Beacon – 8.11

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Our applause was like most of the applause at a golf match- far from uproarious, provided by expectation, not by free will.  All light was reserved for the stage; four fifths of the expansive room was dark.  The audience were nebulous shapes, an audience manager with her back to us keeping everything in order.  The audience was easy to lose track of, as the lights were directed our way, a brightness I had to look past.

The three hosts were standing in the center of the stage, in front of the arrangement of table and chairs.  A woman at the front of this particular triumvirate- Lynn Chess.  Black hair in a bun, bangs straight across the forehead, black suit jacket, a light blue silky top that cut straight across her cleavage, black skirt.  She would have looked severe, if it weren’t for her expression and the animation in her eyes, a smile natural on her lips.  The face of the group.

With the applause dying down, I could hear her talking.  We didn’t have the benefit of speakers, and she didn’t do the talk-show thing of waiting for the applause to die down, gesturing and smiling all the while.

“Breakthrough is an up and coming team, credited with identifying the threat to the inter-world portals and helping to save one of them…”

Hamza Kouri and John Combs walked behind Lynn to greet us while Lynn talked.

Hamza was a big guy, maybe eighty pounds heavier than Gary Nieves, bald at the top with hair only at the sides and back of his head, a thick beard and thick eyebrows that were shot through with white.  Dark brown spots flecked already deep brown, damaged skin.  I would have taken him for homeless, going by the skin, hair, and the natural angry-at-the-world glower, but his clothes were nice, tailored well to his frame.

He shook Capricorn’s hand, leaning in close to say something, one or two words.

“…Tonight, for those of you catching up, is the second episode of our series looking at the rogues, heroes, and villains of the city, and the dynamic that all of us are having to adjust to…”

Hamza shook my hand, clasping it in both of his, leaning in close enough that I could smell cigars.  An expensive habit to have, after the end of the world, when supply was next to nil.  He was barely audible.  “Good to have you.”

“Thanks for having us,” I murmured back, offering a smile.

Lynn continued, “…talked about duty, about law, and the shifts in attitude that seemed to surround our heroes in the years just before Gold Morning…”

Hamza, where he’d bent over me and Capricorn, stood very straight and stuck his hand down at an angle for Lookout.  She shook it, her hand disappearing in his.  She tugged, and he bent down, and she said something, while pointing at Swansong.

I shook John Combs’ hand.  He was a good looking guy, clean shaven, black hair styled down to the strand, button-up shirt with no tie worn under a suit jacket.  When I glanced down at his hand to shake it, I saw his shoes.  Earth Bet shoes, like Hamza’s cigars.  His grip was aggressively firm, but he actually smiled as he murmured a pleasantry.

“…Tonight, our focus shifts to the present, and how the authorities are handling this, if they’re handling it at all.  Today we’re focusing on the question marks.  Our investigative reporters brought three cases to our attention.  A pair of killers in black raincoats.  A husband and wife are held hostage by a family member that was taken into PRT custody years ago.  An actual, literal warlord rules over a disconnected section of the city, and it’s not the only one,” Lynn said.  Her eyes lit up.  “One of the alleged culprits is with us tonight.”

I raised an eyebrow at that.

John had wrapped up the handshakes.  He touched Lynn’s arm as he moved back to center, joining Hamza.  “Joining us again at our table tonight, we have the recent candidate and contender for the city’s first run at Mayor, and an outspoken, authoritative voice when it comes to figuring out where the costumed fit into things.  Mr. Gary Nieves.”

The woman who was managing the audience gave the signal, arms in movement as she encouraged.  They applauded.  More applause than we got.

Gary Nieves approached.  To my eyes, he was a touch red in the face, but I wasn’t sure if that would translate to the cameras.

We were indicated to take our seats, while the hosts greeted Gary Nieves.  The arrangement of chairs and table were an ‘L’ shape, the short leg being an arrangement of four puffy chairs, the long leg being a single table.  They faced the audience, while we faced them.

Cameras were moving, tracking our every movement.  I smiled, keenly aware of my hair, my expression, and my body language.  I was aware of the others’ body language and expressions, where visible.

I saw Tristan hesitate a moment, then step away from the chairs.  Toward Gary Nieves.  Wearing a smile that conveyed I had full confidence in Capricorn, I followed him with less-than-full confidence.  Past the three hosts, to Gary Nieves.

As the hosts finished with Gary, Tristan reached him, hand extended to shake.  Cameras moved to follow the exchange, and I could see the fraction-of-a-second hesitation in Gary.

He didn’t want to shake Tristan’s hand?  Fear?  Or optics in the eyes of the audience?

He couldn’t refuse without looking like the bad guy, so he did accept the shake.  With no helmet on, only a mask around the upper half of his face, Tristan was free to flash him a winning smile.

As Tristan turned away, Gary shook the hand he’d used to shake Tristan’s, not so much like it was gross, but like Tristan had hurt him.  I could see the hitch in Tristan’s stride as he spotted it at the last second before turning completely away.  He met my eyes.

I was pretty sure I could tell from his expression that he hadn’t squeezed Gary’s hand.  It was a power play to make us look bad, in exchange for a power play intended to toy with Gary’s optics.  A fine distinction, to discern if Tristan was resentful because of lingering feelings from Gary and Lookout a few minutes ago, or if it was because he’d just been played.

Then we were walking in opposite directions.  Tristan walked to the chairs.  I walked over to Gary to shake his hand.  I leaned in closer when I did have his grip.  I murmured.  “Going to pretend like I squeezed your hand too hard, Mr. Nieves?”

There was no smile, no change in expression, only a firm shake.  I smiled at him.

The others were seated as I strode over to the chairs.  We’d picked good people for this, and all of us came across as confident, and our team looked genuinely good.   Even Lookout, who had the most reason to be nervous, gave nothing away.

I knew she was good at pretending things were okay.  The tell was in what she did, action-wise.  We’d have to be mindful.

Tristan had taken the seat closest to the table.  The next seat, mine, was empty, followed by Lookout and Swansong at the end.

Conversely, at the table, Hamza was the closest to us, followed by John, Lynn, and then Gary Nieves at the end.  Given the description I’d gotten of Hamza, and my surface assessment from the segments of show I’d watched to research, Hamza was a bad pairing to put so close to Tristan.  They were both too prone to butt heads.

This show was a very specific kind of machine.  I’d seen fragments of it before, and it hadn’t been the kind of show that I enjoyed.  Investigative journalism leading into segments with the panel, exploring what was uncovered.  It was too aggressive a show, leaving me uneasy and tired- and I didn’t watch television to be uneasy and tired.

I’d also studied two episodes, my finger hammering the ‘skip 5 seconds ahead’ key at times to get to the next scene, where I could let it play at normal speed, see the tone, read the expressions, and see how the guest or topic were handled.  It looked like they always had the initial segment, setting the tone with an easy to understand story.  Then the guests, or the expert like our Gary Nieves here would get a chance to say their piece.  A slow roll, getting the audience used to things, and then the steady pressure, like they were interrogating a witness, looking for cracks or discrepancies.  John liked to create them, Hamza liked to attack them, and Lynn managed the tone.  However things ended up in the end, the audience would often find one of the three personalities hosting this show to be a rough approximate of their own feelings on the matter, even though all three were on the same general wavelength.

They feigned being something between a friendly talk show and a more intellectual panel show, but if they had an excuse, things tended to devolve into the attack dog dynamic.  Like the personalities, the show’s identity was nebulous enough that a given viewer could claim it was any one of the three things- friendly, intellectual, or aggressive problem solving.

For them, success meant sticking to their gameplan.  On our end, doing this right meant avoiding any sign of weakness, reinforcing ourselves and each other, and holding on to the card up our sleeve- the promise of information.  We had the advantage of knowing how they’d operate.

“Team Breakthrough,” Hamza said.  “Or is it only Breakthrough?”

“Either is fine,” Tristan said.

“And do you want me to introduce you, or will you introduce yourselves?”

“I’m Capricorn,” Tristan said.  “This is-”

“Victoria,” I said.  I pulled my hood down, trying not to mess up my hair in the process.  “Antares in costume.”

“And you wear no mask,” Lynn said.  “You use your name freely?  That’s interesting.”

“No mask,” I said.  “I never had the benefit of a secret identity.”

Lookout was removing her own helmet.  When she lowered it, I saw that her face wasn’t her usual.

“I’m Lookout,” she said.  “I do have a secret identity, so I’m camouflaging my face a bit.”

“That’s perfectly fine,” Lynn said.  “Thank you for coming on, Lookout.  I know this must all be intimidating.”

“It’s funny, lights and cameras don’t bother me much,” Lookout said.

Lynn tittered.  “Cameras being your power, of course.”

Lookout smiled.  “Yep.”

“And your fourth member would be-”

“Swansong,” Swansong said.  She sat comfortably in her seat, one leg folded over the other.  “I’m only here in spirit.”

“Only here in spirit?  That’s odd,” Hamza said, with an inflection on ‘odd’.

Swansong smiled.

“She’s sort of like a teddy bear I brought with me for security, except I’m too grown up for that,” Lookout said.  “So I brought someone cooler than a stuffed animal.”

“I’m glad I’m cooler than a stuffed animal,” Swansong said.

Lookout nodded.

“I’m surprised you came in costumes,” John told us.  “I imagined suits and masks.”

Not an angle of attack or criticism I’d anticipated.  It made sense, in a way.  Delegitimize, disarm, call reasonable and natural things into question.

“That would have bad implications,” I said.  “The aesthetic you’re talking about is a popular villain thing.  Ambassadors in Boston, Dark Society down the East coast, there was a group of weapons dealers called the Brokers… And of course the Elite who were the biggest American villain gang.  The exception on the hero side would be the Suits, and even they had costumes for serious events where they needed the extra pockets, armor, and everything else.”

“So interesting,” Lynn said.  “This is all the sort of thing you have to consider.”

“We wouldn’t want to borrow from the Suits’ look either,” Tristan added.  “The members of their team who weren’t the first casualties of Gold Morning were some of the bravest fighters.  We respect them too much to plagiarize.”

Good.  Gold Morning.  We’d get there sooner or later, and making it something we were talking about would make it feel less like a cold splash of water in the audience’s faces.

It didn’t change that we had to manage Lookout’s situation and her family.

I was alright with Capricorn taking the lead on this thus far.  He’d been following the opening segment of the show while we’d been facing down Gary.

“I’m sure our guests are wondering who you are,” Lynn said, leaning onto the table.  “Breakthrough is relatively new to the scene.”

“As a team, yes,” Tristan said.  “As individuals?  All of us here have a few years under our belts.”

“Tell us about that,” Lynn said.

Gary was staring us down.  He didn’t look happy.  Minutes spent on us and on small talk here were minutes he couldn’t do his thing.  Good.

I answered so Tristan didn’t have to.  “Speaking for myself, I was born to a family of heroes.  My mom, dad, sister, my two cousins, two uncles, aunt, all had powers.  I grew up with it.  My boyfriend was a hero.  Being a hero was my life, past, present, and future.”

“Was?” Hamza asked.

“Ah.  That point in time was a past life, and a different me,” I said.  “A majority of the people I just listed are dead or gone.  Some died fighting in Gold Morning.  Some died prior.  Some… left.”

“You’re referring to your sister, who went to the Birdcage,” John Combs said.

Asshole.  I wanted to say something to that, and I couldn’t.  But was this his plan?  To just drop things like this on us until something cracked?

“I was thinking of my uncle,” I lied.  “His partner was killed because of our lack of secret identities.  I think he couldn’t stay after that.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Lynn said.

There was strategy in play.  To anticipate that they would go on the offensive, and to disarm and lay groundwork first.  Paint a picture of who we were, then use that pictured ground as terrain we could fortify.

Hammering in that the other hero teams were doing good work, solidarity, being sure to express that we wanted to be heroes.  All were meant to cut off avenues of attack.

Still, I couldn’t ignore the sister remark.

“Thank you.  I was young, but it was hard at the time.  A tragedy.  My sister too. We’d just lost almost half of our family, the Slaughterhouse Nine showed up.  She broke down.  She went to the Birdcage because she didn’t trust herself.”

It was as kind of a response as I could come up with.  I felt a creeping sort of dread with the notion that she might be looking, watching, reading something into this, maybe even showing up unexpectedly.

“And you went to the hospital at the same time.  That’s hard,” John Combs said.  “She’s free of the Birdcage now, of course.  All of them are.”

He went straight to the hospital.  Asshole.  He had to know about the Wretch- the one I’d been, not the one I carried with me every day, now.

“You seem very interested in that one family member of mine.”

Stupid.  Defensive.

“She did go to the Birdcage.  That’s for only a select few,” John Combs said.

“John and I were talking about this earlier.” Hamza’s voice was deep, and he was slower with his words, like he could somehow leave us less words and time in the process.  “The Birdcage was emptied out on Gold Morning, so there would be more firepower out there.  Your sister was among those released.  Those are threats that are active in the city now.  Do you feel safe, knowing this?”

It was hard to find words,because they were taking this angle.  Tristan looked at me like he was checking to see that I was okay, ready to jump in.

I beat him to it.  I didn’t want to look weak in front of an audience.  I couldn’t afford for myself to see me as that weak.  “I feel like I want to do everything I can to help others feel safe.”

“Amen,” Tristan said.

“People don’t feel safe,” Gary Nieves said.  “If that’s your goal, you’re failing.”

“We’re still starting out,” Swansong said.

“But you’ve been heroes for some time, by your own admission,” Gary said.

“I can tell you I was out there in construction, helping to build shelters,” Tristan said.  “Victoria was out there in the patrol block, using what she knows about villains to keep people safe.  Swansong was getting care because she wasn’t in one piece, but she was helping authorities with research on powers.”

“And then we have Lookout,” John Combs stated.  There was weight to the sentence.

Tristan had walked into that one.

“Hi,” Lookout said.  “Mostly school for me.”

“More than school, as the allegations go,” John said.

Hamza didn’t give us a chance to respond before adding his own commentary.  “When we started looking into the story with Lookout’s family, you all told us you wanted to come onto the show, to argue your teammate’s side.”

“I hope it doesn’t come down to arguing, Mr. Kouri,” Capricorn said.

“When we decided on Breakthrough’s direction, the goal was to communicate, it’s why we’re here,” I said.  “We just want to make sure everyone has as much information as possible.

Hamza was ready with an answer, voice angry.  “And for our audience out there, let’s not lose sight of who ‘we’ is supposed to represent, when you talk about your group.  Two murderers, sitting here.”

“That’s not right,” Lookout said.

“The information is out there.  Team Reach.  The junior member Capricorn was arrested on accusations of murder, by his own teammates, no less.  We called one of them earlier tonight to corroborate the facts.”

“Hey,” Lookout said.

“Hamza,” I said, my voice firm.  “If you’ll-”

“Let me finish,” he said.  “Swansong’s presence her raises an interesting question.  She bears a startling resemblance to not one, but two murderers who are supposed to be in lockup right now.  I have to worry about how many there are.  We also have a little girl who was terrorizing her parents with threats of extortion,and then yourself, a heroine who didn’t save her hometown, didn’t save her boyfriend, didn’t save her many family members who were killed during the various major incidents, and who couldn’t or wouldn’t stop her sister from, as you put it, breaking down, putting lives at risk.  I do my research, Victoria.”

I drew in a breath.  The faint noise of audience was enough to take the oxygen out of that breath.  I tried not to let it throw me.  This was fine.  Expected.  Just… more of a gut punch than anticipated.  I needed-

Hamza interrupted my thoughts.  “I could believe that Lookout, this child here, wasn’t to blame, if this is the company she’s been made to keep.”

“That’s not fair,” Lookout said, and her voice was almost lost in the noise of the crowd.  The audience manager was motioning for them to shush, and a red light flared near the ceiling.  I imagined it was an order to shut the fuck up.

The noise level made it hard to jump in with a rebuttal.

It was a bit of a reversal of the dynamic I’d observed with the show.  Three different show identities, between its face as a friendly talk show, an intellectual panel of experts, and a pit for enemies to be targeted and torn up.

“You named a lot of points.  Would you like to name one or two of your favorites for us to address?” I asked.

“The point is that you, as a group, and parahumans, as a collective, are deeply flawed and unhealthy,” Gary Nieves said.  “Two children in black raincoats conduct a ritual with peers that were chained to a radiator and a bed, respectively.  Through this ritual, they get powers.”

“That is not how you get powers,” I said.

That got me a few raised eyebrows.

“Metaphorically, then?  They seemed to believe it worked for them.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Parahumans are taking on positions of leadership- many corner worlds, many of the refugee groups outside of America, and many of the roaming factions are controlled by parahumans.  We already know of one whole Earth which is under the sway of a parahuman and her court.  I can tell you that as someone who has had to deal with parahumans from the fringes, every single one I’ve met has deep-seated problems.”

Tristan had to twist to get a good look at Gary.  His head bent at an angle, getting close to the points of golden spikes at my shoulder, in his attempt to see the man.  “This was after Gold Morning?”

“Most that I met were after, yes.”

“Then that isn’t a fair assessment.  Everyone‘s suffering and dealing with deep-seated problems these days.”

Lynn offered a one-note laugh.  “That’s a point, sad as it is.”

She smiled and laughed while calling it sad.  It was disconcerting, taken in stride with the fact that she was working with Hamza and John to undermine us, but in a softer, harder-to-tackle way.

Leaning forward on his elbows, Gary made a fist and then clenched the fist in his other hand.  His voice was low as he said, “The idea that we might have a leader who has political or economic power, these deep seated problems, and a power?  An ability that sets them apart from the rest of us?  That’s a complete and utter nightmare, and it’s one we’ve seen in play countless times over the years.”

“And so you attack us?” I asked.  “The answer to solving this problem lies in collaborating, sharing information, and mutual understanding, not in attacking.

“The goal isn’t to attack you,” Gary said.  “We would like to use you -a team that is on the surface very presentable and helpful- as a broader illustration.”

It was Swansong who replied.  “You wanted to use Lookout as your illustration.  She’s example number two out of three.  You’re attacking a kid.”

“We’re focusing on a parahuman of interest.  That she’s younger than some doesn’t matter if she has immense power.”

“I make cameras and boxes,” Lookout said.  “People keep acting like I’m something special.”

“You are special, Lookout,” I said.  “But it’s only because you work way too damn hard for your own good.”

“Thank you.”

“The allegations are that she terrorized her parents, controlling every aspect of their lives for over a year,” Hamza said.

“And?” I asked.

Shit, there went civility.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Why does it matter, Mr. Kouri?  What do you want that you aren’t getting?”

“Consequences,” he said, his voice hard.  Lookout shrunk back into her seat.

Swansong’s voice was soft, compared to her usual, and softer still in contrast to Hamza Kouri’s aggressive tone, “Victoria discovered the problem recently.  Within the hour, she was talking to authorities.  Authorities know the details.  They chose to arrest the parents and leave Lookout with a city-appointed guardian.  Consequences were meted out.”

“Based on the say-so of a girl who can falsify her own evidence.  She’s altering her own face right now,” Gary said.

He’d already tried this.  I answered, “It was a decision made by people who have access to all of the evidence.  All of it, including paperwork she didn’t have access to.  I’m sorry, but no.  You can’t smile and say it’s fine that she’s protecting her identity one minute, then use it as a point against her the next.  And it’s a special sort of unkind to pretend there’s something wrong with protecting identities when I just told you what the consequences are, less than ten minutes ago.  I’ve lost a family member.”

“That’s not what I was saying.”

“You’re attacking us on the grounds that we’re too unreliable, too dangerous,” I said.  “But you’re taking allegations as fact and then running away with it.  Lookout, once we realized what was going on, was removed from the unhealthy dynamic.  Her parents are in custody and she’s safe in the hands of the City.  The court cases I’m aware of are in progress, but yeah, sometimes when you’re dealing with monsters, lives are lost.  The courts will arbitrate.”

“If they have untainted information,” Gary Nieves said.

“You wanted to be mayor,” Swansong said.  “Yet you can’t trust your own city’s information?  What would you have done if you won?  Would you have second guessed every one of their decisions, until you were ousted, retired, or resigned?”

“Let’s not be hostile,” Lynn said.

“I would have second guessed the ones involving parahumans who can distort reality or records.”

“They do good work,” Tristan said.  “Police, patrol block, courts, fire, medical, they’re doing the best they can, given the circumstance.  Admirable, considering circumstances.  And I’ll tell you this- we’re going to give our all to do our own share.  That’s what gets us through the colder months.”

“That’s a heavy topic of its own,” John said.

“It’s imminent,” Tristan said.  “A month or two.  You want to focus on a twelve year old girl?”

Nieves leaned forward.  “If traffic is limited, doors are closed, and this girl has the ability to get inside homes, steal or kill, and get away, hiding her evidence trail, yes.  So long as the monsters are among us, yes.”

Hamza was nodding along.  The other two weren’t disagreeing.

“I’m not going to say it’s all perfect,” I told them.  “But I’m going to try to spell out how I see this.  It’s going to involve sharing some stuff that others haven’t talked about.  About powers.  And about Gold Morning.”

I could see the audience shift at that.  My heart beat faster.

“We could just walk away,” Swansong said.  “If they want to condemn us, let them.  But we don’t owe them this, and some of it is going to come down on our heads.”

I shook my head.

“Okay,” she said.

“I grew up into powers,” I told the people at the table.  I could see expressions of concern.  “I’ve been studying them for a while.  I studied enough to know that there were huge gaps in our knowledge and those gaps were barely closing with every passing year.  Where did powers come from?  How do we get them?  Now we know.  Gold Morning wasn’t just destruction.  It was answers.”

“And you didn’t share,” John Combs said.

“For decades, people who told about other major secrets were visited by a bogeyman who targeted capes.  It was someone who could kill or disappear the invincible, outsmart the masterminds, and survive things that would kill or stop just about anything.  Whatever they planned to talk about would be mended shortly.”

“Yeah,” Tristan said.  “Then Gold Morning happened.  There were people here and there who talked about it, but most stayed quiet.  Pressure from other groups, and most of the ones with a podium to talk about it had the sense to stay quiet, because the bogeyman would act on this kind of thing.

Thank you for the reminder, Tristan, I thought.

Lookout’s hand went over mine on my armrest, squeezing.

“We had glimpses through Scion’s eyes, when our powers manifested or when certain effects came into play.  During these times, we saw things as he saw them.  It includes millions of fragments raining down on us, invisible to the naked eye.  Each of those fragments… a power.  We were made to forget, but when Gold Morning happened, we were able to remember.  He stopped caring so much about perfection, and he became something else entirely.  Not that he was ever human.”

“What was he?  An alien?  A demon?” Gary Nieves asked.

“He was an alien from another reality, more distant from us than Gimel is from Bet, as best as we can tell,” I said.  “He moved between realities like we walk through doorways.  Something went wrong with what he was trying to set up, and he lost his partner.”

“He had a partner?  There’s another one of these out there?”

“Dead in the crash landing, we think,” I said.

“What’s the point, then?  Or was that broken up in this crash too?” John asked.

“To experiment with what we’re given.  To be open and vulnerable for effective study.”

“A real justification about why you’re all so screwed up?” Gary asked.

“That’s-” I started.  I was aware of all of the eyes on me.  I smiled.  “No.  Because we have definite proof to the contrary.”

“That you’re not all screwed up, with some alien god as an excuse??”

“Some of us, probably,” I said.  “But the reality is that Scion, the strongest of us, who used powers to generate himself a body and who gave himself a set of powers that none of the rest of us could touch…. we beat him.  We were nudged here and there to take part in his games, to fight amongst ourselves we were given powers and limited in ways that didn’t let us even try to hurt him.  He was insurmountable and we… surmounted.”

“We won,” Tristan said.  “If you have any doubts about how we were ‘programmed’, look to the scholars for answers.  It’s subtle if it’s there at all.  Focus instead on the fact that when it all came down to it, we concentrated our efforts, looking past petty squabbles.  It took a nameless cape to grab us all and drag people from every corner of reality to reinforce.  That cape tried to keep us, but when we broke free, we kept fighting him, and we fought as one.”

I nodded at that.

A nameless cape.  Taylor Hebert.  Skitter.  A bug controller from my hometown.

We were too spooked at the idea that we might draw her attention and start that whole engine back into motion to mention her by name.

Best to leave it alone.

“We won,” Swansong said.  “We defeated the embodiment of that impulse.  We can and will defeat it in ourselves.”

I could see it in the audience and in the hosts of the B-TV evening show.  A split, even a fissure, running through them.  In the gloom past the bright lights, there were people who might’ve been grateful, yes, but there were many who were angry.

There was always going to be a backlash, the band-aid ripped off, the hurts reawakened.

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89 thoughts on “Beacon – 8.11”

  1. Typo thread!

    Pressure from other groups, and most of the ones with a podium to talk about it had the sense to stay quiet, because the bogeyman would act on this kind of thing.

    This paragraph is missing an endquote.

    1. That seems intentional. Tristan continues speaking two paragraphs later, and no one else speaks in the meantime.

      1. That’s not really how quotes work, but who’s counting? 🙂 I thought it was confusing but figure-outable.

    2. “He had a partner? There’s another one of these out there?”

      “Dead, we think,” I said.

      “What’s the point, then? Or was that broken up in this crash too?” John asked.

      Not a typo, but Eden’s crash to Earth isn’t explained before John Combs’ question. I assume it was lost during editing.

      (Unless, of course, John is secretly a parahuman and knows all of this. Then carry on)

    3. “hard to find words,because”
      “threats of extortion,and then”

      “Swansong’s presence her raises”

      “Everyone‘s suffering”
      Apostrophe is an opening quote.

      “You want to focus on a twelve year old girl?”
      > twelve-year-old

    4. “Whatever they planned to talk about would be mended shortly.”

      Should that read “…would be amended…”?

  2. Very nice interplay of PR, truthbombs and things left unsaid.

    The fact that they fear Taylor over Contessa for speaking about both of them on live television is a terrorfying indicator of how underinformed they still are… Though I presume Kurt is going to be a bit cross at this broadcast as well?

    (Bonus points: what’s Tata going to say to Victoria the next time they meet?)

  3. I really think they should be focusing harder on “Gary Nieves, champion of child abusers,” but Victoria is determined to set a fire, so…

    1. Yeah, were there no parahumans in the equation and Nieves could be defeated in silence by the simple fact he’s attacking a child victim of abuse at the hands of her parents. However it was Hamza’s diahrretic barrage that upsetted the balance, I think Nieves’ points were lost in the momentum though, he was completely unable to shutdown or switch the swing to his side, and honestly it’s kind of hard to make a point when it involves dismissing the people who helped save the world (what was salvageable anyway) while they’re reminding you of it.

  4. Some typos:

    “It was hard to find words,because they were taking this angle.”
    Missing a space after the comma.

    “Swansong’s presence her raises an interesting question.”
    “Her” should be “Here.”

    “We also have a little girl who was terrorizing her parents with threats of extortion,and then yourself, a heroine”
    Missing a space after the first comma.

    “What’s the point, then? Or was that broken up in this crash too?”
    Victoria doesn’t mention any sort of crash; she just says that something went wrong.

  5. Nice. Interesting, though, that our team tends not to point out the biggest problems with Gary’s attack on Kenzie–the facts that (1) Kenzie is not the only person to have ever tampered with evidence and (2) Kenzie’s parents were abusing her before she had powers.

    Breakthrough’s current arguments would apply just as well to Bonesaw, which ought to highlight how thin they are.

    I like to imagine Contessa munching popcorn, amused that someone is finally talking about her publicly (without her needing to stop them).

    1. Well, as I recall, the idea was to not get bogged down in defending against the attack. It was to derail the entire attempt by providing answers about bigger questions. It was to show that attack as the petty ugly thing it was and providing some more thought provoking information. Give them scale.


      1. Yeah, I was confused about their plan before this. They set everything on fire. You’re being accused of vandalism? Set the whole city ablaze! Now no one cares about the vandalism.

      2. That’s basically the only way to win a televised debate, save the logic and rationale for a court, a comission, or a panel of experts. When dealing with a broader audience you win by shutting down arguments from your opponents using whatever means you can, you can even win by applying those things, but to manipulate emotion and perception is paramount and supersedes all else.

    2. I also like the fact that they wanted to deflect this attack without putting more of Kenzie’s personal business out on the street. Poor girl has enough to deal with. Revealing the abuse to the world seems like the very last course of action they should pursue.

    3. The implication of the questioning was that the records of the abuse before she got her powers may also have been tampered with, I think. That’d be something Kenzie could do if they were electronic, which they likely are, but her surviving old teammates could at least partially corroborate them.

  6. I didn’t see a vote link yet – vote for Ward here to help this sjow top the ratings:

  7. *looks out doors* No Lovecraftian monsters *looks up news* nothing on endbringers *looks around for suspicious people* never mind they all look suspicious.

    Huh, looks like a news interview that won’t be interrupted by a calamity! Wait… somebody’s standing up. Oh don’t worry!

    He seems like a nice guy.


  8. Well now Victoria is the girl who lost her cool on live television and spilled the interdimensional beans on the alien God monsters no one wants to talk about. I can’t see this going well. At least she got her microphone dropping moment against Gary. That’s a positive in the midst of this gigantic shitstorm to be.

    1. She didn’t lose her cool, she went in intending to do this and she got agreement to do it from the other heroes that she could reach.

  9. “We were too spooked at the idea that we might draw her attention and start that whole engine back into motion to mention her by name.”

    Wait which name do you not want to mention her by? She had, like four.

    So anyone want to see what happens if you light a candle, stand in front of your bathroom mirror, and say “Taylor Hebert, Skitter, Weaver, Khepri”?

      1. Nice. Now I want to see a Ward/Practical Guide crossover fic with “Triumphant was actually a dimensionally displaced post-Gold Morning Taylor Hebert.”

  10. Small thing, but, was anyone else tickled by the use of Triumvirate in the second paragraph? I admit, I chortled a bit 🙂

  11. Hamza blaming Victoria for failing to save her family is just…wow, he’s awful. No wonder the audience doesn’t like him, if that’s what he usually does they’re probably mostly tuning into his segments in the hopes someone will give him a verbal smackdown.

    1. Probably. It’d be hilariously hypocritical considering her own love of secrets and mastermind games, but Lisa is sometimes a hypocrite; it’s part of her charm.

      1. Of course she’s looped in. She’s the ‘warlord’ reigning over part of the city they brought in to talk to.

        This was accidentally posted as a seperate comment lower down, so it ignore it there and read it here.

        1. What? Why would TT still be in Prancer’s city?

          And the war lords Breakthrough met were Lord of Loss and Amy’s father.

          1. Prancer ruled Hollow Point, until he was ousted following the Fallen raid. A small, partially-developed suburb, no more. Connected to the city, but seperate.

            I don’t think LoL or Marquis are who Lyn’s talking about, at the beginning. The ‘literal warlord who rules a disconnected section of the city’, well. That’s likely to be Tattletale, or possibly Imp who has a lot of control in the various New Yorks. Lord of Loss controls a backwater, a world connected to the city, but dominated by wilderness and farmland; a world that doesn’t have much amenities. We don’t even know where Marquis is living, let alone if he’s in charge of a district. But Tattletale helped build New Brockton, and still has a lot of control.

          2. @Earl of Pearl

            Not saying it’s impossible but I’m fairly certain Victoria would have mentioned something if one of the still living Undersiders was a war lord over the city she lived in.

            Imp and Bitch are on a different earth. Parian and Flechette are a maybe. And TT was an information broker in New Brockton Bay.

          3. @Exejpgwmv
            yeah there was a whole thing during the Hollow Point buildup where Vicky was bitter @ Tattle for taking over her city and still holding it

          4. @Exejpgwmv: Imp is ruling from the shadows, as a good Stranger should. She’s going around with the Heartbroken, one of whom can ‘program’ people to do something humiliating if they do something Imp doesn’t want them to do, and using that power to force villains out of the drugs trade, and using her power to keep very subtle tabs on them. She’s almost certainly a warlord, just… A very subtle one, one who has probably made the New Yorks the safest parts of the city. Since all the drug dealers can’t sell drugs without singing ‘I’m a little teapot’ and doing the dance. Which would certainly alert the heroes that something weird is going on, but whatever the weird is, it’s not the kind of weird that fuels violent crime.

            New York has been rebuilt on several earths, as there’s a confluence of portals there. If one New York is on an earth connected to the megalopolis only by one portal, that’d be a ‘disconnected part of the city’.

        2. Seeing Tats get into a battle of wits with Mr. Nieves and the O’Reilly trio would be gorgeous. Seriously; I hope it happens next chapter. It will make my entire month.

          1. I don’t think that would be a battle so much as a bloodbath, but it would be pretty fun to see

          2. I feel like if Tattletale or someone doesn’t already own the guy who owns most of the media in the city, they’re not doing their job as supervillain masterminds. Tattletale, Citrine, or Teacher, all of them should recognize the sheer power behind having a stranglehold on media.

          3. @Glassware sounds like Teacher is it
            among other things, it caught my eye how much time was devoted to Vicky reasoning out that he probably wasn’t a cape
            not being a cape doesn’t mean not being a parahuman 😀

    2. She’s probably watching right now while going full damage-control with her customers, after guessing Victoria’s angle during the first exchange.

  12. My comments keep getting eaten for some reason. Maybe it’s because autofill has been inputting the wrong info for me and that’s tripping some anti-spambot filter?

    I was initially surprised they weren’t been focusing more on “Gary Nieves, supporter of child abusers,” but that would have just dragged Kenzie’s stuff out into the open further and furthered her trauma. It makes me suspect again that someone decided to set Kenzie up as a sacrificial goat-this feels like something similar to the community center attack, painting anti-cape sentiment as being championed by monstrous people by exposing how twisted they are for targeting an abused preteen. Whoever did it, they presumably didn’t plan on Victoria deciding to deal with the problem in a way that’s better for Kenzie’s mental health but also provides factual backup for anti-cape hardliners. I’m not saying it’s Tattletale, but helping the big picture at the cost of some poor kid that just wants to do good fits her pattern lately (Fume Hood, Rain, and Kenzie would make three).

    Also, if this is how Hamza usually acts, blaming people for their dead family members, no wonder the audience doesn’t like him so much. How many people are just tuning in hoping someone crushes him at this point?

  13. Of course she’s looped in. She’s the ‘warlord’ reigning over part of the city they brought in to talk to.

  14. Wow. Wish the chapter was longer, but I’m glad to finally be caught up with Wildbow after all this time!

    Interesting to finally see Taylor acknowledged in Ward.

  15. “Not an angle of attack or criticism I’d anticipated. It made sense, in a way. Delegitimize, disarm, call reasonable and natural things into question.”

    Of course nothing weird about running around a city in tights, it’s only natural.

    But in all seriousness I’m worried they won’t really buy the boogeyman excuse with no proof. This is s lot of stuff coming out of left field for people, in worm both Taylor and the reader are eased into it accepting smaller things before discovering the bigger things, but to muggles this probably sounds like Cape Scientology when hearing the entire truth objectively laid out like that.

    1. Of course nothing weird about running around a city in tights, it’s only natural.

      I find this statement amusing, because literal tights are a perfectly normal thing for somebody to run around a city in. 😛

    1. The cape that shall not be named, she of the skittering darkness, weaver of a million threads, the one that drags the sun into the night ate them.

  16. What a wild ride! I loved every tense moment of this. Taylor’s name being mentioned finally, felt cathartic. The nameless one, don’t speak her name lest you gain her attention. Wow. That is why everyone is scared to say it out loud: they think she is still out there, with Clairvoyant and Doormaker’s power along with the jailbreak QA. No wonder they are spooked.
    Also loved the little nod (again) to shard-driven-conflict versus human will.

    1. To be fair, she *is* still out there albiet either powerless or if you go with the other theory, in stasis in a tank somewhere in teacher’s base.

  17. Nice! I’m loving seeing Breakthrough fight back in the PR battle. The talk show dudes are even nastier than I expected, but our heroes are standing firm. I’m especially impressed with Swansong – I wouldn’t have expected her to be so good at this, but she’s fitting into the flow of the discussion very well. I imagine the fact that it’s for the sake of defending Kenzie is a big part of that. But I think that in general she’s gotten a bit more centered after making her decision to let herself be tried and sent to prison.

  18. Cathartic! Thank you thats the word I was thinking of. The main thing thats been bothering me through this story has been the embargo on mentioning Skitter. She who must not be named, the dark lord, you know who…

    If mentioning her name(s) could summon her, people who study Egyptian mythology or work in textiles would be fucked.

    I’m thinking at the moment of that fan theory that wb once sorta maybe confirmed (I’m not sure if he was joking) about taylor actually being in a coma or something rather than another earth. Fruit for thought?

    Anyway I like the thought of Skitter being relevant again even if she dosnt make an appearance bc I’ve found the lack of mentions of one of the biggest players pre gm who by the way saved the word incredibly unbelievable

    1. Wildbow pretty much started the coma theory, saying he was joking, then maybe seriously said it was meant to be ambiguous.

    2. Egyptologists are already boned by the inaccessibility of the actual Egypt and likely loss of Egyptian artefacts stored in museums across the world of Bet. They’re probably migrating en masse to Aleph and Cheit and other inhabited Earths as we speak.

      1. Palaeontologists, meanwhile, are flocking to a Jurassic Coast that hasn’t been picked clean by centuries of fossil hunters, and comprise approximately 60% of the New United Kingdom’s population. They’re going elsewhere, of course, but… The Jurassic Coast is one of the most hospitable places fossils are common.

  19. I can’t imagine this will help their relationships with other teams. From their perspective, Breakthrough is a bunch of teenagers– a number of them currently in jail– who just dropped the best-kept cape secret in response to their *first bad press* like some sort of get-out-of-jail-free card.

    1. I don’t think it was so much a secret as something capes didn’t feel comfortable talking about. A bunch of em might actually feel a sense of relief to have it out in the open finally.

    2. They warned other hero teams beforehand. Nobody jumped in to stop the broadcast.
      That we know of, anyway. Maybe Dragon’s editing this live and no one but the studio audience will ever know.
      Victoria wouldn’t have messaged villains, though, so I guess they’ll still be pissed.

  20. I adore the fact that they’re too afraid of Taylor to even mention her name.
    Of course, I’d actually vote Taylor Hebert for President, so that may be part of why I find it delicious.
    Though obviously this means Contessa never told anyone what she did at the very end.

    1. Yeah, really, if we’re going to have a supervillain for President, we might as well have a competent one.

    2. To be fair, the last time somebody outed Taylor, she radicalized a hundred students, made a mockery of Dragon and Defiant, and began a war with the local PRT that culminated in the murder of both Director Tag and goddamned Alexandria.

  21. She doesn’t think of her as “Weaver”, even though Taylor used that name much longer than “Skitter”. But of course, Victoria was out of commission for pretty much that entire period.

    1. Taylor can call herself what she likes, but they don’t call them “Weaver Facts”, now, do they?

  22. Getting a Jordan Peterson vibe of, no that’s exactly what I’m saying…..and lobster trigger !!!

  23. *record-needle scratch* waitwaitwait.
    Crash!?!? They never mentioned a-…

    They’re a Cauldron plant, aren’t they? >.>

  24. Something I didn’t think of at first: from this moment on, Breakthrough is the official favorite cape team of cape fangirls and fanboys. (There are probably fewer now than there were before the world ended, but there are some. Greg is certainly still in that number.) They will obsessively watch and re-watch this episode of “Three Assholes and a Panel”. They will speculate endlessly about each member’s backstory. There will be out-of-the-blue marriage proposals. Breakthrough should start merchandising.

    Thinking of Greg reminded me of the speculation about him possibly triggering. I think if Skitter’s School Visit didn’t trigger him he probably won’t. Still, lots of people should have triggered on GM. Would most of them have been Trumps, since the whole calamity was Scion’s doing?

    1. Whoever Scion directly… impacted probably didn’t live long enough to trigger. Those who did were likely far enough from the various grounds zero to dodge those bullets.
      So, they triggered in the middle of anarchy and destruction, alongside any other survivors. I don’t really expect any particular bias from that.

  25. “That’s not how you get powers ” was a great setup for the “How we got powers” story.

  26. does anyone else have internal alarm bells going off considering one of the Panellists KNOWS how Eden was crippled- i dont think the fact that it lithobraked at orbital velocity is even marginally common unless im forgetting something major-Teacher Cauldron Agent,maybe?

    1. Probably just a mistake, since that line is now responding to Victoria mentioning a crash landing.

  27. Very tense chapter from beginning to end. Thrilling dynamic between the PR side of Team Breakthrough and Gary’s team, even though the latter half was rude and disrespectful. Excited to see the fallout in the next one, starting now!

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