Gleaming – 9.7

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“I’m going to need fifty different explanations,” Natalie’s eyes were wide.  “Goddess?

“It’s complicated,” I said.  “And it’s not really a question of the law, exactly.  I-”

“I think Natalie should be heard,” Byron cut in, his voice firm.

Master-stranger.  If she was untainted… did she qualify as the next person in the chain, should Byron be occupied?  There was a possibility that we’d have to put him in a coma or something like it if we couldn’t get all of this handled by tonight.  Did that mean Natalie would be taking point, somehow?  What would that even look like?

“Natalie,” Sveta said.  “We owe you a lot for looking after Kenzie.”

“Mm hmm,” Kenzie made an affirmative sound.

“But Victoria’s right.  This is complicated.  Before Victoria and Byron left to check on the Majors, Byron attacked her.  We’re really only letting it slide because she has the strength to keep him in line, and I’m not that convinced it’s right to do that.”

“That’s not entirely accurate,” Byron said.

“Um,” Natalie said.  “I can mediate, then.  But I need more information.”

“No,” Sveta said.

Yes,” I countered.  It wasn’t easy to do, to go against every instinct and rational thought and put something forward.

Sveta turned, her expression hardening.  Harder still to see that.  My friend.

“We lose nothing by doing it,” I said.

“We lose time.  Teacher is making his moves and we’re two steps behind.  The woman on the screen right there is preparing drugs for reasons we don’t know.  We can’t take time to catch someone up when they’re about to be distributed, and we definitely can’t fracture the team and let things go to pieces with infighting!”

“Kenzie’s work won’t be instantaneous.  It’s worth bringing more trusted people in, giving them information, and letting them have a voice.”

“I don’t trust them!” Sveta retorted.  “I’m sorry.  I’m really sorry, I’m grateful for what you two do, Byron, Natalie, for what you three do, if I include you, Victoria.  But I feel like conversations are happening in the background, like you guys talked a lot while I was stuck here, and I don’t like the direction things are going.  It feels wrong.”

“Yeah,” I said.  I glanced at Kenzie.  She was behind Sveta, hugging one knee against her chest, the other dangling, a small smile on her face.

“I was trying to figure it out,” Sveta said.  “And the only thing that makes sense to me is if Byron drugged you while you were dealing with him.”

“Drugs don’t work that way,” I said.  “Kenzie would have video of him applying the drugs.”

“I would, I do.”

“Something in the water?” Sveta tried, almost plaintive.  “His power has changed before, and with things this warped… it’s not impossible that it’s not pure water, now.”

“It’s a bit of a reach,” Kenzie said.  “I think simpler drugs are more likely.  I can check my video.”

“I would really like to see that video,” Natalie said.

“I can show you,” Kenzie said, spinning around.

“Careful,” I said.

Natalie stopped in her tracks.  Sveta’s expression didn’t change an inch, but the tendrils I could see moved with more energy now.  She seemed to notice that I’d noticed, and broke eye contact.

“We don’t know if it would work across recorded video.”

“The Lady in Blue has the ability to influence parahumans,” Byron said.  “Natalie isn’t one.”

“That’s our line of thinking,” I said.  “But I don’t think anyone in this room is going to say that they’re super happy with the way things have gone in the last couple of hours…”

“I’m not super happy, but I’m happy we’re hanging out and doing something together,” Kenzie said.

“…And it started because she surprised us with what she’s capable of.  However major, minor, or insignificant the influence might be, let’s avoid future surprises.  Capes keep tricks in their back pockets.  Especially ones as effective and powerful as she is.”

“Noted,” Natalie said.

“If she could affect regular people, she would have,” Sveta said.  “She would have a population under her thumb.  From what we’ve heard reported about her and her world, that’s not the case.  It’s something she has to struggle against.  That’s our reality: people don’t like parahumans, even when the parahumans didn’t do anything to deserve that dislike.  I think all of us here have seen that in some form.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Very probable, but yes, while there are powers that discriminate to be parahuman only, there are rare cases where people with the potential to get powers can be included in that group.”

“If I could have triggered, I think I might have last night.”  Natalie’s voice was quiet.  She touched her shoulder.  “I think I’m safe, but thank you, Victoria.”

I opened my mouth to say something about how triggers didn’t necessarily work that way- that the popular thinking was that the reason they were so hard to provoke was that the trigger event needed to match the power that the person was primed to get.  That someone could have a trigger of abject loss and heartbreak and not get a power, only to get one a few days later because they were threatened with bodily harm, or because their agent was waiting for a trigger event involving fire.

But I was grasping at straws, clinging to the science and the chances of danger.  Was the risk really that great, that Goddess’ power included those with potential, that Natalie had that potential but mercifully hadn’t realized it, and that Goddess’ influence would also work through a recorded video?

“What’s going on with you, Victoria?” Sveta asked.  Her face showed something closer to pity or disappointment.

My eyes dropped to the ground.  “I don’t like this.”

“I don’t like this either.  I wish we could be on the same page about why we didn’t like this.”

I nodded.

“Sveta,” Byron said.

“Hey,” Sveta said, still in that small, sad voice, as she looked at him.  “I don’t want you as an enemy either, Byron.  I feel like I haven’t even gotten to know you.”

He pulled off his helmet, clasping it in front of his stomach with both hands.  Droplets of moisture from the rain still beaded some of his cheekbone, nose, and chin, and he had a spot of redness around one eyelid that had white edges in its midst, like skin peeling from a slight burn.

“I’m not totally on board with this, but Victoria and Chris were right.  There are things we can all agree on, and being careful is one.  That Teacher is dangerous and dangerous to our teammates is another.”

Tension didn’t show in Sveta’s body, but it showed in the details that wriggled around the edges and gaps, at her prosthetic neck that her head was perched on, and around her wig, almost indistinguishable from the locks of hair.  It showed in the lines of her face, in features I would have called Eastern European.

Byron seemed to take Sveta’s silence as reluctant agreement.  “Kenzie, when you’re done with showing Natalie the video, can you talk us through what you’re doing?  In the interest of being careful, I’d like to make sure we’re not making any missteps when it comes to this… what is it we’re doing, Victoria?  Shutting the door so Teacher can’t?”

“Something like that,” I said.

“I’ll show you in a sec,” Kenzie said.

“Let’s make sure we have a good game plan,” he said.  “And… Sveta, you and I stand at different sides on this, but we can balance each other out.  We each justify where we’re coming from, that keeps us level.”

She remained silent.

“I get where you’re coming from,” he said.  “Your past experiences-”

She shook her head.

“But that was heated, irrational, driven by anger and emotion.”

“Communication is better,” I added.

“Speaking of staying level, or of balance,” Sveta said the words slowly, almost dangerously, in a way that made me unsure if the words themselves were dangerous, or if she was implying threat.  “Are you going to release Tristan?”

“No,” Byron said.  “Not like this.”

Sveta pursed her lips.

“We took measures to ensure neither of us could go too far.  Tristan isn’t a stupid guy, Sveta.  Trust in that.”

“Let’s focus on helping Ashley and Rain,” I jumped in, before an argument could start.

“Okay!” Kenzie said, clapping her hands together.  “My time to shine.”

Sveta walked over, her gait less even than usual, before stiffly placing a hand on Kenzie’s shoulder.

“So, based on what my scanner is picking up -I built one into my phone’s camera to read any computer’s data on the sly- these gates cross dimensions, and they have to see where they’re going.  That’s where I come in.  Because machines see with… anyone?”

“Cameras,” Byron said.  His eyes weren’t on Kenzie, but on the video footage of the fight.  Natalie crouched by the table, watching.  She glanced at me over one shoulder.

“Cameras!  Well, there are other ways for machines to see, and this is closer to feeling than to seeing, but I won’t get bogged down.  It’s close enough, and it’s not that different from what I was experimenting with, when I was making a camera that might see Byron when Tristan is out, or vice-versus.”

“Versa.”

“Versa!  Yes.  So!  A couple of ways I can do this.  To use an analogy, I could take the camera’s flash and crank it to always-on.  Other gates trying to look in would see an overexposed image and they wouldn’t have a clear picture.”

“Would the prison notice?” I asked.

“Flickering cameras and lights, maybe.  Hair standing on end if you’re in the right place for long enough.”

“And would it be traceable to the source?  To us?”

“After a little while.  But Goddess only needs a little while to do her thing, right?  So we could turn ours off just long enough to let her in and let her out, while not letting the other ones start up.  That would leave the exit portal intact, which would be best for her.”

“I don’t like that it could draw attention.  What other options are there?”

“Um.  The way these gates work, they warm up and map out the surrounding area.  It’s a slow boil and it takes time, and I think they use multiple cameras to get a clearer picture.  Then they flash, pulsing, to make sure there isn’t anything new in the area, like a person walking through the space at that time.  Because that would skew the signal, I think.  That part of it is a kind of mapping program, but it’s instantaneous or spontaneous.”

“Can this camera be one of the multiple cameras?” I asked.  “Giving the other ones wrong info?”

“It could.  I think they could decipher that this one is the culprit and block it out, especially if they’re already warmed up with their mapping done.  And you asked about tracing the signal – I think that would be a pretty big red alert for them, with a huge ‘we are here’ sign above us.”

“That’s a no, then.”

“It’s good that you’re thinking along those lines, though!” Kenzie said, like an instructor applauding her student for trying.  “And I don’t blame you for not thinking of what I’m thinking of, because the answer is more abstract and it’s harder to make an analogy for.  The best analogy I can think of is… our camera flash is white light and white light is centered, but if we tint the light from one camera’s flash blue and green, which is up, then any other cameras are going to adjust more red because the image is skewed, which slants everything down.

“What does that mean?” Sveta asked.

“It means everything looks right for them until they try to make their electro-gate, it goes zap, and it tries to put a gate down, only it puts it in the ground.  And it’s subtle enough it won’t make people’s hair stand up or make cameras flicker.”

“And the regular portal that lets them walk in?” I asked.

“Well, that’s sort of the thing.  Because it’s not light, it’s dimensions, so it would still skew with the signal and block it off.  So that might tip people off if they try to use it.”

“Do they?” I asked.

“Um.  Not often.  From surveillance, it’s usually when work ends or when new prisoners come in, and nobody’s acting like they’re bringing anyone in.  No prep, no prepared apartments.  I think we’re clear.”

“Surprises happen,” I murmured.

Kenzie nodded, very enthusiastically.

“That’s good, though.  It’s a shame we can’t keep the front door open just to make sure that everything doesn’t go to hell the moment one employee tries to leave because they have an upset stomach, then close it later, if we have to.”

“Maybe we could?” Kenzie asked.  She made a bit of a face, scrunching everything up.

“You don’t sound sure,” Byron said.

“If I situated our blue-green light right, maybe we could put it far enough away that the, um, the front door wouldn’t close.  Except I’m making an educated guess at that point.”

“And if we need to close the front door, we take the blue-green dimensional light this gate is making and move it closer?”

“Turn it off, cool down for a few minutes, then turn it back on, situated closer.  Yeah.”

“Are those few minutes long enough for them to do something?”

She scrunched up her face again, shrugging slightly.

“We should contact Goddess,” Sveta said.  “Let her know what we’re doing.”

“And talk to the other teams?” I suggested.  “The Major Malfunctions wanted to know, and we could use help.”

“Chris wanted to keep things discrete,” Byron said.  “Each group as a cell.  We share info and maintain contact in a limited way.”

“She’s our network hub, she can lead,” Kenzie said.

“We don’t have a way of getting in touch with her.”

“We have a way of getting in touch with Chris, and Chris is with her,” Sveta said.

“I’ll call him!” Kenzie said.

“Don’t- just…” Byron started.  He trailed off, looking to me for help.

I wasn’t sure what to give him.  I was aware of Sveta’s stare.

“…I’m going to step outside,” he said.

“Can I talk to you?  I’d really appreciate your perspective on things,” Natalie said.

Sveta’s eyes bored into me.

But just as he couldn’t really argue for a reason to not call Goddess, we couldn’t give a reason for him not to step outside.  Not without fights breaking out, one way or another.

The phone rang.  Natalie hurried to get her coat on, flipping up her hood, before following Byron outside.

“Who is this?”a strange voice asked, voice amplified by the speakers.

“It’s Breakthrough,” Kenzie said.  “Is Chris there?”

“He is,” the voice came through.  It was male.  “He’s not human right now.  He gave me the phone.”

“Show us?” Kenzie asked.

“I’ll take a video?”

“Please.”

There was a pause.  Then Kenzie brought up a video on the wall.  It was an image taken from the ground, looking up.  A tall figure, feathered, looked like a vulture might look if it had been rolled over with a truck.  The neck twisted around and bent backward, the head lolling back and hanging with curved beak extending down, one yellow eye staring.  Along the inside of arms, black eyes that were nearly invisible in the black and gray plumage blinked.  It moved its head, raising one arm with taloned fingers at the end, and gestured in the affirmative, blinking slowly.

“He’s scratching something on the ground.  He… didn’t give you his number?”

Kenzie snorted.  “We’re in the middle of something big.  We wanted to talk strategy.  Can you get her on the line?”

“She’s close.  Let me get her, and I’ll put you guys on speaker.”

There was a moment’s pause, the only sounds in the room being the sound of the rain outside, a torrent of water flowing from a gutter that was ajar, and the noises on the other side.  As wrong as everything felt, my little betrayals of Sveta, my complicating things when they could be so simple, the idea of having Goddess decide on a course of action was awfully tempting.

I could hear the noise of Goddess arriving, with a rush of air, a rustling of the phone.

“Breakthrough.”

“We were raided by Teacher when we checked on one of his pawns.  She’s the prison pharmacist, and she has laced drugs or something like it.  She made it back to the prison.”

“Disappointing.  What happened?”

“It was what you described.  A whole army.  Not exactly marksmen, and not quite as coordinated as you described, but… it was a lot, very suddenly, and we had rookies to protect.  We did come away with some stuff we can use and a lot of thoughts.”

In the background, Natalie stepped back inside.

“There weren’t marksmen or coordinated strikes because his focus was and is on me.  Even now, those assholes move against us.  I’ve tapped other resources.  What thoughts or things that we can use do you have?”

“Antares thinks we should lock off the prison,” Kenzie volunteered.

Why?”

“Pre-emptively,” I answered Goddess.  “If we do it, then teacher can’t, and the people running the prison might not try to do it themselves.  Why try to seal the door shut if it’s already sealed?”

“And we could still get you in,” Kenzie said, all cheer and enthusiasm.

“This is good.”

I glanced back at Natalie.  She had a very serious look on her face.

“It goes a step further,” I said.  “Teacher’s a tricky guy because of his criminal history.  He went from being a near complete unknown to being a top-tier player to getting arrested.  It means that his records and the records I had in my files went from barren to high-tier confidential.”

“You looked at his files?”

“After he first came up in relation to Earth Cheit.  There wasn’t much.  But,” I stressed the word ‘but’.  “There was some stuff on his thralls.  Based on what we’re seeing and what the PRT noted about them just in case they had to worry about infiltration in their own ranks, I think we can come up with strategies.”

“This is good.  Explain for me.”

“His degree of control comes from his subjects having less volition.  Less ability to make their own decisions, react quickly, problem solve.  I was reminded when I saw some of them outside the pharmacist’s house.  They were practically zombies…”

Within the prison, a red-haired correctional officer with a receding hairline sat with his share of monitors in view.  The monitors showed several camera feeds each.

“Sending low-risk inmates to dinner in fifteen,” a man at the center of the room said.  “Kitchens will have meals going out to high-risk buildings in twenty-five, once the cafeteria doors are shut.  Start-shift ready?”

“Lagging in change.”

“Tell them to get a move on.  I want more bodies on the ground.  Exit-shift?”

“They’re at posts.”

“Meds?”

“Coming out of the pharmacy.  Betty and her escort.  They’ll make it to the caf and back with time to spare.”

“Red, remind us of any incidents today.”

“Johnny in building C, room four ate his own hands for bio-material.  He’s locked up and in quarantine.  Supposed low-risk inmate Screwdriver attacked her roommate this morning.  Screwdriver is off-site and staying that way for the day, her roommate Gosling is recovering from surgery.  Damsel One and Damsel Two are being quiet- mostly keeping to the internet.  No sign of agitation, but we’re watching closely after a Damsel Three allegedly appeared on television twenty-four hours ago.”

“If only we got television here,” one correctional officer said.

“If you did, you wouldn’t watch the screens,” the superior said.  “Stay the course, people.  I want tonight to be quiet.”

As the superior walked around the room, checking on things, including screens with low-res images of various icons moving across a map, the officer with the receding hairline saw words on his screen.

Radio silence from here on out.  Avoid phones.
Phones and computers are monitored.
-Teacher

He looked around, making sure the coast was clear.

Communicate all points to others.  Nod if understood.

The officer looked over his shoulder at the camera.  He nodded.

Bomb anklets must be deactivated ASAP.
Prisoner population must be preserved.

He glanced back, then nodded slightly once again.

The screen went clear.

My heart pounded in my chest as I watched him lean over to the correctional officer next to him, whispering in her ear.

Goddess had said that her danger sense wasn’t flaring from this, and it was apparently nuanced enough to tell her if this was a horribly bad idea.  We were good to go, at least in the initial stages of this juncture.

“…gotta run to the washroom,” the officer said.

Now?” the supervisor asked.  “Thirteen minutes until we serve them their third square.”

“I won’t be long.”

“Aaron, take the console from Nick.”

Someone else took over.  Our officer strode from the room, using his keycard to get through the door and to the hallway.

Teacher’s influence turned them more and more into zombies as he asserted more control, but there was no fine mind control.  They weren’t puppets, and they had to be told what to do.

The lack of volition and the weaker problem solving meant they were more gullible.

“Should I message someone else?” Kenzie asked.

“Let’s not test our luck,” I murmured.

The guard headed straight to a guard who was at one T-shaped intersection of hallways.  He leaned close to say something.  On Kenzie’s projected image, lines traced his lips and mouth movements.  A line of gibberish appeared, then was deleted.

“Couldn’t read his lips.  The program might work after a few tries with the right camera angles,” Kenzie said.

“Three factions have the power to win, lose, or decide the course of this game,” I said, to Sveta.  “Us, Teacher, and the prison.  There are others- the prisoners notably among them.”

“They can’t win or lose.  They’re just-”

“Part of this.  Except for a select few, like Precipice, Swansong, Monokeros, and Crystalclear.”

“Crystalclear is onboard,” Byron said.  he was at his laptop, hunched over it.  “Foresight just emailed me.  They’re ready when we are.”

“And the teams we put on people related to the prison and around the prison are on standby,” I said.  Kenzie’s arm pointed up and waved around, less focused on the specific target than it was indicating a series of overlapping maps.  The teams were represented by icons.  All of the ones who’d been planted in nearby areas of the Megalopolis were now stationed within a few blocks of the first of the two portals.

We’d identified our correctional officer because he knew the pharmacist well enough to be one of the first people she’d communicated with once through the portal.  Now, through him and the course he traveled, with information backed up from our series of ‘dominoes’, people we’d already noted as likely Teacher-compromised, because of their contact with those confirmed as compromised, we were able to confirm our suspicions on most counts.  Each person was marked with a ‘T’ in a silvery-blue circle over their heads.

“Phones?” I asked.

“Still blocked.  Only a few people have noticed but they’re treating it like it’s an ordinary thing,” Kenzie said.  “None of them are our targets.”

Byron fidgeted.  Natalie was beside him, and she looked even more nervous.

I was nervous, and I couldn’t even imagine how they felt.

Unspoken in this equation was Goddess.  We were working on the Teacher issue, and we were all on the same page with it.  When Goddess stepped in…

I wasn’t even sure.

“Things are going to get messy soon,” Kenzie said.

My head turned.

On the screen, it was Ashley on one side, and Rain on the other.  She was telling them, so they could be ready.

“We’ll do what little we can to keep the peace,” Rain said.

“Or if it comes to it, we take out the people who insist on taking advantage of any lack of peace,” Ashley said.

The officer was walking briskly toward a stairwell, taking them two at a time on his way up to the top floor of the admin building.

“Is Foresight ready?”

“I think so,” Byron said.

The prison had administration like any business did, though the ranks sounded like military ones, they were closer to being a business in reality.  The warden was like the C.E.O., the deputy warden like the vice president, and in this case, the assistant warden was their equivalent to their chief financial officer, with some added responsibilities.

Our red-haired correctional officer with the receding hairline and the worry lines across his forehead walked past the assistant warden’s office, where the man within was doing paperwork, glancing up for only a moment.  He went straight to the deputy warden’s office, knocking on her open door.

Stop there, come on.  Come on.

He held a finger to his mouth, then indicated the office next door.  Not the office of the assistant warden, but of the warden himself.

My heart sank a bit at that.  It couldn’t be easy.

The heavyset deputy and officer both headed into the warden’s office.

The officer said something we couldn’t make out, his face not at an angle where the camera could see his lips.

“That makes no sense at all,” the warden said.  “You left your post for this?”

“I’m doing as instructed.”

“Are you sure you saw this?  Your eyes or imagination weren’t playing tricks on you?”

“No.”

I’m letting Foresight know now,” Byron whispered, so as not to hamper our eavesdropping too much.  I gave him a nod of confirmation.

“What did it say, explicitly?”

“To not trust phones, to make sure the bombs were disabled.”

“We could abort,” the deputy murmured the words to the warden.  The camera did catch her lips, providing sharp text to clarify the muddy ‘could’ and ‘abort’, which the crummy microphone on the security camera didn’t pick up.

“The anklets?”

“Hold off,” the warden said.

Okay, not the biggest surprise in the world.  Both warden and deputy warden were Teacher’s.  Being Teacher’s, they were invested in what he was invested in.  And Teacher, as far as we could figure, had every interest in using Cheit, his thralls, and his manipulation of the prison to capture Goddess and turn the entire prison into a barrel of fish he could then repeatedly shoot.  A large number of high-priority targets with powers, with nobody able to interrupt or gainsay him.

There were situations where the ankle bombs factored in, ones where they eliminated target individuals or tried to get control of a failing situation with threats, but it made next to no sense for them to simply wipe prisoners out en masse, even now that things were sliding into chaos.  I’d observed that there were three critical teams here.  Two of them didn’t want to see prisoners blow up – Teacher’s and ours.

As for the third, on another camera, the assistant warden was picking up his phone.  Foresight was on the other end, and they would be explaining their situation.  They had two people in the prison.  If our alliance with them counted, they had four total.  Hopefully they would be convincing, because as the third person in the hierarchy of the prison, the assistant warden was number three- a man with a nice suit and tie, tousled hair, and eyelashes and eyebrows so thin that it looked like he had none at all.

Foresight would be outlining the situation and explaining priorities to him.

And Breakthrough would be dealing with the leaders of the thralls.

“This isn’t right,” the head warden said.  He turned to his computer, circling the desk to get to it.

Kenzie hit a key.

Nothing happened.

She smashed the keyboard with her fist.

Again, nothing happened.

“Umm.”

The lights went out in the building.  After a moment’s delay, red lights in the ceiling came on.

“Time delay,” Kenzie said.  “He didn’t make it past the login screen.  We’re clear.”

In his office, the assistant warden was on the phone.  Going by the script, Foresight should be telling him to pretend like the phone wasn’t working.  In the tension of the moment, he took it a step too far, banging the phone against his desk.  Everyone in the room winced.

On the cameras, a world of prison administration under stark red emergency lighting, we could see the deputy, head warden, and the correctional officer all leaving.  The officer broke from the group to check on the assistant warden, who was in his office, phone on his desk.

A shake of the head and of the phone confirmed suspicions.

“Stay, Toby,” the head warden instructed, leaning past the officer.  “Watch the office and be ready if we get power again.”

Toby the assistant warden hesitated.  Was he weighing his trust for Foresight against his trust for coworkers?

He stayed.  The moment his two seniors were gone with the officer, he had the phone to his ear, listening.

“If they get near a computer, black them out,” I said.  Needlessly, we’d already established the plan.  It made me feel better to spell it out.

“On it.”

It was a situation defined by chaos, and we had some modicum of control.  Teacher had an army at his disposal, it seemed, but that army had been paid for with his power, and that power had its price.

He would make his play, but we had our own.  It was a question of keeping an eye out and timing everything right.  I’d thought of Teacher like a tinker, his human resources simply parts of a broader system he’d designed.  Tinkers were most dangerous when they could anticipate their threats, and they were least dangerous when surprised.

We would strive to surprise.

“Assistant warden’s cleared by Foresight.  We can tell him everything?” Byron asked.

I nodded.

“So far so good,” Sveta whispered.

I didn’t want to jinx it by agreeing, but the two of us were on shaky ground.

“Yeah,” I responded.  “Except-”

“Except?” Byron asked.

Goddess.  She hadn’t made her move.  There was a point she was supposed to enter the prison and take her prisoners.  It was a big reason for why Byron, Natalie and I were so tense.

The moment that happened, everything else was up in the air.

My hope was that by having Goddess there, we could seal her in and scramble the signal.  We had people on the inside we could reach out to, but my real hope was that her power would be of the wide-reaching sort that didn’t reach through dimensions.  If we could cut off the flow and close the doors… maybe this alleged influence would slip away.  Breakthrough would be free.

Dinner was being canceled relatively quietly.  Relatively because the prisoners were complaining, balking.  They wanted their grub.  But Foresight had the assistant warden in their corner, and he’d made the calls necessary.

“Computer screens at one end of the prison are flickering,” Kenzie reported.  She hit buttons.  The super-low-res copies of the security screens in question were blown up large on one wall.  They showed what had to be at least third-hand video feeds.  Computer screens caught on one security camera above them, viewed through another daisy chain of security apparatuses, and then displayed on our wall.

Sure enough, one computer monitor blacked out, fritzed, and then went normal.  A moment later, an entire row flickered, one by one, left to right.

“He’s sending his army in.  They know something’s wrong,” Kenzie remarked.

“We don’t have eyes on them?”

She shook her head.  “I think… they’re out on the outskirts of the prison.”

“Alright,” I said.

We didn’t have Goddess in our net.  As wrong as that felt…

I glanced over at Byron.  He met my eyes.

“Shut the door,” I said.  “He’s got just enough of an army in there to lose all plausible deniability.”

“Shutting the door,  blue-green tint.  We’ll see how fast his hornet’s nest of underlings figure out what we did.”

Door shut.  Ankle-bombs disabled for now and with nobody really in a position to want to use them, provided things stayed peaceful.  Teacher’s forces were caught with their pants down and no communication or way back to their leadership.  Hero teams were on the periphery, with eyes on the suspicious, primed to join in if they needed to quell riots.

This didn’t feel over.

The door opened, and my first thought was Cryptid.  Our messenger.

It wasn’t him.  Everyone in the room stood up a little straighter.  Natalie backed up a step.

Goddess was as dry as a bone as she stepped into our headquarters.  Amy was a step behind her, looking less confident than I’d seen her yet, before or after everything.

“I’ve been told it’s done.  Everything’s ready for my arrival?”

“Yeah,” Byron said.  “I guess it is.”

“You’ll all come to the prison, then,” she said.  “You.  You have no powers?”

“N-no,” Natalie stuttered.

“You’ll come as well.  Witness.

“But-”

“It’s not a fucking request.  Don’t try my patience.”

“Okay,” Natalie said, not sounding happy about it.

“Why are we going?” I asked.  I met Amy’s eyes.  She looked away.

“Because I was told most of you were there to talk to me, and most isn’t good enough.  You’ll all stay with me until I’m sure I don’t need to be concerned about any of you.”

“I don’t think you need to worry anymore,” Byron said.  He sighed.

He switched to Tristan, without a second thought.

I could see Tristan’s expression change as he realized he was free.  It started somewhere in the neighborhood of anger, and it became something closer to fury.

It froze and became momentary confusion as Goddess set her hand on his shoulder.  Coming back to reality.

“Save that anger for our enemies,” she said.  “We have plenty of them waiting for us.”

There was no argument.

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65 thoughts on “Gleaming – 9.7”

  1. It’s gonna be bad, it’s gonna be bad, please can someone somehow manage to get rid of goddess mastering ? anyone ?
    (Why did creepy kid choose this form ?)

  2. Man the author is edgy as fuck. This and worm are so unpleasant to read especially this master bullshit. Still can’t stop though. It’s like crack, bad for you but you dont have a choice in reading it once you have a taste.

    1. I recommend My Hero Academia for if you want something more nobleright to wash the taste out of your mouth.

      Wildbow does have a tendency to skirt just barely on the line of avoiding Darkness Induced Apathy.

  3. Natalie knew they were under the influence of Goddess and was unsupervised. Question is what could she have done with that time? Got a message to Carol? Got a message to the Wardens?

    1. That’s why she and Byron pointedly stepped outside for an indeterminate period of time. Foresight will be better at running the Master protocol than Byron… We don’t know if Lookout will keep them updated with surveillance though.

      1. They were calling Goddess. Byron got out in the hopes of not getting brainwashed. Natalie came to get some info on tf is going on. If they called anyone we have Tristan and Lookout probably knowing about it.

        1. Goddess might have been informed of Byron’s status on the phone call after we cut away from it. Either that or it was Cryptid. “Most isn’t good enough.” By relocating everyone into the closed universe, she might think she doesn’t really have to worry about outside interference. Foresight have several agents inside, but countering Goddess/freeing Breakthrough is probably not their top priority.

  4. Oh come on! So close! Why can’t anything go right for this team?

    But I couldn’t help but notice Tristan was angry at Goddess, died the switch cancel out her power?

    1. I think he was really angry at Byron, and fairly angry at Victoria. Those emotions didn’t meet Goddess’s needs, so he’s not angry anymore.

  5. Have we gotten any indication that Foresight was Mastered by Goddess? I’m really hoping Byron communicated to them what was happening if not. Honestly, it’s felt like Victoria’s been twice as proactive in managing this crisis than him and she was the one who got Mastered.

  6. We can only hope that somebody who isn’t under the influence of Goddess knows about the situation.

    Maybe Byron let somebody know when we weren’t looking? Maybe Victoria? Maybe Cryptid isn’t under her control?

    How is our team going to break through this one?!?!

  7. So, there is a confirmed three Damsels in Distresses. I wonder why it was concerning that she appeared on tv?

    But holy fuck does shit hit the fan. Goddess is forcing Byron to switch back to Tristan or become her thrall. We still don’t know if Chris is under MS-protocol or not. Swansong is probably being helped by Jailbird Damsel overcome her master-stranger, because that’s something they’d do. But the worst thing about it is that Sveta and Tristan are absolutely pissed at Victoria. Even though it’s unreasonable.

    But, the thing I want to touch on is something I’ve noticed as a running theme with Victoria.

    Byron eyes Victoria. Victoria does not reciprocate.
    Spright hits on Victoria very openly. Victoria does not reciprocate.
    Jester implies his feelings towards Victoria. Victoria does not reciprocate.

    It seems very much that Victoria does not want a relationship with anybody. Not because she doesn’t see an interest in any of the three men, but because she doesn’t believe she’s capable. Victoria constantly thinks of Dean whenever something bad is happening. It’s like her one tether to normality. And after two years of trying to not fall in love with Amy to the point where she disgusted and loathed herself, she’s not letting anyone in ever again. I think the main thing that Victoria needs to do is accept a date with anyone. That should really be the goalposts. Because, as of right now, she doesn’t think she deserves true love or to be happy. Or, worse, she doesn’t believe in true love or that she can be happy again.

    1. There are two Damsels, both in custody. During that, an apparent third Damsel was on TV (Kenzie’s projection). Either there are more copies of a member of the Slaughterhouse 9 than people realized, or Damsel somehow seamlessly escaped and reentered the prison with no one the wiser. That’s concerning.

      Victoria isn’t interested in anyone right now because she’s interested in Amy, who she also hates. Her brain got hijacked into loving Amy.

    2. I don’t think we know there are actually three Damsels…just that the prison staff assumed it had to be a third, since there was no way one of their Damsels could have been on the live show.

    3. There are two Damsels still extant. The rumors of a third stem from Swansong’s appearance on Hard Boil. Via Lookout-powered Skype.

      1. i always thought there actually were three of them… I’m still trying to fgure out where I got the idea form and it was a a few arcs ago.

        1. There had been a total of nine, but only two are known to us to have survived. I’m guessing all the others are fairly confidently believed dead or they wouldn’t have been worried in the prison.

    4. Goddess is forcing Byron to switch back to Tristan or become her thrall.

      Nah. She converted him on the spot. As he says, she doesn’t need to worry anymore – Breakthrough is now entirely under her thumb. Natalie and he didn’t plan anything outside either, else he’d have mentioned it and nipped it in the bud.
      The only hope I can see is Natalie keeping her cool, not getting killed by anyone during the raid, and requesting Warden assistance to handle Breakthrough’s situation as soon as it’s safe to do it.

      Not betting high on that one.

      1. No, he said she doesn’t need to worry because Tristan will never switch back to him again. He was not stunned momentarily like the others were, and if he was under her control, he’d have no reason to swap right then. Or atleast, he would communicate with Tristan first and apologize or something.

    5. I… no… just please no.

      You are correct- Many guys have shown interested in V, and she has not reciprocated.
      That does not, in any way mean that she needs to accept a date with anyone.

      First off, note that when we saw other characters take an interest in V, its not like we ever saw her take an interest in them and then baton it down. She has never shown an interest in dating Byron, or Jester, or Spright (if memory serves well, she thought Spright was good looking… that was the end of her opinion… we then later found out he was a twit).
      What we DON’T see is her wanting a relationship and then agonizing over it, and then talking herself out of it. She simply doesn’t reciprocate their interest, and acts on this lack of interest.

      The idea that “just date someone” will lead to good results is just fundamentally messed up. Some people enjoy dating. Some people don’t. The people who don’t enjoy dating, or don’t feel like they are in a good headspace for it shouldn’t feel obligated to do it. And having people talk about random dating as “the goalpost” or as if that will “Fix” them does not help.

      ….
      Okay, sorry, that was a bit of a rant, and almost definitely an over reaction (sorry Chair). I agree with your assessment of V not reciprocating interest. I disagree with your assessment that “just date anyone” is a useful solution. It might be for some people. It might be for you. But presenting it as general advice I disagree with. Faking emotional investment/trust in a person etc is really exhausting, and if you aren’t actually feeling it, it does nothing to satisfy any of the needs which you are trying to fill.

      (And god damn it WobbleBob, why have you presented realistic enough characters that your readers can get into serious arguments like this.)

      1. First off, don’t diss my man Spright like that. Shortcut is the total twit who hates Victoria. Spright is the alright dude.

        Secondly, I didn’t mean dating anyone leads to instant PTSD cure. A large part of life for most people is finding a romantic partner. Victoria was certainly one of them considering her ons and offs with Dean. However, it’s more the fact that she may feel like she’s undeserving of love is the main issue here. By accepting a date, she is accepting that she could be loved and that she can move on from Dean and Amy. That’s where the goalposts are. From an action that states that she can and will no longer live in the past and move forward. That’s the main goal of any PTSD patient. Now, if Victoria just comes out and says “You know, dating is so dumb. I’m content with being alone for a few years, but if I wanted to, I could go back on dates.” that’s a different story entirely. But we aren’t getting that which is makes me believe that she does. It’s more “Nope, I don’t want to.” There’s no thought. She doesn’t give a good reason not to date anyone. She doesn’t go “Byron’s a case 73, Spright’s a bit too forward, Jasper is more like a friend etc.” She just flat out says No. Almost like it’s instinctive. And it probably was considering she had to tell herself no for Amy for two whole years.

        And no worries about the rant. I actually like to discuss characters in debates like this and a nice break from absolutely realizing that that Third Damsel was Swansong and I made a complete idiot of myself. Still mentally kicking myself for that mistake.

        (And WarrenBuffet’s knack from realistic characters is probably due to his studying on psychology, evident by the textbook histrionic personality disorder for Kenzie.)

        1. Spright is… eeehhhhh…
          Mainly evidenced by:
          “Please don’t borrow Tress’s power”
          *Borrows Tress’s power*

          also I think this is where we diverge:
          “There’s no thought. She doesn’t give a good reason not to date anyone. ”

          The way this is written it sounds like for you you need a reason NOT to date someone. Not just that, but a GOOD reason. The way this is written, its as if dating someone is the default option – yeah?
          Where as I would argue that it is just as easy for the default option to be NOT dating someone. You don’t need a reason to not date someone, that’s just the starting assumption, what you need to a good reason TO date them. … and what qualifies as a good reason will vary from person to person.

          I’m also not sure about your wording of “By accepting a date, she is accepting that she could be loved and that she can move on from Dean and Amy.”
          First off- I don’t really see any evidence in the text (aside from the lack of dating), that Victoria feels unlovable. No, she isn’t dating, but its not like she shies away from care and affection when it is offered to her by people she trusts (Lazerdream, dad, sveta etc). And when dudes hit on her she doesn’t go, “Oh, they’re just being nice, I’m not actually pretty”, she seems to run on the assumption that she is awesome, and obviously people are interested in her, and she has all the time in the world to be picky about who she dates.
          So far I have seen zero evidence of “she may feel like she’s undeserving of love is the main issue here. ” – are there any particular scenes from the story that make you believe this?

          As for moving on from Dean and Amy…
          Lets deal with thems separately:
          What does “Moving on from Dean” look like to you? What are the benefits? At the moment its not like she’s at Home weeping because she lost him. Its not like she every thinks of Dean when making her decision to turn down future relationships. The ONLY interaction she appears to have with Deans memory is drawing strength from it from time to time when thinking about Cape stuff. Even if she started dating someone new, I don’t imagine she’d drop that. Even in decades time, I would expect her to occasionally feel that warm glow thinking about a nice boy who she studied with, once upon a time.

          And as for “Moving on from Amy” – Amy is literally standing in the same room as her, acting (not intentionally) as a huge threat. Amy is one of the most dangerous people on the planet, and is actively involved in V’s life RIGHT NOW. The only boyfriend who could successfully make you move on from that is Valefor, and I really don’t think that’s what we want. More seriously, V’s hang ups with respect to Amy aren’t related to V having a boyfriend or not. Sure- talking to someone you love and trust about that stuff would probably be healthy, but that person being a boyfriend is only one possible option. In that case it would be the TRUST that is important, not the DATING.

          Also, while I’m trying to reply to specific points…
          “From an action that states that she can and will no longer live in the past and move forward.”
          But dating is only one possible such action! And unless she’s actually taking the person she is dating seriously (IE, thinking about a future with them), then I’m not sure dating counts as moving forward either, if its just “dating for the sake of dating” that looks a lot like treading water.
          She applied for the university.
          She set to work trying to build a better cape network.
          She moved into a new house and made new friends (Like Bianca!)
          V as done a whole crazy bunch of moving forward… and getting knocked down… and rebuilding shit over and over again, and some of that gets mushed up with the past, but a lot of it has been her moving into the future.

          Also: Where is Moose? Gawd I hope he is okay.

          1. The way this is written it sounds like for you you need a reason NOT to date someone. Not just that, but a GOOD reason. The way this is written, its as if dating someone is the default option – yeah?

            What the Chair-zard was getting at isn’t that she needs a reason to not date, but rather that whenever the concept arises, she just sort of sidesteps it without actually thinking anything, as though her mind is averse to even considering the idea. It’s similar to how she tries to avoid directly thinking about Khepri and Amy. That is a different thing from simply being uninterested in dating.

            Of course, she has good reason to avoid thinking of dating, what with how Amy’s mindfuckery tainted her concept of love. I think the Chair-zard is underestimating the severity of this. There’s a threshold below which forcing herself to go on a couple casual dates would be the correct course of action in order to show her subconscious that, hey, this is fine, and then she’d be able to think rationally about dating again and make actual choices instead of reflexively avoiding it. I’m worried she might be on the other side of that threshold, where trying to force herself to get over it would exacerbate the problem. And when you have powers — especially powers you don’t fully control — it’s that much more important to avoid putting yourself in situations where you might have a panic attack.

    6. Vicky still has a bundle of body dysphoria to work through. She’s probably just not in a place to have romantic inclinations right now, and that’s fine.

  8. I don’t think it hit me how bad this was until Sveta started threatening folks. Once Sveta’s tone got heated my stomach dropped. I really don’t like this. This is ALL OF THE BAD.

  9. Fan, meet shit.

    I think this might be the first chapter between both Worm and Ward where I ended it by actually yelling at my screen.

  10. aaaaaaaaaaaa

    Ahem. Damn, that was a really tense chapter. I love TINKER WARS as a method of conflict. I hope we get to see more of that in the future.
    So…it sounds like Chris spilled the beans to Goddess on the whole Tristan/Byron thing. Disappointing, but probably it was too much to hope for that he was going to just completely resist her somehow. I still hope he has something up his sleeve. The other possibility is, as others have mentioned, that Byron and Natalie phoned someone for help when they stepped out. Otherwise, uh, we seem kind of screwed.

      1. Which means Natalie isn’t capable of triggering or Goddess’s powers don’t work on those who are pre-triggered, or both.

        I hope it’s just on Goddess’s side. I want to see Natalie put through enough hell to trigger.

        The only real reason Natalie didn’t trigger, even if she does have a shard, is that Natalie was with Kenzie and loneliness is key for triggering, like Crusader proved with Golem.

        1. You shouldn’t wish triggering on anyone. That’s kind evil dude. Also incorrect as everyone has a different trigger their shard is waiting for. There are many examples of people triggering when others are around.

  11. Their only hope is that Byron and Natalie were able to clue in Foresight or another team during the planning phase. Of course, Tristan would know that as well so we’ll probably find out shortly if that’s the case. In any event, I hate seeing the team straining with all of this in-fighting. Goddess needs to get wrecked for fucking with the team’s chemistry like this…….

  12. Normally I hate mind-control arcs, because the protagonist(s) losing agency makes the arcs seem like skippable dream sequences to me. So I feel like I have to say again how much I’m enjoying this one. It does everything right: reinforces the underdog atmosphere, gives glimmers of hope as the protags feel out the weaknesses/mechanics of the MC vector, preserves agency as the protags (mainly Victoria) continue to act like intelligent actors once they know MC is on the table, etc. Great arc! Sucks that their ace in the hole Byron just got caught out, but hopefully the phone call he and Natalie made will throw a wrench in things.

    Also, Amelia the rudderless wet blanket is a really unlikable character thus far. I’m hoping this is a prelude to something bigger, because as it stands she’s just kind of bumbling around providing Goddess with access to more thralls. I’m failing to see what goal Marquis/Amelia could have that makes this amount of collateral acceptable.

    Finally, Goddess is reaching Slaughterhouse 9 levels of evil in my book. A spoiled child given the power to circumvent any need for cooperation/socialization plus enough brute force to fight off attempts to usurp her makes for a great “beware the superman” situation here.

    1. Amy is super endearing in Worm. This paints her in a bad light because from Victoria’s pov she’s utterly irrideemable. I’d recommend reading her interlude in Worm, that and the Slaughter House 9 arc should make you feel really bad for Amy. Marquis just wants his daughter to be happy, and Amy well I imagine Amy thought this would somehow fix things with her and Vicky. That or get her far enough away that should could get away from her.

  13. Hopeless typo thread:

    “Byron said. he was at his laptop,”
    Capitalisation.

    “It’s Breakthrough,” Kenzie said. “Is Chris there?”
    Is Kenzie supposed to use his civilian name when he’s on active duty ?

    1. > “Pre-emptively,” I answered Goddess. “If we do it, then teacher can’t, and the people running the prison…

      Teacher capitalisation?

  14. Wait a minute…

    my real hope was that her power would be of the wide-reaching sort that didn’t reach through dimensions. If we could cut off the flow and close the doors… maybe this alleged influence would slip away. Breakthrough would be free.

    … Did Victoria forget she affected Rain and Ashley just as easily as the others ? Does she think Goddess has to keep concentrated on the connections for the control to work ? She should be aware those two are wildly unlikely.
    Does Goddess muddy up what her targets know about her power when she uses it ? Loyalty and memory ? Maybe it’s just memories… change them enough and undying loyalty can appear out of nowhere. The memory-editing shard could be part of her multi-mix.

    1. They’re still connected via gateway though. Victoria’s thinking that maybe if the portals are shut, that then Goddess’ power might fitz out.

      1. Of course since they’re all traveling to the same dimension together it’s a moot point. But that would be a reason why Goddess would insist on them all staying together. Except Cryptid! Why isn’t he coming?

        Lookout did shut the door right before Goddess showed up, so perhaps Precipice and Swansong got a brief taste of relative freedom when that happened? If so, are they remastered whenever she enters the dimension? Will something about their experience offer Breakthrough a clue about Goddess’s power?

        1. Our existing data point is that Goddess was able to reassert control over twenty of her minions on Shin when Khepri took them. That would argue in favor of her being able to take them back anywhere on the same world. However, with the typical quality of Khepri narration we have no idea if they’d all been in a video conference at the time.

          1. Rule of thumb is that Khepri took all the parahumans with Sleeper and her tethers as the only exceptions. Goddess was probably reasserting control during and immediately after the final battle.

          2. Goddess was probably reasserting control during and immediately after the final battle.

            Nope. It was when Khepri was initially seizing her in Speck 30.4. Khepri was like, “You mine!” but Goddess was all, “O RLY?” So then Canary was like, “𝄞♩♪YA RLY!♫” And lo, Goddess was liketh, “👍”

    1. With everything we’ve learned about what a piece of shit Tristan actually is I’m thinking that byrons actions here are going to lead to Tristan pulling the kind of shit moonsong mentioned way back at the warden headquarters. Dominating all their time, not letting Byron out except when convenient for him, arranging it so he’s only out in situations that work against him so he can’t do anything or is forced to resolve Tristan crap or switch back. I don’t think we’ll see Byron again for a little bit. Which sucks because id like to see him more. I would love either an extra long Capricorn interlude since he’s two people, or a two part interlude covering each twin

  15. I’m confused and still a bit thrown off by the fight between Victoria and Byron earlier.
    I thought they got into a fight because he got into an argument that escalated about how he felt that they had been compromised by Goddess’ power. I thought this was totally reasonable given the circumstances.

    So why are they all still butthurt over the fact that it happened? Someone help me out please, it feels like Byron was clear headed in this but he’s being made out to be the bad guy.

  16. Interesting; it seems Capricorn swapping may actually sever Goddess’s control; while Tristan could have just been furious at Byron for trapping him, it’s also consistent with him having broken free and Goddess immediately re-controlling him when he swapped back. With that now known, though, it’s no longer useful; the controlled twin won’t swap outside of her presence.

    I doubt anyone except possibly Chris would have been able to discreetly warn anyone. Lookout knows Byron and Natalie are of uncertain loyalty and would keep them under surveillance.

    And this is all shaping up to be a right clusterfuck. Victoria’s efforts under the Master-Stranger protocols have ended up handing Goddess a magnificant opportunity. Her little strikeforce has control over the prison systems, has (as far as we can tell) subverted Teacher’s lines of communication and therefore his local thralls, has disabled the bomb anklets, can disrupt portals to the world at will, and has gotten a number of heroes positioned to intervene to control riots. Unless someone who can break Goddess’s control over others shows up (and it should be noted they’d probably have been called in for the Fallen raid) she’s probably about to get over a hundred new minions.

    1. Yeah. Looks pretty bad. But we shouldn’t panic (yet).

      Goddess took over a planet, but it was a relatively weak sauce planet. Not that many capes compared to earth bet, and other than Goddess herself, no truly great powersets.

      Sh didn’t take over a world with Eidelons and Valkyries and Dragons and Contessas and the like. She didn’t take over a world with active opposition from Cauldron. Heck, I bet somewhere there is a big Accord folder on how to counteract and defeat invasions from various sorts of masters.

      When goddess was bagged on gold morning it only took two masters to do it. Seems like her trump power is somewhat of a “duelist” style power that can negate one other power by tuning conditions but can’t negate two powers at once. Which probably means that Citrine and Canary could master Goddes with Citrine counter tuning to negate goddess trump power and Canary grabbing her.

      Valkyrie could probably beat her with two powers and then use a third power to juggle chainsaws for frantic effect while she did it.

      So, don’t panic.

      1. She appears to be able to control any parahuman in line of sight, so her Trump power is only necessary against parahumans shielded from it or who attack without line of sight. There is a very short window in which to stop her from getting a personal army of capes big enough for repelling an Endbringer. Any capes sent to stop them will fall under her control as well.

        Also, overwhelming her Trump power required support from the Yangban. It is difficult to know how the math works normally, but it’s estimated that the collective power boost makes their shared powers twenty times stronger. So her Trump power can be overwhelmed en masse but it takes more than two.

        If unaccompanied she’d be a serious but managable threat. With the Shin crew, Breakthrough, the prisoners, and all the capes Breakthrough has on call she’d be damn near unstoppable. At this point, basically the only way I see presently known powers stopping her is if they know she’s coming already. Teacher knows, but as of now it seems like Lookout has locked him out of the action and his thralls on the ground do not appear sufficent to pose a threat; based on Khepri’s encounters with her and Teacher it is likely her power will negate his on all the prisoners.

        Basically either Goddess dies in the prison attack or she takes Shin, Gimel, Cheit, and survivors on Bet. Other powers could beat her, and they could beat her army, but they probably can’t beat her and her army. And between her danger sense and her Tinkers and Thinkers attacking them separately is gonna be tough.

        Also I think she’s immune to Path to Victory. Scion was immune and her Trump power is analogous to his ability to counter powers.

  17. I’m still assuming that Chris is not under the influence, and is being super proactive because whatever is going on with his body is due to a master power, which is why he is super cautious around anyone who is near masters, and doesn’t hesitate to be around matters and try to hurt them.
    I mean, why a bird form? Why suggest not roping in the other capes, and why be the first to try to get away from breakthrough and always be in a different form around goddess?

    1. I think he was Mastered at some point in time. It’s the most likely explaination for why Goddess showed up unexpectedly. The others aren’t super subtle and if they’d called her they probably would have clued Victoria. Or at least left time in the schedule for her visit before attacking. This way is basically consistent with Chris approaching the problem like he did for the prison raid.

      However, it is also pretty likely switching into some of his forms would break her control. I don’t think it’d let him shift into a form that he knows definitely would, but it’s still pretty likely he’ll wind up in one eventually.

  18. You’re RIGHT, it’s the bird form he took in the Fallen beatdown… I need to read up on what that one does, but he specifcally chose it BECAUSE of the involvment of masters, right?

    1. IIRC it didn’t negate them outright but reduced their practical impact. It wasn’t considered generically reliable enough to just ignore the risk of having them used, though. I’m thinking at most he’s in sorta the same state as Victoria; still moderately loyal to Goddess but taking actions she wouldn’t necessarily approve of.

      1. It’s not the same shape. That was a spiralling, quadrupedal bird with a face located on the inside of the curve. This one is either some form of Introspection, or another emotion prefaced by Dark.

        This one is bipedal, with arms and far more than two eyes. It’s described as looking like a vulture; Dark Introspection was more corvid.

        Dark Introspection worked on resisting masters by letting Cryptid set pre-programmed behaviour so he didn’t have full control over it, and therefore ensuring any who got control of him wouldn’t be able to change his movements. It resisted masters controlling his thoughts and senses, because it wasn’t listening to those; it resisted masters using emotions, because Cryptid’s power is vaguely empathic; it resisted masters who hijacked bodies by being as far from human as possible.

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