you?” I asked.  “Are you okay?”

“You said everyone did a good job.  I didn’t,” Ashley said.  She walked with her hand clasped around the injured portion, but the posture looked defensive.

“I really liked how you handled things with Gilpatrick, turning yourself in, asking him if you could join the fight.  They’re the right moves.”

“If I end up imprisoned and unable to see or call her, someone needs to look after Kenzie.”

I looked at Ashley.  Her hair had dried somewhat, but it still had the wet hair look, where it webbed into thicker locks.  She was wearing the new dress- the one she’d bought in Cedar Point, but it had been melted at the side, near where her wrist dangled by her leg.  Since the capture the flag game, I’d thought of Kenzie looking after Ashley in a way, but I wasn’t so sure I’d seen Ashley looking after Kenzie.  Defending her, maybe.  Being there-

“Being there for her?” I asked.

“It’s part of it,” she said.  “She doesn’t have anyone.”

“Doesn’t she?”

“I mean someone who will be there a year from now.  The team is wobbly, none of her classmates want to be her friend, and very few people spend time with her without wanting something from her or having to be with her.  When I get in trouble for blasting Beast of Burden, make sure she has someone.  You or someone else.”

I nodded.  “Her parents?”

“Go to that dinner at her house or ask the others if you want an answer to that question.”

I tilted my head a little, trying to see more of her face.  “Usually I can count on you for straight answers.”

“Not about this.  She’d be upset with me and things are hard enough.  She’s upset with me and I’m upset with her.  The talk on the phone, with a bystander there, we were dancing around being upset with each other.”

“Did I miss something?” I asked.

Ashley shook her head.  She moved her injured hand, bouncing it up and down briefly, then clenched her other hand at her arm as a muffled use of her power erupted between her fingers.  Agitation.

“I could have screamed at her.  It’s why I wanted this talk.”

“What happened?”

“I’m not sure, but she was trying to reassure me.  She said the situation was bad, there were lots of people hurt, Rain killed Snag, he was almost killed by Cradle, and even she almost killed Mama Mathers.”

Ashley gave that last bit some emphasis.

“You think it was intentional?  To connect, or…”

“I don’t know.  She said it and I can’t get it out of my head.  If it was intentional, even if it was accidental, if she killed someone, if she ruined herself like that, for something so stupid, or because she was careless, if she’s even capable of making that kind of decision-”

She was getting agitated as she talked.

“I get it,” I said, interrupting the speech.  “I get it.  We’ll figure something out.  I’ll talk to her.”

We walked for a short bit in silence.  I heard Ashley whisper something, but it wasn’t aimed at me.

I chose to ignore the whisper, in the same way I hoped someone would ignore me communicating something to the Wretch.

“She needs someone to look after her,” Ashley said.  “Now that someone can’t be me.”

I looked up.  The sky was still overcast, the light of the sun fighting to shine through in a way that made it look more like the heavy clouds had faint energy glowing from within them, rather than a distant burning orb sending its light to us.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to the team,” I said.  “I think people are more shaken than they’re saying.”

“They are.”

“There was a lot there that was rough.  There’s still stuff out there- angry people with guns, who just saw their own get attacked, or who were forced to act by Mama Mathers.  Good people got really hurt.”

“Bad people got really hurt too,” Ashley said.

I paused, feeling the weight of that short statement.  “Yeah.  We’ll see how that goes.”

Water pattered against my hood, and I thought the rain had started up again- it was only the wind stirring the droplets from the leaves above.

I saw the distorted space before I saw Capricorn, Vista, and Chasmal.  Capricorn had one of his stone constructions over his shoulder, something that looked like a coffin, but was obviously made of Tristan’s power, with hooks and such.  Interestingly, though it looked like the sort of heavy something that would have required Tristan’s attention, it was Byron in the blue armor who was hauling it, holding up the thicker, wider upper end, with the bottom end dragging in the path behind him.

Vista was shortening their path.  Chasmal would be making the coffin and the person inside light enough for Byron to drag, while simultaneously phasing Mama Mathers partially out of reality.

He had a costume that sported Advance Guard’s geometric future aesthetic with a deep blue color scheme with orange trim.  The aesthetic and design seemed to be intended at invoking the dark, vigilante style.

I was really hoping that a measure like that would sever her connection to others, for any point in time that she woke up.

“You got her?” I asked.

“Yeah.  We also pointed Mayday’s cape and the patrol crew to the building we sealed up,” Byron said.  “Hi, Damsel.”

“Hi.”

“She’s still unconscious or asleep in there?” I asked.

“Has to be.  I’d have felt her struggling, or we would have heard her.”

“She could be dead,” Damsel said.

“Let’s hope,” Chasmal muttered.

“I’m hoping she isn’t,” I said.  Damsel nodded her agreement with me.

“I used my power to sweep over the area,” Vista said.  “I can get a general feel for when there are people somewhere and as far as I can tell, most of the town was evacuated.  We sent some people to rescue and retrieve.”

“Armed, armored people,” Byron said.

“But I think we did it,” Vista said.  She offered her fist out.  After a moment’s hesitation, Byron bumped it.  I was a little quicker to respond.

Vista offered her fist to Ashley, and Ashley shook her head, flashing a small smile instead.

Vista seemed to take it in stride.  “There were two groups that left.  One to the south-”

“Handled,” I said.  “Projections stopped them, even though they knew they were projections.  They lined up to face down our defending group, and we blinded them.”

“And the second one that tore through Advance Guard and the Hollow Point villains as they left by the north road.”

I wished I had a better answer for her.  “We’re still figuring that one out.”

“I hear Prancer’s group skedaddled?” Vista asked.

“What’s left of it.  They took a few bodies with them.”

“Eesh,” Byron said.

“Eesh is right,” I answered him.  “They’ll go back to Hollow Point and they’ll probably find one of the Wardens’ teams waiting there.  The Shepherds or Foresight.  With luck, they’ll be so tired they won’t want to fight for the territory, or they’ll lose that fight if they pick it.”

“We’re not invited?” Byron asked.

I shook my head.  “We weren’t invited, we’re battered and weary, and I think I’d rather deal with the Fallen, if we were going to do something.”

“Alright.  That’s almost a relief.  Come on,” Byron said.  “Let’s get this creepy woman somewhere more secure.”

“Hardly a way to talk about me,” Vista said.

“Ha ha,” Byron said.

“We’ll take her to the patrol block leaders,” I said.  “See if that sways them any.”

“I can take over dragging it if you want,” Vista said.

“I’m good,” Byron said.  “I like getting to pretend I’m the one with enhanced strength.”

“What did you get, if he got that?” Vista asked.

“Resistance to temperature extremes,” Byron said.  He grunted as he started dragging.  “There was a time I made ice.”

Really.

“Uh huh.  There have been other things.”

“Can you change back?  Is that a thing you could do if you tried, or could you change to something new?”

“I could,” Byron said.  “But I don’t want to go back, and I’m worried about how I’d get somewhere new.”

“I’m happy my power’s simple,” Vista said.

“Gross distortion of dimensions, simple,” I said.

She smiled and winked at me.

She was happy, it seemed.

I was- I was almost happy too.

I had my concerns.  I had plenty of worries about what was going to unfold as authorities decided to go after the Fallen or to let them go, and even the simpler joy of being a heroine had been tainted by Wretch and the horribleness of the people I’d been dealing with.  I could ask how everyone was doing, keep tabs on things, and help people out, and there wasn’t anyone who was positioned or invested enough to do the same for me.

A reminder to myself that I needed to call that therapist.

But I could put it all aside, put it out of mind.

We had Mama Mathers.  We had Operator and we had Cradle.  It was a win, and a win we’d thoroughly earned.

Son of a bitch, I should have known.

Why?” I asked.

“We couldn’t come to a decision, so we talked to the administrators who coordinate the patrol blocks,” Captain Marcial answered me.  “They said no.”

“We’re leaving the remaining Fallen?” I asked.

“We explained the guns,” Gilpatrick said.  “The degree of violence here, the boundaries that were crossed.  They’ll have people on the lookout for violence, if the Fallen lash out or try something, but the sentiment expressed was that they didn’t want to punish others for getting away from a violent situation and standing down.”

“They’re the Fallen,” I said.  “They don’t back down.”

“They don’t back down, but they do get tired,” Marcial said.  “We have problems today, occupying heroes and patrols.  The Fallen are a problem for tomorrow.”

“That’s the word from above,” Gilpatrick said.

I retrieved my phone and checked the time.

According to Tattletale, the Fallen would get off the road in two hours and get into the Megalopolis again, somewhere on the east coast.  They were obscuring their retreating convoy with powers, allegedly, and once they were in the city they’d connect with others.  Again, allegedly.

Two hours.

We’d have to deal with Tattletale to know what location, or where they were if they did get to the city.   We’d have to achieve something of a win, and we’d have to have a way to deal with the defeated Fallen.  Here, we could put them on a bus in shackles, or dedicate whole teams to managing the powered ones.  It helped that most of the powered had injuries that slowed them down.

It wasn’t doable.

“I’m sorry,” Gilpatrick said.  “We mitigated the damage.  We met most of the objectives, even in the face of much greater numbers than we expected.  Today was a win.”

“That’s not much consolation,” Capricorn said.  He was back to being Tristan.  “We were there in the thick of it.  We saw them and talked to them.  Lives are going to be lost if we let this go.  They’re pissed.  They’re heading into a population center.”

“Our resources are exhausted,” Gaymon said.  “We have limited personnel and that personnel has been tied up for the better part of the day.  If they go there and stop, we intend to let them.  Otherwise, it ends up as one prolonged engagement where both sides get tired and sloppy.”

“This was already sloppy enough,” Bash said.  “Unexpected numbers, the violence.”

It was so maddening, that the desire for peace and a stop to conflict would provide the flammable material needed for the fires to spread.

I didn’t let that show on my face.

“You’re still standing,” Capricorn said, “There’s gas in your vehicles.  These people are unreasonable, dangerous and desperate.  You can’t let this go.  Others can’t afford for you to let it go.”

I wished Narwhal was around.  I wished Mayday would speak up.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I’d had an impression of Marcial almost right away, that she wasn’t on our side.  She’d proven it.  Gilpatrick- I wanted to imagine he’d tried and failed.  In my time with the patrol block, I’d seen decisions from oversight that had definitely been this dumb.

“Thank you,” I said, as diplomatically as I could.  “I understand your hands are tied, if your bosses are saying no.”

Capricorn’s head snapped around.

“They are,” Marcial said.  Had it come from anyone else, I might have been more inclined to believe it.

Capricorn was giving me a hard look through the eyeholes of his helmet.

“There’s no changing your mind,” I said, for his benefit.  “We’ll figure out what our course of action is in the next while.”

“It was a good collaboration.  A good effort, even with everything that went wrong,” Gilpatrick said.  “Be safe, take care of yourselves, and let me know if you need anything.”

I nodded.

I left the scene behind, feeling like I might have said something regrettable if I’d stayed a moment longer.

“This is where we part ways, I guess.  We’ll meet, talk,” Vista said.  “You have my number.”

I nodded.  I clasped her hand in mine.

“Kick some ass,” she said.

“We’ll see,” I said.

We were a group as we walked away.  Me, Capricorn, Sveta, Chris, Ashley, and Looksee had joined us, coming from New Haven to our powwow.

One more member to get.

We filed into the bus.  Rain was awake, a phone that wasn’t his in his lap.

“Cradle?” he asked.

“In custody,” I said.  “Which is something we need to talk about, because it’s you that makes the final call.”

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111 thoughts on “Pitch – 6.6”

  1. Byron being able to possible create ice (maybe even steam?) has got me very intrigued. The awesome synergy between him and Capricorn will no doubt quadruple if different states of H2O got involved.

  2. Typo thread:
    “She’d be upset with me and things arehard enough. ” – Should be a space between are and hard.

    1. “Badass.”
      “Oh, completely changing the subject, Capricorn is coming back with Vista. He’s a couple of minutes away.”
      “Thank you, nice of you to say,”
      “Say it. Say it,”
      “He paused to rest,”
      “He’s a minute away.”
      Assuming those are Looksee’s voice through the phone, they’re lacking italics.

      “the simpler joy of being a heroine had been tainted by Wretch and the (…)”
      > “by the Wretch” ?

      1. Given that it starts with a capital W, I’m guessing it’s a personification of the wretch (the first we’ve seen) so I think it’s not a typo. I think the way Victoria is starting to refer to the wretch shows how she’s on the path to acceptance.

        1. I’d go the opposite conclusion. Her personification of her force field is a sign that she’s seeing it of something outside of herself. Not a part of her but an entirely different being that she needs to cajole. Depending on how much of it is her shard versus how much is her subconscious, she might be right, but I don’t think that approach is healthy or likely to give her any control over it, either way.

          1. Yeah, makes more sense that defining a part of yourself as some other entity is unhealthy.

  3. This was fun. Thank you for another jawsome chapter, WB!

    The most entertaining tidbit for me here was that Victoria knew Piggot’s call sign. Can you imagine the context for that talk?

    In other fun news, Ashley continues to show she’s the best friend Kenzie could have possibly had, Missy Byron flirts with a different sort of Byron, and the bureaucrats ruin everything forever again.

    Also, Jester/Ashley, what.

    (Plz plz Tata meeting with Victoria next chapter, plz!)

    1. Jester’s just altogether a friendly guy, and there’s this cape that’s feeling down, and by all rights he could see acted decently. Twas just a normal thing, being there, showing her she wasn’t all scary and in trouble, that she was okay folk, just, you know, by actions rather’n words. No need to read more into than there was.

      ~Teian.

      1. I agree, it’s nice to just be friendly for the sake of friendliness. It’s extra nice for that to happen in fiction, because so much fiction constantly shoehorns “romance” into lots of places it doesn’t belong.

      2. I’m gonna be sad when Jester has to do something horrible to someone or worse things will happen. Or killed. Or maimed. Or forced to eat a corndog. Or Mathered. Or turned into cornflakes but not killed so he still feel every sensation as he is slowed eaten by the populace.

        He is just too likeable to not do horrible things to; to show that a bad guy means business.

  4. Nice little bit of a break from the action of the previous chapters.

    I really like having Vista around. She’s a great character and her interactions with Cap are fun. Shame they probably couldn’t poach her and add her to Team Therapy.

    Chris is stuck with Creepy Kid. It works. And Jasper finally gets referred to as Jester.

    So, March is apparently interesting enough to cause some confusion on Lisa’s part. Both Kiss/Kill in one go? Sounds super healthy…

    1. The bit with March kinda reminds me of Circus. Circus’ gender identity was so total regardless of which way they presented it, that Lisa couldn’t figure out the original biology. Now that I think about it, Circus was another grab-bag. I wonder if that’s related.

      1. Sort of. There’s WoG on space battles that Circus’ cluster involved some triggers that were gender-specific, for both genders. So Circus has a side benefit of being able to pass perfectly as either gender.

        1. Although I note (as I weep for an edit function) that little else about Circus fits the case 70 profile, not even number of powers.

      1. Creepy, emotionally high and down, transformations of various sizes and shapes…
        He could really go with Beetlejuice (or Betelgeuse, if the first is already taken…), but I don’t know if they had the movie on earth Bet.

  5. Aw, Ashley making sure that Kenzie is taken care of…it seems like killing Beast of Burden is something that really got to her. I hope things work out there. It strikes me as unlikely that killing an ex-Birdcage inmate in a fight is the sort of thing that gets you arrested with the courts as they are, but if she has enemies in high places I could see it getting brought up. Any reason to lock away an S9 clone.

    Marcial is an oddity. Victoria goes from suspicious that she’s Fallen to suspicious that she’s covering her own ass, but I’m not sure how well to take that kind of impression. I mean, Victoria’s not Taylor, but Marcial had good reasons for everything she said.

    1. Victoria doesn’t have the same kind of distrust as Taylor had, but she is paranoid in a general sense. She even reminds others and us readers of that every now and then, which is kind of cool.

    2. BoB’s not Birdcage. Nailbiter is, though. BoB wasn’t big enough for the Birdcage- he was an enforcer-for-hire, I think. A parahuman strong enough to do a bit of robbery, but not so strong he could effortlessly take on teams of Protectorate heroes like Lord of Loss. Had he been sent to the Birdcage, with the attitude he showed, he’d have challenged someone like Marquis for block leadership, and lost. He was a b-list brute, who wore a heavy set of armour. He seemed to work with inertia, I think; he was the last to stop when Valefor ordered it. So less ‘strong’, more ‘hard to stop’, which works out similarly.

      Damsel’s shocked about it, because I think he’s the first person she’s killed since Gold Morning.

      1. it may actually be the first person she’s killed. Depending on how you split the line between the original and a clone with fabricated blurry memories.

        1. Do you really think when this clone was running around with the others in the Slaughterhouse Nine Thousand, she didn’t kill anyone? Because I think it’s highly unlikely, given they were all released at the same time and Jack used most as distractions from his own ends. ‘After Gold Morning’ was an easy way of saying ‘Since Jack was taken out of the picture and she could choose for herself’.

          1. I’m not exactly sure – while it’s debatable wether or not the origionl Damsel of Distress was much of a killer, I honestly don’t think Ashley was, going by what we’ve seen of her here and the info we had on her original. I think, even if she has some memories of killing someone, this is the first undeniable time she herself has done so – or if nothing else, the first time she’s killed someone she knows, but even that feels more eh

            While the origional Damsel of Distress joined up with the Slaughterhouse Nine, she wasn’t exactly presented as the kind of cape who’d ever been a major threat or racked up a body count besides her accidental murder of her parents. She was described as a nuisance in Worm, someone who kept trying to make it in the big cities then ending up sulking back home – even having her warehouse lair’s power paid for by the PRT to keep her out of trouble – and considering just how dangerous her power is, I highly doubt they’d have been willing to do that or let he be such a low priority if she was truly bloodthirsty, since her power’s in the same class as scrub/foil’s

            Damsel’s joining of the Nine felt more like her thinking she’d finally made it without realizing what she’d gotten herself into – especially since she was far from their main choice and seemed almost picked up for convinience when they where badly diminished after Brokton Bay – the comment on Bonesaw breaking her pride to give her control of her powers reflects that. She also never really had time for Jack to manipulate her or make her fit in, since she was killed in their first confrontation between the nine and Dragon/Defiant, which took place between the town they recruited Damsel at and their next destination, so unless she was already the killer sort (which see above for why I don’t buy that she is) it wouldn’t fit. she wasn’t the kind of person to make it in the Nine long term , just grabbed for some power and her thinking she’d finally made it before finding out the truth.

            Further, Bonesaw was an artist who would never compromise on her work even if it made them more effective tools. She’d have copied Damsel’s personality as close as physically possible in the clones – besides the tweaks to make them all a little more obedient to Jack – because otherwise it wouldn’t be 9 copies of her, would it, but just 9 random killers, and then no-one would see the art.

            add in the fact every damsel clone was sent just to the distraction jobs, completly without any oversight from Jack, and I can’t buy Ashley having been the type to open fire on civilians, even if the rest of the villains she was with did. She revels too much in the shock factor and has shown she’s a villain for the fun (the cops and robbers game TaTa is so fond of) more than being one of the monsters. I’m sure she made a big show and a lot of speeches and noise, but Ashley has not shown any personality traits to imply she’d open fire on civilians and, amnesty or no, she recieves too much support from the wardens to match her being a known murderess

            She may be grumpy and standoffish and a little bit edgy, but I don’t buy for a second she’s the kind to be a long term killer, and I think BoB’s death is gonna stick with her.

            Ashleys’s a good kid. I think swansong will make a fine hero one day

          2. Beige: All good points, and I’m reconsidering as well now. I still think she probably did kill, if only in spats with other members of the Nine, but… yes, she probably didn’t go around deliberately killing. I don’t think she had much choice, however. And something about how she speaks about killing ‘ruining’ Kenzie makes me think she’s got some experience in that area, too. As in, she’s been ruined, and knows what it’s like.

  6. I pressed, “They were armed and ready for a small war. This isn’t limited to the guns people brought with them and the rifles they had for hunting. There were assault rifles and whole groups with a matching gun in each person’s hand.”

    Oh, good for yoooou. If the Fallen are packing uniform weapons, then that means it’s very likely that they’re not just grabbing up whatever shit they can find, but are actively being supplied. There are multiple possibilities for who and why and none of them are good.

    The most innocuous answer is that they have access to a former military base or the storage depot of an arms company.

    But another possibility is them being armed by Earth Cheit, as a method of having a dangerous enemy right in Gimel’s backyard and giving them a staging area for an invasion.

    Another is them being armed by Teacher for whatever reason which could be anything from using them to take over or just using them to create chaos.

    But the one big worry all of these have in common is that if they have that sort of access to weapons it is also becomes more likely that they have access to nastier stuff. Grenades, mortars, high explosives, machine guns, sniper rifles, and tons and tons of ammo.

    I can give Victoria some slack for not picking up on this because this kind of paramilitary crap doesn’t register in her brain. But the PRT rent-a-cops don’t even bat an eye and maybe think to follow up on this. Which says bad, bad things for Gimel’s readiness in the event of an invasion either by the Fallen or Cheit.

    Tattletale needs to a take a look at some of those guns, like, right now.

    1. Victoria might wonder about that if given some time to think.

      But yeah; She’s not exactly a detective.

    2. We would expect very few old or abandoned facilities on a planet that has been inhabited for three years. Victoria didn’t miss the import of the matching weapons. Neither did the patrol captains. If she had pressed the issue, they probably would have claimed the guns were another reason not to chase the Fallen, because they made it more likely the patrol would get beaten severely.

      1. This Earth has been inhabited for about three years, yes. But the Earth next door is in the process of being evacuated, and if the Fallen have managed to get their hands on a secret portal, or cross-dimensional Mover, or something, then looting an abandoned military base is possible.

        Though my dad’s ex-British army, and when not in use, the guns are locked in the armoury, and the ammunition is locked in the magazine, each has a different lock and nobody has both keys. Americans might do it different, because military bases aren’t the only place to find guns and bullets.

        1. You do realize that you just mentioned “cross-dimensional Mover” and “locked” in the same post, right?

          1. I do now. I actually didn’t at the time; though they’re in different paragraphs, which for me tend to mean seperate thoughts, ideas or points. And for all we know, the cross-dimensional mover may have limits which locks would affect. Maybe they can only move to a space under the sky, and if they try moving into a building wind up on the roof. Or maybe they ‘see’ both Gimel and Bet, and can teleport to anywhere they can see- so not through walls, or in the dark. Or they can only transfer from one world to another when they’ve got a running start, and got themselves locked in a space too small for them to reach the speed they need.

    3. As an American who lives aroubd and has grown up around the communities that the fallen are derived from. (White power and Religous Survivalist groups)

      Them having matching guns is fairly normal. Lots of those groups get imported crates of ak’s, stockpile ar15’s, or other such guns. Purchasing laws here make a lot of that super easy. My own gun cabinet could probably supply something about half this size with enough ammo to last days. Welcome to Oklahoma, Texas, and most of the American SW. This is common and borderline socially acceptable. (Stockpiling guns, not being raiders, rapists, and general shit bags)

      1. Mosin 91/30s are about $100 each, and you can literally buy them by the crate.

        I have eclectic tastes in guns, so my ARs aren’t matching at all. Still, to a casual observer without a close familiarity with firearms, they would all look pretty much the same – pistol grips, collapsible stocks, & black color. To someone who knows guns, they’d be able to pick out that one is an AR-10; and about the AR-15s: one is a large-caliber hunting rifle, one is a carbine for varmints, and the other is a longer-range hunting rifle.

        Since WB is in Canada, he might be writing from a Canadian point of view, despite the setting in the east-coast of the USA. Additionally, the state-level gun laws in that area are considerably more draconian than in the midwest/south/southwest; which also makes it more likely that Victoria isn’t terribly familiar with firearms.

  7. A thought occurs.

    Looksee is 100% nuts. Like, a lovable sort of nuts, but she’d probably cut off one of her fingers if she thought it would help her friends. To that end, I wonder what her take away from this mission will be. Because honestly?

    It looks like she’s getting rewarded for being more violent and powerful. And Kenzie is going to take that message to heart. Ashley knows this, and wants to head it off before Kenzie makes self-guided orbital crash drones or mass-blinding grenades, but it doesn’t look like Victoria realizes the depth of Kenzie’s crazy.

    In other words, I fully expect Kenzie to have a full-lethal option in her drones the next time an encounter occurs. Furthermore, I expect her to be 100% willing to use it, and to do so proactively.

        1. Cause if it counts, then it’s a toss-up, if it doesn’t count then i’m leaning towards she hasn’t killed anyone.

    1. Just you wait until she gets the epiphany that she can modify her camera chambers into resonators and her lenses into output couplers…

  8. “The PRT director in my hometown had confided in me at one point that she’d been nicknamed Lady, and from her lack of grace and finer manners, it might have been the same sort of thing.”

    Wait, what the hell?!

    That’s… that’s pretty damn cool. Huh. Kind of hits home how sociable Victoria is.

    As for Marcial, I imagine Victoria pointing out that the Fallen where mostly in her jurisdiction and the surprising amount of sympathizers would not have gone well.

    1. Victoria has been beautiful and semi-famous for a long enough time to be comfortable with those facts while talking to random people. Human beings love to talk to and confide in beautiful well-known people who aren’t dickheads. Lots of masks and filters come off.

      1. I could also buy Piggot being a bit more open to those she doesn’t have to work with/for, though, I would also guess that this was before Victoria had powers as Piggot would have a lot more sympathy with a normie dealing with lots of those superpowered freaks all the time.

        1. We may have saw Piggot purely as the tyrant in Worm, but we did see a few flashes of good nature in her, especially when dealing with Kid Win or mandating breaks for the wards. While she was shown to be uncomfortable with Capes as a whole, she was still human and it did seem a lot more like her dislikes of capes was targeted at groups rather than applied to each individual cape she met. She may have hated the villains and assumed all Capes where like that until proven otherwise, but she was firm yet considerate with her subordinates as we saw – even if a bit of a hardass.

          I also don’t see Piggot as being the type to have been ashamed or hide her PRT soldier history. As she herself said to TaTa, she wears in on her sleeve – so I’d think she was the kind to take pride in said history and her old squad nickname

          and as said above, Victoria was most likely one of the capes she could see a lot who also wasn’t under her jurisdiction/direct responsabilities – since she was dating Dean and close to a lot of the Wards, she probably had the most contact with the officials out of all of New Wave, especially in non-work situations where that kind of discussion can come up

          In worm, besides the interludes, we saw the heroes only from the point of view of their opponents. I highly doubt we saw more than just the surface layer of most of them 🙂

  9. Rain will take the noble route. We will see if Cradle will do so.

    Prediction: Erin will get powers after all this. Prediction: Rain will still betray the group. Prediction: Momma Mathers has the PRT woman under her control.

    Striking at the remaining Fallen when they are weak sounds like a good idea. Indeed, it sounds like the first good idea I’ve heard. Maybe Sveta could talk to her boyfriend about going along and helping? I think a guy made of metal might be useful in a firefight.

    I don’t understand why anyone is upset with Ashley. She killed a villain who had assaulted her. Seems like a minor problem right now, given the carnage of the entire battle. Who is going to arrest her?

    Where is Moose? Where is Imp? Where is Rachael?

    OK, and when is the dinner with Looksee? I’d like to see what that’s about.

      1. But who will prosecute? This is a variant on the “him without sin” cast the first stone.

        Present at the death were Nailbiter, Svetla, Tristan, Sidepiece, Victoria, Looksee (presumably watching) and Disjoint.

        Nailbiter — isn’t going to talk to the cops.
        Disjoint — might not even be alive, and isn’t going to talk to the cops.
        Sidepiece — isn’t going to talk to the cops.

        That leaves Team Therapy members. Are *they* going to try to prosecute Ashely for reacting after Mind Manipulation to kill a known bad guy?

        And let’s remember: supposedly, Rain “turned himself in” to the authorities [I’m not sure its that clear, but i’ve had several people tell this to me]. The authorities did nothing.

        My predicition is that Ashley walks away.

        1. But who will prosecute?

          Irrelevant to the question!
          The people who are upset with Ashley – including Ashley herself – are not so because they’re worried she’s going to end up in jail. Kenzie isn’t disturbed because she fears having a teammate go to prison will put her team at a strategic disadvantage or anything like that. No, it’s because she’s emotionally bothered by someone she considers her friend murdering another person, because she sees murdering people as morally wrong. The rest of Ashley’s team also subscribes to this view. They’re upset because Ashley did something they see as wrong, and also concerned about Ashley’s own emotional response, since she’s been sort of teetering between being a productive member of cape society and being a murderous bioweapon. Built by either Bonesaw or Scion, take your pick.

          As for Ashley herself, although she’s killed people before and is more likely to see it as justifiable in some circumstances, she is still disturbed by her own lack of self-control. She feels driven to kill people who insult her, but it’s been shown several times in the story that she tries to struggle against this. She likely would not have chosen to kill Bob if she had had an opportunity to calm down first and think it through. She’s also concerned about Kenzie’s reaction. She considers Kenzie a friend, and sees her as someone innocent, who should not have to deal with her friends murdering people.

          I know it can be difficult to keep track of character motivations when one is a flawless machine of pure logic, but try to keep up. Like Number Man put it, morality is

          Useful, valuable, much like commerce, but still a delusion. It only served its purpose so long as it was more constructive than not adhering to those beliefs, but people often lost sight of the fact, made it out to be something it wasn’t.

          Lesser people are often going to make suboptimal decisions because of their moral beliefs, and that is just something you have to plan around.

          And yeah, Ashley’s totally getting away with murder.

    1. Prediction: Erin may or may not get powers. Rain may or may not betray the group (previously I was leaning towards he will, but now I’m leaning towards he won’t). Mama Mathers is dead.

      1. I like the idea, but i think fundamental family dysfunction and poor communication fits with the theme of the tale better than Kenzie hiding the fact she has no real family.

      2. Damsels conversation with Victoria really lends credence to Kenzie’s parents being AI projections or really deeply damaged people, and Kenzie’s psychology really makes me lean to the former as the less creepy and more plausible option, because if they are not fake one or both of them are severely mentally ill.

        Kenzie’s agressive affection seeking behavior says she views herself as alone and is franlky desperate for human contact, and Ashley’s comentary plus Kenzie’s chatbots in the prolog definitely shows she has the chops to do so.

        My money is on AI with a outside chance of pathological neglect on her parents part.

        1. I’m curious as to how Kenzie got a counterintelligence fragment while she was so young. If her parents are AI then they probably died and that is how Kenzie got her fragment but i think that a counterintelligence shard fits in better with a powerfully neglectful upbringing or something of the sort really bringing out the need for kenzie to get and protect information through technology.

          Basically, i think we have a chicken and egg thing, did Kenzie’s craving for attention happen before or after she triggered? Cause if it is before then i think neglectful parents, but if afterwards then they are probably AI to replace those she lost.

          I suppose there are other possibilities that splits the two scenerios. They were so neglectful that they had to be “conditioned” by a villain (like valefor but probably not valefor) or hero so that they are programmed to be a good parent but very very unhappy about it. (Riley would totally do that for a buddy and both she and kenzie have a rather skewed perception of humanity and are both Tinkers. They could have met at the TinkerTech convention or perhaps Kenzie got caught up by Jack Slash when she was young and bonesaw had a looksee at her parents?)

          I guess we will just have to wait for dinnertime at the Kenzie homestead to find out just what the story is though.

          1. I don’t think Riley and Kenzie have met but now that you mention it, I bet they’d really get along lol. Scary thought.
            And I’m willing to bet money that Kenzie’s parents are alive and neglectful. We saw hints of the strained relationship Kenzie has with her mother when Victoria briefly meets the mom. If her parents were projections, Kenzie would design them to be everything she wanted–there would be no strained relationship, feelings of being unwanted or unreturned love.

      3. Projections doesn’t fit with them being able to drive cars/physically handle things and operate in response to things away from Kenzie

        Kenzie’s smart, but her speciality is in surveilience/countersurveilence – not AIs/holograms/robots etc. While as a tinker she can prolly dip her toes in that pool, it’s not where her skills run, and as we saw from her projections and the chatbots she made, they can obbserve and replay, but they’re not sentient – they can’t actually react. if she was capable of building solid hard-light projections, then a lot of encounters here would have played out a fair bit differently, same with if she could give them full sentience – her projections are part of her surveilence specialty, recordings brought to life

        I think it’s just a very dysfunctional family with almost no communication, almost going through the motions. A house where everyones alone. which also fits with Kenzie not wanting to be alone and even going so far as to build chatbots to have someone to talk with, and the fact she throws herself so hard into impressing people to the point of severe self-harm, and did so even when her parents where there to watch over her.

        remember, Kenzie’s therapist considers her almost at the point she doesn’t need therapy any more. If kenzie was living under the delusion her parents where there when they where self-created holograms, I doubt she’d be considered that far along. Since that’s faaaaar from healthy in anyone

  10. Victoria’s feelings toward Tattletale are interestingly complicated.

    I get a feeling that when they meet face-to-face again things could go better.
    Especially with the rest of the Undersiders there to help buffer the attitude.

    1. I still find myself rooting for tattletale and the undersiders even though we are now mostly in Victoria’s POV. So whenever Victoria points out something that TT did wrong I’m always trying to argue against her inner thoughts XD

      I certainly hope that the next meeting between Undersiders and Victoria goes better then the last one especially since Bitch didn’t seem to be as hostile to Victoria as I seemed to expect her to be. It’s an interesting dynamic, having all of the previous books supporting characters seen from a different POV in a different light. Very emotionally confusing. But interesting.

      1. The thing which I remember is that back in Worm, Victoria was the kind of person who did shit like bursting through the roof of a bank to endanger the hostages inside, beat criminals to death in the street, and then emotionally blackmail her sister into fixing things and covering her ass.

        That is not going away, ever.

        1. She was 16. Teenagers do dumb shit sometimes really bad shit. Teenagers with powers do really dumb and bad shit.

          1. Someone who is given a measure of power in their teenage years and responds by inflicting the kind of violence on ‘acceptable targets’ that multiple people would have died without medical attention is a person who should not then be permitted or encouraged to become a police officer.

          1. She can become a better person in future, and she already has! But she can never somehow not be the person who did those things, and it would behove her to remember it and consider her future actions in light of it. Everything that a person ever does, both the good and the bad, becomes part of them. They carry it, and they get to leave it down when they die.

            Effectively, I’m watching Victoria for the same kind of hypocrisy with which pretty much the entire superhero ‘establishment’ was saturated before Gold Morning.

        2. THANK YOU! I never see people bring up the fact that Victoria has nearly killed people, then coerced Amy into pulling her backside out of the water using her awe aura, aka surprisingly similar to the thing she hates Amy for doing to her.

          1. @Lee
            @stormking678

            Guys, where’s your point? You’re making a bunch of non-statements.

            “I’ll never forget what she did in Worm.”

            ^ Is the bare minimum for any reader here since it is a major part of Victoria’s backstory and the consequences from them are litteraly the catalyst for her current personality.

            In fact, how she views her own past and the concept of forgiveness is one of the first things we read about Victoria in Ward.

            Maybe if the current story arc was about Victoria trying to cover her past actions or downplay them to avoid punishment, we might be able to have a discussion.

            But she’s not doing anything like that.(Victoria even admits, to Tattletale of all people, that she played a role in what lead to Amy’s incident.)

            ***

            You’re basically saying you won’t forget the events that no one, in or out of story, is trying to forget.

          2. @Exejpgwmv

            Like I said, I’m just watching and waiting for the hypocrisy to surface.

  11. I honestly cannot fathom why they haven’t already executed Mathers. She’s a massive threat to a huge number of people, her power ensures she can never be safely contained, and so long as she lives, she has a major way to compromise a huge number of heroes and villains silently and remotely. And she’s currently unconscious and not affecting anyone with her power.

    Vicky is adamant that letting the remaining Fallen go is just betraying all of their future victims. But she herself is betraying all of Mathers’ current and future victims by leaving her alive.

    1. Because executions are bad. Heroes operate under color of law and Wardens are effectively cops. They can’t kill a surrendered or unconscious enemy. That would be, among other things, excessive force. If anyone is going to kill her it’ll be by the legal system. A court- ordered execution or a kill order on an active hostile threat.

      The heroes in this story and in Worm have been trying to prove that humanity in general is better of with heroes than without capes in general. They’re not going to do that by executing captives. If capes do whatever they want just because it’s easier than taking them in for a trial they’ll deserve the distrust they’ve seen in some measure throughout both serials.

      Acting heroic is about more than beating up bad guys. Heroes are held to a high standard. They have to do the Right Thing.

      And no, Vicky’s not being a hypocrite. Enemies who are being left free to do more harm are entirely different from those who are captives.

  12. A few scattered thoughts: Local patrol doesn’t seem entirely trustworthy; it’s possible they have been suborned by Fallen or by other parties. The plan is to turn MM over to the custody of local patrol, rather than e.g. Narwhal and the Wards. Advance Guard might stay on so Chasmal can continue doing whatever he is doing, but we’ve seen AG caught unprepared before, against the Reindeer Gang. Local patrol is completely unwilling to chase after Crowleys, but are happy to see Therapy do so. TT is positively eager for Therapy to chase Crowleys and bring along March’s Band and some Undersiders.

    What is going to happen to Mama when everyone takes off?

    1. Not actually responding to any of your thought provoking questions but I would lack to say I appreciate you calling “the Hollow” the Reindeer Gang (Specifically Prancer’s contingent).

  13. A Tattletale powwow?

    Over and under, you’ve heard of the Undersiders, get ready for the Oversiders. The vigilantes who skirt closer to the law rather than farther.

  14. Goddamn. I’m gonna miss Moose.

    Chris continues to be great.

    Still not sure entirely why people seem to be so determined to make sure that Mama Mathers lives.

    1. Probably because her provable existence as a terrifying master-stranger means that a huge number of fallen crimes can be laid at her feet, allowing many (relatively) innocent fallen to have reduced punishments. It means saving lives of those who might otherwise be thrown away.

      It’s also an incredibly bad idea to let a religious figure become a martyr.

      1. Omg I didn’t think of that at all. While having her become a martyr is probably a lesser evil than allowing someone as dangerous and fucked up as her to live, its still not great. There are other Fallen capes at large who are powerful and are devoted followers of Mama.

        1. A martyr can only be a symbol, whereas a live Mama can strategize and mindrape people as well as being a symbol. Also, the fallen going completely berserk would be a good thing in the long run, as it would force the authorities to fight them to the death and wipe them out instead of procrastinating and letting the problem fester and grow.

          1. She is a powerful cape, but she would make an even more powerful symbol for the Fallen if she died. The Fallen used to preach the end of the world but the world ended, they need a new calling and starting the Cult of Mama would be a good way to gather the group into a new cohesive structure. Plus there are plenty of people who can attest to hearing mama speak to them personally through visions and guiding them through the Trials of the Parahumans. In fact, if Mama ends up dead and Fallen escape, this really could just be a retelling of the Good Book during the book of the Harrowing of the Lost Paradise and the Felling of the Great Mama but from the viewpoints of the antagonists.

    2. We don’t know for sure that Moose is dead. Prancer’s grim expression could be from one of the others in his group dying or the fact that the main players who turned all this shit sideways were spies within his ranks. Biiiiiiig screw up on his part.

      1. Moose can’t be dead, we haven’t had nearly enough ambiguous sexual tension between him and Vicky yet!

  15. What the hell is a pow wow? I doubt Victoria’s talking about a Native American gathering. Is she?

    Also it’s spelled both “pow-wow” and “powwow” in this chap, might be a typo.

    1. I’ve reread, and can’t find it. But I’m British, and ‘powwow’ is used as a term for a gathering over here. Mostly whilst I was in primary school, for somebody’s birthday party. I can also promise that nobody in my school was secretly Native American. There were Indians in the village; they ran the grocery store (and another family later ran the post office), but they were Hindu.

    2. Powwow is used colloquially to just mean “a gathering for discussion,” but yes, was originally absorbed by English from a couple different Native American languages.

  16. I’ve procrastinated reading this all day. I think I’m just tired of (what feels like weeks/months) battle, especially as I’m bad at visualizing who does what where, when, and to whom.

    And what happened to V’s cousin? I miss the family side of things.

    Ok, back to reading…I still like the story, but just wanted to vent. Or request storyboarded fanart. 🙂

    1. ok, mostly through the chapter now, and while I hope the *next* arc isn’t Battle2:BostonishBoogaloo, this one seems to be winding down and it’s more about personalities/character arcs than powers and logistics.

      1. Bostonish Boogaloo sounds amazing, but instead of Battle2 can’t it be a dance off with Looksee recording everything?

  17. Regarding whether or not to kill Mama, isn’t there also the third option of having someone carve out her Coronas, leaving her alive and functional, but reduced to a normal human? Surely Riley has shared that knowledge with other medical tinkers on the Warden’s payroll. Of course, it also raises the question of why Nilbog is imprisoned rather than depowered. The Birdcage and Cauldron prisons existed to keep dangerous capes in reserve for Gold Morning, but now that Scion is gone, there’s less reason to not simply strip the most dangerous capes of what makes them dangerous.

    1. Even if possible, depowering criminals, especially by removing an organ, sounds like it could backfire really hard.
      Forceful surgery on criminals screams human rights violation. It is not a direction you want to go when setting precedents to establish a new law system.
      If you do that to criminals who don`t even have a kill- order, a lot of them will likely chose to rather fight to the death than to risk having their unique powers taken away, especially when you count in the influence the passengers have on them.
      I doubt, the shards would sit idly by, if they know that they get disabled, if their host gets caught.
      They might influence them to fight harder, second trigger them, or even go outright into overdrive.
      The only times depowering worked, that we know of, was done by cauldron and they did it to dead shards and through a power and once by Contessa. Riley provoked second triggers and threatened to disable Taylors control and Amy outright broke her shards limits. I don´t remember either depowering anyone and even if, they now would have to agree to do that first.
      Villains not (yet) threatened would likely react violent in protest and even a lot of heroes would have a problem with the idea and it would drive their community even more apart.
      Then there are things like questions how moral it would be, fear that more and more small – time criminals would get threatened (MaMa is dangerous, but she is, as far as most are concerned, not on top of the power – curve), likely arguments that would erupt, like that the powers aren`t even “natural” but bestowed by aliens, which the capes don`t want the public to know, etc…
      It risks escalation and the heroes clearly try to deescalate things and be overly cautious at this point. Things might still escalate, but at least they are trying.

  18. The Corona Pollentia is, I think, located somewhere different for every parahuman. Plus it’s brain surgery. Getting good enough at it to not kill would be tricky, especially as the only capes you’d be able to practice on are regenerators (and that’d be tricky, as they’d be healing the surgery until you had succeeded).

    Nilbog is imprisoned because, at one point, he had a power-derived disease living in his body. Kill him, it escapes, everyone dies. Presumably the same occurs if he’s depowered, as disease resistance is likely a side-effect of his power. Now he’s compliant and behaving, because if he’s compliant and well-behaved enough, they MIGHT let him out. He lives in hope, knowing the hope is likely futile. Also, if they killed him, any more Dots that manage to smuggle themselves out of Earth Bet will try to avenge him.

    The Birdcage also provides a precedent. Most didn’t know it was intended as a reserve of powerful capes to stop Scion; but it provides precedent for not killing the most dangerous capes. They don’t have the facilities right now, but they’re working on an Asylum in Europe, and that was the second-most secure facility. If they get it working and stable, then a second Birdcage isn’t necessarily too far away.

    1. The only successful corona surgeons we know about are
      – Good girl Riley, during her Bonesaw years
      – Amy “Panacea” Dallon
      – “Carmen Isabela SandiegoDouble Tap” Contessa

      Of these, only one was able to reduce its influence over the host.
      If normal humans had mastered the surgery to reduce capes back to humans, it would have changed the entire story, really. The best bet they have is using another cape’s power on her to keep her subdued, as she currently is.

  19. Defiantly interested to see what will happen to Ashley and how the events in the preceding chapters will affect her interactions with the team.

    Also Narwhal has been and always will be my favorite hero cape. Has been since arc 8 of worm.

    1. Narwhal Narwhal
      Fighting the Fallen
      Causing their commotion
      Cause she is so awesome

      Narwhal Narwhal
      Fighting the fallen
      Pretty Big with pretty might
      She beats everyone in a fight

      Like an above ground Unicorn
      She’s got a kick ass facial horn
      Her uniform is carefree
      She stops leviathan eating ye

      Narwhal
      She is Narwhal
      Narwhal
      Don’t let her slice you all
      Narwhal
      She is Narwhal
      Narwhal

      1. Thank you…. I may or may not have saved this to my phone’s notepad…..

        *realizes that definately autocorrected to defiantly in first message*

        Fakkkkkkk

        1. I, too, am defiantly interested in this new revelation of Ashley’s character.

          Jokes aside, I’ve been waiting for something like this conversation between Ashley and Victoria since our first introduction to the therapy group. Up to this point, Rain, Chris, and Ashley have acted as emotional sinkholes in the group’s general interactions, and while I trusted that the reasons would play out (as they did with the reveal about Rain and Mama Mathers), I think this is the first time we see one of those three express personal investment in any of the others. I am rooting for Big Sister Ashley.

          1. I was really relieved and surprised to see that Ashley turned herself in. I was expecting her to go full villain after the thing with BoB. Guess I shoulda given her the benefit of the doubt.

            And Chris is the one mystery that has yet to be revealed. I’m sooo curious about his backstory. Especially about how Rachel recognizes him from somewhere!

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