Pitch – 6.8

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“Snuff?” Tattletale asked.  She glanced back at the hooded brute.  “Can you take Chicken Little for a walk?”

“Can do,” the man in the hood said.

“Chicken Little?” I asked.

“That’s a good name,” Looksee said.  “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”

I could hear Chris sigh.

“I make it fall,” the boy with the birds said.  His voice was small and far away.  On a rooftop to our left, birds took off, flying through the light rain.

“Perfect,” Looksee said, giving him a thumbs up.

Chris sighed again.

The birds swooped down to settle at the foot of one of the blocky, concrete office buildings.

“Bye,” Chicken Little said.

“Bye,” Looksee said.

The birds took off, flying over and ahead of the kid.

The fact that everyone was waiting for the hooded executioner to lead the kid villain away gave me a chance to observe and think- he wasn’t good at projecting his voice.  His frame was more similar to Kenzie, but he slouched some like Chris did.  Chris, though, had a natural volume, possibly because of subtle changer effects.  I felt an urge to coach him, and correct something that seemed so obvious, which might have been why I was fixated on it.

It was disconcerting to picture my giving him some tips, having him standing up straighter, having him put his hands in his back pockets as an example of how far back his shoulders should be, and having him speak.  My mom had done it with me, once upon a time.

Rain pattered down beyond the lip of shelter that extended out over our portion of the plaza.  The sound of pained breathing wheezed in and out in the background.

“Chicken Little,” I said, again.

“I was pushing for Hitchcock,” Tattletale said.  “Cardinal was good too, but taken.”

“I was pushing for Unkindness,” Imp added.  “It went over everyone’s heads.”

“Then it’s not a good cape name,” I said.  “It’s going over my head.”

“High bar,” Imp retorted.

“I was a pretty good student, actually,” I said.

“Were you, though?  I was a terrible student and I got it.”

“An unkindness of ravens,” Ashley said.  Her voice came from Looksee’s camera, rather than from the projection.

“Thank you!” Imp said.

“It’s not very good,” Ashley said.

“Ugh!”

“He controls a swarm of birds?” I asked.  I arched an eyebrow.

“It reminded me of a friend, believe it or not.  He needed a mentor, and it seemed natural.”

“Naturally,” I said.

“Trying to do right by him,” Tattletale said, “Letting him pick his own name, which you should never let a pre-teen do-”

“Ahem,” Looksee said.

“Damn straight,” Chris said.

“-Teaching him what he needs to know to get by as a cape in this crazy world of ours, and, you know, not making him stand there while you parade around a projection of a horribly maimed teenager.  The little things.”

“I’m his age and I put that projection together, you know,” Looksee said.  “I had to look really closely at the images I was rendering.  This is good work!”

“You appear to have mentors who are fine with exposing you to that kind of thing, Looksee,” Tattletale’s reply was as smooth as anything.

“Maybe I’m a badass,” Looksee said.  “I took out Mama Mathers.”

“Speaking of,” Tattletale said, perking up and looking past Looksee to Capricorn.  “She’s dead?  No.  Contained?”

“She’s contained with physical constraints and some power stuff,” Capricorn said.

“Partially phased into another reality,” Rain clarified.  “I talked to the heroes.  She’s kept an eye on the Crowley clan for years, twenty-four seven.  She might not sleep.”

“Tranquilizers don’t work, she’ll fake it,” Tattletale said.  “You figured that out.  Good.  Phasing her out should break the connection as long as it lasts, if it can be maintained.  It might even force her to reset all the connections.”

“That was the line of thinking,” I said.

Rain spoke up, taking advantage of the fact he’d had an opening in the conversation again, “I’d really like to hear how you can know how she works, know how she keeps people under her thumb, and then sign off on hurting the innocents caught in the mix.  Doing this to me.”

“I’d like to hear that too, Tattletale,” Foil said.

“Please,” Parian said.

“Please,” I said, echoing Parian’s word, but in my brightest, nicest tone of voice.  I smiled at Tattletale.

Tattletale fixed me with her best ‘are you serious’ look.

“You said you’d help Cradle, but you didn’t want to know what happened to the kid,” I said.  “We thought you needed to see the consequences of your actions.”

“That is pretty ripe, coming from the princess of damage and her troupe of walking disaster areas,” Tattletale said.  “I have looked you guys up, read files, you know.”

“Deflecting?” Tristan asked.

“A bit, yeah.  But I think it’s important for context, because you guys don’t get to act high and mighty here.  The Fallen kid locked people inside a mall and let them die from trampling, fire and smoke.  The junior half of Team Reach crashed and burned after you got up to your antics, Capricorn.  Damsel of Distress had an invite to the Slaughterhouse Nine.”

“So did I,” Rachel said.

“Shh,” Tattletale said.

“Are you saying you’d do the same for any of us?” I asked.

“I’m saying you guys are really not the ones who should be throwing stones here.  I know how you got together, even if I don’t have all the individual details.  The institution that looks after Creepy Kid barely sees him and they’re scared enough of him when he’s there to let him do what he wants.  There’s a story there.”

Something to look into, then.

Tattletale went on, “Garotte, honey, you had my team’s back at the Cauldron HQ.  I don’t want to sling mud at you, but anyone who knows you knows you’re dangerous and you’ve hurt a lot of people.”

“Anyone who knows her wouldn’t fault her for it,” I said.  “I can fault you for knowing full well what you were setting in motion.”

Sveta spoke, “I have never, not once, wanted anyone to die,” Sveta said, her voice firm, even tight.

“You and I both know that’s a lie,” Tattletale said.

“Death happened,” Sveta said.  She was glowering.  “If I’d had the choice, I would have spared even her.  My body was wounded, I was as freaked out as I’ve ever been, and someone needed to die.  I’ve made peace with the fact that I was able to make that someone be her.”

“Convenient,” Tattletale’s word was barely audible.

Honey,” Sveta replied, and the word was only venom.  “Don’t say you don’t want to sling mud at me and then go for the jugular.  We’re not stupid.  If you’re going to be vicious with someone who has saved the lives of several people here, don’t coat it in that ‘honey’.”

“Throwing everything you’ve got at the wall and seeing what sticks, Tattletale?” I asked.  “Desperate.”

“I’m tired,” Tattletale said.

“You skipped me, by the way,” Looksee said.

“I skipped you because you’re prepubescent and I’m not that big of a bitch.”

“I can take it.  I don’t want special treatment.”

“I’m tired, Victoria,” Tattletale said.  “I’ve spent two years trying to do my part to keep the world standing upright.  Parian, Foil, Imp, Rachel, you guys know the kind of thing I’ve been doing.”

“Ignoring me is bitchier than whatever you were going to say,” Looksee said.

“What if I told you there was nothing?” Tattletale asked, exasperated.

“I’d say you were being condescending, which is super bitchy.”

“Kiddo, you fucking raised the bar by not only blazing an accelerant-soaked trail of destruction through your cape life, but your civilian life too.  You did more damage casually than some do intentionally.  There’s a reason I ignored your calls.  You proved me right when you bricked my good phone with the incessant attempts to get my attention.”

“Can confirm,” Imp remarked.  “Tats went mute mid-mission while she scrambled to get a new phone.  She was pissed.  It was great.”

Looksee paused, digesting that, then answered Tattletale at a lower volume than before. “I automated it, so you know.”

“I figured.  Point stands.”

“It’ll unbrick if you reply to one of the messages.  That was the point, if you read any of the warnings or the last message sent.”

Tattletale shook her head.  “Where was I?”

“You’re tired, so you took a shortcut by striking a deal with a guy who was really good with blades and the guy who really wanted me cut up,” Rain said.

I glanced at the Undersiders.  They weren’t moving much.  Foil was bending down so Parian could whisper something in her ear.  Both of them were fixing their eyes on Tattletale, even while Parian whispered.

“Not a shortcut,” Tattletale said.

“He knew where to place the blades for maximum effect, drawing it out,” Rain said.  His fingers touched one of the wounds.  “That’s why they hired him, you know.”

“It wasn’t a shortcut, and it was never intended that they’d go through with it,” Tattletale said.  “So please, off the high horses, stop crawling up my ass, and I’ll explain.”

“That you made a mistake,” I said.

“Oh my god,” she said.  “If they didn’t hire me, they would have hired someone else.  The benefit of them hiring me?  I had every intention of steering them away.  I offered Cradle something he wanted more than revenge, last minute, after I’d proven I could deliver what he wanted.  Well, it wasn’t last minute.  Last thirty seconds, because I had to take thirty to put my card in a new phone to repopen communication after someone bricked my good phone.”

Tattletale frowned at Looksee as she said that last part.

“A mistake, then,” I said.  “You were tired and you made a mistake, is what you’re saying.”

“Someone else got to Cradle in the meantime, I think.  If we had this conversation in five days, I could give you a definitive answer.  For now, best I can do for explanations?  I figured it out and someone steered him onto a more determined course.  I didn’t make a mistake, and no, grab bags aren’t some inexplicable thing for me.  I wasn’t shooting blind, thank you very much.”

“Are you saying that because you’re for real or because you’re trying to cover your weaknesses?”

“Gee, Victoria,” Tattletale said.  “I could hardly be blamed if it was me covering my ass.  The last time I gave you a hint about the strengths and weaknesses of my power, you went full offensive with this bit of theatrics.  But no.  March was and is an isolated, special case.”

“In so many ways,” Foil murmured.

“Theatrics are one of the best part of being a cape,” I said.

“One of them,” Capricorn said.

“Okay,” she said.  “But you’re wrong that I’m covering my ass.  No, sorry.”

I was right that Rain had her agitated though.

“What was the plan?” Rain asked.

“Had all gone as intended, you would have walked away.  A lot depended on whether your three fellow grab-bags were there together, or which one or two were there, but there was no way I could make the offer earlier.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“How do you think that would go, Victoria?  Hey, guys, I’ll give you this thing if you promise not to go after this member of the Fallen you have really good justification for hating.  For no reason, I promise, I’m totally not on his side.  Come on.  They do have some humanity.  For Snag, a few choice words at the moment he was about to pull the metaphorical trigger, as that tiny part of him screamed that it didn’t want to do it?  Would’ve worked.”

“Love Lost?” Rain asked.

“Angrier.  Hurting more.  You would have needed to bleed first, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad.  It’s why I told Cradle that if he and Operator went after you, she shouldn’t be there.  She would have been too hard to hold back, and what I told him was that she would have snapped and killed you in a very unsatisfyingly quick way.  I could have steered her away with the right words, right timing, but I didn’t want to gamble it.  Cradle is pragmatic.  He got it.  She wasn’t invited along.”

“And Cradle?  He was there and you couldn’t stop him.”

“Like I said, I needed to prove I could deliver, to maintain the professional relationship, but I didn’t have to deliver if I could make a better offer.  I think someone beat me to it, offering him something.”

“Who?  What were they offering?  What were you?”

“I don’t know who or what.  They exist in hypothetical.  As for me, I was offering a way out.”

“A way out,” Rain said.  “Of the- the rotation.”

“There’s a cape by the name of Goddess.  Also the Blue Empress, Blue Lady, the Woman in Blue.  Once situated on Earth Shin, she was brought here for the fight against Scion by a strange, unnamed player who has since been classified as a threat on par with any Endbringer.  Or with Goddess, as it happens.  Unfortunately, this anonymous figure didn’t put her back.”

“A strange, unnamed player?” I asked.

“So it happens,” Tattletale said, with a grin.  “With only a select group of top Wardens and major players really tracking what really happened.  But we were talking the woman in blue.  She got powers and was relocated to Earth Shin before she could… grow to full potential.  Relocated by a certain secretive agency.”

“Cauldron,” Sveta said.

“Yep.  She proceeded to take over earth Shin, with all other parahumans acting as her lieutenants.  All other parahumans on that world, mind.  No exceptions.  Which the organization deemed fine, because they got to keep her in their back pocket, even while they couldn’t control her.  She is, or was, a grab-bag, she found a way to pull free of her cluster, and she came out of it with a set of powers that would each be world-class on their own.”

“What happened to the others?” Rain asked.

“Dead?” I guessed.

“Alive.  Four of them, anyhow.  A fifth killed themselves because they couldn’t fill the void where the power and feeling powerful once were.  None of them were left with more than whispers of power after.  But they had their lives and their particular dynamic was stopped in its tracks.  Not all clusters have a schtick, but they did, like the mall group does, and Goddess taking all the power brought an end to it.”

“You were going to tell Cradle how to do it,” Rain said.  “How to get all the power and leave the rest of us with nothing.”

“Can you fault me?  He’s the most level headed, and out of the rest of the group, one was an raging asshole, my second choice of the bunch by the way, one can’t take her mask off because if she does she can’t help but scream, and the last member of the group kept the door locked while a mall full of people were trampled, burned, and-or suffocated.”

“He would have gotten all the power for himself?” I asked.

“The last time this worked, the parahuman was way more than the sum of the individual parts.  I’ve tried to sell Foil on it, but she isn’t too keen.”

“I don’t want to tamper,” Foil said.

“I don’t either,” Parian said.

“She’s happy, see?  Cradle, though?  He was one hundred percent the type to go for it, all signs pointed to yes, and he said no.”

“Because he’s a cluster cape,” Chris said.  “You had a bad read.”

Prodding her.

No.  Because then I would have had a capital-N-slash-capital-A, underlined, for my thinker read on him.”

Prodding her and it worked.

“There’s an issue with this,” Capricorn said.

“A few, actually,” Sveta said.

“The one that springs to mind is that you wanted to repeat the process that, the last time it worked, saw a whole Earth being taken over?” Capricorn asked.

“He would have owed me one,” Tattletale said.  “I don’t think he would have been as strong.  Four powersets baseline.”

“I think the last thing the world needs is more over-the-top parahumans,” I said.

“I think you’re situated on in your own little peninsula,  with your own little team, while I’m the one who has spent the last two years trying to help the peace stay peaceful.  Like I said, there are a lot of people trying to keep things upright, but they aren’t communicating, they can’t, and the guys on the far side of everything are pushing really frigging hard to keep things from toppling, and something’s going to give.  Over here?  We can’t push back.  We don’t have muscle.”

“That’s why you want Cradle?” Rain asked.  “To be your muscle?”

“No.  That’s my last ditch move, believe me.  For now, there’s another player who’s pushing on things.  Someone we tried really frigging hard to kick down an metaphorical elevator shaft, as it happens.”

“Ha,” Imp said.  “That asshole.”

“We broke his legs and we scared him away, and he’s good at hiding.  He likes tinkers and he’s interested in complex powers.  If I could have a tinker I can trust with the right emotion power for the task at hand?”

“Cradle,” Capricorn said.

“I’d need to have a conversation with him.  A long one, so I can figure out what went wrong back there.  If he wasn’t too compromised and my idea of giving him all the powers was tempting for him, he’d go run this errand for me, spend about a year in a completely different Earth with no access to your Fallen boy there.  I’d figure out what to do with him by the conclusion of it.”

“If he was compromised?” Ashley asked.

“Cross that bridge when I come to it,” Tattletale said.

Ashley made a gun with the fingers and thumb of her good hand.  A glitch manifested at a fingertip as she ‘fired’ it.  The projected image flickered violently, presumably where her power was kicking in, the effect tracing around her hand as she lowered it, joined by a plume of more artifacting and glitches at the damaged spot of her arm.  The sound was muted, and the camera whined.  A dog barked.

“My dogs don’t like that sound,” Rachel said.  “Stop.”

Looksee thumped the camera.

“Assuming you’re suggesting I kill him, it’s not out of the question,” Tattletale said.  “I’m not as shy as you lot pretend to be.  I can’t push that hard on things as a whole.  I don’t have the muscle some of the major players do, and that’s just reality.  I can try to open channels and hamstring the ones who aren’t helping.  I need Cradle.  Give me him, I can help you guys with the Fallen.”

We exchanged glances.

“I’m not happy you were keeping this secret,” Foil said.

“I’ve offered to rope you guys in.  You’re making and distributing clothes and doing your mercenary thing,” Tattletale said.  “If you only join for the big stuff, it gets hard to get you up to speed, especially if I don’t want to tip off someone like Cradle.  If you insist this is my thing and that you want no part in it, don’t get so upset if I do it in a very Tattletale way.”

“She’s lonely,” Imp said.

“I’m irritated,” Tattletale said.  “I’m tired.  We’ve got the lady in blue trying to get up to full strength again, a guy who wears fucking sweaters is pulling at the threads that are holding everything together while maintaining and expanding the institution side of the old Cauldron.  A handful of others are running the ideological end of Cauldron.  Both of those groups are strong in their own way and yet they aren’t doing a tenth what Cauldron used to do in forestalling disasters and containing the most… unproductive capes and cape-related messes.”

“They’re rebuilding Cauldron?” Sveta asked, horrified.

“The day the Cauldron cracked, they were there moving in with what would be hundreds of employees.  You were there at one point.  You had to have seen the empty offices and rooms.  Every last one of those offices have people now.  Are they doing things on the level of what they did to you guys?  No.  But only because they lack the opportunity.”

“Oh my god,” Sveta said.

“And again, there used to be an awful lot of really fucked up parahumans, powers and power-related things that would have top tier capes moving in to relocate or destroy, before those things were even a problem.  Those guys aren’t doing that clean-up anymore!  I’ve taken some of that on my plate, in the course of my regular business.  There’s a war starting sometime this week, a Machine Army that’s literally on the horizon if you can see between worlds, warlords, broken triggers, and yeah, the Fallen are a mess unto themselves.”

“They have reach,” I said.  “They’re hooking people in.”

“I know they’re a thing.  They’re a relatively manageable thing.  Let’s not forget that, you know, if every single last one of these manageable and less manageable problems I’ve mentioned were magically handled, this city would not be in an especially good place.  Okay?  That’s what I’m doing.  Could I have handled this particular thing better?  Probably.  But I’m not the bad guy.”

“Sounds major,” I said.

Tattletale shrugged.  She shifted position where she sat on the table, crossing her legs.  She grabbed her ankles with her hands.

“Thank you for doing what you’ve been doing,” I said.

“It’s nice to get that from someone,” she said.

“But I can’t help but notice that through all of this, explaining yourself, you haven’t actually apologized for your part in it.”

Rain was very still, to the point that I wasn’t sure if he’d glitched out and frozen again, with the camera needing more percussive maintenance.

But his hair moved.  The breathing continued.

Tattletale replied, “Whatever I say, you find fault in it.  Forget words.  Look at my actions here.”

Capricorn answered her.  “Your action is that you’re giving us help, but it’s help in exchange for this person you need, someone you’ve shown you can’t keep on top of.  That person wants my friend dead.  If the tables were turned, would you consider that gracious?”

“Tattletale,” Sveta said, adding her voice to his.  “You have to know those Fallen are going to hurt people.  You can’t want that.  When everything went to shit and the world ended, there was an implicit trust.  Can we take a step back toward that?  Give us this.  Then we’ll talk, we’ll bring others into the discussion.”

“Spies and moles.  Some with thinker or changer powers,” Tattletale said.  “Have to limit who we bring into the discussion.  Look at what happened back outside New Haven.  I’m deeming you guys, like, sixty percent safe, which I normally wouldn’t work with, but if I don’t deal with you then I might lose these guys.”

She jerked her thumb at the Undersiders.

“If you think you’re getting rid of me for good, you’re deluded,” Imp said.  “Though I have to say I was pretty disappointed at the start there.”

“Have I redeemed myself in your eyes?” Tattletale asked, sarcastic.

“You’re okayish,” Imp said.

“I’m so glad.”

Tattletale answered Imp, but I could see that her attention was on Foil and Parian.

Rachel could apparently be assumed to be fine with things.

I could see the pair mulling things over.  As they whispered, Tattletale’s focus still pointed in their direction, it became harder to say that she wasn’t waiting for a verdict from them.

“Can we trust her?” Capricorn asked.  He’d drawn closer to me, and now spoke in my ear.  Sveta was already situated near enough to me to hear the question.

I couldn’t give an immediate answer.

Looksee approached us.  She brought the camera, which struggled to keep the projections stable as it bobbed, but it seemed to serve to allow Rain and Ashley to join our conversation.  Chris was the last to catch up with us.

“I trust her,” Looksee said.  “I asked her to dish dirt on me and she did.”

“That’s the worst way of telling,” Chris said.

“Being treated crummy is way better than being ignored,” Looksee said.

“That’s not right,” Ashley said.  “Don’t ever let someone who should care about you treat you badly.”

“Yeah?  Okay.  Then don’t talk to me right now.  I’m mad at you.  I’m mad at mostly everyone but especially you.”

“Especially me?”

“Especially you.”

“Fair.”

“Everyone’s input is important here,” Capricorn said.  “But Rain, you were the one who was hurt.  Victoria, you know Tattletale best out of all of us.”

“We need to help those people,” Sveta said.

“I know,” Capricorn said.  “But I think if Rain feels conflicted about releasing Cradle, even with this new information-”

“Which may or may not be true,” Chris interrupted.

“It’s understandable, isn’t it?” Capricorn asked.

“Conflicted is understandable,” Sveta said.  “I had to face down the person who changed me in a life-altering way.  I know you’re connected to them.  You can’t get away from them.  I see it’s similar in a way and I understand.  I really do.”

“It’s a question of what you’d regret, I think,” I said.

“Meaning you think Rain should release Cradle to buy Tattletale’s help,” Chris said.

“I don’t think that at all,” I said.  “I think… you can help the most people possible, and you can still end up with horrible regrets and serious consequences.”

“She got to you.”

It took me a second to connect to who had spoken.  Sveta.

She was partially focused on Tattletale.  Imp, Rachel, Parian and Foil were talking in an animated way, with some henchmen on the very periphery.  Tattletale hadn’t budged from her seat, her attention focused on nothing in particular.

“Tattletale,” I finished the thought.  “Maybe she did.”

“You trust her?” Capricorn asked, again.

“No,” I said.  “But I think I believe her.”

“Fuck,” Rain said.

All heads turned to face his projection, except Looksee, who looked at the camera instead.

“If it comes down to regretting deaths five years from now or saving lives and maybe not living through the next five years, I guess I’ll save the lives,” Rain said.

“You’re sure?” Capricorn asked.

“No.  But I spent my whole life as a believer.  I’ll believe this is the right thing.”

“Come on,” Capricorn said.

As a group, we walked over to the Undersiders’ huddle.  Tattletale rotated herself on her seat atop the concrete slab table with a push of her hand, to stay facing us.

The Undersiders broke away from their cluster to face us as we drew nearer.  One of the dogs growled, and Rachel shushed it.

“Tattletale,” Parian said.  “We think you should make amends here.”

Tattletale’s eyes roved over our group.  She fixed them on Rain.

She knew.  She knew what we came to say.  That Rain had come to the conclusion he had.

“Amends,” she said.  “I’ll point you at the Fallen.  You don’t have to give me Cradle.  If I really need him, I’ll discuss it with you and get permission first.”

Boston.  New Boston, but all attempts to make that stick had failed, in a stark contrast to how Brockton Bay had been so ready to rechristen itself as New Brockton.

Boston wasn’t a city, really.  It was more of an Über-neighborhood, one set of tiles in the vast, disappearing-into-the-horizon expanse of city that was the megalopolis.  It wasn’t really Boston, either.  Attempts had been made to make Boston resemble its former self, but materials were different, everything was new, and the golden patina remained.

Fenway Station.  A transportation hub, surrounded by quickly thrown-together homes that attempted to stay hidden or camouflaged among the brownstone and brick fixtures with gold-tinted windows.

The Boston neighorhoods had heroes of their own.  Independents, and small teams separate from the Wardens.  With Tattletale making the calls, we had their help.  There were others, but Tattletale felt they were a risk, with a chance of moles and troublemakers, and I believed her.

Everyone was finding a location.  Looksee had one working camera doing sweeps, and the laptop beside her showed the figures.  Some were highlighted in red.  Strange body shapes, statures, or more muscle than the usual.  When they clustered, we could know that the people on one floor or one set of floors of a building were likely capes.

People from the Clans were out on the street.  Not many bikers.  There would be Fallen too.

I sat on the edge of a roof, and Looksee sat with her back to the lip of the roof beside me, her laptop placed where the both of us could see it.  Sveta sat beside me, and shifted position to rest her head on my shoulder.  Like old times.

“Capricorn?” Looksee asked.

A pause.

“Red pickup, rust at left wheel.  A bit ahead of you.  It has guns in the back,” she said.

Another pause.

“Sounds good,” she said.

“How’re you managing your end of things?” Sveta asked.

“It’s pretty easy,” Looksee said, without turning around.  “Facial recognition, tagging everyone that’s a possible problem.”

The cooperation of everyone we needed to cooperate.  We had a secured perimeter, there were civilians inside that perimeter, but if we timed our attack just right, then there was a good chance we could evacuate them out.  Sveta and I were in the wings.  Capricorn could bar the path to bystanders.

The team was missing Rain, who was still recuperating.  Ashley was waiting for proper transportation to a secure facility.

This was, in a way, a microcosm of the conflict we’d just weathered.  We were tired, hurting, and pushing forward purely on the energy that came from this being something we really wanted to do.

Sveta, Kenzie, Tristan, Byron, myself.  We wanted to be heroes.  I liked to think we were heroes.

Chris- he was out there, at one of the distant corners of the perimeter, being Chris and keeping an eye on things.  He’d told us that he could change twice a day, but he’d also implied it wouldn’t be a problem if trouble headed his way, that he’d be okay.

Hard to tell, sometimes, when parahumans could be so foolhardy.

Chris wanted- not to be a hero.  He seemed to want something out of being a hero.

Rain and Ashley- I was pretty sure they needed to be heroes, but it wasn’t a need in the same way I needed to be a hero or I wasn’t living up to some fundamental part of myself.  They needed to be heroes in the sense that someone who was freezing to death needed to start fires.

Rain had taken a giant step forward in that regard, and Ashley had fallen back.

I knew what I needed to do.  I’d keep tabs on them.  I’d go to dinner with Kenzie and ensure that she knew that if the team did in fact fall apart, it didn’t mean the relationships were gone.  I’d check on Chris’ situation, because what Tattletale had said concerned me.  I’d follow up on Tristan.  I’d continue to visit Sveta at her place, and see Weld.  I would check in on on Ashley and Rain, whatever path they had ahead of them.  If that meant making sure they had visitors in jail, then I’d handle that.

“They want the go-ahead to attack,” Looksee said.

I had a bird’s eye view of everything.  I surveyed the situation, checked the laptop.

“They want it soon.  People are getting into cars in the parking garage.  Some of those cars have guns.”

I gave her a thumbs up.

“Attacking,” she reported.

Cars pulled out of the parking garage.  They skidded through puddles, and the puddles solidified.  The first truck lost the rubber from three of its wheels, skidding forward on the rims and one corner of the front end.  The one behind it stopped abruptly, with the vehicles behind it crashing into it, in a three-car pileup.

I saw the colors as capes descended on the scene.  As more left the bottom floor of the building on foot, and yet others climbed out by way of the fire escape, it quickly became an all-out brawl.

It was weird to be removed from it, to not be leaping in.  I was reminded of how I’d felt when I’d been on the patrol block.  I’d handled the research, tutored the kids, gave presentations on key things about parahumans, and I’d handled the routine errands like taking water out to tent cities and out past the portals.

A part of me had wanted to leap into things, and that part of me had stopped because it had known that leaping in had meant using the wretch, and I hadn’t been ready to do that.

I’d gone from stark nightmare to vague, new reality and I’d struggled hard in the transition.  I’d thought I was getting better, settling for the vague reality, no longer fighting it.  Staying still and going easy had meant letting myself heal, hadn’t it?

Then the attack on the community center.  The reality check.  Then finding out that this world didn’t really have a place in it for me, if I really wanted to be me.

Then the therapy team.

Even that had felt indistinct somehow.  When I’d introduced the topic of being heroes, hadn’t I talked about the kinds of hero?  The ways money came in- we’d started to do that, but indistinctly.  Heroes were ideological, or they were about money.  They could be heroes for a cause or specific mission.

Indistinct because we’d been a mix of heroes at heart, heroes to serve ends, and those who needed to be heroes, but who, at the time, weren’t.

Looksee was struggling with saying goodbye to people.  I was telling myself I could keep the people, but I struggled with saying goodbye to the idea.

“Fire,” Sveta said.

The jackasses were spreading out, and I saw the orange tint of flame, the black of smoke.  They were setting fire to the trash that had been set out, to a dumpster, and to the contents of one ruined truck bed.

I heard Capricorn’s voice through my earphone, even though the earphone wasn’t plugged into my ear.

“He says he’s got it.”

I adjusted my earbud to bring the attached microphone closer to my mouth.  “Careful of any explosives in the truck bed.”

Got it,” I heard his reply.

“Group leaving the corner of the building,” Looksee said.  “It might be major capes, using the big fight for a distraction.”

Sveta lifted her head from my shoulder.

“Who’s on it?” I asked.

“Nobody.  There’s a perimeter that should catch them, they’ll get there in a few minutes.”

“And nobody stopping them from hurting anyone on the way?” Sveta asked.

“No, I guess not.”

I lifted off, floating away from the edge of the roof.

“Keep the camera close,” I said, putting my earphone in, before adjusting the flap at the base of my hood to hide the cord.  “We delay them until others come.  Looksee?  Point those others our way.”

“On it.”

Best to include her.  Things breaking apart would hit her hardest.  It was just so hard to do without actually having her in the field.

Sveta grabbed something and hurled herself off the rooftop.

I could see the bright colors, as I drew closer.  The exposed skin of arms sticking out of sleeveless shirts was heavily and brightly tattooed.

Jackasses, maybe.  It was almost motley.  I saw two of them ran with their hands tucked in their jackets.  Holding something out of sight.

And among them, someone who wasn’t a twenty-something in bright color.  A guy, long-limbed with long bleached hair with dark roots and a goatee, jogging and moving with languid ease that belied something else at play.  He wore black.

Sveta grabbed onto the light pole near me and pulled herself to it.  I floated next to her.

“Grab the tall one?” I asked.  “If there’s trouble from others, I deflect.  If it’s trouble from him, I hit him hard enough he stops doing it.”

She nodded.

Her hand grabbed at the guy’s arm as I got to the group.  I went straight for the jackass with his hand in his jacket, knocking him into the ground with enough force that if he wasn’t unconscious, he was broken enough to not be a threat.

The other one whipped out a gun.  His eyes widened as he saw me flying, and then he turned, pointing the gun down the street.  There were people.  Distant, but people.

I caught his arm and shoved it down as he pulled the trigger.  I leveraged the wretch, used the strength, and snapped the bones of his arm.

The tall guy- Sveta had grabbed him, but now the other four jackasses were splitting into ghostly images- each was distorted, and each pulled away from the source jackass with an acrobatic leap or flip.  They were massing on Sveta’s arm and glove, weighing it down.

She pulled and she drew the guy in, but it was slow and sluggish.

Instead, I grabbed the guy from behind, hauling him backward.  She let go of him, and with her hand free of that grip, it began to pull and slip back through the group.

The duplicates.  This was one of the Crowley leaders.

His eyes were wide and showing too much white as he turned my way.

His own faded duplicates swarmed me, hands and faces and the press of the physical.  They came at me hard and fast, like they were propelled away from him by some motive force.  When they made contact, they weren’t strong.

But I felt myself losing even though the strength wasn’t all that.

Where they overlapped.

I met them with the Wretch, pushing them off and away with some violence.  I struck at the overlapping portions, where one swing could hit multiple.

He’d broken free of my grip in the midst of the storm he had created.  Now he backed away.  He moved his hands, and all around me, mailboxes, light posts, trash and individual pieces of a nearby car broke away, becoming a storm of shadowy projectiles.

Were it one projectile, I could have dodged.  Were it a handful of meaningful ones, it would have been easier.  As it was, it was a hundred inconsequential projectiles, and where they converged or overlapped, they were solid or more solid.

I was forced to fly at an odd course, up, back and away, so I wouldn’t fly into any of the incoming images.  The stream changed course, everything flying toward my new location.  I moved from point to point, to make getting a bead on me as hard as possible.

And between me and him, it was a veritable wall of flying images, concrete and glass peeling away from the sidewalk and nearby windows like paper from a stack that never ended.  Only these papers crashed and shattered on impact.

“You think you’ve won,” the Crowley leader said.

Sveta was free of the jackasses, as she clung to the wall.  She’d grabbed a gun from their midst and held it on one hand.  She seemed to have found herself in a bind in the process.  The gun couldn’t be dropped without delivering it to the same people she’d taken it from, couldn’t be thrown away because it was a gun, and she didn’t have the dexterity to put it in a pocket where it might stay for good.  At the same time, while her hand held the weapon, she was limited in mobility.

I put my hands out.

She launched the gun.

“You haven’t won,” the Crowley brother said.

I smacked the gun with the Wretch hard enough to shatter it.

“We haven’t lost,” I said.  “The Fallen aren’t going to have a lot going for them when most of you are in custody.  Today was a pretty bad day for assholes.”

“You think we’re broken, bitch?”

Sveta reached out, seizing him by the neck.

He created shadow-selves, and they pulled away from his body in a way that broke her grip.  The initial momentum still yanked him back and off his feet.  He climbed to a standing position, shadow-selves appearing in crouching positions, forming people for him to lean on as he climbed up to his feet.

I’d known Eric to do the same kind of thing.  Crystal’s brother had been good with forcefields.

This guy was more of a forcefield creator than a duplicator, if I thought about it.  The forcefields were just very detailed simulacra of whatever he was spawning them from, and there was utility in how they emerged and flew out.

It was easier to fly and flow between them.  Thinking about it all like that, I could fight him.  A shift in mindset.

He still concentrated a lot of them near him.  That was the barrier.

I could also wait for the reinforcements.

I wouldn’t.  I’d take him with one hand.

The fire’s handled, but they have friends in the neighborhood,” Capricorn said, over comms.

“Noted,” I murmured.

The jackasses were spreading out.  Several made a run for it.  Sveta snatched at them, holding and pulling long enough to break their stride and keep them from getting way.

The Crowley brother saw, and he smirked, showing teeth so white they had to be fake.

“If this comes down to a fight, you’re leaving on a stretcher,” I said.  “I’m all out of patience.”

“Can you fight?” he asked.

I hit the ground hard enough to crack it.  I’d pay the neighborhood back for that.  But the impact was enough to upset his footing, and as his frame of reference changed, so did the angle and flow of the phantom images.   He tipped back, and there was a clearance of a few feet off the ground in front of him where the images weren’t.

I dove, flying, and slid through that clearance.  It was a maneuver that put me within a few feet of him.  I reached out, striking with my good arm, and I felt the impact.  No strength, but a smash to the nose.

A phantom’s nose.  He’d projected one out from his face as I’d swung.

I followed up, hitting, kicking, and then doing the same thing but with the wretch, for the extra force and the ability to tear right past them.  I could see him press back, until his jackasses were right behind him.  Sveta yanked on the jackasses, hauling them away, and the Crowley brother tipped backward onto his back.

“Stretcher or surrender?” I asked, amping up the aura in a subtle way.  Too big of a push could scare, but it also was a thing.  Something people could push back against.

I could use it here to play it subtle, drive the moment home.

“Fine then,” he said.  He smiled, and he dismissed the images.  The transparent detritus, trash, objects and figures faded out.

I remained tense.  What was the catch?

“Bro,” one Jackass said.

“We’ll surrender if you give us a seat to enjoy the show,” he said.

I didn’t respond, only glancing at Sveta.

She was as lost as I was.

“I’m not that faithful a man, that’s not a secret,” he said, still smiling with those too-white teeth amid the wiry goatee.  “But I do believe this is going to be a hell of a thing, tonight.”

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137 thoughts on “Pitch – 6.8”

    1. >moving with languid ease that belied something else at play

      I’m guessing this should be “betrayed something else at play”.

    2. “more of an Über-neighborhood,”
      Was the capital Ü intended ?

      “I saw two of them ran with their hands tucked in their jackets.”
      > (were) running ?

      1. Could also be “Theatrics are the best part,” since Capricorn then clarifies (or repeats) “one of” in the next line.

  1. Well shit.

    Undersiders are apparently not doing reunion tours. Also, Chicken Little?? Aiden, what happened to you??

    1. I’ve been thinking of him as Tattletale’s Little Bird. As in ‘a little bird told me’. Chicken Little is… Not a good name. I liked Unkindness, though. I got it, even if the others didn’t.

      1. Chicken Little suits Aiden better now but I was a big fan of Cardinal. Gets both the bird theme and leader implications of the Queen Administrator shard. Too bad it’s taken.

        1. We don’t know that he got the queen admin shard. Skitter got two triggers didn’t she, first to control bugs, then when the shear volume of content overwhelmed her human brain, she got multitasking as a second power. CL got control birds, but birds are in tiny numbers compared to bugs. So he might not be overwhelmed to get a second trigger with multitask and control.

          1. She’s always had multitasking though. She was able to summon spiders to begin making her costume while doing her homework and trying to get various liquids out of her…. notebook, backpack, clothes, and basically everything. That was in the very beginning, too.

            To my knowledge, she didn’t have a second trigger though. She did, however, give her share enough information, conflict, and new ways of using her powers that it was able to splinter off/bud yo create aiden’s share. That process was similar enough to a second trigger that cauldrons device thought she either got a second trigger, or something close enough that it wouldn’t be possible for her to have another one, and the number man speculated that she may have had two triggers back to back, or at the same time, but it didn’t seem like cauldron knew much about the budding process. Or they wanted to keep that secret

            From the start of the story, skitter mentioned that she had no idea what her upper limits of the number of bugs could control was. It wasn’t until fighting the nine, and specifically using her newly acquired relay bugs and atlas did she start controlling way more bugs than she ever had before, and she was spooked that it didn’t seem to negatively impact her thinking, control, or powers at all, despite trying to fly at the same time. Then she REALLY had no idea what her upper limit was, or even if there was one.
            Aside from trying to parse the sights and sounds from bugs, she didn’t really have moments where the bugs overloaded her mind, and she didn’t try to do that in the middle of a conflict, so there wasn’t an urgent need to cause a second trigger.

          2. @ Harden865: When Skitter was in the locker, she first of all felt these tiny, alien minds at the edges of her own, and thought she was going crazy. That feeling of going crazy caused her second trigger, right on top of the first (like most second triggers, as I recall; Narwhal and Grue are exceptions) and it was only in the hospital when she could calm down and was alone that she figured out what had happened. It is possible for a shard to bud multiple times- Heartbreaker’s budded to Regent, Cherish, and all the Hearbroken; Lady Photon’s to Shielder and Laserdream (and to Brandish, as it realised the potential and jumped to her shortly after LP triggered; and possibly to their brother, who left New Wave after Fleur was killed); Allfather’s shard budded to Iron Rain and Kaiser, and then from Kaiser to Golem.

            Also, whilst birds are in tiny numbers compared to bugs, most bugs are solitary creatures. If you’ve ever seen a flock of starlings settle down for the night, you’ll see that’s not true for most birds. Or not to anywhere near the same extent.

    2. Glen Chambers got to him, and convinced him he might want a non threatening name for PR reasons?

    3. he’s a preteen. Last superhero rpg I played with preteens, one named themselves “Lightning Farts”

  2. This was an interesting chapter, albeit the talk with Tata and the U-siders is a hell of a mess, brought on by Tata’s inability to not pick on people and everyone’s mistrust of her, including her own team.

    Interesting to see that Imp is basically Second in Command, and Rachel is the voice of reason. Also hilariously amusing that Rachel is still the only one of them who Victoria mainly thinks of in terms of her first name rather than her cape names.

    I guess Victoria is going to have her “I told you so!” moment regarding the Crowleys, but it’s not one of those things that anyone will be happy about.

    Also, with Ashley jailed and the team on the verge of pulling apart, I can’t help but think that this is gonna end up as another narrative parallel to Worm. We’ve just had our ABB War equivalent, and now it’s time for the team-shattering Leviathan moment.

      1. I’m pretty sure she does know Foil’s. As I recall, they were teammates briefly, before Vicky got turned into a shoggoth and Parian seduced Flechette over to the Under side.

        But the rest of Group Therapy doesn’t, and it’s incredibly rude to reveal another cape’s secret identity.

        (It’s just occurred to me that I don’t know Foil’s real name. I think it was revealed in Worm, but I don’t remember it. We never saw much of Foil/Flechette out of costume.)

        1. I also gotta say, it gives me warm fuzzies seeing Foil and Parian still together after all this time and everything that’s gone down.

        2. (Foil is Lily, which I recollect now that I’ve been reminded. Parian is Sabah, which I would never in a million years have dredged out of my memory.)

    1. Interesting, but it didn’t really surprise me. Of all the team, Imp’s the most willing to actually do what she’s told. She’ll snipe about it, but she’ll just get on and do it. Parian, being an ex-Rogue, only joined the Undersiders for stability and a group to protect her. Actual villainy makes her nervous, and I don’t think she’s ever done much that’s illegal. Foil joined as Parian’s minion/girlfriend, and as an ex-hero is more willing to get stuff done, but ultimately she doesn’t work for Tattletale. Rachel wants to be left alone, so she’s likely not in the City often, and probably well out of range for most communication methods in this new world.

    2. Tats did say there was a war coming ‘this week’.

      Along with that last Fallen comment.. You may be on to something.

    3. Rachel doesn’t really have a cape name anymore. She never accepted “Hellhound” – and Victoria knows that – and she kind of outgrew “Bitch” during Worm. I’m not sure whether Victoria understands that or if she’s just uncomfortable calling her “Bitch”, but either way, Rachel doesn’t have a secret identity; her name is public knowledge, so why not use it? That’s not the case for the other Undersiders.

      Victoria herself is in the same boat. She’s not Glory Girl anymore, hasn’t come up with a new name, and there’s no Victoria’s secret identity to protect, so she’s just “Victoria”, no matter what clothes she’s wearing.

  3. Tattletale was seriously reaching with her verbal attacks on the therapy team. Felt like she was just throwing out everything she knew on them in a desperate attempt to keep the Undersiders on her side. I suspect Parian and Foil were on the verge of walking, or worse, deciding to do something about Tattletale.

    1. Foil- “Lisa. This is an intervention. You’ve been too much of a bitch lately, and as your friends and team mates who care about you, we are putting a stop to it.”

    2. That’s just Tattletale. She likes to pretend she knows everything that’s going on, but most of the time it’s an act covering a mad scramble to find anything that draws an emotional response out of her opponent, so she’ll have something for her power to work on. I think she was getting kind of desperate here.

      1. She also wants to use them, not destroy them. If she has something better, it wouldn’t serve her goals to say it.

  4. Tattletale is doing something she always accused Taylor of… She is trying to do everything herself and she is never asking for help. If help is actually needed, she does not ask, she twists arms. I do think Lisa has reasons for that, but it’s frustrating to see and probably far MORE frustrating to deal with.
    Tristan and Victoria insisting on pushing Tattletale’s buttons (essentially calling her stupid to her face) does not help matters in this particular situation.
    I swear to Scion, if Tattletale ever gets a second trigger event, the biggest limitation that could get removed might be her learning to actually delegate tasks and trust people at least to the extend she trusted Taylor.

    In other news:
    “We’ll surrender if you give us a seat to enjoy the show. I’m not that faithful a man, that’s not a secret. But I do believe this is going to be a hell of a thing, tonight.”

    This? This is fucking OMINOUS.
    (I expect, at the very least, a wicked death metal concert with Love Lost as the vocalist.)

      1. I can’t help but think that “Careful of any explosives in the truck bed,” is foreshadowing for the very real explosives that will in fact be hidden somewhere.

        1. poo. forgot that. I’m not sure which Endbringer the Crowley’s identify with anyway. Figured Leviathan as more of a party beast then Behemoth.

          1. Who could forget that time the Leviathan raided that brewery and dumped every ounce of beer into three of his eye-slots? Or that time he used a broken gas main to simulate lighting farts on fire? And have you seen his high speed krumping? The water echo made it just magical. He turned Newfoundland upside down with that one.

            The Crowleys love him for a reason, and focus on emulating his echo and partying skills. The Mathers are the religious sticks in the mud that love the Simurgh and the McVaey’s are all boring like that lazy Behemoth.

  5. So: Tattletale and I have the same opinion of Rain. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    TT submits to the judgment of her team, and will listen to Parian and Foil. She may the the mastermind, but she doesn’t think of herself as the final judge. TT hates to be wrong as well.

    I am somewhat confused by why TT doesn’t/didn’t just send Imp in to kill Rain. Wouldn’t Rain just dying have solved all her problems?

    1. Imp might decide to adopt him. She has a bad habit of taking in and rehabilitating younger supervillains.

      1. Do you think the Heartbroken might be able to counter-headwhammy MaMa?

        “Every time you want to inflict hallucinations on someone, you have to go and brew an entire pot of tea and have a tea party with whatever toys are available.”

        “You lose the ability to use words beginning with vowels.”

        “Have a phobia of white clothes.”

        “Whenever you think about the act of arson, lose focus and forget what you’re doing. If you ever notice that you can’t think about arson, start to feel sad and helpless.”

    2. As far as I understood it, letting Rain die wasn’t in the cards for TT. She wanted Team Therapy in Hollow Point, she wanted something to balance out Prancer and above all she wanted (and still wants) stability. If Rain bites it, Team Therapy falls apart in maybe the worst possible way and each member might become an issue of their own. Like… Victoria, Sveta and Capricorn coming after her, KENZIE coming after her in another way, Chris going off the deep end, Ashley joining in or just generally wrecking havoc…
      Maybe her immediate concerns disappear, but TT does not like playing whack-a-mole with her problems.

  6. Man. Look, Lisa, I like you. You’re a great character. But damn you have got to stop being such an unbelievable asshole.

    In addition to this, I was wrong. When Victoria is on the ground dealing with Lisa, she’s actually capable of being reasonable. If Lisa had just said “Yeah, I fucked that up,” Victoria likely would have been ok with that. Vicky’s being more reasonable about the Undersiders than I would have ever expected from her.

    1. you’d think vicky’s being unreasonable if we read this from Tata’s perspective

      it’s just wildbow’s really good writing

      1. She stood there, choosing the location with the edge of the shadow behind her and the strong edge of the light catching her clothes, her golden spikes she wore like a crown gleaming and casting secondary light back across her. 80% chance it was intentional, to look her best, to impress.

        She turned her head to look after Aiden as Snuff led him off. 60% chance she realised it was Snuff being led away. 98% chance Aiden still had eyes on the group, 35% she’d have to answer questions from him later. As though she realised I was distracted away from her, she straightened, squaring her shoulders, pushing her breastplate out as though she was a cheerleader trying to catch the eye. I caught her eye. 95% intentional, 50% chance I’d loose that staring contest. I switched to the projection instead. At least I knew they’d healed him, no way he’d be talking that much otherwise. Even as I looked away she spoke, dwelling on things where she thought she could embarrass us.
        “Chicken Little?” she said., her lip curled with a nineteen year old’s scorn. She didn’t even have the grace to age. A bloody gunshot wound in one arm, and I was the one who was weaving, tired enough to slump. Ugh. I promised myself that when this was done I’m taking a long hot immersive bath. Silence and contact and bliss.

    2. Its clear Tattletale bit off more than she could chew–or her power could chew. Its not in her character to beg for forgiveness when she hates looking stupid. She looked pretty dumb here with the mistakes she’s made. Its part of the villain shtick not to show weakness and she’s already shown some weakness by screwing up. But she screwed up by trying to help what’s left of humanity not go to shit. It reminds me of when she was extremely antagonistic to Accord after Taylor defected to the heroes. She’s being defensive after having a very bad day or possibly a very bad month. It doesn’t make her an asshole. From Victoria’s perspective sure, but from Tt’s perspective she’s apologized as much as she can without appearing weak.

  7. Bam! Love it.

    TT talks. Raked over the coals for for rain, but also the great dig at team therapy for treatment of Looksee vs Chicken Little. And good to hear TT dish on the Big Picture. All the stuff she’s doing in the background to make things work.

    1. It’s a dig, but being around Looksee, leave alone being on the same team, entails far more issues than being around Chicken. Maybe it’s better for child capes to be raised by villains, as I can’t imagine villains putting up with Kenzie’s antics.

  8. What other resources does the Fallen have in the city? It sounds like they’re planning something large, but I can’t think of what they could pull.

  9. I think it’s just her particular hang-ups talking. She made a mistake and feels guilty about it, but she can’t bring herself to apologise, because that would mean openly and sincerely admitting she was wrong about something, and for Sarah that’s an incredibly difficult thing to do. So she reacts the way she usually does when she feels cornered and upset, by verbally lashing out and hurting others in an attempt to put them on the defensive and take the pressure off her.

  10. Nice chapter. The conversation is tense, tone and surroundings come across well, and the fight at the end is brief but kinetic. I’m still a bit sad that the antagonism between Victoria and the Undersiders seems to be fizzling out for the sake of the greater good, but if that’s the way it is then that’s the way it is.

    The explanation for Goddess makes a lot of sense and wasn’t anything I’d thought of before. The fact that Cauldron went to the trouble of relocating her, when they left people like Crawler, Shatterbird and the Siberian alone is appropriately ominous. That she’s counted as Endbringer level, too. Mama Mathers not needing to sleep and so being immune to tranquilizers is a neat detail as well. I’d been wondering about that, but assumed the Fallen had just fixed her somehow.

    Victoria’s summary of her post-GM life was particular good, and helped a lot to sort of cap off the story so far. ‘Indistinct’ is unfortunately a good word to sum up my feelings on Team Therapy, and the reason I’m hoping they will indeed break up. Everything about them is just so vague, mysterious, complicated and irresolute, that I long for a team where you just know who they are and what they want. One Capricorn or Chris would be enough, but when they’re all this special-weird-snowflake who can’t even pick a damn codename, it gets tiring.

    The ‘show tonight’? Earth Cheit’s invasion, or the appearance of Goddess herself? I can see how either one might have been the ally the Fallen were supposed to have been communicating with, but with the mysterious guns it’s probably the former.

    1. >The fact that Cauldron went to the trouble of relocating her, when they left people like Crawler, Shatterbird and the Siberian alone is appropriately ominous

      They were all very powerful and could cause a lot of damage, but none of them were planetary threats. Cauldron could see Goddess was going to have the power to affect the entire world, as she ended up doing.

    2. With what we’ve seen of Earth Cheit so far, if they “invade” Gimel they’re going to get trucked like the Reindeer Gang got trucked in Fallentown. They’re much better off manipulating foreign aid amounts.

      1. I don’t see how invading Gimel could work unless there’s another massive power at play. Gimel has multiple capes capable of wiping out an unpowered world. Several of those have histories that suggest that upsetting their current structured lives is very dangerous. As far as we know they still have an Enbringer, if not an active one, and they have enough various accumulated cape power to be very obnoxious to fight even without bringing out the big guns. Maybe the Goddess could do it, my previous assumption had been Teacher, but an unpowered world picking a fight with Gimel is a very bad idea.

          1. Yeah, I meant my comment to agree with and expand on yours. I maybe should have made that more clear.

      2. I don’t know how an invasion is supposed to work either, especially with the portal bottlenecks, but apparently it’s happening ‘within the week’. Citrine and Number Man’s biggest fear, too.

        Cheit does apparently have capes, though. Leaders or officials who were given Cauldron vials. The implication was either Citrine or Teacher were using them as bribes in return for aid to Gimel, but that seems to have fallen through or changed somehow.

        Could those capes be strong enough to protect Cheit’s military infrastructure from infiltration by Gimel’s capes while fighting off Valkyrie? It seems unlikely, but since there’s really no logical reason to invade anyway, it must be the whole thing is being pushed forward by some powerful third faction who hope to weaken or distract the Wardens/megalopolis.

  11. *“Thank you for doing what you’ve been doing,” I said.*

    Alright, Victoria gets +10 Hero points for that. Lisa probably really needed an outsider to thank her for her efforts.

  12. Typo:

    “An casual” should be, ‘a casual’

    Now though, “An unnamed person who has been classified a threat level on par with any Endbringer.

    1. Victoria doesn’t even need to speak with her sister. A frank conversation with Sveta would be enough for her to figure most of it out.

  13. 😡 WELL HERE’S HOPE IT GOES OKAY

    predictions:
    – there’s a big clusterfuck, but local in scale so far
    – Team Therapy stays together to handle it
    – they work with Undersiders more

    what I’m saying is that I ship Lisa/Vicky something fierce now :3
    and yes I do remember Lisa saying she didn’t bat for the other team way back when but hey those things change and Lisa didn’t seem interested in either team back then and also lying is a thing

    1. That could lead to the messiest relationship ever, especially considering Amy, too.

      Also, I can soooo see a lasting friendship between Rachael and Ashley. honestly,I think they get each other.

      And taking ex members and those invited, we have four S-9 category capes around Gimel, and one on Earth Bet. I can see that being a thing.

      Oh, and anyone else think of Skitter in the cafeteria when Lisa sat on the table and put her hand son her ankles? A subtle attempt by Lisa to project a non combative mien?

      1. honestly I want them /all/ being friends
        messiest ever, true, but is either of them capable of having a NOT messy relationship? Together, they might not be able to /get/ each other’s issues, but they’re capable of respecting that the other does indeed have them. Lisa’s entire power is Getting things, and Vicky’s already proven very good at being observant and non-judgemental with Team Therapy. If she can wrangle them, she can wrangle Lisa (and Lisa doesn’t mind being wrangled when it’s by someone she likes and trusts, considering how she submits herself to her team’s judgement).
        re: Amy, keep in mind that Victoria is at least NO LESS to blame for that than Lisa is, considering their respective amount of contact with Amy and opportunities to fix shit / fuck shit up. And Victoria doesn’t seem to want to isolate herself from people who know the situation, considering how glad she is to have Sveta around. Lisa IS capable of being tactful and caring and using her power to figure out how to help, see: Taylor.
        (And I think Lisa herself could really use another set of eyes on her work, someone to double-check and question her and shake her out of tunnel vision, and I think Lisa knows that)

        re: non-combative, I /really/ don’t think if Lisa was trying to do that she was expecting it to work in any kind of way. /Everyone/ knows that for her, talking is the aggressive action.

    2. Lisa: “I’m *definitely* attracted to men, it’s just my power that makes literally all of them seem disgusting and degrading.”

      I mean. I don’t want to get attached to the idea because I know perfectly well that’s not what’s meant and it’d just hurt to have it dashed, but. I mean *come on*. It’s totally possible.

      1. A whole lot of teen Thinkers go off to their first Endbringer fight “straight” and find their senses of possibility opening up as the local population plummets.

        A whole lot of teen Brutes come to their first mind-rapes “straight” and find themselves unable to stop thinking about grrls thereafter.

        Just sayin’.

  14. Okay Lisa, you really need some more people to be open with. And help. But hey at least the rest of the Undersiders helped you out on it.

    I still maintain a common sense Thinker would be invaluable in this setting.

    Wow even Lisa won’t refer to Taylor by any of her names.

    And uh, not liking those last words. Come on, just let the Fallen be broken already! Once he gets his fully Highlander Anime power up Rain’s totally gonna be set for the faith’s great reformer. Or revert to evil asshole personality. Which I really hope not.

    1. I think she doesn’t refer to Taylor here because not everyone present is aware of her role as Khepri. The less people know about that the better, in Lisa’s eyes.

  15. Hell yeah, I’m more than ready for quasi-villainous Team Therapy! At this point I’m expecting them to become closely affiliated with the Undersiders, and have that lead to them being classified as somewhere in the grey area between hero an villain. I don’t think that anyone on the team would be too opposed to breaking a few laws if it meant helping more people / making life easier for themselves.

    And we continue the great tradition of dancing around Khepri’s existence and refusing to acknowledge that anything happened during Gold Morning. At the very least I’d expect TT to subtly use the threat of Taylor coming back to scare off the other big powers that she’s having trouble dealing with. Considering that she was very open to murdering Teacher just after Scion died, he’d probably be pretty worried about her triumphant return.

    1. There’s a big chance that if she did that, she’d get all the other big powers teaming up to make sure Khepri’s never coming back and all her old allies are now dead, so if she DID come back, she’d have nowhere to hide.

      Khepri’s scary. Her return would provide unity… Until she was dealt with. And she WOULD be dealt with. Valkyrie can redirect her control to one of her spectres, and Goddess can resist the effect. Contessa and the Number Men can stay out of her range if they know she’s coming, and Contessa would know she’s coming.

      1. And she WOULD be dealt with.

        That’s what Mannequin, Coil, Valefor, Butcher and Alexandria thought. That’s not everyone she defeated, just the ones who specifically picked a fight with her, and probably not an exhaustive list. Also, it’s good to remember that Zion had Contessa’s power and was immune to everything that allowed immunity, and in the end it wasn’t quite enough.

        1. But she didn’t beat them all at the same time. And if she came back, she’d have to beat Contessa, Teacher, Valkyrie, and everyone else, all at once. They’d know her danger distance, and she would have no Doorman to extend it. She took down the others one-on-one. Except Coil and Butcher. For Coil, she had Tattletale’s help, and for Butcher, Tattletale’s help and Cherish’s influence.

          Zion was taken down by psychology, as much as anything. They made him give up by reminding him of what he’d lost. What Khepri’s lost is her humanity; I don’t know how to appeal to that.

          1. Yeah, no. Skitter being defeated? That’s distantly possible, I guess. She was never completely unstoppable, just unstoppable enough that it became kind of a joke. But all the capes working together to fight her? Now you’re just being ridiculous. If they were capable of doing that in the first place, Skitter wouldn’t have needed to assume control.

            It’d be Wardens trying to organize a pitiful defense with all the capes who volunteer, while other groups are fighting each other in hopes of gaining some advantage in the coming post-Khepri world, the Simurgh faking her own death while simultaneously planting the seeds of some insanely circuitous plot that will utterly fuck everyone over some hundred years down the line, and two bloody Cauldrons refusing to commit all their resources, choosing instead to save them “for later” until their respective bases get raided by no less than four different groups at once. And probably some capes opting to worship her as a god, because why the fuck not, it seems to be a thing.

      2. Would she? Wouldn’t she need to know to ask the question for PtV to kick in? She’s not omniscient, she just has access to all the answers she cares to look for.

  16. So let me see if I have this correct, Tattletale is saying that she believes Cradle is being manipulated by some outside party, and that’s why he didn’t act the way she expected him to and almost killed Rain? She’s being very cagey with her description of this situation.

    I’m so proud of everyone for successfully negotiating this little alliance though, it’s nice when people actually manage to communicate and compromise.

      1. Quite possibly with Contessa/Fortuna’s help. Despite the Numbers man stating she’s resting, we know she worked with Teacher at the end, maybe she still is. Would easily explain how someone would know/predict the exact time to call Cradle when TT’s phone was bricked and give him an alternative/additional incentive in 30 seconds before TT could get to him to spare Rain.

        However… The entire incident also led to Rain ultimately surviving and the Undersiders and this group meeting… So if it’s Contessa, she may have planned it all the way to this meeting and joining of important forces.

  17. Oh well I bet they will be bombing up New Boston with something terrible. Maybe Machine army?

    There are several Candidates for allies of the Fallen:

    – Teacher-Couldron
    – Citrine-Couldron
    – Earth C
    – Goddes I doubt, she is more like WH40K Emperor Figure like threat

    I wonder if Simurgh tried to get a new Eidolon Baby in the time between…
    It died a bit unspectaculary.

    Also didn’t Rachel sensed the Last thoughts of Eidolon in her Epilog Chapter?

    I bet that the Broken Triggers are Eidolon‘s Shard. Creating infinite variations of powers? Monstrous Desaster clusters? The slime smoke fire Broken Trigger seemed to be a new Behemoth.
    Maybe created by other mini Eidolons.

    1. Back to the chapter:
      I think Undersiders will be Partly Broken, one of them die.

      Team therapy will survive as a special ops somethings. A lot of people will die horribly. I mean seriously, there are so many ultra hardcore enemies out there.

      I still want to know what Sleeper does.

      The new Asylum on Gimmel Europe.

      So much to explore. I don’t know why people whining about the new book. It’s so diverse in its world. But seriously. In Worm we had several groups vs the protagonists till chapter 20 +

      It’s cool to have a continuing conflict with lots of foreshadows.

  18. Oooh, more about the Woman in Blue/Goddess.

    The rest of the Fallen, Teacher, Goddess, Sleeper, the Endbringers… am I forgetting anyone? We’ve got quite a lineup of antagonists waiting in the wings. I wonder who’s going to end up being Ward’s ultimate threat?

    1. The Three Blasphemies, the Machine Army, Nilbog’s Kingdom, the wall-less exclusion zone under twenty-four seven surveillance in Alaska that got mentioned once, the Theocracy of Earth Cheit, the rest of Cauldron, Marquis and other surviving Birdcage cell leaders are a maybe, Monster Earth, and… I think that’s it. Oh, that fungus in a Europe somewhere.

    2. There won’t be one, the climax’ll be breaking into the shard dimensions and making friends with some of them.

  19. Love seeing all of this- Vicky and Lisa are actually getting along! …sort of!

    also, I’m very glad Kenzie appreciates Aiden’s cape name- I wonder if they’re gonna be friends?

    1. I think Kenzie mostly liked the opportunity to flex about taking out MM in a not-really-subtle way. That’s definitely what annoyed Chris.

      1. Hmmn, Chicken Little says he can make the sky fall. Looksee made something fall out of the sky to take out Mama Mathers.

  20. Don’t worry, Imp, I got it!

    I’m with Ashley, though.

    Still, it’s better than Chicken Little. I mean, seriously, Aiden? “Chicken Little”?

  21. I think WB is setting up Rain to be a huge threat on the mid- to -long term. Four entire interludes dedicated to him and now a mention about a cluster cape getting very powerful after getting the powers of the other cluster mates? WB is clearly planning something which we should probably dread, with Rain at center stage.

    1. Well, that’s easy enough to figure out. If Rain gets all the “bandwidth” (for lack of a better term) that’s distributed among his cluster mates, then he’ll have four powers twice as strong as any one of their best ones, including his own. Imagine someone who’s a better hand-Tinker than Cradle, a better emotion manipulator than Love Lost, a better mover than Snag, and a better blaster than Rain, all at the same time. And also, we’ve already seen from his cluster mates that their powers synergize, so he’d be a force multiplier with himself, too.

      Now recall that Skitter only really had two powers (even if they had insane versatility and overlap), and Vicky only has three. Rain would outclass both of them, easily. That isn’t just Magikarp to Gyarados, it’s Magikarp to Satoshi Tajiri, and then you make your own pokemon because rules don’t apply to you anymore.

      The question to ask is whether the powers he has start to take on the properties of his cluster mates, or if they only become better versions of the ones he already has. It’s the difference between “Like Rain, but super-duper charged” and “literally an anime ninja, but with explosion death laser punches, infinite hands jutsu, and you’re too busy killing yourselves to do anything about it.” If it’s the latter, then I can easily see how this Goddess person took over a planet. If it’s the former, then he’d still be among the upper crust of capes, especially keeping in mind that Eidolon, Legend, and Alexandria were flukes of the highest order.

      1. Maybe she can ‘rein’ him in? And I do not doubt for an instant that erin’s name is an anagram of that by accident

  22. So. Does anybody have any new theories or predictions for why the Simurgh was so interested in Lisa?

    1. A) By following Lisa instead of Taylor, Ziz made Taylor feel ineffectual and useless, contributing to her decision to go khepri
      B) She reminded Lisa of her brother’s suicide to help give her the idea to torment Scion with imitations of his dead wife

      There could be other stuff but I honestly hope that’s it, and the Endbringers will stay out of this story. The rube goldberg precog plots were not my favorite part of Worm.

      1. Ultimately, the Simurgh was responsible for the travellers. Sure that initially looks bad, but two of their members were used in the final blow to Scion. Oliver to give Scion the final hope of Eden’s survival, dashed to hope to cause him the last bit of emotional pain he needed to ignore his auto-dodge or set it to release him from life. Then Ballistic with Foil’s power to deliver killing blows to his visible/present body.

    2. I’ve always figured the Simurgh was all, “Aw, it’s like a little cutely inept me. I’m gonna love it and sing to it and manipulate destiny for it and call it Lisa.”

  23. Good call, but perhaps he could turn out to be the great savior? “When Panacea and Riley figured out how to combine Nilbog, Valkyrie, and Goddess into a three-headed god of apocalypse, we thought we needed Khepri, but she was on a permanent vacation, so thank goodness we found Rain!” Bonus: this would really send the Rain-haters club around the bend.

    1. Yes, this would drive me round the bend.

      To quote the lyrics of a wonderful song, “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”

  24. So… is it just me, or should Kenzie REALLY REALLY be working for the undersiders.

    The Synergy between her and TT is frightening, the undersiders are short a management and logistics person now that Taylor is gone, Imp and others in the organisation have no small experience wrangling insane super powered youth (which Kenzie will get to hang out with), the team is unlikely to dissolve soon, and the team is pretty much entirely female.
    Given that about 80% of the serious problems that Kenzie has got in in the past is via her attachment to older male superheros, this last one is important.

    Also, given her shards obvious tendency towards mass surveillance, working for a villian agency with less bureaucratic oversight will probably work well.

    That said, I guess the issue is that while we as readers know that that the Undersiders are safe and reasonable(ish), all that bureaucracy and such that is designed to keep Kenzie safe does exist for a reason. Sure, 80% of the problems Kenzie causes are her accidentally triggering the Systems automatic small child defense mechanisms on people, 20% of the time those defense mechanisms prevent her being collected by friendly murder granny.

    Seriously though: Kenzie as an undersiders member: Such a good fit.

    1. Yeah. When TT was doing stuff like smiling at the cameras before I was worried she was going to try and seduce Kenzie to turn to the dark side since she obviously has a sense how vulnerable she is to affection. Having to be prodded to talk shit on her is more evidence towards that idea.

      Doesn’t look like the story is going in that direction, but it makes a ton of sense for the reasons you explain.

      1. Aiden is male and Kenzie might latch on to him hard, in two or three years time. Rachel, Lisa and Aisha would all read the signals, and only Lisa would might feel inclined to intervene concerning such a relationship.

        1. Well sure. But one of the main issues previously was that it was an OLDER male hero she was attached to (hence all sorts of concerns there). If she attaches to Aiden, then it might be a pain in the ass for him but its less… creepy.
          Probably.
          Possibly it becomes just as creepy in the opposite direction, and me thinking its less of a problem is just some sort of weird gendered thing where “you girl plus older dude” = concern. and “Girl obsessed with younger dude” is somehow okay. Still, the ages involved seem to make it more innocent. (Previous ones apparently were innocent… but people were still concerned).

          This conversation is going really weird frickin’ places… which is probably the point. This is why dealing with Kenzie is awkward.

          Then again there’s also a whole bunch of Heartbroken kids, and Kenzie hanging out with the Heartbroken sounds…. problematic.

          1. Forgettable Imp as babysitter to Kenzie could work either extremely well or extremely poorly, given Kenzie’s neuroses.

            Tt is obviously one of the best person to intuit the best way to deal with Kenzie if she directs her attention to it, but she also seems exceedingly busy based on her own admittance.

          2. @joviality I could see Kenzie becoming distressed that she can’t notice Imp and obsessing over making a camera that can detect her.

          3. Any camera would do. Sounds like Kenzie would rig up a system that pings her heads-up display with specific information any time Imp is detected nearby using her facial(mask-based?) recognition software. Hell, I could see this happening now.

  25. Can I just say I really like the implications of Chris’s power? Especially on the long-term side of things.

    Every time he changes back, something permanent carries over, right? So, does this mean he might eventually achieve a “final form” that combines the traits of his other forms that he got the most use out of? Not necessarily ALL of the traits of all his forms, but like, say, some choice bits from a few of the ones he uses more. It’s almost like Crawler, except one who gets to choose his own development instead of it being involuntary. Might take some of the edge off the inevitable monstering when you’re given even a small measure of choice in the matter.

    I always got a kick out of character classes in video games (or tabletop games) that let you mix and match traits to basically create your own monsters. I was the one who’d roll up a necromancer and then dive into flesh golems, basically, or pull up some weird splatbook that let me graft increasingly bizarre limbs onto something.

  26. I really appreciated Sveta going back at TT. Victoria and TT sniping at each other is one thing, but I don’t think we know of any reason for TT to dislike Sveta, and yet she’s been extremely rude, including continuing to refer to her as Garotte.

    Other thoughts: I love Lisa’s references to Taylor. I would have hoped that Lisa would point out that classifying The Goddess or the Endbringers as the same level of threat as Taylor is disrespectful.
    I can’t think of a good Watsonian explanation for why nobody has suggested that TT make Rain the avatar of the cluster, and the best Doylist reason I can think of is that the possibility will be brought up later when it’s more dramatically impactful.
    I love the budding friendship between Kenzie and Aiden. And yes, Unkindness, Cardinal and Hitchcock would all have been wonderful names. I also love Imp continuing to push the references.

    1. Tattles is still thinking of Rain as “the Fallen kid who killed everyone”. She’s probably vetted Cradle extensively before deciding he fits her goals. Now is not the time or place to talk about that anyway, you know?

      1. “Can you fault me? He’s the most level headed, and out of the rest of the group, one was an raging asshole, my second choice of the bunch by the way, one can’t take her mask off because if she does she can’t help but scream, and the last member of the group kept the door locked while a mall full of people were trampled, burned, and-or suffocated.”

        Reason not to suggest it: she literally just explained why she wouldn’t do it.

        1. Tattletale described the worst of everyone. She’s being an asshole and everyone, including the Undersiders and TT herself, knows it. Also she misread Cradle, which both hurts her credibility and means she owes Rain.

    2. “I can’t think of a good Watsonian explanation for why nobody has suggested that TT make Rain the avatar of the cluster”

      I can.

      Nobody wants to acknowledge how much control their agents really have over their personalities and actions.

      1. Probably because none of team therapy spokespeople want anyone to collect in that particular tontine. They don’t support killing for power even if it pays off for them.

  27. It would be a bit ironic if Rain ends up being the most powerful cape of their team and a world-class one to boot. He’d be all “stop right there and think about what you did”. And… well, out of their cluster right now he seems the safest bet.

  28. The Fallen leader is talking about faith, and one HELL of a thing. Are we going to witness the appearance of an endbringer?

    “A wild Endbringer appeared.”

    “Endbringer used City Smasher”

    “It´s super effective!”

    1. Possible but I doubt it. He said he wasn’t loyal to the faith but that he wanted to see the show. I can’t imagine anyone but a zealous fanatic wanting ringside seats to a new endbringer.

  29. Damn shame that Aidan isn’t controlling crows, ravens, and other dark looking birds and calling himself “Kwothe” for “quoth the raven”
    Even imp would love that one.
    Evermore would also work.

    1. Yeah, I remembered the heartbroken, then Imp and regent’s relationship and decided, if anyone was going to have fucked up relationship that could be considered creepy, then ask the experts: The Undersiders.

      And A wildbow work with conversations delving into weird and somewhat uncomfortable? How Unusual… not.

      Anyway, thank ninegardens, for your for well considered and perceptive response and picking up on what I was trying to get at.

      1. @Wildbow

        *For some reason, this post has appeared in the wrong spot, even thought I posted it as a reply t ninegardens. Please can it be repostioned? or if not, deleted? Thanks, WarnerBrother!

  30. Probably because none of team therapy spokespeople want anyone to collect in that particular tontine. They don’t support killing for power even if it pays off for them.

  31. I love the attention to detail! Looksee is so tinker that when everyone looks at the projection of Rain she looks into the camera instead.
    “All heads turned to face his projection, except Looksee, who looked at the camera instead.”

  32. Good talk, there, I think?
    Tattletale does seem exhausted. She needs a team of powered assistants just to manage her calendar, it seems.

    So, this evening event, hellish, but hellish how? And as a bonding experience?

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