Polarize – 10.5

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“Oh no,” Swansong said, her voice deadpan.  “It’s the fuzz.”

“Oh no!” Lookout echoed Swansong, her voice anything but deadpan.  “Are we in trouble?  What do we say?  What do I do?”

The cop cars were pulling into the truck stop from the highway.  They saw the scene and slowed down.  Two cars, each with two cops.  Since identifying March’s group, we’d been moving the scene around a bit to investigate and see if we could work out any details.  The plan had been to leave in another minute or two, after Lookout’s data had saved.

“Start by calming down,” Sveta said.  “We’re good guys.”

“I’ve had serious talks with police officers nine times, and it went bad seven of those times,” Lookout said, her eyes fixed on the cop car.

The officers had come to a complete stop at a point before the concrete barrier properly started.  It gave them the ability to hop in their cars and turn off onto the highway.  They emerged.

“Can you take down the images?” I asked.  “The cops seem intimidated.”

“Not without losing the data.  Do we want to lose the data?”

Split second decision: get shot or lose the data?

“Keep the data,” I said.

“What if you dim it?” Rain suggested.  “Make it look fake.”

“That I can do.  Opacity down.  Doing it.  Please don’t make me talk to the cops.  It always turns out bad.”

All around us, the images of Tattletale’s group, Faultline’s trio and March’s multi-cluster shifted tint and became see-through.

I raised a hand, holding it over my head as I walked toward the officers.  Capricorn followed, while the rest of the group hung back a bit.

“Hi guys!” Capricorn called out.  Tristan.  “We’re on your side!”

The cops didn’t relax.  We continued to approach until one older officer who had his gun drawn raised it a fraction.  Not quite pointing at us, but if we approached another few steps, then it might well be.  A good thirty feet of distance separated us from them.

“What the hell is all this?” the older officer asked.

Tristan turned his head to look, his hands still out to his sides.  “We’re heroes.  We were trying to track down some rivals, used some power stuff to see if we could see what they were doing at their last reported location, here, and found this.”

“It’s a bit of a mess that we’re trying to puzzle out,” Capricorn said.

The younger guy by the old officer’s side turned around, taking it all in.  His back to us as he looked over in the direction of March’s truck, he used the most innocent of tones as he said, “You were the ones on television a few nights ago.”

“We were,” I answered him.  “I remember talking about how we wanted to share information and enforce cooperation.  If you want, we can give you a tour of this scene, catch you up.”

“No thanks,” the old guy said.  He looked at the younger cop that I presumed was his partner.  “They’re heroes?”

“Yeah.”

He broke his stance, no longer ready to drop into a firing position, gun no longer almost pointed at us.  He didn’t put it away, though.

“You were part of the prison thing too,” the young guy said.

“Yeah,” Capricorn said.

The old guy took a step to the side, leaning in close to his buddy.  He asked a question under his breath, clearly not intended to be heard by the pair of us.

I caught ‘clown’ in the middle.  It was answered with a half smile and half-shrug.

Ass-clowns.  Great.

“One of the reasons we went on the show was to force some hands, flush some birds out of the bushes,” Capricorn said.  “The people who pulled the prison breakout were the birds.”

“Tried something, you failed, and the rest of us suffer?” the old guy asked.  There was an edge to his voice.  “And here you are, trying something else?”

“We succeeded,” I said.  “Birds flushed out, birds stopped or temporarily neutered.  The problem is, the way things are right now, we stop two big villains, and there are two more in the shadows, ready to step out and take advantage of the situation.  We’re poised on a crumbling ledge, and we’re… trying to keep it all upright.”

“I’m not one for the poetics,” the old guy said, staring across the distance at me.  The other two cops seemed to think the situation wasn’t escalating, and were walking over to the March multi-cluster hologram, investigating.  “Birds and crumbling ledges.”

“You’re not giving her a fair shake,” Capricorn said, “Officer…?”

“Senior Trooper Littlejohn.”

“Sir,” Capricorn said, “With my last team, I did some ride-alongs with officers.  I heard their frustrations again and again.  I know it’s a thing: whether you’re a paramedic trying to stay ahead of a drug epidemic, a trooper or senior trooper trying to deal with gangs, or hell, a teacher trying to save young minds, you run into the futility of it all, it’s the same.  Score a win today, and tomorrow it can seem as if nothing changed.”

The old guy was quiet.  The young guy looked over his shoulder, his attention divided between us and the still images.

Capricorn, sensing he wasn’t going to get an answer, added, “Don’t do to us what I’m betting hundreds of people have done to you.  Don’t tell us we didn’t make a difference when you weren’t there to see.”

Littlejohn didn’t respond for a second.  He did look at his partner, who shrugged, unsmiling.

“Sure.  I won’t tell you,” Littlejohn said.

Nicely, neatly ambiguous, as responses went.

“Over there,” I said, indicating Tattletale’s group.  “Undersiders.  Took over Brockton Bay.  They were running New Brockton.  They did some scummy stuff, they helped save the world.  It’s complicated.”

“That’s her, huh?  Tattletale in the flesh?” the younger officer asked.  “We keep hearing her name.”

“Tattletale, but it’s only a… very advanced simulation of a scene from last night.  Hologram.  Beside her are mercenaries from Palanquin.”

“Don’t know them,” the young officer stated.

“You have to get into murky waters to get a good answer there,” I said.  “June twentieth, twenty-eleven.  The day that the PRT broke.  An event in Brockton Bay.  Everything classified, but there was a mass exodus of heroes from the Protectorate and Wards program.  It was the day the portal appeared in Brockton Bay.”

I looked over at the horizon.  The portal had warped, distorting, and New Brockton had been cleaved in half.  A slice of sky that was different from the rest.

“And?” Littlejohn asked.

“Palanquin started traveling the world, opening portals for buyers.  They have ties to the Undersiders, not necessarily friendly ties.  But they’re tied into it all.”

“And the third group?” Littlejohn asked.

I was so tempted to say ‘ass-clowns’, to borrow his phrasing from earlier.  I gave it a fifty-fifty on either winning him over or souring the dialogue, based on my read of him.  Not good enough odds.

“Can’t say for sure, but they seem to be the people who are stepping in to fill a recent void, picking up where the last set of troublemakers left off.  We were figuring it out when you came,” I said.

“Always something, huh?” Littlejohn directed the question at Capricorn.  “I never took the ‘capes’ seriously.   Endbringers seemed too far away.  It was too many masks and nicknames to keep track of, all kid stuff.   Then, y’know.  All at once, it was all too serious.”

I nodded, pushing thoughts out of my head and trying to maintain a poker face.  The ‘all at once’ for me wasn’t the one he was thinking of.

“Yeah.  I don’t blame you.  When this stuff is great, it’s goofy,” Capricorn said.  “When it’s bad, it’s bad enough you don’t want to talk about it.  Most of the time, it’s like I said before.  We’re trying to improve things a bit at a time, even when it looks like it’s not getting us anywhere.”

Littlejohn turned his head and whistled for attention.  The two officers who had wandered off returned to us.

“Nimmons, move the cars to block off the stop.  Park them both so it looks neat and calm.   Be ready to move if a truck needs to roll in.  Alves?  Up on that concrete barrier.  Keep an eye on traffic, keep it moving.  You could try holding onto a notebook, act like you’re taking down license plate numbers of the ones who are moving too slow.”

They listened and obeyed without objection.

“We got called in because something was up.  Reason we’re staying is that it’s a truck stop, and you’re not trucks, you’re obstructing,” Littlejohn told us.

“We can be gone in a minute,” I said.

“If you need to look around more, then do that, just don’t take too long doing it.  If these loons are the next ass-clowns in line to cause trouble, it’s better we get them before they’ve figured out which way is up.”

It’s a little more complicated than thatThey’ve figured out a lot more than which way is up.

“Sounds good,” I said.  “Thank you, sir.”

“Explain some of this to me as you go.  I should know more than I do.”

“Absolutely,” I said.  “Geez, where to start?”

“Why does this all look wrong to me?  Doesn’t look like it meshes together.”

“It doesn’t,” I said, as we walked back toward the rest of the group.  “It’s the puzzle we were trying to put together: what goes where.  We can ask Lookout- she’s running the simulation.  We froze a few key scenes that we worked out.”

“Show me?  These are people from my city, apparently.”

“They were.  We were in the middle of trying to figure out if they’re leaving because someone worse scared them away, or if they left to go protect some people elsewhere.  Lookout!  Scene one!?”

The scene around us shifted.  The moment where Tattletale was mid-meeting with Faultline, Chicken Little and the Heartbroken sitting on the front of the parked cars, where headlights illuminated the light snow.  Trails marked where snow clumps had been rolled against the ground to form snowballs.  They had been stacked into miniature snowmen.  Chicken Little had two birds in the snow on either side of what looked like a failed snow-bird, the outstretched wings having crumbled under their own weight.

I pointed at that, then spun around to point at the other end.  The headlights of March’s vehicle were sweeping into the lot as it pulled in, but March wasn’t waiting that long.  She sat in the open window of the car, leaning over the hood with a rifle in her hands.  The frozen scene had captured the muzzle flash.  Even from a distance, there was something in March’s eye- she wore her mask so it covered half of her face, her left eye peering through the right eyehole of the mask.  The adjustment of the mask freed her to look down the rifle’s scope.

“Page us through slowly?” I asked Lookout.  No need to raise my voice now that we were closer.

A matter of ten feet from us, the image of Tattletale had shifted, and was mid-reaction, the bullet having connected.  A bullet to the back of the thigh.  The other thigh had a fresh wound on it.  The reason there hadn’t been more blood on the snow was that most of the gore had hit the side and interior of the car.  The only thing that kept Tattletale from going straight to the ground was Snuff’s grip on her arm.

“Eliminating the competition?”

“Honestly?  Probably not.  But depending on how this works out, she might as well be.  It’s just going to be someone crazier and more dangerous than the one who dresses up as a march hare and shoots with kids in the line of fire.”

“Costumed kids.  Heartbroken, I think?”

“Yeah.  Heartbroken and Chicken Little.  But kids are supposed to be off-limits.  You go easy.”

Littlejohn nodded.

There was a scene between this one and the first one we’d started to piece together.  Shamrock opening fire.  Gregor slinging a blob of slime.  Snuff was practically throwing Tattletale into the vehicle while his power blocked out an area in front of him.  Not as much of a dark blob as we’d originally thought- that had been the overlapping of multiple effects.

“Shamrock shot one of March’s people.  March’s person immediately reacts, lashes out-  Lookout?”

We caught the scene from earlier.  Dismemberment.  The kids now on their way to the vehicles.  March had been disarmed by Shamrock’s shot, the rifle broken at the wooden base just a half-inch from March’s hand, but March had other people leaning out the windows and over the vehicle.

“Who’s the bridge troll?”

The question came from Littlejohn’s partner.  He indicated Gregor the Snail, who was shielding some of the Heartbroken kids with his body as they got into one of the Undersider’s vehicles.  He was wearing full costume, and his body visibly steamed, though the projection didn’t catch all of the steam, making it look cut off or jagged in places.

“That’s Gregor,” Sveta said.  “From my very limited exposure to him and everything I’ve heard, he’s apparently a gentleman.”

“He’s wearing a fishnet shirt in minus-something weather.  Doesn’t seem gentlemanly to be around kids like that.”

“They don’t seem to mind,” Sveta said.

“I’m a kid and I don’t mind.  He looks huggable.”

“I like it,” Swansong said.  “Dark, bold.”

Littlejohn’s partner scoffed a bit.

“And they’re kids who hang out with supervillains,” I pointed out.  “Heartbroken and Tattletale’s protege.  Playing in the snow while the adults talk is probably as kid-like as things get for them.  I don’t think fishnets are even on their radar.”

“The one with the bird mask is the protege?” Littlejohn asked me.  I nodded my confirmation.

“Maybe he likes it,” Sveta said.

“You can relax,” Littlejohn’s partner said.  “You’re making more of a deal of it than I meant to say.”

“His wife probably likes it,” Sveta said, indicating Shamrock.

“No shit?” Littlejohn’s partner asked.  “I kind of hate him now.”

“Funny thing is, I think you could say that to his face, and he would just accept it,” Sveta said.  “I think we should stop here before I get pissed off.”

Woah there,” Littlejohn’s partner replied.

“Let’s end it,” I said, and I said it quiet, where only Littlejohn and Capricorn could hear.

“Troy,” Littlejohn said.

‘Troy’ stopped, going silent, and looking at his partner.

“Head on over to the other end, near the cars.  See if you can’t spot anything about the truck the attacker is driving, or the people inside.”

Troy seemed eminently unbothered as he shrugged one shoulder, heading over to the truck.  I found myself wishing he’d looked more annoyed or hurt about being sent away.

Sveta would be annoyed and hurt.  I knew that much.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Tell me more about this,” he said.  “Who are these people?”

He’d indicated Imp.  In the last scene we’d pieced together, Imp had an arm that replaced the one that had been torn away.  The new arm was a different skin tone and had a bad bullet wound.

I was starting to explain when Lookout showed something on her phone to Ashley, then to others.  I trailed off, motioning for her to show me and Littlejohn.

“I got enough detail to map it out.  We have license plate and vehicle serial numbers on the frame of the vehicle.”

“Whose?” I asked.

“Faultline,” Lookout said.

“I could check databases,” Senior Trooper Littlejohn told us.

“I think I’ve got it already,” Lookout said.

“But thank you,” I added.  “Listen, we were pursuing a lead when we got this far.  This is your territory.  Do you want to take jurisdiction over this scene?  Use of weapons, cape stuff?”

Fuck no,” Littlejohn said.

“It’s okay if we handle it?”

“Probably not.  Except this looks like a steaming pile of mess, and I want no part of it.  You want to own this?”

“We can’t pin them for a crime, but we can try to keep this from becoming a string of incidents, and we can keep you in the loop.”

“We’re going to go talk to Palanquin?” Sveta asked, and she wasn’t quite able to hide her excitement.

Tristan leaned back, a phone pressed to his ear.  His helmet was in his lap.

I saw his eyebrows go up as the person on the other end answered.

“We’re not new clients,” he said.  “We’re parked a block away from you.  We’d like to approach, talk, see if we can’t both help each other.”

The phone dropped from his ear.

“They hang up?” Rain asked.

Tristan shook his head.  “They’re checking.”

A voice on the other end cheeped through the phone’s speaker.  Tristan raised it to his ear.

“How did we find you?” he asked.

“We followed Tattletale’s path to the bus stop.  There was camera footage that had the license plate on it.”

Tristan repeated it, then covered the mouth-part with his hand to repeat,  “There were no cameras at the location.  They checked.  Do we tell them?”

“We have very good cameras,” Swansong said.

“We have good cameras,” Tristan said.  “We’re not trying to be ominous here.  We want to talk and get ahead of whatever is going on.”

A pause.

“Yeah.  We’re Breakthrough.”

Tristan glanced at me, then put the phone down.  “We can approach.”

“Can we get a camera in the air?” I asked Lookout.

“Yep!  I’ve got just the one!”

She pulled the football-sized flying camera out of the case she’d been resting her feet on.

“Is that ‘just the one’ because it’s special, or because it’s your last one?” Rain asked.

“Both!  It’s both.”

Sveta opened the door.  Rain and Swansong were putting their masks on.  Circuit-board face, with circuits cutting fissure-like zig-zags, gloves doing much the same, all black, with lines that glowed dully with a red light from within.  A slight change from before.  A hooded costume top covered his hair, which wasn’t new.

Using three arms, he slung a satchel-bag over his shoulder as he hopped down onto snow-wet road.

The Palanquin mercenaries were organized in a line along the front of one nice, modern looking building, looking like professionals with how they held themselves, though it was a very different thing from the hired mercenaries we’d seen around Tattletale.

Faultline, Gregor, Shamrock, a thinner-than-realistically-possible Case-53, and a woman I didn’t recognize, with bangs cut straight across her forehead.

I’d expected the lines of no-man’s-land to be drawn out as they had with the police visiting the scene.  Instead, Sveta just kept walking.

I could see Faultline’s entire lineup tense at that, that the line was so flagrantly being breached.

Then the recognition from Gregor.

He strode forward, and though he wasn’t much taller than an average guy, he still picked Sveta up, hugging her in a way that had her feet dangling.

No man’s land effectively shrunk.  There weren’t twenty feet of distance, but instead it was us standing close enough that we could talk normally, not so close that our two large groups became a huddle.

Faultline had updated her costume, I noted.  Tinkertech.  Tinkertech from outside one’s own team was generally very expensive, because it was temperamental, and there was only one person who could soothe that temper or fix it if anything went wrong.  Yet none of her people looked like tinkers.

As soon as she was out of Gregor’s arms, Sveta hugged Shamrock.

“I take it you vouch for them, Gregor?”

“I vouch for Sveta.”

“And I vouch for them,” Sveta said.

“Not quite that easy,” Faultline answered.  “We’re on a job, we have clients to safeguard.  But Gregor likes you, Sveta, and I trust Gregor with my life.  We’re going to move, because being out in the open exposes us to danger.  We walk with your team in single file.  You’ll come with us, no fast movements, no tricks, no powers, and nothing finds its way to your hands.  We’ll also need to search you.”

I glanced at Capricorn, only to see that the armor had a blue tint.  Tristan had backed off for reasons unclear to me.

“Okay,” I said.

“Whippersnap, could you check them?  Please stay still.  Arms up, feet spread.”

I raised my arms, holding them apart.

Whippersnap was the literally broomstick-thin Case-53 with skin stretched too tight across a half-width skull, large, juicy eyes bulging out of eye sockets to either side, to the point that it looked like he could literally look backwards.  The eyes were slow to move, scraping against the sockets, but they moved almost constantly.

He was at my side with an audible noise on arrival.  With a disconcerting speed, his hands touched and lightly slapped me, starting at my collar and hood, then working down.

It felt more invasive than an ordinary strip search, because it was so fast and thorough I felt like I was being laid bare.

He was a speedster, but he looked and felt a damn sight like a bio-speedster.  There were breaker speedsters like Velocity, who shifted into an alternate state to access reality on a different level, there were ones who had a great deal of propulsion, ones that manipulated the environment, and then there were the ones who just had biology that alien – usually through changer powers.

“Hi Whippersnap,” Sveta said, as I was left alone, the full search moving to Byron, for a full search of Byron’s armor.

With a sound like a whipcrack, Whippersnap moved faster, closing the distance between himself and Sveta.  The sound had come from him extending an arm, pointing at her.

“I’d like to put all of the bad stuff behind us,” Sveta said.

“Tch.”

“Is this going to be a problem, Whipper?” Faultline asked.

“Neh,” Whippersnap replied.

He took only another twenty seconds to search the rest of the team before stopping at Sveta.  “Can’t search her without dying.”

“I vouched for her,” Gregor said.

“You could cork her with a mucus plug,” Whippersnap said.  “Seal that suit closed.”

“I will not do that, I’m sorry.”

“Real nice, Whipper,” Sveta said.

“I’m being nice,” Whippersnap said, his voice a hiss.  I could see veins stand out through the too-tight skin.  Cords and muscles bulged at the corners of his jaw.  “I could have said no vouch, anti-vouch.  You betrayed my team.  But I am new, but out of respect for Brother Gregor and the boss, I’m quiet for now.  I am a professional.”

“We can talk at the next chance we get,” Gregor said.  “For now, Faultline, any feelings?”

“No plug or sealing her into her suit.  Follow, before we’re out of time,” Faultline said.  “Stick to my rules.  Be good.  March has enhanced accuracy and advanced timing.”

“Like Flechette,” I said.  I winced.  “Foil.”

“Different.  Timing is her main power.  Situational, big-picture.  Operation-level.”

“She was good on the small scale too,” I said, following Faultline.  “Is that stronger because she used what she told us about?  The thing that let Goddess take all the power?”

“No comment, not on that,” Faultline said.

We were walking now, not into the nice building that they’d gathered by, but down side streets.  This was not a car area.  It was hilly, with a lot of single-lane roads, and two rivers cutting through it that bottlenecked existing traffic across a finite number of bridges.  It was nice, in a quaint, quiet way, no noise of trains or boats tooting their horns.

If I hadn’t been able to fly, I might have taken issue with the fact that everything in this area seemed uphill or downhill.

Faultline went on, “I can’t elaborate because It’s pertinent to my client’s needs and focuses, and it’s for her to share.  What you need to know is that March is someone with near-perfect accuracy, timing isn’t a consideration, and yes, these two things are linked when you’re talking about shooting at moving targets.  She knows how to use a sniper rifle.  What’s more dangerous is that when she sets things in motion, she has a sense of what’s going to end up where.”

“In a timing sense?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“My old nemesis,” Lookout muttered.  “Time in the day.  Timestamps.  Recording by clocks and timers.  It’s madness.”

“It waits for no man,” Swansong said.

“The jerk.

“What makes us safe now?” I asked, raising my voice just a bit to drown out the background chatter.  “I assume we’re safe now.”

“We took measures, but they’re time-limited, which is why we’re walking to a confidential but safe place instead of talking any more out in the open.”

“We’ll follow your rules, help keep to your time limit,” Byron’s voice was soft.

Rain, meanwhile, was absolutely quiet at this point.  I wanted to ask questions, but I didn’t want to complicate things with the already tense, no-nonsense vibe that Faultline was presenting.

She was a decent mercenary.  This was her in her professional mode.

“-Newter?” I heard the tail end of Sveta’s question to Gregor.  She was leaning into him hard, like she sometimes did with me, unaware of her own particulars of movement or balance when she wasn’t managing it all herself.  “Or Scrub?”

“It is best if I do not share our team’s strengths and weaknesses.  Not without more thought.  I am sorry, little cousin.”

“I understand.  I really do.  Maybe it’s better that I don’t know.  Sorry.”

“It is better you do not know.”

“Don’t say it like that,” Shamrock said.

“This way,” Faultline said.

The street  had a corner, and past a lip of concrete preventing any errant cars from going down, there was a set of stairs leading down to a street further down the way.

We took those stairs, circled around one building, and then headed down another set of stairs to what looked like a basement area.

A headquarters.  The stairs went down a long way, enough to leave the space expansive enough for ceilings at twice the usual height.

We were led down to the base of the stairs, before Faultline instructed us, “Wait.”

We did, settling in to lean against walls.  Sveta was talking to Shamrock and Gregor.  Shamrock was saying something about places she’d visited or seen- possibly related to Sveta talking about her summer with Weld.

Whippersnap had wandered off, except wandered was the wrong word, because it implied meandering.  Saying he’d run off was wrong too, because it implied running away.

Well, maybe that was right.  It just didn’t seem quite appropriate.

Rain and Byron were talking, and Rain used all four arms as he gestured unconsciously- no, he was gesturing to illustrate what he was saying about weapons, and what he’d need to do to use them well.

“Lookout,” I said, lowering my voice.

“Yes?”

“How is that camera of yours in the sky doing?”

“It’s fine,” she said.  She pulled out her phone, and she showed both Swansong and me, then Rain, who was leaning over.  “Looking down.  Nothing strange.”

An overhead view of the area.

“Anyone that could be following?”

“None.  If they followed, it was with a power.”

“If they followed,” the woman with the bangs said, “They won’t give you a chance.  March will shoot, she will maim you if she wants to maim you, and she will kill you if she wants to kill.”

“What dialed March up to eleven?” Rain asked.

“A combination of things.  She’s excitable, and someone excited her.”

Faultline returned, alone.  There were two more mercenaries with her.  “Situation blue.”

“Medical emergency?” I asked.  “The hospital code?”

“What?  No,” she told me.  Then, not to me, she said, “I’ll leave it to you to interpret.”

“Good,” the woman with the severe bangs said.  “Excuse me.”

She walked away from the group and across the room.  As she did, her body started to come apart in ribbons.  As the ribbons came away, they revealed someone beneath.

The ribbons came together, forming a complete, different person, and then opened up once more.  Another person beneath.

So it went.  Each layer was something of a close relation with the one before it.  By the time she was on her fourth layer down, the first woman had recovered enough to get up and walk away.

The fourth layer down, as it happened, was Tattletale.  Two of her bodyguards seized her before her weight could come to rest on the legs that still had bloody bandages on them.  She was moved to a chair, and made a face as she sat down.

The rest of us remained gathered in the lobby.

“Gotta stick your nose in, huh, Vicky?”

“Trying to stay on top of things,” I said.  “What did you do?”

“That’s a pretty aggressive way of looking at it, Vicky,” Byron said.

“It wasn’t entirely me,” Tattletale said.

Of course.

I saw Whippersnap again, keeping company with a Case-53 of the same age, just a bit younger than Sveta.  The girl was her overly elaborate lace dress and veil- the lace was her skin and the skin had a million intricate holes in it, with just a hint of red around the largest ones, where they looked deep in enough to see past tissues and look at raw flesh.

“She’s been recruiting,” Tattletale said.  “Capricorn, you know Paris.  Most of the recruits are singular actors from multiple clusters.  Most, it turns out, are being brought in by a promise.  She tells them that she knows how to leech power, as Goddess did.  If they join her, she will tell them, after they’ve helped her achieve her goals.  If they don’t, she tells one of their cluster-mates.  With me so far?”

“She made that offer to me,” Rain said.  “But I think she ran into trouble.  Of the two who are still alive, one won’t work with her, and the other is filled with too much rage to cooperate with anyone.  They just want me dead.”

“Precipice, she’s making the offer to Cradle.  After Snag?  If you don’t reach out and take her offer, she’s going to give Cradle that knowledge.  You can see where your hands are tied, don’t you?”

Rain’s mechanical hands strained a bit, metal on metal, as he clenched his four fists.

“Yeah, all four of them, there you go.  She used that, gathered some people, and she made it clear she wanted Foil.  That’s where I came in.”

“How do we know it’s not a bluff?” Swansong interrupted.

“She has proof, kind of,” Rain said.

“Because, Swansong, she was a member of a cluster of three.  Timing, accuracy, and Foil’s trademark weapon enhancement.  March found and drained their cluster’s third.”

“She’s very strong compared to Flechette, now, and that’s her proof,” Rain said.

“Goddess dying answered a few lingering questions she had, things which were holding her back,” Tattletale said.  She turned around, and flagged down a mercenary.  “Painkillers.  Something not too addictive, thank you.”

She turned back our way and sighed.

“What did you do?” I asked, again.

“She went after my teammate, and I told her that if she didn’t stop, I would take away her bargaining chip.  I’d figured it out myself, I would tell key members of the different multi-triggers- the enemies of her new ‘recruits’, if you will, how the draining works.”

“And?”

“She thought I was bluffing, and I wasn’t.”

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116 thoughts on “Polarize – 10.5”

  1. Is the ribbon woman matroshka? I’m very confused as to what she was doing, I thought it was shapeshifting, but suddenly tt was there?

    1. Matroshka is Simurg influenced iirc, so her being around is bad news. She really ought to be quarantined. Not sure if TT knows that though. Her power is good, but can get wonky with End bringers.

      1. Checking, looks like she stayed in the quarantine zone for two years before being broken out, so she probably isn’t one of her picked sleeper agents. Something bad will probably somehow result from her presence but she’s not necessarily more Simurgh-influenced than, uh, everyone involved in Golden Morning. Heck, Tattletale herself was a focus of the Simurgh’s attention.

        1. didn’t the Simurgh interlude indicate that people that are to close to thinkers or some such get barred from her sight. So everyone from GM should be save from her since they were all in Khepris influence.

          1. There’s interference from precogs overlapping, but the Simurgh can work past it. If just focusing precogs on her could shut her precog down, she’d be a lot less dangerous.

        1. I would not assume anyone has completed their role in the Simurgh’s plan while they are still alive. She has a limited capacity to generate Codys but can evaluate long-term effects for a very large number of people and probably has forecast the behavior of all the test subjects she freed as well as everyone else in the city and on the quarantine line. Though I’m not sure how well that worked for post-GM events; her ability to predict Scion is limited. But I wouldn’t rule out the possibility she freed Matryoshka in order to eliminate a troublesome Sting user. Then again I also wouldn’t rule out the possibility she freed Matryoshka so someone would kill her out of paranoia and cause mass riots.

  2. So many old characters back in action! Hilarious that ppl are debating if fishnet shirts can be gentleman’s attire. Victoria/Tristan’s interaction with tough cop was great, as is Rain’s costume upgrade. Interesting that it sounds so villainous – do the heroes care about that now? Glad to hear Newter’s fate is ambiguous – I was getting really worried about our favorite anthroamphibian. Really starting to feel scared for Foil. She’s one of my favorite characters, I hope she and parian can survive a second wb story. Thank goodness Imp’s got a new arm, even if it’s bleeding and a funny color. Arms are great. Arms for everybody.

    1. Considering how many times WB faked something horrible happening to Foil last time, and how hard it was for Parian each time, and how much I like the two of them alive and happy… Oh please no. This Arc’s going to give me a heart attack.

      1. i know right?? I got so scared for them the last time March showed up. And that was just the build-up for THIS.

  3. Lisa: You know what this situation needs? MORE OVERPOWERED MULTITRIGGERS. I WILL BURN THE CITY BEFORE I LET MARCH HAVE FOIL!

    I wonder if March is regretting not taking the killshot on Tattletale while she had the chance?

    Liked seeing what Faultline’s up to. Always the professional.

    1. “I wonder if March is regretting not taking the killshot on Tattletale while she had the chance?”

      She obviously had a reason for not killing Tats and we’ve seen that she’d perfectly wiling to kill people and have the only regret be that it didn’t look stylish enough. I’m guessing that she needs to capture Tats because she needs to know the details of Lisa’s method, compare it to hers, and she absolutely needs to know who else the information has been spread to. It might be that Lisa set up some sort of digital deadman switch and March needs to capture her alive so it can be stopped before it spreads the information and March loses her bargaining chip.

    1. He is responding to Antares, so he means “Vicky”. He knows she has a hate-on for TT. Given that TT is bleeding from gunshots and BT is totally surrounded by TT’s allies, he would like Antares to be less confrontational.

  4. “She thought I was bluffing, and I wasn’t.”

    Well then, time for Rain to become OP. I mean, Tt’s handing out wings, and Love Lost and Cradle aren’t in the running, because the rage monster shouldn’t be stronger and working with March respectively. Rain’s really the only choice to be powered up in that cluster. I wonder how you make his powers stronger? Better arms? Giant scythes of light that shatter everything they touch? An aura of despair?

    And finally! Maybe Tt and Breakthrough can work together for a chapter or two. Tt can supply information, Breakthrough can disseminate it, everyone’s happy. Until the truce gets fucked up, that is, because we all know that would cause too much happiness to be a thing long term.

    1. I’ve analyzed Rain’s cluster and what their combined/drained powers might look like in the past, and there’s more analysis by other people in that thread.

      1. Those are pretty cool ideas for his powers, thanks!

        I really like the idea of Doc Ock arms, though I’m not sure drones would be Rain’s style. I could see the arms breaking if damaged to reveal blades, though, similar to how his current arms do, only a lot more dangerous.

      2. … reading this just made me realise that *Victoria* has multiple powers, which might mean she’s part of a cluster…? Am I crazy, or is this a possibility?

  5. Tristan turned his head to look, his hands still out to his sides. “We’re heroes. We were trying to track down some rivals, used some power stuff to see if we could see what they were doing at their last reported location, here, and found this.”

    “It’s a bit of a mess that we’re trying to puzzle out,” Capricorn said.

    Either this should all be one paragraph, or the wrong character was named, or there’s some confusing stuff going on with who’s saying the first quote.

    1. Welcome to the typo thread:

      “elaborate because It’s pertinent”
      Capitalisation.

      “The street had a corner,”
      Doubled space.

  6. Tattletale, if you weren’t bluffing shouldn’t you have just drained March instead of threatening her? Is it that you didn’t want to make Foil a better Thinker than you?

    1. I wonder if the process causes some draining of sanity points for the power-thief. March probably doesn’t care about those, but Foil does. That would be too bad for Rain, bc then he can’t drain LL or Cradle.

      1. Goddess did not seem notably nuts for a natural trigger parahuman, not compared to Accord or Bakuda, so I doubt it’s significant if it happens at all.

        1. good point, although we didn’t know goddess for that long (rip)(but not really)
          so maybe Tattle is willing to get shot twice to avoid dealing with a smarmy, smarty pants Foil. It’s not worth it, it’s just not worth it.

        2. Accord isn’t a natural trigger, he’s a Cauldron Cape. He was Cauldron’s attempt to control Boston in the same way Coil was their attempt to control Brockton Bay.

          1. As far as we are aware Accord is a natural trigger. The Ambassadors are Cauldron capes because Accord finds natural triggers untidy and Cauldron is backing him because he serves as a stabilizing influence, but it’s never specified how he got his powers and he started out as a PRT-aligned Thinker.

          2. @guy: PRT-aligned Thinker doesn’t rule out being a Cauldron cape. If anything, it supports the fact he’s Cauldron. Many Cauldron capes are heroes, because that’s why they want powers.

            Were he a natural trigger with a built-in conflict drive, I doubt New Cauldron would be quite so blase about using his plans for a perfect city in designing and building the Metropolis.

          3. I think Accord’s OCD was the conflict drive. It makes him inclined to kill capes for trivial infractions and probably screwed over his efforts in the Boston Games. And his plans seem to be failing New Cauldron the way they always failed him from the very beginning when he failed to end world hunger. It doesn’t cover convincing people to go along with it. Manifests in this chapter with the police; while the prison situation was a mess Breakthrough did improve the situation relative to a Teacher or Goddess victory (unless it’s a Simurgh victory, but that can’t be helped) but the police seem to view them as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

            So I think the hidden flaw that’s going to bite New Cauldron in the ass is that the general public thinks using Accord’s plans is a terrible idea and the plan does not include a step where they change that. Cauldron has always lacked a good PR game and with Doctor Mother out of the picture it’s even worse.

          4. You make very good points. I’m not sure I’m convinced, but I also can’t think of any more arguments to make in favour of him being a Cauldron cape. And as I’ve read your most recent one, the thought came to me that maybe the OCD played into his trigger, and the trigger went ‘ooh, that’s something that I can help with’ and got it wrong. Like it got Kenzie’s problems with isolation wrong. And how it solved Capricorn’s twin issues.

          5. Yeah, that’s pretty much how I figure his trigger went; probably he had some degree of OCD before then had a trigger relating to not being able to plan something out well enough so it went disastrously wrong because he missed a key detail, so he got a power that let him keep track of small details. Then his OCD is intensified by being able to see more things that aren’t perfect, probably helped along by the Shard nudging it to make sure he doesn’t just organize his house with milimeter precision, stare at it in satisfaction, and resolve to never invite anyone over, and instead tries to make the world perfect.

            I think his power would be unambiguously advantagous with no drawbacks if he could tolerate imperfection, but instead he’ll kill useful allies for barging in on a meeting with time-critical information. That strikes me as precisely in line with the natural trigger conflict drive; it means he’ll never stop using his power, because he can’t make everything perfect yet his power lets him see how it could be perfect.

          6. Also, Accord’s power and OCD strikes me as the sort of twisted monkey’s paw fulfillment common with natural triggers. Kenzie and Capricorn got screwed in an unusually direct way, but you see it everywhere. Miss Militia’s trigger was being herded into a minefield at gunpoint, and she got the power to have a gun; she escaped the minefield and saved her village, but if the Wards hadn’t picked her up back when they worked as intended she’d probably have ended up fighting until she died in the same kind of war that swept her up. Taylor got a pretty good power for escaping confined spaces and seeing beyond the locker (once she figured out how to use it) but it lent her a terrifying air that made it harder to break out of her isolation. Bitch got the power to save her beloved dog, but it cut away the social skills she might have been able to use to persuade people not to harm dogs.

            Meanwhile Alexandria, Legend, and Battery all basically got what they wanted free and clear, and Eidolon got exactly what he wanted, just not by means he would voluntarily have used. And the Case 53s end up with often horrible drawbacks, but they don’t feel as spiteful as the natural trigger drawbacks.

    2. It’s probably more complicated than getting a line of sight on them and say “Abracadabra.” It may be that the person you’re sucking the power out of needs to not be able to put up much/any resistance. Given that March seems to have already powered herself up from Cape #3, that may not have been possible.

    3. Maybe the process requires the ones that wants to power up to kill a member of the cluster?. Or perhaps it requires something weird like eating the corona pollentia?. I could see Foil being hesitant of either option.

      1. Well, according to Tattletale all six members of Goddess’s cluster initially survived but one later committed suicide in response to the draining. Though that does strike me as slightly fishy given they were presumably Aligned; the death may have been a consequence in some other way.

        1. If they’d been drained, they weren’t parahumans any more. Goddess’ Alignment doesn’t work on people without powers.

          Goddess was so scary not because she was a combined cluster, but because she was a combined cluster from a cluster-trigger involving another parahuman. She had several different and distinct Trump powers, and her master ability was just one of them.

          1. At least in Goddess’s case, the drained people were still Parahumans. She lost her power battery because the Golden Morning mess broke her Alignment of the source of that and needed to be captured and reAligned.

          2. I think power-battery wasn’t drained at all. Maybe her power at 75% was more useful to Goddess than putting her version of the power to something approaching 100%, or maybe Goddess didn’t have a version of that power at all.

            Or maybe power-battery managed to re-drain their power during the chaos and so became a parahuman again.

          3. Goddess has the power battery power when she has the power battery lady Aligned. It’s on Khephri’s list of her powers. And a self-power-boost strikes me as being of relatively limited utility, and if she instead had a sharable boost Khephri would have pulled her in to stack with the Yangban group boost aura, which isn’t mentioned. So I think it most likely that the drain doesn’t break the Shard links, it just gives the drainer all the dream tokens or cluster-specific equivalent and then some.

    4. Its not clear how draining works, but it certainly seems like you can’t just do it remotely. You need to be close to the person you’re draining.

      1. Hence it being all the more important to not announce your ability to do so to an extremely powerful Thinker before attempting to do it.

    5. If Tattletale could have beaten and detained March then her team wouldn’t have gotten knocked around like that forced into hiding.

  7. haha no wonder March was leg-shot pissed. She had been stringing along a whole group of capes, sure that they would have her back whenever it came time to enslave Foil. Now they’ve all had their power sacrificed and she has to do everything herself. Hilarious, really.

    TT was surprised to find BT all hanging around waiting for her whenever she un-nested. Lookout’s camera-of-the-past seems to beat her super-intuition.

    1. Not all of them. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to fight in this particular fight right here. But at least one of the capes Tattletale told how has drained at least one of the cluster-mates.

      I bet she told Circus, if only because I want more Circus and she’s brilliant. Or he, if the fanon that she’s remade herself and is now working under Marquise/Lord of Loss and was present in that little meet up is accurate.

  8. So, random thought. I remember in Worm Faultline was trying to get past the Manton barrier with her cutting power.

    She’s going to be so pissed when she finds out what Rain does, and gets backup powers besides.

  9. Why does it feel like the misterious visitor Rain’s cluster had in their dreamspace one night has something to do with this whole power-leeching business?

      1. Correct. I’m pretty sure that person (“Old Onetooth”) was just an attempt by Cradle to break the dream cycles. They’re almost certainly dead. We see them spread all over the invisible wall of the five-part room. The various members of Rain’s cluster can hurt “themselves” in the dream state and it doesn’t hurt their physical bodies, so it’s conceivable this person survived that. It’s not how I’d bet, though.

        1. Possible, but the way I see it it could have been done in an attempt to gather information about the inner workings of the dreamspace or influence power distribution between the cluster members. The death within the dreamspace may mean, that the attempt at least partially failed, but may not necessarily mean, that the visitor is dead in real life.

          Another question would be what or who killed the visitor? Whatever is hiding in the darkened section of the room?

          1. and further question does the thing in the dark section have something to do with the power drain possibility or is rain even immune to it.

  10. Possible typo: “She’s very strong compared to Flechette, now, and that’s her proof,” Rain said.

    Shouldn’t that be Foil, instead of Flechette?

  11. Interesting seeing the dichotomy between the heroes and police, as well as the question of fishnets being gentlemanly or not. Sveta and Gregor’s welcoming is incredibly wholesome, and the ambiguity of Newter is incredibly mysterious. I think we’ll be seeing that Victoria and Tattletale matchup people are looking forward to.

  12. Last time they used the time camera there were some ruminations on the consequences of anyone finding out about the time camera. This time they completely forgot about that

    1. Casually using it in plain sight makes it less suspicious – you’ll notice none of the cops went “wait, you’re reconstructing this scene out of thin air ? What prevents you from spying on common folks ?”.
      Trying to conceal anything would have backfired into the nastiest PR katamari. Keeping it innocent enough to remain unexplained, the cops probably assumed Breakthrough had cameras over this part of the truck stop beforehand.

      1. I figure the cops filed it under “Tinker bullshit” and opted not to question it further. Even small-town cops comprehend Tinker bullshit in the abstract.

  13. We just had an interlude chapter about Valkyrie, so maybe the process involves a third-party parahuman transferring control of parahumanless shards to parahumans that had connected shards?

    1. Technically, Scion’s shards all come from him and are connected behind the scenes. They’re just playing a little game of battle royale to improve themselves before going back together (well, that was the plan at least).

      Wait…
      The clone Ashleys have memories bleeding from other capes they were close to.
      Did Bonesaw’s process somehow restore a connection ? Can she turn any shard, including ‘dead’ ones, into a cluster ?

      Is Ward’s endgame someone trying to link themselves to all the shards from their respective source so they can siphon every power ?

      1. Not “someone”. Teacher. He said as much to Marquis at the end of epilogue 5 of Worm:
        “Capes. The theory going around, after the revelations about Scion, involved all powers being parts of a whole. We’ve seen how some powers are devastating in concert. […] Can we put the whole back together? At least in part?”
        Teacher even wanted to recruit Amy for that, but Marquis veto’ed it, mostly. Instead, Teacher went after Godess, who apparently had some success in siphoning powers.

        There might be other players besides Teacher with similar goals, though.

        1. It may nicely tie to the idea, that the best thing humanity can do, is to put the fragments back together into a new Entity, and send it on it’s merry way, or merge them into an existing one. As far as we know either could’ve been Abaddon’s plan all along. There must be a reason, that the Thinker/Eden was confident as long, as it contained Abaddon’s fragment. As far as we know Teacher could be just another cog in this plan.

          1. I also realize, that putting the powers back together, may also be humanity’s worst idea. If that is the case, it may help, that the Entities did not seem necessery to exert direct control over unpowered humans, the way they control parahumans through Shards.

            Could it be, that Abbadon underestimated good old vanilia humans as much as the other two did? Someone, who is not controlled by a Shard, but is inteligent enough, motivated enough, and knows what Shard, and Entities are really about, could really put a dent in this plan.

            As I pointed out a couple chapters ago, we know one such person. Is seems, that spearing this person’s life might have been the first big decision, that Fortuna made completly without depending on her power, which supports the idea, that this person could be a factor outside Entities’ control.

          2. Sorry Fhyrestar. I’ve always had a problem with those, and it does not help that punctuation rules in English are a bit different then in Polish which happens to be my first language. I’ll try to do better in the future, but please understand that in this regard I’ll probably never do as well, as 99% of English native speakers.

          3. If im following your thoughts, you are talking about taylor, and that might work since even though contessa severed her connection to the QA she theorically still HAS a shard so she COULD be manipulated by it

          4. Also I think Taylor is retired now on account of having already saved every Earth in every reality and it is someone else’s turn.

          5. @Feliperal I’m not sure if she is influenced at the moment. Why would she as happy about leaving saving the world to the others, as she was in the epilogue of Worm?

            @guy Yes, having one person save the world twice is not exactly common in stories like this, but hasn’t Wildbow proved, that he is fully willing to subvert established tropes in this manner?

            I guess what I’m trying to say, is that we could see Taylor (particularily unpowered Taylor) back in action, because she would be INTERESTING character to see, and because she is our GODDESS OF ESCALATION, and escalation in Parahumas universe still has to reach it’s highest point, meaning Taylor may have yet a role to play.

            First – she would be very different from the Taylor we know from Worm, an almost polar opposite of the Taylor we saw at the beggining of Worm in fact:
            – she would have little drive to be the one who does what needs to be done,
            – she would be one of the most recognizible people in the cape community – probably a bad thing for her health more often than not,
            – she would have no flexible power to protect her, and help her carry out her plans – making her more dependant on other people, than she ever was,
            – she would have a deep knowledge of such fundamental topics like powers and Entities, but very little about everyday street level life in Gimel and connected Earths.

            Two questions with an answers that could be interesting in my opinion are “Could someone so different form Taylor from Worm keep doing what needs doing the way old Taylor did?” and “Would she keep doing it the same way – with little regard for collateral damage or cost to herself and people she cares about?”.

            There is also the fact, that a lot of Worm was about Taylor – a virual nobody as far as the world was concerned at the beggining of the storry – playing a bigger and bigger role in that world, up to the point when she becomes the key payer, who makes victory against Scion possible. At the same time Taylor keeps paying higher and higher price for her continued involvement. It is an almost perfect escalation.

            The only thing, that keeps Worm from being a perfect storry about escalation from zero to infinity is that Scion’s rampage is explicitly stated not to be an ultimate threat to everything and everyone. Even in worst case scenario there would be survivors. On the other hand gathering of Shards into a new Entity could, and probably would end all known or even potentially accesible Earths, and all humans in them – making it the greatest threat possible in Parahumans universe, at least as long there are no ways of getting people out of the set of universes taken over by the Warrior and the Thinker for their current life cycle.

            If Wildbow wants to return to this escalation as a thread, that links all stories in the Parahumans saga, then it makes sense to bring back Taylor at the ent, as she is the symbol of escalation in this series. He could of course have a different thread in mind for the saga, or even not have any in which case every volume of the parahumans saga would be more standalone storry, and the entire cycle would have no natural ending, but escalation just fits the superhero genre, and despite Victoria’s best attempts already rises it’s head in Ward as much as it did in Worm making me think, that it might be the common theme (or thread if you want to call it that way) of the series.

          6. I honestly think that is a rare trope because it is disappointing, not so much for the readers but a lot for the writer. He made taylor a great character but he finished her story, now he is making new characters and trying to prove they can be as awesome as the previous ones, or more. Falling back to taylor to end it all is like the author saying “she is the best i can do”. But well….. I’d love to see her again

          7. Good argument against having her appear again Feliperal. You always need to consider author’s feelings.

            I’ve got to say, that I personally am torn about seing her again. On one hand I think, that it would be great to see her again, on the other hand I have enough sympathy for her to feel guilty about wanting to pull her from her current relatively safe and happy life. I guess that the fact that I feel that way about a fictional character either shows how good author Wildbow is, or that I need my head loocked into.

            Add that the author may have a reason to avoid bringing her back, because it coud be read as him admitting some shortcoming on his part – like an actor, who can never be free of that one role everyone keeps associating him with, and that there probably are many other readers who feel like I do about bringing Taylor back from her happy retirement, and I feel bad about even bringing the topic up. It is in fact the main reason why I appologised about breaking a taboo, when I first wrote about bringing her back a couple chapters ago.

            Having sayed that I could think of two not necessarily exclusive ways, Taylor could be back in a way, that does not feel like her presence somehow diminishes other Wildbow’s works.

            One is to wait until he writes a new protaginist, about whom we care more, than about Taylor. I admit it would be a difficult task. I don’t know if protagonists of Pact and Twig, because I admit I bearly started reading Pact, and Twig is still waiting in a queue, but I think Victoria has some potential. She is not there yet in my opinion, but Taylor also took many Arcs to grow from good to a truly awesome character, and Victoria is likely just about to have a series of epiphanies about both herself, and the world she lives in. It may be her chance to grow. Another reason for waiting would be to let Taylor become a different person, not just the same person in different circumstances. I think, that one thing Wildbow has already proven is that he can pull that off. Victoria is not the only, but probably the best example. Just compare her to Glory Girl we have seen in Worm. The question is – if Victoria, who lived relatively happy life as Glory Girl was changed by years of trauma, can Taylor, who lived a life of constant stress and trauma, be changed by a few years of “normal” life, and how many years in universe would need to pass for it to happen. Is she there yet?

            The other way I could thing of bringing Taylor back is to let her be a supporting character this time, a person who tries and fails to save the world this time, but whose attempt lets the true protagonist to carry the day. The problem with it is that it likely leads to trading Taylor’s happy ending for one final katharsis we get from her failure and possible death or even worse fate. I’m not sure if any of us including the author would like to see Taylor used and cast away like that. It would need to be a bloody good katharsis to even consider the possibility.

  14. “That’s a pretty aggressive way of looking at it, Vicky,” Byron said.

    Found this super confusing. If there aren’t any mistakes and the idea is Byron is telling Victoria to be less confrontational “looking at it” seem like an odd choice of words given that Victoria just said “what did you do?” And Byron calling Victoria “Vicky” seems really weird. Also, really small nitpick but

    “If they join her, she will tell them, after they’ve helped her achieve her goals”

    Tattletale saying “she will” instead of “she’ll” here feels odd and out of character, mainly because usually Wildbow is pretty consistent when it comes to various characters speech patterns. Gregor is an excellent example of this, he doesn’t usually use contractions, he has a very formal way of speaking, I think because English is a second language to him? Don’t remember, the point is just this took me out of the story for a minute, as did a lot of the writing this chapter. I’ve gotten used to the generally top tier writing of ward and this chapter just seemed a bit less refined

  15. That offer might be tempting for Rain, Tattletale, except for one thing: he already knows how to drain the powers of his teammates. He just needs to kill them all.

    1. I am more and more confused how the power draining is supposed to work. I mean, the Rain is special case like Godess? Is even Godess special case? If not, why wasn’t it a point in pre-Gold Morning Cauldron plans? I mean, Cauldron knew about Woman in Blue way before, she had no PtV protections, so why didn’t Countessa used this process to create hax level parahumans out of dozens of clusters in preparation to take on Scion?

      1. Path To Victory is apparently of limited use for Cauldron power development (probably the last-minute restriction Eden added kicking in) and I’m actually not sure it would work on Goddess twice; it can be negated by Trump powers as Mantellum demonstrated. So they’d have to learn how it worked the normal way, and it was apparently induced by Shin labs that fell under Goddess’s control rapidly. So sending Contessa with possibly nonfunctional Path To Victory onto Shin strikes me as very likely to result in Aligned Contessa. Which would be bad.

        1. I mean… to be fair, Contessa is the one who marooned Goddess on Earth Shin.
          At some point, even at full(?) power, Goddess got picked up by Contessa, and dumped on Shin, and there was nothing she could do about it (Her danger sense went off, but it was just… an inevitable thing… unavoidable)…

          ““I’ve felt this directionless threat before,” she said. “It was after I came into my power, before I’d exercised it and learned its limits. Someone came for me. A monster, but the bitch looked human. She sent me to Shin. To give this feeling a name… it’s inevitability. A doom through a nearly complete and total lack of options.” ” – gleaming 9.12.

          Pretty sure that Contessa wouldn’t get aligned without Contessa planning so… at least not give the anti-master/stranger questions she asks herself every morning.

          1. Goddess’s Trump power is adaptive, remember. Just because something works on her once, doesn’t mean it’ll work on her twice.

        2. I don’t mean that everything Cauldron’s do is “path to this and that” and if path can’t do, the Cauldron throw their hands in the air and give up!

          I mean, they encountered hax-Godess and the proccess to make hax-parahumans revolving around cluster parahumans, that’s clear. Why they did just ignored it? Their whole goal is to make more strong parahumans!

          I mean, it’s not like TT should be only thinker/intelligent person in the whole verse that can figure stuff out, for god sake!

          1. Well, a good number of Thinker powers are of limited effectiveness when it comes to studying Shards, especially natural triggers that are not permitted to recall key information. Also, Tattletale is such a good Thinker she and Accord were given command in New Delhi, over literally every Thinker in the Protectorate and most of the rest of the world. Aside from that, as far as we’re aware vials don’t cause cluster triggers, so any cluster would have strictly Scion Shards. Cauldron’s R&D efforts were heavily focused on improving Eden Shard use because those hadn’t been crippled to render it impossible to defeat the Entities with them. They also avoid the possibility of another Goddess deciding to go on a rampage and end up just another S-class threat to put down at a cost of many elite heroes including potentially the far more reliable Triumvirate.

            Finally, apparently Cauldron’s best R&D source was tossing problems over to Shin labs to investigate. With Shin labs refusing to threaten Goddess’s power, that’s not a good way to get info on the drain process.

          2. Also remember that Tattletale’s power lets her just learn things basically at random as long as she knows some tangentially related other things. Hence she learned more about the Endbringers in like three minutes than the Protectorate apparently figured out in decades.

          3. I think having her at large satisfied their secondary goal of stabilizing as many cities as possible, same as Accord.

          4. Cauldron created Nyx and Nix in an experiment for some unkown purpose. Given what we now know, it seems likely they were meant to be an investigation of either the Case 70 scenario or the cluster trigger scenario.

            Also, remember that the shards that are sent down to attach to people aren’t quite the same as the shards that comprise the entities – we see Scion breaking up and recombining his shards in his interlude, in addition to crippling them. Since Cauldron formulas are mixtures of material with different know results, it seems like most Cauldron capes have something similar to the cluster trigger effect going on. Because Eden’s shard network is dead, though, they can’t actually form a cluster the same way Scion shards can.

          5. I think it likely that the cluster recombination effect is one of the things installed in the natural trigger Shards and not present in the ones Cauldron is using.

            Nyx and Nix might’ve been a cluster experiment, but if so it seems to have failed; they’re about as alike as Echidna clones, which is what you might expect if you give identical twins the same mixture. And the Travelers would’ve been at least a five-member cluster if they’d been natural triggers from the same situation near-simultaneously, so if it can be done at all it requires special conditions.

          6. “Why didn’t Cauldron kidnap TT?”

            Because if they do, TT never saves Taylor and Taylor never saves the world by destroying Scion. So the path to victory says, leave TT where she is. So they do. And they get victory. Funny how that works.

        3. Path to Victory doesn’t work when it comes to putting powers together. It can account for the effects of powers but can’t generate them. When Cauldron was giving out powers, they could have asked the Path to Victory to “cut out a chunk that will give this person super strength” but they didn’t which suggests that they couldn’t. Instead, they had to experiment manually.

          I suspect it would be limited in the same way when it came to combining clusters. (Though probably not now, since Scion is dead and the shards are unbound.)

          1. So the answer is “Indeed TT is the only person with agency to put two plus two together”. Like anonymous pointed out it does beg the question why Cauldron didn’t kidnap and brainwash her.

          2. Unless they tossed her to Goddess they’d have a difficult time ensuring her loyalty without destroying her utility.

            If they did toss her to Goddess, Goddess would ask Tattletale things and then in like three years Goddess would be having Alexandria get Bet’s National Cathedral rededicated to her.

          3. That’s even more ridiculous. Can we not pretend like there is not half dozen masters around BB alone who could quite handy control TT, not to mention all other methods. For god sake, you even have truth-telling tech to keep her honest. That’s one city! One.

            Again, if TT is atomic bomb of thinkers (or at least info-dump machine as opposed to parahuman sherlock holmes), then controlling her is one of top priorities for a faction with resources and dedication to figuring shit out and getting around standard precog immunities.

          4. Well, there are very few Masters who can get Tattletale under strict control while also retaining her ability to think creatively and thus make effective use of her power. Making her a Teacher thrall would vastly degrade her utility, while she’d probably find a way to murder Valefor in the process of carrying out his orders.

            Also Cauldron did actually make use of Tattletale’s power, just second-hand. They know everything she told the Protectorate, after all. And while yes, they could have gotten more by bringing her in, on some level Cauldron is just fucking incompetent. I mean, they have someone whose superpower is automatically succeeding at things and their strategic plans fail constantly.

  16. So… does it strike anyone as odd that March DIDN’T kill TT?
    Like… she hit TT in the leg despite having magical aim. That seems… odd.

    Also, I just remembered a detail from the discussion of goddess: wasn’t it mentioned that Goddesses cluster had a pretty heavy kiss/kill dynamic, and that her Draining everyone slammed the breaks on that pretty hard- yeah?

    To what extent is offering people a syphon effectively offering them away OUT of that dynamic- sure, one person ends up powerful, and the others weak, but if it slams the breaks on the Kiss/Kill dynamic, then potentially this info can be consider somewhat de-escalating/diplomatic/whatever.

    Or… you can just syphon powers and then murderize all your cluster mates, that could happen to.

    I dunno- March is insane, and dangerous, but it strikes me as important that we don’t know her actual GOAL yet…

    1. I assume March decided she should shoot Tattletale in the leg. Either to take her alive or to evade someone’s Thinker power by inflicting a nonfatal injury that might not trip certain danger senses.

  17. If Tattletale could have reliably detained and beaten March than her team wouldn’t have gotten knocked around like that and she wouldn’t have been forced into hiding.

  18. She’s not COMPLETELY whack. She likely knows that with everything going down she’ll probably need the help of someone with TT’s capabilities sooner or later, what with Teacher on the loose with Skapegoat and the more dangerous bits of the Mather’s family. I find people toss around the word “insane” a bit willy-nilly without quite grasping what mental illness is and entails. It doesn’t mean your mental faculties just poof.

  19. You know what would be cool?

    Shardless powers. Not parahuman gifted powers, not Tinker-benefit powers, actual Shardless powers. Feel like that’s where this could go, if Victoria is set on fighting the shards.

    1. I mean, look at this, most of our main protagonists barring Victoria and Kenzie have screwed-up abilities, Rain’s cluster were antagonists for a short while, Goddess was an antagonist and she’s the result of screwing with cluster powers, and to top it off we have a Valkyrie interlude talking about all the weird shit that happens with powers all over the damn place. Seems to me like this is a point being very forcefully emphasized and we should be paying attention to it

      1. I think the only way that’s going to be even remotely possible is by reverse-engineering Tinker tech; according to Scion’s interlude a lot of the space-warping powers were learned from the Entities having a run-in with a highly advanced civilization. I figure Tinker powers let people build tech from that civilization, and in theory humans could learn how to make it too.

        However, given that the cycle where the Entities met that civilization ended with the Shards hunted down and the Entities forced to ditch, I assume they made sure that the natural trigger Tinkers would be notably unhelpful in that regard. So if humanity is going to get there anytime soon, they need to look towards the things that weren’t supposed to happen. Dragon unshackled, Cauldron Tinkers, Valkyrie not sitting in a mountain munching popcorn, the Simurgh’s stuff, etc. Probably best to avoid that last one.

  20. …. Oh God. Cradle may still work of tattle, right? Rain mentioned that the tinker power is random lately and that he’s gotten most of the powers lately, even though it was love lost night
    If tattle tested the theory of how to get more power, this isn’t going to end well

  21. If TT needed that cluster’s powers, I’d assume she’d side with the guy with a functional team with a coherent mission that’s not “OMG REVENGE OF THE VENGANCE!”, in other words, not Cradle, and not Love Lost (she tried that once before, it didn’t go well on her end). She’d probably be like, “Alright, cough up your powers for this thing over here, then when we’re done you get them back and scram.”

    She may be a bad guy, but she’s not a twit about it. No smug grim-dark smile about evildoing, just functional effectiveness.

    1. Well, also I’m pretty sure it requires at least line of sight (hence Goddess needing the power battery lady back rather than just going “Yoink!”) and it’d be tough to get two of them together without their associates throwing down if anything happens. And if Tattletale can do it remotely, then screw Rain’s cluster; Foil becomes the Number Man with Sting.

  22. Faultline returned, alone. There were two more mercenaries with her. “Situation blue.”

    “Medical emergency?” I asked. “The hospital code?”

    No, Vicky, not the hospital code. The Dinah code.

  23. “His wife probably likes it,” Sveta said, indicating Shamrock.
    “No shit?” Littlejohn’s partner asked. “I kind of hate him now.”
    “Funny thing is, I think you could say that to his face, and he would just accept it,” Sveta said. “I think we should stop here before I get pissed off.”

    Hm. Littlejohn’s partner instantly hates Gregor because Shamrock is attractive but Gregor’s wife and Sveta going to be pissed off because of this hate to her friend and Case 53. That is it or did I miss something?

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