Gleaming – 9.2

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I cast off the Wretch as I reached the fire escape.  Water didn’t stick to my forcefield, and a lot of it wicked off naturally, but there were enough crevices and folds that did hold water that the rainwater came down all at once.  It splattered against my hood and back, and against the slats of the fire escape.

The others retreated as I landed, some folding up umbrellas.  I knew it was to give me room to land, and to get back to where it was dry- no reason to stay in the wet outdoors.  I was aware, I knew the rationale, and I couldn’t shake the idea that they were getting out of the way of the Wretch.

I was no stranger to distorted thinking.  Even before… before everything, I’d been swept up in it.  As a child, wanting to belong to my family, being the odd one out, until I got my power.  I’d later realized how lonely powers were.

The flip side of the coin applied too.  Being the odd one in.

Amy had been the odd one in more than I had.  Purely average in appearance, quiet, she hadn’t been passionate about hobbies or about anything in particular.  She’d liked movies from Aleph and when she was twelve she’d break her usual reserved, quiet composure to get way too excited if she checked the change slot of a vending machine or pay phone and found a quarter.  And yet when we got to high school, she was automatically included in the group of popular students.  The group with Dean, who was supposed to take over his dad’s company, and with the star athletes and the star athletes’ boyfriends and girlfriends.

I’d eventually looked beyond my bubble of thinking my sister was great because she was my sister and I fucking loved her, wondering why she was included in the group of popular students when she wasn’t popular.  Then I’d had to draw the eventual, inevitable conclusion, and wonder if I belonged to that group.  Was I there just because my parents wore costumes and had flashy powers?

I’d settled in despite that.  Amy had settled out- hanging out to keep me company, but not going out of her way to stick with the group.  It had been easy for her to move in that direction, after I’d gotten powers.  I’d been grateful for my earlier realization about the nature of the group, because it kept me real and provided a starting point for realizing where Dean was coming from, having come from money.  I’d loathed it at the same time, because it cast doubt on every normal interaction.

My perspective had been distorted by anger, by the fact that I’d been young and I was being confronted with some of the uglier sides of my town.  A classmate had confided in me that she had trouble seeing her path to a happy future because every adult she knew seemed miserable, and I’d sat back, thinking that I couldn’t see a way for our whole city to have a happy future because my parents, aunt, and uncles had sacrificed nearly everything and there were still racists, addicts, murders, theft, corruption, and pain.

It had been around the point of that realization that I’d started hitting harder, as if I could hit the worst offenders hard enough that they would stay down.  Living up to the ‘brute’ part of the brute classification.  So stupid, deluded, short sighted.  Even now, I shuddered to think what I might have become if the combination of Dean and my sister hadn’t reined me in.  In that world of heroes and criminals, that very stark reality, I hadn’t had enough points of reference to think straight.

The truth didn’t always correct distorted perspectives- it could just as easily create them.  Comforting lies and illusions were important.

The group maintained its retreat, my instincts told me it was because of what I’d shown them, while my brain continued to protest in vain, telling me Kenzie was waging a war with a ‘hornet’s nest’ and the others were putting umbrellas away and getting situated.

I didn’t miss the fact that Byron switched to Tristan, even though it wasn’t Tristan’s turn.

It was Sveta who approached.  She still had the towel she’d tried to give me.

“Let’s try this again.  Get yourself dry,” she told me.  “Whatever you need, let me know.  I’ve got you.”

I put my hand over hers, and gave it a waggle.  Then I took the towel and dried my face of the moisture that had beaded it in the midst of stormy weather.  Lengths of my hair had been blown free and been soaked, and I wrapped the towel around each in turn, squeezing the fabric to leech out the moisture.  I didn’t look at anyone in particular, and in a way I was spared from having to, since Sveta was close.  She was wet, damp, but she loved the water.

I was on the third length of hair, which had wrapped around my shoulder, when I heard someone break the silence.

“That shape- that’s what you looked like in the hospital?  Your sister changed your power?”

Kenzie.  Wide eyed, innocent.

“How about I tell you after, Kenzie?” Sveta asked.  “I know most of it.  If that’s okay, Victoria?”

“Thanks,” I said.  I was worried about the silence, and I decided to confront it head-on.  “I needed to get that out of the way.  It’s hard to bring up or even explain.  My forcefield is wild.  It’s important that if we get into a fight, you have some sense of its reach.  I pay close attention, but stuff happens.  If I end up compromised… something which isn’t out of the question with people like Goddess in play, it’s important you know.”

I saw some nods.  Kenzie looked very serious.  Tristan too.  Chris looked disinterested.

“The forcefield is your strength?  It’s the car-crushing strong part of your power?” Rain asked.  “It’s hard to ask questions, because I don’t want to push, but I just want to make sure, get this out of the way.”

“Yeah.  It’s where my strength comes from.”

“It’s good to know,” Tristan said.  “Fuck those guys on television for getting into that.  They knew?”

“Seems like,” I said.

“That might be important,” Tristan said.  “It felt like they were angling to come after me, too.  They had sources.”

“Including whoever tipped them off about Kenzie’s parents,” Ashley said.  “I can’t imagine them watching that show or reaching out to those people first.”

“Gary Nieves first, probably,” Tristan said.  “He was supposed to be on point.  We threw him by getting onto the show and changing the topic of conversation to Gold Morning.”

“That’s not really a clue,” Rain said.

“It might be important.” Tristan’s voice was firm, his response almost an interruption.

“It might be, but… okay?  If the trail leads to Gary, are we going to confront him or expect him to have a casual talk with us?”

“No,” Sveta said.  “He’s a bigot.”

“Right,” Rain said.  “So let’s not get too stuck in that specific mud.  We can’t use that info, so let’s just keep in mind that people are getting info and using it to sling that mud at us, and move on.”

“At Mayday too,” Kenzie said.  “He was the focus of episode one.  It was why he was distracted when we were trying to coordinate everyone.”

Tristan sighed audibly.

“There are a lot of things to focus on,” Rain addressed Tristan.  “Let’s focus on what we can fix.”

“I like that,” Sveta said.

Tristan met my eyes.  I nodded.

Distorted perspectives aside, I did have the impression that Tristan had jumped in to change the subject, and that it had worked.  Based on my understanding of him, it seemed like his particular form of goodwill.  Ashley was a staunch defender of her favored few, with thorny words for anyone who stood against those few.  Sveta supported.  Tristan… he hurled himself into the fray.

“On the topic of immediate threats, any updates on Hookline and Kitchen Sink?” I asked.

“Herded to where we have surveillance teams waiting, surrounded and arrested.  Auzure got the actual arrests, actually.  They’re sitting in on the interrogation, and they’ll send us info when they have it.”

I winced.  Not my favorite team, but… it was good we got them.

“There was chatter,” Kenzie said, her back to us as she typed.  “Love Lost wasn’t happy they did that, apparently.  She might be covering her rear.”

“It fits her, to not want people going after kids,” Rain said.

“Okay,” Kenzie said.  “Also, I don’t know if this matters, but they noticed what we did when we went after Trial and Error, and people mentioned it in phone calls and whatever when Auzure got Hook and Sink.”

“Online too,” Chris added.  “People mentioned it in some villain sub-forums.  They aren’t doing anything about it yet.  Emails are still coming in about your stunt on the show, mostly negative.”

Our stunt on the show,” Ashley said.

“Sure,” Chris said.  “Still, randoms came after us once, and they might do it again, if the emails we’re getting are right.”

Tristan shook his head.  “Another one of those things we can’t do anything about.  The question is, was it worth it?”

“The other hero teams are getting a chance to shape the discourse?” I asked.

“Mayday put on a good show, a bit stilted,” Tristan said.  “Some ex-Wardens were also out there.  Chevalier’s back, Legend and Valkyrie are away doing something important.  Narwhal doesn’t do TV, and some of the ex-Guild like Stonewall and more stern, dark Protectorate types like Cinereal aren’t exactly TV types either.”

“Weld’s pretty good at it, but he’s still away,” Sveta said.

Crystal too.

It was sobering, that we had so much going on, and key figures and faces were gone.  People close to us.

“But they’re doing okay?” I asked.  “I was busy all morning, I’m behind on things.”

“In my expert opinion, they’re doing okay,” Tristan said.

“It’s looking like it might have been worth it,” Sveta added, her voice soft.  “Time will tell, but for now it looks like we’re mostly on course.”

I really hoped that was true.

“About your morning-” Tristan started.

I caught the uncharacteristic hesitation, and I heard the change in tone.  More serious.  Was I wrong that he was changing the topic?  Were we going back to it?

“You decided you needed to share stuff you’ve been keeping in your back pocket,” he said.

I nodded.

“It’s good for us to know in case it comes up in conversation.  It’s good if we know how we each operate on the battlefield.  I’ll match you, I’ve been stuck on something the past week…”

His power.

“…My and Byron’s power are in flux.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.  “Changing to a different creation?”

“Nothing that extreme.  Hopefully we don’t go that way.  It’s just that right now, I’m stronger, Byron is weaker.  Which might be to our advantage.”

“You’re stronger?” I asked.

“Right now?  Yeah.”

He created a swirl of orange motes.  They manifested into a rough cleaver shape, the edge narrow if not quite razor sharp.  Dark stone with veins of orange-red running through it.

“May I?” I asked.

“It’s heavy.”

I crossed the room, and I took the oversized cleaver.  Dense.

“Can I destroy it?”

“Sure,” he said.

I flew up a bit, so the floor wasn’t in the way of the Wretch.  My forcefield out, I let the Wretch grip it, my focus fixed on the cleaver, looking for a sudden jerky movement that might indicate the Wretch was flinging it at someone.

The narrowest edge cracked, then cracked more, but it took three or four seconds before it outright broke, a corner coming off.  Once that happened, the entire thing broke into chunks, raining down to the floor.  I let the Wretch go, and the stone dust that had built up in crevices fell down in narrow streams.

“During the Trial and Error fight, your creations weren’t this strong.  They were practically chalk.  Weak, no substance.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “In flux.  Sometimes it’s more stable.  Lately?  It’s very back and forth.”

“Powers do that,” I said.  “Some more than others.  Breakers especially, some Trumps, and powers with a lot of random chance.  They depend more on the alien intelligence to manage the power, or they’re closer to that intelligence, so those parahumans feel it more.  Powers are more generous or leave you hanging.”

“You think the random chance side of things isn’t random?” Rain asked.

“I find myself wondering,” I said.  “But I think if we’re dwelling on the sources of powers, it might be worth keeping in mind that it serves their purposes.  They have wants, and it makes more sense that when they’re choosing something random or giving us more or less raw power, they’ll favor us if we’re meeting those wants.”

“After I killed Snag, I got an edge, power-wise.”  Rain’s expression shifted at the admission, brows drawing together.

“I had good and bad days when it came to my misfires, before I had working hands,” Ashley added.

“Not technically you,” Chris pointed out.

“Me enough.”

Chris shrugged.  “Meh.  I don’t think this conversation is fair to some of us, for the record.”

“Making sure everyone knows what’s up with each other’s powers?” Tristan asked.

“Pressuring side members of the group to divulge by being all share-happy.”

“If you think there’s happy in this sharing, you’ve got it wrong,” Rain said.

“I think there are agendas,” Chris answered, his tone harsher, his eyes moving between people but fixing on me more than anyone.  “Maybe not the first thing in anyone’s mind, but I think it’s a thing in people’s minds.”

“Chris,” Sveta said.  “There’s no agenda.  If you wanted to share, then we’d be happy to get more information, but for right now-”

“You don’t have to tell us anything, but if you wanted to tell us stuff we’d like it?” Chris’s tone was sarcastic, almost mocking.

Distorted perspectives.  The day had barely started and I felt wrung-out.  Now he was attacking my friend?  It was enough to piss me off in a shockingly short span of time.  No rising temperature leading to a boil – it was one sentence in one voice that had me instantly off.

“You’re being ridiculous,” Tristan said.

“All I’m saying is that it seems kind of manipulative, the power-players in the group dish out their personal dirt, team mom Sveta plays nice and tries to rug-sweep-”

“Don’t call me the team mom,” Sveta said.

And it was at times like this that I couldn’t afford to act on feeling.  Fingers and fingernails digging into the fabric of the towel, I kept the idea of the warrior monk in my mind.

“Why don’t we pause this conversation and come back to it with cooler heads?” I asked.  “I know I’d be happier if we could.”

“Why don’t we just drop it entirely?  You said what you needed to say, fine, whatever.  But it doesn’t need to be a conversation.  If it’s a conversation then that means it’s going somewhere.  And that somewhere is just more pressure and expectations that we talk about shit.”

“You were the one who told me this team idea worked because we trust each other,” Ashley said.

“I think it’s painfully ironic that you take something I shared with you in a private conversation and bring it up to make a point about trusting one another.  Or do you want to get into that full conversation and why I brought that up?”

“Ease up, Chris,” Kenzie said.

“Stop.”  I used more emphasis and volume.

“That-” Chris started.

Tristan banged his hand on the table, hard.  There was silence in the seconds after, broken not by words, but by the mechanical shuffling of Sveta’s body as she walked over to Kenzie’s workstation.

“You’re way out of line, Chris.  This isn’t what we’re about,” Tristan said.  “Did you dose on double-strength paranoia recently?”

“Why don’t you ask one of the girls if they’re acting aggressive because they’re premenstrual?  It’s about as sensitive.”

“Stop,” I ordered.  I had to resist using my aura to punctuate the statement and get their attention.  “Enough.  Whatever you’ve got going on, deal with it, or ask for help if you can’t deal on your own.  But don’t do this.”

“May I go for a hike, ma’am?” All sarcasm.

“It sounds like a good idea.  Let’s clear our heads before we return to this topic.” I didn’t miss the change in his expression, like he was about to say something.  Before he could, I said, “If we return to it.”

Clearly pissed, inexplicable in mindset, he gathered his things.  His messenger bag had a flap over the top, protecting it from the rain.  Grabbing an umbrella, he headed for the door.  Out into the late-morning darkness and the torrential wet.  The wind that stirred in the room saw others standing back or catching papers before they could blow away and scatter.  The cool wind made me very aware of my soaked clothes.

“If you’re heading somewhere, call me.”

I patted at the damper spots with the towel.

“What the hell, Chris?” Rain asked.

With no apparent powers in the mix, Chris’ paranoia had somehow disconcerted the team more than me revealing the Wretch.  No warped perspective at play there- I understood it.  A destructive, invisible force with an alien or dark subconscious driving it wasn’t a threat to the team or the dynamic in the same way that a problematic thirteen year old was.

Kenzie offered her interpretation.  “Chris gets to a bad place now and again, and he doesn’t have anyone because he doesn’t want anyone.”

“That’s not an excuse,” Tristan said.

“No,” Kenzie said.  “But I think he’s great, he’s so fun when he’s cool, and I think he deserves a chance to work through whatever’s bothering him.”

Tristan sighed.  “This wasn’t okay, here.  Right?  I’m not out of my mind?”

“It wasn’t okay,” Sveta said.  “But we’re all going to have one bad day, sooner or later.  Days our powers screw us up, the past catches up to us, or life kicks us while we’re down and we can’t explain it to the group.”

“Do we need to go after him?” I asked.  “Is that an invasion?”

“Leave him be,” Sveta said.

“We need to figure out how we’re going to handle the meeting with the Lady in Blue,” Tristan said.  He drew in a deep breath and heaved out a sigh.  “You’re up for this, Vic?”

“I have to be.”

Eight out of ten of our computers and phones were refurbished salvage.  Old tech polished off with new software and new logos.  The new software included an emergency alert system, each phone and computer now with a warning front and center, or a warning in the top corner, the image depicting water droplets with snowflakes embedded in them, rows of icicles in the background to fill in the white space.

Because our phones and systems throughout the region were being leveraged to get the warning out there, all services were slow.  The alert was obnoxiously persistent, popping up with every one degree change in predicted temperature.  Not a good thing when we needed battle updates.

The Major Malfunctions, Fume Hood and one other cape in their area were responding to reports of suspicious activity near a power facility as a group.  A thinker on my mom and dad’s team was aware of potential riots stirring- or, more specifically, being stirred up, and the active members of that team were responding to that, ready to stave off any problems before they occurred.  The Patrol was out and patrolling, no training for serious events, because today was the serious event, just a bunch of painted school buses and young people in scavenged body armor trying to control the damage done.

And those were just the groups and organizations I was personally managing.  Tristan had his set, Sveta had hers, and Ashley had a couple of people she was emailing.

It was the first truly cold weather since spring; freezing rain that coated every surface in a thin sheet of ice.  Ice left people outright spooked.  Spooked people, in turn, did desperate things.  They banded together to attack even larger groups and institutions, and they robbed places to try and scrounge up resources that could help them get through the winter.  Even with the average Janes and Joes who were leaving work at four in the afternoon, there would be countless accidents, people needing saving.

I would have liked to be out there, helping.

I would have really, really liked it if they had focused on staying warm and stayed indoors.  Instead, this weather was a cover for the covert, the break in the city’s rhythm a chance for the criminal, and it was a whole lot of activity needing attention.

The cameras showed Goddess walking up stone stairs.  The stairs were built into a hill, not far from the apartments where laborers had been situated.  All around the peak of the hill, construction projects stood dark, still unfinished following the strike a month ago, the same event where a broken trigger had leveled a crowd and broken the backs of a laborer’s union.

She had an entourage of two.  Three if I counted the creature huddled in Amy’s jacket.  Goddess’ jacket was blue, with a white fur ruff, and she had black pants on, with boots worn over.  The coverage didn’t seem exceedingly necessary, as she wasn’t touched by the rain.  That rain came at an intensity that made it closer to darts being flung sideways than any water coming from above.

She was her own eye of the storm, and the storm wasn’t hers.  Sundancer had briefly stayed in my hometown, and her burning orb hadn’t touched anything within a few feet of her, but it had been hers, under her express will.  This storm was just nature, and where the rain bent away from her and ran along an invisible slope, I could see the distortions in the air.

A young man with brown skin and an umbrella that didn’t seem to budge in the wind walked beside her, the umbrella open despite the lack of necessity.

On the other side was a young woman with brown hair, freckles dense on her face, neck and arms, and tattoos visible on the backs of her hands, poking out of voluminous coat sleeves.  A white duffel coat, with red toggles.

The others kept glancing at me, double checking me, making sure I was  okay.

“The Attendant had a member who got hurt,” Capricorn reported, in Tristan’s natural confidence.  “Mission fail.”

“Damn,” I said.  “Can we follow it up?”

“Everyone is tied up or resting.  Nothing available, no.  It wasn’t a big mission either.”

“They still failed,” Swansong said.

The laborers had built these stairs to make getting from one side of the hills to the other easier.  The path was a touch convoluted, but it was better than hiking up steeper slopes.  At the halfway mark, a gazebo-style enclosure or lookout had been set up, with benches inside and out, plexiglass windows, and a fire pit in the center.

Buckets of sand and shovels were sitting at the ready beneath tables and in cabinets that had been built into benches.  At that fire pit, a fire burned, keeping its flames down as the wind seeped between plexiglass and stone column.

My heart was pounding.

We were all, Cryptid included, assembled.  We’d established a ‘v’ formation.  Capricorn was at the front, me at his right shoulder, Swansong at his left.  Beyond Swansong was Rain, while Sveta was by me.  Past Rain was Chris, while Sveta kept Kenzie close by.

She walked with audible, powerful footsteps that shouldn’t have echoed like they did, given the environment.  I could hear her.  And I could her the scuff of shoe on stone.  I knew those footsteps – she’d never picked her feet up enough when she walked places.

It became hard to breathe as they stepped into he enclosure.  This was it.  We’d taken precautions and we were making use of safety measures, but the wait was over.

“I would say thank you for coming, but what’s the use?” the Lady in Blue asked.  She reached out in the direction of the fire, and it swelled in size.

It was an oddly disconnected fragment.  The formality so brief I had to replay the question twice in my head, the question not directed at anyone in particular.

“We’re here and we’re open to talk,” Capricorn said.  “We’re a novice group but have information and we have connections.  Are introductions in order?”

“Bianca,” the Lady in Blue said.  “This is Luis, and I hope you know who she is.  I already know your names.”

“Hi,” was the addendum from- I couldn’t call her my sister because that familiarity combined with relative proximity upset me on a deeper level.  I couldn’t call her Amy for much the same reason.  From Amelia.  I felt my skin crawl.  “And this is Dot.”

I had to look to see, getting my first really good look at the little squirrel-like companion.  Big ears with longer hair drawing to a point at the tips, a long prehensile tail with a tuft at the end, and big eyes.

“Should we call you Amy, Amelia, or Panacea?” I asked.

“Amy, please.  Same as always.”

“And are you actually creating life from- from nothing?”

“No.  She’s her own being.  It’s really good to see you.  It’s nice to meet you, Breakthrough.  Tress, I’ve heard a lot about you, secondhand.  Swansong, we meet again.  Same, Cryptid, kind of.”

I’d known she and Swansong had crossed paths.  She had checked Bonesaw’s work on Amy’s hands.  Cryptid, though?

I swallowed and the swallowing made my throat hurt, it was so tight.

“Bianca,” Capricorn said.  “What can we do for you?  I’m guessing you saw us on television, and you decided to open discussions.”

Bianca didn’t reply right away.

“A power was taken from me,” Bianca said.  “Without it, I can’t return to my throne.  I’m being hunted and fucking hounded, and I get no peace.”

“We’ve been keeping an eye on you,” Capricorn said.  “We didn’t see any assassination attempts.”

“Not lately.  They’re active elsewhere, which freed me up enough to meet with Amy and her father.”

As she’d said ‘elsewhere’, she had turned her head.  Indicating the portals?

“Flashbang or Marquis?” I asked.

“Marquis,” Amy replied.

Her voice got to me more than anything.  Hesitant, quiet, perpetually apologetic.  I didn’t want apologies.  I just wanted to feel normal.

“An ally,” Bianca said.  “I like people with their rules.  Discipline.  It’s a good mindset to have.”

“Including Monokeros?” Swansong asked.

Bianca pressed two fingers to her lips, kissing the knuckles halfway down.

“That doesn’t tell me anything,” Swansong said.

“Silence is golden,” Amy translated.

Gold is a loaded wordIdioms or gestures from strange earths might work better than running away with this.

Gold.  The tattoos on Amy’s hands had traces of gold.  More black, more red.

“If you’ll help me get what you need, I’ll help you with our mutual enemies and I will reward you.  Help me take power, and I have a world’s worth of wealth and resources.  I can make you head of a state.  I can give you power and influence here.  I can tell you that people in my world were very interested in deciphering powers.  They helped make me what I am, unwittingly, but they were happy in the end.  The, ah, monsters who made you, painted Tress, that icon on your cheek-”

Sveta reached up, touching her cheek.  I was caught between observing her and paying attention to the gestures that punctuated certain words.  Monsters, index finger curled into a hook.  By the faint change in her expression, perhaps something obscene.

“-they would deposit the monsters and the unsolvable riddles in my world.  We solved most.  My understanding of powers helps, our labs help more.”

“I could help too,” Amy said.

My heart sank into my ankles, plunging through and leaving cold toxicity in its wake, curling through my midsection.

“All our heart’s desires, and we just have to bow and scrape for the rest of our lives?” Swansong asked.

“I’ll give you a heart’s desire each, if you’ll find this person with my power.  You have the means, the knowledge, and the talent.  No servitude required.  I would go home and conquer it fairly, again.”

“I’d go with her,” Amy said.  I winced a little at the sound of her voice.  “I would be gone forever, if you wanted.  Like I tried to do, way back then, except I’ve been thinking about this a lot, the last few weeks.”

I knew just what arguments had struck home for which people.  I worried some had been tailored to specific individuals.

But there was no way we could conscience handing her power or agreeing to this, when it meant potentially putting an entire Earth into servitude.  We’d say no, and-

“We’ll think about it,” Capricorn said.  “We need a bit of time to discuss.”

“Minutes?  Hours?”

“A day?” Capricorn asked.  He glanced at us.  “At a minimum?”

“Time is of the essence.  In a day, things might be too far gone.  Your Mama Mathers, Rain, is gone.  They’ll find out soon.  Your Valefor is healed and gone.  Warlords from your old Earth have been snatched up, and people don’t yet know.”

“Half a day,” Capricorn said.  “Maybe.  It’s-”

“Amy,” Bianca said, and her voice was low.

“I say yes.  Play fair with them, give them their time, agree to some of my dad’s stipulations for your next term of rule, I’ll come with you, be your lieutenant.”

I heard a whisper.

“And Dot too.”

“It’s easier and cleaner to gather my army.  Let the hounds come en fucking masse.  One fell stroke.”

I had a sense of her way of speaking now, as it belatedly clicked.  Like a girl from an overly formal private school or college, bucking at the confines.  Spoiled and dangerous.

“That’s not clean at all,” I said, as diplomatically as I could.

“If we run out of time, if we let them get too much of an upper hand, it will be the opposite of clean.  Ask your Amy.”

“It’s bad, Victoria.”

“Don’t-” I said.  “Don’t say my name, don’t address me, thanks.”


“It’s bad.  Alright,” I said.  “But there are options.  Better ones.”

“If you attack the prison, you’ll be playing right into their hands,” Capricorn said.  “They’re ready for you.  It’s how we ended up here in the first place.”

“I’ll recruit my assistance, and I won’t be attacking alone,” Bianca said.  Then there was a moment, and it was like she’d said a word with monumental emphasis.

My heart skipped a beat.

Sixty-four miles away, we were still in the headquarters.  Cameras and projectors put images of us in the gazebo-like structure.  But she’d known that, she’d realized it right away, and been put off by it.

Sixty-four miles away, and she had me, without an action or a word spoken.

I looked at Sveta, ready to communicate something, and I saw it in her eyes.

She had us.  All of us.

“I took over a world with my power,” Goddess said.

“Bianca-” Amy said.

Goddess half-turned, hand raised.  Amy went silent.

Goddess finished, turning toward the projected images.  “That is not a takeover that happens if I need to be where I assert my power.  Let the hounds come baying.”

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85 thoughts on “Gleaming – 9.2”

  1. Oh boy, mind control arc. Curious what other contingencies Breakthrough has set up.

    Also, time for more on the Amy guilt train. Got her sister’s whole team enslaved, nice going Amy. I wonder if she’s also under Goddess’ control-if it’s subtle enough that she can pass as uncontrolled.

    1. She could just be making a point. She could follow up with “and now that you know that I can seize control of your entire team at will, would you like to work for me voluntarily instead?”

      1. This is what I’m hoping for. Breakthrough has made no aggressive moves or levied any insult (that we know of), so I’m hoping this is just her flexing her power to accentuate the “Let the hounds come baying.” line the chapter ended on.

        Of course, a few chapters where Vicky is forced to be in Amy’s presence would be wonderful to see (if abysmal for all involved).

      2. There is no working for her voluntarily under that scenario. That’s work for me or I’ll mind control you and MAKE you work for me. It’s under duress either way.

        1. I don’t think this was meant as a threat. I think it’s meant as a demonstration of why she isn’t worried enough about attacking the prison to come up with some other option as Victoria suggested. She’s going to release Breakthrough next chapter, and they’ll either agree to help her or she’ll go off without them and try to seize the prisoners.

      3. What would be the point of letting them go? As far as we know, there aren’t any downsides for Goddess to having people under her control.

    2. “Oh boy, mind control arc.”

      I don’t think this is “mind control”. It is clearly influence, and i suspect it becomes stronger the more it is exercised upon someone (see Amy falling silent at a look and gesture). I strongly suspect that for this to ‘work’ the victims need to see and hear the Blue Lady and she needs to give a clear order. That with further influence the victims will begin to initiate actions on her behalf without needing orders, but I suspect that initially she has to give actual orders.

      I strongly suspect this influence is more along the lines of making the person want to do what she asks, a suped up ‘charisma’ if you will, rather than full on ‘control’.

      1. telling me Kenzie was wagging a war
        -> waging a war

        into he enclosure
        -> the enclosure

        She had checked Bonesaw’s work on Amy’s hands.
        -> Ashley’s

      2. “If you’ll help me get what you need, I’ll help you with our mutual enemies and I will reward you.”
        Bianca’s speaking, so shouldn’t that be “help me get what I need” ?

  2. Well, fuck.

    In the interim, I loved the alien gestures as a detail for Bianca, as well as the continued backfilling of Victoria’s backstory (because while we all guessed how Amy acted at school, having confirmations is plain better).

    Is this where Chris pulls out another power out of his ass?

    And is Luis someone we were supposed to recognize?

    1. “Is this where Chris pulls out another power out of his ass?”

      Perhaps literally? Note to Wildbow, that is NOT a challenge.

  3. Well… shit.

    So her power is propagated via video at least, and under the right conditions is very fast-acting. I guess it must take her directed attention on the targets in some fashion? I mean, she was in at the end of Golden Morning and didn’t sweep everyone. Then again, Valkyrie had engaged an anti-Master defense and the Simurgh was present and active, so maybe she just decided she’d fought enough invincible monsters for one day and didn’t start anything.

    I wonder what power was taken from her. I assume it must be one of her minions’, not one of hers, because she’s demonstrating the TK and Master powers, and the other two don’t seem necessary to secure her rule. With the TK she doesn’t need to go hand-to-hand with her Battery-style power, and with the Master power she doesn’t have to fear revolt by her Parahuman subjects that she’d need her Trump power for. And being a global ruler would give her more resources to protect against external threats than she currently has.

    As for how Breakthrough will get out of this one, uh… Chris seemingly was still on his walk so there’s that. Unfortunately I give poor odds for him even realizing the rest of the team is controlled much less being able to do anything productive about it. And if Goddess has any sense, which it seems she does, now that she’s moving like this she’ll have Lookout come by to get to work on seizing Breakthrough’s entire network before anyone figures it out. They’ll probably just have to wait for a rescue by someone with a Trump or Master power.

    Finally, we have semi-confirmation that the New Triumvirate is all still around. Yet still exceedingly busy with mysterious things.

    1. Chris attended the meeting, but notably didn’t talk. He could just be being quiet…or his explicitly stated paranoia today could have caused him to use one of Kenzie’s decoy projectors and he’s actually Deep Introspection camouflaged and is about to start beating people unconscious to drag to somewhere they can get the mind control undone.

      1. Or his projection has been activated but he’s not actually there to project, and is basically a still image. In which case he’s still not affected, but not there to tell.

    2. The other option is that because Bianca has 6 powers she is able to combine her powers.

      She has a presence based master power and a long range TK. My theory is that her TK can also work as her presence for the master power.

      This also explains why she is so powerful not only does she have six full powers but they munchkin off of each other and the powers are multiplicative rather than additive.

  4. This is less than ideal.

    I was always under the impression that her mind-control is proximity-based, but I guess not! I’ll be really interested to find out the exact mechanics. Are they just forced to take orders now? How absolute of a control is it? I wonder if meeting her from an entire Earth away would have been adequate protection.
    And…it seems pretty likely that Amy is under her control too. I wonder if Goddess seeked her out due to how powerful she is, or if Amy was stupid enough to approach her first?

    1. I’d guess it doesn’t have a physical range limit and is instead “line of sight” counting live feeds. If she just had a sixty-four mile radius she’d have seized control pretty quick. May or may not propogate through portals, and it wasn’t able to affect Khephri via the clairvoyant for some reason or other.

      Also, both times she’s used it (once countermanding Khephri and now) she spoke. But Khephri’s narration indicates it’s “presence based”, so I’m guessing it only works or at least only initially works on people who can see her when she speaks. Maybe can be reinitiated by other means given she used it on her followers when Khephri first siezed them, but they might’ve been videoconferencing at the time.

    2. Well, we know more about her power than we did before. Victoria is aware that she’s been controlled, and she’s able to make eye contact with Sveta with the intent to communicate that to her, so she clearly retains some control. It’s not like Regent or Khepri, who seize total control over your body, and not like Valefor at his full power, who blanks your mind when he looks at you.

  5. Well, this is very interesting, I think. Very interesting indeed.

    Goddess is scary. Dot is cute. Luis is… Hmm. Young man, dark skin, not moving his umbrella despite the wind? I’d say Trickster, except for the umbrella suggesting enhanced strength, or aerokinesis to divert the wind around him… Or maybe he’s also a projection, and the wind can’t move the umbrella because it’s really somewhere with no wind. Would explain why he’s got one despite LiB’s bending rain away from her.

    1. Also, Trickster died during Gold Morning. He was among one of the squads that was anihilated by Scion, together with the Ash Beast and Lady Photon, if I remember correctly.

      1. I thought Ash Beast was killed in one-on-one combat, by Scion. Ash Beast’s energy-to-matter-to-energy aura prevented people getting close enough to be a ‘squad’.

        But if that’s Trickster off the list totally, then I’m really interested.

        1. I think Taylor used force fields to keep the rest of the squad safe.
          The death scene I’m talking about was from 30.5:
          The portal was wiped out. Without any barrier in the way, the beam radiated forward to wipe Ash Beast, the cape with the pole, Trickster, and Othala from existence.

    2. I would assume that Goddess was just using her TK to block out the wind and rain. Otherwise the umbrella wouldn’t have been pointless.

  6. Should have seen that coming, with Goddess being able to control people who are watching through electronic means. But I don’t think she’s the only one making a move from the sounds of things. Clusterfuck incoming.

  7. You know, all things considered; this could’ve been a lot worse.

    Also: good idea to use hyper-realistic projections instead of going in person.

    I’m not too worried about the whole Goddess situation though. They’ve got this.

  8. That is not a takeover that happens if I need to be where I assert my power.

    I’m really not sure what Bianca means with that. She’s got her own takeover planned, but that could be Teacher’s, and that ‘need to be where [she] asserts [her] power’ mean completely different things depending which it is.
    Can we get some clarity on that somewhere (comment or maybe next chapter), please ?

    1. She is continuing from this line,

      “I took over a world with my power,” Goddess said.

      So it becomes

      “I took over a world with my power,” Goddess said. … “That is not a takeover that happens if I need to be where I assert my power. Let the hounds come baying.”

    2. I assume she’s just referring to the fact that she doesn’t need to be physically nearby in order to use her master power.

    3. I think she just meant this: Her takeover would not have been possible or as complete as it was if she actually needed to be physically present whenever she took control of a cape. The takeover would not have happened the way it did, if she was that restricted.

      1. Ok, I can see that one. Thanks.
        Yet another case of underestimating a power from seeing it work less than a handful of times…

    4. She’s basically telling Team Breakthrough off for underestimating her: for thinking that using video projections to talk to her would protect them from her master power. She took over an entire world with that power, which she wouldn’t have been able to do if it only worked with physical proximity. She doesn’t need to physically be in the location where she uses her master power.

  9. What confuses me is why Breakthrough thought it was a good idea or necessary to meet with her in the first place.

    Goddess has nothing to offer to them and is explicitely and unapologetically a villain. I’d trust Tattletale before I trusted her, and Lisa is a profoundly untrustworthy person for anyone but Taylor. The fact that someone like Amy was with her should just have raised another red flag.

    Really wondering what they thought they could possibly get out of this that was worth the risk of being subverted (she was able to take over an entire planet and subsume all the parahumans there – there is no way her power could have been limited to just being physically close to her, else she would never have been able to establish global dominance).

    1. Information. Breakthrough is still pretty deep in the dark about most things. Fuck, they don’t know about EITHER of the new Cauldrons.

      I agree they should have just gone to Tattletale, except they probably can’t afford Tattletale.

    2. I don’t really think they had a choice? Like if Goddess wants to meet with you, how are you going to stop her?

    3. As to why they’d meet with her, she was showing interest in the prison that two of their friends are incarcerated in and it appears that she’s got FREAKING PANACEA working for her. They couldn’t afford to ignore that and I don’t think Victoria was capable of ignoring that.

      As to the range of her power, like most people I had assumed that she needed to be relatively close (or at least less than 50 miles away) to establish her control. After that, I figured she had them. She’s got to have some limit. If she could indiscriminately control everyone in that range, she’d have just entered a cape heavy portion of the City, exerted her power, and then decamped with her new army to Shin.

      Take Heartbreaker for example. Cherish said he had a very limited range, but once he used his power on someone, the changes were very persistent. They were probably expecting a suped up version of that.

    4. They have mutual enemies and she’s probably Triumvirate-tier even without her supply of minions, who included at least one person suitable for directly engaging Scion. Just having her assist them in a showdown with Teacher, Earth Cheit, or Lord Of Loss would be a big deal.

      And it was reasonable for them to be totally caught off-guard by this, because given Goddess’s willingness to use her power and how apparently easily it can be employed it’s surprising she hasn’t already made a bid to take over. Unless she’s really scared of Valkyrie (who can become immune to her power in seconds at will) or the Simurgh sent her a sternly-worded message during Golden Morning cleanup. I had assumed there was a significant time factor.

  10. When Goddess says someone stole her power, could she be referencing Khephri? Could Goddess be going on a multiverse wide Taylor hunt?

    Stay tuned for more…

  11. Mind control arcs always creep me out. It’ll be great to see Ward’s take on one, assuming that’s what this turns into.

    I wonder if Bianca’s “ultimate Trump” powerset means her mind control is power related in some way? As in, Breakthrough was more vulnerable because they were interacting with her via Kenzie’s tech? It’s been made clear that Kenzie’s cameras function differently from normal cameras – she constantly makes interjections about how they’re “space based, not time based” IIRC.

    I’m hoping Breakthrough got grabbed due to Bianca’s interaction with Kenzie’s cameras, or due to Kenzie’s space-not-time cameras being uniquely vulnerable to Bianca’s powers. Because otherwise they’re up against Valefor 2.0, one who can grab your brain through live video feeds, and that’s just unfair.

    Then again, with Teacher’s desire to mind control capes into compliance with a subdued Valefor being a thing, perhaps Bianco’s mind control powers are simply that overpowered.

    1. We think Goddess’s Master power only works on capes, though since she’s got the powers of a six-member cluster apparently due to Shin Superscience stealing them from the rest of her cluster and buffing them there’s no particular reason it would need to be related to her Trump power and her dialogue indicates she ended up controlling everyone involved in the lab decisionmaking. And her Master power overrode Khephri’s, so I’m betting on hugely overpowered. She’s quite clearly implying that she took over Shin by using her power at a distance, so it presumably works with regular video. I think there must still be some additional condition or limitation, though, or our setting would be “The Holy Empire of Shin and Gimel” already.

      I’m betting that the coming mind control arc (I assume that’s what we’re in for because I don’t see any countermeasures Breakthrough could have or any reason Goddess would release them) will involve everyone basically acting like their regular selves except that their overriding motivation will be to serve Goddess’s will. Goddess apparently had her minions as more-or-less vassal rulers in clear positions of power, which makes me think they weren’t puppets she had to actively manage and there wasn’t a serious risk they’d work around her commands like Antares with Valefor.

      1. There’s a number of possible contingencies, though all of them depend on Breakthrough having planned ahead for the real possibility of getting mind-controlled. For example, Rain and Ashley are double-projecting, and likely using the same trick Kenzie used for Ashley during Hard Boil of just copying their faces and projecting still images of their faces; their real bodies could be restrained. Chris didn’t say anything at all in the conversation-he might have preemptively changed to Dark Introspection or just not been present except as a still image. Kenzie could have looped Dragon in on the fact that they were talking to Goddess and prepared cameras to try to measure whatever medium Goddess uses for her control (we know she has all sorts of exotic sensors). Tristan could rely on a predetermined contingency to force him to swap back to Byron and hope his brother’s not affected like he is or that the swap between the pocket dimension the other twin lives in breaks Goddess’ control.

        If they don’t have more than the basic contingency of being sixty-four miles away physically I’d be pretty disappointed because as far as traps go this was a really obvious one and they walked straight into it. I’m hoping the next chapter has them reveal their contingencies, but Goddess still gets one or two of them (probably Victoria for maximum protagonist suffering) and we get the mind-control arc.

        1. Might depend on the control and how it works. Also how Tristan thinks in this. Tristan could easily understand Byron is a backup plan to this and tell Bianca then switch to Byron so he’s ensnared as well if the loyalty is that strong. Even Rain’s nightmares might give him a reprieve.

          If felt like Bianca was communicating with Amy towards the end there. Seeking permission to ensnare them but Amy told her not to before Bianca got impatient and ensnared them anyway.

          Chris feels like the best bet for either not being there, in a form that can resist it or shrugging off the effects after a necessary change. Depending on the factors that let her ensnare someone, she may have already ensnared one or more earlier when they were surveying her. Kenzie in particular.

          Personally I would have had Victoria radiating her aura on the group for the entirety of the interaction just in case that helped somewhat. Rain also has his emotional power that he might have used on himself, but ultimately, I’m willing to simply believe the entire team is ensnared, with no escape and this is how the story will now play out and proceed until Goddess is killed or someone else saves them.

    2. To be fair her power isn’t “ultimate trump”. I mean skitter grabbed her without too much trouble, she needed to use canary two, but two master powers together was enouph to override all of goddesses powers.

      Who knows what else beats her power? Maybe she needs to actively intend to use her power and if she can’t think of someone she can’t use it; in which case she is incidentally hard countered by Imp.

      Powers are weird. Their interactions are weird. It’s never really obvious in advance what beats what.

    3. I agree that the mind control powers are way too strong.
      I mean, Kephri killed freaking Scion with it and even she almost lost to Bianca in the process.
      If we’re really going down that route, Bianca isn’t Valefor 2.0, but Kephri 2.0.
      And considering how the Earth Bet/Gimel capes had absolutely no chance against Kephri, it is safe to say that Bianca has either already won, or Wildbow is going to be forced to keep her limitations secret to keep up the tension, which are both unfavorable outcomes.

  12. Wow. What the fuck is up with Chris? He is being a complete dickwad.

    I assume it has to be jealousy for being unable to share his predicament unlike the other group.

    And how does Cryptid know Amy? Why did Cryptid need to see Amy?

    I swear, I’m going to start red-string conspiracy theory this very soon if I don’t get a Chris Interlude. Please Wildbow? I can make cookies!

    1. I note the “sort of” from Amy about Chris. I’m starting to seriously lean towards Crawler derivative of some description. Though the relative powerset seems like an Echidna clone, and Crawler was killed with gratifying thoroughness without ever meeting Echidna.

  13. Quick question. How many wars will there be? We have the robots, that one earth that Cauldron sold powers to, goddess conquering another earth, humans riling up for a civil war, and whatever teacher is doing.

    Seriously, is this going to be an interdimensional world War?

  14. Out of all the major Wardens, the one who has barely been mentioned(and I kinda miss) is Miss Militia. Hopefully she gets a little more recognition at some point!

  15. So the climax kinda stole the show for this chapter, but Goddess revealed something very important before that.

    “Time is of the essence. In a day, things might be too far gone. Your Mama Mathers, Rain, is gone. They’ll find out soon. Your Valefor is healed and gone. Warlords from your old Earth have been snatched up, and people don’t yet know.”

    How the hell does she know? Valefor’s healing took place in Teacher’s secret extradimensional fortress and he’s got enough potential uses for Scapegoat it seems unlikely she’d declare it so confidently just from having Scapegoat watched in the hospital. One of her preexisting minions must be one hell of a clairvoyant, especially given that Teacher’s minions were evidently able to produce a device that could counter the Clairvoyant. Which further implies she probably has a transcript of Teacher’s orders to Scapegoat and he presumably does not know this given that his minions aren’t independent enough to do a fakeout under surveillance. Which means his plans are going to go awry in hilariously spectacular fashion.

    1. “How the hell does she know?”

      Well she has I think *six* powers all of which are probably about as bullhshit as her mind control, plus she has Amy’s assistance who *summoned Khepri*. The real question is “How the hell hasn’t she won?” Unless Contessa is actually spending her time fighting Goddess or something crazy.

      1. Khephri counted four, none of which were remote viewing. She had five clustermates, so either some doubled up or Shin Superscience mulched two shards to power-boost the others.

        Amy’s ability to enhance powers is very unreliable and came with devastating consequences last time so I’m assuming Goddess doesn’t care to try using it on herself. As for the question more generally, Teacher probably has countermeasues to her control, and the Wardens have at least Valkryie and maybe some others.

  16. There’s a lot of talk about Goddess here, for obvious reasons, but I’m still more worried about Teacher.

    I’m also wondering abut Dinah’s faction. It’s a shame the group doesn’t want to talk to Gary. They might actually find common ground if he pointed out Citrine’s identity.

    I wonder if Goddess has Eden’s Broadcast shard?

    1. I thought the assumption was that Dinah’s faction was behind Gary and that she was using him to play some 5th dimension chess

  17. Well, one thing is clear. Victoria was right in chapter 1.8: Amy really, really needed therapy.

  18. So, I just had an idea… The LiB said: “A power was taken from me. Without it, I can’t return to my throne. I’m being hunted and fucking hounded, and I get no peace.”
    Interesting choice of words, don’t you think? So she lost one of her powers and needs it back. But in what sense did she lose a power? Did she lose one of her personal abilities? If so: When and HOW? I don’t think there is precedent on any parahuman losing a part of his or her power set. Eidolon lost access to some of the stronger abilities over time but that was because his real power was getting weaker. Eidolon and Bianca have something in common, though: Both aren’t really “natural capes”. We know the story behind Eidolon and Bianca stated that scientists in her world “made her what she is” more or less by accident. Maybe Eidolon and Bianca suffer from similar drawbacks? So, IF we are talking about a problem with Bianca’s personal power set, maybe that’s why she wanted Amy. Bianca witnessed first hand what Panacea could do with powers and if she had a problem similar to Eidolon, who better to fix it than the person who turned the bug girl into the godslayer Khepri?
    There is another possibility, though: The LiB isn’t referring to one of her own powers, but to a parahuman she controlled. And how did that one got taken from her? If he/she just died, there wouldn’t be any way to get him back. It’s pretty unlikely the guy was liberated and turned his cloak since that would have meant pissing off a triumvirate-level cape and not doing anything flashy with the spoils. So, basically… The last possibility would be that Khepri got one of Bianca’s most important minions scion’ed during Gold Morning and Valkyrie picked up the shard. This would explain why Bianca didn’t immediately resume control after the god was slain and why she believes she can at least get the power back, if not her minion.
    Now factor in Wildbow’s tendency to escalate things, and…. Weeeeeeeeeeell… Anybody willing to bet money on mindcontrolled!Team Breakthrough going up against the Fairy Queen?

    1. Bear in mind she’s a cluster trigger, so she has multiple separate shards that could independently be forcibly removed by some means. But she’s demonstrating the two powers I think would be critical to her; the Master to force people to obey and the TK to shield against uncontrolled normal people trying to assassinate her. So I think it is someone else.

      The only minion of hers who got called out as being Scion’d had a transferrable invincibility power like Gavel that could let him hit Scion with enough force to matter. That’s got its uses but isn’t something I think she’d preemptively throw down with Valkryie for.

      Actually I just realized I missed a really obvious possibility. Maybe Teacher trapped her on Gimel by kidnapping her source of portals and she literally can’t go back to Shin.

    2. That would make a lot of sense, since Doormaker was taken by Valkyrie as well and Teacher had that portal-shut-down-technology.
      I do hope we’ll get some clarity about that with the next chapter! 🙂

  19. “I would say thank you for coming, but what’s the use?”

    Seems like she knew where they were from the beginning.

    What was taken from her, and who took it? At this point she seems so OP that I’m leaning toward it being something really dumb like a personal talisman that acts as a psychological crutch or something.

    1. Re-reading “Speck”, I’ll guess that it’s her “personal power battery that let her be stronger, for limited times.” The takeover will go more smoothly if she can dominate the whole world with one broadcast, which requires the battery.

      Although, if that’s how she did it before, one would have expected the first action taken by everyone after she left would have been to destroy all devices that can transmit or receive broadcasts…

  20. I kind of like the idea of Shin being disconnected from the section of the multiverse connected via the portal network centered on Gimel and it being her portal generator power/minion that’s been taken from Goddess.

    As for why she hasn’t taken over Gimel yet, setting aside the possibility that Teacher and the other players fighting for domination over the City, Gimel as a whole, or even the entire region of the multiverse connected to Gimel via the portal network are just that good at keeping her down, maybe she has no interest in building a new empire or expanding her empire beyond her home world and just wants to reclaim what she considers hers. Just because one has grand ambitions and the power to achieve those ambitions doesn’t mean they must have infinite ambitions. Besides, it sounds like Shin was well aware of the multiverse and might have been advanced enough to hack portal generation powers, So even before Gold Morning, there’s the question of why Shin wasn’t invading other universes, and their Goddess having no interest in expanding beyond her home reality works as an explanation in both situations.

  21. Master powers are fucking horrifying.

    This chapter just makes so much sense. As much as I hate to admit, compared to big players like Goddess, team Breakthrough at this stage are mere pawns. Why would Bianca waste time talking when she could easily control them?

    Definitely watch this closely.

  22. They really leaped into the deep end with no safeguards, but I’m interested in learning more about Goddess’ powers. I like that kissing the knuckle bit; it implies a cultural gesture based in her version of earth. Hopefully, Chris can bail them out. Hopefully, he looks like an abomination when he does it.
    Finally, apologies Sveta, but you are team mom.

  23. Amy is insane, isn’t she. And wow 64 miles away and Victoria is still in ( understandable) emotional trouble. I think we is doing the rules of three here. First contact, run away second contact direct but from distance. Third time will have them in the same place St the same time.

    The epilogue will have a retired victoria on a locked off earth telling thus story to Taylor… (jk)

  24. I’m really hoping Amy figured out how Goddess’ power works and preemptively fiddled with her own chemistry to make herself immune.

      1. Okay, I hope she figured out how Goddess’ power works and engineered a microorganism to make herself immune.

  25. “That is not a takeover that happens if I need to be where I assert my power.”

    Yep, definitely no one could ever take over a world with just proximity-based control. Can’t think of anyone able to pull that off…

  26. “Tress, I’ve heard a lot about you, secondhand.”
    Any ideas from who Amy may “heard a lot” about Sveta? From Ashley?

    1. Ashley’s not very chatty, but maybe. Other possibilities are her parents and Crystal (who visited Vicky at the Institute and met Sveta), Armstrong and Weld (who she could have crossed paths with at the Wardens HQ), and other surviving Irregulars (who might have come to her looking for a solution or mitigation). Or maybe she stumbled over documentation of Sveta’s time as Garotte, perhaps while researching other folks who’ve accidentally done terrible things in hopes that she might find a path to forgiveness.

  27. > Sixty-four miles away, and she had me, without an action or a word spoken.
    > She had us. All of us.
    OK, but Rain and Ashley most probably is further than 64 miles. If Goddess could exert her power on anyone in prison, why she still not own the place?

  28. actually be worried about Teacher- the Guy’s not just an Amoral lunatic,he has ZERO practical self-preservation-he intentionally sabotaged an endbringer-scale conflict AND his own chances of survival just to stick his &^%$ into Dragon’s code to get another slave-who he promptly bartered away.
    i wouldn’t be surprised if he’s waiting for a chance to run another,similar gambit, and im pretty sure he used up his ENTIRE lifetimes supply of luck surviving Golden Boy…

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