Pitch – 6.7

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Rain had been slouched across the back seat, a first aid blanket over him, a phone there to give him something to occupy himself with.  As he worked his way to a position where he sat upright, Tristan worked his way past the seats to offer a gentler hand.  I would have offered help, more to help reduce the stress on Rain’s body than because the strength was needed, but I wasn’t able-bodied.

Not many of us were really up to the task, now that I noticed.  Sveta wasn’t weak but she wasn’t coordinated.  Ashley had her screwed up arm that was misfiring.  Chris was able but not inclined.  Kenzie was eleven.

As for Rain- the worst damage had been healed, physically, but he’d come awfully close to dying.  A serious impact in the next hour or two could phase out the healed body parts, with catastrophic consequences for both Rain and Scapegoat.  When he moved, though, it was in a careful sort of way that went beyond someone reeling from physical injuries and going easy with the weird phased-in healing that Scapegoat did.  We had to be ginger with the traumatized parts of him that weren’t physical.

I wanted to draw on my own experiences to empathize with him and better know what to do, but I didn’t have great experiences to draw on.  I’d been badly hurt before, but the only comparable kind of harm had been followed with convalescence and a kind of sedation.  That had been followed by Amy’s attentions and some erasure of memories.

A dark, heavy thought to go alongside how drained I felt in the moment.

My best comparison was being made normal, on the eve of Gold Morning.  A kind of trauma that wasn’t physical, and that was definitely lasting.  I could remember how I’d been in those early days and weeks, ginger in how I handled everything, including myself.  It hadn’t helped that just about everyone had been reeling from the loss of Earth Bet, their homes, and loved ones.

“You comfortable?” Capricorn asked.

“As comfortable as I’m going to be the next few days,” Rain said.

“Sorry that we’re going to put more stuff on your plate so soon,” I said.  “We’re trying to figure out what we’re doing.”

“I can take it,” Rain said.  “I’ve learned to deal with shit.”

“Thank you for swearing,” Chris said.  “One of the most annoying things about being a hero is all the goody-goody types who refuse to swear around me.”

“Well,” Rain said.  He moved a bit, paused to wince, and then finished his sentence, “I think it’s firmly established that I’m not a goody-goody type.  I do want to help, though.”

“It’s nice that they aren’t swearing,” Kenzie said.  “They’re thinking of us.”

Chris scoffed audibly.  With the seats of the bus being what they were, it was hard to see his face.

“The worst part about being a hero isn’t anything about swearing,” Ashley said.  “It’s the untenable bureaucracy.”

I saw Chris’ hand pop up to scratch his head.  He said, “You meant to say interminable or something, I think.”

“No,” Ashley said.  “You meant to say yes, Damsel, you’re right.”

“The bureaucracy is definitely a wall we’ve run into,” I said, interrupting.  “The patrol doesn’t want to pursue the remaining Fallen.”

“Who?  Do you know?”

“The Fallen?” I asked.  When he nodded, I followed up by outlining them. “Crowley brothers, their underlings.  Bamet is out of action.  The one who goes changer from a point in space is still out there, presumably.  Valefor might be out there but I made sure he won’t be able to give any orders for a while.  We got Mama.”

“Oh wow,” Rain said.

“I told you before, but I don’t think you were in a good state to process what I was saying,” Sveta said.

Rain nodded slowly.  “You got Cradle.  You got Mama.  Snag’s dead- he’s dead, right?”

“He’s very dead,” Chris said.  “You should know.”

“It all feels like it might break away and reality might hit if I move too fast or look into it too much,” Rain said.

I thought of the state I’d been in, at the end of twenty-thirteen, the start of year zero, after Gold Morning.  “The way you described things, it’s as if you’re dreaming and things are less distinct than the very intense reality that came before the dream.”

“Yeah,” Rain said.  “Exactly.”

“I get it,” I said.  “I’ve been there.  You want to watch out for the moments where you’re trying to reconcile the disconnect and make the now feel real again.  It’s easy to get carried away.”

“In a fight, you mean?” Capricorn asked.  “Throwing yourself at a situation to feel alive again?”

“Not like that, exactly,” I said.

“I don’t get it,” Looksee said.

I floundered for a moment, then said, “I guess, just as an example, I remember taking a shower and having a moment where it really woke me up and I felt grounded in reality again.  There were a few days of painfully cold and hot showers, trying to wake up and stay fixed in the present.”

Sveta reached over to touch my arm.

There had been other moments, too.  Scrubbing myself until my skin broke, among other things.  Too personal and raw to really share.

“I’ll watch out for that,” Rain said.

“I would really, really advise talking to Mrs. Yamada the next chance you get,” I said, “because I don’t think it’s the kind of thing you can watch out for on your own.”

“I left a message for her,” he said.  He touched the phone, which still sat in his lap.

Ashley’s power flickered in the background.  She adjusted her position, acting like nothing had happened as she leaned against the edge of one seat, a death grip around her forearm.

“I’m going to remove my helmet,” Looksee said.  “My breath keeps fogging up the screen.”

“Keep your back to the windows,” Tristan said.

“Okay.”

I wasn’t sure it mattered- the windows were in dire need of cleaning and dirt from the road covered them for extra measure.  It was a good practice to be in, though, for our team members with secret identities.

There was some rummaging.  Looksee wasn’t the only one to adjust her stuff.  We settled in for a longer talk, with Tristan removing his helmet.  He set it down on the faux-leather bench of the bus beside him, then blurred, becoming Byron.

Byron, too, removed his helmet, setting it down next to Tristan’s.  Red and blue tinted metal, horns and ridges for the former, faint fins and distinct scales for the latter.

I pushed back my hood and pulled my gloves off, being more ginger with my left glove because of the injured arm it was attached to.  I laid the gloves across my lap, and the metal decorations stabbed upward like a small crown.  My hands were clammy.

“The patrol doesn’t want to go after the remaining Fallen?” Rain finally spoke.  His voice was as careful as his movements had been, with a questioning, almost unsure lilt at the end.

“Tomorrow’s problem, they think.  There’s enough to deal with today,” I said.

“That’s the bad news, then?” Rain asked.  “Good news is we got some of the worst of them, the bad news is the Crowleys are going to riot?”

“That’s the gist of it,” Byron said.  His reserved tone of voice was a good match for the quieter-than-usual Rain.

“You’re the resident expert, Rain,” I said.  “How do the Crowleys react?”

“Oof,” Rain huffed out the word.  “I know them mostly from visits and once a year events.  We’d sometimes get people sent to us from their family, trading people between families, to cement ties.  I was one of those people, once.”

Sveta spoke up, “Tattletale wants Cradle in exchange for helping us stop them.  The patrol isn’t helping, so…”

“So it’s not even guaranteed we can make this work,” I finished the trailing sentence.

“Wants Cradle how?” Rain asked.

“To go free,” Sveta said.  “The patrol is holding him and the assassin-”

“They’re annoyed about it,” Chris added.

“-And we wanted to ask for your input,” Sveta finished her statement.

Rain leaned back, his head lolling back until it rested on the top edge of the bench seat.  He sighed.

“I thought I only had Love Lost to worry about now,” he said.  “You want to let him go?”

I don’t,” Kenzie said.  “I want you to be safe.”

“We’re unsure.  Trying to figure it out,” Sveta said.  “It’s why we’re asking about the Crowleys.”

“Where were you originally?” I asked.  I put the question out there in part to not make this too abrupt or intense for Rain.  “Were you Crowley?”

“McVeay, kind of.  My aunt and uncle were more into it than my parents, I think.  We had irregular visits to or- or by some intense, religious people that everyone listened to.  A lot changed as we moved around, sometimes we camped, sometimes it was trailers, but a few things were constant, like religious services, extended family being there, and those intense, scary people.  Then I was sent to the Mathers, along with my aunt and uncle.  A bunch of the original people I know from childhood were already there- or here.  Are still here.”

“The community part of it sounds nice, at least,” Kenzie offered.

“It really wasn’t,” Rain said.

“Oh.”

“Sorry,” he said.  He sighed.  “Crowleys… we’ve been seeing them like I used to see the McVeay leaders when we’d go visit their compounds or when they checked on us.  The rest of the family never respected them.  That branch started because some university kids wanted attention, and then a bunch of brothers with powers jumped in, played along, and took over.  They almost got killed by the other families before they figured out how to play the politics.”

“And somewhere along the way, they started buying what they were selling to keep the group together?” I asked.

Rain shook his head.  “I don’t know.  It never felt like they took this seriously, everyone says they capitalize on the reputation of the other families.  But they had the guns today, didn’t they?  They were for real.”

“Yeah,” Byron said.

“You don’t have a good sense of them, then?” I asked.

“I have a bit of a sense.  The low level guys, there are some that call themselves jackasses.  It’s a badge of honor.  They vandalize, they do the stunts you might hear about on the news, interrupting serious events, getting people offended.”

“The people most people think about when they think of Fallen,” Byron said.

“Yeah,” Rain said.  “Thing is, when we’d all get together so every family had enough people nearby to be an army in case something happened, we’d see the jackasses and they’d be some of the scariest people around.”

Chris leaned forward, “Stay away from those Jackass kids, Junior, they’re up to no good, I hear one of them was crazy enough to trim his pubes with a weed whacker.  Be back before eight, because we’re decapitating a baby for the ritual tonight and we need you to hold it down.”

“Not the baby,” Kenzie gasped.

“That first part isn’t all that wrong,” Rain said.  “We’d laugh about it, because parents would tell soldiers to stay away from these loons that have probably never seen a fight.”

“They’re all loons,” Kenzie said.

“Well, yeah,” Rain said.  “These guys specifically were… not all super nuts.  Some were like you or me.”

“You and me are pretty screwed up,” Kenzie said.  “I don’t think that’s a good measure.”

“I think it’s right.  The minor ones were almost normal, except for the part where they were Fallen and they’d each done something to earn their stripes, like playing death metal over speakers at a remembrance ceremony.  But there are a lot of them who… I guess spent years getting celebrated for doing fucked up things.  No empathy, no fear of death.  Those are the ones to watch out for, and the ones I can definitely see hurting civilians.  Shooting people.  Shit.”

“Those are the little guys.  What about the leaders?” I asked.  “If they can order their guys around, what are they going to tell them?”

“I don’t know.  I never really learned much about them specifically.  I saw a few of their immediate family members. They thrive on being unpredictable, I guess.  They seemed to go back and forth between a ton of infighting and hurting themselves and then suddenly being really good manipulators who would send relatives to other branches and isolated cells and try to get them to collaborate on something or they’d steer that ship.”

“If the patrol knows they’re that hard to figure out, they could be taking a wait and see approach,” Sveta said.  She looked at me.

“The patrol is overlooking that we have some pretty good ideas about their current direction, with them using the guns like they did,” I pointed out.

“People are going to get hurt if someone doesn’t stop them,” Rain murmured.

“You think?” Byron asked.

“Oh yeah,” Rain said.  “Yeah.”

I started to lean forward, because the backs of the bus seats obscured so much of the group, found I couldn’t comfortably do it without my arm hurting, and sat up straighter instead.

“We wanted to prevent this.  A spy in Advance-”

A noise at the front of the bus interrupted me.  The door was being pushed open.  Kenzie and Byron reached for their helmets.  Kenzie held the front half of her helmet up in front of her face with her hands.

They relaxed when the head popped up.  Black haired, with jewelry.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Erin said.  “I can go.”

“Stay,” Rain said.

Erin remained where she was.  From the height she stood at, she had to be standing on the stair of the bus just before the level the driver’s chair was situated on.  The flat barrier with the railing separated her from us.

“You’re okay now,” she said.  “I saw you before, briefly, while you were bloody- I shouldn’t be mentioning that.”

She sounded so shaken.

“Do you guys want to be alone?” Sveta asked.

“Sure,” Rain said, at the same time Erin said, “No.”

The tension in the pause that followed was almost physical.

“Is your family okay?” Rain asked.

“Mom was really upset.  She got angry, and tried to pick a fight with someone our age, one of the people in body armor.  I was just talking with her, while she’s handcuffed to a rail in one of the buses now.  Dad- he’s angry too but he’s holding it together so he can stick with Bryce.”

“I’m glad they’re alive,” Rain said.

“They’re shaken.  When we were mind controlled, it shook them.  There was a moment I was talking to my mom when she asked me for an explanation, and I thought- did she get it?  Then she started making up these really thin reasons and getting really angry at me for no reason, when I wasn’t saying anything.”

Erin looked so disappointed.

She went on, and her eyes were damp as she said, “But I’m glad they’re alive too, Rain.  You gave me something I didn’t think was possible.  They’re away from all of that.  Maybe there’s a chance.”

“I hope so,” Rain said.

“I’m sorry I was so horrible to you,” she said.

“That night was the kind of night that’s horrible no matter what,” Rain said.  “Wasn’t you.  Let’s pretend it never happened.”

“I’d like that,” she said.  “Can we go back to being friends?”

“Friends,” Rain said.  “Yeah, of course.  Come sit?  Keep us company?  These guys are going to leave soon, and I’ll be bored like this.”

“I-” she started.  “Bryce did get a little bit hurt.  I was about to check up on him.  I’ll visit properly later.”

“Okay.”  The one word from Rain sounded anything but.

“You guys do your hero thing,” she spoke with a forced brightness.  “Thank you, everyone.  I know you helped.  You’re amazing.”

“Except for Kenzie,” Chris said.  “She’s just okay.”

“Aw.”

“Don’t listen to him.  You’re especially amazing, critter,” Erin said.  “Second only to Rain, and I’m biased.”

I snuck a glance at Rain, trying to read him.

“Do your hero thing, Rain,” Erin said.  “Because- you are a hero.  Thank you for helping to get us out.”

“Say hi to Bryce for me, yeah?” Rain asked.

“I will.  I’ll visit soon,” she said.  “I promise.”

And then she was gone, ducking her head down, exiting the bus.  I twisted around and watched through the blurry, dusty window as she walked away, escorted by a patrol student in uniform.

When I looked back in Rain’s direction, his eyes were moist and getting moister.

I dropped my gaze, my eyes settled on the ‘crown’ of spikes from my gloves.  Each spike was meant to run over the top of my knuckles and rest flat against the back of my hand, all in parallel.  I rested a finger on one of the longer spikes.

Rain couldn’t be faulted for feeling vulnerable after his ordeal.

“Cradle would hurt them to get at me,” Rain said.

“It’s possible,” I said.  I was put in mind of Cradle’s words, and the way his description of Rain had struck home for me.  Had I been willing to look at Rain, I might have found it hard to maintain eye contact.

“That’s not what I thought you’d say,” Sveta said.  Her eyes, like mine, were downcast.

“You want me to let him go,” Rain said.

“I’m in this to help people,” Sveta said.  “I think we should all want this.  Even if any of you are more selfish than that, think about where the team is.”

“Where’s the team?” Kenzie asked.

Sveta met my eyes.  I glanced at Ashley, in turn, then at Byron.

“Kenzie, Ashley kind of killed someone,” Sveta said.  “So did Rain.”

“You came very close to killing someone too,” I said.

“I had to,” Kenzie said.

“Wait, let me talk,” Sveta said.  “I’ve been thinking about this.  I talked about this in front of all of you at different times.  In the group, and in the room with Victoria.  My first clear memories, I was dropped into the middle of a populated area in Russia.  I killed a lot of people accidentally.  Civilians and army that came after me, and then people from the PRT.  I didn’t stop because I found a way to stop.  I stopped because they caught me.”

“You’ve talked about it,” Ashley said.  “Deaths stay with us.”

“They’re supposed to stay with us!” Sveta sounded plaintive and outraged at the same time.  “This is major.  I got each and every one of those names of the people I killed.  I learned about them.  I know it wasn’t my fault, but…”

“Saving those people wouldn’t mitigate that,” Ashley said.  “There aren’t scales that balance because you take one life and save another.  If you take lives you’re a murderer and nothing wipes that slate clean.”

“That’s not true,” Kenzie said.

“I know that, Ashley,” Sveta said, upset, “That’s not what I’m saying at all.”

“What are you saying?” I asked.

“I think it would be really messed up if the deaths were glossed over because things were as bad as they were,” Sveta said.  “And if the team stayed together.  I don’t see a good way for things to end.”

“End?” Kenzie asked.  “There doesn’t have to be an end.”

“Kenzie,” Sveta sounded apologetic as she said it.  “How does this continue?”

“It continues when you accept that the people who died were…” Chris said, trailing off.

“Monstrous?” Sveta asked, archly.

“Assholes,” Chris said.

“Yeah.  Let’s kill every asshole,” Sveta said.  “That’d be great.  We’re supposed to be a hero team.  I wouldn’t feel very heroic if this was how we left this.”

“We don’t have to leave anything,” Kenzie said.  Sveta moved her hand to reach over the top of the seat and touch Kenzie’s shoulder, and Kenzie pushed it away.  “This is silly.”

“An awful lot of us have killed,” Rain said.  “Consequences pending or interrupted.”

“You said, once, that you wanted to turn yourself in,” Sveta said.  “You weren’t clear about what happened around that, but it led to your joining the group.”

“Time with Mrs. Yamada first, then the group,” he said.  “I heard some of that discussion.”

“Mama Mathers kept you from confessing,” I concluded.

“Yes,” he replied.  “I’ve always told myself that I’d face consequences for what I did.  There’s no room in the jails, yet.  But maybe one day I’ll face a sentence.  A lot of people got hurt because I didn’t act.  Maybe ten, twenty years, with time off because I cooperate.  That doesn’t wipe the slate clean, like Ashley said, does it?  But maybe it helps?”

“Ashley- you’re cooperating, aren’t you?” Sveta asked.

“Yes.”

“No,” Kenzie said.

“I think it would be a relief,” Ashley said.  “Incarceration.  I’ve been waiting a long time for it, I think, and there are people waiting for me on the other side.”

“I don’t want to be the bad guy.  I just want due process,” Sveta said.  “That’s all.”

“How does this relate to going after the Fallen?” I asked.

“I don’t want this to be all regrets,” she said.  “You’re certain this is going to turn violent, Rain?”

“Completely,” he said.  “It’s the mindset.  The Crowleys are a bit of a mystery but Fallen as a group aren’t.”

“Then let’s get people to help,” Sveta said.  “The patrol might not help, the Undersiders might refuse if we don’t give them Cradle, but we made other allies.  If this is an emergency then let’s call in favors and do what we can.”

“Without getting involved,” Byron said.

“Yeah,” Sveta said.  “Not us as a group.  We’d be peripheral, coordinating.  We all know people.  We can do the right thing here, all of us working together.  That’s what I want most- for this to have been a good thing.”

“You say that like it’s already over,” Kenzie said.

“This part of it’s almost over,” Ashley said.

“No,” Kenzie said.  “Nuh uh.”

“Does not compute with K-z logic,” Chris said.

Fuck off, Chris,” Kenzie said.  “Dickhole.”

She grabbed her helmet as she stood up, putting it on as the two halves.  She stopped walking as I put a hand out.

“Let me go,” she said.

“I will.  One question though,” I said.

“What?”

“Are you going to regret not being here for this conversation?  I can fill you in after, if you need to get away, or I could come with you, if you needed company or backup.”

“You agree with Sveta, don’t you?” she asked, accusatory.

“I like the idea of due process and fair justice,” I said.  “I’m not as sure as Sveta that this machine has its cogs in place.”

She stood there.  Even with the parts of her bodysuit that stood out to give it definition and decoration, it was very apparent how small and skinny she was.  A couple of inches shy of being five feet tall.  Fragile, in a completely different way than Rain was fragile, right now.

She pushed past my hand, walked down the aisle a bit, and then seated herself on a seat a few rows behind Ashley, her back to us.

“Outlining our options, Tattletale said she’d keep an eye on Cradle,” I said.

“She says a lot of things,” Chris said.  “I’m a bit lost, in all of this.  But she pointed Cradle and the cleaver assassin at Rain, right?  She led them right to him.”

“It looks like it,” Sveta said.

“Then she pointed us at the assassin guy and Cradle.”

“Yeah,” Sveta said.

“And now she wants us to let Cradle go.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Contradictory,” Chris said.

“She promised an explanation,” I said.

“Damn this fragile healing effect,” Rain said.  He sounded angrier than anything, now.  “I really want that explanation, now, to my face.”

“I can help with that,” Kenzie said, from halfway down the bus, her back still to us.

I looked at Rain, and then I looked at the boy who had forecast so much of this.  Tristan might have been the type for a victorious ‘I told you so’, had the roles been reversed.  Byron, however, was quiet, his expression unreadable.

My hand moved, and the ‘crown’ moved with it.  I’d exerted too much pressure, and the point of the spike had pierced the bed of my finger, with red blood welling up and a droplet tracing its way down the spike.

I donned the glove, the fabric serving to cover the small puncture wound.

I’d met with Tattletale before, in a place very similar to this.  The city was close to one of the portals, and it was very likely that it was one of the cities that had been supplied with foreign material, and that material was concrete.  Underfoot, the buildings, the supporting pillars that ran diagonally from the ground to the buildings.

Yellow paint marked the pillars, so cars wouldn’t drive into gray pillars against a backdrop of gray ground and gray buildings.  More of the paint had been used to define the boundaries of the road.  Perhaps because the yellow paint was so prevalent, some enterprising vandals had used a boatload of it to scrawl crude images and words along many surfaces- only some of which had been cleaned or partially cleaned.  I suspected the cleanup crews were high school students working as part of a morning or afternoon block, because there seemed to be a bias in the graffiti that was partially removed versus the images that hadn’t been touched.  Art was allowed to stay up as long as possible.

Again, I was guided to a food court, this one beside a complicated concrete edifice with extraneous pillars and supports, and a long overhang that kept things dry in the light rain.  Again, the graffiti, I noted.  Maybe it was something Tattletale liked or identified with the Undersiders.

This time, though, I wasn’t arriving alone.

It was an odd feeling, to have the team with me, when things stood where they did.  Minus two members, but most of us were present.  Yes, things were tense and uneasy, but there had been a moment back there where I’d been damn proud of all of them.  Against Cradle in particular, we’d stood together.

Once we’d figured out where we were going, deciding on a route that avoided the settled areas and roads, Vista had shortened the distance as much as she could.  We’d left Kenzie’s projector cube behind, in favor of the faster trip.  Even with the shortcut, we’d had to hitch a ride to get ourselves here.  Concord Station.

The Undersiders were waiting for us.  They sat on tables and chairs, or lounged with stuffed animals and mutant dogs giving them something to lean on or sit on.  Foil and Imp stood, while others sat or leaned back.  Foil was stock still, on guard, and Imp was restless.

There were others.  I recognized Snuff.  There was the boy with the birds.  Two people were dressed to match Rachel in general style, with heavy clothes that seemed more utilitarian, except for bits and pieces, like a collar here or a spiked belt wrapped around the arm there.  The guy wore a bear trap decoration around his lower face.

Maybe those were utilitarian too, with ‘intimidation’ being the sought-after utility.

They would have outnumbered us without the mutant dogs and the giant stuffed animals with the black cloth.  With them, though?  Three to one.

Similar to Snag’s numbers, now that I thought about it.

“The Fallen reached the city a bit ago,” Tattletale said.  “They didn’t go in with guns blazing, but they’re liable to come out that way.”

“I see your team made it out intact,” I observed.  Off to my left, Chris walked away, traveling the perimeter of the area where the overhang kept the rain off.  Foil changed position, ready to take a shot with her crossbow if she had to, and one of the dogs that had been lying down stood up.

“We get by,” Tattletale said.  “We were playing it careful, we even tried to warn Prancer that something was wrong.  He didn’t buy it.  That’s the issue you run into when you surround yourself with villains and deceivers.  You can’t be sure they’re for real when they tell you something important.”

“Is it isolating, Tattletale, sitting there surrounded with your deceivers and villains?” I asked.

“No.  I’m pretty content right now, actually.”

“Weld says hi, Foil,” Sveta said.  “He wishes he could have talked with you while you were there.”

Foil nodded, but she remained silent.

“This is kind of a favor, us stopping while we’re partway home, waiting for you, giving you the deets you’re so eager for.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I really do appreciate this.  I know it’s a really difficult thing, acting halfway decent.  Do make sure you keep pointing it out, any time you do it, and gloss over the parts where there’s tacit manipulation or something in it for you.”

Tristan leaned over and murmured, “Are you sure you’re good taking point on this?”

“Yeah,” I murmured back.

“She and I, we have a rapport, Capricorn,” Tattletale said.  “It’s not a healthy rapport, but we are who we are.  Oil and water.”

“Can we be the oil?” Imp asked.  “Slick, dark, with wealth implied?”

Beside me, Looksee had her camera.  She hefted it up and set it down on the table.

“No recordings, please,” Tattletale said.  “Or this conversation is over.”

“It’s not a recording,” Looksee said.

“Strange tinker devices?  Not a great way to open this discussion,” Tattletale said.  “At least it’s interesting.  I thought this would be the usual predictable thing with you sniping at me and then asking the questions.  Why did I help you, why did I help Cradle, what are the Fallen doing, what are you missing?”

“No,” I said.

“If you’re not giving me Cradle, this is going to be a short meeting,” she said.

“Explanations before we give you anything,” I said.

“And we’re back to the script,” Tattletale sighed the words, barely audible.  “Normally people pay me for my information.  But for you, and for hometown pride…”

“Not me,” I said.  “The explanations aren’t for me.”

I looked at Kenzie.

She hit a button on her camera.  When it didn’t boot, she hammered it with her hand a few times.

The projector came on.  The two missing members of our group appeared.  Ashley was projected, her lower body a static black dress.  She’d be sitting on a bus right now, a laptop beside her, to capture her face and anything she said.

And Rain.  For the moment, he was intact, but frozen in place.

“Ah,” Tattletale said.  “Your Fallen teammate.”

“It’s up to him whether we give you Cradle or not,” I said.  “But we’re leaning toward not, just so you know.”

“Of course.  Standard negotiation.”

Looksee hit the camera again.

Rain animated, the image glitching in the moment before it caught up.  Now he appeared like he was in the plaza with us, the occasional scan line or glitch marking him for the projected image he was.

Looksee’s camera had captured the images of the wounds.  The slashes, the cuts and cleaves, and the parts where skin peeled away.  It simulated the blood.

She’d even captured the background sound.  The ragged, rough breathing, like each inhalation and exhalation was an effort.

“I don’t need to ask you why you helped both Cradle and us,” I said.  “I think I get it.”

“Do you now?” Tattletale asked.  Her attention was on Rain’s spectre.  Damsel’s spectre moved around the group, standing beside Looksee.

“I get it because you want the same thing I want.  You were managing the battle and hoping and praying that people would see the light and play nice.  You want the old rules and the old ‘game’, and you’re apparently not that stellar when it comes to reading multi-triggers like my teammate, Cradle, or March.  You underestimated the bloodlust and you overestimated how much my teammate deserved it.  He got the cleaver, and you felt so darn awful about it, you volunteered help.”

“Oh my god, Tattletale,” Parian said.

“There’s a good bit more to it,” Tattletale said, before turning to tell Parian, “so don’t buy too heavily into the theatrics.  We’re capes.  We should be used to this.”

“If you want to deal with people like Cradle, you should at least look at the consequences,” Sveta said.

“I’m aware of the consequences.  I’m aware of a ton of stuff.  The reality is, Garotte, there’s bigger picture stuff.  There’re a half-dozen people who are only seeing one or two dimensions of the greater structure and we’re each trying to keep it from toppling without being able to talk to the others.  I’m trying to hold up my end and simultaneously open the channels of communication.  Kind of important.”

So she said, but she didn’t like looking at Rain as she said it.

I could work with that.  Maybe I wouldn’t take point on this after all.  I felt a grim kind of satisfaction.

“Great,” I said.  “Elaborate.  But don’t tell me.  Tell him.”

“Please.  Let’s talk,” the bloodied image of Rain said.

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111 thoughts on “Pitch – 6.7”

  1. And she calls TT a manipulator. Having a badly injured person due to the person you’re talking to is one way to give you an edge in a conversation.

  2. Yeah, I still don’t see Ashley serving time unless someone really has it in for her. It’s interesting that she and Rain are so committed to seeing some kind of justice done for their actions, though. And a little worrying that Kenzie’s so against it, because I could see her launching some kind of jailbreak whether they want it or not.

    Tattletale having to confront the teenager she got mutilated is also good. It won’t have any lasting effect, I think, but it definitely puts her off balance and more likely to give the truth.

    1. I’m really feeling for Rain, and impressed at the way he’s committing to seeing some consequences for the things he’s done.

      Also, Tattletale, this was dumb. This was very dumb. Lisa, I like you, but you literally gambled that parahumans would pull back from the edge of violence and see reason.

      1. Imp probably had to activate her power for a second so as to make everyone forget the facepalm she performed when she heard that.

        Oh, we want to guilt Lisa even more, let her know Rain had offered to kill himself, or let the cluster kill him. That ought to set off her issues about people she cares about being suicidal.

        I can just imagine the Undersiders conversation with her down the road.

        Bitch- “You know how I’m horrible at understanding people, and don’t get them well at all?”
        Lisa- “Yeah. Why”
        Bitch- “Because I’m not the worst at getting people in this group anymore.”

      2. That’s not necessarily true. You’re saying Tt gambled *that* but that conclusion is Victoria’s. It doesn’t mean its right. I think the only part Victoria is correct about is that Tt overestimated how much Rain deserved it. I think she knew they were gonna torture and kill Rain but she heard about it from the Cluster members’ perspective. Tt needed to employ the cluster members for something big, something that clearly matters–if enabling the torture and death of someone who’s responsible for the death of so many (which is probs how the Cluster members spun it) then Tt probs didn’t mind.

        But Tt is smarter than Victoria gives her credit for so I really, really would wait for Tt’s explanation.

        1. I figure she just manipulated the situation to take out the Fallen. The fallen were geared well to take advantage of the post apocalyptic society and without the old systems in place had extended reach among the rebuilding society. TT saw it as big but others didn’t so here come Snag, LL and Cradle with a desire to take them out and she guides things to get them the necessary army. Probably planned to add the regular forces somehow and Vicky’s group just gave her the opportunity.

          But yeah, the obligations around Rain backfired on her unexpectedly. She probably was missing the pieces that let her know just how far he’d come or the significance of his role in the Fallen’s activities. Add to that a difficulty reading cluster capes, particularly when it’s evident they aren’t acting normally, and she could easily miss that good people have become uncharacteristicly brutal.

          But it will certainly be interesting to see what her great need for Cradle is… maybe it not even his powers but his person… something about his background as a civilian before all this.

    2. She might be off the hook otherwise but due to her history there are probably a number of people in the system keeping an eye on her so she might be pounced on at first offense.

      We’ll see how it goes.

    3. Meh. I agree with Kenzie, honestly. “Consequences” don’t actually help anyone or do anything productive.

    4. I believe I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I’m with you, Glassware. Ashley’s “victim” first stepped on her then hit her with an armored gauntlet. I think she was fully legally justified in hitting back. And her power has no stun setting. Conduct unbecoming an old-school four-color superhero? Sure. Criminal? Not hardly. She deserves a harsh debriefing with a bunch of certified good guys staring unkindly at her and a black mark on her Hero Card. No more.

      Rain? Considering what some capes have been permitted to get away with? He deserves a pat on the head and community service to better earn the trust of the public people.

  3. Hah, well done Vicky. That’s ones way to lob a hardball at the Undersiders.

    Glad to see Parian at least kept some of her sensibilities.

  4. It’s great to see Ashley, Rain, Erin and Parian trying to own their situations. It’s maddening to see Kenzie, Victoria and Tata so stubborn about theirs.

    But we’re finally getting the long overdue talk, so if Kenzie twists the knife a bit to show Rain in his unhealed state, that’s only gonna remind Lisa’s people what a clusterfuck she got them into by allying with his Cluster, so…

    That was very nicely shaped, giving us what I wanted and still leaving some off.

  5. Great chapter. The quieter ones are often the best, and more impressive because so few authors can do them well, compared to flashy battle scenes.
    Nice to have a quiet and reflective moment after the battle. Making it clear that people aren’t quite okay and giving them time to process.

    Sveta has a serious complex about killing people and responsibility, very black and white. She blames herself for the deaths her powers caused, despite it being absolutely out of her control. Not sure if she’s capable of letting the others do anything less. She seems to think everyone needs to go through a ritual self flagellation. (Maybe its an over intellectual approach, but I’m surprised noone responded with the obvious utilitarian argument that killing MaMa or whoever would save a lot of lives in the long term.)

    Ashley has this oddly fatalistic response that seems like a lot of people with depression and trauma. She’d welcome being locked up becuase it would remove the responsibility, and confirm what she fears.

    Nice little moment with Tristan and Byron swapping around to both take off their helmets. Does this mean that they can store stuff in their “hammerspace” while the other is transformed? If its not jsut clothes (say suff in pockets or a backpack) it could be an effective way to smuggle things around.

    Rain and Erin’s interaction is so tragic. Somehow worse being very understated.

    Intersting to see the other undersiders (esp foil and parian) reacting to finding out what Tattletale did. Getting the sense they’re not totally on board with being minions for her masterplans, or at least not without being told whats going on half the time.

    Vicky really shouldn’t be the one talking to the undersiders though, both her and Lisa revert back to teenage sniping with one another.

    Having Rain negotiate is interesting, not just because of his own stake in whats going on, but because this gives him an oppurtunity to grow as a character in taking on more responsibility. Maybe after all that trauma having finally fully rejected and escaped the Fallen will give him some peace.

    1. Sveta’s pretty much right to blame herself, isn’t she? She did cause all those deaths. She doesn’t have a lot of conscious control over her body, but that lack of control is part of what she IS, a tentacle monster that kills everything she touches. “Monster” in the sense of “dangerous wild animal”, not “person who chooses to do monstrous things”. And since that’s not how she wants to see herself, she’s instead claiming responsibility for her actions.

      1. Yeah that whole section with Erin… That was just cruel of you Wildbow. Like Cruella DeVille cruel or something. Well I guess if Erin ever becomes a cape maybe her cape name should be Friendzone.

        And I’ll admit I’d find it funny if at some point everyone else says they are just going to leave Vicky and Lisa to snipe at each other, while the adults see about getting something done.

        1. Please never use the term “friendzone”. It’s complete bullshit. Erin didn’t do anything to Rain in this chapter except thank him.

          1. She made clear that she still highly prioritizes her family over Rain, as she has throughout their time together. Her brother has a small injury and she has to see him about it while Rain was on the cusp of death and she has absolutely no desire to be alone with him. She said the only way she’s gonna be with him is if she is mind raped to do so, which is ouch for Rain but not her fault as she is just making her consistent position of their relationship as clear as possible so he doesn’t hold any forlorn hope.

            It’s rather kind of her to be honest, even if it is harsh to throw it in with the rest of his problems now and puts a stop to any romantic heroic fantasies that might be developing in anyone’s perceptions.

            What powers would a cape named “Friendzone” have anyway? Relationship warping powers?

      2. How is it in anyway her fault? Its one of her first memories, she had no prior memory of who or what she was, which probably made the situation even more terrifying for her. Towards the end of Worm, I recall that Sveta described how she was a prisoner in her own body, how the tentacles reached out killed animals and force-fed them to her raw, while she was forced to comply even though she didn’t even have the will to survive at that point. She didn’t have a say in it. It took *years* to master that small amount of self control over her body and even now, she’s way safer for everyone when contained in the prosthetic body. The lack of control is a part of the *body* not her. The self-blame is all Sveta, the killing was not.

        1. The lack of control is a part of the *body* not her.

          What does “her” refer to, then? When I said that “Sveta’s pretty much right to blame herself”, I was talking about the entity calling itself “Sveta”. The Case-53 with the death tentacles. The one who killed all those people in Russia. Weld’s girlfriend. If you want to draw some line between Sveta’s body and Sveta’s mind, I think it’s an abstract and arbitrary one. The two cannot be separated. It would make more sense to point at a specific tentacle and say that *it* strangled someone, and name all the other tentacles blameless, since at least a tentacle can be cut away.

          1. Except that with her body its totally valid to name the tentacles as being separate entities from her because they act without her volition. A normal person can’t blame their arms for murdering people because their arms cannot take any real action without the input of the mind but the same does not hold true for Sveta. If anyone deserves blame for all the deaths caused by Sveta its either her Shard which is likely what controls the automatic responses of her body or Cauldron for creating the girl with uncontrollable murder tentacles and then dumping her into a populated area without doing anything to prevent the inevitable from happening.

          2. If anyone deserves blame for all the deaths caused by Sveta its either her Shard […] or Cauldron

            What’s funny about this sentence is that it acknowledges both that 1) Sveta caused the deaths and 2) it’s possible to blame more than one person for a single thing, so it doesn’t make any difference for Sveta who else is responsible. 🙂

            Seriously, though, I don’t think it even matters whose fault it was. It’s more interesting how Sveta herself thinks about it. I’m reminded of Burnscar, even though it’s not really fair, since Burnscar always had the option to just not use her power. She’s a lot more culpable, if you want to play the blame game. Anyway, Burnscar never showed any intent to atone for her crimes. She saw the murders she committed as sad but inevitable results of how her power worked, and her Slaughterhouse membership as horrible but not something she could change. She was okay with pretending to be a hapless bystander while her power killed people. Sveta isn’t. Her self-loathing feels positive, in a way. She blames herself, and it’s pushing her forward, into gaining more control over her body. Even if she needs to wear a rigid exoskeleton to go outside.

            As for the semantic argument, human motor control is mostly autonomous. You don’t need to consciously think about what your muscles are doing when you’re standing, or grasping something. And there are things like heartbeat, digestion and the immune system that you have zero conscious control over. Sveta’s situation is nothing unique in that regard. Her tentacles are a part of her body, just as much as a human leg is a part of a human.

          3. I’m not sure, without some sort of solid moral framework well beyond what a forum convo can offer, that Sveta’s case of self-blame is clear-cut “right” or “wrong”. It’s a mix of unhealthy thoughts and healthy thoughts, I’d imagine, given both how she portrays herself and how others have talked about her. Within the healthy thoughts, there may be logical mishaps. Within the unhealthy thoughts, there may be sound logic. They’re blurry and they don’t exclude each other, so talking about her overall responsibility acceptance on moral grounds is difficult.

            I do think she’s being very careful and responsible, and in the face of others who (at least from Vicky’s limited and biased perspective) are far less careful and responsible, that stands out as something worth affirming.

          4. I know this question might cause issues but i’m wondering, How does the fundamental disconnect between body and mind she is experiencing compare to the transgender experience? The feeling of being in the wrong body and everything feeling wrong but it is still your body? How does the mind/body connection work with transgendered people compared to how it works for Sveta?

            I’m sorry if i offended anyone with asking, but the whole mind and body discussion made me wonder how relatable the experiences are to each other.

          5. @Fluffy Bunny Slippers

            Trans girl here, and no offense taken- it’s good to ask if you have questions! just remember that nobody owes you an explanation and you’ll be fine 😛

            As for your question- you certainly can make a comparison between some aspects of being transgender and some aspects of Sveta’s experience. Sveta has a body that “isn’t hers”, that doesn’t feel right, that does things she doesn’t want it to, all of which are similar feelings to what some trans people have when going through the wrong puberty- having a body that is suddenly does things you don’t want it to do, is shaped in uncomfortable ways, genitals getting ready for reproduction that doesn’t fit what feels right for you, etc. Then there’s the emotional side- being seen as dangerous, a monster, by strangers you encounter, and being constantly terrified of being targeted for your differences, the fear that you might never be accepted for who you are and would be better of dead.

            Of course, gender dysphoria is a danger to the person suffering it, not to the people around them. So, Sveta could more closely be compared to… let’s say, a trans person who triggers and gets a power that causes anyone who gets to close to suffer intense physical harm for all the mental and emotional harm the trans person suffers.

            But ultimately, no two trans people are exactly the same, and everyone experiences it differently. Some feel intense dysphoria about some or all of their body, but others might not have any physical dysphoria at all. Some have no problem being misgendered and deadnamed, others feel like they might spontaneously drop dead every time it happens. So yeah, Sveta’s experience can be compared to that of transgender people, but it’s not the most accurate comparison.

            (also, fyi, it’s more accurate to go with “transgender people” than “transgendered people”- the latter is kinda like saying “gayed people” or “blacked people”

          6. Spoilers for Twig.

            V’q znxr gur pbzcnevfba gb gur fpvragvfgf Fl naq Znel xvqanccrq va Jneevpx. Jura gur fpvragvfgf pnzr qbja sebz gurve qehtf, naq vaibyhagnevyl fuerqqrq gurzfryirf ba gur enmbe jver. Gubfr qrnguf jrer pnhfrq ol gurve obqvrf. Gur zvaq gung pnhfrq vg orybatrq gb Fl.

            Firgn’f obql vaibyhagnevyl xvyyrq n ohapu bs crbcyr. Vs nal zvaq jnf ng snhyg sbe gung, vg’f gur ntrag (be Pnhyqeba). Gurl perngrq gur fpranevb gung yrq gb qrnguf.

      3. How can one be morally culpable for actions outside one’s control?

        Sveta could not have done otherwise. She did not choose to be a test subject, she did not choose to be dropped in a populated area, and she did not choose to kill those people. What could she have done differently? If there is nothing she could have done differently, in what way is she blameworthy?

        1. The reality of our morality is that humans don’t just assign blame just based on intention, but also on outcome, no matter how flawed that logic is. For example, if say there are two knowingly drunk drivers in the exact same situation, and they both veer off the road in the same way, but one happens to hits a tree and the other hits a child. We naturally assign more blame and fault to the one who hit the child, even if both made equally morally wrong decisions leading up to the outcome.

          I do think that Sveta is morally innocent. But it is important for her to recognize and keep that guilt in her, because her body is part of her identity, and to let go of the blame risks more deaths.

          1. I agree, up to a point. The thing is, I didn’t mention intention but rather ability to have acted differently. The drunk drivers could have not driven drunk whereas Sveta literally could not have acted otherwise. People are responsible for their actions above and beyond whatever their intentions are, but they are not responsible for that over which they have no control.

          2. Yes, but more often than not, its intention intensity * result’s intensity, where result’s intensity in a gamble can’t be lower than 1.

            In other words, worse results mean worse punishment, but if intention’s intensity is literally 0 (harm by neglect is not 0 when a reasonable case can be made that the person was expected to not neglect), then any result of that calc will be also 0.

        2. Actually she kinda did agree to the cauldron procedure. They mentioned in the one interlude that Contessa was always polite enough to ask folk’s permission to save their lives. I mean, yeah, the restshe didn’t quite choose, but hey, she could’ve chosen other paths, an maybe a different way would’ve involved less death.

          ~Teian

          1. Okay Contessa clearly varied on who she asked permission. And Sveta clearly wasn’t one of them, its obvious from her conversation w/ Doctor Mother that there was no choice on her part.

          2. In Alexandria’s interlude she asks newter if he wants to live. We don’t have always.

    2. Yeah. I feel this. This chapter really hit, in a good way. The quiet ones work. I wouldn’t want all quiet though. I feel like Ward is doing a good job of going soft-loud and keeping up both action and character without dropping the ball on either.

    1. Lisa’s a big girl, and one who is well used to lobbing emotional grenades at people, she can take it. Besides which, this was definitely a fuckup on Lisa’s part.

      1. Personally I just found it hilarious that after all this time of constantly going after people’s emotional sore spots even when “playing nice” that Lisa finally gets a taste of her own medicine. XD

        I mean I like her but man this karma is just too delicious. 😀

      2. And going by Parian’s reaction; Lisa seems to have made the additional mistake of keeping her teammate out of the loop.

        So that’s like 2.5 times the fuck up(If I’m doing my math correctly.).

    2. Yeah seriously. Victoria seems a bit more interested in twisting the knife for Tt, not actually cooperating to take out the Crowleys.

      1. Considering the situation I think its a very good idea to force Tattletale to actually face the consequences of working with someone like Cradle before making any deals with her that involves letting him loose. Stopping the Crowleys are important but the team can’t do that without the Undersiders but Tattletale’s price of having Cradle let go is unacceptable as long as she’s not willing to put a tight enough leash on him to prevent him from at the very least going after civilians like Erin and her family just to spite Rain.

  6. I hope Rain and Erin get to talk soon. There’s a lot they need to hash out between them. Maybe Erin will get an interlude at some point?

    This is all assuming things don’t go horribly wrong for either of them anytime soon.

    1. They’re probably done, to be honest. Rain did what he could, but Erin
      – Isn’t ready to leave the Fallen if it means leaving her stupid parents.
      – Doesn’t feel the same way about him as he does her, and neither of them will find it easy to forget that she was going to ‘settle’ for him.

      They can be friends, but it’ll be strained, awkward, difficult.

      1. I agree.

        I am curious as to where Erin will end up though, with her parents being arrested, the Fallen failing and her parent’s possibly rejecting her for not joining them when the chips are down.

        She has made it clear that her future doesn’t involve Rain as a romantic lead though.

  7. Interesting about TT wanting a return to the rules of the “Game”

    I think some of the indicators of how far gone the game is are indicators of how little justice will be brought to Rain or Ashley.

    It’s a new world and it’s not that people don’t care about what others do but either there are bigger, more consistent evils to fry than the ones less likely to reoffend or some people justice is taken instead. Lynch mobs being the most brutal but obvious, however more minor methods exist such as flogging a which are less taxing on resources as a punishment to hand out.

    1. Of course TT wants to return to the game! Tattletale loves the game. The game is built for high-end Thinkers to rattle off loads of embarrassing facts and observations to their opponents WITHOUT getting shanked by every Tom, Dick and Harry that get offended.

      The game’s absence is great for Brutes, who no longer need to pull their punches when hitting annoying, high-end Thinkers. It’s also good for Masters, who can tell the Brutes who to punch against the Brute’s will, and Blasters that can set people on fire without worrying, and Shakers who can knock down buildings etc. The only people who benefit from the game are Thinkers and general society. Which is why the game is better back than gone.

      1. where do you see Tinkers in this structure? 😛
        also, I think Vicky is misjudging Tattles’ motivations there a bit

        1. Tinkers are good wherever. If the game is going, they get to make cool non-lethal gear to test out. If the game’s not going, they can make cool extremely lethal gear to test out. Basically, it’s a choice between Batman and War Machine for them.

        2. Tinkers are worse off as they don’t get all that shiny shiny resources from the PRT etc.

          They are by no means powerless they are just more inefficient and have to do more things themselves such as set up meets to trade tech and scrounge for neato materials and lack things like TinkerCon where they show off their awesome doodads and collaborate to make even cooler ones.

          Basically they need civilization for tinkers to really shine and civilization can’t thrive in widespread cape devastation.

      2. Lisa played cops and robbers with a gun to her head. Victoria would have broken the rules half a dozen times if her sister hadn’t patched them up.
        Nostalgia on the part of people who pretended to live it.

  8. Did they just successfully guilt trip Lisa? I think they just successfully guilt tripped Lisa. And at least a few of her fellow Undersiders will be giving her “What the Hells?” I mean if she can’t read Multi-Triggers well I’m not thinking Foil and Parian are going to trust her lead on March.

      1. Considering Vicky’s role as a cape expert for the past few years and her long psychological treatment that earned her a level of experience there… she’s quite possibly the best person outside of TT’s friends to understand TT as I doubt there’s anyone else she may have spent more time studying.

        It’s evident that TT’s powers may also be relying too hard on her old experiences and impressions of Vicky as opposed to the Vicky whose had a traumatic experience and several years of therapy with self reflection to guide her on the faults of her past self.

        She’s gained a great ability for insightfulness against the thinker with that very power.

    1. Lisa’s dealt with team members being upset that she didn’t share info before. Brian and Rachel weren’t pleased that Lisa didn’t tell them Taylor planned to turn them all in when she had enough info, as I recall.

  9. I love the hard time Victoria is giving Lisa. It’s just shy of being completely assholish, but at the same time, completely on point. Lisa DID fuck up there (even her own teammates don’t seem necessarily pleased with it).

    I really want to know how Aiden fits in with the Undersiders these days. He was pretty young at the end of Worm and they’re apparently straight up bringing him to clandestine meetings… I figured they’d use him more as a scouting tool, since we didn’t actually see him last the Victoria and Lisa chatted. But I guess if there’s a safe place to include him, it’s in a meeting with the good guys.

    “No,” Ashley said. “You meant to say yes, Damsel, you’re right.” – best line of the chapter.

    Finally, Erin and Rain… man, that’s rough. At least she’s finally out of the Fallen, I guess.

    1. YES <3
      there's a fine line between wanting a character to lose (which I don't, for Tattles) and enjoying seeing them knocked down a peg by someone who Gets them on a level (which I very much do)

      1. Total agreement! Tt’s superiority shtick can get old, and as a reader I enjoy seeing her have to operate in other registers.

        I’ve been a bit concerned for Lisa in the last couple of chapters, even. She’s sounding like a bit of a broken record, repeating the same juvenile jabs over and over, and it’s starting to sound less like Thinker Mastering and more like a desperate cry for help.

    2. It was good to see Aiden continuing to practice the finer points of his power via his art. Keep drawing, little man. I think the pertinent graffiti scrawl is going to be his signature for quite some time.

      Great chapter as always!

    3. best line of the chapter.

      I would agree, but it’s probably from her shard’s influence, what with the ‘Damsel’ (while chatting in private, so it’s not a matter of secret identities)… I still remember her brief spooked expression after ranting about BoB’s demise. There’s probably a lot of things she says that she doesn’t entirely back herself.

  10. aaaaa I was so worried we wouldn’t get to see any of the chat with the Undersiders today! Between Sveta talking about Team Therapy being “over,” and Vicky having Lisa’s number on wanting the game back, AND both teams including former villain heroes and former hero villains… are we maybe watching the beginnings of the formation of a rogue cape team?

    1. Seems like the themes of Ward are, communication, (Lisa and Victoria) redemption (Amy and Rain) and de-escalation( Nilbog, Bonesaw, Panacea).

      And, has anyone thought about how Miss Yamada told Victoria to get a Therapist and that Vicky keeps on ending up speaking with Tattletale? I would not be surprised to find that Jessica Yamada had hired Tattletale on behalf of the Wardens to surreptitiously counsel Vicky

  11. Well, that bit between Erin and Rain must have really sucked for Rain. There was so much angst and bitter teenage irony. A little bit more and it would have generated a pop-up on my screen containing nothing but a picture of a broken heart.

    1. Yep. That ship isn’t being sunk cleanly. It’s bobbing just enough you almost can have hope but know at any moment Somali Pirates are going to show up. I went somewhere weird with that metaphor, didn’t I?

      1. Somali Pirates already sunk that ship, but the the Pirates will meet the Great Allied Fleet and be sunk in turn. Assuming the Great Allied Fleet actually allies with each other and they don’t go cradle robbing instead.

      2. I have gotten the impression from what I’ve read here and elsewhere that Wildbow shakes things up in his stories, injecting an element of randomness in the outcomes for the different characters using dice or something along those lines. Like, apparently in Worm, there was about a 1 in 20 chance that Skitter could have kicked the bucket during the Leviathan arc.

        Soo…. I’m guessing the spread for Rain & Erin looks something like:

        A) Roll 1d6. If 1-2, whatever follows, Seir involves himself in the most disastrous way possible.

        B) Roll 1 d20.
        1-2 – Rain and Erin get together.
        3-15 – Variants of bitter in-between agony.
        13-18 – Erin dies
        18-19 – Rain dies
        20 – Both Rain and Erin die. Plus her family is wiped out by the Slaughterhouse Nine or a mini-nuke (or the S9 with a nuke), and Rain’s uncle drinks a beer while laughing. Maximum suckiness.

        C) If 13 or above, roll 1 d6
        1-2 – Whoever dies, dies in the arms of the other.
        3-6 – Whoever dies, dies alone and full of regret.

  12. Additionally, damnit Victoria have you still not gotten more than basic treatment for that bullet hole? Stop Skittering, it doesn’t end well for anyone.

    1. Actually, Parian might be able to help somewhat, like she did with sewing up Golem. Not that she’s a medical professional, and if that bullet is still in there…

  13. It just occured to me that if Tattletale want’s to be really mean, she can ask Vicky for her recommendation as to who to pick to fix Parian’s family members who still look like S9 members, Amy or Bonesaw given the state of the post-GM healthcare system.

    1. At which point Parian would strangle her.
      Also what exactly does that have to do with Victoria again? Victoria was not responsible for what happened to Parian’s family, the state of Post GM-health care nor Amy or Bonesaw. Tattletale meanwhile is responsible for Rain looking like he took a trip through a meat grinder.

      1. Yeah, honestly that’d piss Parian off more than Victoria. Probably piss Vicky off some, but Parian would most likely have a giant stuffed Otter slap TT or something.

        1. This would be worth it entirely for the mental picture of Tattletale getting slapped by a giant stuffed otter.

  14. Wildbow, you consistantly use the noun “ginger” when, from context, you seem to mean the adverb/adjective “gingerly”. A person can’t do something _ginger_; they do something _gingerLY_ or take a _gingerLY_ action.

    ADVERB gin·ger·ly
    1. in a careful or cautious manner.
    “Jackson sat down very gingerly.”
    Synonyms: cautiously, carefully, warily, charily, circumspectly, delicately, watchfully, vigilantly, attentively, hesitantly, timidly
    “He stepped gingerly on to the ice.”
    ADJECTIVE: gin·ger·ly
    1. showing great care or caution.
    “With strangers, the preliminaries are taken at a gingerly pace.”
    NOUN: ginger
    1. any of several zingiberaceous plants cultivated throughout the tropics for its spicy hot-tasting underground stem
    2. the underground stem of this plant, used fresh or powdered as a flavouring or crystallized as a sweetmeat
    3. colour NOUN or colour ADJECTIVE
    a. a reddish-brown or yellowish-brown colour
    b. (as adjective) something having that colour
    1.ginger hair
    4. (informal) liveliness; vigour
    5. (informal) a person with ginger hair
    6. VERB (transitive); to add the spice ginger to (a dish)
    “I should ginger the batter for the brownies.”

    1. It’s also an adjective, used in the way that Wildbow uses it.

      https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ginger#Etymology_2

      Adjective
      ginger (comparative more ginger, superlative most ginger)

      1. sensitive, delicate

      2006, John McGinley, About the King’s Choice to Build His Palace Right on Top of the‎[7]:
      “They, the Rabbis, for better or for worse, were very ginger with this question.”
      2007, Flypast, number 306-311:
      “After a very ginger landing, everyone aboard was able to see up close how lucky they had been to reach base.”
      2009, Franklin Newman, The Prophetess of Bromfryel: The Knights of Callistor‎[8]:
      “Moving very slowly, taking extremely ginger steps, the woman felt beads of sweat dripping down from her body.”

      1. @Pope William T Wodium:
        I’ll assume you somehow overlooked the consideration of “GINGER” as an adjective in my previous post. Oh, and in your examples, two of your three are actually adverbial constructions; (2006)… WERE very ginger… (ADVERB; modifying the verb “to be”); (2009)… TAKING extremely ginger steps… (ADVERB; modifying the verb “to take”

  15. Isn’t it weird for Tattletale not to question Rain still being that injured after she handed them Scapegoat?

    1. No… Because Kenzie started with a recording of Rain before he was healed, and Scapegoat’s healing wears off if either he or Rain is too energetic in the next six to eight hours.

      Plus because Rain was slowly dying, and Scapegoat doesn’t want to slowly die, it’s possible Scapegoat only transferred wounds over that would leave both of them in need of proper medical help, but won’t kill rather than just swap places with the guy who is slowly dying.

      1. My understanding of Scapegoat’s power was that the injuries he takes onto himself are ‘radiated’ away over a few hours, becoming less and less serious until they disappear completely and he is returned to his normal state.

    2. She did. She specifically called out the hologram as being mere “theatrics” as an attempt to gloss over the fact that he actually had been that wounded before healing and could die if he has a ill-timed coughing fit in the next couple of hours.

  16. Nice one, Vicky. As much as I love Tattletale, it’s good to see her knocked down a peg. And it’s good to see Vicky using her head more. That was a very clever read.

  17. Everyone is missing the real mystery here. Why do both Tristan and Byron take off their helmets?

    I don’t understand why Tristan took off his helmet only to immediately switch to Byron. Would Tristan have been uncomfortable in the “limbo” still having the helmet on? (As a separate question, how much stuff can Capricorn swap out of reality when he switches and what determines the scope?)

    1. It represents both of them being present for the conversation was my take on it. More of a symbolic gesture.

  18. Two transitional chapters in a row. :/

    I think on balance they’re probably not going to go after the Crowleys right now, mostly because Taylor would have, I think. Also I really want to be done with the Fallen for now and see Victoria have dinner with Kenzie’s parents, and get a new therapist, and catch up with Vista, and see the edges of the Wynns’ plans, and maybe Sveta talk about she was going to.
    …there are more things set to happen after we’re away from the Fallen than I’d realised before I listed them.

    1. It would be more exciting for them to take TT’s bait, but it would probably ratchet things up more than the story really needs at this point. Victoria is tough, and Cap probably is too, but everybody else in Therapy is fragile right now. The last thing they need is to get in a slugfest with Crowleys or play some role in Crowleys’ doing something awful. If you want to be heroes, do as the heroes do.

      A heel turn from TT has been slowly building, basically since Skitter became Weaver. Undersiders have always had some builtin tension, and a lot of it is due to that. Depending on what kind of shit TT has planned for MM while everyone is looking the other direction, it might not be just Parian and Foil deciding they can’t abide TT anymore. We’ll see.

    2. I feel that if Team Therapy (for lack of a name) were to go after the Crowleys, Number Man and Citrine would not be as worried.

  19. One can only hope that we get to see Lisa squirm in this awkward situation that she clearly does not want to be in. But Wildbow consistently shows how good he is at making things we all want not happen. And then making things we didn’t know we want happen.

    I very much enjoyed Imp’s comment on oil and water. My symbolism senses are tingling.

    1. oh, that’s just referring to how Byron said forming Team Therapy was a terrible idea that would only end in pain and trauma, which was given as his reason for not being officially part of the team.

  20. In contrast with most readers, I’m really disliking Sveta at this point. I’m really sick of the hyper good guy morality where we can’t even bring ourselves to kill someone as blatantly evil as Jack Slash (we had no less than two characters actually refuse to do this in Worm..) just because “killing is wrong”. Sveta is demonstrably on that level of irritating. I know she has some unintentional murder trauma, but that doesn’t make her stance any less annoying. Cradle just tried to torture a teen to death. He got 2/3 of the way there and and will do everything in his power to repeat the process more efficiently next time.

    I can’t even get on board with the Rain hate train. He literally did nothing, in a situation he was mostly peer pressured into. Catastrophic effects, but it’s a far cry from him being the Hitler some people are making him out to be. The fact that Victoria seems to quietly sympathize so heavily against him is baffling.

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