Polarize – 10.1

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“It’s hard to know where to draw the line sometimes,” Sveta confessed.

We were standing at the crosswalk.  We’d just met near the station, hugged, and were heading down toward the city core.  I’d just come from my physical therapy for my arm and having a doctor look at the burn on my arm, and I had the buzz of the recent exercise, the endorphins from the pain, all on top of the feeling of being freshly showered and toweled off.

No costume- only a sweater, jeans, boots, and a gray wool coat with overly elaborate buckles.  I did have my bag with me, but I wasn’t packing the costume inside.  No equipment, but with the buzz, clean feeling, and endorphins, I had all of the emotional armor and preparation I could pull together for seeing family.

Snow fell lazily around us, but the vehicles on the road and their hot exhaust were generating just enough heat to keep the streets wet but clear snow and ice.   The sidewalks where pedestrians weren’t active were getting covered by a layer that sat just over top of the ice that lingered from the on-and-off freezing rain of the past two days, adding to its slickness.  Sveta’s hair, my hair, and our coats were dusted with snowflakes.

“Sveta,” I said, giving my friend a careful look, trying to think of how I could diplomatically phrase my response, “You have better lines than most people I know, and most people I know are superheroes.  What the fuck are you talking about?”

“With you,” she said.  “Sorry.  I don’t know when to stop myself or when to keep going, because I haven’t had a lot of friends over the years.  I’m not good with friend dilemmas.”

“Ah,” I said.  I paused.  “I didn’t want to put you in the middle of a dilemma.  Whatever it is.”

Sveta squeezed my arm.  She was leaning on me for balance, as her body wasn’t quite in perfect working order and the sidewalks were slick.  “It’s not a thing you did.  Um.  Sorry, I don’t want to get too deep into it, which is part of it.  I don’t want to bum you out.”

“We can talk.  I trust you.”

“It’s more-” she started.  The light changed, and after a second, we started forward.  “We’ve seen each other at our worst, right?  On the baddest of bad days, when we just needed a shoulder, we helped each other out.”

I nodded.

“And I know where you come from.  I knew and believed what you were saying when you brought up your sister.”

“Yeah.  You backed me up when I didn’t trust myself to say anything to her.”

“Even with that, I don’t know where that line is.  People have their boundaries, usually, and they draw them out behind them through a hundred signals, some really subtle, and some obvious.  And yours is… very hard to identify until I’m in contact with it or you’re already in that very bad place.  All of us are actually pretty bad about it, but yours is especially tricky because I care a shitton about you.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.  “I won’t argue that.  Thank you.  I’ve actually been thinking about that, actually.  How the team is dealing, the past couple of days, post-Prison.”

“Turning on the heaters, turning on the televisions and radios, and watching the news with a dull, sick feeling.”

“…Can’t argue the sick feeling either.  But we seem to be doing reasonably well,” I said.  “Not great, but that wasn’t a situation that was going to be great for anyone.  I think we’re getting distracted.”

“A mass breakout of the emergency prison, mind control, your sister showing up and her leaving with Chris?  Yeah, distracting.  But go on.”

“I’m thinking about how we deal and how we adapt.  The lines, the boundaries and the secrets.  Jessica wanted me to look after the team, and… Chris happened.”

“You can’t blame yourself for failing to help someone who actively resisted help,” Sveta said.  “You tried.  You showed up at his place, asked his guardian some questions about how he was doing, and she responded with worry?  He blew up, and I think he blew up because he wanted to keep you from looking further.  And it worked.  Whatever he had going on, he somehow decided we weren’t the answer.  He heard what you had to say about your sister, and he still went with her.  Fuck him.”

I was trying to be tough, but something in that final combination of words tested my resolve.  Maybe it was the emphatic ‘fuck’, so close to the mention of her.

I’d deal.  I had to, because it tied into what I wanted to push forward to the group.

“We’ve done that thing a lot of teams end up doing,” I said.  “We had that one tough fight.  That one scenario where we’re outmatched or we go up against the person who tests or breaks convention.  For my family it might have been Marquis.  For the Major Malfunctions, it might have been turning up for a routine surveillance job and getting a literal army of mind controlled thralls teleporting into their neighborhood.”

“Going through hell and making it out the other side with the team.”

“Yeah.  For varying definitions of hell and ‘making it’.  We’ve had our trial by fire.  We have our first real loss after losing Chris.  All of us have had cause or reason to reveal some deeper stuff.”

“You especially.”

I shrugged the shoulder she was leaning on.  “I don’t know.  All I’m saying is… we might have to shift how we do this.  We’ve protected and defended each other having secrets.  We had that ‘it’s complicated’ card that we could always pull.  It might be time to stop that.  To have no more secrets.”

“Easier said than done.”

“Yeah.  But if we can’t trust each other-”

“I think it’s a great idea,” Sveta interrupted.  “Don’t get me wrong.  I’m anxious about the team, and it’s been worse since… everything those two nights.  Not just Chris, but getting a live-action roleplay, complete with all of the feelings of betrayal, as you end up acting like my enemy?”

I could hear the anxiety in her voice at that last line.  I gave her a jostle, before shifting my grip to put my arm around her shoulders.  She leaned her head against my shoulder, in a way that might have made walking hard if she’d had an ordinary body and balance.

She continued, “It would be nice to not have to wonder as much.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “We do this thing where we prove we have the chops because we can win fights, but the group gets a little shakier where things are already shaky.  I’m not omitting myself from that, either.  I want to have the chops and not be so shaky when doing it.”

“Yes.  Absolutely yes,” Sveta said.  She lifted her head up from my shoulder.  “Speaking of shaky…”

She pointed at our destination.

We’re here.

“Yeah,” I acknowledged her.

“Hey,” she injected fake cheer into her voice.  “Upside!  Teeny-tiny upside.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“You get to watch them eat crow.”

I sighed.  I shook my head.

“No?”

I shook my head.

The office building was packed.  There was a lobby, and I saw two young employees sitting on the floor, papers around them.  Overall, given the hour of the attack, the issue with the portals had done far more damage to real estate than it had done to the population.  As people had resumed work, they’d needed to go somewhere, and this was one such somewhere.  A building that now overflowed with people.

I craned my head a bit before spotting my mom.  My dad was a short distance away, and he’d at least tossed the athletic-fit sports clothes in favor of something nicer, like a thirty year old guy might wear out to dinner.  He wasn’t thirty, but I’d take what I could get.

Someone had pointed us out, because he turned to look, my mom following, once she noticed him looking.

Neither smiled.

It had been two days since the prison breakout.  One day to recuperate and lick our wounds.  Medical care for me and Rain, prosthetic body fixes for Sveta.  Rain, Ashley and Damsel had needed to get some baseline things squared away with their sentences.

Needed, but hadn’t gotten.  It was a big, ominous question mark floating over their heads now.

One day for that.  One day to catch our breath after that.  Because recuperating and healing was work.  The second day served to let us ground ourselves again.  Kenzie had maintained contact with people online, but as part of our unofficial, unspoken ‘taking care of ourselves’ day, it made sense that she would take care of herself by reaching out.

This was our day three.  Our day to consolidate.  I’d been talking about that from a distant, logical perspective, new rules, approaches, or policies, but I would have to tackle the more emotional, vague perspective later.

And, in another kind of ‘consolidation’, of focusing on bonds and promises and all the things that tied us together, I’d have to deal with a team of a much different sort.  The sort that virtually everyone was born into.

“You didn’t answer your emails,” my mom scolded me.

Right out of the gates.

“I answered some.  If I didn’t answer any, I wouldn’t be here.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’m glad you were willing to meet,” my dad said.  “Hi Sveta.  It’s so good to see you again.”

“I love the coat,” my mom said.

“It’s borrowed, actually,” Sveta said.  Her coat was one of my spares, for when I’d had to spend long durations outside during my stint at the Patrol, during the winter that I’d lost fifteen pounds and had suddenly found the cold very much affected me.  Bulky and nondescript- not a coat that one would ‘love’.  Moms.

“Do you want to go somewhere private to talk?” I asked.

“This way,” my mom said.

She led us outside, then down the street.  “This is the cafe we visit when we have to have more private meetings.  The board rooms at the office were converted into more offices.  It’s quiet here.”

Quiet was one way of putting it.  Typically in the late morning, delis like this could be counted on to be transitioning from breakfast to lunch, with a few people having extended brunches.  There was one other couple in the place.

We found a booth and sat.

“I know you probably have questions,” I said.

“We’ve heard a lot about what happened,” my mom said.  “The bullet points.  That includes your sister, though, she isn’t mentioned much.”

“She wasn’t there much,” I said.  Why was this so hard?  “The Lady in Blue had a danger sense, and my sister was so nonthreatening that she didn’t trip it.  She didn’t do anything until it was ninety-five percent over.  Then she was the final five percent.”

“We heard about that,” my dad said.  “She sent us a message before disappearing to Earth Shin.”

“And?” I asked.

“She says she can do more good there.  You wanted her to leave and to give you space and she’s doing that,” he said.

My mom leaned forward over the table.  “She was optimistic she could play a part in repairing human-cape relationships and use her power as a bargaining chip to broker peace and better relationships between Shin and Gimel.”

“Ah,” I said.

My dad chimed in, “Being as objective as I can, she’s doing something good.  She knows we’re in for a hard winter, and if she can promise peace and stability in exchange for some surplus food being sent our way?  It could save an incredible number of lives.  Millions.  And she’s doing it while giving you your space.”

“Space?  Two nights ago she tried to catch me by surprise and touch me.  It was a meeting she requested that set off all of the worst events of that night.  I’m supposed to smile and accept all of that?”

“It’s not an all-in-one package, Vicky,” my dad said.  “We can celebrate the good things while working on the bad.”

I shook my head.  Frustration was getting the better of me, despite my earlier resolve.

“If I can-” Sveta jumped in.  “I know this is a family matter, and I’m not family.”

“You’re close enough,” my dad said.

I could see Sveta was a little taken aback by that.  Enough that she lost whatever it was that she had planned on saying.

He went on, “You looked after Victoria when she was in the hospital.  I’m so grateful that you were there for her in times we couldn’t be.  If you ever wanted a place to go for a holiday, if you wanted a say or a vote, I think you earned it.”

“Well said,” I said to my dad.

“Stop,” Sveta said, flustered.  “You’re making it hard to think.”

I leaned back in my seat.

“Mr. and Mrs. Dallon.  I understand that Amy can do an incredible amount of good, if she puts her mind to it.  If it were Vicky in that position, I would trust her to do it.  But it’s not Vicky.”

“You know Vicky well,” my mom said.  “You haven’t had the same exposure to Amy.  She had years of helping people under her belt before she broke down.  In the face of the Slaughterhouse Nine.”

“I know Vicky but I’ve seen Amy’s work.  Can we try a thought experiment?  If you don’t mind?”

“I don’t mind,” my mom said.

“Pretend that we had the same timeline, starting from now.  Something like three years of her helping people, a tremendous amount of help.  Giving her all-”

“Burning out,” I said.

“Burning out, yes,” Sveta added my bit.  “Feeling pressured, feeling desperate.  Pretend it was three years of that, and then she comes face to face with a monster.  And she breaks down again.  What if she ends up repeating the cycle, and she repeats it while seven point three billion people are at her mercy?  What then?”

It was all I could do to just keep my mouth shut and stay at the table.  I didn’t like pretending, even though I’d tried to put it out of mind.

“That’s entirely unfair,” my mom said.

“Why?” Sveta asked, her eyes wide.  “We all relapse when it comes to our bad behaviors, and when dealing with someone like her, we have to use past experience to judge how she might act in the future.  If that sounds unfair, keep in mind, that’s how I deal with thinking about myself.”

“People change,” my mom said, giving each word its own emphasis.

“People change, but if you knew someone who negligently discharged a handgun, if their core behavior hadn’t changed, would you really trust them around children with a gun?”

“It would depend on context, and your definition of core behavior.  I know you mean well, Sveta, but there is so much more to this.”

Sveta shook her head.  She tried to tap a metal finger on the table, but the hand kind of splatted out instead.  She didn’t seem to mind or pay much notice.  “Keep in mind that it’s not just one child at stake here.  Seven point three billion people, that’s how many kids?”

“Roughly twenty-five percent,” I said.  “One point eight billion kids.”

“One point eight billion kids.  We haven’t seen that she’s changed,” Sveta said.

Carol shook her head.  “There’s more at play than core behavior patterns.  If that person had a support network keeping a close eye on them, when they hadn’t before?  Caring parents and a sister?  If she proved willing to listen to outside input, including a therapist?”

“She wasn’t listening the other night,” I said.

“To be frank, young lady,” my mother said.  “You were under the influence of a power.”

“To be frank, mom, she was fucking why!”

“Quiet now,” my mom said, all composure.  Her voice was infuriatingly calm.  “There are other people in the room.”

She had a slight smile on her face as I sat back, reeling myself in.

That seething fury found its way into my voice as I kept the rest of my words level.  “I wasn’t under the influence when she was meeting up with a tyrant in the weeks leading up to the prison breakout.  Not Marquis, by the way.  She’s hanging out with him too, but I’m going to assume we’re conveniently ignoring that-”

“Let’s,” my mom said.

“She’s keeping the company of some pretty scummy people.  She has a fucking miniature devil on her shoulder, like some villain from a feature length kid’s animation.  That’s where she’s at in the past and present.  Future?  We weren’t under the influence after the tyrant was killed, when she said ‘flock to me, villains, come and submit to my control, we’re going to Shin to take power!’ ”

“That doesn’t sound great, and it was left out of the call,” my dad said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “It’s not the exact wording, but it’s-”

“It was close to that,” Sveta volunteered.

“It was close,” I finished my sentence, echoing her.

“Past, she was overworked and we failed her,” my mom said, her voice stern.  “All of us failed her.  Present, she’s alone except for the company of those villains because she’s scared to maintain contact with us.  She’s scrabbling for support structures, and she seems to be maintaining good standards and goals.  That’s commendable.  Future?  That’s up to us.  People are defined by the supports they have around them.  If we don’t give her something to come back to, then she’s going to stay with them.  Her perspective will skew, because all perspectives warp when there’s nobody around to help keep them straight.  Don’t use the past-present-future framing of argument on me when I taught it to you.”

“Somehow, in all of this, we aren’t holding her accountable for her own actions?” I asked.  “Because I kind of remember this dynamic of a teenage girl bouncing around and being passed around to wherever she could be useful until she passed briefly into some ugly Slaughterhouse Nine hands and lost it.  Lost it with casualties in the process.  Me.  Herself.  But also me.  Then she gets to fucking act like herself for one singularly stupid, horrifying-”

I choked on my words, too pissed to form a sentence.

“One act,” Sveta said.

“Or chain of acts.  Or one act that sets her on a road where her choices are all bad.  I don’t know.  But she still chose,” I said.  “And she had opportunities later, and she made more bad choices.  Ones with casualties.”

I heard my mom sigh.  The restaurant was so quiet, the city outside even quieter than usual because the cold weather meant people weren’t venturing out as much, it was crunch time at the various jobs around here, and it was still a bit too early for lunch breaks.  The light snow had its faint effect on the sound of the outside world.

It was so easy to imagine we were all in this place, and there was nobody else in the universe.

My mom spoke, “If Amy took it upon herself to touch villains and alter the broken reward cycles, if Amy wanted to give them a conscience, or if Amy wanted to fix whatever was broken in their physiology that made them aggressive, I’m not about to say no.  If there’s any risk to the-”

I dropped my eyes to the table.  The ‘Amy’ refrain was endless and the song was one I didn’t want to hear.  Amy, Amy, Amy, Amy.  It was like a rock against my skull.  Not necessarily enough to penetrate with the first blow, but chipping away, giving me a headache, and so fucking crude, stupid, and raw.

And, worse, it was a refrain that echoed my mentality those two years ago.  Amy.  Amy.  Amy.  I need her, I want her.  It had been my mind for all that time.

Sveta touched my arm, rubbing it.  A bit of physical reality to bring me back to the moment.  I nodded to a question unasked.

“-thinkers will be able to detect it,” Carol said.

Sveta cut in, “I don’t care what your views are on how villains are treated, except, I’m sorry, but maybe I do, wow, and no.  Or your willingness to put civilians in the hands of your other daughter, who has blood red tattooed on those hands for a reason, which is more wow.  I’m sorry, but what-”

“Sveta,” my mom interrupted her.  “I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for-”

“-and I don’t care,” Sveta said, more intense, talking over my mom now. “I don’t care, I don’t care.  You’re sitting a few feet from your daughter who spent years with an altered mind because of Amy, and you’re talking about how you’d be perfectly okay with Amy altering brains left and right?  I’m sorry, whatWhat?

“It’s the matter at hand, Sveta.  It may well be happening as we speak.  We have to figure out how we respond to it.”

“Mom the fuck up!  That’s how you respond to it!” Sveta raised her voice.  That turned heads at the other end of the diner.

“I’m trying,” my mom said, sounding as pissed as I’d heard her in a while.

“You’re trying to help one daughter who might be beyond help, and you’re fucking up with the daughter who needs it.”

“Stop,” my dad said.  “Let’s end this here?  We’re not getting anywhere, and I think we’re talking past each other.”

You barely talked.  You let mom talk and you nodded here and there to show you were listening and taking it in… and you didn’t say yes or no or judge.

“…and Victoria looks like she needs a break.”

Well, at least he paid attention to me in the midst of it.

“If we step away without actually communicating, then it’s going to be a long time before we talk to her again, she’ll get ideas in her head, and communicating next time will be that much harder.”

“We end this here,” my dad told her.  “No debate.  We’re probably bothering the diner’s owners.”

My mom looked over at him with the most unimpressed look.  When I rose to my feet, my dad did too, and Sveta started on the process of extricating herself from the booth.

My dad and I offered her a hand, each of us taking one hand.  She accepted without complaint.  My mom remained in her seat, leaning back, one arm extended all the way forward, five fingernails resting against the surface of the booth’s table.

I was so ready to go.  It struck me only now that we’d been sitting in the booth and nobody had come to take our orders.  Maybe we’d scared them off with the latent hostility and argument.

“Let’s go meet the others,” Sveta said.

The others.  Oh.  I turned back toward my mom, and put my bag down.  “Can I ask about Natalie?”

My mom smiled, and she acted like we hadn’t just had a heated exchange of words.  “She’s well.  Healing from that chest wound while spending some time away with a friend.”

“When is she back?” Sveta asked.

“She said she would be gone for two days, and she told me that yesterday.  She would have emailed you.”

“She probably did, but it would have been lost in the tide of feedback and questions we’re getting.”

“I remember those moments.  Use them.  People ask and approach because they’re interested.  You want that interest.”

“Not today,” I said.  “Today is the day we consolidate.”

“Is today a special event?” my dad asked.

“Only that it’s been too long since we’ve done it,” I said, “And we really fucking need it.”

“Damn straight,” Sveta said.

“Can I give you something to pass on to Natalie?” I asked my mom.

“Of course.”

I put my bag down and fished inside.  “A bit of a thank-you for looking after Lookout and an apology for her having to put up with us while we were mind controlled.  She did well.”

“I have an eye for exceptional people, Victoria,” my mom said.

“You do.”

I handed over the package, gift wrapped as best as I’d been able with the supplies I’d had.

“Stay in touch?” my dad asked.

I drew in a deep breath, then exhaled, looking at my mom, who still sat with her arm out, her other hand resting on the tidy little package.

“I can’t keep doing this,” I said.  “Sticking my hand into the fire and getting burned.”

“We’ll talk, okay?  You and me?” my dad asked.

I shrugged.  My mom looked annoyed at that offer from my dad.

Irreconcilable differences, really.  There wasn’t a good way to handle this.

“You know where I am,” he said.

We said our muted goodbyes.  The door of the diner closed behind Sveta and I, and we stepped into the cold.  My breath fogged.  Sveta’s didn’t.

“The good news is that my dad extended an invite to Christmas, if you want company.”

“Ha ha.”

“Come on,” I told her.  “Let’s go find our teammates.”

The snow was whipping around us as we returned to the main street.  I could see a guy across the road, smoking a cigarette while he leaned against a store window.    He watched the snow not with wonder, but the opposite- a lack of light in his eyes.

People would die as the weather got colder.  But that would be then.  The future was in the future, and that future had an Amy-shaped shadow somewhere across it.  The past was misery.

The present?  Today?  I could focus on today.  We would consolidate.

All together.  Strength and knowledge.

They’d already departed the train when we arrived.  I’d figured the talk with my parents would be intense and problematic, but I hadn’t expected it to be long.

It was Byron with a guy with shaggy black hair and scraggly facial hair, and Erin, all sitting on the railings at the top of the stairwell.  Erin gave me a wave.

Kenzie was bundled up, with pink earmuffs, hair not done up in buns, but parted, the vast majority of her hair at one side of her face, along her temple and cheek.  She had a black coat, with a nice looking flannel scarf, pink and black – more bundling than was necessary for the weather.

Behind her, two women were talking- thin, both in feminine clothing.  One had tan skin and light clothes, with a pixie cut, and the other had long black hair, matching clothes, and pale skin.

She spotted us, and she sprinted, running down icy steps, barely touching the railing.

“Careful!” Sveta called out.

Kenzie reached the bottom stair and threw herself at us, arms wide so one arm caught me and the other caught Sveta.  Sveta slipped and, despite my efforts, ended up on the ground.

“Sorry!”

“It’s okay.  I’m glad to see you too,” Sveta said.  She made her way back to her feet, then parted ways with me, seizing the railing and heading up toward Erin.

“See my work?  I thought we’d need to protect identities,” Kenzie said, looking up at me, her chin touching my stomach.  “So I made people projection things.  It keeps your body type so you can still see what clothes look like, without it getting wonky.”

“That sounds work intensive.”

The guy with shaggy black hair would be Rain then.  The two girls would be Ashley and Damsel.

“It was.  It is.  But I couldn’t sleep anyhow, and I thought I’d do something productive while I lay in bed.  And then it became a habit, I’d work until I fell asleep at my desk or until I got tired.  Now working on this project makes me tired.  How are you?”

“I’m okay.  Tough conversation with my parents.  My mom, specifically.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.  She broke the hug.  “I’m so happy everyone’s here.”

“Speaking of,” I said.  I lowered my voice a bit.  “Was there a rule you told me about hugging?”

“Oh.  Um…”

“Listen,” I said, and I lowered my voice even more.  “I don’t want to be the bad guy-”

“You aren’t.”

“-or make you feel like I’m not happy to see you either.  But if you had a rule about hugging, then we should keep to that rule, okay?  At least until we hear different.”

“Okay.”

“Do you have other rules?” I asked.

“Yeah.  A bunch.”

“Are you following them?”

I saw her look around, like there was a way out.  I didn’t want to trap her or act like my mom, but… if this was deemed important then it was important.

Part of consolidating like I wanted to meant avoiding the lies.  It meant sticking to the rules and keeping things from getting shaky around the foundations.

I had my own shake.  But Kenzie was especially shaky.  Especially now.

“Come on.  Let’s make this a good team day.  We deserve one,” I told her.

She nodded with twice the energy that was necessary, no smile on her face.   I reached for her shoulder, to guide her on the way up steps with ice on them, and she seized my hand in hers instead.  Quick as a camera flash.

“You’re here,” the long-haired Ashley said.  “After leaving us standing around in the cold for as long as you did, you really should buy us something.  Tribute.”

Okay, that was Damsel then.  Hair length matched.  Easy.

“It’s a joke,” the other said.  “You might have guessed, but we’re not really here.  We’re sitting at the apartment, wrapped in blankets.  We have cups of cider beside us, and a plate of those gourmet chocolates and biscuits on the coffee table.”

“That’s not fair,” I said.  I looked down at Kenzie.  “That’s not fair at all.”

“Do you know what’s better?” Damsel asked.  “When we go buy our clothes, they’ll fit perfectly.

“I scanned them for measurements, head to toe,” Kenzie said.

“That’s not fair at all,” I said.  “That they get to stay at home with blankets and treats, and they get to go shopping?”

“Having our cake and eating it too,” Damsel said.  She touched fingers to her lips and made a smacking kiss sound.

“If it’s any consolation,” the guy with the shaggy black hair said.  Rain, obviously enough.  “I’m here for real and I’m freezing my butt off.”

“You’re in good company,” Erin said, her arms wrapped around her body and tucked into the opening of her jacket, her body hunched over.  She gave Rain a sidelong glance.  “I feel weirdly disloyal, hanging out with this random guy with black hair and chin scruff.”

“I’m way cooler than that guy,” Rain-in-disguise said.

“Nuh uh,” Erin responded.

Inch over half a foot, Rain, and put your arm around her, I thought.  Warm her up.

“It might help with the butt freeze if you weren’t sitting on a cold metal railing,” Sveta said.

Rain hopped down, straightened with a stretch, and then shook his head.  “Yeah, no, that’s not better.  Let’s get where it’s warm.”

“Let’s,” Erin said.

Byron, a little off to the side, was smiling, perfectly content in the twenty-three degree weather.

“Let’s go,” I said.  “And let’s talk mission plan.”

“Is this a mission now?” Rain asked.

“Only if it keeps us organized.  We’re splitting up, but I want to touch base, especially before any big purchases.  That’s partially so we don’t lose track of each other.  And also because I’m really, really curious what some of you are after.  As far as split-up teams go, I’m with Sveta, because I owe her and we’re ridiculously overdue for this.”

“Yes,” Sveta said.

“I’m with the boys,” Erin said.  “They wanted help because they’re hopeless.”

“And I’ve got the best two people to keep me company,” Kenzie said.

“Perfect,” I said. “We have practical reasons for this and those reasons include updating our costumes for the winter.  You do that, we can dip into the team funds, consciences clear.  Within reason.”

There were nods all around.

“Let’s stay out of trouble,” I said.

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133 thoughts on “Polarize – 10.1”

  1. “Let’s stay out of trouble,” I said.

    Oh boy.

    Yeah, I think Victoria has a point about Amy here. She historically has not shown great decision-making when under stress, which is not a good combination with global authority and responsibility and the capacity to create plagues at will.

    1. Also temporal note: this is after Valkryie met Tempus Furgit and the Africa mission is either done or wrapping up. So it’s probably 5-8 days until she finds Warden HQ. Victoria just has to make sure no one burns down the city until then and she’ll be able to get some help.

      Call it 55% odds.

    2. Amy has demonstrated okay decision making under pressure. She actually has several good examples of pressured decision making:
      1) Defeated that Bonesaw Plague.
      2) Summoned Khepri on Gold Morning defeating the Gold Man.
      3) Worked with Chris to maneuver Goddess into a position to die AND thwart Teacher’s plan to steal the prison.

      Plus this is why you have thinkers and Valkyrie.

      1. I would not consider any of those great decisions on her part, though the jury is still out on 3. 1 was straightforwardly obvious and 2 was Taylor’s idea.

      2. Another point in Amy’s favour is she is, what, three years older? Big amount of maturity settling in compared to when you’re barely out of puberty.

        And a neutral point. She has fractured under pressure before. Some people come out the other side of that sort of pressure tougher, because they now know their danger signs and when to anneal instead of snap.

      3. Mind controllers do not get to run worlds.
        20-year-olds do not get to run worlds.
        People with checkered pasts do not get to run worlds.
        Armies of super-villains do not get to run worlds.

        Mind-controlling 20 year olds with checkered pasts and an army of super villains straight up do not get to run worlds.

        1. Random commentators on the internet do not get to enforce arbitrary, unrealistic rules about who gets to run worlds in universes they are not even a part of. 😉

        2. I mean, real world examples of who actually gets power seems to disagree. Strongly. We have princes and tyrants and there’s North Korea, which is as close to mind control as I can imagine, and Trump, and countries ruled by “the guy with the biggest army”, and others ruled by “the previous ruler’s child” like that qualifies them…

    3. This is pointedly unfair to Amy. You all expect a whole lot from someone in her circumstance who ran into the worlds most solid manipulator.

      She told victoria not to touch her and she did it anyway. She was setup by wibbledabble to be tragic. Besides the Victoria thing she actually didn’t make horrible decisions in the long run. Photon Mom said it best: she had no support in a very hard position when people kept forcing horrible decisions on her and yall are letting Victoria’s anger color Amys character.

      1. Brandish, not Lady Photon.
        But yeah, Amy broke under some of the worst conditions possible, as orchestrated by Jack Slash, and her horrible decisions were made in her frantic attempts to fix things, and only backfired because her power was actively sabotaging her.
        Right now, it looks like she’s pulling a Taylor and taking over because others can’t be trusted to work together themselves. I wonder how Imp will take things when she learns of this?

      2. I will just reiterate how genuinely distressing it is that there are people in the comments that unironically think Amy is in the right (or at least moreso than Victoria). The huge difference between Victoria hugging Amy when Amy said to stay away is that Victoria had no reason to think that there was a problem with getting close to Amy. Was it still wrong of her to do so? Yeah, but it was an understandable type of wrong; from Victoria’s perspective she was just trying to comfort her traumatized sister (it’s like someone with a gun saying “if you get closer I’ll shoot!”; while getting closer might be dumb, they’re still a murderer if they do it!). Amy, on the other hand, has zero excuse; not only did Victoria say to stay away, but anyone with half a brain should understand why she’d be traumatized by Amy’s presence/contact.

        Victoria has no obligation or responsibility to make up with Amy; she was completely reasonably traumatized by Amy’s actions (which, let’s not forget, involved her being forced to love her for a very long time; that well has been poisoned and Victoria will likely never be able to normally interact with Amy again). Even if Amy’s actions can be somewhat sympathized with, they were still obviously wrong and have consequences. She basically has a power that makes it really easy to mind-rape people, and isn’t somehow absolved just because she was in a bad place mentally when she committed the crime (and Victoria certainly has no duty to forgive her). People compare Victoria’s aura use to this, but those situations aren’t comparable; Victoria had no knowledge her aura would have that long-term effect (if it even did; I believe that’s just a hypothesis), while Amy was fully aware of what changing Victoria’s brain would do.

        It’s also funny to see another comment mentioning Taylor taking over because others couldn’t be trusted to run things correctly. Taylor was never in the right; the PRT also wasn’t in the right, but Taylor’s answer to them was absolutely also wrong. And the thing that people always seem to conveniently forget is that Khepri manipulating countless parahumans into fighting Scion *failed*. What ended up working is something that never really required the powers of Khepri in the first place; manipulating powers to remind him of the other dead Entity. In fact, if I recall correctly non-Khepri-controlled parahumans were even contributing to that strategy once it was started.

      3. Especially this one:

        >“Being as objective as I can, she’s doing something good. She knows we’re in for a hard winter, and if she can promise peace and stability in exchange for some surplus food being sent our way? It could save an incredible number of lives. Millions. And she’s doing it while giving you your space.”

        > “Space? Two nights ago she tried to catch me by surprise and touch me. It was a meeting she requested that set off all of the worst events of that night. I’m supposed to smile and accept all of that?”

        Oh, Victoria, certainly no! You don’t have to accept any of that! Amy wants peace and stability? To save people? To send food to your world? How *dares* she?! Nooo, we won’t smile and accept all of that, we want none of it. If a monster like Amy wants to save people, then we’ll want them to suffer and die! Oh holy FUCK.

        1. Remember how Victoria viewed Dot, as opposed to how Dot was really like.

          Dot: Hey, my family was dying and Amy healed them so they’re no longer dying. Isn’t she great?

          Victoria: You support Amy? You must be pure evil!

          Or when Amy went to Shin she announced “You will be good, and you will help people and protect them, or you can stay here!” and then Victoria relayed it as “Let’s all be villains and rule as warlords!”

          Victoria is pathologically incapable (for a perfectly understandable reason) of being objective where Amy is concerned.

          1. Right, and now Dot herself is a “miniature devil” and yet another reason why Amy is terrible.

            It’s certainly understandable where Victoria comes from, but with this kind of attitude (“nothing you could do is acceptable, not even leaving for another world, you only could do something right if you lay down and die”) I wonder if it will be Victoria who’ll be the next cause for Amy to break.

    4. I’m really hoping Amy is planning to be the top villain in a standard villain-rule setup and maybe try to do some marginal good things here and there. She’s qualified to do that: she has the raw power, and she had a good teacher.

      If she tries to do much better than that, she’s going to end up doing much worse.

      1. Frankly I don’t think she’s up to even that without Marquis coming along to advise. Ruling hundreds of parahumans on a global scale is fairly difficult, it’d be rather hard to sneakily rewrite the minds of all the villains to serve her loyally, and pulling that off outside of Megaoplolis is the kind of thing liable to be an immediate precursor to a Valkryie moment.

      2. > If she tries to do much better than that, she’s going to end up doing much worse.

        It’s a Wildbow story, remember? No matter what anyone tries or does not try – everything’s going to end up much worse (than any of us probably imagines) 🙂

    5. Yeah I’m pretty sure she inherited the Jack slash role here. Maybe she already got to the parents too, altering their minds in a goddess like fashion

        1. Amy conduits possibly form alarms of small sneaky creatures that she cancel and should they makeover way from Ellisburg, quite possibly transfer their loyalty to their new Red Queen.

          Amy had learned from many people and she has had a looong time to think.

  2. Typos:

    People have their boundaries, usually, and they draw them out behind them through a hundred signals, some really subtle, and some obvious. And yours is… very hard to identify until I’m in contact with it or you’re already in that very bad place. All of us are actually pretty bad about it, but yours is especially tricky because I care a shitton about you.

    Boundaries in this sense are usually plural, even when talking about just one person’s. The singular that Sveta uses for Victoria’s boundaries reads very strangely.

    1. But it makes sense, because it’s only one of Victoria’s boundaries that Sveta has trouble with. Specifically, the boundary regarding Amy. Everything else, Sveta knows how/when to avoid, but Vicky can’t help but cross the Amy boundary sometimes without realising it.

      1. Maybe, but Victoria presumably has multiple boundaries. Without Sveta ever specifying which boundary matters, it reads very strangely, like she thinks the only way she could ever violate a boundary with Victoria would be to break the Amy rule in some fashion.

    2. “my physical therapy for my arm and having a doctor look at the burn on my arm,”
      Mildly clunky.

      “keep the streets wet but clear snow and ice.”
      +of

      “literal army of mind controlled thralls”
      “while we were mind controlled.”
      > “mind-controlled”, probably.

    3. >The guy with shaggy black hair would be Rain then. The two girls would be Ashley and Damsel.
      >“If it’s any consolation,” the guy with the shaggy black hair said. Rain, obviously enough. “I’m here for real and I’m freezing my butt off.”

      “If it’s any consolation,” Rain said from his projected form/Rain-in-disguise said, “I’m here for real and I’m freezing my butt off.” [Repeated ID of Rain]

      >“I’m way cooler than that guy,” Rain-in-disguise said.

      [If you follow the above suggestion, you can just write, “Rain said”]

    4. “I’ve actually been thinking about that, actually. ”

      Was the double “actually” an intentional colloquism?

  3. Holy crap. They’re finally doing it. The Shopping Trip!

    Is it weird Wildbow has somehow made shopping an anticipated event in a superhero story?

    1. It’s not the least weird when you’ve got well developed characters that have interesting interactions with each other. When that happens, the audience wants to see them doing different things so they can read about how they act there. We care about them almost like they’re real people and we want them to have some down time and fun. Too much of Everything Is Perfect usually makes for a bad story, but it’s great when it happens every now and again.

      1. > When that happens, the audience wants to see them doing different things

        …and, just for a change, not having to suffer and struggle for some time 🙂 Yeah, that’s just a breather chapter which is much needed.

  4. Well, Carol continues to remind me of my own mother’s worst moments. Thanks a bunch, Mr Bow.

    Really loved Sveta’s participation, from being considered part of the family to the amazing “mom the fuck up” line.

    So Team Breakthrough traded Cryptid for Damsel as the token human but not human cape? Also interesting from a tactical standpoint since they now have two pairs of twins, except these are unidentical twins with identical powers.

    Pretty neat how easily Damsel keeps matching her sister’s dynamic with Kenzie in both directions. So much d’awww.

    (Does this mean the Ashleys are back in the apartment that Victoria barely had time to move in to?)

    Finally, Rain. Erin. A hug won’t kill you, I swear. I mean, take your time, but Victoria’s right, at least the basic gentledude gestures should be okay here.

    This is the chapter we needed after that extended Mastery creepitude.

    1. Rain and Erin are Not Happening. Ever. They know that they almost were forced together, but that it was *forced*, that the Fallen tried to toss Erin to Rain as a bribe and a reward, and that she chose him as the least shitty option, the option she could tolerate, could talk herself into liking.

      Rain made the right call in getting out. Maybe they can restore their friendship, but romance is not in the cards.

      1. Yeah. More and more Rain demonstrates that he’s a fundamentally decent dude and he has a solid head on his shoulders. Even though the girl of his dreams threw herself into his arms before, he knew it was under duress and that she hadn’t had feelings for him before then. By refusing, he recognized and respected her consent in the matter.

        Maybe years down the road, when they’ve both matured and recovered somewhat from their trauma, a romance could be healthy; but not as things are now with the recent shared trauma in both their minds.

      2. I’d have thought the same, but one wouldn’t normally feel disloyal about hanging out as friends with a guy who looks different from your friend. Or joke about feeling that, unless you were really really secure in your just-friendsness, which I doubt is the case.

      3. I’d have thought so too, but you wouldn’t normally feel disloyal hanging out with a guy friend who looks different from your other guy friend. Nor would you joke about feeling that unless your relationship was *comfortably* platonic, which I really doubt theirs is.

      4. Not all about the shipping. Friendshipping is safe, and okay and a hug to warm up can be perfectly platonic, especially since she makes the loyalty remark. She’s in this together with Breakthrough, apparently.

    2. Lol I highly doubt Rain wants to be with Erin after the fallen shit. “I don’t actually want to be with you but I can fake it if there’s a gun to my head, please compromise your values for me?!” Is kind of a turn off.

    3. It occurs to me that Damsel could have even more of her cake and eat it.

      She has the far better control over her power than Swan Song as well as claws. However the claws make every-day life difficult for handling things.

      Enter Rain ‘o’ Fire with his attachable hands to do that daily work. The main obstacle would be to work them in such a way as to keep with her fashion sense.

      1. Or just give her a swappable option to switch for the claws? IIRC he mentioned that he’s maintaining the hands for both of them, which means he likely knows how to take them off entirely?

      2. She already made the finger-kissing motion, which would have looked weird in the projection if her fingers were a foot long. I’m willing to suspect that Rain has already made some improvements on that score.

  5. Can’t believe I’m actually hoping for and looking forward to an entire chapter of retail therapy….the team needs this. I need this. We as collective readers need this. Please bestow some purr fluff and team bonding on us Wildbow, its been an intense month.

  6. … I love Damsel and Swansong so damn much.
    On the other hand, I also love Chris and now he’s not here, which is saddening. Carol’s lack of emotional intelligence is also saddening, but at least there is hope for Mark (Four for you, Flashbang. You go, Flashbang) and his words to Sveta were particularly heartwarming. Add to that Rain and Erin smoothing things out, and this was a pretty sweet chapter (minus Carol. NONE FOR CAROL DALLON BYE)

    1. Carol isn’t really thinking rationally. She is really blaming herself for what happened and instead of recognizing that, she just sees Amy as a person who can do no wrong that somehow this family could be better than before.

      After all the shit that happened to the Dallon family, all I could say is that only Flashbang is the Dallon member capable of bringing the family back together. He knows how to pick his battles and is the kind of patience that Victoria really needs. Whether or not he’s trying to do that is beyond me.

      Also, considering the conversation with Natalie right afterwards, it feels like the Amy issue is like extreme Liberal versus extreme Conservative political family debate. Both sides can’t be persuaded easily, but they still care for each other and will help them out. Victoria still treats Carol like her mother and Carol likewise. They just don’t agree on fundamental issues.

      1. The problem is that this particular fundamental issue is deeply personal for both Victoria (for obvious reasons) and Carol (for trauma-related history and still not getting the memo on loving both daughters).

        On some level, Carol wants everyone to be a big happy family, but Victoria sees that as condoning what happened to her as Carol being ‘okay’ with it.

        Which isn’t true, but actions/attitudes have continued that discrepancy up to where we are now.

        Also Vicky has minimized contact with Carol on multiple levels, so I don’t think she’s going to go out of her way to treat Carol like a mother anytime soon – as has been evident in pretty much all interactions they’ve had throughout Ward.

      2. “Quiet now,” my mom said, all composure. Her voice was infuriatingly calm. “There are other people in the room.”
        She had a slight smile on her face as I sat back, reeling myself in.


        You know, I bet there were other places you could have picked, with no one else there.

      1. Mark Dallon (V’s dad) is Flashbang. Manpower was Victoria’s uncle and Crystal’s dad, Neil Pelham. He died in the Leviathan fight along with Shielder/Eric Pelham (Crystal’s brother). Crystal’s mom/Carol’s sister Sarah died in Gold Morning. All in all, it’s a miracle Crystal didn’t implode at some point.

        I’ve read speculation that Manpower’s shard is the one that budded onto Victoria as opposed to either of her parents. His powers were fairly similar to hers.

  7. Carol’s attitude towards Amy reminds me of a line from Mark twain’s “The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson”

    “A devil born to a young couple is measurably recognizable by them as a devil before long, but a devil adopted by an old couple is an angel to them, and remains so, through thick and thin.”

  8. Ok, the Ashley-Ashley-Kenzie dynamic is really heartwarming. What’s the law say about incarcerated twins adoption perspectives ?

  9. Would Capricorn even need to update his costume for winter? Heavy armour like he wears is usually pretty hot in the summer, so it ought to provide adequate protection from the cold in winter.

    1. Byron should be fine, but Tristan’s metal might need some fur padding or something. Don’t want frozen metal touching skin.

      1. If he’s wearing proper plate, he should already have a gambeson or arming doublet under-layer. You don’t want metal plate touching skin since the oil in your skin is corrosive and it damages the metal over time.

    1. Carol’s been pushing to have the whole family be One Happy Family again since Arc 1 where she conspired to ambush Victoria with Amy at the party. I think she obsessed with Fixing the mistakes that she made as a shitty mom before Victoria was crippled and Amy cracked then went to prison. In her obsession to fix everything, she’s blind to damage that she’s doing with her attempts. The only thing that’s still in the way of her getting her repaired family is that Victoria refuses to forgive Amy for doing unforgivable things to her. How unfair is that? Carol’s gotten over what Amy did. What can’t Victoria?

  10. I was not expecting Carol to go full “crime is a physiological problem” eugenicist on us, but it makes a horrible kind of sense with what we’ve seen from her already.

    This woman is a prosecutor who’s designing the city’s legal system. Everyone’s fucked.

    1. “If Amy took it upon herself to touch villains and alter the broken reward cycles, if Amy wanted to give them a conscience, or if Amy wanted to fix whatever was broken in their physiology that made them aggressive, ”

      ahhhhh

      I started reading this thinking it was reasonable, because like, sure, there’s a fair bit of evidence that violent criminals have a tendency to have reduced fear reactions from a very young age, less empathy, yada yada. So ok, I didn’t know criminals have a tendency to have broken reward systems, but aight, that would be on par with Amy fixing Mark’s depression (if they ask for this surgery bc they want the sweet sweet dopamine)

      And then Carol jumps straight into Amy making someone a conscience.

      ahhhhhh

      Like there’s recommending therapy and nutrients for people with smaller amygdalas and then there’s re-wiring their whole personality . Idk if Carol knows what a personality is. Or if she gets the irony of recommending that Amy make people less aggressive.

      And then there’s shards. Maybe Pannacotta could fix Regent’s sociopathy. But since his powers were heavily hinted to be tied in to his lack of emotions, what would that do to him power-wise?

      ahhhhhhhh

    2. But villains are all the things Carol is saying they are due to shard perversions (not uniformly, but in particular instances). My impression of how the red queen shard works is that any such efforts will backfire, just like her attempts to benefit Vicky did. But let’s say I’m wrong and Amy can undo ‘the crazy’ the shards have inflicted on villains – then Carol’s argument stands. I don’t think Amy is going for this though, for the same reasons she won’t be trying to give Sveta her body back; she’s learned the hard way about backfires and working against the shards. Also, Carol thinks people can change, so it wouldn’t make sense for her to have the view you suggest, or it would logically incorporate Amy as the daughter of Marquis. On the other hand, maybe Amy did get to Carol and outdo Kenzie on reforming parents? People change when you jimmy their brains.

      I think it would be neat for a desperate Carol to go to Marquis and ask him to go keep Amy from crazy/breakdowns.

      1. I mean…dude, I think “Villains are that way because the shards just make some people bad for the sake of conflict,” is an unhelpful and inaccurate read on it. One of the big things that slowly got revealed in Worm was the insane degree to which the system of the PRT and Protectorate was actually unjust and corrupt, and the ways in which society had basically been set up ever since the 1980’s to perpetuate the system of hero/villain.

        That’s not the shards at work. That’s humans being shitty, human society being awful, and Cauldron pulling strings behind the scenes. A fucking huge part of the entire meta-plot of both Worm and Ward is that the system of heroes and villains is fucked up and only making things worse.

        Before Gold Morning, the PRT could have prevented like half of all villains from even getting started in the first place if they’d taken half of their tactical busget and spent it on counseling services and early awareness training in schools. But that’s not what the PRT was ever for, was it? Cauldron *wanted* lots of combat experienced parahumans.

        1. Well, to a certain extent the Shards wouldn’t have let that work. They want to be used and they’ll coerce people into using them. The PRT’s Ward system was their effort to rein that in by letting teens use their powers in a safe and controlled manner, but with the Endbringers slaughtering elite heroes by the score on an annual basis the “safe and controlled” part got scrapped.

          1. Also, I think Cauldron’s contribution was in many ways positive; they instituted the Unwritten Rules, which incentivized villains to keep collateral damage limited and kept fights from escalating in many cases, as well as providing a basis for the Endbringer Truce and cooperation against other S-class threats.

            They did prioritize parahuman lives over unpowered lives, so they were hardly perfect, but they made Bakuda’s rampage and the Slaughterhouse Nine the exception rather than the norm.

          2. That is true…but it is still also the truth that the entire system was not ever designed to help *prevent* villains. It was designed to allow villains and heroes to have cool fights and then put the scariest villains in the great big box marked “Birdcage; Open In Case Of Apocalypse”. The term ‘rogue’ came into being as a dismissive term for parahumans who didn’t want to take part in awesome lightsabre fights, but who instead wanted to find civilian, non-violent uses for their powers.

            In other words, sure, humanity has a shard problem in that parahumans have a noted systemic tendency towards conflict. Buuuuuut…humanity also has a *cultural* problem in that humanity in this setting just keeps fucking trying to solve their problems with lightsabre fights, and shoving the people who have a natural tendency to be good at lightsabre fights into fucking idiotic lightsabre fighting leagues.

            Sooner or later, they’re gonna hafta admit that the shards are not forcing the vast majority of parahumans to do dumb shit. If they could remove the cultural tumour that is “Superhero fights! What an awesome idea!” from their collective skull, things might get better. I’ve spent much of Ward so far waiting for Victoria to stop and ask herself why the fuck it is that she goes around thinking: “Yeah! Superheroing! It’s awesome! Just *being* a superhero [i.e. having a costume and calling yourself a superhero] is an inherently morally and ethically good thing to do!”

          3. Well, I think the Shard’s contribution here is that Victoria isn’t asking that question. And won’t.

            Cauldron set the culturally accepted ways for parahumans to fight and the Shards got their parahumans to participate. If Cauldron hadn’t pushed the hero-villain system parahumans would still fight, quite possibly with as little concern for collateral damage as they have in Endbringer fights; look at the post-New Delhi interlude and the reactions to the fight footage to see how much of a difference that makes.

            Cauldron picked an outcome with large numbers of surviving parahumans, but if they hadn’t done the Birdcage then powerful and near-unstoppable villains would… well probably be murdered by Glastig Ulaine because she thought it looked pretty when they died. But before she got around to killing them so she could watch them die, which could be a while, they’d inflict a lot of collateral damage. As Earth Shin so recently demonstrated, parahumans who don’t go along with Cauldron’s rules can be really bad. However, things are starting to come apart; we saw in the fighting in Africa that the Wardens are no longer making an effort to keep parahumans alive. And on the other side, the warlords broke the unpowered version of the Unwritten Rules, the Laws And Customs Of War, by indiscriminately employing chemical weapons.

            The important thing to remember about the hero and villain system is it bound both sides. And while Cauldron nudged the “Rogue” label, a good chunk of why it stuck is that parahumans were just really bad at not dressing up in costumes and engaging in battle. Parian was the only Rogue in Brockton Bay, and I’m pretty sure her Shard basically shoulder-deviled her into engaging Leviathan and then becoming a de-facto warlord in the aftermath. And Shards are probably why basically everyone shows for Endbringer fights even if their power is totally useless against an Endbringer.

          4. See, I get that idea, (re: the shard preventing Victoria from being fully self aware of the weird flaws in her worldview) but that’s a profoundly depressing outlook, and one which kinda, sorta, validates the view that parahumans really are in some fashion sub-human. That they’ve all been given power and that in exchange they’ve had a fundamental part of their being as humans taken away.

            It’s also kind of an unsatisfying answer on a meta level, if you get me?

            “Humanity is just fucked because of the shards and ultimately they’re gonna have to get rid of parahumans,” is a less interesting proposal than “Humanity is fucked up because humans themselves are just not fucking good at dealing with power, *especially* when the mechanism generating that power is designed to empower people who have been hurt and betrayed by other humans. The answer is that humans themselves have to find a better way to deal with their shit.”

            Can you see what I mean?

          5. Well, yes parahumans have lost some of their humanity and free will. See the poor bastard in the tower last chapter to see a particularly unsubtle example.

            Still, for the vast majority of parahumans the Shards just make it so they’re inclined to go out and get involved in conflicts rather than sitting at home using their pyrokinesis to cook. Crystal is demonstrating that there’s lots of ways to express that; she’s basically joined the army and is soldiering like a normal soldier.

            The hero/villain system is just one semi-stable resolution. Probably moreso now; the Endbringers generally put it under severe strain by regularly ripping holes in the ranks of the heroes and leaving them less able to crack down on other threats and the Simurgh in particular deliberately fucked up efforts to organize parahumans fairly frequently along with screwing over efforts to use Tinker tech to benefit humanity.

        2. Are humans being shitty? Yes.
          Are the shards “forcing the vast majority of parahumans to do dumb shit,”? I’d say yes.
          At the end of the day, humans have to change culture to get un-fucked, as they lack any other power tools at their disposal – unless Amy does. That’s the crux re: Carol’s speculation. That’s big. Also, there’s a 300 year ticking clock on the powers anyway, yeah? So everybody loses powers by then regardless is my guess.

          In the meantime, consider if folks would be better off with a system of just villains instead of heroes and villains. If Carol said villains and included all other criminals, then hello crazytown, but I don’t think she’s wrong about villains. We don’t know if everybody is doomed, we don’t know if humanity lacks the ability to recover from entities, because it hasn’t been written out yet. Unless it could be either, the tension resolves. That would be what lessens the story.

          Can parahumans (not subhumans), do more good than harm despite everything? Can human society as a whole work towards recovery? Maybe. If not, do the choices made along the way reflect ideals of lasting value? Does any of it matter?

          1. The 300-year clock was the original schedule for the Shards to regroup and destroy every version of Earth before the Entities depart to start the cycle over on another world. I think Valkryie has the Shards responsible for coordinating that bit and Scion and Eden are both dead, so the plan is cancelled and they’ll stick around until destroyed.

            Or until Valkryie kills every single parahuman in the multiverse, secures every Shard from both Entities, then heads off into deep space so hers can’t bud I guess, but there’s like a 99.9% chance that will end up just making a new Entity who destroys Earth.

          2. The plan is cancelled, but did everybody get the memo?

            In the information vacuum, I don’t know that the Warrior entity doesn’t have a primitive survival response mechanism that kicks in only when Scion – the core of the entity, the head – is cut down. Maybe the territory markers serve multiple purposes as emergency back-up power generators and communication relays, leaving the world(s) vulnerable on several fronts?

            The internal circuitry of entities has not been fully fleshed out, and I feel the verisimilitude of the wormverse remains unanchored as a result. Valkyrie from last chapter thought the markers would prevent a return of entities, but remains silent on the interplay between the markers and the third entity hit-and-run. There could be a forward momentum in the fall of shard dominoes that hasn’t been knocked off course, or has been knocked off course enough to come to fruition in a surprising new direction. What are individual shards programmed to do with respect to the end of the cycle? Does being in communication with other shards or not play a role? Does how much gas is left in the tank for a given shard play a role? I can envision a shardy shard hitting bingo fuel and automatically returning to base camp to interact with other shards in ways that are bad for humans and leave them powerless, barring strays. Or maybe they are the ‘strays’? Are the remaining parahumans up to the task of stopping the baby worm? Is that the kind of thing the third entity was? Valkyrie is a possible capstone to this. Broken triggers?

            I guess I’ll just keep reading Ward and give the dangling threads a chance to weave to a conclusion. 300, until there’s more to go on.

          3. We indeed don’t know the internal design of the Entities, but it appears they have a particular lynchpin and come apart when it’s destroyed. Eden’s was left vulnerable when she crashed long enough for Contessa to destroy it. Scion’s was sealed off in a dimension shielded against portal powers but not Sting because nothing can shield against Sting. Scion, Contessa, and Valkryie all were sure Eden was dead for keeps. I suspect that their Shards could reform into basically the same Entity, but there is no indication in their behaviour or Interludes that they had a contingency plan for being killed; they only made contingency plans to render that impossible and Eden screwed up.

            Otherwise, Contessa and Valkryie are the only humans who know much of anything about Entities from sources other than being told things by Contessa or Valkryie, and they seem pretty sure both Entities are dead. They also believe no others are ever coming, but it’s possible the third Entity killed Scion and Eden on purpose and will show up at some point.

            We have had indications Scion is in “that is not dead which can eternal lie” mode from the Ashleys and the broken trigger guy way back, but considering that the broken triggers aren’t in the plan I severely doubt that whatever is happening is in the plan. And getting the plan back on track would kill literally everyone so it’s not really a solution. The Shards will be something humanity needs to deal with until one side is annihilated, unless Valkryie is able to become a new Entity and not kill everyone.

          4. The Shards will be something humanity needs to deal with until one side is annihilated, unless Valkryie is able to become a new Entity and not kill everyone.

            If anybody’s going to become a new Entity in order to save humanity, it’s going to be Victoria. Worm ended with Taylor choosing to bully a space whale to death, so naturally Ward would end with Victoria choosing to become the Ur Wretch. Somehow. (It’s probably Amy’s fault.)

          5. Contessa’s PtV put Eden into a coma. After that, she was not the priority. Then, in an emotionally disturbed fit of outrage, Scion incinerates Eden, and the PtV prophecy is fulfilled. That’s a literal dead end. As for primitive survival response mechanisms, they’re the kind of thing that one doesn’t “contingency plan” for, almost by definition. Keep in mind that to Scion, sting itself was a half forgotten memory from the dimmest recesses of a more primal entity nature. He said, “Oh yeah, that could kill me. Better make a note of that,” and drifted on. He forgot he even had it, or that he had handed it out! So I can totally buy he doesn’t even realize lesser aspects of his existence. As for Contessa now, we don’t know where she is at readiness wise, or what questions she’s asked, to know if there’s an entity rebirth lurking in a loophole. Valkyrie doesn’t explain the markers and the third entity, so she can be missing other things as well.

          6. Contessa remembers her trigger vision of Eden’s entire strategic planning process. Valkyrie presumably got her apparently complete and entirely accurate knowledge of how the cycle is intended to go by the same means. There’s not really any reason to doubt their understanding of how the Entities work. Nor is there any reason to doubt that Scion can tell if an Entity he is looking at is actually dead. Furthermore, even if both Eden and Scion forgot about a survival mechanism they rigged up on their approach (since Contessa remembers Eden’s actions during the approach) Scion is still almost certainly dead because he was killed by Sting, which is for killing Entities and has no room for improvement in that regard.

          7. Eden was put into a coma and then later accidentally killed by Cauldron in an unspecified way. Scion just burned her corpse.

          8. The Earth meal planning phase was < 1 cycle ago.
            The introduction of sting is hundreds of cycles past.
            An undisclosed aspect of entity nature preceeding that? Primitive.

            Sting was used by entities to kill other entities. But did entities harvest shard resources from the stung? Is that why Scion is not as dead as Eden, post-incineration? Or did it have to do with sting being mapped by shard for humans? Or maybe with Foil being part of a cluster trigger? Something else or some combination? End result is that Scion is not as dead as Eden is currently. The ramifications could range anywhere from nil to infinity, author's choice, and as yet undisclosed.

            C and V know much, have seen much, but entities are vasty and complex.
            Contessa? We know she needs to ask the right questions. Maybe she did. Maybe it only seems like she did.
            Valkyrie? Well the cycle is one thing – something planned, while tripping a survival instinct beyond awareness is something else entirely – something unplanned for. The third entity wasn't. Was it following territory markers to exchange shards rather than as an ambush promising seizure of humanity assets from those with prior claim? Then everything Valkyrie said about it can be accepted as perfectly accurate, and yet we can still end up with a fourth entity trying the same and finding things in their current state, with Valkyrie caught unaware.

            We don't know the procedures and mechanisms the shards normally follow at the end of 300 years. Is it centrally managed, or
            implemented by the shards autonomously following pre-programmed instructions? So it follows that we don't know what happens in the absense of what could serve as a centrally managed control mechanism. Maybe nothing, maybe a bunch, author's choice, etc.

  11. Yes, yes, let’s have a fluffy shopping interlude, thank you. For a few chapters, at least, before some new crisis pops up. I wonder what that crisis will be? Anti-parahuman sentiment flaring up again? The mysterious thing Valkyrie’s scared of? I hope we at least get a Jessica reunion before shit hits the fan.

    1. Valkyrie’s fear: The Second Coming of Skidmark. Turns out the one that Jack murdered was just a remote-controlled clone drone, and the real one was hiding out in Skitterville the whole time (she didn’t recognize him because he disguised himself by taking a shower). Now he’s found his way to Gimel and is preparing to capitalize on a chaotic winter to initiate Rise of the Merchants, Part Two: Electric Igloo. He isn’t actually planning to start it quite yet, but then Victoria goes shopping in the wrong mall…

  12. I just realized… we’re now REALLY unlilely to get a Chris/Cryptid interlude for ages.

    Maybe now that he’s out of the group, the rest will share his backstory?

    1. Or the opposite. Now that he’s over on Shin a Christ interlude would be a great way to show what’s happening over there while providing some insight on him.

  13. [quote]Sveta’s hair, my hair, and our coats were dusted with snowflakes.[/quote]
    [quote]twenty-three degree weather[/quote]
    Hats! Humanity have invented hats for cold weather.
    “Qhorin Halfhand is the only one survived winter beyond the Wall… because he is the only one wearing a hat” 🙂

  14. Carol will always remain for me as the main culprit on everything that went wrong with Amy, or at least a huge part of it; she didnt loved a child that was the daughter of a hated enemy and that she had to suddenly take care of, ignored all what was going with her and mostly didnt cared about her. And now she wants to fix it by ignoring everything that is bad with Victoria, and all around ignoring her mental welfare and not supporting her when she needs her the most.

    Like, seriously, thats messed up. I honestly think that despite general villany, Marquis has been such a better for Amy than the Dallons, and it would be perfect if she just ditched them and stayed with them, but I guess she still cares for them, and so does Vicky and blah blah.

    Really looking forward for that shopping trip and an interlude with Chris where we will hopefully see Marquis helping his daughter with stuff. Also, agree with everyone. Better if Amy is setting herself up as the major villain on a planet rather than some bio intervention for evil people, cause that will backfire fast.

    1. Carol is trying to make up for her mistakes in Worm, and she isn’t ignoring Victoria and her problems, just prioritising Amy and hers. To be fair, Amy collapsing due to lack of support structure like she did in Worm could do far more damage to everybody than Victoria ever could. She is blind to how much this is affecting Victoria, but she is absolutely correct that Amy desperately needs some support from her family to avoid repeating her initial breakdown.

  15. The really exciting thing with Amy right now is that we have no idea what she’s doing.

    Is she in a place where she can be the lovable villain to a planet? that worked for the Undersiders, but in Brockton Bay there were no other options and that space was originally their hometown. They defended it from invaders;they weren’t the invasion.

    Can Amy be the hero dictator of a planet? Being a hero is a large part of her identity, she’s the best healer, she’s got a strong moral compass. ( I just can’t hold the glory girl incident against her, no matter how much evidence piles up that she made bad choices and did bad things. People do bad things in bad moments, and she got influenced by jack slash, tattletale, and vicky, in that order. )

    Could Amy be a brain-washing dictator of a planet? Well, she can brain-wash, but she hates doing it. She seems ok with being Dot’s benevolent overlord, but that’s what Dot needs. Has Dot got her convinced it’s what the world needs? Is Dot the new ruler of Shin?????

    Does she have some other plan? Is this a play done in conjunction with Bonesaw, Nilbog and Jess? Those guys seem weirdly happy in their little encampment.

    Her next move is completely unpredictable. We’re left guessing, completely in the dark about Amy’s motivations, goals and behaviors. Just like Victoria 🙂

    Great chapter. Love the title too.

  16. As usual, I’m not really sure what Victoria wants from Carol.

    Amy didn’t ask anybody’s permission or advice before heading off. She didn’t ask Carol. So Carol tries to be optimistic and believe it’ll all work out. Whereas Sveta and Victoria want her to… what, agree with them that it’s a disaster in the making doomed to failure? And what does that accomplish? I mean, take this quote from Sveta:

    [[“Pretend that we had the same timeline, starting from now. Something like three years of her helping people, a tremendous amount of help. Giving her all-”

    “Burning out,” I said.

    “Burning out, yes,” Sveta added my bit. “Feeling pressured, feeling desperate. Pretend it was three years of that, and then she comes face to face with a monster. And she breaks down again. What if she ends up repeating the cycle, and she repeats it while seven point three billion people are at her mercy? What then?”]]

    Well then the result will be that Amy spent three years doing a tremendous amount of good and then the people she hurts when broken down again will likely be much fewer in number than the people she helped. She’s not likely to turn all 7.3 billion into three-headed monsters.

    1. Carol is viewing Amy as her daughter. Victoria is viewing her as a Class-S threat that broke her physically and emotionally, a threat that had made Vicky a husk that still couldn’t help but love her, and now this threat wants to take over a world. I don’t think either of them are entirely /right/ in their views of Amy, but of the two I do think Vicky is closer to the proper levels of terror that a being that could kill everyone but Madagascar taking over a world should instill.

      And it’s not even like you can say, ‘well if she turns bad Valkyrie will just end her.’ She hung out with Riley for years, at some point shop talk had to have happened, including how Riley made the squishier members of the S9 virtually indestructible, or how one could design a deadman’s switch to release super Ebola such that you’re likely to kill everyone. Even if she turns evil, you can’t actually risk killing her, because once she’s in charge of a world she can literally hold the entire population of the world hostage for fear of whatever crazy pandemic a supervillain can think up. Or all of the crazy pandemics a villain can think up.

      1. Well, I don’t think she’d be able to hold them hostage long-term; between Warden bio-Tinkers and the fact that Valkryie can soul-rip her and make her fix things the deterrant would have a short shelf life.

        I’m more concerned she’ll make an ill-considered decision and break things in ways she can’t readily fix. Again.

      2. People heavily understate the magnitude of Amy’s crimes towards Victoria to an extent that honestly confuses me (or they try to equate it with the passive use of Victoria’s aura possibly effecting Amy, or Victoria hugging Amy when Amy said to stay away, when those things are not even remotely comparable).

        Like, even if you found Amy to be a somewhat sympathetic character, it’s honestly just beyond the pale to hold Victoria at fault for not reconciling with her. Like, to the extent that I think it actually says something bad about the people who hold that opinion. Victoria’s requests on this matter are very simple – she just doesn’t want Amy to be a part of her life. It’s not like she’s trying to seek revenge or something.

    2. Agreed.
      Whatever this conversation was supposed to accomplish, they didn’t come even remotely close to it – they never actually got around to discussing actions, only attitudes, and that was predictably unproductive.
      I actually see Carol’s point here better than Victoria’s, because Carol’s ‘if she has a support network’ is closer to a plan of action than anything Victoria said.
      Too bad Carol’s plan included Victoria as Amy’s support network, and too bad Victoria didn’t address that specific point -_-

      A more productive way for this conversation to have gone would be about like this:
      “If she has a support network, she’s less likely to go crazy, and anyway, what else do you propose we do?”
      “I don’t actually have a tangible proposition, but I refuse to participate in this. She wanted to give me space, follow her wishes and GIVE US FUCKING SPACE FROM EACH OTHER. Be a mom to her, help as much as you can, just respect the wishes of us both to keep me out of this”
      “Alright, that sounds like a plan. I still wish you would-”
      “NO”

      BOOM. Instantly better than… whatever this was.
      Though the result is likely to be exactly the same lmao

      1. I think Victoria’s goal was to get their parents on board with actually trying to resolve this prior to it ending in disaster and screaming and Twig. Victoria doesn’t really have a specific plan for doing so, but the parents are in at least something of a position to try to talk some sense into Amy.

        Most particularly Amy is manifestly unqualified to run a planet and that’s what she’s de facto trying to do; even assuming she’s leaving general governance to capable Shin natives (which isn’t necessarily a great plan for an ex-dictatorship) she is going to be in control of parahuman policy for the forseeable future. She has I think literally zero leadership experience and no Thinker power to make up for it. I don’t think she’s particularly more competent than Goddess and she doesn’t have Alignment, a danger sense, or a defensive Trump power to let her ensure loyalty and protect against assassination by the army of supervillains she obtained on purpose.

        What Amy needs isn’t a social support network (though that would help), it’s a team of Wardens to provide staff and a praetorian guard. I mean really what she needs is to put Chevalier in charge and go back to healing people and/or making artificial macro-scale life with supervision and a portal to step through and close prior to activating the nuclear failsafe, but I don’t think she’ll be convinced of that.

        1. After four years of hanging out with Marquis, she might actually have picked up more leadership skills than Goddess had. Not that we’ve seen any evidence of this, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

          The ironic thing is that while I’m pretty sure Amy’s original plan was to put Goddess back on the throne and then steer Goddess’s rule, it looks like now Chris is in position to be the one steering Amy.

          I’m going to laugh when he shows up unannounced at Breakthrough HQ in a month and he’s all, “What’s up?” And they’re like, “WTF?” And he’s like, “What? Did you want me to not go conquer Shin and convince them to sign on as a vassal of Gimel? Was that not the mission?” And they’re all like, “Extra WTF?” And he’s all, “Well, then maybe you should have said something. But it worked out, so whatever. You’re not my moms. Hey, can we go do Cheit next?” And the Ashleys are like, “Yes!” But Victoria and Sveta are like, “ALL THE NOS.” Tristan’s like, “Well, maybe…” but then Byron is all, “Vetoed.” So then Chris is like, “Whatever. Rain, check these out. Shin super-science makes the best video games.” And Kenzie’s like, “ZOMG Chris, I thought I’d never see you again! Will you marry me?” And Chris is like, “Naw. I’m already married.” Then Dot climbs out of his hoodie, and Victoria’s all, “Jessicaaaaaa!” And Jessica’s like, “Oh hell no! I’m done with that shit. I’m a farmer now.” And then Jessica and Rinke ride off into the sunset on a goblin horse and live happily ever after.

        2. >I don’t think she’s particularly more competent than Goddess and she doesn’t have Alignment,

          She does, actually, or something similar. What do you think she did to Victoria?

    3. I think Victoria wants Carol to actually acknowledge that Amy is not necessarily a good person. She seems to be viewing Amy with seriously rose tinted glasses, and Victoria wants her to see how messed up she actually is. This IS the girl who mind-raped and coffinified her own sister remember? (I hope you do, because Carol seems to have forgotten that. Or she just doesn’t care. ) Now this same girl is in charge of an army of super-powered criminals and has an entire planets worth of people potentially under her control. A little acknowledgement of how dangerous that situation actually is would not be a bad thing.

      1. Remember though, that just as Carol is viewing Amy through rose-tinted glasses, Victoria is viewing her through, I don’t know, blood-tinted glasses? If there’s one thing the last arc taught us, it’s that Victoria is almost pathologically incapable of viewing anything Amy does in anything less than the worst possible light. Her view of Amy is just as warped and inaccurate as Carol’s.

        1. Gotta disagree mate. Amy has proven herself entirely untrustworthy in her actions. Not even going into the previous stories actions, she’s working with Marquis who has made himself the criminal dictator of an alternate earth (albeit behind the scenes), she formed an alliance with Goddess whom she then helped to kill. Now she is leading an army of villains- not heroes not ordinary people but with powers-murderers and thieves and God only knows what else to another planet to take it over under her rule. Carol basically brushes that all under the rug and says “it’s okay, she’s just troubled”. Nah. I’m gonna have to agree with Victoria on this one. She’s being extremely practical in her assessment. Sure, MAYBE she (Amy)’s not bad, and MAYBE she will do good on that other earth with those super powered criminals, but I wouldn’t wager a nickel on that being the case.

          1. It seems to me that Amy is very clearly trying to pull a Taylor, and take over for the greater good because the people there can’t be trusted to rule themselves. I don’t know if she was planning to betray Goddess before Goddess broke their agreement and Aligned Victoria, against Amy’s wishes, but she’s clearly upset about Victoria getting hurt.

            Besides, while Amy said “you’ll submit to my power, you’ll be good and protect people and help them” Victoria reported it as “We’ll seize power and become dictators!” She justifies Amy appearing evil because ‘she has a fucking miniature devil on her shoulder’. Excuse me, Victoria, but your only interaction with Dot has been her happily telling you that Amy stopped her family from dying. This chapter has been a beautiful example of an unreliable narrator, as Victoria is viewing anybody who supports Amy as evil, with the exception of Carol, who always used to favour her, as simply being willfully blind.

            Besides, this is a Wildbow story. There’s bound to be more to it. Just wait until we get to Amy’s interlude, or hopefully and interlude arc from her or Chris’ perspective.

  17. Hell yes. Shopping Arc!
    (Wait did I actually just say that? Why am I so excited for characters shopping?)

    Sveta standing up for Victoria was awesome. Erin being back is awesome (Hopefully we get some proper reconciliation between her and Rain) Damsel remaining part of the group is awesome.

  18. i realy hope damsel stays with the team and isnt tragicaly killed for drama within the next two arcs clones/twins of people in storys tend to die frightengly often and usualy quickly

  19. Oh man what a trip it’s been reading through worm and up through ward to this t. It’s not the shopping trip in particular I am excited for but just for more wildybubs writing in general. Great stuff and a fantastic journey to this point.

  20. I really liked this chapter. It reminded me of what I loved most about the first few chapters of Ward, and it hit this really subtle pacing note I can’t quite put my finger on but which just worked really well.

  21. Correct. Mind controllers, checkered-pasters, and army-of -supervillainers are not allowed to run worlds. They are only allowed to run countries.

    20-year olds are allowed to manage small retail stores but shouldn’t be given more leeway until they’ve matured enough that their character flaws can be properly disastrous.

    1. Huh. Please ignore – this was supposed to be a (dim)witty response to stellHex’s comment above (toward the top) but I made the mistake of trying to post it using my cell phone – I wound up messing it all up and posting it as a free-floating comment instead.

      1. oh, I got it – it’s clearly enough in reference to it that it doesn’t matter that it didn’t nest properly

        and yep, agree with your point 100%

  22. Screw Carol and her mindset.
    Screw her insistence that what Amy did to Victoria wasn’t that bad and that it wouldn’t happen again even though Amy literally tried to do it again.
    Screw her idea that having Amy actively change and manipulate villains’ minds is okay just because they are bad people.
    Screw her disregarding Victoria’s viewpoints simply because they paint Amy in a bad light.
    Screw her ending the conversation as soon as it turns against her with the excuse of being polite to the diner’s owners.
    Screw her rationalizing Amy’s behavior by throwing out that Victoria was under mind control.

    Okay, I just needed to get that out of my system. Great chapter!

    1. I wouldn’t necessarily be adverse to treating Amy’s brain manipulation as psychiatric treatment potentially appropriate for many villains, but I have serious ethical objections to involuntary treatment of people fit to make informed decisions on their own behalf, and given that the prisoners were in large part fit to stand trial they’re fit to make decisions about treatment.

      Also I don’t think Amy really knows what she’s doing with neural alterations. Her track record is spotty; only repairing brain damage and undoing changes have been unqualified successes. In particular this whole family conflict started because her rewrite of Victoria backfired; she made the change she intended but it didn’t result in the outcome she wanted. So even if she is going to be trying to do it ethically, it may still end very badly indeed.

  23. ….Meh.

    Maybe this chapter needed to finally be aired out, but at this point, while I still empathize with Victoria’s position, (And Carol’s handling of the issue is absolutely fucking atrocious, even if she’s ‘found’ herself in Amy’s shoes with her past trauma to the point of being okay with Amy mind-raping villains – in Vicky’s mind, at least – even if she doesn’t see it that way)….

    Sveta getting the ‘free reign’ to be Victoria’s voice here, while good for showing off Vicky’s side, feels like haranguing. Her ‘ending’ of the conversation by stating Amy’s beyond help just reinforces the stereotype that Amy can’t change/get better/grow, and again, while I understand their position, it doesn’t really….go anywhere, other than show off how terrible Carol is at being a mom (and how personal Vicky is taking everything)

    Obviously, maybe that’s the point, but I feel the whole Amy/Victoria interplay has been pretty much a big waste of time at this point – it feels like a cheap emotional crutch to keep tugging on Victoria with to bring up the angst/drama, in a way that has continually is brought up, maybe addressed/mentioned externally, then either ignored or shuffled away again. Like…way back in the early chapters, Vicky asks Yamada to help out Amy to avoid this exact sort of scenario from happening….and nothing happens, there?

    This was one of my big concerns with using Victoria as the protagonist when the sequel launched, and so far, it definitely feels like it’s dragging the story down in comparison to Worm. Granted, we’re 10 arcs in out of however many (and Worm had some low points too), but the Amy/Vicky situation, so far, feels like an albatross dragging things down.

    (It also feels a bit like too on the nose as a direct ‘response’ to the comments on past chapters regarding who is at ‘fault’ for the Amy/Vicky situation, but that may just be me)

    1. The whole point between Victoria and Amy is the trauma and mind-rape. One could say it bogs down the story, or one could say that as Victoria being the main protagonist and the story, it’s natural and good pacing to have her confront Amy and work out her problems with it on her own terms, and it’s reasonable for her to not want to discuss Amy/avoid any confrontation with her. It seemed extremely evident during the beginning of arc 9.

      As for Yamada having a talk with Amy, I don’t think she would’ve had time to have a productive conversation with Amy in between when Victoria talked about it to the portal wisking her away.

      The Carol situation didn’t help matters at all, but that’s because there’s still too much raw emotion to handle it delicately. I’m sure the Victoria and Amy situation will come to a head in time, and considering Amy’s plans as of recent, this will be the way to do it.

  24. Just finished reading Ward till this point, so I don’t know if this had been discussed, but:

    1. I have suspicion that at least some of Victoria’s problems with Amy are Amy-created. Maybe it was subconscious desire to defend Victoria from brainwashing/Evil Amy, maybe it was her actual decision to save herself from temptation, maybe Victoria’s respond to Amy already was damaged, so she had very little variants to choose from, but Victoria’s reaction to Amy is more brainwashed-like than to Valefor’s and Bianca’s infuence.

    2. Is theory that Victoria’s aura was reason of Amy’s obcession fanon? Or is it Checkov’s cannon from Worm?

    1. 1. I think Victoria just has normal PTSD towards Amy. It was a pretty traumatic experience.

      2. Speculation confirmed by Wildbow it was part of it.

  25. Once I got reading this it went by really quickly!

    I’m continuing to really like this. Both as a reader of a story, and as an observer of the portrayed events. The way Victoria is handling this is pretty good to see. And everyone else really. Except Carol of course. (And Kenzie a bit too, she’s setting off some warning bells, but I think Victoria has a chance of actually doing something beneficial about that.)

    Also I rather like the arc name cos Polarize is one of my favourite Twenty-one Pilots songs which means a lot to me.

  26. I have a feeling Victoria and Amy will come to a head eventually if Victoria really is this adamant about not wanting Amy to rule over a planet with super villians. On a brighter note, Sveta and Victoria are finally getting that shopping trip they always wanted. Looking forward to the latter more than the former. 🙂

  27. Wow, I actually found myself sympathising with Carol more than Victoria and Sveta here. They each raise valid points, and each are blinded by their own biases.

    Carol is desperate to avoid making the same mistakes she made before, and trying to give Amy what she needed growing up, and what Carol failed to give her: a loving family who she can rely on when things get bad. Also, side note, it is just logical to focus more on Amy, as her capacity for both good and bad is far greater than Victoria’s could ever be. Carol also knows that Amy was desperately trying to fix her mistakes when Carol and Sarah found them, which is something that Victoria doesn’t seem to know about.

    Victoria can’t forgive Amy for what she did to her, and that is perfectly understandable. Victoria is aware of just how much damage Amy could do, but the last arc has made it perfectly clear that Victoria is utterly incapable of seeing anything Amy does in anything but the worst possible light.

    Sveta is a close friend on Victoria and has only ever seen Amy’s biggest mistake, and never the tremendous amount of good she did as Panacea. Moreover, she has only heard Victoria’s perspective, which is clearly missing some important information.

    Basically, I see this as Carol wanting Victoria to see the broken person Amy was/is and is refusing to see the threat she represents, while Victoria wants her parents to stop seeing Amy as a person and only view her as a potential S-class threat.

    1. While I can agree that Victoria has a very strong negative reaction to Amy and is inherently incredibly biased against her, she also has *very good reasons for it*. Carol being sympathetic to the daughter she neglected in the past is not a bad thing; my issue with Mrs. Dallon is that, in acknowledging Amy’s suffering, she is completely ignoring Victoria’s. As Sveta said, Amy inflicted an indescribably traumatic experience on her sister (unintentionally, but that doesn’t make it less significant), and Carol basically said that Amy should do that over and over again. She defended a horrid crime to a victim of it. The amount of willful ignorance in that is downright appalling. In short, while Carol’s desire to help one of her daughters is valid, in doing so she causes tremendous pain to another, a fact she evidently refuses to accept.

  28. I have to admit, seeing Sveta, one of the sweetest souls in the work of the WildBoar, tear Carol a new one in defense of Victoria was incredibly cathartic. Also, team bonding and shopping montages; what could go wrong?

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