Polarize – 10.2

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“Here,” Kenzie said.  She held out her hand, and I took the little gift.

I turned it over in my hands, as Kenzie skipped over to Sveta, to pass Sveta something similar.  A hair-clip.  Mine was sun-shaped.  Sveta’s was a sea-shell spiral.  The others were walking and talking, as we all headed into the mall.

“I thought since you guys are sort of recognizable, you might want to keep things subtle.  Yours isn’t very fancy, but it should change up your look a bit, like we did for the others.  Sveta, you should take one of these packs.  I gave one to Rain, and I’m carrying one for the Ashleys.”

“A pack?”

“We’ll go to the bathroom so you can change serptish- surveillish-”

“Surreptitiously?” I asked.

“Yeah.  I’ll give you something, or I’ll give it to Victoria, and you can stay close to Victoria.”

“Okay,” Sveta said, leaning on me

“You aren’t overworking yourself?” I asked.

“Only a tiny bit.  These are easy, it’s tech I already had.  The issue was getting somewhere I could work on it in peace, now that I’m at the institution.  I ended up going to the headquarters.”

“Alone?” Sveta asked.

“Yeah.  Turns out I can do what Chris did, leave and nobody asks questions.  Part of it is that they think I’m a good student and I’m obedient so it’s okay.”

“Yeah, that’s… not Chris,” I said.

“No, I know.  He was creepy-scary when he wanted to be.  I’m creepily good-nice.  Same thing in the end.  It just feels kind of lonely, you know?  Bathroom’s this way.”

“I can see it being lonely, yeah,” I said.

“I’m really missing him.  That’s part of it.  The other part is realizing that there’s so much you can get away with because most adults are so busy trying to live their lives and deal with a group of kids that one kid doesn’t matter.  I think I’d be happier if I couldn’t get to my workshop at all because they were paying a lot of attention to me.”

“I can see that,” I said.

“It would be more happiness for a very short time,” Swansong said.  “Then it might feel hollow.  I’m glad that your work means we can spend time together like this.”

Kenzie nodded, excited and sudden.  “Right!?”

Silent, I pushed the door to the unisex bathroom open, holding it for the others.  Rain, Byron, and Erin hung back in the mall’s concourse while the rest of us went in.

There were people inside, a husband and wife with a baby that they were wholly focused on, taking up three sinks between them.  I hung back until they were gone, as the Ashleys headed to the sinks furthest from the door, standing side by side as they peered at their reflections.

I hoped that Damsel wouldn’t be a bad influence on Swansong.

The parents left and most of the stalls were left empty.  Only one stall to watch for, and we could situate ourselves where we weren’t overheard.

“There’s a dial built into it, you might have to tilt it to see,” Kenzie instructed.  “That controls the scope of it.  I would have liked to have two dials, because you can do an awful lot of exploration with two dials.  Double-tap the surface to turn it on.  Oh, let me help you!”

Kenzie helped Sveta with the hair clip.  I took the moment to figure out my sun-shaped device.  The dial required my fingernail to adjust.  I double-tapped it to turn it on, and my world was swallowed up by a faint checkerboard haze, a transparent screen falling into place around my head and hands, where skin and hair were visible.  The haze snapped out of existence as the device seemed to figure out where my eyes were, creating eyehole-shaped gaps in the screen, while instead creating greater-than and less-than blurs of shadow to frame my eyes.

A moment later, the checkerboard and the shapes were gone.  My skin tone changed along my hands, my fingernails now artificially painted.  In the mirror, I could see hair with darker roots and brighter highlights, twisty as if every lock or length had been wound tightly around a pencil or pen, not treated with heat, but guided in shape all the same.  The eyes that looked back at me seemed more open.

“I went through online videos and for each pin I picked out fifty people who looked similar enough to each of the people I’d be giving pins to, then averaged it out.  When the average was too close to you guys, I pushed it out away from the norm.”

It was so close to being me, to the point that I could believe someone could get a witness description of me and think this face fit the bill, and it was wholly not me at the same time.  I changed my expression in the mirror, seeing how the face moved.  Moving the hand with the pin one way and moving my face another created a brief visual distortion, like what happened when trying to take a panoramic picture that included something moving.

Reminiscent of things, enough that it got my heart rate going.

“And- yeah, Victoria, you don’t want to do that.  It helps if you actually wear the hair clip, duh.  You shouldn’t run into problems if you do.  And Sveta, I put together two options, but I’m not sure how well option two will work.  I didn’t have you with me to try it and test it, so I had to guess, based on things.  Let’s try smooth.”

“Smooth?” Sveta asked.

“I made this one a necklace.  Here.  Bend down and I’ll put it on.”

Sveta bent down, leaning hard into the sink for balance as she did.  As Kenzie fiddled, Sveta looked up at me, her eyes searching my face.

“There.  Double-tap.”

Sveta did, moving her whole hand to tap, instead of moving fingers as someone else might.

As had happened to me, the white-black checkerboard pattern overlaid her, loose and hovering over her skin.  It slowly moved to the appropriate surfaces, and then settled.  The change was minor, but it was because Sveta was bundled up in a huge coat.  Her face had more skin tone, the features less different from her usual face than my current face was from mine.  Her hands looked normal.  She stared down at them.

“Maybe take that off, so we can be sure,” Kenzie said, poking at Sveta’s coat.

When Sveta nodded, I helped her out of the coat, folding it over my arm.  The necklace took a second to adapt, the checkerboard wrapping around her arms and hands.

When the checkerboard map was settled, it became skin.  Flesh, from shoulder to fingertip, tattooed heavily down the arms in a design similar to the forest green backgrounds with orange animals that Sveta had painted onto her arms.  Unlike the paint, however, they’d faded out as any year-old tattoo might.

“Can you move your hands around?  I’m wondering if the smoothing works.”

Sveta turned her hands over, looking at the palms.  She didn’t move her hands.

“Svettaaaaa,” Kenzie said.  She gave Sveta a bit of a push.  “Come on!  I want to know if this worked.”

“Oh.  Okay.  What did you want?”

“Move your hands.  Do stuff.”

Sveta did.  The movements of her hands didn’t have the mechanical quality.

“I did that for Ashley Black, and I thought I’d do it for you too.  I just wanted to see- I’m going to take your hands…”

Kenzie reached out, grabbed Sveta’s hands, and them moved them around.  There was a clear disconnection between where Kenzie’s hands were and the slow, almost dream-like way that the images of Sveta’s hands moved.

“Yeah.  I worried about that.  It’d look weird if you picked something up or if someone moved the map around.  Next time!  Here, let me change it.  Bend down.”

Sveta obeyed.  Again, she looked up at me, while Kenzie used her fingernails to turn the tiny dial at the underside of the clip.

“I have other tattoo maps loaded into my phone, if you’re interested.  Um, just off the top of my head, lotus flowers, pink and green, and um, watercolor birds and branches… skulls and roses?  Do you feel like a badass?  Or I can get rid of the tattoos.”

“It’s skulls and roses or nothing, as I see it,” Ashley Black said, from the other sink.

“This is good,” Sveta said, and her voice was small.

I looked over my shoulder at the Ashleys, raising an eyebrow.

“I know this is a super minor project that probably doesn’t matter much at all, but I was still worried about how it would turn out, because a lot of what I do is I get really good images, but then when I do stuff like projections, I’m trying to find use-sensitive ways of printing those images.  It’s like those super old fashioned cameras that would spit out a photo as soon as you took it, but I’m spitting all over you.  I had to find videos with a really good coverage of certain body parts, so what I ended up doing was setting up cameras to scan for those and-”

“Kenz,” our Ashley said, interrupting.  The interruption might have been rude, but the reality was that Kenzie kind of mandated them when she got going, because she pressed on and she left no gaps.

“Yeah?”

“If you get caught up in this, we’ll spend the entire shopping trip in here, fiddling with your tech.”

“Oh!  Oh, shoot, I imagined this taking twenty seconds in my head.  How long has it been?”

“Not twenty seconds,” our Ashley replied.  “Come on.  Let’s leave them to it.  I’ve got to figure out what I’m doing with my costume.”

“Let Sveta and I hit one or two stores,” I said.  “We’ll loop over and catch up with you?  If there’s anything you want a Victoria opinion on, have them hold it at the counter and we’ll go back.”

“Do they do that?”

“That is a thing they should be willing to do, yes,” I said.  Not much retail experience.

“You can tell me how I’m supposed to wear a costume with a dress built in, when the temperature is below freezing.”

“I can try,” I said.  I glanced at Sveta, who was now staring into the mirror.  “You might have to wear leggings.”

She made a face, then looked at Kenzie.

“I can do a thing, don’t worry,” Kenzie said.  “I’m going to have to invest in better battery packs though.  Speaking of-”

She fished in her bag, then came out with a satchel.  It was barely bigger than a fanny pack, but it looked like it had a double-size brick in it.

“Wear, or have Victoria carry it and stay close.  It’ll keep things charged, so you don’t burn out at an awkward time.”

“I’ll carry it.”  I reached out and took it.  It had to weigh twenty pounds.

“Bye!”

“Bye, Kenz,” I said.

The door banged closed.

Sveta and I stood at our individual sinks, looking in the mirrors.

I wasn’t Victoria Dallon.  I’d been Victoria Dallon of that Dallon family since I’d been born.  Famous enough to be recognized even when visiting Boston or Portland, not famous enough to be a true celebrity outside of my hometown.  At school and during events, even in my sports, I’d always been the daughter of superheroes.  Things had eased up after Victoria Dallon had ‘died’, but even after, in hospitals and in the Patrol, I’d still had the looks, the remarks.

In a way I’d liked it, I’d embraced it, but…

I wore a mask to be a civilian, and I felt the lifting of a burden I hadn’t realized was there.

The door opened, and a middle-aged guy entered the bathroom.  He didn’t spare us a glance as he hurried to his stall.  No double-check of a look for Sveta.

What I was experiencing couldn’t be a tenth of what Sveta might be feeling.

She dragged her fingers along the length of her arm, and there was a slight distortion- slight enough that I might have explained it away as skin stretching on contact.  I saw her turn her arm around, examining elbow, then craning her head around to try to get a better look at the shape of her shoulder.

In the midst of it, she seemed to get a glimpse of me, and I could see that moment where the spell broke, she didn’t recognize the person standing next to her, and then realization set in.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said.

“It’s perfectly okay.”

“I’ve got you holding everything.  My coat, the bag with- was it a battery?  Let me take some of that.”

“Here.  Take the coat.”

She nodded.  When she took the coat, it was to hug the mass of damp polyester  against her front, both arms wrapped around it.  One of her hands pulled away, the wrist still holding the cloth in place, and her eyes fell on the moving fingers.  Without the ‘smooth’ setting, they moved like her prosthetic fingers did- a subtle difference.

“Super minor project that doesn’t matter much, she said?”

She bit her lip, nodding.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’ve got a glimmer of that same feeling.  And I think we should take that feeling and run with it.”

“Run how?”

“You and I are two completely different, unrelated people, with none of the baggage and history, none of the current worries, and all of the great taste.”

“I’m not sure I have taste.”

“I think you do,” I said.  I reached out for her arm, and my finger touched the hard surface, while appearing to depress the skin that was being projected there.  The tattoo was there, with bold outlines and flat colors.  “You’re an artist.  Come on.  First stop is winter stuff.”

She let me lead her out of the bathroom and into the mall concourse.  Kenzie and the Ashleys were already gone, but Rain and Erin were at a kiosk where books and movie DVDs were set up on revolving stands, each of them with some candy and a drink.  Rain seemed oblivious to us as we passed them, but Erin managed to get it after double take, before shooting us a thumbs up.  Rain said something to Byron, who was deeper inside the kiosk.

“You don’t get cold, right?” I asked.

“Not as much.  I kind of get brain freeze, but I have to be pretty cold for that.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah.  Once I get it, I have to warm up the rest of the way to get rid of it.  But no, cold doesn’t usually bother me much.”

“That lets us be more flexible, then.  Thrift store?”

“I was thinking I’d be willing to buy a nice coat if I’m going to be wearing it outside the next few months.”

“We’ll keep that in mind as an option, but, as sad as it is, a lot of people sold their extra things when money was tight, and the thrift stores are currently a gold mine.”

“Okay.”

“You seem to gravitate toward the hippie, bohemian, surfer style?  Flowy, cascading, loose, long, printed or patterned?”

“I guess?  I had to pick a few things that I liked, after I got a body, I rushed my choices because I was shopping with Weld and I didn’t want to keep him forever, so I just went with stuff, half of it was stuff he liked.  Then when I get new clothes, I get clothes that fit with what I already have.”

“But do you like it?”

“I do.  I’m just worried I’m letting something that happened almost by accident become my style, and I don’t know better.”

“I’m sure there are lots of pieces of art where someone’s been painting, they make a mistake and in the process of adapting to it, they find something better.”

“Yeah.”

“We’ll dig around.  Try new things, see what works.”

Sveta nodded.

The collection of coats was eclectic.  I found bomber jackets, including ones with pads at the elbows- definite no from Sveta.  There were jackets covered in patches.

“I kind of like that, except it’s someone else’s patches and story, and I don’t like the jacket style.”

“And it’s a jacket, not a coat, which you could get away with, theoretically-”

“Except it’d draw attention if I did.”

We broke apart, each of us searching different racks.  I pulled out a long coat, with a material like suede, with shaggy fur around the collar, down the front, and around the end of the sleeves, seams standing out in relief.

There was a coat that would run ramrod straight from armpit to knee, with a tidy, neat folded collar in what might have been described as preppy if the rest of the coat wasn’t so un-preppy, and a bold blue curlicue along the hem and down one sleeve.  The fabric was blue that faded to an almost acid-wash blue-green toward the parts the curlicues were.  There was something grunge and something fantastical about it.

Sveta hadn’t picked anything out.

“Not enthused?” I asked.

“I’m not finding anything.  And you’ve already found two things?”

I showed her.

“Oh, wow.”

“Good?  Bad?”

“Really, really good.  I could see buying either of those and being happy.  How did you even find it?  I’m sorry, but there wasn’t anything like that over here.”

“I’m betting there was something, maybe you second guessed it, or you were looking for something specific, and your eye passed over it because it wasn’t what you were looking for.”

I passed her the two coats I’d found, and I went to the rack she’d been browsing.  Women’s coats, sorted by size.

It wasn’t as good of a series of racks, but the sunk-cost fallacy kicked in, and I found myself pressing on.

“Number three,” I said.  I pulled out a wool coat, cut like a trench coat, but with even more flare at the bottom.  The coat was predominantly gray, but was defined by an arrangement of quilted patchwork, the dense wool coming in overlapping squares and rectangles of different, bold blues and greens, with an isolated yellow-green gradient taking up a sixth of the coat starting at one shoulder.

“It’s pretty out there.”

“It is,” I admitted.  “It’s also very you.”

“I like it the most, I think,” she said.  She reached out, dragging fingers down the front of it.  Prosthetic fingers, I had to remind myself- it was less a test of the softness of the fabric and more of a… I couldn’t be sure.  “I don’t know.  Would you wear it?”

“No,” I said.

“Never?”

Probably not.”

“Okay then.”

“But I’m me,” I said.  “I know what I like.  I think you wouldn’t feel at home in your clothes if you borrowed my wardrobe for a day.  This suits you, I think.  Try it on?”

She tried on each of the coats in turn.  I could see the indecision, but prodding wasn’t too successful in getting her to open up.

It didn’t help that she was as distracted as she was with the appearance of her arms and face.

“We’ll put it on hold, try another store, see what the high-end options look like,” I said.

That got me a nod, a small smile that I couldn’t read.

“Sweaters and scarves?” I asked.

The nod was more enthusiastic, this time.

“If I’m bossing you around, you can tell me to quit it.”

“I like you bossing me around,” she said.  “I’m happy, even if I can’t seem to pick anything.”

“Good,” I said.  “You hunt over here, I hunt over there?”

The hunt was easier when it came to sweaters.  Looser so they would be easier to pull on, or layered, often long in the body, to the point that they reached the hips or qualified as dresses.  She found an electric blue turtleneck she liked.  Scarves allowed for more color and patterns.

The more clothes we found, the more I could see the reticence break.  She was smiling, less caught up in the distraction of her hands and arms, and more focused on the hunt for clothes.

The winter coat somehow remained as a sticking point.

I tried on a couple of sweaters of my own while she changed in the next booth over.

“Ah,” I heard her.

“Problem?”

“Not a problem.  I’m not sure there’s a word for this kind of disappointment and relief.”

“Uh?”

“Come in.”

I finished pulling off my sweater, meeting strange eyes in the mirror as I pushed the changing room door open, and visited Sveta in the next booth.

She was topless, sweater and the shirt beneath pulled free.  The projected skin that draped over her arms, shoulders, neck, and collarbone extended down to the area that would be her cleavage.  It stopped there, with a ‘v’ shaped wedge of flesh that terminated between two undefined metal breasts.

“On a level, I’m really relieved that Kenzie didn’t give me any details here-” she said, gesturing at that area.  “That would be ten kinds of concerning and weird.”

“Agreed.  Based on what she said, she could have left her computer to run and collect information.”

“A part of me hoped, you know?” Sveta asked, almost plaintive.  “and that part of me is really disappointed.  It’s even more disappointed because there’s no way I could ask.  Because it’s creepy, concerning, and weird to ask an eleven year old to search through videos to make a complete body.

She stuck a leg out, hiking up her skirt.  The projection ended mid-thigh.

“Come on,” I said.  “Let’s go talk where we won’t be overheard.”

She nodded, gathering her things to get fully dressed again.  We went to the cash, and Sveta bought next to everything we had picked out, the coats excepted.

Burdened with bags, we headed to the front door.  The snow was keeping most people indoors, but in the space between the two sets of doors, it was warm and quiet.  The air circulation was a steady thrum.

“Can I talk to you, without the thing?” Sveta asked.  “Talking about personal stuff to a stranger’s face feels weird.”

I reached up, found the pin, and double-tapped it.

Taking off the mask.

Sveta, bags in one hand, kept one hand at her shirt collar, prosthetic fingers near the projected collarbone.  She didn’t switch to her old self.

“Feeling incomplete?” I asked.

“My boyfriend is coming home as soon as things wrap up at the front lines.  Crystal should be too.”

“Yeah.  It sounds like it wrapped up, but they’re doing cleanup, which is ominous.”

“Ominous, yeah.  But they’re coming back and… I like him, I love him.  I want to make him happy, and whether it’s cooking or, um, other things, I can’t seem to ever make it happen.  He doesn’t taste because everything’s muted.  He only really likes music, but I can’t sing.  I can’t do the other things because I don’t have a body.”

“There are things you can do for him that aren’t sensory.”

“I try, but there’s something about making food for someone I love and seeing them go for seconds that would make me feel like I have something to give.  And I want to give myself to him and have him go for seconds for that, too.”

“Does he feel?”

“Dulled feelings.  But even if I got past that, Vicky, I don’t know guys.  I can use my tendrils and squeeze hard enough to bite into the metal and deform it, but I don’t think he’d like that.”

“I wouldn’t do that.  Not without communicating a lot beforehand, and during.  Probably after.”

“He’s a red-blooded guy, Vicky.  He likes women.  With the relationship he and I have now, I feel like his kid sister sometimes.”

“I don’t think you’re his kid sister, Sveta.”

“Aren’t I, though?  We’re close but we don’t do anything.  I’m half mad scientist and half clown when it comes to the kitchen stuff, because I’m trying to find something that works for him, but I’m not getting any wins there.  He does have to help me with some things, even though I’ve gotten more independent.”

“There’s more to it than that, though,” I said.  I suspected it was futile, because Sveta was letting something out that she’d bottled for a while.

“He’s coming back and I’ve seen how he gets after he has the hard missions.  Tired, but not in a way that he lets me see, and he hinted that this was a bad one.  What if he comes back and he has to do his part to take care of kid sister Sveta, and what if he says he’s too tired for that?  He’s given me so many good days, and I’m not sure I’ve ever given him one.

“Not the vacation trip, hunting for your homeland?”

“That was for me, though.”

“He seemed pleased as punch to see us reuniting at the group meeting.”

“Again, that’s me.  If I could just- if I could make something and have it taste good or new or interesting to him, then that would be happiness originating from him, his thing.  A breakthrough for him.  If I had a full body that I could show him, that looked right, if nothing else, maybe that could be nice for him.  There’s supposed to be equity and I don’t think I’m holding up my end.”

“Sveta- no.”

“No?”

“Not equity.  What you want is balance.”

“Same thing.”

“No.  Equity, to me, feels like a transaction.  One for me?  One for you.  I give you something, you owe me something?  With balance, it’s about… I hate matching and folding socks.  He hates cleaning the bathroom.  So I’ll always do the bathroom and he’ll always have the socks folded.”

“Okay.  But even there, what am I giving him?”

“It could be that it’s really, really important for him to have a friendly, loving face to come back to.  I- I kind of feel like I’m betraying Dean by saying this, but I think one thing he taught me was that guys  tend to be more disconnected than girls.  Girls more often have support networks, or they can use the network they have more than guys can use their networks.  Guys like Dean or Weld?  I’m not sure they ever really have a shoulder to cry on.  I mean literally cry.  Except sometimes a girl they’re close with.”

“Did Dean?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Only a couple of times… still feels like a betrayal, confessing that.  Which is maybe the problem or mindset that feeds into why they can so rarely do it.”

“We could change the topic.”

“No, it’s just that maybe that’s what Weld needs.  Love, trust, caring, sharing, and that intimacy that isn’t only about mashing stuff together.  It can be about being someone’s shoulder.”

“And the other stuff?”

“You can only keep trying with the cooking.  I don’t know if I have any advice to give when it comes to bedroom stuff-”

“What advice would you give me if I had a real body, like this?”

“Communicate, set expectations, communicate.  The first time will be embarrassingly bad.  If it’s the right person, then that doesn’t matter.”

“Yeah.  I think he’s the right person.”

“Sveta,” I said.  I reached out and touched her arm.  My fingertips hit hard surface before they hit the skin that was projected.  I gave her arm a slight waggle.  “We have a bit of cash flow.  We have contacts.  We’re in a position that matters.  I wouldn’t rule out options.  You could pursue other options like Capricorn is.”

“In group, Tristan talked about how he’s lost hope.  I don’t know if he’s pursuing any more.  We chase these bright lights that our powers give us, but in reality, Scion was just the glowy ball on the forehead of an angler fish- so much bigger and more vicious than he appeared to be, and he was strong, before.  The problems we’re dealing with are the same.  Two people stuck in one body.  One person stuck in a monstrous body.  A bunch of powers being shared around and tossed together.  They aren’t small or insignificant, really.  But they’re nothing compared to the massive, powerful engines that are behind them.  They’re decoys, the pinkie toes of giants.”

Outside, the snow was blowing harder.  There wasn’t much traffic.

I built on her statement.  No use denying it.  “There were people who had good glimpses and who remembered them, after Gold Morning.  Mountain sized, island sized.  Maybe continent-spanning.”

“And they’re like computers.  They’re limited but they aren’t stupid.”

I shook my head.  “Not stupid, but not genius either.  It’s a specific kind of intelligence and focus.  They make mistakes or miscalculate.  There are capes who do nothing wrong who get screwed over by their power-”

“Ashley.  Me.  Chris, maybe.”

“And capes who, if the agent had more sense, wouldn’t have been allowed to operate like they did.  Khepri.  Though Khepri was a special case.”

“You know the story about Khepri?”

“I heard from Amy,” I said.

In the instant, still feeling the glow from seeing Sveta enjoy shopping earlier, and even feeling okay as I tried to talk a friend through a tough relationship snarl, I’d let Amy’s name slip without the snarl of negative thoughts that usually accompanied it.

They did follow after, though they didn’t take root.  I gathered my thoughts again.  “They are intimidating enemies, but they aren’t perfect.  If you want this, and I think you do, then maybe it’s worth going down that road.”

“Beating our powers?  The agents?”

“Yeah,” I said, and my voice was quiet.  An older man came in through the one door, entering the mall.  The warm air rushed out, the higher pressure in between the sets of double doors serving to force the cold air out.  When the old man was gone, the other set of doors closed behind him, I continued, “Yeah.  I’m getting tired of being out of control.  I’m tired of being surprised.  I’m tired of the betrayals, big and little, from family and teammates.”

Sveta nodded emphatically, her expression serious, lips pressed together into a line.

“Not just being out of control, but being controlled.  I just- no way can I tolerate that.  Not Valefor, not Amy, not Mama Mathers, not Kingdom Come, in your case, not Goddess.  Before the prison attack brought things to a standstill, we were building something.  Based on some of the emails I’ve skimmed, we can mostly pick up where we left off.”

“You could talk to the team about this,” Sveta said.  “You’re bringing it up with me, first.  Like you did with your forcefield.”

I nodded.

“Why?”

“To gauge.  How far do you want to go with this?  It’s weird, but I know what the others want by now.  You… I get the impression that you could find one or two key things or key answers and you could be truly happy.  You have the second coolest boyfriend ever, you’re beautiful, you’re artistic, you’re compassionate, and you could hold your own in any team.”

“You might be overselling me.”

“But if someone could wave a magic wand and grant you one wish… you’d be okay, wouldn’t you?  You could settle down and be happy?”

“One thing?  There are things on the side I care about.  Um, beyond my own issue, I care about the Case Fifty-Threes.  I kind of want to find out where I came from.”

“But if you had a magic wand with one wish, those are things you could still handle, right?  You could donate to charities or support an organization.  You could travel on your own, once things settled down.”

“I might have too much of the hero bug in me to stop altogether,” Sveta said.  She leaned into me, her head resting on my shoulder.

“Good to know, then,” I said.  “The reason I ask, and the reason I’m asking you first, is I wanted to know how far you’d be willing to go?”

“In what way?” she asked.

I tried to articulate it, and then settled for shaking my head.

“That’s not an answer.”

“We left Monokeros in that alternate Earth.  We put her in a hole she could get out of, and… she’s in a prison without people or exits.  She’ll finish off the food there and then she’ll have to hunt or forage.  It’s a stopgap, until we have another alternative.  Except Tristan lied and said she was dead.  He lied and said she was dead, knowing full well that if he was called out on the lie or discovered for it, we’d lose the funding, files, and other things Mortari had promised us for our cooperation.”

Sveta nodded.

“Do we do that again?  With more people?  Keeping in mind that it’s a world where we don’t have a place to send them, and building that kind of a place is so intensive a project that it might be years before we’re there.”

“We didn’t start at the shallow end and work our way forward,” Sveta said.  “Gimel went straight to the deep end.”

“Absolutely,” I said.  “And some of the worst bad guys ended up leaving for Shin.  But there are a lot of others here.  We have resources, we have contacts.  How hard do we go after them?  How hard do we go after answers?  Between the cases, the systems like Rain’s cluster or the Lady in Blue co-opting her cluster, all of that and the broken triggers… we might have to start paying attention to the elephant in the room.”

“The agents.”

I nodded.

“Do I have to answer right away?” Sveta asked.

“No, absolutely not,” I said.  “But in a short while we’ll be back at the hero stuff.  I want to have a game plan.”

“You had other things you wanted too.  No secrets, no lies.”

“If we shift or narrow our focus, we might not be able to afford either.”

Sveta nodded.  I saw her eyes search my face.

I raised my eyebrows.

“I’ll think about it.  I might talk things over with Weld, if that’s okay.”

“Okay.”

“Thank you for talking this out with me,” she said.  “I still have, like, a hundred awkward questions about boys.  I know you’re not an expert-”

“I had a long-term relationship.  I’ve earned my stripes.”

“Okay, but one guy, and he was easy mode because he could read your emotions.”

“That’s hard mode, Sveta.  In a lot of ways, it’s hard mode.  Capes don’t get easy mode.”

“Touche.”

“Pick on me for inexperience after you’ve asked me a question I can’t answer,” I said.  “Until then, let me have this bit of pride.”

“Okay,” Sveta said, smiling a little.  “You hold onto that pride.  It’s mostly deserved.”

“Mostly?” I asked, smiling.

She reached up, hesitant with the motions of her arm.  She tapped a metal finger twice against the hairclip I wore by my temple.

“While that girl who just left the room holds onto her pride, you, strange person, promised me that you’d find me a coat, or that we’d go back to get one of the other ones.”

“I did,” I said.  “It might not be a good idea to split me into too many personalities.  I’ve already got enough going on.”

“Maybe,” Sveta said.  But she took my wrist and she gave me a tug.  I didn’t fight, instead catching her at my right side with my arm around her back.  Supporting her and half-hugging her at the same time.

Back into the mall, toward a nicer store.  I could one hundred percent get why Sveta had wanted to shop in a place like this, to get something that lasted, and that had that extra degree of craftsmanship.  Part of the reason I’d had her go to the thrift store with me first, though, had been to get her in the mindset of thinking about possibilities, so she would pick something fitting to her style, even here where things were more in line with one another.

The coat she and I ended up agreeing on as most suited for her wasn’t one I would have worn myself.  It was a heavy coat, but worn more like a poncho, top-heavy and Cashmere.  A good base to work off of, worn with a nice scarf or nice boots.

“I believe my coworker told you before, our apologies, but we do not allow children in this store.”

I turned around.  The Ashleys and Kenzie were on their way in.

“This child is the best behaved child you’ve ever met,” our Ashley said.  “I’m a customer, you need customers.  Don’t be stupid.”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” the manager said.

“It’s okay,” Kenzie said.  “If you take my bag and take my hair clip, you can talk with Ashley, and I’ll go find Erin and the boys.”

“Hang close enough for us to watch out for you,” our Ashley said.  She was keeping an eye on Damsel, who was browsing dresses.

“Got it,” Kenzie said, bouncing on the spot before heading to the front of the store, hands clasped behind her back.

“We stopped in here earlier, I found some things I liked.  Do you want to give a final verdict?” our Ashley asked me.

“Sure,” I said.  We passed by a shelf with thermal clothing, and I grabbed a good few packs of it.  For wearing under the costume.  Ostensibly my reason for being here.

There was a jacket, too, that was form-fitting and sleek enough that I was pretty sure I could wear it under my costume.

Ashley’s selection of dresses were more for events than for casual wear, but they were good.  A halter cocktail dress with an angry flare of white feathers at the collar, a slimmer dress that almost completely covered one leg, while leaving the other bare.  All in whites, or white with black or gray decorative elements.

“It’s an aggressively crisp, put-together look.  Are you willing and able to dress the rest of yourself up to match?”

“Naturally.”

“Then go for it.”

“No condemnations?  No calls for more color?”

“Nah,” I said.  “I know what you’re capable of.”

“That I could take your head clean off your shoulders if needed?”

“More like I know you can live up to a style this severe.”

“Um,” Sveta said.  “Sorry to jump in.”

“We forgot about your coat.  Do you want to buy it?”

“I thought about it, and I think I’m going to go to the other store for the patchwork one.”

I smiled.

“Don’t be smug,” she said.  “I’m taking Kenz.”

She took her battery pack too.  Leaving me with the Ashleys and their battery pack, just heavy enough to be obnoxious.

I gathered up the dresses we’d liked, and took them to the counter.  The Ashleys were holograms, so they couldn’t carry, and one of my hands was burned.

“Only reason I’m going to condemn someone for what they’re wearing is if it’s offensive or if it’s clear they could do better.  The first gets the hero in me acting up-”

“Terrible, terrible,” Damsel said.

“-and the second is going to make the inner coach in me antsy.  Nothing quite so infuriating as being witness to someone doing something just slightly wrong or a lot wrong, regularly.”

“I feel that way about almost everyone, doing anything,” Ashley said.

I looked back over my shoulder, toward the store where Sveta and Kenzie had gone.  I could see them at the counter, the dress draped over the end of it.

“They’re good.  I like them,” Ashley said.

“Is she okay?” I asked.  “Kenzie?”

“No,” Ashley said.  “She’s almost as bad as when I first met her.  Better in some ways, but in others…”

She didn’t finish the sentence.  I wondered if she was expecting her twin to finish it.

“We’ll keep an eye out,” I promised.

“Please.”

Sveta and Kenzie emerged, Sveta now wearing the jacket.  She flickered slightly as Kenzie bolted ahead to where the Ashleys and I were.

“Rain went to the food court,” Kenzie said.

“Are you surveilling Rain?” Sveta asked, mock stern.

“No.  I saw him walk that way,” Kenzie said.  “No, I’m kidding.  Yes, he has my tech on him and I’m keeping an eye on that tech, so I know kind of where he is.  But I’m keeping an eye on my tech, not on him, specifically.”

Ashley gave me a sideways look.

“I saw that, Ashley Swan.  Don’t do that.”

I put my hand on Kenzie’s head, wobbling it left and right before pulling her closer, so my hand was on her far shoulder, her other shoulder against my side.  Sveta was on the other side of me, looking as pleased as punch with her coat, her other coat and bags held under her other arm.

Erin, Byron, and Rain were gathered in the empty food court.  Some of the stalls were only just now opening or re-opening.

More distracting was the lingering decorations and setup from an event that might have happened a day ago.  It looked like this spot had been a gathering place for one of the big anti-parahuman groups.  They hadn’t properly discarded of their signs or messaging, with much of it left stacked or leaning against a wall in the corner, along with some black trash bags.

“Jesus,” Byron said, as we drew closer.  He added some Spanish words I didn’t know.  “That’s a lot of stuff.”

“Because they’re doing it right,” Erin said.   She sat on a table, her feet on the stool next to the one Rain was seated on.  He looked a little worn out.

“I got a few t-shirts, some other shirts, some socks and underwear, and a pair of jeans, and I thought that was a lot,” Byron said.

“Did you get costume related- nevermind.  You don’t need thermal underwear.”

“Not really.  Got a pack for Tristan.”

“And Rain?” I asked.

“We got stuff for Rain,” Erin said. “We would have got more, but we decided to take a break.”

“Turns out malls make me pretty ridiculously anxious,” Rain said.  “Stupid.”

“We all have our hangups,” Byron said.

As a group, we got ourselves sorted across two sets of tables.  Bags were deposited in the middle section.

“Are we keeping this light and fun, or do we talk about more serious things?” Sveta asked.

I kept my mouth shut.  I was up for either, but I didn’t want to steer things too much.

“Hard to keep it light with that hanging over our heads,” Byron said, indicating the anti-parahuman signage.

“Well, to be fair, they’re right,” Rain said.  “Parahumans suck.  We do crummy things.  There are scary ones out there.”

“We could talk business now, then go back to fun, if you guys think you can do that,” Sveta suggested, almost hopeful.

“Are we eating?” Kenzie asked.

“I’m eating right now,” Damsel said, sitting at the furthest seat away, in our cluster of two tables.  “Tea and sandwiches.”

“If you’re hungry, we can eat,” I said.

“I’m going to go get a taco or a wrap,” Kenzie said, heading to the place apparently dubbed ‘Hell Taco’.

“Business it is,” Byron said.  “I’ll swap out to Trist, as he has more to say.  If nobody’s looking?”

Nobody was.

The change was subtle, as Tristan was wearing a black coat, same as Byron.  Tristan punched Rain lightly in one shoulder, and Rain gave him a half-hearted smile in response.

“While the munchkin is getting her food, is there anything we need to talk about, that isn’t for her ears?” Tristan asked.

“That’s the first place your mind goes?” I asked.

“I thought I’d bring it up.  Kenzie’s away for a few minutes.  Is there anything we need to work out?”

“Chris is gone, she’s bummed and not at her best, so we watch out for her and we watch her,” I said.

“Succinctly put,” Tristan said.  “Are you swinging by the institution at some point to check on her?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Are we going to talk about Chris?” Ashley asked.

“Hard to do until we have more information,” I said.

“Okay,” Ashley said.  “You’re going to have files, right?  From Mortari.”

“Not on Chris, I don’t think.  But yes.”

“Alright,” Ashley said.  “Then do we warn people?  Have we informed the institution that was looking after him that they may need to change things around?”

“If he’s in Shin, he’s in Shin,” I said.  “And there’s not much use warning people, except for the Wardens, and they already know.”

“It doesn’t feel good enough,” Ashley said.

“You’re bothered by this,” Rain observed.

Yes.  And I’m bothered in a way I don’t want to pass on to Kenzie.  I’m glad to be talking about this now.  This is serious, and it’s related to us.”

“It’s a kid running off because Victoria’s sister is his best bet to get healthy.  He’s no more a concern than any of the many, many prisoners that were here that just got dumped on that world,” Tristan said.  “Except he’s young and stubborn, and he’s kind of our responsibility, as you said.”

“You think this?” Ashley asked.   She leaned back.  “This is… group consensus?”

“What are you saying?” I asked.

“Is it?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Shave off the serial numbers, and that’s essentially my take.  It’s serious, don’t get me wrong, but… there’s a lot of serious going on.  Why?

“Your sister is powerful,” she said.  “I’m sorry to bring this up, but it’s important.”

“She is,” I said.

“Do you think she’s going to do something to his power?” Tristan asked.

Fuck.  Ick.

“No,” Ashley said, clearly annoyed.

“Go easy, Tristan,” Sveta said.

No,” Ashley said, again, louder.  All eyes went to her.  “What I think, and I’m saying this as someone who pays attention to power, authority, and leadership, I was listening as they talked at the end, before they left.  Amy made her announcement, remember?”

There were some nods around the table.  Rain murmured something to Erin, clarifying.

“Do you remember at the end?” Ashley asked.  “She turned to him, and she asked him, ‘Was that alright?’ or something like that.”

“Something like that,” Tristan said.

I felt uncomfortable in a way that didn’t necessarily have to do with Amy’s involvement.

“I would stake my reputation on this,” our Ashley said.  The other Ashley was nodding slightly, as if already acknowledging or corroborating.  “The tone, the timing?  She asked him because she is subordinate.”

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119 thoughts on “Polarize – 10.2”

  1. I like that they don’t even bother to think about Erin hearing all this about Chris. Basically just acknowledging she’s a team member now I guess

    1. Well yeah, he’d always been one of the ones who really put thought into the serious side of caping. the medical kit, never being interested in the small stuff, only the big fights. Remember, Goddess had said he’d had three layers of deception.

      ~Teian

  2. Is Kenzie… getting stronger? She said before that her passenger only really wants to build things which she’s been doing a lot of since she’s obsessive like that.

    But also holy moly, perfect camouflage is an absurd upgrade for Team Breakthrough. It’s Glamour all over again, this is gonna be sick when they put it to use.

    1. Ain’t perfect camo. Just ain’t.
      Is “look a little different” camo. Not You, but if someone knows to look for Not You, you’ll be easy to find.
      Or if they look for powers.

  3. I’m kind of disappointed that Cryptid is the long-term big bad, because he makes such a great antihero. Every scene he’s in is better for it. Now it will always be kind of weird when he gets together with Breakthrough, and he’ll be stuck in Shin most of the time. Worse yet, we’ll have to wait forever to see those skullbaby deathgrubs in action.

    If he rules Shin like I expect him to do, pretty soon our heroes will wonder how it was that they weren’t wrapped around his finger. A few days later, they’ll realize that they actually were. He was the one who picked Goddess’s message out of the post-TV flood of hate mail. Constant absences from the team and the institution left lots of time for hobnobbing with Marquis and Panacea. He and Marquis had hit it off when the team visited Nun. If Yamada and Valkyrie knew he had all this in him, they really dropped the ball by handing him over to Antares’s supervision.

    Heck, I think I’m rooting for Cryptid and Marquis and Panacea now.

    1. I’m definitely rooting for them. Amy pulling a Taylor and taking over a place with villains to improve it sounds like a far more interesting story than Breakthrough’s. I guess it’s because Amy, like Taylor before her, is being proactive about things and trying to change stuff, whereas Victoria is almost solely reactive in how she responds to threats and is trying to maintain the status quo, which is just less interesting. The only downside to this is that it will probably be a long time before we get an interlude (or hopefully an interlude arc) form the perspective of either Chris or Amy.

      I guess this is part of my problem with Ward. While the Undersiders and other interlude characters were interesting, they served as a foil to Taylor herself, while the even-better-written Ward interludes are showing us the main cast and other characters who are just more interesting than Victoria. So I guess I’m rooting for a Red Queen at least partially because it would be more interesting to read about.

  4. Yes, I’m sure you can avoid Kenzie overhearing you by waiting for her to leave the area and then having a conversation while wearing her tech.

    And you people wonder why you keep getting outmanevered.

  5. Holy moly, did not expect that. Chris has an earth to rule through Amy.

    Good shopping, though! Sucks that so many people are desperate enough they’re selling winter clothes just before winter, though.

    1. I figured the plan was at least 50% Chris’s idea, though it’s good that he’s apparently in actual charge as opposed to Amy’s advisor, as she is slightly more likely to listen to him when he tells her not to do things.

      Still, while I have some trust in Chris’s decision making abilities I don’t think he is global mastermind level.

      1. I would say the same thing if Chris was alone. But he’s not. He’s paired with The Red Queen and The Nilbog Army. Each of them alone has absolutely no idea how to become a mastermind. But the three of them together can pull it off splendidly. Dot knows how to care for minions based on Ellisburg’s previous takeover that was incredibly successful for years. Cryptid brings paranoia and deception to the table. The Red Queen brings the star power needed to become mastermind, as you can’t just state “I’m a mastermind” without being famous in the underground community. The three of them together also can manage to work on each other’s flaws perfectly. The only way to really take them down is by striking a wedge between the three of them, something Tattletale and Dinah could do. Teacher maybe. Mortari probably not based on the simple fact that they are more dealbrokers than anything else.

        1. I don’t think they collectively have the necessary skills to manage a bunch of supervillains spread out across an entire planet, or the necessary powers to protect against a coup attempt by said supervillains.

          Also, the other way to take them down is a brute-force surprise portal assault in Tinker biowarfare gear; they don’t have precog, any precog minions they do have failed to protect Goddess, aren’t known to have an anti-portal Tinker period, and aren’t personally that dangerous for parahumans except via Amy’s capacity to unleash plagues that will have a somewhat delayed effect against environmentally sealed armor.

          1. Oh, also the Simurgh could take them down/may have already done so last interlude. Or maybe she spent last interlude making their rule inviolate. Or maybe she spent last interlude fucking with Chevalier for her own amusement in ways that will have no significant long-term consequences.

          2. Wait, goddamnit, the Simurgh was shifting around and forcing the Wardens to commit resources to keeping an eye on her during the jailbreak; Chevalier tells Valkyrie about the prison break and about the Simurgh settling down in the same call. Meaning she has contributed to Amy and Chris ending up in charge of Shin.

            I don’t know how that’s going to work out for Amy and Chris, but it’s going to end very, very badly for someone.

            Probably Teacher and/or Lung.

          3. Goddess was separated from her Shin parahumans. She might have had a precog that can now join Team Chris.

            Or Amy could make one.

          4. Shit was this the Simurgh’s plan? Those files in Worn noted the Lady in Blue as a consequence of a Simurgh attack, and if she was distracting the Wardens during the jailbreak, she could have been doing it specifically so that it would be Chris and Amy taking over Shin. Was this the long-term goal for that attack, like Cody taking out the Thinkers in the Behemoth fight several years after his run-in with her? If so, then holy shit whatever happens next is gonna be amazing (though it’ll be amazing even if it isn’t because Wildbow)

          5. All the consequences of the Simurgh’s actions are the long-term goal. Though Gold Morning involved enough broad action by Scion with his precog immunity that I don’t think she was able to reliably plot consequences past it; I suspect in plan A Eidolon survived and we saw plan B so I don’t think this was fully planned out back during the Paris attack.

          6. Amy is liable to try, but since she can’t instantaneously brainwash every parahuman in her sight pulling that off without touching off a revolt about thirty minions in is going to be kind of difficult, and as was quite recently demonstrated it’s possible to unbrainwash people with Tinker drugs and suchlike.

    1. That’s all Chris, no outside influence needed.
      I’m a bit sad about it, but Bianca’s time in the spotlight is over for good.

      Now, it’s still unclear if that was what Jessica asked Victoria to help her with or if some other shoes are still hovering around.

      1. Well, so far we’ve only seen them looking at coats, sweaters, scarves, dresses, and thermal underwear. No mention of shoes yet, so yeah, I’m thinking those are still hovering.

    2. Let’s hope not. I’m seriously paranoid about her resurrecting. An unknown power? A cocoon man? Chris, the one who specifically brought up the resurrected Gray Boy as a reason for paranoia, leaving the body for a random coroner?

      I’m not saying she will come back, but no one gets to be surprised if she does.

      1. What’s the betting that one of the last plotlines is going to be different groups ganging up on maybe Teacher when he tries to resurrect Khepri and put her under his control?

  6. A bit curious what Vicky was referring to with Khepri. As I recall the necessity of stopping Scion from destroying everything, and getting the bickering capes to cooperate rather warranted both Taylor and Queen Admin doing what they did.

    And Amy just going along with someone else, makes a lot of sense. Bottling up her problems while following other people’s wants and needs is basically what she’s done when she was first introduced in Worm.

    1. What she was referring to was that the Queen Administrator killed Scion. That was not what Scion intended to happen when he gave Taylor Queen Administrator. The Shards were supposed to be impossible to use in ways that would result in the Entities being defeated; this went off the rails rather thoroughly when Eden released Path To Victory to Contessa before setting it to be unusable against Entities and then Contessa and Doctor Mother killed her and started yanking Shards out of her corpse and giving them to people.

      I maintain that the biggest contributor overall to Scion’s defeat was the Simurgh, who only exists because Eidolon got a Shard that humans were most definitely not supposed to have.

      1. If that’s the case, then she’s failed to realize something important: Khepri wasn’t Taylor Hebert using the shard. Khepri was the shard, acting on its own initiative. It acted to kill Scion because it *wanted to*.

        1. Is there a WoG about this I haven’t seen? Queen Admin definitely had a lot of control, but it seemed like Taylor still pointed it in the right direction. Like it was Taylor that wanted to kill Scion, while Queen Admin wanted to make everyone work together. It just so happened that those two objectives could be competed at the same time, so they worked together to both get what they wanted.

          1. IIRC the Queen Administrator started taking over the moment she became Khepri. It’s why she started forgetting names, lost her ability to talk or control her body properly, and lost her social abilities to the point she wasn’t able to understand what celebration was.

      2. I’m pretty sure the shard was just called the “administrator” shard and the “queen” part was added on by Glaistig to fit her wonky worldview, and possibly as a reflection of Taylor’s position or the power of her shard. Fairly certain Scion only ever called it administrator. I might be wrong though.

        1. “All around the entity, there were shards in varying states of maturation. The female’s was among the most mature. Seasoned by conflict, heavy with information, lessons learned, tactics, applications, organization. It had already fragmented once, heavy enough with information that it could afford to handle other roles. The fragment would have a derivative ability, and given proximity, it would hopefully remain close enough to exchange information with the shard that it had split off from. There were no signs of that exchange. The female had separated ways from the fragment.

          The entity recognized her shard. The last one that had split off before the entity took on this form.

          Queen.

          The entity’s despair deepened for a moment. It was a good thing that the shards were harvesting such good information, but nothing would come of it. The cycle had been disrupted.”

          He refers to it as the Administrator shard, but also thinks of it as a Queen in some manner.

          1. I would assume the Shards’ real names cannot be expressed in three-dimensional space, much less English, and Glastig Ulaine’s names and the ones used in Scion’s interludes are equally valid interpretations.

            Checking 26.x, two references as administrator:

            “the young female with the administration shard was still speaking”

            “The female with the administrator shard had long since fled.”

            I’d interpret this as meaning its Scion-name is Queen and its purpose is administration. Based on Valkryie’s interlude her power expresses this information to her as name and title; she IDs one of her opponents as “The Solemn Child” even now. The difference between Glastig Ulaine and Valkryie is that Valkryie doesn’t just go around calling people by their Shard’s name out loud.

            Glastig Ulaine did not have a warped understanding of what was going on; all her dialogue is a precisely accurate description of the nature of powers and Scion’s operational plan as of when her Shard was deployed. It’s just that her nomenclature is not consistent with everyone else’s. She calls the Shards faeries and the Entities the Faerie Courts, so everyone figures she’s nuts and ignores what she’s saying. But, y’know, those aren’t actually bad names for what they are. They come from outside our reality, they give humans supernatural powers, and we think we’re getting a good deal until they present their bill.

          2. I wonder what naming convention Valkyrie uses when she’s telling people about Shards specifically.

            …This depends on the assumption she adequately explains things to people. Wounded Man is probably of the opinion that she does not and he would very much have preferred it if she’d told him more or less about this threat that fills half the sky.

  7. That last line….
    OH CRAAAAAAAAP!!!

    But damn Ashley’s dead on. That is not something a would be overlord should say at the end of their big speech.

  8. Watercolour birds and branches tattoos? Not exactly a lucky choice Kenzie.
    (I’ve wanted those tattoos ever since they were described in pact)

  9. Planning to take on the shards? Ambitious. That’ll make for an interesting final arc if it ends up being doable.
    And Victoria and Sveta’s friendship is so cute, you guys.

  10. Shopping spree typo thread:

    “leaning on me”
    Missing full stop.

    “managed to get it after double take,”
    +a

    “Touche.”
    >Touché

    1. “More distracting was the lingering decorations and setup from an event that might have happened a day ago.”

      Should maybe be “more distracting were”.

      1. “We went to the cash, and Sveta bought next to everything we had picked out, the coats excepted.” should it be “We went to the cashier, and…”

    2. >“Okay,” Sveta said, leaning on me

      Period after “me”.

      >“It could be that it’s really, really important for him to have a friendly, loving face to come back to.  I- I kind of feel like I’m betraying Dean by saying this, but I think one thing he taught me was that guys  tend to be more disconnected than girls. 

      Extra space between “guys” and “tend.”

      >Mountain sized, island sized. 

      Hyphen before each “sized.”

  11. Amy ist subordinate to Chris? I am… confused. Can’t really see Chris as somebody to bother with leadership. Unless this is the unspoken, big problem with one of Breakthrough’s original members that Jessica Yamada alluded to before she got portal’ed.
    Also, I’d expect Marquis to have some objections on this topic, but that might be adressed in future chapters. 🙂

    1. Marquis is proud, but he is also practical. He will consider “2nd or 3rd in command of a universe” an upgrade from whatever he had going in Brockton Bay, the Birdcage, or Earth N. Besides it seems that the Red Queen is the figurehead, with Cryptid doing his thing from behind the scenes. Marquis could easily share the royal dais, being her father and all. That would appeal to his pride and his feudal philosophy.

      In the long run, you’re probably right that he’ll figure out what Cryptid is doing, and try to supplant him. If Cryptid can’t figure out how to outmaneuver Marquis, he does have one other option, which would totally fit the “royal house” theme: he could just marry the Red Queen. Marquis’s loyalty would be total, especially after they gave him a few actually-perfect grandchildren.

        1. There’s this thing called a betrothal.

          Also Amy could probably arrange to have kids without having to have sex first should it become necessary.

          Riley could definitely arrange that.

        2. Royalty is only sometimes concerned with marital age differences. Besides, he’s what? 15? 16? She’s 21? Let’s not be prudes.

          1. Well, if Chris figures out a chain of forms that leaves him straight up better, and he gets his hand on a Hyperbolic Time Chamber he could power up and hit 18 right quick.

          2. how can we be so sure he’s actually 13? literal shapeshifter and we know next to nothing of the truth about him. maybe his body was falling apart because it’s hard to keep up a form that’s too human but also not his natural body. possibilities are endless here. we just have to wait and see what’s really going on.

          3. An Amy and Chris relationship would be legal in Japan. And the Netherlands has a system by which adopted siblings can be granted a marriage license.

            Never mind Wyldboar’s worlds, Our own world throws up enough doozies of its own.

  12. Hi everyone. My first post here. I’ve noticed, that Ashley didn’t exactly call Chris Amy’s supperior.
    On possibly related note did we ever get a full list of Heartbreaker’s children?

    1. “Superior”, and “a possibly related note”. Sorry everyone. English is not my first language. I’ll try to be more careful in the future.

      1. Don’t worry, we’re not going to witch-hunt you for spelling. (Wow, Ward is quite the choice if you’re learning English. Bravo.)

        I don’t think that Chris is a Heartbroken—seems too random for Wildbow, and doesn’t really explain the changer aspects of his power—but I’m really worried that there’s a LOT more to Chris than we’ve seen, and it doesn’t look good.

        1. Thank you Saevarion. It is not, that I’m learning English at a school level anymore. Nowadays I read so much, that to me Wildbow’s books are nothing special as far as their length is concerned. It does not mean, that I’m not learning reading Wildbow’s books. I read quite a lot considering that most English texts I read are fanfics and tabletop games manuals, and if nothing else those tend to use much simpler vocabulary, and usually are not nearly as good at more subtle aspects of grammar – like getting the most out of conscious use of articles and tenses. My main problem is that as much as I read, I rarely write in English, and speak even less often, not to mention that I tend to struggle when I try to put my thoughts on paper even in my own language.

          As for Chris being a Heartbroken – I admit, that there are some problems with this theory. The changer aspect is certainly one of them. I also admit, that I had been a few Arcs into Ward when I had came up with it and I did not go back and re-check everything to see if it fits the theory. There may be also details that I missed, that may disprove it. I may have found something in chapter 5.5, that quite possibly kills this theory. More about it three paragraphs bellow. There is also the simple fact, that when I make these sort of theories while reading Wildbow’s works I tend to be wrong some eighty to ninety percent of the time.

          On the other hand I think that there are a lot things scattered throughout the Ward, that at least in my mind seem to support this particular idea.

          The first and possibly the biggest thing is that while I have no doubt, that Chris is very intelligent, he does not quite strike me as a mastermind. At the same time he and Amy just executed a mastermind-level plan. This leads me to believe, that he and likely also Amy work for a mastermind. If I’m right then Chris would be an agent, whose job is to track, and influence Victoria’s team movements, to offer Amy a deal with the mastermind, and to handle and support her later. Unless it is someone new, the list of masterminds who would be able and willing to orchestrate what just happened, and would need an agent, and with whom Amy may be willing to work is not that long. The ones that come to my mind are Tattletale, Citrine/Number Man duo, and Marquis.

          If Chris is a Heartbroken, then the mastermind in question would quite obviously be Tattletale.
          One detail I caught while browsing Ward looking for quotes for this post is that in chapter 5.5 Chris seemed surprised when Tattletale arrives at a meeting with Hollow Point villains and starts giving advice to the hero team via Kenzie’s camera. If Chris is Heartbroken he shouldn’t be surprised. He may have faked his reaction, so it is not an irrefutable proof, but definitely a strong argument against this theory. This reaction seems to be a little more plausible, if Tattletale recruited him shortly before that point, and a lot more likely if he works or another mastermind, has been recruited by Tattletale after chapter 5.5 or there is no mastermind behind him at all.

          That said here are my arguments why Chris may be Tattletale’s agent and possibly a Heartbroken. Remember the conversation between Lisa and Victoria in the first chapter of the Glare arc. There are plenty of clues there. Tattletale gives Victoria fifteen minutes saying she is “busy these days”. This plus the fact that it was Tattletale who sent the letter which led to the meeting tells me, that this meeting is important to Lisa, far more than she wants to let on. I don’t buy for a second that she does it due to “hometown respect”. She has little respect for people especially for heroes, unless they earn it, tends to see them as tools instead. Post Gold Morning Victoria did little to earn respect. Glory Girl did even less. If Tattletale considers this meeting important, and is inclined to use Victoria as a tool, then it means she really wants to get something out of what Victoria is doing. She is invested in what Victoria is doing, and to control her investment she needs a stream of information from the source, and a way to pass suggestions – that is how her power works. An agent in Victoria’s team can do both, especially if he spends enough time away from people to communicate with Tattletale without arousing anyone’s suspicions. Chris fits. It is even better if the agent can hear Tattletale while interacting with the team. I can’t remember from the top of my head, but could those headphones Chris is so fond of be connected to a phone? Maybe not. It would probably be impossible to hide from Kenzie for long.

          Second impression from the conversation. Lisa strongly suggests Victoria to drop the idea of coaching her superhero team, and especially going after villains in Hollow Point. Way to strongly to be sincere in my opinion, especially if we consider, that she wants to use Victoria and her team to archive something. As a side note – I expect Victoria to be quite pissed when she fully realizes, that she fell victim to such basic reverse psychology.

          There is also the fact, that later Tattletale bends her own rules to let Victoria protect her team from Hollow Point villains using the call they are owed to destroy the heroes, and to give Rain some important intel on his cluster before the raid on the Fallen camp, and she makes sure to let Victoria know, that she did it. This not only serves to protect her investment in the short run, but also serves to make Victoria more inclined to work with her in the future. Something that pays off during the Fallen camp raid, and right after that, when Victoria decides to coordinate Tattletale when she wants to chase after the Fallen, who escaped from the camp. More on the raid on the Fallen camp after I end my analysis of the Glare arc V-T talk, as the raid is also full of clues.

          The last thing that I take from the Glare arc conversation is that Tattletale tells Victoria that she wants to bring “security, stability, and safety to others” in a “roundabout way”, and possibly more importantly that their conversation is in part meant to archive these aims. From what we know about Lisa from Worm, especially it’s epilogue, those stated aims seem to be more or less true. The new information is that she this particular conversation to serve to archive those aims. How those two things connect? I guess, that Tattletale at this stage wants to have a degree of control over heroes operating in the city, so she can send them after serious threats she can’t deal with herself like the Fallen, Teacher or Goddess, and to make heroes coordinate better – both while dealing with those threats, and while patrolling the town on a day by day basis. She can’t control the Wardens, and they do poor job of making hero groups coordinate by introducing a stiff territory system which leads to conflicts between various hero groups. The Wardens are great when something big and obvious needs to be punched, but seem less then ideal when you need to go after a more subtle threat – like a mastermind, or when you want all heroes in the town work in concert to efficiently deal with minor threats without stepping on each others toes in the process. In other words at least in the home front the Wardens do little to bring “security, stability, and safety” – something the city really needs at this point. They also appear ill suited to deal with people like Teacher, who we know has been on Lisa’s black list pretty much since Gold Morning. Tattletale’s solution appears to be to establish a new hero group, one she can influence, and which can take over those duties from the Wardens. Victoria and her misfits are easier to control than Wardens, and Victoria understands the need of sharing information and coordinating various hero groups, and even groups like Patrol Block, so she is a good fit for the job. So yeah, Victoria is a very useful tool, but she needs a team to do it to share workload, to have her back in dangerous situations, and to archive enough successes in the field to be taken seriously by other groups. Lisa makes sure Victoria gets this team, and points them at a target that lets her gain reputation and contacts with other heroes, while at the same time allowing the team to consolidate thanks to some relatively low-risk successes at Hollow Point. Then she starts pointing them at threats she wants heroes to deal with for her – first the Fallen, which they were already inclined to do due to Rain’s situation. She even ensures, that heroes coordinate with Undersiders and Hollow Point villains, increasing their chance of success.

          So from this one conversation we know that Tattletale wanted Victoria’s team to succeed even before the beginning of the third arc, what she wants them to archive, how she steers them that way, and why she may have wanted to have her man inside the team.

          Let’s get to the fallen camp raid. I see two things of note here. One is that for someone who is supposed to stick to the edges of the fight Chris seemed to have a knack for appearing at the right place at the right time. He may have been be that good, although I’m under impression, that his form then wasn’t best suited for that. Another possibility is that he gets hints from Tattletale via Imp. It may mean, that he had been Tattletale’s man before the raid (possibly Heartbroken). If he hadn’t been – this is a possible moment, when Tattletale established contact with him, which either then or later resulted in an offer to join her. It may also explain why Tattletale avoided contact with Kenzie during that fight.

          Another thing to note is that shortly after the raid Tattletale met Victoria’s group face to face to discuss going after the Fallen and their allies, who managed to escape from the village. What caught my attention then, was that she appeared to have a headache at that time. She certainly strained her power during the assault on the Fallen earlier. It said a lot, that she agreed to meet the heroes and keep using her power at that point. Taylor had shown her how dire can be consequences of losing her power even for a short time, when she surrendered to the PRT. My guess is that Lisa has been very careful to avoid “running on reserves” and risking such situation since then, especially outside her home territory in a company of people she can’t completely trust. It probably said more about about her motivation to keep good long-term relations with Victoria’s team (not the willingness to catch the remaining Fallen – she had seemed content to let them run, and needed to to be convinced otherwise) than anything she had done or said earlier in part because it shows what looks like a minor weakness to heroes, but also because the reader knows just how major this weakness really is. Whatever she may have gained by appearing a little more human to the heroes whose trust she may want to gain, would be in her mind more then offset by risk she would actually take, which tells me, that this was not an attempt to manipulate Victoria’s group, but an expression of a real commitment. A serious investment once again, and again with how fragile Victoria’s group was in that point, she would probably want to have an inside source of information to know in advance, if the entire group would collapse, so she could react accordingly.

          Then there was the attack on prison. At this point Tattletale, if she is still the one pulling Breakthrough’s strings, must have known, that of either Teacher or Goddess win, there would be no way to save Breakthrough. If they won however, they would be exactly where Tattletale had wanted them – with enough connections and reputation to play the role of coordination and communication center for the heroes. Every hero in the city knew at that point, that they can handle everything form a serious PR crisis to a threat capable of taking over a planet. Internally team’s morale was high enough, that even losing a member did not carry a risk of the entire group falling apart. It was also an excellent opportunity to take a large group of actually dangerous individuals from way to insecure prison way to close to the City, and stick them in Shin with organization and a purpose, that hopefully makes them a less immediate threat. If Tattletale (or any other mastermind who pursues similar goals through similar means) had an agent to remove from Breakthrough, it was a perfect moment to do it. For Tattletale it was a perfect moment to stop babysitting Victoria and co. and pass the job to Citrine and Number Man, at least until her goals don’t conflict with theirs.

          Two more notes about Chris which does not fit anywhere above exactly. The first one shows, that he may have been working for a long time for some mastermind, or at least has been “living and breathing capes” for a bit to long. His skill set does not fit a thirteen-year old, who is a post Gold Morning non-tinker (or some genius/mastermind type thinker) trigger who on top of that lived last two years in a world with a crippled internet and limited access to specialized libraries. The fact that he appears to miraculously master search functions of PRO in mere days since it went back online seems to indicate, that he either is a genius/mastermind, or has extensively used PRO before Gold Morning, or had some sort of early access to post-apocalyptic PRO weeks if not months before it it went online. Both second and third option seems to indicate an involvement of an older, well educated teacher. Likely a cape with an agenda or someone working for such cape. Possibly a mastermind. This is not a skill that an average Smith would teach to a thirteen-year old kid, even a parahuman kid. His knowledge of strong medical drugs seems even more worrying. For all of his emotional problems Chris is too bright and level-headed to try to learn how to use them by experimenting on himself. Somebody taught him that, and something tells me that this someone was not a legit doctor with nothing to hide. Otherwise his knowledge would be limited to drugs he could get prescriptions for. He would not have to steal them, and we know he does.

          Second unattached note – Chris seems to have a great rapport with both Kenzie and Rain – two members of the team who were subjected to extreme domestic violence. Possible clue that he may be Heartbroken after all?

          Generally I would give it about five to ten percent chance for Chris being Heartbroken, fifteen to twenty percent chance of him being a mastermind or an agent working for a mastermind since at least a couple of months before Ward starts, another fifteen to twenty percent chance of him being a new (during, or shortly before the beginning of Ward), uneducated mastermind’s hireling.

          If he is Heartbroken this may be really bad. It would mean, that Tattletale planned the entire hero team well in advance, so that Chris could end up on an orphanage long enough before Ward starts. From there he would have to undergo individual therapy, and then end up in group therapy with just the right people, who would be susceptible to the idea of forming a team, and then get a competent coach like Victoria. It would be very difficult to convince Imp to let it happen without a solid guarantee, that everything will go according to plan. I don’t think that Tattletale’s power alone can give such guarantee without some foul play. The only two ways I can think it could work is that either Tattletale secures Yamada’s conscious cooperation somehow (which seems unlikely), or if she uses assistance of a powerful precog. The scary thing about this route is that Tattletale could technically do it. After Gold Morning she had a contact with at least one precog, possibly two since she had to learn that Taylor is alive somehow and Dinah didn’t know. The thing is, that Tattletale knows perfectly well possible price for dealing with this particular devil and she would have to be very desperate to do it. Which in turn does not bode well for anybody.

          Thanks everyone who found patience to suffer through this wall of text. It was probably just as tiring for you to read, as it was for me to write. I hope you found at least something as mentally stimulating enough to either expand on my ideas, or (I expect more likely) to think of and hopefully share this one realization which explains why everything above is just completely incorrect.

          1. Small, slightly embarrasing correction to the above post. The thing I wrote should be in chapter 5.5 is in fact in Interlude 5d – in the scene which picks up, where 5.5 left off. Looks like I had been skipping between chapters too much, when I’ve been going through the source materials, and I’ve lost track of which chapter I was in, when I found what I was looking for.

  13. Dear Sveta: Look, I know this sounds drastic, but “the rules have changed” and all that. If you’re tempted to ask children to help improve your sex life, you might as well ask Riley. There would probably be some horrifying stuff in the middle, but she’d be happy to keep fiddling with it until she got it perfect for you.

    Side note: I admire that Chris had some actual ambition. Long live the Red King!

    1. Does Sveta even know Riley? Presumably Ashley could introduce the two, but that would require Sveta to go to Ashley first, and those two have some distinct conflicts.

      1. Well at this very moment Riley is bickering over definitions with Rinke while watching farming occur. Valkryie will meet them in five or six days; it’s been two days since the jailbreak and she spent some amount of time winning the war in Africa.

    2. Going to Riley for sex advice would certainly be interesting.
      “And here I’ve put a poison stinger. It’s prehensile and can reach outside, though it can’t be fired at a distance like the nipple darts.”

  14. So crazy conspiracy time.

    Are we sure chris is as young as he portrays himself as?
    I mean, we know that his transformations change what he looks like somewhat along with messing with his emotions. We also know that he made sure to balance out his transformations so he wouldn’t change all that much and stay ‘himself’.

    Can we really rule out that he might have built this ‘Chris’ identity up from scratch and has been deceiving us this whole time?

      1. Yeah – I don’t think he’s the age he says he is, I think he’s a lot younger. (As in maybe even younger than Gold Morning.) I don’t think he’s even human, but rather some sort of creation that triggered (with a trigger event somehow related to his inhumanity).

    1. I have a running theory that Chris is connected in some meaningful way to the mold kid from Glow-Worm 0.8 – Casey Forks.

      I think that I might have mentioned it a couple times offhandedly but nobody (myself included) has really taken the thought and run with it. But it’s obvious that Wildbow put a lot of thought into the material he included in Glow-Worm. Reading it gives all sorts of small allusions to things in future chapters. And it’s mind-bending how every new arc that comes out makes it possible to go back and read the material in Glow-Worm in a new light (pun not intended).

      It’s difficult to picture why he would include something as striking as the Casey Forks story if it didn’t have some pertinence to the overall plot. And of all the characters that have been covered, Chris is the one that we don’t have much new information on – he’s the one whose backstory, when released, would give context to the final bits of the Glow-Worm prelude. If the Casey Forks story *is* relevant, then it’s very likely that it will be given context when we learn more about Chris.

      Casey Forks seems to be about the same age as Chris (at the time of Glow Worm, he states that he would have been going to high school if it hadn’t gone all wrong). Casey’s parents died in whatever event triggered him – Casey himself became a sort of mold-person and was only able to animate them by controlling their corpses with mold on their body parts and brains. When we meet Chris, he’s an orphan, and we have no complete answers of how (and no need to inquire further, since Gold Morning provides a great explanation).

      Forks’ abilities apparently make it possible for him to control the bodies and brains of others to some degree, and we have no idea what the limits of his powers are, b/c as of the time of that writing, he had only begun to experiment with them. So, if we’re wondering why Chris may or may not have some leverage on Panacea, then if Chris turns out to be Casey Forks, there might be the possibility that his mold has some influence over her.

      Or, more likely…. that he’s infected Victoria, who Amy still loves in a sort of creepy, controlling, obsessive way. Victoria, who won’t let Amy touch her so that she could fix things (presumably, it would be little problem for Amy to purge Victoria of any mold that might be influencing her, but she can’t even get close enough to Victoria to touch her – at least, not without incurring consequences that she doesn’t want to incur). Which might also explain the look of anger and frustration on Amy’s face when Victoria calls her out on her bid for power – very few things more frustrating than doing something to protect a person you love, but because they don’t (and won’t) listen to you, they think your motives are evil.

      Even if Chris is only tangentially connected to Casey Forks, the presence of Casey in the city might also explain the interlude with Valkyrie. One of the most powerful parahumans alive, afraid to even set foot in the city? Assuming it’s not directly related to some mystical influence of a shard, what if it’s because the entire city is infected, and has become the “nest” of an S class threat that is subtly influencing the entire population through the use of a biological agent? One that’s too diffuse for her powers to do anything about?

      Valkyrie’s interlude also deals with both the renegade Tinker 10 (or 15) and the S-Class time-dog. Thematically both stories illustrate something we don’t get to see too often in the main story – the fundamental brokenness of shards, and what happens when a shard that’s too powerful posessess and overwhelms a host. It’s not difficult to extrapolate this theme, again, to Casey Forks, who talked about paralysis and about slowly losing his humanity as he became a mold-person. The tinker and the time-dog could both, in their own way, have been illustrations of the kinds of broken, S-class problems Valkyrie could deal with, while also being a foreshadowing of the type of problem that’s so damn broken that Valkyrie, with all of her power, can’t do anything at all.

      And of course, it would tie up one last loose end. If Chris was tied to Casey Forks in some way, then it means Team Breakthrough would be located right at ground zero for a potentially disturbing S-Class threat. It would also explain why Jessica Yamada, who routinely counsels the most powerful beings in existence, was out in the outskirts of the city, doing group therapy with a team of superheroes who were possibly talented but mostly should have been beneath her notice. She works with Valkyrie, who has expressed deep fears about the city – it’s very likely that Valkyrie may have been able to tell her something more about the source of the fear, and point her in the right direction.

      I like this theory but I’ll admit that it could easily fall apart with new information. Maybe even with old information – I want to re-read Glow Worm with more attention paid to the dates and time-stamps to see if there’s anything there that might invalidate it.

      1. the main problem with your theory was that casey triggered and died after we met chris in glow-worm, so he probably doesnt have much to do with chris. in fact, chris already had his 32 accounts before casey triggered

        1. I agree with this, to be honest. I think Casey, like Tinker-15 and Time-dog, is an example of how broken shards are.

          That being said, this does point to Chris’ shard being broken in some fundamental way.

          Victoria has her Wretch, Sveta’s a Case 53, Lookout’s a child cape, Rain’s a cluster-trigger with SERIOUS kiss-kill, Damsel’s power controls her more than she controls it (and is a Riley clone), and Byron & Tristan are Case-72s.

          What’s Chris? It seems like there might be more to his strange power than we’ve seen so far.

      2. nah, he’s whatever Lab rat threw into the ocean in gold morning. A clone, like Damsel, but a more warped and twisted one. His powers are killing him because he’s not, strickly speaking, a Cape, he’s a cape’s experiment. Some sort of “Chimera” Transformer used on Lab Rat’s base DNA.

        If he’s actually got Lab Rat’s memories/personality, he’s a child Tinker in a body that can’t Tinker anymore. That would probably leave you really messed up, aside from starting as a villain in the first place.

        That’s my theory anyway.

  15. I think the main thing to invalidate it is the end of the thread:

    ► Fishie (Board Admin)
    Replied on August 23rd, Y1
    Thread locked. Article with details/wrap-up here.

    Casey has been added to the names thread here. We won’t tolerate objections on the matter. He was close enough to being one of us.

    I am pretty sure that means the Casey situation was resolved via incineration of the entire affected area, as one does when there’s an uncontainable biohazard. It definitely means Casey is dead, and the Wardens understand the concept of contagious hazards.

    Though I also think that incineration was performed by Valkyrie, since she is the designated weird power breakdown lady and under the circumstances I would think the situation was not so urgent as to demand action before she could show up to handle it.

    1. Meant to be a reply to SJ84.

      Anyways, remember that just because a parahuman is dead, that doesn’t mean we won’t see them again.

  16. I’m….not certain why Amy would cede control over all that she is (which was one of her huge stumbling points in canon) to Chris – someone she’s not known all that long.

    Granted, on some level I could see her willingly giving up the ‘reins’ of her power’s responsibility to someone else (at least in part), but it had seemed like she was ‘trying’ to come into her own in terms of her power, and the responsibilities therein.

    Her relying on Chris (in the future, at least), feels….quite tonally dissonant from her segment with Dot, in which Dot is ‘already’ her advisor – why would she become ‘advisor’ to someone else?

    1. There are really only two scenarios I can think of in which that would happen. First is, Chris managed to paint a picture of a future that she wants and set himself up as the way to get to it. Amy has a weak personality and could potentially be taken in by a compelling vision.

      The second is that Chris managed to paint a picture of a future she doesn’t want, and made it so that doing what he says is the way to avoid it. I speculated on this a bit above when I suggested he might be Casey Forks, but there’s really no reason that he *has* to be mold boy in order for that to be true. Really, all he needs is to convince Amy that Victoria is his unknowing hostage, and harming him or disobeying him will ultimately lead to bad things happening to her.

  17. Agreed. Since the specifics of it were left untold, then from a narrative perspective that might be very easily reversed.

    Say Casey is, as he said, a “god of death and decay, and an open fridge door with mold growing inside of it.” No longer human. More mold than human. Say that parahumans burned him b/c they had no other way to deal with the problem and then made the hard call to deal with one innocent for the greater good.

    And say a few spores made it out? That the incineration wasn’t complete? And the mold spreads and slowly reconstitutes itself. It seems like a good backstory for a villain or for a very, very angry, suspicious antihero – the type who wouldn’t dare ever let a parahuman come into his home or figure out his true nature, because last time, when he was candid and hopeful about it and reached out naively in good faith, they burned most of him alive.

    Anyhow, I look forward to seeing whatever Wildbow does next. Hoping sincerely that we get some expansion on Casey Forks but if not I’m always sure that whatever WB does will be fun to read.

    1. I would think the Wardens, being descended from the Protectorate’s long experience with putting down Class S threats and with Thinkers capable of tracking Valkyrie’s progress against the tower, would be able to properly sterilize a contaminated region.

      Also a single parahuman with a distributed mold body would not be a difficult issue for Valkyrie; she could just pull out whoever gave her the chemical immunity adaptions for the Africa campaign, walk up to Chris, and do her soul-rip thing. Nor would it be a credible threat to Amy, who can rebuild organisms on contact and disposed of Bonesaw’s plague in Brockton Bay with about ten minutes of work.

  18. I loved the talk between Victoria and Sveta. And the scenes with the Damsels. And all the Chris stuff. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes, basically.
    (And Chris is still my favourite)

  19. Amy is generally submissive. Her father wants to teach her what he can – how to rule villains – as a means of providing for her, making her a part of his life, and helping her grow into adulthood. That’s something he sees could be helpful to her survival as a cape. She’s too shy of brutality to be long for a brutal world otherwise. (Worlds really). As his subordinate, she acts as the frontperson for his operation. This is the position from which she learns the ropes. So she acts the part; witness her rally the villains. He’s holding her hand the whole way, using his subordinates as proxies – Chris. Chris is a good person to select as her advisor, because he won’t hold back what she needs to know, and she can wield a death grip on those blinders of hers at times, which he can cut past. There’s also good synergy, and it only strengthens his loyalty.

    “Hey Chris, do I have spinach stuck in my teeth?…Was that alright?…How did I look up there?”
    – “Hey Amy, I think his daughter just did the boss proud. Do you mind healing me up a bit?”

    ORRR…Chris is Marquis in disguise due to Amy magic and his own abilities. The marquis meeting was with an Amy altered double. All the transformations have been done with Amy programmed micro-organisms…ha ha ha

    1. I already said a bit on this above, but Chris is what lab rat threw into the ocean that one time. He gets on with Marquis and her daughter because he remembers them from their shared time in the birdcage. It’s also why he’s really good at wrangling a bunch of super powered prisoners, even by proxy.

      I fully expect Wibblebeat to Joss me here but the more I think about this theory, the more it makes sense.

  20. There’s an obvious solution to Sveta’s conundrum: ask Dragon for some help with the Tinkering. Sure, she might say no if she’s pressed for time, but given what we know of Dragon as readers, I think it’s entirely possible that Dragon would sympathize with Sveta’s situation enough to say yes. Besides, it’s not like Dragon wouldn’t be getting something out of it, as she’d get to add Kenzie’s projectors to her repertoire of Tinkertech.

  21. He’s 13 and this subject is getting very uncomfortable (and DISGUSTING) for two reasons: people making (even as a joke) Amy a pedophile/rapist lusting after children and not respecting her sexual choices (she’s gay, she was never straight or bi). Respect people’s choices, ok, and don’t turn them into child’s rapists.

      1. Since when have political marriages cared about about whether the participants find each other attractive? Amy being gay does not in any way make her off limits for speculation or jokes about political marriages involving men.

        And it’s not cool to put words in people’s mouths. You just corrected Jess about Chris’s age, so obviously you’re aware that she thought Chris was 15-16. Pedophilia refers to sexual attraction toward prepubescents, not kids in their mid-teens. For that matter, Jess never implied that Amy feels any attraction toward Chris in the first place, so again, no implication of being a pedophile, hebephile, or ephebophile in Jess’s comments, nor was she disrespecting Amy’s orientation.

        Besides, artificial insemination is very much an existing technology, and then there’s Shin super science, tinker-tech, and the many colorful powers that parahumans have. Amy and Chris have plenty of ways to produce heirs without ever bumping uglies.

        1. Artificial insemination with someone so young is disturbing too. And I highly doubt that all Amy cares now is to have children with a man that she doesn’t even feel attracted of. Her priorities are to much more important than this, like keeping a planet of parahumans/villains under control and watch her back so she won’t be stabbed by enemies.

          1. But chris is already pregnant. In one of his monster forms, he is carrying babies demons so he will be the one who will give birth to babies, not amy or someone else. I think mommy chris is pretty cute and les disturbing than the other way around. It makes more sense, given the context😀

      2. Is Amy canonically gay? I don’t think we’ve seen her in a relationship? It’s not as though there wasn’t anything on offer in the Birdcage. (I haven’t looked for fanfic in this vein, but I’m sure it’s available.) If she is anything we might say she is aura-sexual. That didn’t involve a great deal of agency on her part. It’s fine for you to think of her as gay, anyway. Read the story in the way that makes most sense to you.

        You could be a little more charitable in reading others’ comments, however. I never used the word “should”. Sethur speculated quite reasonably that Marquis could be a threat to Cryptid and whatever working relationship he has with Red Queen. I pointed out one particular option that Cryptid would have in response to that threat. That option has been foreshadowed by the fact that two of the three characters under discussion have intentionally chosen names that evoke royalty and political marriage. You may not care about history, but it exists anyway.

        It’s odd that you made this something about Red Queen’s choices, anyway. Cryptid is clearly making the decisions here. Whatever his real age may be, which may or may not equal any age recorded thus far in the story, he is not going to be “raped” by Red Queen. (Even more clear since the entire readership seemed to have missed it last chapter and WB had to emphasize the point through Swansong in this one.)

        1. Amy was sexually attracted/in love with Victoria (she even turned Victoria into a forced lesbian for her, rape-minding her) so its canon that Amy is gay. And maybe she’s still in love with Victoria but she understands now that Vic will never share her feelings, especially after what she did to her. Besides, are you sure that Chris is the one making the decisions? Not Amy or a third party? I mean, we only have Swansong’s word here, no confirmation yet.

          1. The running theory is Amy is sexually attracted to Victoria only because she was constantly subjected to Victoria’s aura of awe power and was already emotionally vulnerable because she was a villain’s child being raised by a family-team of heroes. It’s possible she’s gay, it’s true, but it isn’t necessarily canon that she is.

        2. (Even more clear since the entire readership seemed to have missed it last chapter and WB had to emphasize the point through Swansong in this one.)

          Not the entire readership. Perhaps you assumed I was joking, but I was entirely serious when I said the following in the comments of 10.1:

          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.

          (To be fair, everything I said after that was a joke.)

          1. Haha I should have said “last arc” since the fateful words were actually uttered then. You’re clearly reading at a high level so I’m often pretty sure you’ve caught something I missed…

            It is a strength of online fiction, that a story may be adjusted to its readers. This episode isn’t quite a Jossing but more of a “hey pay attention to this obviously important thing!”-type statement. Actually lots of readers never comment and as a group they’re smarter than us who do, so it’s likely that many people knew exactly what was going on…

          2. I figured the plan was Chris’s idea, but that’s not quite the same as Chris being in charge. There’s a difference between a trusted advisor and a boss.

          3. Even if Cryptid didn’t want to boss her around, RQ’s personality would probably encourage that anyway. She is slow to trust, but once she trusts, she depends. Marquis will try to rein that in, and the little of Cryptid’s real personality we’ve seen so far wouldn’t even want to take most decisions, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Marquis and Cryptid standing behind the monarch in relatively equal more-than-advisory roles.

            If, as is commonly hypothesized, Cryptid isn’t a cape but the creation of a cape, who is standing behind him? Is he off the leash like Dragon? If so it seems that he may have fewer builtin safeguards…

  22. Chris will be the mommy of his own children. He is already pregnamt, remember? Who wants for chris to give birth yo his baby demons? That would be a bit creepy, but cute anyway. Mom chris ftw

  23. Am I the only one confused by the quotes attributed “Ashley said”? Some of the earlier ones are “our Ashley said” to denote it was Swansong, not Damsel who said it, but both are present and presumably talking in these conversations and “Ashley” could refer to either of them.

  24. Sorry guys. Sorry once again for the wall of text above. Feel free to skip it. I’ll be careful to avoid those in the future, so that I don’t get what Kenzie’s got.

    Sorry for posting what I’m about to post here. It really belongs at the end of the previous chapter. Sorry for paranoia.

    Sorry for breaking a taboo.

    Grue is back from the dead. You may think, that he deserved it for wearing a skull for a mask. As disturbing as a tormented soul returning from the dead is in itself it may be an omen of even bigger, mote ominous things to come.

    Taylor has been called many things. A hero, a villain, a monster. Back in Worm she was shown a path that would save everyone if she chose to sacrifice everything. She chose to take this path until the very end, even though she could get away from it, hide in a corner, and hope to survive. She is obviously something else although if I remember correctly nobody dared to call her that in the stories.

    A martyr.

    Can there be one more tormented soul about to come back? For someone who is supposed to be gone people in the story seem to mention her often. More often, and more freely, I feel, as the Ward goes on. Is it only humanity recovering from the trauma of Gold Morning or is it also an omen?

    For all that we know there may be a lot of relay bugs flying around at this point. Symbols of Amy’s trust for sure – something to keep in mind when thinking about her and Victoria, but can they be something more? A Chekhov’s gun? A red herring?

    A Chekhov’s gun is possible, but would feel crude. I feel that Wildbow is a better writer better than that. A red herring then. I wont to believe that he gave an hones happy ending to one character, who certainly earned it, but do I believe in sequels to happy endings coming from beneath his pen? Grue also deserved an ending. Looks like he did not get it.

    A red herring and an omen in one then.

    Getting Tailor without her powers would obviously mean new challenges both for her and the others. There is the minor detail, that those who know that she is in Earth Aleph want her to have the happy ending, and they would probably need to share this secret with someone who they may want to keep in the dark – someone like the Faultline’s crew. There is also the fact that if Tailor shows her face to the public, she would probably not survive next twenty four hours unless proper safety precautions are put in place beforehand.

    Could unpowered Tailor be an asset important enough to be brought back despite all of it? I believe that if humanity will at some point go to war against the shards she could be critical, because she combines two important aspects that nobody else does. On one hand she is a mastermind. One who understands powers better then any other unpowered human. Loosing an ability to multitask, or to detach herself from her emotions certainly hurts her ability to make decisions under stress, but if she is allowed to take her time, and focus on long-term plans she could be every bit the mastermind we saw her to be in Worm. Possibly even better then she was in Worm.

    How could Taylor affect the world enough to fight this war if she has no powers? We were already shown one possible way. Master-stranger protocols. Just used on a on much bigger scale then in the last arc. There are certainly enough capes who trust her enough for this to work.

    Will humanity go to war against the shards? It is possible. People have been thinking about it. Some may be trying to actually do it. Dinah seems like she could be one of them. Or maybe her apparent little war against the world ruled by parahumans is just another foreshadowing at this point?

    Are there any other big disasters looming over horizon. Aside from the obvious ones Simurgh has been trying to create someone new. Could be someone as trivial as a new worthy opponent for the Endbringers, could be a core of a new Entity. The Abbadon could be coming back for a harvest. After Scion was awakened everyone seemed to assume, that Dinah fifteen-year prophecy of doom was the same as her two-year one, but I don’t think anyone confirmed it with her.

    I feel like Ward is not a story about a war which could end the powers and the Parahumans saga. It feels like a story about second chances and trust. A story centered around Victoria and Amy, their second chance, and their trust. But I could be wrong, or there could be another volume of Parahumans planned. Possibly set as far in the future as Dinah prophecy seems to indicate? It could be the moment to bring Taylor back.

    So tell me does all of it make any sense, or does the fact that I’m currently in the middle of the second arc of Pact make me see omens and conspiracies where there are none?

    1. Ups… Forgot to add, that the other reason why Taylor would be so uniquely suited to take on the shards themselves is that as long as she is sealed her mind seems unaffected by them. Which means, that her thought process is not influenced by whatever safeguard are there to prevent people from using the powers against the Entity. This also explains why there would be a need for master-stranger protocols. It also adds another another complication to solve before she can be brought back from her little corner on Aleph back to action – namely that she is not compelled to take part a conflicts, which means that you would need do be quite persuasive to convince her, that the shards must be dealt with, and that her involvement is necessary.

    2. If the comment logically belongs on the last chapter, you’re certainly allowed to post it there. You just shouldn’t drop any spoilers from later chapters. There’s nothing in the textwall above that seems to do that…

      1. Yeah, I know. It is just that it seems kind of bad to interrupt everyone’s discussion of the current chapter with something belonging in the previous arc, that has a completly different mood than the current shopping trip, and on top of it bringing out the character who deserves to be left in peace.

        It does not help, that my interruption is such a wall of text.

        And yes, all of those appologies are at most half serious.

  25. Kenzie is in an institution? Since when? What happened to the arrangement with Nicole and the rest :<

    This chapter was such a wonderful rest stop. The scenes with Sveta were full of warm and happy feelings <3

    Dang, Chris. From rando superhero to planetary dictator. That's a nice upgrade, kudos to you.

    1. The arrangement with Natalie and co. was just a temporary thing while they tried to figure out what to do with Kenzie over the long term. They probably needed time to check which orphanages and foster homes had room for her as well as the ability to cope with somebody like her, and they may have needed to wait for an opening to appear. Then there’s the paperwork and whatever other hoops they needed to jump through to actually move Kenzie without pissing off the bureaucracy or opening themselves to lawsuits from her parents or miscellaneous busybodies. This was also all happening after the portal attacks messed up a bunch of people’s offices and routes, so things would have been slower.

  26. New Chris theory: I’ve been wondering if he might be a non Case 53 Cauldron cape, since that’s the only way to get a heavily mutated parahuman pre-GM without a Cauldron tattoo except artifical constructs, and his power backlash isn’t broken trigger bad. The main hole in this theory is that I’m pretty sure Cauldron disappeared any customer who had that extensive a reaction, but then I remembered that there was precisely one known incident of a mass release of Cauldron’s test subjects outside of deliberate Case 53 drops: the Simurgh’s attack on Madison. The battle continued for a good while after she opened the portal to the Cauldron compound, meaning any escapees would be heavily exposed to her song. And Chris has a number of stealthy forms that might well have been able to slip past the quarantine in the hours after the attack before it could be properly walled off. And he assassinated a major target at a key moment, just like Cody.

    1. Well, a natural trigger for some Changer or Breaker powers might be able to result in heavy mutation, but not with the associated medical problems Chris has.

  27. Was “Khepri” ever used in the Wormverse as a name? I know that we know it, but who was the person in story who first coined it and how did it spread to the point that Sveta, who wouldn’t have been told by Amy, would know it.

    1. It was used twice that I’m aware of in Worm. The first use was by Contessa during Speck 30.7: “That’s part of why I’m asking, Taylor Hebert. Weaver, Skitter, Khepri, I’m thinking you’re not totally gone.”

      The second use was by Jessica Yamada during Teneral e.1: “No. I’m wondering about someone who was a patient some time ago. Can I ask about this ‘Khepri’?”

      I haven’t paid attention to whether and where it’s been used here in Ward.

    2. It was used a bit in the epilogue.

      I assume it was a PRT/Protectorate name. It fits right in with their Endbringer naming convention.

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