Pitch – 6.9

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“Looksee,” I said.  “Are you there?”

“Always,” came the reply.

“I have someone with me that I’m pretty sure is one of the Crowley brothers,” I said.  I noted the slight nod, and the almost satisfied expression from the man.  It wasn’t him faking me out, I was pretty sure.  Instead, he seemed to like the recognition, even to the point that he was willing to give up information to bask in it.  “He says something bad is up.”

“Capricorn and Sveta are dealing with people with guns.  That’s bad.”

“Something big,” I said.

“I’ll call everyone.”

“Please.  Start with authorities.  Wardens.  Then the team.”

The Crowley brother still had his hands up in surrender.  It didn’t really mean a lot, a lot of the time.  There was no position or way of being that would make a parahuman a non-threat.

This was where we needed the help of the patrol.  I had one Crowley and a bunch of Jackasses that had surrendered, they apparently had guns, and… what?  I had nowhere to take them, I couldn’t drag the leader off without the others causing trouble or hurting someone, and I couldn’t easily cuff them with one hand.

I was forced to wait if I didn’t want to let them go.

“Writing a text message to send to Wardens since their phone lines are garbage awful.  I’ll have Capricorn on the line.  The connection died when he switched.  One sec.”

I could hear the background noise over Capricorn’s voice.  Byron’s voice, against a backdrop of shouting.  “Victoria?”

“Something big’s happening.  I caught one of the leaders and he’s smug,” I said.

The Crowley brother smiled.

“Bait?” Chris asked.  “What’s the context?”

Sveta approached, standing beside me where she could keep an eye on some of the Jackasses.

“I threatened to break his arms and legs.  He surrendered, arms up, and said he’ll cooperate if he gets to see the show.”

“If you threaten to break someone’s arms and legs, I’m pretty sure they’ll say anything,” Chris said.

“I like how you say that like you have experience on the subject,” Looksee said.

“I’ve met some shitty people over the years.  You can learn a lot from shitty people.”

“Focus, please,” Byron said.  The shouting was louder.  “One-”

“He cut out,” Looksee reported.  “He changed and the connection didn’t translate.  I thought I jiggered it right but this is really not my area of expertise.  I think it’s because of my phone box…”

She went on, saying more, tinker talk.  While she talked, one of the Jackasses turned to his boss.  “We don’t have to put up with this, Vince.”

“It’s fine.  Stay put,” Vince Crowley said.

Middle brother.  It made sense that he was here.  The other brothers were supposedly present, but this was the guy who was looped in with the Mathers.  The Mathers family traded family members to and from other branches, connecting families and cementing ties.  The Mathers had also kidnapped kids.  Vince Crowley and his sister had been the ones handling the Crowley end of the deal.  They were smugglers, thieves, and general assholes who had dodged the reaching arms of the heroes, while providing shelter to the real monsters, and implicitly accepting some really fucked up stuff.

The McVeays had been murderers and zealots, the Mathers were kidnappers, among other things, and Vince and Sabrina Crowley had been enablers.  They were smugglers, they’d kept kidnapping victims and sheltered murderers while there was too much attention and heat on them, and they’d almost gotten away with it, despite being up against the whole PRT.

Sabrina had been caught, as were several sub-cells and supporters of that particular family unit.  They’d disappeared, they’d reappeared after Gold Morning, Sabrina back with her brother, and I knew about them because the patrol blocks were keeping tabs on them.

“Capricorn’s back.  I’m doing stuff,” Looksee said.  “I’m checking- I don’t see news.  No rise in phone activity.  No posts online.”

“He said tonight,” I said.

“We’re getting closer to ‘night’,” Capricorn said.  Tristan.

“Looksee,” I said.  “You had something keeping an eye on the phones in Hollow Point.  Your phone box?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you go backward?  See who these guys have been talking to?”

The Jackass next to Vince whipped his head around.  Vince didn’t react much, but it was telling.  I added, “We know where they were in the building.  Can you use that to place the calls?”

“Yup.  Well, not to who.  But I can figure out where.”

“Perfect,” I said.  I met Vince’s eyes, trying to gauge what he thought.  Too hard to read.  “How hard will it be?”

“Not hard,” she said.  “It’s already set up.  I punch in the location data.  Already half done.”

“Already half done,” I told Sveta, my thumb on the switch to the microphone on the earbud’s cord.

“Good job, Looksee,” Sveta murmured.

“And done.  Gimme a minute.”

I smiled.

Part of the intent of my statement and the whole intent of the smile was to see what reaction it got from Vince Crowley.  It was provocative, yes – I knew I might push them to do something.  The real reason was to try and assess how serious of a thing this was.

I could see the agitation of a couple of the Jackasses’.  Whatever they were, borderline sociopathic, brave to a fault, dangerous, they weren’t actors or bluffers.  Vince tried, but I could see a faint frown line between his eyebrows that hadn’t been there before.

“Calls were made from the building they were in, just after they arrived.”

“To?” Chris asked.

“To… there was a flurry of them to a place that’s- it’s not far away.  I’m trying to find a map online to overlay and the webpage is glaaaacial.

The heroes who’d been at the perimeter were approaching now, jogging our way.  They would’ve been the final line of defense had the Crowleys kept running.  Three heroes local to Boston.  All wore bright colors and impractical costumes with extra flaps, layers, and extraneous bits of cloth that made them very ‘costumey’, in a way that made me think of a superhero in a kid’s show.

Magic Knight Crash wore a high-collared top that hung off of him, leaving everything from armpit to pelvis exposed, while his front and back were covered.  He had four belts, not including straps at his arm and thigh, and he had a spiked shield mounted on the side of an engine that had a handle at the back and other side.  Seafoam and purple.

Mystic Magic Impaler was similar, but she wore an eyepatch with a smiley face on it, a drill bit running through the smiley’s head.  The same icon was painted on the bare skin between cleavage and collarbone, and her outfit and hair were predominantly blue with some orange.  The entire setup had far too many ribbons for someone with power drill lances mounted on her wrists, the bits columns, not cones.  If the color scheme didn’t sell the image, the combination of power tools, long hair and loose clothing did.

Dynamite Warrior Dash Fantastic was the most sane of them.  She at least avoided having twenty-plus things on her costume that her enemies could grab, and had some body armor, as paradoxical as it was to have her belly bare beneath a crop top with armor panels on it.  She was curvy, with a round face, and war paint on her cheekbones.  Her hair was short and pulled back in pigtails that were only an inch and a half long.  She didn’t have a weapon, unless the assault to the senses from the orange and purple camo counted.

Yes, I had some loose clothing, and I had my hair out, but I also had the security of the wretch, and I’d made some effort to practicality, with the armor and coverage.  These guys treated practicality like it was the enemy.

That wasn’t me jumping to conclusions.  I knew of the M.K.C. and M.M.I. pairing from before Gold Morning.  I’d been aware they’d made it through that, and their names had come up during the planning for this thing.  They’d been a ‘we’ll call and see if they’ll help’.  Despite appearances and past history, Tattletale had insisted they were trustworthy.  I’d secretly hoped they flake out like they’d been known to in past crises, even at the same time I’d known we needed all the assistance we could get.

Uuuuuuuuuuuuuugh.

“Working, working,” Looksee could be heard in the background.  “I’m finding more calls but Cap keeps blipping out and I’m trying to stay in touch with him.  I think my phone box is too far away.”

“Sorry.  Keep it up,” Capricorn said.

I closed my eyes.  I had to focus on the immediate present, and helping where I could help.

“Who’s in charge?” I asked.

“Me,” Dynamite said.

“Who did you talk to before coming?”

“Imp.  She called in a favor.”

I hesitated.  Sveta nudged me.

“He says something else is up.  We’re chasing it down.  Can you keep them in custody?  At least one has powers.”

“It’s why we’re here,” Magic Knight Crash said.  He had colored lenses that masked his pupils and irises to make his eyes teal from corner to corner, and his mask covered his eyebrows, making it hard to read his expression.  He sounded confident, but the problem with these guys was that their entire persona was over the top confidence.

“The guy with the beard is Vince Crowley.  Duplication of self and objects.  The duplications launch out, and he can put out a lot of them.  They don’t have much substance unless they overlap.  He’s usually not far from his sister, Sabrina, and we haven’t seen her.  She’s a mover on a mass scale.  Raider and getaway.”

“That’s Empusa,” Dynamite said.

“Yes,” I said.

“She’s been seen around here.  She’s strong but she hasn’t done much.  We can deal with her.”

“With a five hit drill punch combo,” Mystic Magic Impaler announced, floating off the ground.  She stabbed at the air with her drills.

Fucking why was this a thing? 

I felt embarrassed and it wasn’t even me saying it.

“You can deal with him?” I asked, indicating Vince.  “Flood of projections?”

“Would firepower work?  Cut or blast through it all?” Dynamite asked.  At my nod, she asked, “Can we kill him if he’s too much of a problem?”

“Or maim?” Impaler asked.

I felt something inside of me die at the question.  Yes, I’d threatened maiming, I even used maiming as a necessary tool, when there wasn’t a polite way to remove someone from a fight.  Impaler was trying so hard to celebrate it and make it her thing.

“Leave him alive if possible,” I said.  “He might be one of the only ones who knows about this thing that’s going on.  If you get any inkling about what’s going on, call us, let us know.”

“The deal was that I surrender only if I get a view,” Vince said.

“A view of what?” Sveta asked.

“Take us up to any rooftop.  I’ll sit, whistle, and wait,” he said.

“Any rooftop?”

“Ah,” he said.  He looked around.  “One with a view of the horizon.”

Of the horizon.

Shit, no.  I really hoped this was a head game.

I exchanged looks with Dynamite.

From what little I knew of Sabrina Crowley, who I could remember a little more easily because she didn’t blend in so much with her brothers, she charged up and released a ‘wave’ effect, about as tall and as big around as a house.  People in the original ‘cast’ could fly within the area of the slow-rolling wave, and there was some duplication trickery in there somewhere because she was from the Crowley family unit.  She used it to hit a location with a whole squad of people who could fly on top of having other powers, or to get her entire team away.

And from what I knew of this team, they might have been just the right people to tackle that particular set of problems.

“It would make it harder for Empusa to rescue him with her power.  We’d see her coming if she aimed at a rooftop,” Dynamite said.

“If you’re okay with it,” I said.  “Okay.  Give him what he wants.”

She put a hand out.  I clasped it for a moment.  She turned to her subordinates, and immediately began haranguing them in the manner of a no-nonsense prison guard that was used to dealing with unruly inmates.

I felt a bit better about these guys now.

“We should help Capricorn,” Sveta said.

I nodded, putting a hand on her shoulder as we jogged away.  When we were a polite distance away, I took flight and Sveta grabbed my shoulder, using me for the first portion of her trip.

“Coming your way, Capricorn,” I said.

“He’s not on,” Looksee said.  “I will as soon as I get a stable signal again.”

“Not on,” I repeated, for Sveta’s benefit.  “Do you have a location for the call recipient?”

“Some.  A bunch, ackshully,” Looksee said.  “Fenway Station.  Calls made mid-event, when the brothers left the camp, and when they got to your area.”

“We’re in Fenway station,” I said.  “That’s the name of the neighborhood.”

“Fenway Station Station,” Looksee clarified.

The issues of nomenclature.

“Call the Wardens.  Don’t brick their phones.  Good work, Looksee”

Trains, stores, people, parahuman security, a portal to Bet.

Capricorn had Flechette -Foil- and Parian near him.  Parian was trying to guard the other two, Foil was picking off the members of the Clans and the Fallen that were still lingering near the building, and the Clan were trying to set fire to Parian’s dolls with thrown bottles.

Capricorn, in turn, was extinguishing the fires with water, and working to trap the Fallen in stone, splashing them with water before turning it to stone.

The idea had been to stay clear of the fight, but I couldn’t imagine someone calling themselves a hero with a straight face and not wanting to help those in need.

Or needing to support those who were wanting help, maybe.

The lies we told ourselves, when need trumped reason.

Sveta went straight to Capricorn.  I went straight to the Fallen.

There was one I recognized.  He wore a latex demon mask with paint on it, but I’d seen him a while ago, and he had Fallen flowing out from around him in a way that drew the eye when I was up in the air.  On the ground, he would have been one masked face in the shuffle.  In the air, I could see people emerging from the crowd, ducking out from between people when they hadn’t been there before.

Maybe a small part of me had been looking for him.  When I had talked to the Attendant about joining, he’d been there.

The latex mask being what it was, he didn’t seem to have the ability to see in the upper periphery of his field of vision.  He didn’t see me.  I had the wretch up on the descent, to protect myself, and I dropped it just before flying my knee into his jaw, the hit punctuated by a heavy dose of my aura.

Swearing erupted around me.  His power was flaring up, visible now, with arcs of red-orange light dancing between the people in the crowd he’d been using to help form his gateways.  People shrieked and cussed as they were burned.

Shouts overlapped.  The mob with a focus became a scramble.  Two people had one arc of portal energy, starting at one person’s foot, running up the side of his body, along his arm, and out to the other person’s hand, tracing down the body to the ground again.  As they parted, the arc stretched and snapped, flailing out and striking the crowd or ground before dissipating.  No serious damage done, to look at it, but the cracks and snaps were like whipcracks, driving the already retreating group to run more.  Elsewhere, more portals were breaking.  Some people were trying to stand still, fighting the tide of the crowd, because they had portals connected to them.

There.  That was satisfying in a way I couldn’t put my finger on.  I couldn’t even stop to contemplate it.  I had to get to Capricorn, and we had to get to the station with the gateway to Earth Bet.

A flare of light caught my attention, but it wasn’t portal light.  A molotov.

There were people beneath me.  In the moment, not entirely sure if the bottle would break through my defenses and splatter me or hit the wretch and splatter it, I positioned myself and the Wretch between the bottle and the crowd.

In that moment of acceptance of the fact I might burn, the memory of Crawler’s venom and the pain that had followed felt so real I felt like I was already on fire.  It hit me like a punch to the gut, and my breath caught in my throat.

Idiots, the word flashed through my mind, aimed at the Fallen and members of the Clans.

Idiot, the word flashed through my mind, the singular reserved for myself.

The flaming projectile changed direction in midair, almost disappearing.  I could follow the path it took, the orange in the gloomy, overcast drizzle tracing a line through my vision like Capricorn’s power did.  I saw the explosion, the bottle cast off to the side, landing in an inconsequential patch of road.  Sveta had grabbed it.

Other heroes from the perimeter were collapsing in.  I didn’t see anyone who might be the other Crowley brothers.  Jake and Cutter.

I made two more quick strikes, targeting people who looked like they were giving orders or rallying the Fallen.  I saw someone in passing who might have been Victor, from Brockton Bay, and in the moment I was trying to decide if it would be wise to try to go after him, I saw that this wasn’t close to over.

I flew to Capricorn, landing while still moving at a speed where I had to run a couple of steps and use a moment of flight to keep from stumbling.

“Thank you,” I said, to Sveta.

“Anytime.”

There was no need to ask what it was.  She got it.  That- this, I liked it.  It would be nice to do the hero thing with her, even sometimes, even if the team fell through.

“Did you catch what Looksee said?” Capricorn-Byron asked.

Had I?  No.  I checked.  The cord dangled.  I popped it back in.  “Sorry, Looksee, my earphone came unplugged.”

I could hear her, “I’m trying to figure this out.  There are cameras at the station.  I’ve notified security.  I’m getting other stuff through the camera feeds.  They’re in a restaurant, I think.”

Byron became Tristan.  Tristan pointed, and we walked as a group.

I turned to Foil as we passed her.  “Thanks.”

“I wish we could talk more,” she said.

“Soon.”

Capricorn stopped in his tracks.  “We should tell Tattletale.”

“Looksee?” I asked.  “She’s looped in, isn’t she?”

“I’m talking to her when I get a chance,” Looksee said.  “She ignores half of what I say.”

“She’s running ops,” Parian said.  “Besides, I think she’s worn out.”

“This is big,” I said.  “The Fallen said he wanted to see the horizon when this hits.”

“I’ll call,” Foil said.  “I’ll make the gravity clear.”

“Thanks,” Capricorn said.

“Good fighting beside you, Cap,” Foil said.

He gave her a nod.

The station wasn’t far.

“You could have gone without me,” Capricorn said.

We could have.  Just as Tattletale was worn out, so was I.  I was hurt and that hurt was a dull ache with a more intense pain at the center that made it feel like it had a core or something lodged in it.  Apparently a phantom symptom, with my nerves trying to process the damage.  My focus was slipping a bit.

But I needed to be here.  This whole thing, others might have needed us to be here.  People still needed us, if there was anything to this attack or event tonight.

“We…” I started, trying to voice my thoughts aloud.  “I hit things.  Sveta grabs things.  We can do other things, but… against a bomb?  Or whatever this is?”

“You wanted a toolbox,” Sveta said.

“I wanted more of a team,” I said.  “Looksee, listening in?”

“Half listening.  I’m tracking these calls still.  If we can figure out who, we could figure out how or what.”

“Good,” Capricorn said.

“Can you defuse bombs, Looksee?”

“Maybe.  I’d have to see the bomb.”

“If you can, can you come?  Follow?”

“I’ll head there.”

“Chris?”

There was a wet sound over the phone.

“I think he ate the phone,” Looksee said.  “I hope he un-eats it before he changes back, or he’s going to need either surgery or a slot shaped butthole.  He’s near the station.”

“Can we get him?” I asked.

“We can try.  I’ll have my computer ping him until he listens.”

“I’m running,” Capricorn said.  I was close enough to him that I could hear him on both phone and in person, with a bit of an echo.  “You guys move.  The kids can follow behind.  Keep an ear out for any calls to get away.”

“Yuh huh,” Looksee replied, in the rushed kind of way that suggested she was too active or enthused to even form full words.  She’d been hurt and as close to sullen as Kenzie ever got, and that had faded into the background, almost forgotten.

Capricorn broke into a run.  Sveta used her power to pull herself ahead.  I took to the air.

“Hanging up for a sec,” I said.  “Wave at me if you need me on the phone.”

“Got it,” Capricorn said.

I used my speed dial.  I heard the phone ring twice.

Droplets of moisture touched my skin as I flew.  Too far apart to be even a drizzle, it was moisture in the air.  Half of the sky was dark.  Too early for sunset, but the clouds were thick and the smoke and industry of the areas on the coast were contributing to the haze.

“Victoria?” was the response.  Gilpatrick’s voice.  I could hear the bus in the background.  “What happened in Boston?”

“It’s happening.  The Fallen have guns.  They were ready to shoot people.  Heroes are intervening.  It’s not important-”

“It sounds important.”

“No.  The Fallen have something big going on.  Retaliatory, I think, or it’s someone who’s talking to them and using the attack today as a distraction for other things.”

“What kind of big?”

“There’s a possible attack hitting Fenway Station.  We’re on our way there.”

“We’re too far away, Victoria.”

“The guy I’m hearing this from is saying he wants to see it.  On the horizon.  He said it while a few blocks away from the target location.  That could be him trying to mislead, but it could be…”

“Other attacks?”

“Call, please?  This is an all-hands on deck thing.”

The station.  The building was made to look like an old building, even though it really wasn’t.  It was shaped like a plus sign, with a squat domed tower in the center, a red stone exterior, and arching entrances set at below ground level, with broad stairs leading down into them.  There was infrastructure around the building for refugee intake, but the buildings were locked down and shuttered.

“You guys are there?” Looksee asked.  “I’ve got them on camera.  Sitting and drinking coffee while eating raspberry pie.  I’ve never had either of those things but that sounds like a bad combination.”

“Just so long as they’re not doing anything,” I said.  Sveta caught up with me.  I pointed at one entrance while walking to another.  She nodded.

“We don’t want to scare them,” Capricorn said.

“We do want to be in a position to stop them,” I said.

“Go in, stay put.”

There were kids from the patrol in the building as I entered, more alert than they usually were.  They looked alarmed at my appearance.  Had word traveled this far in the past couple of minutes?

I pushed my hood back and held up my hands, approaching at a walk.

“Stop,” the junior captain said.  She was black, a teenager Rain’s age, her hair shaved at the side and brushed back and away from her face at the top.  She had the ‘cop’ look down one hundred percent.  The technique too- she’d already had her gun in hand, out of sight, and she raised it to point it my way without hesitation.  I could admire that kind of fluid confidence, as someone who’d once had the same position.

“We’re on your side,” I said.  “You just got an alert, right?”

She nodded.

“I gave the info to Captain Gilpatrick at Bridgeport.  I’ve worked with him.  He passed it to others.  Something big is up, and we think the culprits are in the restaurant with the pie.”

She didn’t ease up.

“You’ll want to evacuate,” I said.  “Do it soft, we don’t want to tip those guys off.  Don’t let people enter, encourage them to leave if you can do it quiet.  Let the place naturally empty.”

A light flashed at the desk, at a point I couldn’t see- but I could see the green LED reflected on the glossy black body armor she wore.  Nicer quality stuff than we’d had, but I supposed that came with the big city.

“Ben,” she said.

One of her squad members reached for the phone.  There was a pause.

“Bosses and cops say there’s someone at the other door.  Obvious parahuman.  We’re supposed to send one or two that way for numbers.”

Bosses would mean captain.  Cops would be the local authorities.  One of the two should’ve been making the real decisions.  There should have been one close by here.

“That’s Sveta,” I said.  “She’s a case fifty-three.  My friend and teammate.  With the current emergency, we approached from two angles.”

“Yeah,” the Junior Captain said.  Her voice was level.  “Tell them we’ve got one too.”

“We’ve got one too,” the guy said, into the phone.  “We’ve got two, actually.”

I looked where he was looking.  It was Capricorn.

“Oh, I know you,” the junior captain said.  “Capricorn, right?”

“Yeah,” Capricorn said.

“You’re a hero.  You’ve been active out there.  Somewhere near Fairfield?”

“Cedar Point.  She’s a hero too.”

“And Sveta,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.  “If my word counts for anything.”

The suspicion wavered, and then it gave.  She held the gun in one hand, and reached for the phone with the other.

So many hurdles.  But the captain communicated the situation, and she communicated my suggestion about the people being evacuated.  The patrol squad went for another patrol, and they talked to people.

“All stations are evacuating for now,” Junior Captain Eads said.  She’d eased up considerably, after her superiors had gotten the okay.  “Trains are stopped, emergency staff is being called in.  Heroes are in.”

Looksee arrived almost ten minutes later.  We were still lingering near the doors, so Looksee sat on the bottom stair, getting out her computer.  Capricorn crouched by her in a position I would’ve been hard pressed to maintain before my legs started complaining, and I wasn’t wearing plated armor.

“No word from Tattletale?”

“Two words.  She said ‘on it’.  I don’t think she likes me much,” Looksee said.

“I did paint her as a pretty horrible person, didn’t I?”

“Ha,” Looksee said, without humor.  “We’ve got our targets on camera, see?”

Capricorn spoke out of the side of his mouth, while crouched near Looksee.  “Maybe don’t announce that we’re tapped into their security while their people with guns and cops are ten feet away.”

Two women and six men at two separate tables.  No costumes.  The restaurant was emptying.  There was one member of the staff walking around, cleaning tables.  Maybe a manager.

Keeping up the facade?  Heroes came in all forms.

What the hell were they up to?

A private message window popped up in the corner.  Tattletale.

Tattletale:
call logs. ur right. they r hitting every station with a portal
I let people know.

Every station.  My heart skipped a beat.

I looked over at Captain Eads.  She was staring at me, looking alarmed.

“They’re hitting all of the stations.”

“Every one with a portal,” I said.

“They’re shutting us down.  Closing us off.”

“Capricorn,” Looksee said.  “Victoria.”

She had our attention.

Tattletale:
tinkr devices. they all have one. under chairs in bags. hit them b4 they can use

It was a message to us, but from the reaction, I had the sense the message was going out to every team and station.

I adjusted my costume, flipping up my hood.  Capricorn stood.  Looksee drew her flash gun.  Patrol soldiers had their weapons out.  Older soldiers were jogging over from one of the other entrances.  Leaders for this particular exercise.

“Their parahuman wants to be the one to make the first move,” one soldier said.

“Who?”

“The girl with the painted armor.”

“Sveta.  Let me set up, and I’m all for it,” Capricorn said.

The minutes that followed were silence punctuated by bursts of movement so intense that it felt like the situation had just erupted.  Boots on the ground, as patrol officers went to one wing or another.  Then laughter, somewhere, eerily out of tune with the feeling we had near the entrance.  Fake, to create a sense of normalcy, when the groups at the table might be noticing how quiet things were getting?

At every station, there had to be a situation like this unfolding.

We had no idea who these guys were.  They might’ve been friends of the Fallen, but that was open-ended.

“Going,” Capricorn’s voice came over the phone, a whisper made loud.

I was looking around the corner as Sveta went around the corner across from me, entering the hallway, snapping over to the entrance to the restaurant, and disappearing inside.

Capricorn came back in from outside at a run.  I flew in, and the officers were ready behind me.

I was just in time to see Sveta skidding on the floor.  She spied the target and grabbed it where it apparently sat on the booth seat beside one of the people at the table, and hauled it to her with enough force that it produced a spatter of blood when it clipped the face of the guy sitting by it.

Then she was out, case in hand, and we were in.  A restaurant with red, white, and black tile, black booths, and pretty looking tables.  It was cold on the one side because windows were open, and noticeably warm on the other because heat radiated from the kitchen.

Sabrina was one, or another Fallen with Crowley genes was.  When she used her power, she clarified the point- a shimmering bubble around herself, wet with waves rolling, overlapping and crashing around it.  Energy shimmered and danced wherever two waves met.

Beside her, someone was using a changer power, manifesting bone armor and a long limb at their right hip.  Possibly a whip.

Someone shot Sabrina.  I carried right past her to the changer, and hit it hard enough to shatter the bone armor and send them sprawling.  Capricorn used his power, and water came in through the open windows, flooding the restaurant and knocking just about everyone at the far end off their feet.  All members of the other group.

It wasn’t a pretty fight.  It wasn’t even an exciting fight.  It was a trap closing, where I was the jaws of the mousetrap slamming down, Capricorn was the pitfall and the bucket of water they were unceremoniously forced to deal with.  Sveta was the snare.

Even with a bullet in her, Sabrina used her power anew, surrounding herself and her teammates.  Her teammates rose up, each one flying within the bubble, with double images forming around each.  Other things were lifted as well- tables and chairs.

People took shots.  Most hit the strategically placed and doubled furniture.

Sabrina fired a handgun from behind cover.  One shot, and I heard four impacts as the shots landed.  Passing through or traveling through the bubble, the bullets were multiplied.

I had the Wretch pick up a table as I flew.  It was my shield, above and beyond what the Wretch offered.  I rammed into the floating cover Sabrina had erected around her people and drove that cover into them.  One flew back and away, stunned, and had a tentacle grab them from the window behind them.

It was my means of taking Sabrina’s booth that she was using as cover and, overturning the table that had been damaged by wretch and bullet alike, place it over her head, capping her in the booth.

She had to fly out, floating in her bubble, moving low to the ground.  Anticipating her, I flew to meet her, diving and putting my foot where mirror images overlapped.  I kicked her chest-first into the floor, and I could hear the clack of her teeth as her chin met the floor a fraction of a second later.

We’d left little room for counterplay.  No room for proper reactions, beyond the wild and desperate attempt to fight back.

Just like that, it was over.

Nobody who knew anything relaxed.  The captains called in that we’d succeeded.  The confirmation came back.  All looked good.  All clear from Looksee and Tattletale.  Sveta handed the tinker case to a professional.

Everyone who knew something about the situation remained ready, waiting for the next shoe to drop.

“Good work,” Junior Captain Eads said.

There was nowhere to go.  Nothing to do.  We’d done our job, the people with the know-how were interrogating who they could find, and answers would come soon.

But the answers had to wait.  The other stations- well, they had to handle their own stuff.  The closest portal to us was really Brockton Bay, and Brockton Bay wasn’t that close.  Our station was busy with cleanup, with questions and no answers.  We were in the way, and we couldn’t go elsewhere to help because things would be over before we arrived.

We had nowhere to go except- almost by silent agreement, we made our way outside.

As Vince Crowley had wanted to do, we found a vantage point to watch the horizon.

The messages began coming in on phones.

“Norwalk station,” Kenzie said.

“That’s your neighborhood,” Sveta replied.

Kenzie nodded.  She was typing quickly.  “My parents look okay.  Reports are coming in.  The sky- a slice of pink?  I don’t get it.  Things seem mostly fine.  What happened?”

“Hey,” Capricorn said.  He touched Sveta’s shoulder.  “Look.”

Off to the north.

Brockton Bay couldn’t catch a break.  It was like a shard of glass or a torn piece of painting.  I could see the sky on the other side.  The world beyond.

They were opening the portals wider.  Taller.  A portal that large- it had to have sliced Brockton Bay in half.  What did that impact?  What did it do?

We’d have to take off- where?

We had somewhere to go now, yet we were paralyzed.  The phone had a list of portals, now, and one by one, the gray rectangles turned green with checkmarks, or were marked with red ‘x’s.

One by one, places were deemed okay or thrust into new crisis.  The city had barely been holding up as it was.

Green.  Green.  Green.  Red.  Green.  Red…

I stopped focusing on the successes and failures, and turned my attention to my contact list.  Crystal.  Gilpatrick.  Dad.  Mom.

I sent the messages and waited for the replies.  In the times between waits, I typed out hurried explanations, as far as we had any.  It seemed like hours were passing and it seemed like no time at all was passing and we were stuck in a horrible, unresolved moment for an eternity.

On the horizon, another slice of sky that wasn’t overcast, in the midst of sunset.  A spear or blade of the wrong light, cast across a community.

A reply from Crystal.  Her team would be out and helping, as soon as they knew what was going on.  If this opened the doors wide for Earth C… what would we even do?

Fight.

Mom was okay.  She told me that Amy was okay, and I let her.  Dad was fine.  Gilpatrick, Jasper, Ashley and Rain were okay.

No response from Weld.

New York was the central hub because it was the place with the densest cluster of portals.  The phone noted several failures in that area.

No response from the Wardens.  They would be getting bombarded.  Maybe it was that.

Hard to convince myself of that, but I tried.  If three portals failed, what happened?  Did they open so wide that each intersected with the others?  What happened to something caught in the middle?

No response from Fume Hood or Tempera.

Crystalclear was well.  He’d been manning one station, and his group had succeeded in finding and catching the person who had brought the tinker device there.  The portal widening device.

I stood, unable to keep sitting, my phone still in my in hand.  Sveta sat with Kenzie, the two of them looking at the same phone.  Capricorn was off to the side, sitting against a wall.  Chris typed.

A response from Weld, brief, and Sveta burst into tears.  I sat down next to her to hug her.  When she stood up a minute later, pacing, I remained where I was, keeping an eye on Kenzie and an eye on my phone.

There was an agitation that was taking over.  I could see it in everyone’s body language.

Phones here and there beeped, people scrolled.

Only the anxiety.

It wasn’t quite true, I knew, but I imagined it all the same.  That we couldn’t bring ourselves to raise the subject, but we were all doing the same things at the same time anyway.   We sat and we poked at our phones, and we convinced ourselves it wasn’t true, we stabbed fingers at the phone with more vigor, as if that could somehow get through and evoke a response.  We searched, told ourselves it was a congested network, and held off on sending messages while hoping for one more.  The realization settled in, and it wasn’t the good kind of settling.

Each and every one of us had one name in common, someone they cared about, and for some, one of the only responsible adult figures who cared about them in turn.  She had every reason to be right at the epicenter, which didn’t make it better.

Today had proven more than anything that these guys still needed her.  What the hell was this team going to do without its therapist?

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92 thoughts on “Pitch – 6.9”

    1. Oh come on, we’ve always had cliffhangers. 🙂 Bonus point points if the next chapter is an interlude, and the one after that doesn’t clarify anything at all.

        1. It is now but when the text was first up the only hint was someone they all knew, nothing about someone they all loved or a Therapist…

          I HEREBY CHRISTEN THIS GROUP
          TEAM YAMADA!!!
          ^^^^^^^^^^^^

    1. RIP best grrl. Now who’s going to make sure this group of basket cases doesn’t accidentally murder everyone?

      Also, low-key expecting the Fallen to get attention from the REALLY scary people now. This terrorist attack (and it’s a terrorist attack, make no mistake) just put them above and beyond “that crazy cult that kidnaps people for rape.” Now they’ve cemented themselves as enemies of organized civilization.

      Last time I checked Legend didn’t take kindly to global threats, and while people like Seir and Mama Mathers are scary, I’m also pretty sure that they aren’t in the same league as the real nutjobs like Number Man.

          1. Firstly, they kept him in the dark up until Echidna, after which they read him in. And as far as we know he didn’t tell anyone that, eg, Alexandria lied when she said they’d stopped experimenting.

            Secondly, there’s a whole lot of difference between Cauldron and the Fallen. For example, Scion.

          2. @Summer

            That wasn’t a promise they made.

            In fact: Alexandria explicitly said they couldn’t stop Cauldron.

          3. Scourge, 19.7
            ________________________
            “And the captives? The people from other worlds Cauldron kidnapped?” Miss Militia asked.

            “Anyone with clearance should know that the number of people with physical mutations has declined steeply. We’ve stopped experimenting.”

            “Or so you say,” Tattletale cut in.

            “I do. Tell me I’m lying, Tattletale,” Alexandria said.

            Tattletale shook her head.

      1. How sure are we that the Fallen are behind this? Involved, sure, but this seems suspiciously like Teacher tech… in which case, the Fallen taking the blame is probably according to the plan.

      2. This wasn’t the work of the Fallen. They couldn’t make this tech or pull off such a large-scale operation on their own. They were being used by someone or something else, likely Teacher.

      3. “Also, low-key expecting the Fallen to get attention from the REALLY scary people now. This terrorist attack (and it’s a terrorist attack, make no mistake) just put them above and beyond “that crazy cult that kidnaps people for rape.” Now they’ve cemented themselves as enemies of organized civilization.”

        That’s optimistic. You’re implying this isn’t the start of Worlds War I

      4. Don’t forget the new batch of world-threatening-villains turned heroes like Nilbog, Bonesaw and Valkyrie/Glaistig Uaine. Deploy those guys against the fallen and you won’t have terrorist cultists for much longer.

        Also, there’s a big question about just where they got those devices. Was it a fallen tinker, or did someone supply them with portals? Teacher, or some other power could be behind this.

      1. *You* don’t see that everyday. For you, the day we expanded the portals was the most important day of your life; for me it was Tuesday.

  1. Oh shit. There’s only one person I can think of they’d all have in common, and that’s Mrs. Yamada. I do not like any implications there.

    So anyone else thinking Teacher might be involved in making the portal widening devices?

    1. That’s a possibility, meaning that this entire engagement might have been a front on the proxy conflict going on between Teacher, Tattletale, and Citrine/the Dreamy Man.

      So, one of the things which I have to wonder is this:
      Most villains we’ve seen are somewhat understandable.

      Cauldron – We’re going to be the evil bastards doing terrible things to save the world because we’re the only ones who know what’s coming.
      Empire 88 – We’re Nazi bastards with a racist ideology and that’s why we commit crimes.
      The Fallen – We’re an apocalypse cult who recruit the mentally and emotionally broken, tying them in with the promise of a community and a creed, and in the process giving our leadership power and validation and the opportunity to do abusive shit like taking multiple teenage brides.
      Lung – I’m a badass who wants to win fights, fuck women, eat good food, and do whatever I want, so I build gangs to support my power structure.
      Tattletale – I’m kind of horrible because I always want to be the smartest person in the room and cannot help but needle people in a form of social aggression. Nonetheless, I’m trying to be a pro-social villain on the side of everything not exploding and society generally trundling along.

      Then there’s Teacher. The dude appears to be just this sort of aimless and mildly affable source of pointless arseholishness. Like he decided to be a Bond villain for the luls.

        1. According to him, he killed the Prime Minister and the Vice President to see how the defences were. I think he wants world domination, and assassinated those notables so he could replace them with either his ‘students’ or himself.

          Thing is, he’s a trump/master who grants tinker/thinker powers to people he’s hypnotised. I think he wants recognition for his brilliance, even though his power forces him to surround himself with people who are, by some measures, smarter than he is. He also claims all his plans have succeeded, and he was only sent to the Birdcage because he was ‘between plans’.

      1. Teacher – I just want to be left alone to do whatever I please, oh and I can turn people into my personal mind-controlled puppets so I’m going to go ahead and do that to make people leave me alone while I do whatever I please

    2. Victoria pretty much confirmed that Yamada is the one not responding with her last line.

      And yeah, I bet Teacher has something to do with it. He had a tinker device to close portals before, it makes sense he could get one to open them wider.

  2. Mrs. Yamada had better be in a session right now ‘cos I don’t want to hear another explanation for why she’s not responding

    1. Is it just me or did the text change in the time I read it?

      If so, I think the previous text left it much more to the imagination about who wasn’t responding, which I liked as a cliffhanger but I can’t work out which version I like best. Weld calls and Sveta bursts into tears. I guess it’s just as gut wrenching for us to ponder the team without its therapist.

      …Man, she was so much to so many more people than just this group though… I don’t see a kind future for the Fallen. I always said to myself that if anyone messed with Yamada there wouldn’t be a pretty end in store for them,

      1. She worked with Valkyrie. We don’t know how much Valkyrie liked her, but she worked with the most powerful parahuman remaining. If Valkyrie liked her, the Fallen might be in some very serious trouble. If Valkyrie relied on her, the world might be in some very serious trouble.

        1. You know how one of the classic story forms goes, “sensei dies before impetuous student’s training is complete, forcing student to grow under pressure to fill those shoes?” I would not be opposed to that being what we’re looking at, here. Victoria is primed for it, but, oh, the road would be long and (let’s just say) highly entertaining.

  3. For some weird reason the wet noise over the phone and Looksee commenting that she thinks Chris had eaten it (and that he’d better un-eat it, but mainly that he’d eaten it) made me laugh.

    I just hope that if he did eat it, he didn’t eat it as Wan Indulgence, because that could alter the phone like he did that log.

    1. Now that you mention it… is this a hint that Chris has changed too many times too quickly and lost himself in a form because of it?

      Is Team T going to have to find him and save him from his powers next, yet again without a break?

      1. No. He’s mentioned later, human again. Presumably he un-ate his phone, since he’s typing. Just before Weld gets in contact.

    2. While we’re shouting out awesome Kenzie lines, I personally lost my shit at, “Looksee, are you there?” -“Always.”

      Also enjoying her Tinker’s frustration with long mobile page loads.

  4. Sure would be a good time for Deus Ex Valkyrie right about now.

    She’s probably got a power that can manipulate portals.

    1. She has Doormaker, but that can’t close portals. Teacher has portal-sealing devices, but I give it a 30% chance he’s the one behind this. Dragon, maybe? Or the old Scrub/Labyrinth team that opened the portals in the first place.

      1. >>> And the last… a boy, staring off into the distance. She asked her power, and she got her answer. He could make doors.
        >>> He could also close the other doors, the gaps left around the other entity. It would minimize the chance that the golden man could find them.

        Can close portals. On the other hand, has to consciously keep them open, while the current set are permanent.

  5. What worries me the most is knowing that the Fallen have access to a Tinker who can mass-produce devices that can affect portals to this extent.

    (Also, this is gonna be that Thing That Makes The Team Unite Even More, isn’t it? Instead of disbanding, they poach Vista and Parian and Foil?)

    1. This probably wasn’t planned by the Fallen, this looks more like Teacher used the Fallen as diversion while enacting his plan.

    2. That’d be pretty entertaining – the hero-poaching villain team getting its members poached. XD

      1. I think they aren’t going to poach Parian and Foil (totally poaching Vista, though), they’re going to just half-merge with the Undersiders, Tattles and Vicky flirting fighting for dominance. Brockton Bay’s portal was hit 😡

    1. Hard to believe, but Endbringers are the least of the problems right now. They might even once again help deal with some of the others.

    2. I dunno, the Endbringers don’t really have a reason to attack any more. They only existed in the first place to feed Eidolon’s creative outlet, which was hero-ing, (“You needed stronger enemies”) , and he’s dead now.

      I guess some villain might have managed to collect them, got them to imprint, and attack with them but even then they’re less of a threat since you just have to find & take out the imprintee

      1. The Simurgh is definitely plotting something. Whether that something is the destruction of mankind remains to be seen, but she was paying attention when Lung burned that cloning tank she constructed during Gold Morning. She might have been created by Eidolon’s subconscious, but no one ever controlled her.

    3. Given how they were acting at the end of Worm, I’d say there’s a better chance the endbringers are *upset* about this. They didn’t exist to destroy the world, they existed to challenge Eidolon and make him stronger. The Simurgh even seemed to feel bad about what she had done. Excepting enbringers that are being controlled, I would assume they would fight *against* an invasion, if they chose to act at all.

      1. …fuck, I really want to see that now. An invading world comes through the portals, sees four fucking Kaiju fighting the defensive, nope the fuck back to where they came from… just a shame Leviathan isn’t around anymore.

        1. Well, we know that the simurgh can use any tinker’s tech, is trying to create a “child” and Blasto almost cloned the Simurgh herself. I wouldn’t put it past her to make a leviathan or behemoth 2.0.

        2. Leviathan isn’t 100% confirmed dead; as was pointed out by a commenter after that chapter there’s a big cloud of smoke, a diversion by the Simurgh, and then we see what we assume is Leviathan disintegrate after one final attack by Zion. Is it likely the Simurgh managed to create a clay duplicate (as she later does for herself) and manages to fool both Khepri and Zion? No, but it is possible.

  6. Oh jeez, I’d completely forgotten that Victoria must also have been traumatized by Crawler hitting her with his acid.

    1. it says something about the situation that Vicky being half melted was so badly overshadowed by other stuff going on lmao

    1. “Coming your way, Capricorn,” I said.
      “He’s not on,” Looksee said. “I will as soon as I get a stable signal again.”
      -will what?

      “Call the Wardens. Don’t brick their phones. Good work, Looksee”
      -Looksee.”

    2. “I dropped it just before flying my knee into his jaw, the hit punctuated a hit of my aura.”
      > punctuating a hit / punctuated by a hit ?

    3. “and they’d almost gotten away with it, despite being up against the whole PRT” should be
      “and they’d almost gotten away with it, if it weren’t for the meddling PRT.”
      I think.

    4. “I carried right past her to the changer, and hit it hard enough to shatter the bone armor and send them sprawling”
      The “it” referred to here is the changer but in the same sentence you switch to calling the changer a “them”.

      1. I think, rather, “I carried” s/b “it carried,” “it” being the bullet fired in the previous line.

        A couple of lines later, “even with a bullet in her” should technically be, “even with a bullet through her.”

  7. Those last few paragraphs were brilliant. The tension was set up with the emotional reactions of the characters, and the confirmation on who is and isn’t okay. Then the slow realization that Yamada is probably dead starts to sink in, leading up to the end. That final sentence was a gut punch.

    I really hope we get at least one more chapter of this arc before going into the interludes, because I need to see what will happen next for Team Therapy.

    1. Hard to say if the victims of these devices are dead or merely ‘lost’. Spacetime is a weird thing.
      Of course, getting stranded on random new universes will have terrible consequences for most of them, and the others will have to find safety and sustenance until help arrives.
      Fingers crossed…

      1. Yamada wakes up in the same “dead to the narrative” world as Taylor, they start a ‘well, guess I’ve done enough now’ support group.

  8. Damn Wildblow offing one if his best characters offscreen. I knew he liked that trope, but damn I did not see that coming.

    1. They’re not dead until there’s concrete evidence for it or someone who would know and wouldn’t lie says so.

  9. Yamada got sucked into a portal, and is now engaged in an impromptu counseling session with Sleeper, the Blue Queen, and Valkyre – the Team Yamada’s new second stringers.

  10. Well, I wasn’t expecting that. This definitely reeks of Teacher, we all knew he was going to make some big, visible move at some point. We’re gonna need a bigger elevator shaft.
    I’m going to be incredibly sad if Yamada is dead. At least Weld is alive though.

      1. Except this would allow much of the suspected radiation problems and other impending disasters (machine army) to more easily get through the portal. Plus there remains serious agriculture shortages and if there’s war on the horizon with another world and that portal widened they can’t simply seal it with a mass of Capricorn walls or the equivalent. It won’t even be a bottleneck now, or a restriction to military aircraft.

        Jeanne probably would have been more practical and realistic, willing to close portals too close to the machine army and open portals from other areas to more agricultural worthy land then seal them up again.

  11. Wow I wasn’t anticipating portal-widening devices. Nice!
    Really enjoyable chapter… and then I got to the penultimate paragraph and (before scrolling down to see the final sentence) realised who it meant and my heart fell into my toes :O

    Actually I first opened the chapter before there were any replies (rare cos usually I’m asleep, but I was up late). But then I realised I was too sleepy to start reading so I didn’t, and then all of yesterday I didn’t get around to it. Then when I got to “I knew of the M.W.C. and M.M.I. pairing from before Gold Morning.” I realised that had to be a typo so I reloaded it in a new tab to see the fixed version and kept reading. The point being that I still have the original open, so when I saw comments about the ending I was able to compare the final version I read to the cut-off early version.

    I like the new version better. It reads more dramatically and isn’t a run-on sentence.

    1. FYI the original was just:
      “Each and every one of us had one name in common, she had every reason to be right at the epicenter, and she wasn’t responding.”
      while the new is:
      “Each and every one of us had one name in common, someone they cared about, and for some, one of the only responsible adult figures who cared about them in turn. She had every reason to be right at the epicenter, which didn’t make it better.

      Today had proven more than anything that these guys still needed her. What the hell was this team going to do without its therapist?”

  12. It wasn’t a pretty fight. It wasn’t even an exciting fight. It was a trap closing, where I was the jaws of the mousetrap slamming down, Capricorn was the pitfall and the bucket of water they were unceremoniously forced to deal with. Sveta was the snare.

    It’s understandable that everyone is fixated on other things, but damn this half of Therapy is bleepin’ devastating when they get the drop. Sveta as usual is MVP, but Cap has everyone’s attention and Vic is dishing the pain as well as the long-range mobility. If ever Vic gets a hard enough knock to pause the pain-dishing, Sveta would likely be a capable backup on that task. They’re fearless, flexible, and tough. The smartest call the junior captain ever made was “you know what? you guys should handle this.”

    I guess Looksee should get some credit for keeping them all on the same page and for weaponizing off switches, and who knows maybe some day Ashley and Rain might live up to their considerable promise. Chris isn’t convincing yet, but he is a kid so he might be worth having around just to guard Looksee. The point is, there’s no reason to disband Therapy right now.

  13. I saw someone in passing who might have been Victor, from Brockton Bay, and in the moment I was trying to decide if it would be wise to try to go after him, I saw that this wasn’t close to over.

    … oh wow, deep cut. I had to go to Google to find him in Worm (in-site search has a lot of results for “victory” or even “Victoria”), and then I wondered why I hadn’t remembered his name. He’s the skill thief from Empire Eighty-Eight- the first person we saw Regent use his real power on.

    1. Correction: the first person we see Regent use his full power on is Shadow Stalker, shortly after the Leviathan arc. Regent doesn’t get Victor until they’re facing the Slaughterhouse Nine, because Grue wants to experiment with his new Trump ability.

  14. “Mom was okay. She told me that Amy was okay, and I let her.”
    So we just need major disasters for Amy and Vicky and Carol’s relationships to slowly mend? They’ll be fine by the end of this story then.

  15. My two favorite lines:
    “She didn’t have a weapon, unless the assault to the senses from the orange and purple camo counted.”
    and
    “Brockton Bay couldn’t catch a break.”
    Also, I hope Yamada is okay, cause the death flag is very much flying

  16. Here’s hope Mrs Yamada is just incommunicado… until the end of the story. And then she’s found to be okay, just mad with worry about her charges 😀

  17. No. Just no. I mean the fight was great and the teamwork and all. But no. Also I always admire how you blast open your settings. But just no. Please?

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