Beacon – 8.12

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The television studio had been flipped on its head for the time being.  The hosts were quiet, the audience was loud with chatter, and the stage wasn’t so bright with the lights on above the audience.  We weren’t the focus and we could breathe and we were simultaneously under an immense pressure- not trying to find the flow of things and steer with it, but caught with nothing to keep us afloat, the waters rushing away to gather strength for the incoming wave.

It would have been easier if the show had continued.  Instead, monitors intended more for the hosts showed the ad break and a countdown until we were live again.

Lynn, Hamza and John Combs were all talking together, with two members of the studio staff leaning in close.  The audience talked about what they’d heard.

Ninety seconds.

“Are you doing okay?” I asked Lookout, my hand over my microphone.

She nodded, doing the same with her microphone.  “The pressure’s off me, right?”

“They’ll return to it, probably,” Capricorn said.  He leaned one forearm across on one knee, his weight shifted hard to the right- he sat at the leftmost end of our row of four chairs, so he had to work to get in close enough to talk to us and not be overheard.  “They prepared for a show with your family as an example scenario.  Right now, they’re looking for a way to right their ship, and that stuff they prepared is a tool at their disposal.”

“Ugh,” Kenzie said.

“It’s not the end of the world if it happens,” I said.  “It sucks, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want anyone attacking you.  But we planned for it, we have a strategy, there shouldn’t be any big surprises.”

She nodded.

“Let’s think other approaches.  Do they hit any of us on credibility?” I asked.  “Me keeping my powers covert in Patrol block?”

“Weak,” Capricorn said.

“Maybe.  They just need to cast doubt,” I said.  I eyed the timer on the monitors.  Two minutes, twenty-one seconds.

“It’s weak doubt.  Capes keep identities secret.  You have a reason for doing it,” Capricorn said.

“Okay.  Who else do they target?  Bait one of us into talking, then attack them?”

“Mute my microphone,” Swansong told Lookout.

“Done.”

“If they choose me, I deflect.  I’m only here in spirit,” Swansong said, with a slight smile on her face.  “I’m one of several clones.”

“Good,” I said.  I glanced at the countdown.  I put a casual smile on my face, in case the audience was fixated on me.  Best to look confident.  “Capricorn?”

“I’m vulnerable.  Not so much credibility as… dark.  Going back to my murder charge.  Making me out to be a bad guy.”

“We talked about that, briefly.  I would have liked actual details, so I can back you up, but…”

“But my brother wants it left in the past,” Capricorn said.  “If it comes up, I’ll deal with it.”

“Don’t hand them the ball,” I told him.  “Morality, that stuff, don’t bring it up, they’ll use it to launch into the topic.”

Capricorn nodded.

I looked at the clock.  One minute, fifteen seconds.

“Attacks on us miss the point,” Swansong said.  “They could do worse?”

“How?” Lookout asked.

“They could make us leave.”

Kicking us out during the ad break?  My initial thought was that it would fail.  On rumination, though… what would we even do?  They had the platform, and we hadn’t had a good chance to lay out what we wanted to say.  They’d cut to ad break shortly after my pronouncements about Gold Morning.

If we were ejected… it’d be a complete and utter mess.  Point missed.  They’d get raised eyebrows, but we would be the group that had put out some problematic info and then left before owning it or taking the time to defend ourselves.

Swansong nodded, more or less in tune with my line of thought.  It would be bad.

“Shit,” Capricorn said.  “Let’s hope it’s too late for that.”

The lights around the audience went dark.  Little boxes mounted above and in front of the audience glowed yellow, a word illuminated in the sudden gloom.  On the televisions, the countdown was in the final twenty seconds, as an ad for a show on the same network played.

Only seconds.  They couldn’t kick us out if there were only five seconds left.

Kaylar, our friendly assistant in the cheap suit from earlier, practically skipped as she left the conversation with the hosts.  My heart skipped a beat.

How would we handle this?  Did we stay despite being asked to leave?

Three seconds.  Two.  One.  The audience went quiet.  The lights and focus were on us, but the wave of response hadn’t hit yet.

The monitors shifted to the show’s logo.  ‘Hard Boil’.   ‘TV-B’.  Staff hurried away from their huddle with the hosts, glancing at Kaylar.

On the monitors, they segued straight to a video recap.

We weren’t on screen.

“Guys,” Kaylar said.  “Just doing my job here.”

“Hi,” I said.

Her job was either to tell us we had to vacate, or-

“Are you doing alright?  Do you need anything?  Water?”

We shook our heads.

“It’s going well so far.  Keep it up!”

With that, she was gone, fleeing the stage before the focus came back to us.  She’d occupied our attention in the moments the clip was playing on the screen.  Silhouettes of a couple, the lighting from behind enough to show the very edges of their hair, heads, necks, and shoulders, but hide their faces and identifying details.  Julien and Irene.

“…always difficult,” Julien said.  “She told the teachers stories.  Babysitters too.”

“We sent her to camps.  Things after school, what was it?  Piano?  Art?  Computers?”

“Yeah.  Soccer, but she wasn’t one for sports, especially team sports.  She didn’t make friends at any of the classes or camps.  Never brought anyone home from school.  We gave up on taking her to those after a while.  She wasn’t getting anything out of it.”

I looked over at Lookout.  She glanced up at me and smiled.

I gave her shoulder a rub.

John Combs’ voice could be heard, interviewing the pair as part of the pre-recorded clip playing for the audience.  “I’ve wondered whether people know, even before it happens.  Were these parahumans quiet, strange, or aggressive?  Did you think she might be different back then?”

“Quiet and strange.  I never thought about powers or that she might be the kind of person who gets them, but it makes sense in retrospect.”

“If we’d suspected, we would have done things differently when she found us again.  The last we’d heard she was in the hands of the authorities, then the world ended, and with no warning she appeared in front of us.”

“Spinning more stories for people who were overwhelmed trying to assign people houses and work.”

“And the video manipulation.  That was our first hint that something was wrong.”

I leaned over to Lookout and whispered, “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about what they did?”

“I’d really rather not,” she whispered back.  “Not on television, in front of everyone.”

“-false videos?” John was asking, in the clip.

“Putting us in scenes where we weren’t, making it look like we committed crimes,” Julien responded.  “A preteen girl, she found us and she trapped us.”

“She trapped them,” John said.  His actual voice, and not the clip.  On the monitors, he stared into the cameras, his face severe.  His expression changed, a slight smile.  “And we’re back.”

Lights gave the go-ahead for the audience to applaud.  Cameras moved, slowly turning to keep us centered in the shots.  The clapping had more energy than it had had when we’d made our appearance.  When Gary had made his.

“Now, that clip was recorded yesterday, and obviously we didn’t know about this big story you would be giving us all tonight.  It’s impressive and monumental if true, we will get back to it.  But first, can we talk about Lookout?  What’s your reaction on seeing that?”

“Um.  That’s tricky,” Lookout stumbled.

“Enraged,” Swansong said, her voice cold.

“That’s a strong word,” Hamza retorted.

“It’s a good word,” Lookout said.  “Um, and thank you for caring, Swansong.  I got tired of being enraged or feeling much of anything about what my parents do, a long time ago.  I don’t really try to understand them.”

“A breakdown in communication?” Hamza asked.  “A lack of appropriate emotion, be it shame or empathy, can suggest certain labels.”

“Those labels you’re implying don’t apply to kids,” I said.  “Let’s get real here.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do tonight,” Lynn said, all enthusiasm and verve. “Getting real.  We’re getting answers- about what happened on Gold Morning.  And as part of that, I want to know what it’s really like, to live with a parahuman?  Sometimes we hear from… what’s the term?  Cape wives?  And cape husbands, I suppose.  Legend had one.”

“As the slang goes online, even the men are ‘cape wives’,” I said.  “But I don’t think that’s important.”

“Amen to that,” Capricorn said.

“There’s no cape parent, is there?” Lynn asked, glossing past us.  “They don’t have a voice.”

Hamza’s heavy voice cut in, following up and speaking over Capricorn’s response.  “There isn’t a guidebook, and there’s definitely no guide for what happens when the child gains incredible power and flips the script on the parent, seizing authority, asserting control, deciding how the parent lives their lives.  What they can wear, what’s served for dinner, the chores…”

“My parents are finally where they belong,” Lookout said.  “They’re in jail.”

“With,” I added, interjecting in much the way Hamza had, “the courts fully aware that Lookout can manipulate video.  At a time when they were processing dozens of Fallen and pushing other cases off to the side, they had witness testimony, video footage and past records, and they decided it was best to incarcerate.  Despite being overloaded.  Make of that what you will.”

“But we can’t know,” Hamza said.

“The decks are stacked,” Gary said.  “Victoria’s sister was in the Birdcage for good reason- now she’s free.  Capricorn was facing trial, with proceedings benched indefinitely, until the end of the world erased all records.  There are members of the Slaughterhouse Nine who are alive and free.”

“There were no records, no facilities, and there was no organization.  By necessity, it was treated as a second chance for everyone.”

Bullshit,” Gary retorted.

Lynn cleared her throat.

“Bull,” Gary said.

“It’s not bull.  That was the reality,” Capricorn said.  “There are multiple criminals out there that I helped put away who are free now.  they’re out there and I have to worry about them.”

“Same here,” I said.

“Me too,” Lookout said.  “I was more behind the scenes though, and the Wards kept me away from big stuff, so it’s less obvious I played a role in getting anyone arrested.”

“It’s bull because the second chances aren’t being evenly distributed.  Two parents are arrested based on their past records, as you said earlier.  New, possibly falsified evidence, witnesses who may or may not be biased, and past records.  No wiping the slate clean there.”

“The slates aren’t wiped clean,” Capricorn said.

I tensed.   I was worried about them delving more aggressively into Capricorn’s backstory, if he got more moral-focused and put his jaw out for the return smack.  The way we were discussing things, there were a half-dozen mysteries surrounding us.  Who we were, what we’d done.  Delving into any of the mysteries would satisfy the audience, and we didn’t want them chewing on that.

He seemed to notice I’d tensed, and didn’t elaborate.

“What are they, then?  It seems one sided,” Lynn said.

“The past still exists,” Swansong picked up the slack.  “We look past it until there’s a reason to bring it up.  If you screw up, you lose your second chance, and it’s fair game again.”

Gary shook his head.  “We give this pass even to a walking, talking, potentially unhinged bioweapon?  Allowed to go free.  Come on, Victoria.  How do you feel about that?  You should know as well as anyone what your sister is capable of.  One person, who could singlehandedly wipe out Earth Gimel.  Or, if she so chose, the whole population of an alternate Earth.”

“I know as well as anyone what she’s capable of,” I said.  I felt too aware of where I was, the amount of air in my lungs, the beat of my heart.  I felt overwarm for the first time, the stagelamps overhead hot as they shined on me.  “I grew up with her.”

“You grew up with her and you parted ways with her.  You no longer communicate,” Gary said.

“I don’t know why you’re all so obsessed over her,” I said.  My voice sounded too breathy, as I tried to sound casual or dismissive and ended up with a voice that sounded hollow instead.

“She put you in the hospital-” John Combs said.

“We’ve gone over this.”

“-and you needed special facilities,” he continued.  “Because she went to the Birdcage, the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center, and she left you with eight arms, ten hands, three heads with one additional face that had no head or skull to go with it, two-”

I used my aura, hard, and I wasn’t sure it was purely by reflex.  It was the closest thing I had at hand to slapping him across the face.

In the doing, I hit my team, and from the sounds of it, I hit the audience.

I was keenly aware of the silence that followed.  Of the noises from the audience that had been affected.  Lookout’s eyes were wide behind the mask she wore on her fake, projected face.

Gary spoke, “That, for the benefit of our audience-”

“Please be quiet for a second,” I said, my head lowered a fraction.

“-was a power use.  Antares has the ability to project emotions, and she just gave everyone here, including our audience, a moment of abject terror.”

“How dare you?” Hamza barked.

“How dare you?” Capricorn retorted.  “Opening up someone’s old wounds and getting affronted when they react?”

“How dare you? Hamza barked, again.  He puffed up, chest expanding, and glanced over his shoulder at the staff in the background.

No.  This was all wrong.  This was everything I didn’t want to happen.

“You wanted to get real?” I asked, looking at Lynn.

I was drowned out.  Hamza was blustering, saying something.  The audience was getting louder.

Lynn looked right past me as she turned to the camera.  “We may have to take a short break.”

I stood from my seat.  It was another aggressive power move, like using the aura had been.  It got attention, and it threatened.  Swansong stood from her chair too, moving oddly as the projection failed to transition between two poses perfectly.  From grace to glitch and back to grace.

Capricorn, meanwhile, leaned forward, not quite standing, his hands out, urging the hosts to stay seated.  The look he gave me was worried.  Only Gary stood, backing away, almost afraid.

In the background, some people were leaving their seats, filing out through the door.  Only five or six, but a camera swiveled a hundred and eighty degrees, focusing on their departure.  Footage for the show, no doubt.

I had the stage, for better or worse.

“You wanted to get real, Lynn?” I asked.

“That was our intention.  It sounds threatening when you say it like that.”

“That was never my intention.  It was always my goal to share information, to inform.  I taught with the Patrol block, I joined this team to teach and counsel, and I wanted- want Breakthrough to be about sharing information and informing, among hero teams.”

“Among hero teams?  I notice you don’t mention the civilian heroes, like police,” Gary said.  He hadn’t sat down again or approached his chair.  He looked like he could bolt at any moment.  That nervousness communicated itself to the audience.

“They’ve got their hands full,” I said.  “If they want information, I’ll gladly give it to them, but I’m not going to put more on their plate just yet.  Give us a week or three to iron out the wrinkles and get organized.  That way, any of the issues that come up with any new venture don’t become their issues.”

“How generous of you,” Gary said.

I didn’t dignify that with an answer.  I looked at the hosts who were still seated.  “Real?”

“It still sounds threatening,” Lynn said.

“Do you know where powers come from, Lynn?”

John answered, not Lynn.  “We know where you say they come from.  Scion.  The story about what he is and where he comes from has come up here and there, but it been from people who sound like crackpots, it sounds even more crackpot on its own, and the credible people have been silent.”

“Are you saying I’m not one of the credible people?”

“We’ll definitely have to look into it and verify with outside sources, to make sure you aren’t giving us a tall tale as a distraction,” he replied, measuring out his response with a care that would ensure that anyone who could put one and one together would know he was saying ‘yes’.

“The good guys will back it up,” I said.  “Scion is a fragment of something bigger.  We killed it.  Its partner- gone.  Based on what we know, they left a trail that ensures their kind won’t be coming after them.  All we have to do is manage the fallout.  And that’s not easy.  Things they set up are unraveling, that’s why we’re getting the broken triggers.”

“The disasters, people getting powers and dying immediately?” Lynn asked.

“Taking other people with them,” Hamza said.

“Yes.”

“And he gave you dangerous impulses, so you aren’t in control of your actions?” Gary asked, his voice dripping with doubt.  “You’re not to blame.”

“Scholars have known or theorized about that for a decade.  It’s not a secret, and it’s not a free pass.  As you guys said, my so-called sister hospitalized me.  I’m not forgiving or forgetting, I’m not giving her a pass.  A person destroyed me and I’m not going to bang my drum and demand they see the inside of a prison.”

My voice was raw with emotion, rancor both for my sister and for the people who were making me talk about her.  It wasn’t the image I wanted to convey, but given a choice between silence and speaking on this, I was going to favor the latter.

“We can’t afford to dwell that heavily on the past.  I’m trying to focus on the present moments and on the days ahead.  We can’t make it if we let fear rule us.”

“Amen,” Capricorn said.

“You make it very easy to fear you,” Gary said.  “You don’t give us many reasons to trust you.”

“You don’t give us much reason to trust you,” Swansong said, barely audible behind me.  “If you can’t help us, stay out of our way and let us do what we need to.”

I wanted to correct that, to reject it.

I let it stand.

“When I asked if you knew where powers came from, I meant on the personal level.  How did Lookout end up with powers?  How did I?  You were asking the question when you talked to her parents.”  My voice was very level as I spoke.

“There are theories,” John said.  “The Triumvirate released a book that seemed to confirm the most popular.”

“That it took an event,” I said.

“Yes.”

“Good or bad?” I asked.

“That was the idea.  The greatest and strongest came from good events.  The lowly and the monstrous came from the violent, ugly moments.”

“It’s prettied up,” I said.  “The part about good things giving powers.  That’s not true, that’s the old government trying to keep kids from trying to force it, like your two people in black raincoats that you mentioned earlier.”

“They did get powers.”

“Long after,” I said.  “You can’t make them happen because if you think it’s a possibility, you aren’t low enough or desperate enough.  You can’t force others to get powers or governments would have whole battalions of people with abilities.”

Had to keep kids from hurting themselves, even if it made it harder to maintain the thrust of my little speech here.

“You wanted real?  There it is.  Powers and where they come from.  Millions are watching and millions are on the same page as us.  Scion?  Something set him off, I don’t know the particulars, but he wanted to wipe us out, parahuman and human both.  We fought like hell and I lost family members in that fighting.  He was everything that was wrong with parahumans, and we beat him, and maybe his influence on some of the worst of us has loosened.  Maybe.”

“Nilbog was quiet, almost civilized.  Bonesaw was helping, with careful monitoring because we’re not idiots,” Swansong said.

“The remaining Endbringers are quiet,” Capricorn said.

“We have our problems,” I said.  “We have big issues, really.  But we can’t add the issues of yesterday to them, and we can’t… we can’t do this.  We can’t manufacture issues.  We’re going to organize, and we’re going to help each other.”

“We’ll answer other questions,” Capricorn said.  “But not tonight.  We have things to do.  We’re out there.  We’re not hard to reach.  If you’re news, government, finance, if you’re a cape and you don’t know what the heck you’re doing, reach out.  We’ll do what we can.  Resources allowing, and we’re getting those resources in place.”

“You’re talking like you’re done, but we still have half of a show left,” Lynn said.

Was I?  Were we?

I was.  We were.

“You brought up the arm thing,” Lookout said.  “And her hospital stay.  It was scummy.  I think we’re leaving, yeah.”

She’d checked with us before the ‘yeah’.

Yeah.

We’d wondered what would happen if they’d kicked us off the show and tried to take control of the narrative.  Without planning it among one another, we’d arrived on the same page about how we’d handle this.

“You can talk about Lookout’s case, Capricorn’s, and Swansong’s, or you can dredge up Mayday’s history.  Time and the courts will tell.  In the meantime, we have work to do.”

“The same applies to Lookout’s family,” Gary Nieves said.  “They haven’t been tried or convicted by the court.”

“We’ll trust the process,” I said.

“So will I,” Gary said.

We left the hot illumination of the set, into the dimly lit side area, beneath the staring, hostile eyes of the crowd in their seats.

The mention of the Wretch on national television had felt like the moment the wave had connected.  It hadn’t been.  That was just for me, my own misshapen boat on uneven, dark waters.

There was always going to be the backlash.  Hostility, blame.  Breakthrough being the faces of the enemy, for those who wanted to blame parahumans and make them out to be the people standing between the refugees of Gimel and a better future.

That backlash was always going to be hardest at first.  The people who watched that show were the people who were receptive to it.  We’d left the set -it hadn’t been going anywhere good- and they’d had another fifteen minutes of discussion and pre-recorded footage before ending prematurely.

The messages were rolling in from online, people finding us and then passing it on to their friends or whatever communities they belonged to.  There was a lot of vitriol.

“You can tell yourself that it’s going to be worse when it’s new, the people who are going to back us have to catch on that something’s going on, catch up, and then find their own voices,” I said.

“Yeah,” Sveta said.

In the time it had taken me to say that, seven messages had come up.  In the subject lines alone, two had profanity.  The other five weren’t exactly roses and sparkles, either.

“But… this is pretty disheartening.”

“It is,” Sveta said.  “Speaking from experience… the best thing you can do is look away.”

I watched as more messages came in.  Sixteen in ten seconds.  That was cheating, though.  Five were the same guy.  Subject line: Fuck.  Subject line: Yourselves.  Subject line: With.  Subject line: A.  Subject line: Rake.

“I have to wonder at the mechanics of that,” Rain said.  He wasn’t next to me, but stood by Tristan’s laptop.  He wasn’t looking at that either, but if he was here in the headquarters at eight o’clock at night, that meant the real him was in his cell, a laptop in front of him.  He could see the same email feed.

“You could weaponize it,” Chris said.

“I don’t mind rake man,” Ashley said.  “That’s a fire that burns hot and for a short time.”

“It’s a fire that burns stupid,” I said.

I saw her smile.

There were other messages, though.  One more email came in.  It was longer, with five times the filesize of even the larger of the others.

In Rain’s court, a girl had read her letter to him, giving him her forgiveness.  It had been thoughtful, meaningful, personal, giving and possibly life-altering.  This email was almost the inverse of that.

A woman had lost her son and she poured grief onto the page like water flowed from a waterfall.  It was feeling rather than thought, raw, and disconnected from us, our actions, and who we were.  It was purely and wholly selfish.

Jessica Yamada had once asked me to write letters.  They hadn’t been letters I was meant to send or give, but ones that let me figure out the sizes and shapes of some of the individual wounds, so I could work on them.

This was that, but it had been sent.  The room was quiet and I imagined everyone was either lost in thought or busy reading, taking it in.  It was long.

A lot of hurt.  A lot of blame.

“Just look away?”  Sveta asked.

It was hard.  It was being stuck on train tracks and seeing the onrushing train, being told not to flinch at the impact or pay too much attention to the train.  There was nothing we could do about it in this moment, so we were supposed to let it roll us over, damage us.

The same window that gave us a view of the train or of the damage was the window I had to look through to see if there was help coming.  If it was worth it.

I closed my laptop.

“I was talking with Fume Hood and the Malfunctions,” Sveta said.  “The Malfunctions started their stakeout and realized they didn’t bring food.  It was a whole thing.”

“They’re okay?”

“I sent someone their way.”

“And Fume Hood?”

“She’s fine.  She was with the Malfunctions for a bit, then went her separate way, keeping tabs on someone from our A-list of concerns.  She’s been at this for a while, hasn’t she?”

“Yeah.  At least six years, maybe eight.”

I could see Kenzie’s computer screens at the front.  She was talking with Ashley, reading the messages without a glimmer of a smile on her face.  If anything, she looked energized by Ashley being there, her chatter punctuated by brief statements from our ex-villainess.

Emails with bold text to signify they were unread.  The labels along the right side of each email were color coded.  Too many were white.  Unknowns.  Anonymous people.

Chris… doing his own thing.  Too hard to read.  His stuff was all packed up and he was ready to go back and retire for the night, just as soon as he was sure nothing big was happening.  Goddess, attacks, riots.

There was a large enough subsection of the population that resented us and enough stirred up by this to spark a riot.

Byron and Rain were the best people to watch, if I wanted to check the reception.  If I wasn’t following the list and immersing myself in that flow of resentment and toxicity, then I could at least watch their faces and see if there was a note of interest anywhere, a spark of hope or light as someone said something in support.

“Did we make a bad impression?” I asked Sveta.  “I thought we looked good on stage.”

“You intimidated,” she said.

“I tried to cover as best as I could, once my power leaked out.”

“Wresting control of the situation.”

“Was that wrong?”

“In some of their eyes, you’re a monster,” Sveta said.  “Anything you do is wrong, somehow.  For others… it was their show.  You threw your weight around, took over the discussion.”

“If we let them have the control, it was going to end in disaster.”

“Oh, for sure,” she said.  “But you took over, and that’s what they’re afraid of, I think.  They’re upset.”

I could see the message inboxes on Kenzie’s screen scrolling as new messages came in.  White labels.  No change in Byron or Rain’s expressions.

“You’re right,” I told Sveta.  “I like that perspective.”

My phone buzzed in my pocket.  I was still wearing my costume, the breastplate left off, and my phone sat against my belly.  I was conscious of how alien my skin felt, and how unusual the clothes felt against my skin.   On a low level, I didn’t feel quite like me.  It had been a while since that had been the case.

If tonight continued along those lines, that dissonant feeling persisting, I’d probably need to find an excuse to get out, fly, and hit something.

“Are you going to answer?” Sveta asked.

It was my mom and dad.

I answered, putting the phone to my ear.  Too much trouble to fish out the earbud and cord from my other pocket.

“Mom,” I said.

“And me,” my dad said.  “Saw you on TV.”

“And?”  I closed my eyes, listening to his voice.  I did miss him, hurt feelings aside.  It helped to hear a voice I’d known for all my life when I didn’t feel very me.

“And people are going to be mad.  But in our corner, we’ve talked with this team we’ve been palling around with.  Not everyone’s here, but… unless a strong voice comes out of nowhere tomorrow morning, you can count us in.  Any negatives that came up are outweighed by the positives.  You guys have backgrounds?  Unresolved trials?  That can be argued down.  We’re doing the second chance thing, and people believe you when you say you want to share information and organize.”

“They’re in,” I said.  I covered the phone with one hand, felt a twinge of pain in my upper arm where the bullet wound still wasn’t one hundred percent.  “My mom and dad’s team are back on board.”

I saw the eyes of others light up.  Sveta’s was among them.

They’d been a bit down too, awash in the sea of hostility.

“Yes, we’re in,” my mother was the one who answered.  “Good job fighting for what you want.  It didn’t look easy.”

“Thank you.”

My dad added, “Knowing your sister, she’s probably going to take the excuse to reach out.”

“It would be generous of you to at least not push her away too quickly, too violently,” my mother said.

“Mom.”

“Carol,” my dad said, his tone identical to mine.

“She was put out in front of millions of people because you chose to step in front of the cameras.  That’s all I’m saying.  I hope you’ll be kind to each other if you happen to end up communicating.”

I drew in a deep breath.  “Thank you for talking to your team for me.”

“I suppose that’s you saying you’re done with this conversation.  I’ll let you go,” my mom said.

I hung up.

“A response from Mayday through his intermediary, while you were talking,” Byron said.  “It’s hard to decipher.  A tentative yes?  He doesn’t seem sure.  It might have been a mix-up in communication.”

I saw Kenzie do a fist-pump.

“Better than nothing,” Rain said.  “It’s movement in the direction we want.”

I opened my laptop to check.  For a guy with authority and personality, Mayday’s response didn’t seem to have much direction, with all of the qualifiers he’d added.

“He was in the last episode,” Sveta said.

“Of Hard Boil?  Yeah,” I said.  “Questioning competency, organization, the PRT, getting into the Echidna event in Brockton Bay, the allegations about the Protectorate.”

“Yeah,” she said.  “He’s sticking his neck out.”

“We’ll pay him back.  We’re already drawing off heat, they weren’t done with him, because they left some threads hanging.  His tie to Kenzie, for example.  Something for a later episode, maybe, maybe the conclusion episode.  We’ll divert attention and deflect from him.  Over the next couple of days, if any stations want us, we’ll give them interviews or information.  Up their ratings so Hard Boil can sink a bit.”

Sveta nodded.  “That’s time taken away from bigger crises.”

“Yes,” I said.  “Absolutely.  But it’d be one person at a time, and if we mess with their ratings so soon after they had to end a show early… might knock them down a peg or distract from Mayday.”

Sveta smiled.  “Might.”

“Might.”

More messages were rolling in.  Another team.  Shorewatch was back, the latest move in their routine approaching and retreating.

And so much anger, so much hate.  Nine negative messages for every positive, but at least there were positives.

And, so quick I almost missed it, a name flew by, one among three messages that came in all at once.

“Guys,” Chris said.  Fastest on the draw when it came to computers.  I was still double checking the name.

A name.  One of the enemy.

Goddess.

“Shit,” I heard Sveta mutter.

“I still don’t like her title,” Ashley said, her attention on the screen.

I read the message.  One word:

Meet?

Shit.  I set my teeth.

We’d put ourselves out there, and now we were on her radar.  Probably.  The others were agitated, their screens open to the one word message, all of its foreboding.  The person we were investigating and tracking was reaching out.  It could have been a threat, an ambush, a ruse.

“Victoria,” Sveta said.

I met her eyes.

“That thing, earlier today?  The suspicious thing?”

The others weren’t talking anymore.

“That was Goddess?” I asked.  “I asked if it was relevant to what we were doing, and you said no.”

“It was no,” Sveta said.  “We had other, immediate concerns, and she- she wasn’t one.”

I frowned.

“Can you bring it up, Kenz?” Sveta asked.

“Are you sure?” Kenzie asked.

“We have to, I think.  We can’t put it off or hide it.  It’s going to come up.”

I could put the pieces together before the image appeared on the screen, and it was still a slap in the face.  Still an impact that caught me off guard.

A scene, caught through a window.  Goddess, eating lunch in Earth Gimel.  Somewhere not too far from where she and her portal were situated.  If it were that alone, it would have been unremarkable, except maybe remarkable because of the clarity of the shot.

Amy Claire Dallon was in the scene, along with what might have been a pet squirrel, lurking within her sleeve, biting into her sandwich while Goddess sat across from her, holding a sandwich off to the side, her finger stabbing at the table.

I was about to open my mouth to say something, or to ask, but Kenzie seemed to read my mind.

More images.  Amy, her face covered in freckles from scalp to chin, hair tied back, long sleeves mercifully covering her arms and hands to the knuckles, she was wearing a different outfit.  Three outfits.

Another image.  Four outfits.  That squirrel wasn’t a squirrel, whatever the hell it was.

It was good that they’d kept it from me.  I wouldn’t have been able to do anything else and deal with this.  It was good they’d warned me now.

But ‘good’ on both ends still left a horrible pit in my stomach.

“It’s unavoidable,” I said, half of my meaning intended to follow Sveta’s last statement.  Half for myself, to warn the me of the present day of what was coming.

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83 thoughts on “Beacon – 8.12”

  1. “I looked over at Lookout. She glanced up at me and smiled.”

    Why does a little girl smiling feel like such a knife to the gut. Goddammit Wildbow. The stepford smiler Kenzie twist from her interlude was brilliant.

    Also… oh god… Goddess and Panacea colluding is a horrifying prospect. Does that mean Amy is the pod-maker that Monokeros brought up in her talk with Ashley?

        1. Monokeros seemed to believe Goddess was presently in possession of Podmaker, though she’s crazy and her sources are Goddess’s minions, so that could be false. But also Shin didn’t seem to have been hit by Scion and Khepri kept people with noncombat powers out of the line of fire, so it’s unlikely Podmaker died during Golden Morning.

          But Pancea is a big prize for Goddess anyways. Even just her capacity for field healing is worth snagging, as is her offensive and defensive biowar capability. And under Goddess’s influence she’d probably ignore her moral objections to brain tampering. Then there’s her capacity to tamper with powers themselves; Goddess might want to try that out when she has enough minions to have expendable ones. No Master or Trump powers, too risky, but others could be controlled and disposed of if it goes spectacularly wrong.

  2. Breakthrough should get a secretary. They’re gonna get a lot of hate mail. Or Kenzie can program a better spam filter.

  3. I am glad the whole “talking to Goddess” thing is finally on the table. Obviously there are a million and ten possible problems with this, but it was frustrating to me that it never came up before.

    Awesome chapter in general, too. Soooo…. Amy and Goddess go on lunch dates, and they’re inviting Victoria. Is this more of an escalation than Leviathan was, or less? 😛

  4. Holy crap. I never thought of Amy as a huge threat, even when she went nuts. If she’s mind-controlled by Goddess, imagine the damage she can do.

    1. Damn the idea of Amy being Mind Controlled took me an embarrassingly long time to consider.

      I counter your horrible possibility with a much more positive yet still troubling one: What if Amy and Goddess are just…….Dating? 🙂

        1. Yeah, it’s pretty healthy if they are dating. Mean’s Amy is moving on. Not obsessing over Victoria. And while we don’t know Goddess story that well, maybe it means she’s finally focusing on something other than her career of ruling the world.

          1. if may is being mind controlled then that will be yet another uncomfortable reminder of Victoria’s onw mind screwing of Amy.

            Which make sme think, that goddess, who had a world at her feet and the respect of millions, might just be thinking of ‘Glory Girl’ as a mirror and kindred spirit…

          2. I’m wondering if the reason Goddess is so scared is that she knows she can’t handle what’s coming, knows she’s a massive threat and a top priority for the Wardens as soon as she does anything, and suspects that the people she ruled over as a dictator are going to keep trying to kill her for the rest of her life. Even if she wanted to live a normal life, what she’s done and what she can do will always make her a target.

          3. I doubt Goddess seriously fears assassination from Shin. All its parahumans are still under her dominion, after all, and between them and her own powers she’s going to be pretty much immune to non-parahuman assassins.

    2. Wildbow said that in the original draft for both Victoria and Amy, our little monster was duposed to go full S-class threat on par with Endbringer by the end of the story. Though at that point he apparently hadnt realized Worm yet.

  5. Unavoidable typo thread:

    “a countdown until we were live again.”
    (…)
    “Ninety seconds.”
    (…)
    “I eyed the timer on the monitors. Two minutes, twenty-one seconds.”
    (…)
    “I looked at the clock. One minute, fifteen seconds.”
    Counting from 90 to 141, then 75 seconds ? Someone’s having fun.

    “free now. they’re out”

    “seems one sided,””
    > one-sided

    1. > “It was no,” Sveta said.

      Should probably be “It was not” (or maybe “It wasn’t”, not sure which sounds more like Sveta). Unless Sveta means “The answer was ‘no'”, but that sounds a bit convoluted.

    2. >“How dare you? Hamza barked, again. He puffed up, chest expanding, and glanced over his shoulder at the staff in the background.

      “How dare you?” (missing close quotation mark)

      >It was my mom and dad.

      How did she know it was both of them before she answered? Even if it was a shared home number, she’d probably describe it as her parents’ home phone, rather than both of them together. Also, she answered the phone expecting it to be her mother only.

    3. minor typo:

      John answered, not Lynn. “We know where you say they come from. Scion. The story about what he is and where he comes from has come up here and there, but it been from people who sound like crackpots, it sounds even more crackpot on its own, and the credible people have been silent.”

      “but it been” should be “but it’s been”

  6. I’m thinking the offer is legit, and Goddess/Amy/Dot are on the same side as Breakthrough regarding the conspiracy. After all, Goddess is being targeted by it; Amy’s probably been approached by it (but doesn’t approve, if Marquis is any indication), and it took away Dot’s king.

    (Also, I find it amusing that all of the class-S threats seem to be best friends with each other.)

    1. Kinda makes sense, though. It’s the one time they can talk to people who are, at least on the surface, equals. Scary powerful people get lonely and want peers, too. Even if the peers aren’t powerful in the exact same ways.

    2. Also, I find it amusing that all of the class-S threats seem to be best friends with each other.

      We’re still missing The Simurgh. And someone needs to go find Bonesaw and Nilbog so they can finally rejoin the ultimate disaster team.

      1. Weeeell, Ziz is pals with Tattletale, who was pals with Taylor, who was… sort of pals with Amy? Pals is maybe a strong word for it… 😛

  7. In the words of Scott Daly “I Love This!”

    My only hope is that WB uses this to further complicate the Goddess situation push towards the “Goddess isn’t a straight-up villain” idea. Making Goddess and Amy into Black and White bad guys would be super disappointing.

    1. I can see she being something similar to DIRE, a mastermind in a world in the brink of collapse/world war/annihilation/ etc. And she saved it… By becoming the supreme leader.

      1. I figure she’s one of the end states for parahumans in society. Parahumans are superior to regular humans; they have everything regular humans do and also powers. Some of these powers are applicable to governance, and a government with a Thinker of the right type making decisions will be better run, in the sense that it will accomplish its goals more effectively. Masters can secure citizens’ obediance if they don’t have ethical objections. The other types don’t have advantages in governance itself, but can perform governmant services like law enforcement, construction, search-and-rescue, etc. more effectively. So ultimately society will either keep parahumans out of government or put them more-or-less in charge. Goddess controls the parahumans of Shin, and with only a small number of them ruled the entire world. And if she had a Thinker, ruled it better than any non-parahuman government could. Which still makes her an authoritarian dictator, mind. But an effective one.

        I figure there’s only a few other end states: parahumans stand for elections and win, or parahumans get exterminated. Any attempt to go down another path will converge to one of those three in time; Cauldron was seemingly aiming to implement the Goddess route with minimal collateral damage.

        1. Well, door #4 is regular people are in charge but end up delegating heavily to parahuman advisors; this requires buy-in from enough parahumans to avoid an attempted coup and transitioning to one of the prior options.

        2. With infinite worlds to choose from, it seems like para/human seperatism is also an option. (#5?) It would take capes committing to and enforcing wildlife preserve worlds for humans–which, now that I think of it, would be an awesome setting for stories about that agreement bring honored in the breach.

    1. Just from a narrative consideration, I’d expect Taylor not to be mentioned again for a few arcs. A little bit goes a long way. If Goddess has had some friendly chats with Panacea, she knows all about Khepri, and has had a chance to process the whole episode. I’m inclined to believe the rumor that her immediate objective is reconquering Shin. I’m not sure how the portal attacks fit into that, if indeed she was behind those. Perhaps she found the previous Gimel cape hierarchy too unfriendly to her goal? In that case, it could be a reason for Breakthrough’s Cape Coordination v3.0 to take it slow in opposing her. After all there are other adversaries.

        1. My impression was that the only thing Goddess wanted to do with Khepri was to kill her in a painful fashion? Masters hate being mastered, and super masters really hate it.

          1. It seems highly likely getting controlled by Khepri has given her ideas, considering that she’s seemingly going after Mama Mathers. If she thinks it’d work she’d almost certainly love to secure Khepri and a Doormaker analogue (Valkyrie having access to anti-Master defenses).

          2. I think we can probably assume finding Khepri won’t be the conerstone of any plans, just since Taylor is *gone*. While we should definitely keep seeing the ripples she left, anything predicated on finding her specifically can’t go anywhere without collapsing her superposition and making her take too much of the spotlight.

        2. Didn’t Taylor get de-Khepri’d and plunked on Aleph by Contessa? Idk if she even has her old bug powers anymore…

          Although that might just be me hoping that someone, for once, can get a happy ending in a Wildbow story.

          1. We readers and a few individuals in-story know that, but I doubt the cape community at large was informed of what precisely happened to her. The last thing we know they saw was Khepri being convinced to release her thralls, then being allowed to step through a doorway that Glaistig Uaine made and closed behind her. That could be all they know, or they may have been led to believe that Contessa executed her or otherwise eliminated her from consideration. I highly doubt, however, that anybody would have announced to everybody that she was alive, depowered, and left in Aleph, ripe for the vengeance. Contessa was trying to help her, not sign her death warrant.

      1. I’m pretty sure Teacher staged the portal attacks; he’s been involved in portal manipulation before. And it strikes me as precisely not what Goddess would do; she’d want to take over Gimel’s cape hierarchy intact. So she’d only attack it in a way that eliminates those she can’t control. Valkryie is almost certainly one and the portal attack wouldn’t be expected to kill her.

  8. I love that Dot is still with Amy. If anyone can keep Dot alive without Nilbog, it’s Amy. Rewriting biology also works on tiny cute/ugly power-generated monsters. Although I wonder at the DNA of Dot, Polka and all the others.

      1. This is actually a brilliant trump card that I hope wildbow plays later.

        I’m pretty sure that when they asked wildbow Nilbog didn’t show the normal aggression of other triggers his answer was something along the lines of his Shard was supposed to be a backup to give the entities another Shard bearing species if humans wiped each other out.

        Also Dragon being an AI and inheriting her powers from her Creator being a trigger and therefore having a Shard close to her.

        Both of these facts point to the idea that Dot Could totally trigger. And The Shard she came from was the nilbog and The Shard she’s had the most exposure to is Amy’s. The combination of those two would make her some kind of Bio monster of the highest order

  9. Well, at first I thought the interview went horribly but then in the aftermath I realized that that was as good as it could’ve gone. Someone was going to snap, and the best person to snap is Victoria. Chris is… Chris, Swansong is a prison inmate, Capricorn is a known murderer and the show would likely run with it (literally “run away!”), Lookout snapping would’ve created a lot of damage to team breakthrough’s case, and well, Chris is Chris.

    Victoria used a power that didn’t directly harm anybody, and didn’t give them a reason stop right there aside from the “a power has been used” line. It’s also a lot harder for them to frame her as a bad guy when they just spent all that time victimizing her. Her reaction wasn’t the best, and her deliberate power moves also didn’t help. But aside from that, this was probably one of the better outcomes. Nobody died. Our heroes’ reputation isn’t completely ruined, and other teams are willing to cooperate now.

    And then, goddess and Amy. Well, that went even worse fast.

  10. Well, shit. I was half right, Amy was involved in the secret, but I definitely didn’t think she’d be having casual lunch dates with Goddess. Maybe they’re on the same side as Breakthrough, trying to stop the shit from hitting the fan? Please? I really want Any to be good, for this to be a redemption arc for her.

    Ah, what am I saying. It’s WildBow. Everyone’s flinging more shit at the fan to see who can get the best spread. Even when Victoria’s going out to work on PR she uses her powers on talk-show hosts, spills dangerous secrets, and storms off the stage. There is no happiness here, and that’s why I love it.

    1. I have no idea why so many of you guys seem to see a positive outcome for Amy, or to assume she improved significantly by the end of Worm. By the end of Worm, Amy had become heavily influenced by her evil (even if he’s polite/charming) father and followed that up by spending a lot of time around people like Riley, who – while no longer Bonesaw – is still not exactly super sane (see – her comments on Nilbog, who is also obviously insane).

      I am not remotely surprised that she could be manipulated by someone like Goddess, who would obviously see her power as highly desirable.

      1. It’s not so much that I think that there will be a good ending for Amy, it’s just that I wish there was. I’m fully aware that this is going to end terribly and Amy’s probably becoming a super villain at this point, whether she’s under Goddess’ influence or not, but it’d still be nice to somehow see her become a good guy again. Or at least not completely evil.

        As for her improving from the end of Worm, she fixed Victoria. Not only did she fix Victoria, but she let Victoria decide if she wanted to keep her memories. At the family BBQ, Amy went after Victoria, but left her alone once it was clear she wanted to be left alone. Amy has clearly improved, at least a bit. She’s still probably a villain, but she’s improved.

        1. It was already clear Victoria wanted to be left alone when she noped out of the party. Amy only backed down when Victoria threatened her with violence. That’s self preservation, not a respect for boundaries.

          As for fixing Victoria, of course she did that. All that says is that she was no longer in the middle of a psychotic break.

          I do disagree with the notion that Amy is “still” a villain, however, because I don’t view her as having been a villain in the first place. She’s guilty of accidents and incompetence while under extreme pressure, not villainy.

  11. The aura is almost the ideal power to use on TV because it simply doesn’t show up on TV. Sure the live audience knows about it, but I don’t think they’ll be eager to talk about it. Other than that it’s just the word of Gary and the Three Bears. It’s too bad that every aura use is all-out.

    If Antares were a bit more focused, she would have been practicing using the aura in subtle ways, for years. She could have practiced that even back at the hospital, and a subtle aura would have actually been useful in that situation. It would be useful in a wide range of situations. Instead it’s her emergency billy club. When she gets stressed enough she just wacks everyone nearby as hard as she can. The monk half of her ideal persona needs to take a closer look at this aura.

    1. She has been, in the hospital at least. She can modulate its range, and she used it a little to convince the police chap back when she was with the patrol block. And back in Worm she could get enough subtlety behind it to convince Amy to do what she wanted, over a long period too.

      The problem here is that she was confronted with the thing she wants to keep buried and behind closed doors, and she had to react. He was too far away and positioned wrong for her to slap him, erecting her force-field would have been horrific and dangerous to her teammates, which leaves her with really only one option: Emotion. And I just bet that Gary was hoping she would use it.

      The thing I want to know is how will her team react? At no point has she mentioned why she was in the Asylum. They know she was there, because that’s where she met Sveta, and Sveta knows what she was at the time- so does Weld. But nobody’s been told what Amy did to her. Hmm. Capricorn, Lookout and Swansong were all at Gold Morning; wonder if they saw her there.

  12. You know Vicky, you really missed a chance. When Gary and co were ripping into you really should have said something like this.
    “Do you know why Scion chose us out of all the places he could have gone? Because he needed people who’d have those awful moments Gary. Where people would give others those moments. He planted seeds, but humans made such fertile soil. Because of people like the Martins, and like you Gary.”

    I’m actually going to be kinda in Carol’s camp a bit here. Victoria doesn’t have to forgive Amy, but at the same time… Victoria put herself out there, but she also put Amy out there. Victoria’s gonna be reminded of what Amy did to her, and she’s gonna get shit. But she was the victim, and Amy the one who did the really horrible thing. People were always going to be afraid of Amy for what she might do. Now? Hoo boy. Victoria didn’t just put herself in a crosshairs, this very much is going to involve Amy. I don’t think she’ll be able to just try and ignore her and hope she goes away, not just because it hurts Amy or anything, but because now they are finally at that point the world won’t let them do that.
    And at the end… Well Wildbow once again makes it worse than we’d thought.

    1. Victoria saying that would be a terrible idea, because Gary’s whole argument is that, regardless of the reason, parahumans are too dangerous (with an implied “to let live”). Pointing out that many parahumans were chosen due to trauma inflicted by non-parahumans has no bearing on his argument, which is that they’re simply too dangerous to let exist.

      Victoria’s goal (which she accomplished as best she could) is to argue that parahumans don’t inherently have to give into the impulse to be violent/conflict-driven. Shifting blame for that impulse from the entities to other people doesn’t address the point Nieves is making (which is that the impulse itself is simply too dangerous).

  13. Every time I think this arc isnover and here, here is gonna come the Interlude to cap it off, out comes another chapter to trip me up.

    Stellar work, WB. Very nicely done.

  14. Goddess and Amy team-up? I cannot possibly say “OH FUCK” strongly enough.
    I mean, can’t we pretty much assume that Amy has fallen under the influence of Goddess’ Master power by this point? I can’t think of any way she could defend herself, and I’m really skeptical that Goddess would simply refrain from using it – she’s been in control so long that there’s no way she would pass up the chance. Granted we don’t know anything about her personality except what we can infer.
    But yeah, the idea of Amy being controlled by a supervillain with designs of multi-world domination is just about the most terrifying concept ever. That’s final-boss material right there.

    Also, I find it amusing that I ended up hating the talk show guys and Gary more than I did most of the “actual villains” in this setting. I mean, there’s being evil, and then there’s just being a dick.

    1. I do suspect that just the fact that she’s talking to Amy means she isn’t trying anything sketchy there. After all, we know that the Wardens are keeping a very close eye on her, precisely because of how powerful she is: talking to Amy would be setting off pretty much every alarm bell they have. If she tries anything, they’ll just send Valkyrie out to step on her, and she and everyone else all know that. (And I assume Valkyrie can recognize her power in use as well.)

      As a sidenote, I wonder if she and Valkyrie know each other …

      1. That would be a valid point, except the Wardens (and Valkyrie in particular) are currently MIA.
        We currently don’t know when the first ‘date’ happened, and if Goddess waited until after the portal shenanigans to approach her…

        There are too many unknowns right now.

  15. She definitely should have reached out to Amy, the problem is I just don’t think she’s capable of doing so. She won’t even let herself think about the possibility. There’s just too much damage there.
    Well, it’s too late for that now anyway.

  16. Wowwwww? Amy, please don’t be mind-controlled ><

    I feel like… the best indication of Amy not being under Goddess' thumb completely is the fact that Dot's still with her. I don't know that Goddess could influence Dot? And Amy had to have known that Goddess could potentially influence her, and might be relying on Dot to tell her if she starts acting weird.

    The possibility of Amy and Goddess just dating is cute and I'd love if it were true, but it sounds way too upbeat for this kind of story…

    1. It could be upbeat, but at the same time, it could also be written as incredibly terrifying. Let’s face it. Dot is S-class because she exists and could easily rally up everyone else from Nilbog’s old townsfolk. Amy could create a pathogen to cure the entire city, but she can also completely destroy a person and make the inhuman. Goddess is the second most powerful master in the entire series, bar Taylor, and able to have an entire Earth under her command. This could be the making of a very bad day for everybody.

      The one thing I will say though is that maybe Goddess is incredibly gray. She’s part of a grab-bag situation with several other, now deceased, capes. She could’ve been in Rain’s situation, except all Kills. Hell, she could even be Taylor-like in whatever it is to keep the peace. After all, we don’t really know how she is as a dictator. We only know she forcibly takes capes, not how the capes rule the citizens.

      In fact, she might be targeting the prison because all the inmates are just that: inmates. I mean, she tries to official channels to subsume parahumans, which is a really odd move for someone as powerful as her, even if she’s incredibly egotistic. That is, of course, she believes she’s one of the good guys. She prevents in-fighting by taking over the evil capes. I really hope the next interlude is either with Goddess or Amy. Though, knowing Wildbow, it’s probably with a third party that will have major impactions on future Arcs, like Gary.

      1. Goddess is not second. Taylor’s probably first, but Valkyrie’s higher than Goddess for certain, because three powered ghost-warriors are scary, especially when one is Eidolon and another is Doormaker. Sleeper’s a total unknown, but ‘subsumed’ an earth, which may be mastery. Nilbog creates armies loyal only to him, and those armies can reproduce; and because his armies aren’t ‘human’, they resist most other master effects. If Taylor had them, they’d be on Gimel, not Bet. Also, Nilbog’s armies don’t rely on Nilbog’s presence or direction, unlike many master effects. Teacher’s minions are all thinkers or tinkers, and their numbers are possibly unlimited. It’s tricky, because they’re all Masters in different ways.

        Goddess is definitely in the top ten, and probably the top five. But she’s not second.

        1. There’s no reliable indication that Sleeper is a Master at all. Valkyrie is properly speaking a Trump, though she might be able to outmatch Goddess with a triad of Masters, but also Goddess could potentially have many more top-tier parahumans at once if the cream of the crop hadn’t been killed by Scion or Valkyrie already. Nilbog’s control is limited to his creations, and they weren’t strong enough to stand off the Slaughterhouse Nine, so they’re probably weaker than Goddess’s potential forces, not to mention that she could assume control of them as well by claiming Nilbog. Teacher could outmatch her, but it seems like he can’t force people to join him, they have to accept an offer of a power boost from him.

          Though in one sense Goddess isn’t all that powerful a Master; her control is limited to parahumans and cannot be established rapidly. But it also appears to be permanent and may be able to actually override Khepri’s control of others, assuming she used it rather than her Trump power to counteract Khepri’s initial takeover of her minions.

          1. There’s no indication at all WHAT Sleeper is. Except we have WoG that he isn’t a Stranger 12 who makes people think he’s really dangerous.

            Valkyrie’s rating is Master/Trump; her spectres count as minions. The Slaughterhouse Nine had Nilbog hostage, because he was lonely and gullible. If Nilbog still had his town, and his puppet, Goddess wouldn’t have a hope of claiming him. Teacher’s minions… If he sends non-parahuman students, would they still count as parahumans?

            Most Masters have serious limits on their power. Teacher is limited to willing targets, Khepri had a range of 16ft, Nilbog and Bitch don’t have direct control of their minions, Heartbreaker had to see his victims, and was limited to one active target at a time, Regent’s full power took time, Valkyrie and Prism are limited to three minions at once, and Cherish’s victims developed an immunity.

  17. There is a worlbuilding aspect of Ward that has been bugging me. I really like the stories, so I might be inviting a ton of criticizm for being critical.

    Its about the propensity for people to idolize others. Idolatry, or putting people on a pedestal is a 2-edged sword.

    On one side, you put someone up above you, as if they are made of better stuff. They are stronger, faster, smarter, prettier, and whatever else. Its a habit of alot of people to do this (and alot of horrendously destructive romances) but eventually they fall off the pedestal.

    Eventually you see the human side of the “Hero” you have exalted above yourself. Then the sword cuts entirely the other direction.
    Then the are demonized. They failed to live up to the unrealistic expectation of perfection, and so we heap responsibility for all our suffering on them and kill them on the alter as the scapegoat.

    I think Worm and Ward very much show 1 aspect of this with how fearful normal people are of Parahumans taking over. However, I think the opposite side has been ignored too much. I think there would be a large group of people too willing to worship them. Too willing to want them to take care of everything. There would be alot of people wanting them to take over.

    There are several reasons to validate the fears of parahumans taking over. First and foremost is that so many would have the power to do so. That is the one that the Gary Neives are afraid of.

    I think that perhaps more subtle and more potent would be the message of strength. It is the first thing any Power needs for others to believe in them. If they do not have the Strength or Power to protect, or enforce their will, then it doesn’t matter how wonderful their ideals, or heart or will is, they will have to followers if no one can believe they have power.

    Conversely, if people believe they have power, then they will line up to obey in exchange for protection, stability and the sense of partaking in that power.

    I think Parahumans taking over after Gold Morning would have been inevitable. I think enough Normal people would have clamored for them to do so. “Protect me! Save me!”

    I think the balance of this issue was well done in Worm, because Parahumans were still historically very new. They have not yet attained the social status of Demigod. Even though that is the power level they have. And the belief of their status would take a generation or 3 to sink in and overcome the centuries of human cultural belief. But Gold Morning would have accellerated that change in perception.

    there would have been a huge group of opportunists who would line up behind the parahumans and worship them as Demigods and Pop stars. I think Worm missed some parahumans who should have taken over socially alot more than they did. and Ward misses out on it more. It would not only have been Cults like the Fallen. It would have been ‘Rock Stars’ of Society, Business and Politics.

    The Empire 88 leader could have been so much more powerful had he not been such a committed racist. He could have openly been a Cape and had a much greater Empire. A tyrant like that w/out the stereotypical racism would have been a scary tyrant commanding great economic and government power.

    1. Cauldron and the PRT were working to block Parahumans trying to take over socially; that could only end two ways. Either it becomes a parahuman oligarchy/autocracy like Shin, or the parahumans get hunted down and destroyed like the ones on the world where Scion and Eden got the information to devise Tinker shards. They considered it inevitable but worked to implement it slowly with the Triumivirate, Coil, Accord, and others. Overseas, Moord Nag ruled her homeland, Cauldron encouraged the open/secret Cape split in India, and the Yangban backed the Chinese Emperor

      Also, the Target/Consequence entries for the Simurgh during the timeskip indicate she shattered non-Protectorate parahuman organizations, targeting the Guild, driving a rift between the Yangban and everyone else with the attack on the command center during the New Delhi battle, and killing the Chinese Imperial Union heir in a presumable bid to keep him from taking the throne and mending fences. She also drove Mannequin mad, ending his attempts to develop a tinker-tech space program, and who knows how many others might’ve come to overshadow Eidolon if she hadn’t put an end to them.

    2. It’s a matter of public perception and viewpoint perception. In both stories there’s capes narrating the story, and in interludes where there’s a non-cape narrating, they had uncomfortable feelings about capes. Sophia in her interlude in Worms and Gary here. How else would you expect regular people to act when faced with such power discrepancy as this world?

      Maybe the information Victoria brought to life in this interview might change things but judging by the amount of negative emails they received, it won’t change many peoples perceptions on capes.

      There was a specific comment on Victoria getting a positive email for every nine bad ones, so it’s not like everybody is anti-cape in this worldbuild. I imagine there will be more elaboration on this in the next chapter.

  18. Oh. My. Fucking. God. Holy shit! I never anticipated escalation on this scale, this fast. Ugr, talk about intensity at its finest. Every line just made my blood boil. I absolutely adore this chapter.

    Poor Victoria! I wonder how she’s gonna deal with the inevitable meeting? Can she keep her usual poise? Much questions needed answers. Great chapter!

    1. Is it really escalation though? It doesn’t feel like the consequences from the talk show have played out fully, and now they’re moving on to the next thing. Doesn’t the twist seem like an excuse for Victoria and co. to stop worrying about the ripples they created with their interview and move on to the next plot point? I’m not sure. If audience reaction doesn’t quickly bite team Breakthrough in the back, it might feel like a string of the narrative was conveniently dropped.
      Although who am I to fear that Wublo will forget about this…

      1. Agreed, however I was not expected Scumbag et al. to throw the bomb (i.e. someone’s medical secret/trauma) in such an explicit, uncensored, down-to-minute details like that. On a national show no less. That’s just plain cruel. I mean look at 8.11: everything seemed to be under control, and the talk is just “solf”, with occasional banters where Vicky and co can actually counter & get their messages across. This is not the first time we’ve seen this kind of talk show in Ward, and for a moment I was deceived right there. “What could go wrong anyway? After all, this is all about Kenzie, right? You can’t attack a child without looking bad”, I thought. “Plus Vicky is the de-escalation queen so no big deal”. Right?

        Wroong. And in 3. 2. 1. Kaboom! WB is WB, he never ceases to surprise me. The show got way worse, and now Vicky’s greatest fear come into play. To me it’s the biggest escalation, more than any fight or anything, ever. The feels are what matter. Somehow, Vic just downplayed them like she did many times so nicely but it feels like she just bottled up for more.

        Sure, it’s not like we get to see the full extend of escalation i.e. (the big bad showdown, Vic-Ames crossover -> Vic breakdown) right away (it’ll be too predictable), but this chapter is a nice change of atmosphere from what we have so far. It’s a living proof of WB’s master writing skills and story building.

        A wishful thought from me: let us pray for a happy ending! Our characters deserve as much.

  19. Guts and Glory return! Due to an illness, the part of Glory for this evening’s performance will be played by Goddes instead of Glory Girl.

  20. To counteract all the “Goddess is mind-controlling Amy” comments, what if it’s actually the inverse? However I gotta say I subscribe the most to the dating theory. It’s wholesome.

    1. Goddess has a powerful defensive Trump ability that would shield her against Amy’s direct influence and possibly counteract her creations as well; it’s somehow akin to Scion’s own defensive countermeasures.

  21. Goddess is what, ten years older than Amy? Them dating would be a little skeevy, but Amy’s an adult and can make her own choices. I think we need to get to know Goddess a little before we can judge the nature of their relationship.

    1. Capes make up a pretty small portion of the dating pool, so it wouldn’t be surprising if their relationships tend to involve larger age gaps than normal.

  22. Hey, Wubs, I gotta hand it to you, I’m not easily emotionally affected and you still managed to make the reveal of Victoria’s previous state a gut punch. Normally, it wouldn’t hit me at all, but I *felt* that, viscerally. Good job, you got me like hell, there.

  23. So…. is it just me, or does it seem rather unlikely that Gary faked having his hand crushed last chapter?
    He seems fearful to the point of prejudice… but not conniving in that way. It just doesn’t seem like his M.O.

    He pushes, and he’s definitely biased, but I don’t think he does anything outrageous here.
    Heck, if you’re paying attention, yes, he brings up Amy being a bio-weapon and all… but its the show hosts that actually go for the personal stuff. Gary brings up legitimate concerns… and seems to deliberately skate around what actually happened (if he even knew… and if he didn’t he’s even less culpable).
    Heck, even if he did know, one could make a strong argument that the decision to publicize or not publicize has a large enough scope that Victoria’s feelings (however important) kind of pale in comparison.
    …. The show hosts on the other hand are jackasses.

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