Polarize – 10.7

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Video played on our laptop, a cartoon animation of a beautiful woman with black skin, dreadlocks, yellow stick-on nails, and a canary yellow boa in a tropical paradise.  A skinny guy with rings of tribal tattoos on his arm and ‘DJ’ on his bicep sat with his arm around a curvy young woman in a bikini, with sharks tattooed at her sides.

Every character was stylized, to the point it could be hard to keep track.

“Who’s that?” I asked, pointing at a guy in the background.  “Were we introduced to him?”

“We saw him in the background earlier.  He was putting the gun on the jeep,” Rain said.  Rain wore the trinket at his neck, which changed his appearance to the scruffier, dark-haired alternate look.  He sat with a similarly disguised Sveta and me on a curved couch, his boots resting on his bag, which was on the quarter-circle shaped table in front of us.  The couch and table setup were one of twenty-five, each arranged so it was a rotation from nearby tables and couches, placed in the lounge area of a larger building.

The building was something of a hybrid: a dining hall, library, social area, and market all in one.  At this end of the greater building, the smells and noise of the food court were muted by an intervening bottleneck.  On the floors above, I could see the bookshelves of the library.  Individual chairs, beanbags, and study nooks were up there, away from the light conversation of the lounge floor.

Twenty-five tables on the ground floor, a crowd, and then two floors of library on three sides, a wall of thick glass on the fourth side.  Circular lights high above us glowed blue, pumping out the UV light.

This was Lyme Center.  When the last winter had rolled around, things had been bad.  Suicides had peaked as the winter went long, and isolation had been a part of that.  Being cold and hungry was one thing.  Being cold, hungry, and alone?  The inorganic way that so much of the Megalopolis had sprung up had led to whole groups and clusters of people in isolated pockets being left with no contact with other people.  There had been places where people could gather that had been crammed with those seeking human contact from dawn until well after dark, and there had been places where there just hadn’t been anywhere to go and talk to other human beings that weren’t neighbors.

Lyme had been a tent city a month ago, and past the big windows of Lyme Center the construction was continuing well past sundown.  Snow, bright yellow construction vehicles, and dark skeletons of pre-fabricated buildings being put together.  No plumbing, not in the original sense, just fat tubes set into ditches just deep enough that gravel and dirt could be piled over top and packed down.

“What show?” a guy asked, leaning over the back of the couch.  He looked twenty-five or so, and from his jacket and the bag he had slung over his shoulder, he had the look of a tent-city denizen who hadn’t quite let his guard down.

Not so different from a homeless person who kept everything they valued within arm’s reach.

“Blood Atoll,” Sveta said, adjusting her headphones so the one wasn’t covering her left ear.

“Never heard of it.  Seeing people in bikinis is making me wish I was someplace warmer, I’m not sure I could stand to watch that.”

Rain chuckled.

“Is it good?”

“We’re not far enough in to know,” Rain said.  He hit the pause button.  The scene had the woman with the boa looming over ‘Parker’, the youngest person in the house.

“I’m dying for something to watch.  Is it in the catalogue?”

“Offworld French animation,” Rain said.  “It might go in the catalogue if we can figure out how to convert the video file types.”

“That’s always a nightmare.  But if you upload it straight, it can be emulated.”

I leaned back, “We talked to a few people about it and got different answers each time.  Some people don’t like how messy it gets.  If it sucks it might not even be worth the hassle.”

“Odd animation.  Rotoscope?”

“Yeah,” I said.

An icon was flashing yellow on the laptop.  Rain cycled out of the window and into another one.  A simple video game, with two towns, each with a nine by nine grid on it, each icon on the grid having a series of buildings.  Hospital, house, farm, carpenter’s, and police.

Rain centered the laptop across his knees, clicked on the house, cycling through images until a frowning old lady appeared, peering over the little fence.  A series of red ‘-100’ and ‘-200’ popped up in neighboring zones.

Above the other town, a face like the one I’d seen drawn on Kenzie’s whiteboard popped up – a circular face with only eyes and mouth, brown skinned, black hair parted with two buns, contained within a speech balloon.  Her eyes closed into half-circles, mouth wide in a smile that took up half of the circle.  A thumbs-up icon followed.

I wasn’t a hundred percent sure I followed the logic of the coding system, but Rain seemed to.  I could get the general sense of it though.  In the other town, there was a police officer shouting at someone outside of the police station, curse words in the speech balloon.

I pointed at it.  “She’s okay?  No points lost?”

“Random event,” Rain said.  “They’re fine.  She’s still ahead by… seven quintillion points.  Literally.”

I looked over my shoulder.  There were police officers and people in patrol uniforms wandering Lyme Center.  The nooks and reading areas were regularly visited.

In ‘our’ town, the police were just walking around their one-ninth of the grid.

The guy who had been watching our screen over our shoulders walked away.  Rain finished typing out a message, fixed the orientation of the laptop, and resumed the video.  He leaned back and took the ear bud from my hand, sitting closer as he put it in.

On the screen, ‘Parker’ was throwing a fit.  The woman with the boa took it unflinching, until the first few objects were scooped up from the nearby cabinet and thrown.

We had two audio jacks plugged into the laptop.  Sveta had a hair of headphones.  Since I was sharing the ear-buds with Rain, I had audio only in the one ear, which was fine with me, since it let me keep an ear on our surroundings.

In my right ear, Parker’s swears matched up with the subtitles on the screen.

“Shit,” Sveta said, with a serious expression on the face she wore as camouflage.

The thrown objects marked the point it stopped being a teenager’s tantrum and became something else.  The lady with the boa gripped the edge of the counter, staring Parker down.  Others stood from their seats.

Fuck you and suck on frozen shit, you act like you’re all that, but you’re a mess!  I can’t believe I actually looked up to you for a minute there!’

‘She gave you a place to live.’  This from D.J..

‘She gave me fucking slavery!  I joined up to have fun!  I wanted to drink and fucking actually do shit and instead I’m your bitch!  I’m done!’ 

‘You can always leave,’ the girl with the shark tattoos running from armpit to waist said.  ‘We won’t get in your way.’

‘Nicky might,’ D.J. said.

‘Nicky isn’t here,’ Shark girl said.  ‘If you’re gonna leave, now’s good.’

Parker swayed on the spot, as if leaning hard enough to one side could be the motivation to go.  She looked at the woman with the feather boa and then immediately looked away.  ‘Can I collect my pay?’

The woman with the feather boa shook her head slowly.

‘If you leave, you leave all the money you’ve earned on the table,’ D.J. said.

Parker became visibly agitated at that.

“Walk away,” Sveta murmured under her breath.

Parker didn’t.

“Do we intervene?” Sveta asked, quiet.

“What we’re watching is out of date,” I said.  “We’re… six minutes behind on the broadcast, because we keep pausing.”

We were only free to pause because the other group was staying current.  Rain skipped ahead, catching us up.  Visual glitches muddled the screen.  As it resolved, the squares and blocks of text falling away, Parker could be seen in the kitchen, cleaning up, downcast.

Rain flipped backward a bit, giving us one-frame glimpses of the outcome.  Parker subdued, resuming her work in the kitchen.  A few seconds before, we had Parker with a stricken expression on her face.  A moment before that, ‘Nicky’ was at the door.

Played in the right order, ‘Nicky’ had come back, and the fight had gone out of Parker.

Of course, Parker was just a superimposed image.  Nicky wasn’t a tanned blonde with cornrows at either side of her face.  D.J. wasn’t a surfer dude, the girl with the shark bite tattoos wasn’t his side chick, and the woman with the boa wasn’t the silent leader of the group of pirates.

Love Lost had settled here in Lyme.  We had some surveillance, but positioning ourselves was a task.  Ninety percent of everything that wasn’t part of the old tent city was under construction.  The other ten percent was like this – crowded, patrolled, and potentially monitored by moles and agents in league to Love Lost.

We’d tried to set up and operate out of the van, where our supplies were in easy reach and our team was together.  We’d struggled to find a parking spot in the happy medium between being close enough to Love Lost to act, and far enough away to avoid attention.  Within two minutes, we’d had police knocking on the door of the van.  Every spot was pre-claimed or, as we’d been told, subject to the whims of the construction teams that were moving large amounts of material through.

Our attempt to get out of the van and set up somewhere as a team had been similarly stymied.  With that, and after seeing just how closely monitored and claustrophobic the emerging community was here in Lyme, I was prepared to give Love Lost some credit.

She’d either been insanely lucky to stumble onto a location like this, or she’d had the sense to find it.  I was betting on the latter.

Our only options had seemed to be setting up in the next area over, with a twenty minute travel time to get here if we needed to do something, or setting up close and dealing with constant hassle, with civilians peering over our shoulder and potentially reporting back to Love Lost.

Except Kenzie had had an idea.  Old programs.  One to superimpose images, and another that let her tech put the game together based on a description.  We’d watched for ten minutes before the game popped up in a mostly working fashion.

“What do we know about her?” I asked.  I reached forward and hit the arrow keys, since there wasn’t a lot happening on-screen.  I stopped when we had an image on the woman with the canary feather boa on screen.

“Heavy question,” Rain said.  “She’s angry, but I think most people picked up on that.”

“Silent,” Sveta said.

“Nearly silent,” Rain agreed, nodding.  “She was law enforcement.  Detective, I’m pretty sure.  I saw a flashback where she won an award, her daughter was in the audience.  So I think she was a pretty good one.  I remember, uh, another flashback, she had a child, but her child died.  Was killed.  Senselessly.”

The sentences were more fragmented as he went.  I saw him clench his fist, white-knuckled, before wrapping his other hand around it and cracking the knuckles manually, his eyes on the screen.

“And she turned into a… pirate?” I asked, mindful that people might overhear.  “Using all of that expert knowledge from her past life?”

“Something like that,” Rain said.  “The vicious anger is a running theme.  Anger at the criminals, anger at her ex.  She drank.  She seems to avoid it now, which I find a bit surprising.”

“How was she with her child?” Sveta asked.

Rain resumed the video, then skipped forward and backward a bit, looking.

It was a point we’d paused the video before, when the guy with the overloaded pack had interrupted.  The woman with the canary feather boa looming over ‘Parker’.  With the scene, someone’s voice from the background was represented on screen with the subtitles.  ‘…don’t want to step into the ring here, Colt honey.’

As the word ‘Colt’ came through the earbud, it was auto-changed to Parker on the screen, in the subtitles.  Colt was the kid from Cedar Point who had been roped into joining Prancer’s group as a henchman.  She’d apparently been there when Kenzie’s place had been raided and Natalie had been hurt.

Rain seemed to want the image to stand for itself.  Our painted-over picture showed Love Lost leaning forward, staring down Colt.  No words, only intimidation.

“Angry?” I suggested.

“Messy, I guess,” Rain said.  “Does it matter how she was with her kid?  Because I think she loved her child with all her being.  Doesn’t that count for something?”

Sveta frowned.  “I’m so tired of dealing with parents like K’s, Vic’s, and now this mess.”

“I can’t really comment,” Rain’s voice had dropped, almost like he was falling away, but his gaze was intently fixed on the face on the screen.  “Nobody deserves to go through what she went through.  What she’s going through, every minute of every day.  She’s carrying that now, while she’s dealing with, uh, Parker.”

“Do you need to sit this one out?” I asked.

“Before, I had pretty strong feelings, but I could think about the big picture.  Now that I’m closer, the feelings are bigger, and I think the feelings are winning.  Ask me again later?”

I nodded.

That didn’t make the situation any easier.  If Rain sat this one out, then we had Sveta and I as part of this group, and Swansong, Capricorn, and Lookout as part of the other group.

Love Lost had more capes than that, and she was entrenched in this area.  This was her turf.

We could call others in, but they would face the same problem we did.  There weren’t any good places for capes to lurk.  Set up too far away, and response times would suffer.  Get too close, and they could be spotted.

I had my phone.  It wasn’t camouflaged like the feed on the laptop was, but I was reasonably sure that whatever I browsed would be dismissed as idle reading, provided I scrolled past images quickly enough.

I sent a message to Advance Guard.  They had some people with mobility who could swoop in.

The icon on the screen flashed, indicating that the ‘game’ had updated.

It was the little Kenzie face in the speech balloon, with no smile.  Eyes wide.  An Ashley face was laughing with a hand in front of the mouth, the ‘ha ha ha’ floating away.  Tristan’s face popped up, green and barfing a thin stream that pooled on the roof of the building below the speech bubble.

Rain went back to the video feed and caught us up to the present, where a faint arrow indicated what the other team was watching.

‘…between my teeth and cheek.  For an hour, hunh?  Whaddyasay?’  Sidepiece.

‘Why’d you have to say teeth like that?  Teeth are ten kinds of fuck no.’  D.J.

‘Not even a nibble?’

‘Never a nibble!  Never!’

‘I’ve known people who liked being nibbled on and nipped.’

‘You know fucked up people, Side.’

‘What if I tucked it somewhere safe and warm instead, hmmm?  We could go catch a movie, and then I’ll give it back.  How fun would that be?’

On the screen, Sidepiece cozied up to D.J.  He seemed to accept the cozying, but said, ‘Safe and warm for you is an inch from nitroglycerin for me.’

Sidepiece made a sound that was about fifty percent snort, forty percent nasal snort overlapping the first, and ten percent laugh.

‘I’m attached to it,’ D.J. said.

‘Detach it.  I want it to play with for a while.  We could have so much fun.’

On the other window, Kenzie was marked as away, a candy emote over her head.  Going to get snacks, while Sidepiece and D.J. potentially got R-rated?  Tristan was with her.

Rain hit a key and the subtitles disappeared.  I saw him glance back and looked out of the corner of my eye.  A guy in a uniform that could have been a security guard or cop was standing off to the side, looking in our direction.

‘You’ll lose it.’

‘Nuh uh.’

‘I’ve seen you lose your keys, your favorite top-‘

‘That shit was stolen, no fair.’

‘-your phone, twice, your banking card-‘

‘I was really drunk when I lost the card.’

‘-your pancreas.’

‘Grows back!’

‘Slowly!’

‘But it grows back!  And I didn’t lose it exactly, okay!?  I had a snowfort pile going, y’know?’

‘What the fuck is a snowfort pile?’

‘What the kids do with snowballs, all stacked up neat and ready to throw?  And then the ground shook and rattled the table, and it all blew.  Ovaries are such cluster-fuckers, all loaded up with those eggs.  I did pretty fuckin’ good finding as many of the pieces as I did.’

‘You lose shit, Side.  Admit it!’

‘No!  I had reasons and other shit going on!  I’m not going to get carelessly drunk if you give me a toy to play with!’

‘That’s what you do every day!  Toys and drugs and drunk!’

The two started play wrestling on the couch in their… I wasn’t sure if it was a headquarters or home.  The tropical overlay did mask some essential details.  There was a key to make the overlay drop away, but that risked letting bystanders see the feed.

Spright and Shortcut were on their way.  Shortcut wasn’t my first choice, but I wasn’t about to look this horse in the mouth.

Colt was in the next room, though she might as well have been in the same room as the frisky pair, because the wall that separated kitchen from the living room space had a massive window in it that things could be passed through.

Love Lost was moving.  On the screen, the lady with the feather boa was pulling on a light jacket.  The camera zoomed in as she slid something up her sleeves, attaching it to her wrists.

Claws.

“Going to battle,” I said.

Rain used his feet to pick up his bag, dropped it a bit, then got it on the second try, passing it to his hands.

Love Lost snapped her fingers.  All activity on the ground floor stopped – which amounted to ‘Parker’, Sidepiece as the girl with the shark-bite tattoos, and D.J..

“Do you need us?” Sidepiece asked.

Love Lost indicated Colt.

“We’re going out?” Colt asked.

“Yeah,” Nicky said, as she came down the stairs.  She grabbed her own top and hat.  “It’s a meeting.  Bring everything.”

“So long as it’s not washing dishes,” Colt said, sullen.

The scene on the screen shifted, the camera pulling away.  It gave us an overhead view of the ‘Blood Atoll’ – a ring of beach with a pirate bay contained within.  Other lenses on the camera began to pull up scenes and things of interest.  One dominant picture was of the jeep beside Love Lost’s headquarters.  A machine gun was mounted on top, covered with a tarp, an x-ray image showing the loose position of the gun.

I looked around to make sure nobody was staring at our screen, and reached over for the key combination, checking with Rain and Sveta that I was good to go.  They did their own check before nodding.

Just a second.

The Atoll became Lyme, the dirt from where ground had been flattened out forming the ring around the exterior, construction ongoing, the layout of boat and beach became building and snow layered over dirt and rock.

The jeep with the machine gun was now a truck, and instead of a machine gun, it was something tinker-made.  The tinker leaned against the side of the vehicle, smoking.  He did wear a mask, soft with goggles built in, a spike of metal extending from the connecting piece between the two goggles, up the forehead, and arcing back over the head, giving a silver line to the part in his greasy, copper-colored hair.  The mask didn’t cover his throat, and I could see the hair there, almost an unbroken line from neck to collarbone to chest hair.  He wore a heavy flannel shirt, a workman’s jacket, winterized work gloves, and jeans.  Low-key as tinkers went.

Other scenes showed our position.  The hourglass-shaped Lyme Center had Kenzie, Swansong, and Tristan in the noisier area.  On the other side of the bottleneck was us, marked with tinted dots.  Yellow-white for me, green-blue for Sveta, and dark red for Rain.

Love Lost, Colt, and Nailbiter stepped outside, Nailbiter distorting into her narrow form to stab the upper half of her body into the backseat before the seat was even moved forward to let people back there.  Her lower body was withdrawn in, narrowing and disappearing into the space.  Colt climbed in normally, before pulling the seat back to its normal position to let Love Lost in.

There were graphical glitches as the program struggled to come up with ways to coordinate the very different vehicle types.

The tinker drove, with Love Lost in the front seat.

“We could intercept,” Sveta whispered, leaning in close.  Rain leaned in to hear, and we had a huddle.

“Against an unknown gun?  The four of them?” Rain whispered back.

“We have two Advance Guard guys on the way,” I whispered.  “Spright and Shortcut.”

“Ew.” Sveta made a face.  “Not my favorite person.”

“They’re quick enough to get involved when we need involved,” I said.  Rather than use the laptop, I pulled out my phone.  Time to make sure everyone was in the loop.

Tracking Love Lost’s group to unspecified meeting.  They’re armed for a fight.  Known violence in records, two of the four people en route are on our list of major threats to the city.  AG sending two to assist.  I punched the short description of our activities into my phone and sent the message.

Database back at headquarters notified.  We were in the system, and other heroes knew what we were doing.

Capricorn, Lookout, and Swansong were ready.

Spright and Shortcut were at the very edges of Lyme.

Two more bases to cover.  The first went into a much cruder queue.  The icon switched rapidly between ‘sending’, ‘sent’, ‘queued’, and then ‘read’.

We got a message back.  ‘What are their names’.  No question mark.

Nailbiter and Love Lost.

‘Not going to say no.  Be safe – Nat.’

My eyebrows went up.  Was she back?  Or did she decide to get involved?

The second to last wasn’t as smooth.  The ‘loading’ symbol played over the final bar, which was simply labeled ‘Wardens’.  The option grayed out, a line struck through it.  Then it shifted.  A crown icon.

A crown for a monarch?  An emperor?  It was uncomfortable, but I doubted Kenzie had put that much thought into things.

Doubly uncomfortable that they knew what we were doing now.

Citrine or one of her employees sent their reply.  Permission given.  Good, to meet the self-imposed requirement of a thumbs-up from the higher-ups.  Negative, on so many levels, that the higher-ups were who they were.

“The others want to meet up.  They’re heading our way, since we’re closer to the car,” Rain said.

“They’re packed up and moving already,” I said.

“All energy and forward momentum.”  Rain smiled.

“What do you think?” I asked him.  “Any doubts?”

He didn’t have an immediate response for me.

“It’s okay to say no.”

“I’m-” Rain started.  A group of people walked right behind the couch, one of them holding a bag that brushed Rain’s head.  Sveta’s head craned around a bit more than a head should, studying the people.  She dismissed them as normal.

“I’m thinking of how Ashley apparently backed off, the other night.  She said she didn’t want to do the one thing, she knew she was bad at it and it was bad for her.”

“Yeah.”

“I respect that.  I’d want to do that if I was more sure about anything.  I’m pretty sure the three of us that are left are going to kill each other.”  The last few words were whispered.

“But?” I asked.

“But I also feel pretty sure that if I don’t stop her, she’s going to hurt other people.  I know her pretty well by now.”

The other three members of the group were at the second floor stage, looking down.  They started the walk around to the stairs.

“Should we pack up?” Rain asked, hand on the lid of the laptop.

“Wait,” Sveta said.  “Look.”

It was the cartoon overlay of things, showing the truck.  Heading to the Lyme Center.

At the back of the truck, the roof and side had been slid away, revealing the gun within.  The gun was lighting up, crackling with electricity, and slowly swiveling.  Aiming at the camera.

My head snapped around to Lookout.  She was at the top of the stairs, oblivious.  I raised a hand, trying to get her attention.

“Shit,” Rain said.

She was too enamored with Ashley, chattering up a storm.  Tristan had a hand out to make sure she wasn’t going to fall down the stairs, but he wasn’t looking at us either.

Phone out, I started to type.  I knew it would be too slow.

“Powers?” I whispered.

Rain shook his head.  At the same time, Sveta stood up.  Her fingers, appearing like skin with the projector image that was on her, fumbled for and found her anchor necklace.  She worked at the dial on the back.

“Sveta?” I asked.

“Please work,” she said, one hand gripping the wrist of her other arm.

The hand of that arm flickered and moved in a slightly out-of-sync way, before closing into a fist.

Above Sveta, I saw a line flash out, briefly appearing.  One tendril, loosed to reach out.  Aimed not at any person, but at- at the metal of the railing closest to our heads.  It struck with a force that made a sharp ‘tang’ noise, followed by a duller echo of the same sound.

Anyone that had looked or seen would have seen just the briefest instance of the tendril going out and in- and it looked like she’d arced it well overhead, using the cloak and prevention of her necklace’s setting.

Nobody was shouting ‘parahuman, parahuman, danger!’ – there were no shrieks.  Only people on the stairwell and near the railing who looked concerned, like the metal might fail as something came loose.

And we had the group’s attention.  I indicated the laptop, and Lookout whipped out her phone.

Quick enough to see, too late to do anything.

The lights in the Lyme Center flickered and dimmed for a moment.  The laptop we’d been using went black.  From the look of Lookout’s reaction, she’d just lost her phone.

She’d have lost her last good flying camera, too.

People were still reacting to the sudden motion and the sound.  Slowly, they settled, looking a little less at ease than before.  Heads periodically looked skyward,  as if assuming that some wire or cable had ripped loose and then been reeled in.

No eyes on us.

“Relax,” I said.  “Take it easy.  We draw more attention to ourselves by freaking out.”

Lookout, on the stairs, was clearly upset, all but stamping her feet in impotent anger.

“She has an emotion sense,” Rain said.  “If she comes here, she’ll sense our emotions.”

“All the more reason to relax, take it easy,” I said.  “Everyone here is a bit emotional.”

“I can guarantee you that I’m in the top two percent here.  I have some pretty strong regrets when it comes to how things happened.”

There was no more way to tell how far away Love Lost was.  The camera and laptop were dead.

The other three were still near the top of the stairs.  I motioned for them to hang back, and then turned my eyes and my attention to the tunnel that led from the second floor of this half of the hourglass-shaped Center to the second floor of the other half.

Make sure you have an escape route.

We had our stuff packed and ready to go, the escape routes in mind.  Above us and to our left, Kenzie, Tristan, and a disguised Ashley were leaning against the railing, looking out over the lounge and social area.  The center of the hourglass and the passage to the other side were right behind them.

Love Lost arrived in civilian clothes.  Her tinker had stayed behind.  She wore a coat with a velvety texture, ankle-length and tailored to fit her figure, drawing in at the waist and then drawing in slightly from the hips.  Her winter boots had platform heels, and I could see traces of metal along the boots.  Claws ready to deploy.

I had snacks in my bag that I’d saved in case we’d ended up doing an outdoor stakeout or surveillance from the van.  I found a bag of chips and opened it, sharing out the contents.

“What are you doing?” Sveta asked.

“Acting normal,” I said.  “Don’t stare.”

Rain bit down on a chip.

Love Lost, Colt, and Nailbiter were weaving their way across the floor.  Love Lost whispered something to Nailbiter, with Colt in earshot.  Immediately, the other two started peering over the crowd more intently.

They knew we were here.  They’d planned for the camera- no doubt because they knew how we’d operated in Cedar Point.  She’d studied what we brought to the table and recruited a counter to Lookout.

Does a detective’s awareness of their environment and an emotion-senser’s ability let her pick us out from a crowd with any effectiveness?

I was trusting no, extrapolating from how Dean had described things.  I was trusting that if it came down to it and she did see us, then they wouldn’t try too hard to get us.  This was their territory, and as much as they seemed willing to shit where they ate, I had to assume that they wouldn’t slaughter the people in their own neck of the woods.

“Why is this working?” Rain asked.

“Emotional soup.  There might be enough people here that feel just as awful as you do.”

“Really.”

I looked out over the crowd.  “Only takes five or six.”

Love Lost found the people she wanted to talk to.  It was maybe the biggest collection of people in the lounge area.  With twenty-five seats, they had members of their group split across five or six.  Right beneath Kenzie, Tristan, and Ashley, who peered down from the second floor railing.  It might have been the third floor on another building’s layout, but this center had been built tall, open, and grand, so it might feel less claustrophobic in the midst of a harsh, hungry winter.

The anti-parahuman citizens having a face to face meeting with Love Lost.  Pretty clear that they knew what she was, because they seemed pretty stone-faced until Colt arrived, acting as an interpreter or representative.

“They might have faced the facts and realized where they stand,” I murmured, before turning my eyes back to my chip bag.  “They’re anti-parahuman, but there’s a limit to what humans can do.  They might be hiring help.”

Love Lost took a seat.  Colt was doing the talking, of course.  Nailbiter hung back.  The enforcer in this situation.

“Why?” Rain asked.  “Something big?”

“I’m focused less on what and more on who,” I whispered.  “What the hell would they be up to, that they’re hiring the parahumans they hate so much, and they’re hiring the most violent and reckless of them?”

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124 thoughts on “Polarize – 10.7”

  1. Typo Thread:
    “We had two audio jacks plugged into the laptop. Sveta had a hair of headphones. ”
    Should be pair of headphones.

    1. “monitored by moles and agents in league to Love Lost.”
      I’ve googled around but only found ‘in league with someone’, not ‘to someone’. Alternate earth idiom?

  2. Holy crap but is Kenzie’s power a godsend for espionage, counterespionage, screwing with the authorities and generating kitschy French rotoscoped movies. I would gladly read a whole book with her as an older teen protagonist.

    In other news, what the hell is Nieves’s faction doing hiring Love Lost and co— wait, but Nieves was just another recruit. They’re actually being run by Dinah, IIRC? What the hell is she up to?

    1. Dinah was last seen working with Faultline’s Crew, who in turn we most recently saw in an anti-Love-Lost situation, if only as a secondary concern.

      I don’t know exactly what’s going on but I bet it will go really poorly for LL.

      1. Well if you want to make parahumans look bad, the most violent and reckless bunch are just the sorts you want to make sure stay in the public eye.

    2. Teacher said that someone whose description matches Dinah was running the the anti-parahuman faction in some way. However, since Teacher is a lying bastard, that info shoudn’t be entirely relied on without confirmation.

      1. But remember, Teacher told this to Scapegoat. I see no reason why Teacher would lie to Scapegoat about this.

        1. I see no reason why Teacher WOULDN’T lie to anyone not having lie-detecting powers, Scapegoat included. Or he might be mistaken. Or the phrase referring to Dinah’s relations with “humans who have come through the end of the world with hate in their hearts” might actually mean something other than running the anti-parahuman faction. Many possibilities here, I personally think that Dinah actually running this faction makes little sense.

      1. In Scapegoat’s interlude Teacher indicates the anti-parahuman movement is acting on instructions from Dinah. Nives being one of Teacher’s was a common initial guess because Teacher seems to be linked with Chiet and the stated goal of Nives’s recruiter was to make Gimel a vassal state of another Earth, presumably Chiet.

    1. “Quiet on the set!” yelled Gary. The chatter wound down and Denise adjusted her yellow boa. “Annnnnd… ACTION!” He leaned back in his seat and watched the argument with a critical eye. This human element was what set films like Blood Atoll and its predecessor Sweaty Lagoon apart from the more popular dreck made by Films For Tuna or those freaks at Newtyflix. Their digital art and mocapped CGI simply couldn’t compete with Studio Heather’s hand-drawn rotoscoped animation. To say nothing of the actual stories they tried to tell. Epitome of blah.

      The argument between Gary’s characters descended into a real argument between actors about matching intonation to body language, and he couldn’t help but chuckle to himself. His therapist had been right. After all the chaos, danger, and questionable morality he’d dealt with on Gimel, the petty dramas of Shin’s actors and animators were downright relaxing. To say nothing of the antics of his foley artist. Maybe he wasn’t saving the world anymore, but they’d made clear they didn’t want saving anyway, so fuck ’em. He’d tried, he’d failed, and he’d moved on. Now Gary amused himself and others by making low-budget high-humanity movies of freedom, piracy, and romance, distributed in the most annoyingly hipster file formats he could find. It gave Studio Heather a certain air of playfulness, he felt, and he didn’t mind if it turned off the masses. Being small-scale kept things friendly, down to earth. Their little cult following was niche as hell, but they were genuine, and their loyalty and appreciation meant more to him than money and fame.

      For the first time in a long while, Gary Nieves felt satisfied. Optimistic, even. He’d always heard it said that the pen is more powerful than the sword, and he was now finding truth to the claim that a picture is worth a thousand words. Humanity would prevail.

      1. You think we are looking at humble beginnings of a future Acadamy Award recipient, or is Gary’s genius too great to be properly appreciated by his contemporaries?

  3. Are we supposed to know D.J.? Things were about to get very strange when the story left him and “playtime with Sidepiece”. I didn’t know she could detach other people’s body parts, although it’s nice that she’s at least asking first. Somewhat reminiscent of the first arc of Oglaf… I think we can guess why LL and NB didn’t bring “I’ll try not to lose your body parts” girl to the meeting with the anti-para people.

        1. Wow, me too. They’re totes adorbs. They’ve got similar and similarly crappy powers, and they’re making it work, with cheerful attitudes too.

    1. That’s probably Disjoint. He can displace his limbs, while retaining control over them (and presumably being able to feel them). I think he was hanging out with Sidepiece most of the time in Hollow Point.

  4. The question of why anti-parahumans would hire the most violent and unstable of the lot for a job really answers itself Vicky.

    The only true mystery is, if this is still Dinah’s show and what’s the end game? This is a girl who would screw over her savior ‘for the greater good,’ but we don’t know if that’s her aim anymore. She also seems to have taken a page from Coil’s playbook of pulling strings on events through frontmen while keeping a low profile, but her power just gives general percentages of probable outcomes. Unlikely odds can still happen, and she doesn’t have anymore ability in figuring out what the right questions are than any other person.

    1. Dinah made sure that Taylor was aware of what she needed to do, and she emphatically sided with Taylor over the PRT when speaking to Tagg.

      1. That was just one step in a long-term plan. Everyone who has followed Dinah’s advice has suffered for it, while preserving her. Whether they “asked her questions” or not. That is her insidious power. She triggered young, and has all the baggage of amorality that entails. She has never told the truth about her power, even when she has given largely truthful “answers”. That’s why TT wants her in the dark about everything to do with Undersiders. TT wants as little contact as possible.

        Why did a young girl in a wealthy politically-connected intact family trigger with such a powerful ability, before Brockton Bay suffered any of its many disasters? When we do eventually get a Dinah flashback, it will be horrific.

        1. That’s hardly Dinah’s fault.

          Brockton Bay just happened to be suck-central at the time and any actions taken to fix things involved a lot of hard work.

        2. I don’t remotely buy that Dinah’s power is in any way inherently nefarious or that she’s willfully screwing people over with it. It lets her ask questions and get probabilistic answers; we had an interlude where she used it and she asked questions and got answers in percentages just like the ones she gives people. Then she overdrove it to get partial information on one particular future, which gave little information and left her power nonfuctional for the rest of the Slaughterhouse Nine attack.

          Dinah’s big overriding thing was The Prophecy; from the moment she looked at Jack Slash and said “That’s the man who makes everyone die” her projections about Golden Morning drove most everything. Probability started out in the high nineties, and she told the Protectorate and they assigned Dragon and Defiant to hunt Jack, and every time they engaged the Slaughterhouse Nine the probability kicked up a notch. Meaning the Protectorate made the right call; the probability rose after each failed attack because the attack could have worked. Finally at zero hour she kicked in her remaning precog for the day to back Golem in the last bid to stop Jack Slash, and that almost worked. Golem figured it out; with the aid of Dinah’s predictions he was able to realize why no parahuman had ever beaten Jack and he found the loophole and a Dragon’s Tooth officer finally beat Jack. If Grey Boy hadn’t interrupted or Foil had shot him sooner (both things Broadcast may have arranged) then Jack would’ve been killed and Golden Morning wouldn’t have happened when it did.

          The reasons people keep getting screwed over by Dinah’s power is that she’s not the Simurgh and can’t give highly detailed predictions and other people make bad decisions with what she tells them. She screwed over Coil because she hated him, she told Tagg to his face that if he acted the way he planned to using her prior information he was going to die horribly, and Taylor knew what she was getting into when she remembered Dinah writing “I’m sorry” and the Simurgh calling up that memory to apologize prior to making the call to become Khephri. Could she have found another way? No, probably not. It’s a Scion Shard and it will not provide actionable information leading directly to Scion’s defeat or he wouldn’t have let Dinah get it at all.

          1. Here’s what Dinah’s power looks like from Dinah’s perspective when she’s getting a probability; Infestation 11f

            She concentrated, and the mosaic organized into two portions, one slightly larger than the other. In one half, that death-terminus came very soon. In the other, it was some distance off. She judged the size of the individual parts, and the number snapped into her head.

            43.03485192746307955659 percent chance she would die in the next thirty minutes. The chance was steadily ticking upward with each passing second, with possible realities becoming impossible and fading from her view, or being replaced with other possibilities, effectively shifting over to the other side.

            She calls it like she sees it. She is incapable of lying about what she sees and provides answers to direct questions. People ask the wrong questions or make bad decisions with the answers; that’s on them. If she’s engaged in some grand nefarious conspiracy that probably means she has another Prophecy and has determined that telling the Wardens what it is will not improve matters. Probably it’s whatever Valkyrie is so damn scared of, and I suspect it’s very tightly related to the fact that she can’t just phone up Gary Nives and say “this is the most useful human precog and I need your help to save the multiverse.”

          2. The way I see it Dinah is actually tragic, because she is as much a slave of her own power as everyone else. She constantly gets answers she knows will harm people around her, but they are answers to questions way too important for her not to act.

          3. @guy “She is incapable of lying about what she sees…”

            Really? I want a citation on that. Where does it ever say Dinah /can’t/ lie about what she’s seen?

            That she hasn’t isn’t what I’m questioning. It’s the bald faced assertion that she /can’t/.

          4. @evileeyore “Headaches,” Dinah answered, pressing her hands to her head, “It breaks my power. It takes days, sometimes weeks before everything is sorted out and working again. Headaches the entire time, until everything is sorted out, worse headaches if I try to get numbers in the meantime. Have to be careful, can’t muddle things up. Can’t lie about the numbers, can’t look at what happens, or it just becomes chaos. Safer to keep a distance, to make and follow rules. Safer to just ask the questions and let things fall into place.” – Excerpt from Interlude 11f

          5. Also I don’t remember where exactly but at some point she doesn’t want to answer a question under duress so she threatens to just lie and render her power useless with the headaches so she can’t be coerced into using it. I also take that to imply she’d be so obviously incapacitated by the backlash that it will be obvious she lied so she can’t fool anyone. So she technically can lie but not to any practical purpose. Hence giving direct and honest answers to questions from people she hates and would like to die.

          6. If I’m reading it correctly she has to ask a question to have her power spit out a number, but she gets to see the entire spectrum of all possible futures at any time. Only that’s mostly useless because there’s an uncountably large number of them so she can’t really conclude much most of the time. But she can see stuff like oh hey I die in the next half hour in a lot of these. How many? 43.03485192746307955659% of them. Oh hey a bunch of the ones I don’t die in just went away. Thus prompting her to start burning questions on figuring out how many of the ones where Sundancer fights Crawler end with everyone in the base dying and noting that’s actually a higher percentage.

            Later on in the scene Coil runs out of time for asking questions and orders her to look at a specific future in which they survive, and she’s instantly hit with a crippling migraine and only remembers flashes of what she sees but is able to tell them that it involved them all being in Noelle’s enclosure. But that’s clearly a last resort, because not only is it incredibly painful it’s also very little information and she apparently spends the entire Slaughterhouse Nine arc out of commission. Which means they couldn’t pull up a list of every cape in the city and ask “Probability X would kill Siberian?” and four questions in Tattletale would note that it’s really weird Foil was 3% and Sundancer was 7% and ask for Skitter’s number and it’d be 37%.

        3. I don’t think it’ll be horrific at all.

          Remember, she was in a wealthy politically-connected intact family. That sounds like people who can get access to Cauldron and their vials, just like with Triumph. In fact, that’s probably how Coil found out about Dinah in the first place. Cauldron simply told him.

          If she’s Cauldron, then she shouldn’t be that amoral due to Cauldron-triggers being “less messy” than regular triggers.

          1. Scion’s interlude shows him breaking apart the Navigator shard and sending a piece of it to a young girl in a coastal city. Then he sends out QA to a skinny guy surrounding by burly guys in the same city, and after that recognises QA in Taylor. So Dinah is a natural Scion trigger. Also, if she was Cauldron, her parents wouldn’t have given her a vial while she was so young and would have sent her straight to the Wards if they had.

          2. We can guess at her trigger from her power; it has to be a situation long-range probabilistic precog would be applicable to. So it’s something uncertain and not in an immediate sense; she didn’t get battle precog. It could be personal loss, a family member or pet with cancer who might not make it and even the best doctors can’t help and is low on the Pancea list. It could be big; maybe she watched a documentery on the Endbringers and had nightmares about the Simurgh for weeks and got no comfort from the part about how precogs can disrupt her (true but not as much as is believed) because Dinah knows the Protectorate’s precogs aren’t great. Then her Shard said “I have just the thing!” and handed her the ability to square off with the Simurgh precog to precog.

          3. Also, while I’m sceptical of the theory that the PRT category to trigger event mappings are 100% accurate I figure they’re like 95% accurate and Dinah’s is probably classic Thinker.

            Now, we know her Shard is precog so it pretty much straight up has to give Thinker powers or nothing at all, so I do think it might give a Thinker power in scenarios that “should” give other powers, but the power she gets has to be coherently applicable even if, like Kenzie, using it would not help matters. So I’m thinking off-type with this is possibly Master or Tinker, maybe Changer. If she got a Brute, Blaster, or Striker trigger maybe she gets a Thinker power but it’s got to be a combat Thinker power. Shard is from Scion’s precog cluster, maybe she gets nerfed “automatic victory” and becomes as infallible as Contessa as far as the next five minutes are concerned and she fends off a home invasion with the contents of her backpack.

            But for the power she got, it needs to be a problem where she has plenty of time to iteratively ask questions. And it needs to be a problem all her connections can’t help her with, even though she trusts her parents enough she moved back in with them and let them act as her managers. And that was by no means a forced choice; she had a perfect opportunity to just tell Taylor she didn’t want to go home and Taylor would have gotten her a room with Aiden and declare her the Undersider’s house oracle. Or if The Prophecy required her to become a Protectorate oracle Dr. Yamada was in the city at that very moment.

            So I think her parents were at least on the level of Danny, not like Kenzie’s. Trigger events don’t require isolation, they require not seeing any way out. We saw with Brandish and Lady Photon that you can trigger when your beloved sister is in the room, if a man with a gun is about to shoot you both. So I figure Dinah asked her parents for help with whatever the problem was and they looked down and told her there’s some things even they can’t solve. You can trigger with all the friends in the world, if none of them can help.

          4. I think her trigger might be something that could be solved with just an answer to one simple question, but no answers to questions you can think of can tell you what this one question should be. That is one problem both she and Contessa share – their powers are not worth anything if you don’t ask the right question first.

          5. Triggers usually aren’t that kind of annoyingly unhelpful (rare exceptions). Usually people trigger and they get the ability to solve their immediate problem. Where they usually screw their hosts is by making it so they’ll keep having the same kind of problem. Tristan and Byron most blatantly; they both sure got a solution to being physically assaulted by their twin brother.

            Shard: Problem solved!
            Bryon: No the problem is about how he’s displacing my social life, you’ve just made it worse!
            Shard: No that’s a different problem. Your problem was being stabbed. Problem solved!

          6. Sure, but in Dinath’s case her power tends to work so long term most of the time (with results sometimes becoming useful or even understandable after many years) that I believe that her trigger may have been not some immediatly solvable intense situation, but some constant, chronic stress (like a constant, crippling fear of one’s own mortality for example). In this case I wouldn’t expect the power to offer an instant solution.

  5. I have a theory about Rain’s emotion power.

    It causes doubt and uncertainty over an area he chooses.

    The only person who’s commented on it was March and she confirmed it was weak but not useless.

    Knowing now that March has some thinker type powers about predicting outcomes from actions, I suspect that Rain’s power might actually interfere with thinkers, particularly precog types, effectively creating a strong level of doubt and uncertainty where normally precogs would feel confident.

    1. It could just be that he makes them all doubt their own powers. They hear ‘uncertainty’ and think about messing with causality, not knowing that he’s just making the precogs themselves uncertain but not affecting their powers at all.

    2. I think March mentioning it is more personal since her power is a superhuman sense of timing and his power causes doubt. So basically even if his power is weak, it still adds a slight bit of hesitation in the person who acts with exact timing.

  6. If I had a guess for Dinan she forsaw the best way forward was to manipulate a dangerous element to her own ends. I can’t see her having direct control though, so I would imagine there’s a lot she doesn’t control. Maybe directing Love Lost at Teacher?

    1. Well, Dinah’s personal resources are basically just that she can get a loose impression of the future and ask a limited number of questions per day to get probabilistic answers or sacrifice many days worth to get a limited window into a single future. So she can’t inherently sieze control of an organization and have it move according to her will.

      I figure Dinah’s faction is her and like ten guys and she might not be “in charge” but the person who is doesn’t do anything major without first asking her for a probability. So she can effectively command like ten people but with her guidance they can induce other groups to take specific actions. With her limited resources she’s probably not micromanaging her pawns but anti-parahumans negotiating with a criminal parahuman is weird so she probably engineered it. I don’t think we’ll be able to guess at why until this all plays out; Dinah took this action because the probabilities say it ends well. And so far she’s sent a guy to talk to Gary Nives and sent him info about Breakthrough and killed Goddess and installed Amy as ruler of Shin. That one action is in the chain of causality for why Goddess got Breakthrough and put Chris in a position to kill her. We aren’t seeing Dinah’s questions and answers, so her reasons for doing something may be totally unrelated to what it seems like it would do.

  7. Last time we has a conversation with Tattletale, this time we play PHO-like game of “who is the person behind the avatar” (even if shorter and simpler than actual PHO posts, because this time we knew all actors beforehand).

    Both are delicious puzzles to solve, but I wonder about people, who are not up to date with Ward, and will read these two chapters one right after the other. I’m sure they will love it, but how many will need to take a short break after running into the cartoon minutes after Tattletale, and realising just what sort of rotoscope it is?

  8. Man, just when I thought I couldn’t hate the other members of Rains cluster more, one turns out to be a Dirty Cop.

    If she genuinely loved her kid, that’s a clear weakness- Lisa’d Say to relentlessly hammer her about how much her child would dispise what she’d become, how her teacher, colleagues and subordinates would spit in her face-angry people are stupid after all, and her rationality is allready compromised by the shadow/passenger fucking with her cognition…

    1. Rain said cop, maybe detective, and he thinks “a pretty good one”…what makes you think ‘dirty cop’? Was it in her previous flashback, in a cluster interlude? Because I got the feeling she only turned ‘pirate’ after her kid died and she became a supervillain (which, with her powers, I think entails giving up the whole cop thing).

  9. Sidepiece is surprisingly likeable. But if I were DJ, there is no possible way I would let her borrow my detachable johnson, no matter how good she promised to make it feel.

    1. Sidepiece and Crystal skould make start a club for people who dare to seek for the most creative ways to abuse cosmic horrors for mundane, everyday things. I mean insta-ready iron, chairs and tables on demand, what Sidepiece is suggesting here? Lasers as cooking implements are probably Crystal mom’s originally, and the snow fort was likely casual only in name, but still they show that those two ladies seem to have a simmilar sense of humor.

      1. I thought about it some more, and realised that Sidepiece is on a different level then Crystal. Crystal does the mundane an casual with powers, and does it in obvious ways. Sidepiece figures how to use powers to tease her boyfriend by suggesting turning not so casual into casual. I mean a fricken movie?!

        It shouldn’t be a club, but a school. Crystal go and beg sensei Sidepiece to take you as her student!

        1. The more nonsensical this idea becomes, the more I want Crystal and Sidepiece to talk shop. It is literally too brilliant to not use.

          1. And yes, I know I shouldn’t be the one asking for the picture, since I technically invented “sensei” part of sensei Sidepiece, but I also like the idea, and hope that if more people see it, people will come up with even more ludicrous versions.

  10. I’m most curious about the video game simulation and the reality show simulation team Breakthrough were using to obscure that they were spying on Love Lost and their crew. Maybe that one guy who walked by them is secretly a mole!?

    1. There might also be someone working with Love Lost and her team, that they picked up on the way to the Center. Someone who Breakthrough does not about. It could be the real reason for destroying the camera, when they did – make it seem like they just saw it, and don’t want to be followed, do it to cover the fact, that they picked somone up instead.

      Betewan Dinath, overcharged March, her former profession, and her informers in the area it could be that Love Lost already knows exactly, where the Breackthrough is, and she is just setting her own trap on them.

  11. Guys, I think I may have figured this story arc out. It is a repeat of old Wildbow’s pattern from Worm with slight modifications.

    Remember that in Worm terrifying threats tend to be followed by even more terrifying threats that pop out as soon, as things seem to be settling down? Remember that threats that seem to be extreme in some way tend to be followed by ones that seem to take matters in opposite direction? I’m thinking about how Slaughterhouse Nine came after battle with Leviathan. What I think is happening now, is very much like that.

    The last big threat Breakthrough faced was Goddess. She was very much like Leviathan. Both had power that dwarfed everyone around them. Both went for a quick, strong, brutal, straightforward, unrelenting assault. Both, though they seemed invincible at at first, were defeated very quickly. If I had to describe how Goddess and Leviathan were in one word, that word would be a sledgehammer.

    Now a coalition of Victoria, Tattletale and Faultline is going against a coalition of March and Love Lost, who are a current counterpart of Slaughterhouse Nine. Slaughterhouse Nine acted in a slow, deliberate, cunning, carefully planned, often indirect manner. They were perfectly happy to make breaks, give their opponents time to make mistakes. All of it despite violent tendencies of most of their members. Where Leviathan was terrifying, because looked inhuman, impersonal, overbearingly powerful, and seemingly able to take any attacks, Slaughterhouse Nine at first appeared to look very human, personal, relatively underpowered, and vulnerable. Later they have proven to be much more capable and outright terrifying than Leviathan despite never dealing as much material damage, or killing as many people as the Endbringer. If I had to describe them in one word it would be a scalpel as opposed to Leviathan’s sledgehammer.

    I expect M/LL coalition to be every bit the scalpel, that Slaughterhouse Nine was. March’s power, and methods as we saw them so far just scream “scalpel”, and I expect the seemingly emotional Love Lost to remind us just why she was a great detective. I also expect them to be every bit the opposite of Goddess as Slaughterhouse Nine was an opposite of Leviathan. They appear weaker than Goddess, but I bet they will prove to be much more terrifying, and much more difficult to actually pin down. They will play a long, careful game well planned in advance. Like a scalpel they will use minimum actual force, employed in precisely right time and place (courtesy of March’s power) for maximum effect.

    They are probably doing it already. Noticed how Kenzie’s camera (not to mention the laptop and her phone) went down in precisely right moment, so that she could not prevent it? Sounds very much like March’s power at work. I bet the timing is doubly convenient for Love Lost, because in that short time when Breakthrough couldn’t see her her team did something she didn’t want Breakthrough to see.

    With March around if you think that something happened in a random way or at a random time, you are probably wrong. That bullet Tattletale took? Exactly as planned. March has no reason to kill anyone at this point, and will use as little force as necessary. She wants Foil and Rain. She wants them alive, so she and Love Lost can leech their powers before killing them. So why the bullet? It distracts and keeps Tattletale from moving too much when she is out, and from being able to interact with people around her when she is folded into Matryoshka. I guess Imp’s arm is no accident either, although I don’t know what purpose it serves yet.

    Remember, that March had wanted Foil for a long time. It stands to reason, that she has thoroughly researched the Undersiders and their potential allies like Faultline. She knows well what their capabilities are, who are the key members that need to be eliminated, and can predict how they will react if attacked. Since both March and Love Lost are interested in Rain, we can assume they have been keeping a close eye on Breakthrough too. Those cops that arrived in the most inconvenient moment on the truck rest stop after getting an anonymous call? Timing smells like March again. I bet one of those cops is Love Lost’s old acquaintance send there to figure out current Breakthrough’s capabilities (especially those of the Thinkers, as they accumulate new tricks quickly), and figure out what Breakthrough knows, and what will they do next. And it looks like they got exactly that. They know about the time camera, they know what details of the skirmish at the rest stop Breakthrough learned about, they know enough to figure out, that the Breakthrough will go straight to the Tattletale’s and Faultline’s folks.

    Why didn’t March attack Breakthrough when they went to Tattletale? Why would she attack all of their enemies at once when they are fortified, on guard and all together in one place? It would be stupid even if March wanted them all dead, and all she wants is to kidnap two specific people. Even if March-Love Lost alliance had enough raw power to carry out an attack at that point, they would likely take losses, and would risk killing people they want to kidnap. And they probably don’t have enough raw power. Scalpel is not about lots of power, but about applying what little power it has at precisely right time and place. So instead of attacking they decided to wait, and let their opponents make a mistake.

    And Breakthrough made a mistake. A very Advance Guard-like mistake. They went straight after Love Lost into a place where Love Lost is strongest. Love Lost likely expected that, and wanted them to come. She knew they were there the moment they arrived, she expected the camera, and likely knew about it long before she decided to take it down. She had it taken down at a precisely right moment (likely thanks to March’s help) in a way that would make any other cameras Breakthrough might have had useless, because they would have no equipment to see the feed anyway. She likely expects Breakthrough to have support of other heroes, though she may not expect it to come as quickly as Spright and Shortcut will. Not that it will help much. Those two are so clumsy and hot-headed that they are likely to do more harm then good.

    As for people Love Lost is meeting in the Center? She will either just talk to them and make sure that Breakthrough hears exactly what she wants them to hear, or she will use them as meat-shields to go after Rain. She is not exactly patient when it comes to dealing with Rain. She could also do both. If fight breaks out in the Center I fully expect it to go very poorly for Breakthrough.

    What is Breakthrough doing wrong? Aside of showing Advance Guard levels of impatience they are like an army that is perfectly prepared for it’s last war and gets completely blindsided by an enemy who uses different equipment, strategy and doctrine. They go for a combination of sneakiness and quick thinking, because it worked against Goddess-sledgehammer, but this is exactly the wrong way to fight against the scalpel they are facing. They can’t hope to just outsmart March and Love Lost.

    How can Breakthrough win this time? I don’t know exactly, but I have some ideas, that may work. First they must realize what they are doing wrong, what are their strengths and weaknesses in this match-up. They are not the thinkers here, they are the brutes. They can call for a small army of heroes, and use them against March and Love Lost. Such army is like a brute in that you can’t just ignore it forever. Chances are, that sooner or later March and Love Lost will have to choose to either take an open fight, they can’t win, or back off. Breakthrough should also remember, that March and Love Lost are villains going after very specific prices. Make it impossible for them to get Rain and Foil, and hit them with a brute of an army and they will be inclined to flee rather then fight, just like Slaughterhouse Nine did, when they were pressured too hard.

    Of course I don’t expect it to be quick, clean or painless victory for the heroes. Just like with the Bonesaw’s plague there is a good chance that March or Love Lost will pull out some trick out of her pocket to cover their retreat, and it may do just as much damage as the plague did. If everything goes like id did with Slaughterhouse Nine in Brockton Bay chances are, that March and/or Love Lost will be able to lick their wounds, and plan their comeback, while the heroes concentrate on other problems.

    All that is now left is to kick back and see just how much (if at all) this analogy between Worm and Ward is correct, and how much it let me predict correctly.

      1. Based on the assumptions, that one of the policemen at the rest stop works for former detective Love Lost. Like I said, I don’t believe that the cops arrived on the scene by accident, not with March’s power in play. Especially if you consider, that both March and Love Lost have reasons to keep a close eye on rain, and by extension on Breakthrough. The most logical reason for the cops to appear is for March and LL to see through them, what Rain’s team is up to, and Breakthrough explains the camera to the policemen, which means, that M and LL know about it too.

        I know that I’m making a lot of assumptions in the above post, including the big one that Wildbow is following the old pattern from Worm. I kind of hope that I’m wrong, because it would be less interesting to read a story which can’t surprise me, but in case of the policemen I’m more confident than with most of it. Tatteltale described March’s power as “timing” working on many levels, so it just stands to reason that if something random seems to happen, it happens because it is a perfect moment for it to happen from March’s perspective. The policemen seem to be random, and considering Love Lost’s background it seems to be likely that they happen, because they help the M/LL aliance. And reconesance seems the best way the police can serve them in this situation.

    1. I will admit that I haven’t read all of this, because the bit I did included something that I think is wrong. I don’t think March is working with Love Lost. March is working with Cradle, if she can’t work with Rain. Love Lost is too unstable and her control of her minions is too lose. Nobody wants to work with Love Lost.

      The heroes need to lock down Love Lost because her violent activity and her laissez-faire management of her team reminds normals of the Slaughterhouse Nine, and somebody needs to do something about it. Also because if March does work with Cradle, Love Lost is an easy target for a Cradle-based powerup.

      1. You may be right. For some reason I thought that Cradle ended up with Teacher, not March. It is likely that I misremembered it.

        On the other hand Cradle and Love Lost may still cooperate to some degree if only out of their hatered for Rain, so they may end up in the same team at one point, and March seems so obsessed with clusters that she is likely to try to reach to at least one member of each cluster (or at least of clusters which still have multiple members) no matter how unstable they appear to be. If I recal correctly she did reach to other members of Rains cluster before Rain came to her, so she does not appear to be picky about who she works with as long as she has access to someone from each cluster.

        Either reason may be good enough for March to end up working with Love Lost, but to make sure I would need to reread a lot of previous chapters looking for clues about how interactions in Love Lost – Cradle – March triangle looked like. I will probably get to it at some point, but if you remember something specific I wouldn’t mind if you pointed me to it.

        1. Tattletale said Cradle would be March’s next choice in that cluster. Cradle turned March down last time (with Snag and Love Lost) because they already had Tattletale, who had Foil. If March tells Cradle how to de-power his cluster, he’ll go after Love Lost because she trusts him. Love Lost may well be March’s eventual contact with the cluster, but only if something happens to Cradle before it happens to her, which is unlikely.

          Snag was holding that cluster together, as proved by the fact that the cluster’s lost cohesion after his death. Cradle’s a loner, he’ll go to Love Lost to drain her, not work with her.

          1. I’ve just taken a second look at what Tattletale said in the last chapter, and I feel stupid. Looks like March is indeed working with Cradle. I can’t believe I either missed or forgot it already! The funny thing is that it does not invalidiate most of my theory. In some ways Cradle being more stable and patient would fit even better in place of Love Lost. On the other hand it does seem to invalidiate certain details.

            First – without Love Lost working with March the policemen seem less likely to be a recon mission set up by March.
            Second – it makes it more difficult to explain why Lookout’s camera has been taken by Love Lost’s tinker precisely at the moment, when Kenzie couldn’t do anything about it.
            It also means, that the situation in the Center is less likely to end as poorly for team Breakthrough as I expected.

            Still there is another possibility – that March has taken a page from Tattletale’s book and is working with both Love Lost and Cradle, while possibly intending to sacrifice one to the other in the end. Sort of like Tattletale worked with Hollow Point group and Rain’s cluster at the same time she worked with Victoria’s group including Rain. If this is the case, then my theory remains almost unchanged. The only difference would be that likely Cradle, not Love Lost would take place as March’s long term partner.

          2. Of course if March is working with both Cradle and Love Lost, she probably keeps at least one of them (probably Love Lost) in the dark about that fact. March’s “aliance” with Love Lost would be just a way to use Love Lost as a convinient expendible asset against Breakthrough, and then feeding her to Cradle regardless of whether she manages to capture Rain or not.

          3. One more thing. That thing at the rest stop totaly feels like a trap set by the police for someone like Breakthrough. Otherwise why would it look like the heroes were the first at the scene. I know that March’s perfect timing may make it possible that the whole shootout was missed by potential bystanders, but it still seems unlikely that when heroes appear in a place along a road, where guns have been fired hours earlier and nobody notified the police. Did nobody really hear gunfire in the night?

            Why have the whole place not been surrounded by police tape when the heroes arrived or just cleaned of evidence like blood already? Seems like someone in the police is working with the villains to let heroes enter the scene and do their investigation before anyone else got to it. The question is – which villains, and for what purpose?

            Letting the police have a look at heroes at work, and then report what they saw is the only reason that comes to my mind at the moment, and it seems that March is on top of the list of people who know about the shootout, would want this sort of info, and would need to use such method. Someone like Tattletale or even Citrine could also want this info, but they could use less conspicuous methods to get it, and again – if someone in the police is working for March then it makes at least some sort of tactical alliance between March and Love Lost, who probably has contacts in the police.

          4. Accord had the most bull… power ever. Even after his death his notes let people build and populate megalopolis housing tens of millions of people within two years. Considering that they had to bring in not only peope, but also plenty of resources from other Earths traffic jams around the portals alone should’ve made it impossible.

            As for Dinah’s involvement I suppose it is possible, but it would be hard to get something specific from game of 20 questions if you don’t even know that the Breakthrough is coming. Dinah could have placed some measures against Breakthrough, but even she would be unlikely to know that they are there against Breakthrough unless someone asked her specifically about that team, just like she knew that Jack Slash will bring end of the world, but in two years couldn’t figure out just how it will happen.

        2. That happened in the night, in winter, at a truck stop. The place was likely closed, which is why Tattletale picked it as a rendezvous point. Nobody drives at night in winter unless they must, and if they are, they’re in a hurry and therefore unlikely to stop. When the heroes came along, they knew Tattletale had stopped there and looked for evidence. They found it, but casual passerby? Stopping for a drink or whatever? Probably wouldn’t be looking for bloodstains or bullet casings.

          Lookout’s camera was hit by the same EMP that the tinker shot the building with. All lights, cameras, and the laptop are down, not just the camera. It’s possible (given tinker) that the EMP jumped from electronic to electronic and the tinker didn’t know the camera was there. Alternately, it’s still up and flying, but Lookout can’t use it any more.

          1. We know, that there was traffic along this road around the time of the shootout:

            “Let’s be careful not to put images in the middle of the highway,” I said, indicating the cars that were flying past us on the other side of the concrete barrier.

            End of quote.

            There might been not that many cars, but gunfire at night should be seen and heard from a long distance. Unless March managed to time the attack so it happened during a gap in the traffic, why has no driver somewhere nearby seen anything and called the police.

            As for the Kenzie’s camera I also think that this is what happened from technical standpoint. It does not bother me as much that Love Lost’s thinker used a method that could effectively take out any number of cameras Lookout might have deployed by taking out Lookout’s ability to receive the feed and to control them.

            What bothers me more is that he managed to pull it at the exact moment when no one was looking at the feed, so Kenzie couldn’t react in time to prevent the damage. It looks like someone recognized all of the team Breakthrough’s members and observed them to give Love Lost’s a signal via phone or something to strike at the right moment. Definietly sounds like a trap. Probably means that Love Lost’s team knew about the camera for a while. Could indicate March’s involvement, as it was such a small window of opportunity, and it happened so late that Breakthrough may not suspect that they missed some vital info.

          2. Yeah, there’s traffic. Tattletale and her entourage had a load of cars, Faultline’s Crew had another load of cars, and March got there somehow. Other vehicles? Maybe not so much.

            You’re travelling at night, you hear and see gunshots in a truck stop. The infrastructure’s not great, and it wouldn’t surprise me if, at night, telephone masts aren’t a priority for electricity for whatever reason (they’d rather power the homes for heating, or they just don’t have enough electricity, or even just turning it off for maintenance) so you can’t report it. Besides, it’s a truck stop. Who’s jurisdiction is it? By the time you tell someone, it’s all over. Things are overstretched everywhere. Maybe someone did see and tried to call in, but the operator was busy or asleep and it went nowhere.

            I don’t think it was a trap. I think it was unlucky coincidence that that’s when the EMP gun went off. I’m keeping an eye on Lookout, she’s not looking at the screen, I text the Tinker to fire, he sees the text, reads it, and Lookout’s looking again. No, that’s not planned, it’s just incredibly bad timing/luck. Not even that, really- they’re packing up and getting ready to go because Love Lost is going to a meeting, and they’re planning on tailing her. Unfortunately, they’re already at the meeting place, so that preparation is not only unnecessary, but unhelpful.

          3. If phones don’t work and you see the crime, you should look for the nearest patrol or police station. You shouldn’t worry about jurisdiction – the police can figure it out and pass your report if needed.

            One thing about the traffic that I’m not sure about is how many exits are there at the truck stop. If there is only one then what you say about no traffic other then the villain’s cars makes perfect sense, but if there are two at the ends of the stop then there should be no lights along the road if all cars that were there at the time entered the truck stop, as they would have likely driven through the stop and not alongside it. My problem is that policemen used two cars to block off the stop, but I’m not clear if they parked those cars in two exits or side by side in one. On one hand since the job of parking the cars is given to only one man (Nimmons) it would suggest that there is only one exit, but if there is only one exit, and there is a barrier separating the stop from the road then how did Tattletale’s and Faultline’s cars escape? They would have to go through March’s cars that just arrived at the exit.

            As for the camera it is not as simple as looking at Lookout and catching the moment, when she puts away her phone. You also need to have your coms prepeared when she puts the phone away. If you started calling Love Lost only when you get your opporunity presents itself chances are her tinker will act too late. You also need to catch a moment when nobody in Victoria’s group is looking at the laptop. That means keeping an eye on four different people in two different places. On top of it if you are setting a trap you need everything to happen shortly before Love Lost arrives. Otherwise Breakthrough will have time to figure out that something is wrong and either form a plan that works without a camera or just leave.

          4. Gimmel’s civil services are generally poor and this area is rural by Gimmel standards. Response times to an incident at a truck stop that’s presumably not open and so not going to have innocent civilians around will be very poor compared to any modern country. The ability to call on heavy backup will also be somewhat limited and a pair of police beat cops are not going to be in a rush to interrupt a massive gunfight with possible parahumans. It is not strange the police were late.

            As for the Tinker gun, it seemed like it just shot the camera. The lights flickered and dimmed a bit but the laptops and phones are toast. Which sounds like it burned out the drone and any system networked with it and either disrupted power a bit with stray current or firing yanked down enough current to disrupt the grid in order to finish charging. How is this possible? To quote the dread Warlord Of The Boardwalk,

            Fucking Tinkers

          5. When it comes to comunication with the police I get being unable to call them from a regular cellphone, but as soon as someone reports a gunfight to a police patrol or at a police station all patrols in the area should be notified. The police should at least have radios independent from civilian infrastructure, especially in areas with spotty coverage. In worst case scenarios long wave radios can have a very long range without any transceivers. With proper radio towers employed either as transmiters or receivers you can even have transcontinental range. Gimel has already managed to launch at least one satelite. I’m sure they could afford to build a few towers with backup power generators. Any reasonabe government should prioritize communications between critical services like the police, medical rescue or firefighters above civilian comunication, and if blackouts or problems with phone network are likely – equip those services with means of communication independent of thise things. People like Citrine and Number Man are too bright to miss it. Accord would also put it in his notes.

            There can be slow response times, but there should be no situation when the police appears HOURS later to respond to raport about some still silhouettes popping out of nowhere along the road and not realize they are going to find a scene of a crime, that should’ve been reported long time ago.

            As for the Lyme Center we should probably at least know if it is a trap for Breakthrough as soon as the next chapter comes out.

            If Love Lost initiates confrontation (not necessarily attack – just initiating conversation or eye contact is enough) with the heroes then she probably knew all along they were here. In this case it is a trap. If the heroes initiate – look if the villains are surprised. If they don’t seem particularly surprised to see the heroes already waiting in the Center then it is also probably a trap. If Love Lost or Colt just talk to the people they came here to see, and Breakthrough just tries to listen in, and there is no confrontation try to figure it out if what the heroes can hear are only things that Love Lost may want them to hear, and if it is said in a way that makes certain that the heroes will hear it. If this is the case then it probably also is a trap.

            If it is a trap then it means that Love Lost is very careful and has a surveillance network capable of recognizing team Breakthrough when only a couple of them wear publicaly known faces, or it means that Love Lost has been forewarned that the heroes are coming by someone who can predict their movements or has a way of tracking their movements. It could mean March or someone with access to the network that Breakthrough has set up to coordinate hero teams. This would mean a hacker capable of hacking Kenzie’s work or possibly some of the heroes whose help she requested or Citrine. Not Natalie though since she does not have a way to know Breackthrough’s position or intended time of interception.

            My money would be on Love Lost’s surveillence network or on March. Hacker is unlikely because tinker made networks should be secure for at least a few days after being established. At least secure enough that their administrators realize that they are being hacked. Others have very little time to contact Love Lost and most of them have no reason to betray Breakthrough, especially to someone like Love Lost (although I wouldn’t say it is completly impossible for Citrine or some heroes – remember that many of them were villains or have personal reasons to dislike Breakthrough).

          6. You’re describing standard procedure on modern Earth and thus old Bet. Gimel is not Bet. These are the two police available.

            As for it being a trap and how that might happen, the anti-parahuman movement has some input from Dinah so they can potentially discover things they have no way whatsoever to find out.

          7. Accord had the most bull… power ever. Even after his death his notes let people build and populate megalopolis housing tens of millions of people within two years. Considering that they had to bring in not only peope, but also plenty of resources from other Earths traffic jams around the portals alone should’ve made it impossible.

            As for Dinah’s involvement I suppose it is possible, but it would be hard to get something specific from game of 20 questions if you don’t even know that the Breakthrough is coming. Dinah could have placed some measures against Breakthrough, but even she would be unlikely to know that they are there against Breakthrough unless someone asked her specifically about that team, just like she knew that Jack Slash will bring end of the world, but in two years couldn’t figure out just how it will happen.

          8. Accord is probably like Thinker 9, but he is explicitly not a precog. His notes are the result of him spending a while writing up contengincy plans for every kind of problem he could think of. So it’s not a straightforward checklist, it’s some number of meticulously organized four hundred page booklets full of flowcharts covering various issues that may arise in the event it is necessary to evacuate Bet to another world at some point in the future for some reason.

            Dinah is I think Thinker 12 and she is a precog, so if she and Accord set to work on the same problem and both have adequate time it is Dinah who engineers Khephri defeating Scion and Accord who the Simurgh murdered two years ago at the point where Accord notices. So basically if there’s an organized attempt to deal with a very specific and unlikely scenario given that Tattletale and March are both mid-range Thinkers and unlikely to get along so it’s pretty likely they won’t be voluntarily cooperating or blind to complex manipulations that probably means Dinah has played twenty questions and she has won and you realize where this plan is going when she basically says “Mate in two” and then you do a thing to stop her plan and then she says “Checkmate”. Dinah straight up has a nerfed version of Scion’s equivalent to the Simurgh’s precog and if she is able to spend sufficent time asking questions then you’re as screwed as if the Simurgh decided to kill you and then attacked Madison. So why might Dinah have followed a chain of questions to prepare this trap, well, dunno, let’s look at our two lady oracles and their past actions:

            The Simurgh attacked Madison, opened a portal to pull through the Travelers and release people from Cauldron, diverted Scion a bit with a decoy version of her, then went back into space. Fallout?
            Travelers got powers; they’re all significant but the ones to keep in mind are Cody, Noelle, and Oliver because we know for sure how they end:
            1. Cody eventually gets captured by Accord and brokered through Cauldron to the Yangban or possibly via some other route. Final outcome is that he’s a rogue Yangban member who kills Accord and cripples Tattletale and Chevalier, removing the three field commanders at a key moment during the battle against Behemoth. With Behemoth’s electrical disturbances no reliable radio signal can be established so with the command center down there’s no one to coordinate the previously tightly organized defense and New Delhi goes from one of the best Endbringer fights to the worst until Scion shows up immune to precog and thus not someone the Simurgh can predict. That probably disrupts her secondary goal with Cody of setting the Protectorate and the Yangban at each others throats, so she corrects this by making her next attack force the Protectorate to destroy a passenger airliner. “Target/Consequence: Incongnito CIU heir”
            2. Noelle is fairly memorable directly, of course, but the key moment is Eidolon’s clone telling the Case 53s about Cauldron and that the Protectorate works with them, leading to them to form the Irregulars. This leads directly to the Cauldron attack at a key moment of Golden Morning, shattering humanity’s coordination at a stroke by forcing Doctor Mother to cease directing matters and making Doormaker no longer respond to requests to open or close new portals. Less directly, the disruption to the Protectorate leads to them hounding Skitter even harder, which results in her being jailed, during which time she kills Alexandria
            3. Oliver is secondary, but he is one of the capes who creates the Eden images. Still, I think mostly he’s there so Noelle wouldn’t drink the stabilizing agent
            Case 53s got released from Cauldron; I don’t want to chase this too far because I think the point of the attack was mostly to ensure that the Irregulars wouldn’t kill Doctor Mother before Skitter could show up and see Eden so Khephri knows what Eden looks like at the end, but one of the released capes is working with Tattletale. Also might be why Mantellum escaped to join the Irregulars so they could swat Contessa aside in a head-on fight, but also Cauldron had no idea what Mantellum’s power was so maybe someone left a door open and he walked out and Cauldron didn’t notice because none of their Thinker powers let them track him unless the Number Man is paying attention at that particular moment.
            Decoy: straightforward use was to stall Scion a bit so she’d have enough time to complete the prior two, but it does hint to the heroes that Scion can mistake imitations of a thing for the thing itself. That maybe contributes to Khephri’s final plan, and it probably relates to the way people notice Scion acts a bit weird when confronted with very large numbers of things in battle. He’s noted to no longer have this problem in the later phases of the Golden Morning battle; I assume it’s just that he has trouble paying attention to multiple things at once and once Glastig Ulaine has exploited this enough times he decides to pay the energy cost to run Taylor’s multitasking Thinker rider continuously.

            Dinah can’t do as much at once, so what she’s done so far is she sent a guy to talk to Gary Nives and then give him info on Kenzie so Victoria had Breakthrough go on a talk show, which Goddess apparently watched given when she opted to send a message to Breakthrough to arrange the meeting where she Aligned them, leading to her attacking the prison and eliminating a big chunk of Teacher’s resources, then Chris killed her and Amy declared herself Red Queen and a bunch of unstable parahumans followed her to Shin.

            So it is very possible Dinah knew Breakthrough would be there because she arranged for them to come in the first place. That is why she is the big Precog and the whole plot from the start of the S9 arc until Golden Morning commenced started when she looked at a picture of Jack Slash and said “That’s the man who makes everyone die.”

            That is the rule for both Dinah and the Simurgh: you don’t know why they’re doing something until it’s four years later and the Simurgh is chilling with a mystery clone tube as she watches Khephri kill Scion for her. The reason they wouldn’t be behind something is never that they cannot have obtained enough information if they chose to do so.

          9. One interesting question, that comes from your theory seems to be – why would Simurgh want to kill Scion as early as during Madison attack? If the Endbringers existed just to be opponents for Eidolon, they shouldn’t bother with Scion before Eidolon died. I was never quite sure if Scion won with those two words because they were true, or they only seemed true because it would let him win.

            If what you’re saying is true it makes me think it was the latter case. This in turn would lead to question – where did the Endbringers really come from, and what is their true purpose?

          10. You said it yourself. They were supposed to be Eidolon’s opponents, not Scion’s. Scion kept interfering and stealing Eidolon’s thunder, so the Simurgh decided to get rid of him.

          11. But shouldn’t the powers coming from the Warrior and the Thinker have safeguards intended to make difficult to impossible to use against Scion? I understand that parahumans with some ingenuity and a lot of effort could figure out how to do it, but shouldn’t being acting independently from humans, and presumably created for a different purpose even consider doing so, especially if their original purpose is not yet fulfilled? Makes me thing they came from somewhere else, or were influenced by something else – like Abaddon, or even some Entity or similar outside force we haven’t seen yet.

          12. That is unless… it was a Dragon-like situation. They were put under restrictions that were supposed to keep them safe to the Warrior and the Thinker’s plans, but at least one of them (Simurgh most likely) managed to find a loophole. It would fit the fact that until Eidolon’s death Endbringers have never gone after Scion directly. It was always Scion going after them. The fact that such loophole existed in the first place might be explained by the fact, that Thinker’s thought process was disrupted by Abaddon, and Eidolon was Cauldron’s cape, meaning he got Thinker’s fragment. Likely highly damaged fragment considering it broke so many usual rules, and such damage could indicate Abaddon’s tampering.

          13. I just thought of yet another explanation for Endbringers existance and their behavior, and it is possibly the most scary option. It would mean, that everything that happened, and is still happening is by the Thinker Entity’s design.

            Once the Thinker realised that it is inevitably going to die it knew that the Warrior Entity couldn’t continue the cycle alone. Since the Entities strictly follow basic biological imperatives they would prefer to preserve themselves as individual, but if that is impossible the next best thing would be to preserve the cycle, and as much of their genome as they can, and that is what is happening right now.

            Since the Warrior and the Thinker evolved to operate as a pair of equals, preserving the cycle means creating two new Entity cores, and then making them collect all of the fragments. Since after Eden’s death Scion has no equal, he needs to die to preserve the cycle. This has happened already. Next is creation of new cores. Since humans are the most inteligent the Thinker could to work with, the new cores would need to be made out of humans too. I believe we met those humans already. They are David alias Eidolon, who iss supposed to be the new Warrior, and Ciara alias Glaistig Uaine or Valkyrie etc., who is supposed to be the new Thinker.

            Both have the abilities to collect and use all powers. Both have been called the most powerful humans alive at some point. Both feel strongly detached from their humanity. Sound like traits nascent Entities would need?

            The Endbringers exist to ensure that the Thinker’s plan proceedes in Eden’s absence. They are there to ensure that Eidolon grows as a warrior, they try to make him realise, that he has the ability to collect powers, and make him use it (though ultimately it is Thinker – Ciara, who drives this point through his thick skull; honestly he can be as dumb as Scion sometimes). They also play part in eliminating Scion, who needs to die for the plan to proceed. It would explain why they would take covert, indirect steps against Scion even while Eidolon lived. Finally if it was indeed Eidolon, who Simurgh was trying to clone in the epilogue of Worm – they try to ensure, that Ciara has means to ressurect him.

            So how do you like this Eidolon Valkyre ship? She still seems intrigued by him. Also wouldn’t it be ironic if she become the sort of being she saw as her god?

          14. But shouldn’t the powers coming from the Warrior and the Thinker have safeguards intended to make difficult to impossible to use against Scion?

            They were supposed to. The entities installed the safeguards when they prepared to release them, not in the ones they kept in themselves.

            Cauldron vials are made by removing shards from Eden’s corpse that are “not fit for human consumption”. Furthermore, the safeguards were a bit lax; they were meant to prevent humans from beating them but Eden was tasked with field troubleshooting if it looked like there’d be Endbringers.

            The Endbringers look analogous to the “superweapons” from Eden’s interlude and Eidolon went through refill vials like candy and it spiked dramatically after Khonsu and Tohu and Bohu spawned, so I suspect Eidolon got the Superweapon Assembly shard and it hadn’t gotten the safeguards so it made the Endbringers and only Scion’s personal anti-precog could stand up to it.

            Glastig Ulaine’s safeguard is basically that she worships the entities so gets the entire plan and she follows her orders to gather up the most successful shards then chill in the Birdcage terrifying the cell block inmates and looting the fallen.

            Plan is shot now so Valkyire is basically totally unstoppable.

          15. Also, the “superweapons” were Eden’s primary plan. And the Endbringers are a buggy version, and the Simurgh made the plan crash so hard it destroyed the hard drive.

          16. > why would Simurgh want to kill Scion as early as during Madison attack?

            I think the simplest explanation for it is that she didn’t 🙂
            Actually, I don’t like at all theories which ascribe THAT kind of convoluted plans to precogs because it makes the whole story uninteresting. The precog is responsible for everything what happened in the story, nothing else and no action of anyone else does even matter. So we have Simurgh, Dinah and the whole lot of dummies used as pawns by the only two real actors. And why? Because hey, they have *seen* it all! Clearly anything what happened was exactly their goal, or else they would do something.
            As I see it, even the most perfect precog in the story is not a god. An omnipotent and omniscient being would really make itself the only one real agent, but our precogs are not even omniscient and certainly far from omnipotent.

          17. Exept in this case the precog behind the entire situation would effectively be the Thinker Entity itself, and I would expect more foresight from it than from any other precog in the story, except perhaps the Abaddon. It just seems unlikely to me that the Thinker, who knew that it’s death would be inevitable wouldn’t put together some long-term plan to ensure continuation of the cycle, and Scions death seems to indicate not a failure but a necessary step in that plan, leading me to believe that the plan may still me on, and waiting to be discovered and possibly stopped by humans. On top of it gathering powers together seems to be a big bart of Ward, and a plan like this would match this thread well as something to be revealed as a starting point of the story’s finale.

            Once again the Thinker Entity, while fallible, is probably the best precog in the story, so I expect it’s plans to go farther, and work better than any made by any other precog including even Contessa who ultimately got only a small f critical fragment of the Abaddon.

          18. I meant this more as an answer to guy’s theories about Dinah and Simurgh. Your theory might be mor eplausible, except that the Thinker entity crashed and died precisely because it lost its future-sight power. It has planned for a very different future, but then it got lost in playing with new shards too much and dropped the future-sight shard, replacing it with something other.
            And regarding your comment from other thread about equality in Scion/Valkyrie pair – why there should be any? Inequality does not prevent collaboration in any way, and a pair having one mature and experienced entity could be more efficient than two newborn ones.

            By the way, I can see why people think that Contessa has Abaddon’s shard, but I think that it was Eden’s. In Contessa’s interlude, Eden dropped its future-sight accidentally, and Contessa mentioned that the entity meant to keep this power to itself. And Eden shared its future-sight partly with Abaddon, so Contessa’s shard might still maintain some connection to Abaddon (hence not dead in Scion’s view).

          19. Okay, T.T.O, be aware that I’m still a bit out of it but check for my long rambling metaphor last chapter about how Valkyrie is my favorite Mary Sue because she is my self insert and I’m currently in therapy, and I gave Wildbow permission to have post-therapy Valkyrie respond to someone asking Valkyrie’s gender with “male and female and both and neither” because right now I want to be able to say that and I’m expecting at the end of all this I’ll be asking what term that is.

            Now I am 90% recovered rather than 70% recovered so I’m going to make my counterargument but please don’t argue with me about Valkyrie just yet.

            So basically I think that Dinah and the Simurgh have access to all possible futures. And the Simurgh can do a broad scan and know the consequences of her actions, while Dinah can’t because Scion crippled her Shard. Dinah is to the Simurgh as Aegis is to Behemoth.

            I use the chess metaphor because it helps illustrate that Dinah is a Thinker 12 and the Simurgh is a Thinker 15 Blaster 10 Master 10. To Goddess this is a Real Time Strategy game, to Teacher this is a Grand Strategy game, and to Dinah this is chess. So everyone made their movies in the “Prison break” scenario, and basically Dinah’s message to Nives was her moving her kingside pawn at the start of the game then saying “mate in 32”. Chris killing Goddess is when it’s 32 rounds later and Dinah says “check and mate” to Goddess, and then Amy gives her speech and Dinah says “check and mate” to Teacher.

            Hence why I say the Simurgh killed Scion at Madison: she did and he was still walking around when Golden Morning started but he was already dead. The Simurgh won the Madison attack outright; she did her version of Leviathan destroying Newfoundland.

            The point is that the Simurgh is scary because her winning is even more damaging than Leviathan winning outright.

            Also I think at Madison the real plan was for Glastig Ulaine and Eidolon to tag team Scion and then eventually Eidolon takes the kill shot. Taylor becoming Khephri was the crazy off the wall hail mary, and setting it up just so was a tag-team effort between Dinah and the Simurgh, and as part of their planning they laid the groundwork together, and when it came time to say “Hail Mary!” the Simurgh called in all her siblings to do the physical fighting and she personally swept down from the heavens to make 100% sure Taylor follows the plan exactly.

            Just imagine Dinah’s criptic hints were a full and detailed briefing for Operation Khepri, and the Simurgh saying I’m sorry was her saying “remember the plan” and you get the idea. Dinah was the Protectorate and Cauldron strategic advisor, and the Simurgh is overall strategic commander of the Endbringers. Taylor is the person they collectively picked to be Khephri.

            Now Scion is dead so I think the original plan is finished, but now Dinah and the Simurgh are making a new plan. And probably Dinah isn’t telling it to the Wardens because she asked “would telling the wardens backfire?” and her power said it would have a %99.756351 chance of backfiring.

          20. I think the Simurgh always wanted to kill Scion because she is a young daughter who thinks her dad is so cool and she wants to prove how cool he is.

            Key point: the Endbringers sat out of Golden Morning entirely until Eidolon died. I think plan A was Eidolon just kills Scion, plan B was a crazy batshit longshot contingency because the Simurgh had decades to set this up so she got everything lined up nice and perfect to let Eidolon duel Scion and win, and since she can’t reliably predict Scion* she made N alternate kill methods and N alternate methods to bring Eidolon back.

            Then Eidolon fails and dies and Glastig Ulaine claims his soul, and the Simurgh goes “Come wrath, come wrack, at least we’ll die with harness on our back!” and the Endbringers descend. And they pull out all their stops: the Simurgh gives Leviathan a super nanotech upgrade then starts abusing her tinkering drain and she nudges Taylor a bit by saying “I’m sorry” so Taylor remembers Dinah’s note and so she decides to become Khephri and Tohu selects Valkryie and Eidolon and another cape to boost them as her three masks, and she and Valkryie both pull out Eidolon and Grey Boy and proceed to make duplicates of Eidolon.

          21. Oh, by the way, I’m sounding loopy and I’m switching Glastig Ulaine and Valkyrie at random because I am using the story of Glastig Ulaine getting treated by Dr. Yamada and becoming Valkryie as a metaphor for how I am recovering from my “Master Trigger with Changer Aspects” “Trigger Event”.

            I have a psychiatrist so I’ll be fine, until then don’t tell me I’m wrong about Glastig Ulaine/Valkyrie; otherwise I’m venting here because someone misgendered me by accident while telling me I wasn’t coherent yet and that was the last straw and I exploded at them and unsubscribed from their lists and told them that I’m not buying another game from them unless they apologize.

            Otherwise in the metaphor of this being me drunk in a bar, the bartender will tell me when I’ve had enough and I’ll listen; we can debate the parts of the plan that don’t involve Glastig Ulaine fighting Scion and it’ll help and if you think I’m getting worse ask Wildbow to handle it.

            Just remember that in this metaphor I said Guy, Ward Commentator when I wanted to write this post. And in this metaphor Dr Yamada is the psychiatrist I saw about an hour ago. Do not try to be my psychiatrist, you are my support group.

          22. T.T.O. the main reason why I don’t see Scion/Valkyrie working is that one would be essentially a worm motivated strictly by evolutionary imperatives, while the other would be a human motivated by much more complex human emotions. Emotins Scion could feel, but couldn’t realy understand, just like a human can intelectualy understandevolutionaly imperatives, and know he or she is guided by them to some extent, but couldn’t function exclusively based on them without mor complex emotions getting in the way.

            They would be ascended worm and ascended human, but still a worm and a human at their core. They are too different to reach mutual understanding deep enough to form a partnership as long term, and as deep as necessary to go through one cycle, much less all cycles they would have to go through until there would be not enough resources left in the universe to continue.

            Unlike worm, a human probably wouldn’t even be content to just evolve and live until there are no more resources to do it. It is rare to find someone that much at peace with a concept of their own death. We always look for ways around it. You could say that entire concepts of souls and afterlife come from the fact, that we can’t accept inevitability of our own deaths. Letting such concepts guide our lives is a very human thing to do. Even atheists rarely live without trying to find some higher meanings to their lives and deaths, but doing so would be completly illogical to a worm, so sooner or later there would be a conflict between Scion and Valkyrie, which would destroy their union.

          23. Alfaryn, but it doesn’t bother you that humans are basically ascended apes, does it?:) And the evolutionary distance between humans and apes (and, likely, even bacteria) is far less than between entities and worms from which they have evolved. It might be somewhat of a problem that entities have an inhuman, alien intelligence which works very differently from human intelligence; but the symbiosis between shards and humans would help to bridge the gap. Probably it would be not so much Valkyrie herself but rather her shard retaining some memories of her, if she would walk that path.
            And the ultimate goal of entities, stated in-universe, is to live forever and survive the heat death of the universe (and while pursuing that goal, they would likely learn everything this universe has to offer. they just outsource their science to other sentient species, consuming them afterwards). Not making peace with own death is a pretty common trait in life forms in general, it’s evolutionarily selected for:)

          24. The thing is, that Entities apparently evolved their superior intelligence before they had emotions complex enough to self-delude themselves into seeking a higher meaning or purpose of their lives. They, not humans, are the ones behaving fully rationally here. For them human behaviour goes against the simplest of truths – that life has no meanig, it never had, and it never will. It only has a tendency to self-perpetuate as long as it has means to sustain itself, and as much as there is no higher meaning of life, there is also no reason to go against this tendency.

            Humans on the other hand are born with emotional inclination to seek this sort of higher meaning, and this very inclination makes us not only unwilling to accept Entities’ fatalistic if rational line of reasoning, and prevents us to act upon it even if we intellectualy accept it is true. Just think how much of our culture is based on avoiding facing thinking or acting like that – from religions, through a lot of filosophy, to simple willingness to leave some sort of permanent mark on the world.

            Ciara definietly is not free from this sort of thinking. She admited to ms. Yamada, she had used to be religious person in her own way. Now, at Yamada’s suggestion, she seeks a new meaning in life. I think she wouldn’t accept a union with a being, who outright refuses to accept, that there can be a meaning to life even for a promise of what from human perspective would be nearly unlimited power, and almost eternal life. Being human, she couldn’t and wouldn’t ever let herself be truly free of this notion of meanig of her own life – to do so would be a fate worse than death to a human, and instead of existing in harmony with Scion, she would be constantly in conflict with him over that point. This sort of conflict would destroy the union, because neither side would be able to let themselves be convinced, or even compromise on this one matter – Scion because of his completly rational understanding, and Ciara because of her human feelings.

          25. In simpler terms – humans (and who knows? – possibly some other highly developed animals) can’t abandon hope, that there is more to life, than what can be seen from purely materialistic point of view, and Worms know and understood too much too quickly to ever gain this hope.

          26. Ciara could perhaps be made to abondon hope, in which case she would truly become an unwiling fragment of Entity existing only to keep the whole together, but the wouldn’t choose to become one – most if not all humans would die, than lose all hope, and I think Ciara is no exception.

            The only situation she might even consider doing it in my opinion is if doing it would actually give her life meaning – for example if doing it would somehow save humanity from destruction by powers going completly out of control. But even in that case she would have to be very heroic to do it, and would try every other alternative first, because becoming an Entity on such condition would represent an ultimate sacrifice on her part.

          27. You raise an interesting point about the meaning of life. As I see it, not all humans need it (perhaps not even the most part of them), but Ciara probably would. When she admitted her religiousness in her own way, Scion was her god, and becoming an Entity was her meaning of life. Now she changed her mind, but let’s imagine she didn’t, and succeeded in becoming an Entity. What could she see as a meaning of her life then? Leaving a mark on the world: she *herself* would be a mark on the world in the grand scheme of things, and on a lesser scale she would leave a mark of powers on other species (one can regard their subsequent destruction as a mark too, though it’s of a questionable value). Gathering knowledge and experience: very much yes. Procreation: likely a flawed substitute for prolonging own existence, so I doubt that it would be important for an ascended human, but anyway she could split some shards into a separate Entity if she would like it. Creation of something: probably the entire universe, after the heat death of the current one. Actually, I think that from this viewpoint, the only kind of meaning of life that could not be satisfied while being an Entity would be one with some moral component, if one finds large-scale destruction objectionable (and Ciara was perfectly okay with it, as I see it from her conversation with Dr. Yamada. though it has probably changed afterwards). When she was Glaistig Uaine, her morals and mode of thinking were already halfway between human and Entity. Now, as Valkyrie, she tries to be more human, so motives like saving humanity would be more in-character for her now.

          28. T.T.O. I’ll give it to you – you make some good points about where Glaistig Uaine could find meaning of life if paired with Scion. I’m not 100% sure any of those answers would work for Glaistig Uaine, but I admit there is a good chance at least some of them could.

            Having said that, I still have this feeling, that Scion wouldn’t work as a pair with Glaistig Uaine. Just look at how the Warrior and the Thinker were always in perfect agreement, perfect sync, perfect trust, and how they perfectly complimented each other until the moment when Abaddon’s intervention caused the Warrior to express its concerns, and the Thinker to dismiss them. Even that dissonance seemed like a proof of how big impact Abandon had on the Thinker. I doubt that a human, even as detached from it’s humanity as Glaistig Uaine, even overwhelmed by Entities’ memories she could get from the remaining fragments, would be able to archive such perfect agreement, and synchronization with Scion, who is ultimately so different from human.

            I feel that this perfect agreement of Entities is necessary, at least for Worm-Entities. Again it is jut a gut feeling, but I think that Abaddon might have succeeded so easily, because the Warrior and the Thinker never, or at least not since many cycles ago had to face any disagreement between them, any situation when one of them could be compromised by external influence, and were thus unable to deal with the problem. Also remember how Worms evolved on their planet. They saw each other as competition, and were killing each other because of that. They managed to agree later that continuing to do so would lead to self-destruction of the species, but paired Entities could still need a perfect symbiosis with their partners, complete with perfect agreement and synchronization just to avoid killing each other. Remember that they still hold onto their Stings, which means killing each other may still be an option, and it could be an option even before the end of time. If such perfect symbiosis is necessary for Worm-Entities, there is no way Scion could achieve it with Glaistig Uaine, as she would always have some shard of humanity he does not posses.

            Of course I could be very wrong. Both about requirement of such perfect harmony between Entities, and about the fact that the Thinker planned it all. It is possible for example that she was already too weak, to fragmented, to close to being merely Eden to plan something so complicated so perfectly when it realized it’s impending death. It is even possible that it never could come up with such a perfect plan. Even its precognition may have require some intervention along the way to come true. What would the Warrior with it’s short term focus be needed for otherwise? And if the Thinker could predict everything perfectly at any point, what would be the reason behind pitting Shards against each other, or how could Abaddon get to the Thinker in the first place?

            Perhaps the Thinker instead of coming up with a complete plan to extend the cycle merely created best conditions it could in its limited time for such plan to be formed and put into action. If that is the case Endbringers could be not automatons following some prescripted path, but creatures tasked with finding the way to extend the cycle, but largely autonomous in finding and implementing a way to do it. It would also mesh well with the fact that the Endbringers seem to display much more emotions than what would be expected of pre-programmed automatons. Of course it is not a definite proof, as programing of an automaton could call for displaying fake emotions for some reason, but this would quickly lead back to the problems with assuming that the Thinker is an perfect precog.

            If the Endbringers are autonomous and not emotionless but still tasked with preserving the cycle, then I can see a few ways they could’ve approached the problem. Here are the ones that come to my mind first, though I have no doubt there can be a lot more:
            1. They decided from the very beginning, that Scion can’t be paired with a human for the reasons stated above, and were working to eliminate him from the start;
            2. They initially considered Scion – human pair, but when Scion started attacking them, they decided he is no longer a viable candidate – either because it proved that he is no longer rational (his actions were obviously motivated by his denial), or because their own emotions made them resent him;
            3. They worked on two plans at once, or one after the other – main one to pair Scion with a human, and a backup one to pair two humans if the first plan failed (as it did during Gold Morning);
            4. They decided that since Abaddon managed to defeat the pair, the cycle must continue with just one Entity, as one has proven superior to two. In this case they may want create just a single Entity based on a single human core.

            If 1. is true it may mean that the pairing was supposed to be David and Ciara from the beginning.

            If it is 2. they may have considered Scion and Ciara, and then switched to David and Ciara and started looking for a way to get rid of Scion early on, while starting to prepare David for his new role. The problem with this theory is that it fails to explain why Endbringers started attacking before they switched their focus from Scion to David. Did they already somehow know that Scion was irrational at that point?

            If it is 3., then Endbringers hedged their bets between Scion and Ciara pair, and David and Ciara pair from the beginning, and are now following their backup plan (in which case Scion told David the truth), or they switched from Scion and Ciara to David and Ciara during Gold Morning (in which case Scion lied), though in this case we don’t know reasons for Endbringers attacks again.

            If it is 4., then Endbringers may or may not have considered Scion, and are now trying to turn Ciara OR David into an Entity. It is even possible that they are still hedging their bets between those two. It would explain Endbringer attacks, especially if they at least consider David as a future Entity core. It may also mean that we will never see David resurrected, at least not permanently if they chose or will choose Ciara. If they already chose Ciara, then it may have not been David Simurgh was trying to clone in the epilogue of Worm after all. If they chose or will choose David then all other parahumans including Ciara will need to have their powers taken by David at some point.

            Still I think that David and Ciara working together to become Entities, or at least surviving with their powers until everyone else loses theirs, should make more sense from Endbringer’s point of view, as their powers compliment each other nicely making the task of gathering the Shards simpler than if only one of them worked alone. Ciara can easily collect the powers from the dead, and David – from the living. Not that it is completely necessary – just convenient.

            David would likely find it impossible to collect the powers from the dead unless he got access to Ciara’s power or something similar at some point (not impossible for him, as he can get any power he needs, but still it would occupy one of his “slots”…). Of course if he starts collecting powers from the living he will need to find a good explanation to do it – otherwise he may find himself with another Gold Morning situation on his hands – this time with him as the target.

            Ciara could soul-rip the living, but would probably find it more difficult to do then David, as she needs to touch their victims, and some capes could band together against her creating her new Gold Morning situation (one she would be hard-pressed to win, as the cape’s reaction would probably be even stronger then against David). On top of it some capes – like Contessa, The Custodian or possibly some other Case 53s (I’m sure The Custodian qualifies as one) could prove to be very difficult to touch. Of course if Contessa has Abaddon’s Shard there may be no need to collect her, but what about the others? Still if David remains as one of Ciara’s Shadows, she can theoretically use him to do anything he could do alone at cost of him occupying one of her “slots” as soon as she realizes, that bringing him back will not provoke Endbringers to attack her.

            Any of these cases lives us with some big questions:
            – What could convince Ciara and/or David to gather everyone’s powers?
            – Could they, and if so how, try to convince everyone else to surrender their powers?
            – How would the other parahumans react? Would there be a battle against Ciara and/or David? If so, who would win?
            – What would be the Endbringers’ role in all of this? We suspect they may play a role in David’s resurrection, but are they are needed for that, and do they even want it? Could they factor in the answers of the above questions?
            – How much can David and Ciara’s abilities to gather powers grow as they continue the gathering process? What would such growth entitle? Just the fact that they would get harder and harder to defeat, while at the same time finding it easier to go to places where parahumans may have died (in Ciara’s case especially) or be hiding? Or could the way their power-collecting abilities work evolve somehow?

          29. Look at this sweet quote, I’ve just found in chapter 29.7 of Worm:

            > “There is a foreign agent in them. The entity altered each power he granted to give them certain restrictions. No power would be able to truly affect him, no power would cross the boundaries he set in dimension, or in affecting other powers. There are no alterations to the elements in these, only to the accompanying abilities, or complimentary powers. The powers granted from these vials don’t cause the recipients to forget the visions they see. Eidolon was one such case. The extreme deviant cases on the special containment floor make up much of the remainder”.

            If I interpret the “foreign agent” correctly Eidolon’s Fragment was originally Abaddon’s, or at least influenced by Abaddon! This could mean that David isn’t meant to coexist with Ciara, but instead collect or destroy the powers for the Abaddon’s sake! If the Enbringers were meant to be Thinker Entity’s “superweapons”, then it is no wonder, that they went after Eidolon, but they did so not for the reason Scion suggested (to be his “worthy opponents”), but just to eliminate him. If that is the case, we can fully expect the Endbringers to go after him as soon as Ciara let’s him show himself.

            Doesn’t bode well for Ciara/David’s pairing, at least not as something Thinker Entity would come up with.

          30. Alfaryn, thank you for your theory; what makes it more interesting to me is that I see almost everything differently:)) Starting with that I’m not sure whether Abaddon actually wanted to harm Zion/Eden pair. It might be so, or it might be that meeting another Entity was a very unusual event for “our” Entities, so they could not handle it flawlessly and simultaneously with planning their future on Earth, and it happened in such a moment when making an error could be fatal. And retaining Sting shards does not necessarily mean a possibility of killing each other; when you’re on a quest to gather all the knowledge in the universe to solve its greatest problem, it makes sense to hold onto every bit of knowledge and every capability you have. Maybe this shard (or its interactions with some other shards) would allow to hack the universe’s fundamental laws somehow, you never know before you do it.

            And the quote is really sweet 🙂 I have already forgotten that bit since I had read Worm. I agree here, it’s very likely that Eidolon’s vial had something from Abaddon (I wonder what happened to the “extreme deviant cases”…). Though probably much was from Eden as well, as implied by creation of Endbringers/”superweapons”. And you raise an interesting point about Endbringers possibly having some contingency plans for resuming the cycle. It didn’t come to my mind before, as I felt that the predominant theory of them being the “worthy opponents” for Eidolon and losing their meaning of existence after his death explains everything fairly well; but I think it’s not impossible (although the theory about Simurgh’s baby being Eidolon, just due to him having big ears, is a loooooong shot).

            As for Ciara gathering all the powers, let me offer an out-of-universe reason for it not to happen: because Wildbow would be repeating himself in that case:) The ensuing battle against her would be too much like GM. Except Ciara already knows how Scion was defeated, so the first sensible move for her would be to collect Foil and March – after that she’s essentially untouchable.

          31. Thanks for your kind words T.T.O. It’s always good to know I can give someone a new perspective from time to time. In many ways it’s more important to me than making a solid theory myself.

            Speaking of theories. How about one more. This one is about two branches in Entities evolution. I told that in my opinion every Entity should value their own survival highest, and that they also value survival of their genetic code (or whatever it is they can pass to future generation) high, though not necessarily as high as their own survival.

            But what about survival of other, simmilar Entities? I think there can be two evolutionary valid strategies. Cooperation and competition. What if there was a split between Entities at some point, and some of them chose cooperation as a way of incerasing chances of themselves until the point there will be no more resources left, and some others chose to act alone, and kill as many other Entities as they could.

            This way their chances of survival are probably lower as long as there other Entities around, and the resources are plentiful, but if they manage to kill enough Entities early on (in ideal circumstances – every other Entity but themselves), they’ll have all remaining resources left for themselves, which would let them live much longer than if they cooperated, and let other Entities consume resources.

            From their behavior it seems the Warrior and the Thinker could belong to the first group (let’s call them “cooperators” or “pack/social animals”), while Abaddon could belong to the second group (“competitors” or “lone hunters”).

          32. Best thing about the dichotomy between the ones, who cooperate, and the ones who don’t is that theory of games suggest there should be a certain number of both in every ecosystem. Being the only lone hunter among pack animals brings you all prosits of this strategy with no drawbacks. Same goes for being one of only two creatures who prefer to cooperate in a sea of beings who only want to kill eath other.

          33. Alfaryn, glad to hear that:) And regarding two evolutionary branches, it’s quite possible, I think. (it might even be that no Entity is essentially like the other, likely even, given their different accumulated experience on different worlds) It might be predators and cooperators, or it might be just loners and cooperators. The main difference for our plot is probably that in the first case Abaddon would return at some point to gather remained shards. And it must have planning abilities vastly superior to Zion’s or Eden’s, if their deaths were actually its plan.

          34. Abaddon could be back for the fragments, but even if it can’t or for some reason won’t, just killing the competition for limited resources of the multiverse would be a plus for it, if it pursues purely selfish strategy I described above.

          35. Abaddon’s planing abilities don’t have to be better, than those of the other Entities. All it would need is for the Warrior and the Thinker to be so used to cooperation that they wouldn’t expect an attack. The Thinker naively expected contact with Abaddon to be a simple exchange of information – sort of like bacteria exchange their DNA, as it may potentially lead to creation of a bacteria better prepared for its environment. The Thinker probably couldn’t be warned about possible attack by its danger sense, or some other sort of precognition, because those probably don’t work on threats posed by other Entities.

            The Warrior seemed to be more wary of the Abaddon, but reacted to slowly – only after the contact was made. I’m not even certain at this moment if the Warrior was aware of Abaddon’s presence before the contact. I would have to check it out.

            As for the possibility of Abaddon coming back for the fragments – I think it is probably a matter of cost-reward calculation. On one hand the fragments could be useful. On the other hand it could take a lot of energy to turn back.

            We also know that the Thinker and the Warrior did something to ensure that no other Entities would come to the corner of the multiverse they’re about to consume. It could be something like a polite warning “This area has been sucked out of it’s resources, nothing to see here anymore.”, but it could also be some sort of a barrier that would make it difficult and costly, if not outright impossible for other Entities to come and mess with the Warrior and the Thinker while they’re fragmented, and thus valuable.

            I’m also not sure about the time scale. It could be that the Abaddon is planning to return, but it will happen only after a couple more millennia, in which case it is not a pressing problem for any human right now, unless they think that the only way to prevent Abaddon’s return is to act now, when there are enough people alive, who are aware of the problem.

          36. I’ve just thought about another incompatibility between Ciara and the Entities. It ties to what I said about role of hope and the meaning of life for Ciara, but I think is something a little bit different.

            The Entities have a purely materialistic world view, and Ciara simply… doesn’t. She is deeply religious and spiritual. It is shown not only when she says she thought about Scion as someone close to a god, but also in her cape names, the way she used to call powers she captured faeries, and how calling herself Valkyrie seems to imply she thinks about them as souls of warriors right now.

          37. > The Entities have a purely materialistic world view, and Ciara simply… doesn’t. She is deeply religious and spiritual.

            It depends on what world you’re in. In our world, belief in gods is indeed incompatible with materialism. In a world where gods demonstrably and provably exist, it becomes a necessary component of materialism for anyone who knows about them, like “belief” in electricity, for instance.
            Yes, the words that Ciara uses are loaded with meaning borrowed from mythology, and it *might* indicate her mindset, but it does not. We can see that she doesn’t carry their preexisting meaning into her terminology, she neither ascribes any traits of a Christian/Islamic/Greek/any other god to Scion, nor does she take her view of shards and their functioning from mythos about fairies. To her, Scion being “god” means that he’s a seemingly all-powerful figure which she looks up to (like a parent for a child. it had even been explicitly said in her interlude with Dr. Yamada), and shards are “fairies” because they are non-human beings with some degree of sentience, invisible for eyes of common humans and having powers unavailable to them. She sees them realistically, she just calls them by unusual names. If anything, her terminology indicates that she defines *herself* more as her shard than as a human (before renaming to Valkyrie, at least).

          38. I don’t think Ciara is a follower of any particular religion. Her naming convention seems to indicate as much. I think that she is religious and spiritual in a sense that she believes in existence of incorporeal, and possibly immortal element of human which we could call a soul. Something that survives after body’s death. Belif in its existence is common to most religions, and is incomplete with materialistic view that there is no non-material element of a human – there is only body.

            If Ciara didn’t believe in souls she probably at least believed in incorporeal spirits living in parahumans, spirits that not only carried powers, but also memories and elements of personality of those parahumans. This means that if she was not religious in traditional sense than at least she believed in existence of something that can’t be explained from materialistic point of view if you don’t know about the Entities. It is how she originally interpreted what her power has shown her after all.

            It is also possible that her power manifested in a way that supports such interpretation precisely because she harbored such beliefs even before triggering, and they were either important enough for her to be interpreted by her Shard as a key element of her personality, or they were somehow strongly connected to her trigger event.

            Now that Ciara knows better what the powers are, and what it is that she’s really seeing, she could have selected a cape name and persona, that has no religious connotations, yet she chose Valkyrie, which tells me that she still believes despite all evidence. I don’t know what it is if no strong religious faith of some sort. It still doesn’t sound like a materialistic worldview at all. Look at how she treats her Flock. She seems to think of them as people, who were brought back to life, not bodies animated by Shards containing imprints of memories and personally of people they were connected to. Same with her shadows. She thinks of them as people, not just captured powers.

            It seems even stronger now, when she is Valkyrie, than when she was Glaistig Uaine. She keeps correcting herself when talking and thinking about her shadows in her recent interlude. Keeps adding names of those humans to the names of powers-fairies she used before. She cares about their needs. When Simurgh was mentioned in her last interlude it was “Eidolon. David.” who was “Stirred to life by the mere mention of his long-time opponent”.

            Sounds like if Glaistig Uaine believed in spirit, but did not necessarily believe in human souls, Valkyrie may be aware that materialistic point of view may be a correct one, but desperately clings to belif that souls exist, and she has collected some, that all of those shows inside her are actual people, who have not completely died, and can be brought back to life.

            Looks like for now she does whatever she can to deny materialistic viewpoint. And if it is so important for her now, then I think it was important to Glaistig Uaine too, who simply did not cling to this viewpoint so strongly because at that time there was no evidence that it could be wrong – she could see something that behaved like immortal spirits, so existence of spirits was a simple fact. Now what she knows about Entities provides materialistic explanation of what she can see, so existence of spirits or souls is no longer a simple fact. It is something she has to either deny, or take as uncertain belif, and at least for now she seems to be determined to believe. How is this not being religious? And how could she became religious now, when she got to see evidence that materialistic view may be correct if she wasn’t religious as Glaistig Uaine? She must have been religious then to be religious now, after seeing all of this evidence.

          39. Oh, and in her case being religious doesn’t have to have anything to do with belif in existence of God or gods. It is belif in existence of souls that matters. One more reason why she probably doesn’t subscribe to any particular religion. It is also why I would describe Glaistig Uaine as more spiritual, because for her belif in existence of spirits seems to be more important than answer to the question if those spirits are human souls, while I would describe Valkyrie as more religious, because it is very important for her to believe that those are actual captured human souls.

            I wonder how she reconcile this faith in human souls with existence of Slaughterhouse Nine clones, like Ashleys for example. Those seem like obvious proofs that you don’t need a soul to make a human. It is enough to create a body with appropriate DNA, feed it with appropriate memories, and the Shard will fill in the blanks, and create an almost perfect copy of the DNA donor. And best of all you can have multiple such clones running around at once. How does Ciara view those clones? A soulless imitations? Multiple bodies with one soul? Does she think the soul of the original has been split into multiple souls somehow? Or does she think that at least all but one clone have new souls, and only their bodies and memories make them seem like the original?

          40. > I think that she is religious and spiritual in a sense that she believes in existence of incorporeal, and possibly immortal element of human which we could call a soul. Something that survives after body’s death.
            > she probably at least believed in incorporeal spirits living in parahumans, spirits that not only carried powers, but also memories and elements of personality of those parahumans.

            Well…because in Wormverse it’s actually true? And she never needed a non-materialistic explanation for it because she knew about Entities from the very beginning, probably more than anyone else, including Cauldron.
            To elaborate my point: what could we call a soul? I’d say it would be an informational system, not a part of a human’s body, carrying information about their personality, memory and life experience. For instance, if a technology is invented which allows to create a digital representation of a human consciousness and transfer it to some kind of carrier (such as a human or robotic body), which will be able to execute thought algorithms contained in this representation – this digital representation could be called a “soul” by any reasonable definition. And similarly, symbiosis between humans and shards in Wormverse allows information about human’s personality and experience to be stored in the shard and transferred to another body sharing their DNA. It doesn’t matter whether you call it “soul”, “imprint” or “adfjisdfj”; what matters is what do you expect from it and which qualities do you ascribe to it. We didn’t see that Ciara had any false, unrealistic expectations about these imprints or whatever we would call it. So I take it as her not being religious but having a realistic, well-founded worldview, consistent with available evidence.

            As for the change of her terminology – I think it’s because she changed her attitude regarding humanity (both her humanity and humans as a whole). As Glaistig Uaine, she referred to herself and other parahumans by their “shard name” because she thought that the shard is the only part that matters, and anything human is just irrelevant. As Valkyrie, she tries to be more human, so she pays more attention now to “Eidolon” and “David” than to “high priest”. And she’s not wrong in it, because the shard indeed contains information about Eidolon/David’s person now, and this information could be used to recreate a human that will for all intents and purposes be David. It’s not about “are there spirits, or human souls, or whatever else”; it’s about “what do I value more in the symbiosis of humans and shards – shard or human”.

            > you can have multiple such clones running around at once. How does Ciara view those clones? A soulless imitations? Multiple bodies with one soul? […]

            I would actually view them as either multiple bodies with one “soul”, or as a “soul” copied several times and developing further independently in several instances (becoming different “souls” in the process), depending on how strong could be the exchange of information between clones via their shard. It’s either like several connections to a single database stored on a cloud server, or like a file copied several times with copies no longer being connected and accumulating their unique changes over time.

            (it’s interesting how our discussion started from whether Ciara and Scion could work well together, and now is turning more into the domain of philosophy, definition of self and so on:))

          41. > (it’s interesting how our discussion started from whether Ciara and Scion could work well together, and now is turning more into the domain of philosophy, definition of self and so on:))

            It is, but what did you expect from a discussion that has been dancing around the topic of Worm cosmology from the beginning. There are even some physicists, who consider their work a form of philosophy, after all.

            > And she never needed a non-materialistic explanation for it because she knew about Entities from the very beginning, probably more than anyone else, including Cauldron.

            While I think she knew about the Entities, I’m not sure if she knew they were material beings, and this seems important to understand her worldview.

            As for her belif and interpretation of soul, I think that either of us could be right. It depends on whether she considers something like her shadows or members of her Flock the same people, who their originals were before their deaths or their copies, or even if she mahes the distinction. It would make an interesting argument in her discussion with Crystal about Crystal’s discomfort regarding Valkyrie’s soul ripping, and Valkyrie’s apparent lack of such discomfort. The fact that Valkyrie does not show discomfort could mean that she either believes they are still the same people after being ripped and collected, or she doesn’t care one way or another. If she thought they were copies or “memory imprints” in Shards, she would probably be more inclined to agree with Crystal.

          42. One thing I’m almost certain of. Whatever Valkyrie believes in (both about existance and interpretation of soul, and about what is more important to her – human, power or Shard) she is not as sure of it, as she was as Glaistig Uaine. It is why she questions her humanity both in her thoughts, and her discussions with Yamada. It is also why she even paused to have a discussion with Crystal.

          43. And it is not bad that Valkyrie has those doubts. It shows that she is growing up – just like Yamada told her in the Worm’s epilogue.

          44. And while it is good for Ciara that she is growing up, it also means that her belief system has yet to reach it’s final form, and this is a scary prospect for everyone. Depending on what she will end up believing in, she could become humanity’s greatest ally, or worst nightmare. No wonder Wardens keep such a close eye on her.

            Either way I doubt Valkyrie will be her final cape name. She will probably adopt a new one, as her worldview changes. She may even abondon “Ciara”, abondon any cape names and become just Ciara instead, or even abondon any names at all.

          45. Here is what I think changing or abandoning either one or both of her names could mean to Ciara.

            If she only changes her cape name, it will mean some sort of change in her belief system, but there are so many possibilities here that I can’t tell what her new belifs would be without knowing her new name.

            If she abandons “Ciara”, but keep her cape name (either Valkyrie or some new one) it will mean that she no longer sees herself human enough to keep her human name, but she still sees a place for herself within society.

            If she abanons her cape name and becomes just plain Ciara instead it will mean one of three things:
            – she will manage to entirely break connection with her power (like Taylor’s connection with her power was broken in the end of Worm),
            – she will decide to embrace her human side – while she will still technically be parahuman, she will refuse to let her power influence who she is anymore,
            – she will decide that she is beyond childish game of capes and codenames. It would mean that she still sees herself as parahuman, but more mature, and less deluded by the game other capes play. She would still see herself as a part of the society, but at the same time consider herself the only true adult cape in it.

            The potentially most apocalyptic case would be if she abandoned all her names. It would mean that she no longer saw herself as a member of the society. It could happen if she simply decided to become a hermit for life, but it could also happen if she decided to become a new Entity, since they have no need for names.

    2. All of Wildbow’s work consists of increasingly dangerous threats. That’s not really anything new lol

      BTW, Leviathian is stated in-cannon to be an incredibly clever fighter. Think him baiting Armsmaster into a drawn-out melee fight before hydro-blasting him and whatnot. Sure, he’s a hammer, but he turns things into nails.

      It’s hugely unlikely that either March or Love Lost have anything on the level of Bonesaw’s plague. The running powerlevel of main-screen Ward characters is explicitly lower than Worm; that’s not new.

      I think your predictions are vague enough to ‘come true’ but not out of some grand insanity, that’s just how WB works. Alternate threat types, increase threat levels, final foes have everything going for them and a sacrifice is made.

      1. I can see what you are saying about my predictions coming true only as far as general dynamic of events is concerned.

        One thing I’d like to clarify though is that I never intended to suggest that March has anything as objectively dangerous as Bonesaw’s bioweapon. What I meant is that if she is to remain alive and a factor in the story for a long time (and she might, considering how big part of the story) then she needs a way to disengage in a way that forces protaginists to stop going after her, once it seems that they may catch or kill her. After that the protagonists may focus on other threats for a few Arcs, while March would be positioned in the background for her comeback. This way we can have more threats to deal with, and more plot lines to explore instead of making the rest of the story exclusively about March.

        To disengage March would need to either be able where people can’t or won’t follow her and/or something to serve as a diversion for the protagonists. There are a few places she could run to. Teacher’s Cauldron is just one example. Before she does however she needs to do something that leaves a lasting impression, and since I still think that she is going to be a very painful scalpel for a while (her rapier and her power and her modus operandi all seem to indicate it), and she needs to top Goddess’ hammer, it needs to be something spectacular. A “parting gift” sort of diversion that leaves the protagonists scrambling to contain it seems to fit. It does not necessarily have to be something that promises to wipe out half of humanity. It needs to be something big enough to threaten something or someone important to the protagonists in a dramatic way, requires their immediate attention, and prevents them from following March in the process.

        Everything more detailed that I wrote about earlier are just speculations on how things could happen based on what I remember, and think I understand happened so far.

        1. Of coure March’s survival and freedom after the current story arc is not 100% certain. Someone else could take her role (Teacher or Paris come to mind) where it comes to resolving situation with clusters or she could be captured, imprisoned and released at later date. It is just that there most be somebody to keep the clusters’ plot line moving. They are too important to the story to be resolved halfway through. Timewise I see them being resolved near the end close resolution of Amy – Victoria’s situation.

          Also March as a character seems to have a little too much potential to be discarded like that. On top of it Teacher has enough on his plate already (remember – Contessa left him in charge of Cauldron likely to deal with the threat that humanity poses to itself, as Teacher pointed out in Fortuna’s interlude of Worm), and Paris (who I think is another member of Foil – March cluster, though I’m not 100% sure about it) seems more of a focus of Capricorn’s thread. There is also the fact that March’s presence helps to keep Undersiders in the picture and Foil’s situation dramatic enough for her to play a role in eventual resolution of the clusters’ thread.

          Imprisoning March off-world for Teacher to pull her out could happen, it would effectively be not so different from having March flee stright to the Teacher in the first place. Another possibility would be for protagonists to release her for the finale, but this seems too similar to the Birdcage plot from Worm.

      2. Leviathan is pretty clever, but also the Endbringers are basically just toying with 95% of their opponents and Leviathan’s cleverness didn’t actually make him more combat effective. Sure, he did knock out Armsmaster that way but the truth of the matter is that only five of the defenders mattered: the Triumvirate, Scion, and Flechette. They’re the only people who can actually meaningfully harm or hamper an Endbringer known to be on-site. Leviathan doing that is like a hardened SEAL hamming up being punched in the shin by a two-year-old.

        Basically if Leviathan felt like it he could have literally just stood there and let Armsmaster hack away at him all day long and then if Scion hadn’t shown up and Flechette wasn’t still combat effective at midnight Leviathan sinks Brockton Bay to the bottom of the ocean and kills everyone just like he did at Kyushu.

        The first person to realize this was probably Lung; he charged way way up, became even bigger than Leviathan, rushed right on in and started wrestling him, and he was winning and he kept winning and Leviathan couldn’t match his strength, but that did not matter. Kyushu sank beneath the waves, every other Parahuman died or was forced to withdraw, and with no audience Lung’s power weakened.

        So that is why Lung, who is always eager to fight and confident he can win, just ignored every request to join the call list for Endbringer fights. He learned that the Endbringers cannot be defeated by parahumans. That’s not quite true because Foil or String Theory’s Firmament Driver or Phir Se’s “Time Bomb” can do enough damage to an Endbringer to destroy their core, but when the Simurgh touched down in Switzerland it became impossible to arrange a situation where any of those three would succeed. Phir Se was a pretty big threat, so the likely motive for the New Delhi attack was that Behemoth’s Dynakinesis would let him tank a direct hit and keep going to kill Phir Se. Which it did; even with Weaver figuring this out and making sure Behemoth took as many different kinds of attack as possible (it seemed kinda like the more kinds of energy he’s redirecting the less efficiently he does so; don’t think that’s specified but it was my impression based on how effective various tactics were) Behemoth survived and was able to continue on to kill Phir Se; he was killed by a tremor at some point between his blast and Scion’s kill.

        As for March, she’s maybe Bonesaw tier now that she’s upgraded, but she’s a Thinker, not a Tinker. If she wants to elude Breakthrough indefinitely she does something complicated and clever and then she’s chilling staring at her very tastefully arranged fucked up stalker shrine to Foil while Breakthrough is slowly realizing that she never did actually board a plane bound for Antarctica in week three of combing the snow fields. That’s what Thinkers do.

  12. So, Wildbow’s next story is going to be a sad french story about “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” characters and the theme of homelessness? I can get down with it. Can’t wait for the next chapter of Team Screwloose vs Pirate-Detective-Air siren-Ex-mom.

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