Polarize – 10.8

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We were on a villain’s turf and I was getting a sense of what that meant, as I marked face after face that now seemed serious and focused enough that they seemed to grasp what was going on.

A pair of officers in uniform had been keeping the peace in the place, patrolling and watching out for trouble, telling the occasional person to go outside to smoke, or grilling twenty-somethings about what they were drinking.  Now, for lack of a better way of putting it, they were standing guard, both a set distance from Love Lost’s meeting with the anti-parahuman guys.

They weren’t watching Love Lost, but they were watching the anti-parahuman group.  One stood in the middle of a walkway, which meant that a group of people who were getting up from a table had to walk the long way around, instead of cutting right past the talk in progress.

There were others I was less sure about.  A pair of people like the guy who’d butted in and asked about ‘Blood Atoll’ were milling around now, with an aura like they owned the place… or like they were working for the person who did.

“In the game we were playing,” Rain said.  “I don’t think we got to it, but there’s a second stage, right?  The monster?”

“We talked about it briefly,” I said.  “I didn’t pick up on all of it.  I figured I’d learn by doing, or let you guys do it.”

“I was always more of the gamer,” Sveta said.

I nodded.

“We’re managing our little town, nine by nine grid, then the monster strikes,” Rain explained.  Even wearing a projection, his expression was problematically serious.  He glanced at Love Lost, emphasizing what he was talking about.  I worried that she would see him and see something in that expression.  Fortunately, she sat so we were two couches away, her left shoulder pointed at us, her face only visible from the side.  She sat so her platform heel was propped up on the table’s edge.

“Sure.  The monster,” I said.

“We have to account for where the monster was, and where it was poised to act.”

“While K gets an obnoxious number of points,” Sveta said.  “Elbow him for me.”

I elbowed Rain.  He looked at Sveta, who was smiling a bit, and forced a smile onto his own face, the projected image translating it.

“Accounting for things like, say, the monster having its claw around the station?”

“Yeah?” Rain asked.

With my eyes, I indicated the pair of officers.

Beside me, Sveta reached for a chip.  She took one in her fingers, and in the course of moving her hand toward her mouth, accidentally snapped it in two, the pieces landing in my lap.

I picked up the larger fragments of chip, popping one into my mouth.

“Hey.”

I held up the other half of the broken chip between two fingers, while Rain took over at the laptop, nudging my hand aside so he could do his thing.

“Give,” Sveta said.

I popped the half of chip into her mouth.

“Thank you.”

“Station in its clutches.  Right.  That’s… a danger.  Lots of points to be lost,” Rain said.

“Already lost points, as I see it,” I answered.  “Foregone conclusion, before we even started playing today.”

Rain’s knee bobbed up and down.  “I might need to take a walk soon, get some air.”

Which translated to him potentially needing to make a run for it.  Though if it came to that, I wasn’t sure he really had any good options.  Sveta and I were mobile.  Tristan, Ashley, and Kenzie were closer to an escape route.  Rain, though?  We’d have to cover for Rain.

“If you go, we’ll watch your stuff,” I murmured.  I leaned back, shifting the chips over so they sat between Sveta and me.  “Make sure you’re covered.”

“Thanks,” Rain said.

So much of this was hidden behind veneers and translations.  The signals we were using, the language, the false faces.

Nailbiter, roving and investigating as she roved, wandered off to one side, where she joined a group of the tent city thugs.  I didn’t really have a better term for them – the people who’d been in the tent cities for long enough that they’d seemed to adapt to the new environments.  Almost like homeless people, almost like survivalists, but with a mean edge.

She seemed to know them, and after speaking with them for ten or twenty seconds, they got up and started fanning out, searching.

Love Lost looked very relaxed, her coat removed and folded over the back of the couch, while she talked with anti-parahuman people at the next couch over.  It was clear they weren’t very keen on her, but they weren’t cussing at her or acting on their apparent dislike.  What they were feeling seemed to stop at frowns and perpetual scowls.

Above, Kenzie, Ashley, and Tristan were talking, while leaning over the railing.  They were doing their own surveillance.

“Where did we leave off before the game ran out of battery?” I asked.  “Monster due to arrive?”

“Arrived just as,” Rain said.

“Station in its clutches, and… house in clutches.”

“Yep,” he said.  “You nailed it.”

He’d watched what Nailbiter was doing too.  Good.

What else was there?  There were other icons for other fixtures of the area.  A town hall, drawn like an old Washington capitol building, flag above it?  I had to assume it was co-opted, but it wasn’t relevant here.  A hospital?  No medical needs.

Business?  Not here.  But I saw a couple of the library’s staff at the fringes, standing by the public access computers, watching the lounge and the active meeting more than they were watching the library.  A matter of fifteen or so feet from our couch, I could see one burly guy with a shaved head, folded arms, tattoos, and a librarian’s apron on.  I wasn’t sure why the library staff had aprons, exactly, but it was so.  The guy looked very menacing while wearing a denim-blue apron with a book embossed on the chest, a small notebook in the pocket.

Standing guard, like the police were doing.  There hadn’t been any apparent communication.

“Business?” I asked.

“Is there business in that quadrant?”

“I dunno.  Maybe a bookstore?” I asked.

“Yeah.  I get you now.  I wouldn’t be surprised.  Question is… what do you do if things have gone that far?  Panic?”

“Stay out of our game monster’s way,” Sveta said.

“AKA: panic,” Rain said.

“Staying out of the way is prudent, not panic,” I said.  “Panic is dangerous in its own right, and it leads to mistakes.”

“Yeah,” Rain said.

Nailbiter’s squad of tent city thugs were still making their way across the floor.  One walked down the aisle beside us, and I tried to act nonchalant.  Rain and Sveta seemed to do okay too, because the guy passed by without incident.

Across the lounge, past a sea of couches shaped like quarter-arcs and quarter-circle tables, I saw Nailbiter continuing her own investigation.  A teenager had her hand over her head, drawing out a line with an extended finger.

Talking about Sveta’s whip.

They had to know we were here, now.

The discussion was ongoing, and we didn’t have ears on it.  We had no surveillance tech that really sufficed, now, no camera overhead that could detect sound waves or however the ‘sound camera’ worked.  We had to operate by context, reading body language while trying not to look too obvious.

The problem was, Love Lost seemed utterly unbothered.  Cool, calm, collected.  Steely, even.  I could look at the apparent leader or negotiator of the anti-parahuman group, a woman with very black eyebrows, blonde cornrows at either side of her head and a thicker braid along the top, and I could see her frustration, but without a good read on Love Lost, I was only seeing one side of the conversation.

Seeing Love Lost just as frustrated would suggest they weren’t finding a common ground.  Seeing her possessed of her usual calm would have suggested she had the upper hand in whatever they were negotiating.

There was something in this situation that made me envision the situation at the time I’d left Brockton Bay.  A feral lunatic at the fringes, driving her dogs to attack civilians.  Others seizing their own territories, capturing the locals, capturing the police, capturing businesses.

I’d been fighting to correct that.  I’d had a lot of issues, then.  The pain of losing Dean, of losing Uncle Neil and Eric.  Dad being sick.  I’d been a little brute of a Brute-class cape, and I wasn’t sure if any of those things had been on their way to getting better.  But my city had been changing around me, and before I could do anything about it, the Slaughterhouse Nine had appeared.

This?  It reminded me of that scenario.  The slow, subtle capture happening behind the scenes.  Being on a villain’s turf and getting a dawning sense of what that meant.

I got my phone out and typed a message to Shortcut and Spright, keeping an eye out to make sure nobody was looking over my shoulder.

Me:
She’s on scene here.  Meeting with another group, all unpowered.  Our cameras and some of our communications are out.  She knows we’re here.  Has pawns in police, civvies, and library as guards or underlings.  Two of her capes at her HQ, one in parking lot.  Others in our area.  Stand by.

I showed Sveta, then Rain.  I got a nod of confirmation, then sent it.

Love Lost was reacting to something.  She shook her head, then put her arms out, draping them along the back of the couch.  With her coat off, she wore a long-sleeved sweater, and I could see the equipment along her arms, beneath the sleeves.  It looked like the blonde braid-cornrow woman did too.  Her head rested against the back of the couch for a moment, and she looked up.

Tristan, Kenzie, and Ashley were doing their best to look nonchalant.  Love Lost didn’t seem to pick up on anything, turning her attention to Colt instead.

Colt sat on the corner of the couch, one foot on the ground.  She was doing the talking, but with her position relative to ours, and the fact the couch was a quarter-circle in shape, her back was to us.  I could only hope the others were following what she was doing.

Love Lost turned her head the other way, apparently distracted, and looked at Nailbiter.  The outstretched hand to her right moved, fingers curling like she was making a claw-shape with each, simultaneously cracking her knuckles.

Or making a beckoning gesture.

“She saw them,” I said.

“Did she?” Sveta asked.

I looked up at the group.  Tristan looked down at me, and I opened my eyes wider.

A second later, Tristan, Ashley, and Kenzie were stepping away from the railing, heading down the corridor to the other half of the building.

“We should go,” Rain said.

“Don’t hurry or look rushed,” I said.

Rain nodded.

We packed up our stuff, getting our coats on- only Sveta didn’t have to, because she hadn’t taken her quilted-pattern long coat off before sitting down.

There were police, civilians, and business owners keeping an eye out for trouble.  A good number of them were watching us, as Nailbiter reached Love Lost’s couch.

I wasn’t sure if Love Lost said something or if some other signal was transmitted.  If it was a statement, it was one or two words.  Nailbiter stood straighter, made a gesture, and then stalked off in the direction of the ground-floor corridor to the other side of the Lyme Center.

Tristan’s group on the second floor, passing through the center of the hourglass-shaped building.  Nailbiter and her growing collection of people a floor below, a few steps behind.  If the layout on the far side was like the layout on our side, then this group could and would easily intercept the others as they reached the bottom of any staircase.

I used my phone to send a warning to Tristan:

Me:
Inc.

I got my reply:

Tristan:
go

Go, not come?

Okay.

Nobody was coming after us as we headed to the door.  It seemed like a lot of the people who were undercover henchmen for Love Lost were responding to the threat, giving chase to the other half of our group.

“Are we meeting up with the others?” Sveta asked, managing to sound ninety-five percent casual.

“They’ll catch up,” I said.  “They’ll send a message if they need it.”

I wished I could be more sure.  I wished it was easier to wrap my head around just what we were dealing with here.  I’d compared it to the situation in Brockton Bay, but was this more of a Hellhound thing, where people were in danger, being controlled by fear?  A Regent thing, where the villain backed up local infrastructure because he benefited from it, but was otherwise as much a player in conflict and strife as any interloper?

A ‘Tattletale’ thing, where drugs and crime had been treated like hunters being handed out hunting licenses?  X allowed per week in her territory during the warlord phase?  X in Brockton Bay and New Brockton, after things had settled?  Technically not as bad as we’d once had, but worse in so many other ways, because it represented giving up on better?  Halving the number of overdoses, but then giving up on reducing it further, because changing things meant having to work past her artificial rule of law, or waiting for a villain with too much on her plate to find the time to talk about it and implement the changes?

Hearing anecdotes and seeing evidence that the crime rate was slowly getting worse, that drugs were more and more of a thing, and wondering if she was losing her handle on it all or if it was intentional on her part.  Wondering and not being able to ever know for certain.

Things couldn’t work that way.

Love Lost… I had no idea where she fit on the spectrum, but I detested so much of what Tattletale represented, and I had a hard time believing Love Lost would be any better.  Ex-law enforcement or no.

The air was cold as we exited Lyme Center and emerged into the parking lot.  Nobody followed, nobody seemed to pay us much mind.  It was Tristan, Kenzie, and Ashley who were evading Nailbiter right now.

“We’ll distract,” I said.  “See if we can’t pull some attention away from the others, or make them lose out if they don’t.”

“What’s the strategy?” Rain asked.

“I’m thinking… the moment there was trouble, they probably made a call to Disjoint and Sidepiece.  Probably a few others.”

“Not Kitchen Sink or Hookline,” Rain said.  “They’re on Love Lost’s shitlist right now, going after a kid.”

“I’m going to put Spright and Shortcut on Sidepiece.  Us?  Let’s look for that truck they were driving, with the tinker gun on it.”

“I like that.  Fan out and find it?  Covered truck?” Sveta asked.

“Yeah,” I said, drawing my phone out of my pocket.  Beside me, Sveta motioned, and Rain nodded.

Signals exchanged, Sveta headed left.  Rain headed right.

The parking lot was dirt, the individual spaces marked out with lines of yellow-painted stones, some of which had been kicked around or moved by the passage of tires.  With the ice and the snow, the dirt was hard, and as packed as it had been, it had still been disturbed, then left to freeze disturbed.  Every step was a hazard for the ankles.  It slowed Sveta down in a visible way.  Rain had a slight benefit from his power to steady himself.

I had my flying, but I couldn’t be too obvious.  I waited for a car to pull out of a space, before I resumed walking, my flight only partially on, keeping my step lighter.

Me:
Villain reinforce probably approaching Lyme Center from 1:00/NNE
Disjoint guy, white, skinny disconnects and teleports body parts
Sidepiece, girl, white, curvy, hurls explosive chunks of her flesh.  V. dangerous.
May be driving patchwork hatchback or walking.

No messages from Tristan’s group yet.

I got my reply from our reinforcements:

AG:
We know who they are what they do

That would be Shortcut, presumably.

I focused on looking for the tinker.  He’d blasted our camera.  A gun that big couldn’t be easy to put together.  It was a weakness of tinkers, that they could lose their stuff and they’d be that much weaker.  Things got broken.  There was wear and tear.  There was a need for upkeep.

Kenzie’s current status emphasized that much.  So capable, but so capable of being knocked down a few pegs, with an arduous recovery if she was.

I heard a whistle.

Yeah.  A large truck, with a covered back?  Easy to spot.  It hadn’t taken long.

Sveta and I found Rain.  And we rounded a group of cars that had been parked haphazardly, where yellow stones had been partially buried by early snowfall.  The truck had been parked at the back of the lot.  The tinker was inside the cab, letting the engine run, presumably to stay warm.

“I’m thinking… let’s not give him a chance to reach for any weapons,” I murmured.  “You deal with Tinkers by denying them access to their stuff.”

“I could pull him out through the window,” Sveta said.  “I don’t want to cut him up though.  Sorry.”

“Car windows don’t break like that,” Rain said.  “But they don’t break that easily if you punch them or hit them with a baseball bat, either.  Let me set up, you follow up.  One two punch.”

“One two three,” I said.  “Let me get in position, then we go.”

That got me a pair of nods.

I hurried forward, ducking down beside a car.  I looked back in the direction of the Lyme Center, worrying a bit about the others.

We’d trust them for now.

I gave the other two a nod.

Rain created a silver crescent, holding it in his hands.  He was far enough back that I couldn’t hear him, but I saw him mouthing the words.

He flung the blade.  It slammed into the door of the truck, drawing out a glowing silver line.

In the dark, Sveta’s hands were hard to see.  One seized the car door, tugging.  The other followed a second later, reaching through the gap in the same second it appeared.

The guy had his seatbelt on, and that delayed things for a second.  I saw him scrabble, reaching for something.  Then Sveta had him, tugging him away and beneath the seatbelt- his feet got caught and he slipped back, head moving in the direction of the ground, while his feet were on and near the seat.

She got another hand on him, and when she tugged on him this time, he moved at a velocity that kept his head from scraping against frozen dirt.

I was there to catch him.  My aura blasted him while he was in transit.  I was ready to slap or catch a weapon out of his hands, but he was unarmed.

Sveta pulled him close, her feet skidded on hard, icy ground, and she nearly toppled, taking the guy to the ground with her.  Rain caught her, his body behind hers, then produced a silver blade, holding it to the guy’s throat.

The flannel shirt tinker wore a mask, soft fabric, bright blue lenses, a spike extending over his head.  The fabric stopped where his facial hair began, but the look just really didn’t work.  It rarely did, unless the beard was magnificent.

I could see him huffing for breath.  The emotion blast had been to put him more off balance, and to mess up his coordination in case he had a weapon as Sveta pulled him close.

I left them to it and headed to the truck.

“Be careful of traps,” Rain called out to me.

“Will do,” I said.  “Thanks.  Costumes on.”

I double-tapped the sun badge I wore.  The projection around me fell away.  I pulled my two segments of breastplate from my bag, where they protected my laptop, and set them in place.

Behind me, Sveta had dropped the human shape, and wore a mask.  Rain had donned his circuitboard mask.

I hoped the other group was doing okay.

The truck still hummed with activity, the heaters blasting out warm air that steamed up the windows.

There were a bag fast food, a cell phone, and a sketchbook on the divider between the seats, and what looked like a laser rifle was resting with its butt-end on the floor in front of the passenger seat, the length resting against the seat itself.  The weapon he’d been reaching for.

No apparent traps, no wires, no ominous noises.  I reached for the cell phone and picked it up.  No trap, no shock.

The phone was at the lock screen.  The sketchpad- I flipped through.  Tinker notes.

I could confiscate that.  Set him back a bit.  If he wanted to work with villains, especially villains who’d been noted for hurting people?  Killing?  He could lose some ground, suffer a bit for it.

I walked around the truck, heading for the covered back.  Let’s see this gun.

I didn’t get that far.  I heard a strained grunt, and I turned around.

Rain had collapsed, and Sveta had caught him.

The tinker’s right arm had a band around it, encircling the bicep.  Everything past the band was electricity, in the rough shape of a human limb.

I flew to them.

He reached out with the electric arm, touching Sveta.  I saw Rain jerk, while Sveta seemed to endure it.

“Doesn’t work!” she grunted out the words through clenched teeth.  She let Rain slump to the ground and reached out, catching the guy by the one still-human wrist.

A metal band flared at his left arm, the electricity melting the fabric of his coat around the ring, and taking the sleeve with it, as arm became more electricity.  Her hand slipped away.

Immediately, she was reaching again.  This time seizing him by the neck.

He had a collar on.  As the collar flared, his head dissolved into a localized storm of electricity, the ‘forks’ of electricity serving as hair, something flatter and more interconnected for the mask.  Where the lenses had been a bold electric blue before, they were now two dark ovals against the backdrop of frothing energy.

Where energy arced from one of the rings to the other, it traced lines across his body and turned flesh to this alternate state.

Using tech to go breaker.

A shame that his head was breaker-state, because this time, me using my aura didn’t even make him flinch.

I brought out the Wretch, as he ducked around me.  His arms were longer like this, and as he swung one in my general direction, he came into contact with the Wretch.

I saw sparks and arcs highlight the Wretch’s general shape, just for an instant.  I saw him see it.

He reached out, checking the coast was clear, and again, came into contact with an outstretched arm of the Wretch.  Again, highlighting its shape, and that it had moved.

His belt flashed, electricity crackling in a ring around his midsection.  Then his legs were gone- he was a torso with a head of electricity, two lash-like limbs, and a tail of lightning, floating in the air.  The electricity that crackled along his chest and stomach left flesh temporarily phased out in its wake.  I could see veins against a backdrop of bright lights tracing similar forking lines.  I could see raw, red flesh where the ethereal lightning form cut through physical meat.

He changed direction instead of trying to go through me and toward the Lyme Center.  His movements were more unpredictable now, faster.  He didn’t fly or teleport, but arced, bouncing off of a car, then lunging toward his own vehicle.  I flew after, Wretch up.

Heading for his big gun?

For the gun in the passenger seat?

He chose the latter, lunging toward the open truck door.  His movements stuttered, as he darted fifteen to fifty feet ahead, stopped, reoriented himself, then lunged forward again.

It took three such movements to get himself to the truck.  Faster as an energy breaker than I was as a flier.

With lightning hands, he held his laser rifle.  He twisted around, weapon in his arms-

A silver blade flew past him.  Rain’s crescent of light didn’t touch the arm of energy.  It did cross the body of the weapon.

The guy aimed at me, then fired.

Sparks showered, geysering out through the line of silver.  Lightning jumped out, wild and white, tracing along the ground with no apparent rhyme or reason.

Rain was still on the ground, but he was already creating his next silver blade, ready to throw it if needed.  The tinker threw his broken rifle aside, then headed directly for the Center.  I flew to intercept, and he threw himself at the ground, bouncing off of a frozen puddle and toward the same block of cars we’d used for cover.

I positioned myself to keep him from going over, ready to move to either side if he tried to go around.

He went through.  I could see the arcs of energy crackling around the bones of the car he slammed into, as he conducted himself through it.  He leaped out and into the next car, chaining his way through.

“Sveta!” I called out.

He emerged from the far end of the block, stopping to orient himself again, looking around.  He turned to stare at me with those black ovals, then darted for the cars nearest the front door of the Center, Sveta hot on his heels.

She was faster for short distances and when traveling where there were handholds.  In this environment, though, I could see how she was regularly going for a grip on something and slipping off, or taking a second longer to slide to a stop and be able to reach out again.

Even with that, she was faster than me.  She collided with him, and even though he was ninety percent energy, he reacted, conducting along her metal body, and he sprawled with her.

He was faster to recover.  No arms and legs to manage.

“Anything that conducts!” I shouted.

Which would hamper and slow him down, but didn’t stop him from making progress.

“Tress!” Rain hollered her name.  “Here!”

Having to stop and reach for whatever he was offering or throwing her way slowed her down.  I passed her, chasing the guy down.

With Sveta’s extended arms and what looked like folded metal blades in each hand, Sveta made the tinker’s form distend, stretching out as it automatically clung to the metal, then snapped back in a way that seemed difficult for him.

He twisted around, using his lighting hands to seize the blades.  The pair engaged in a brief tug-of-war, which I interrupted by diving at him, Wretch active.  He flashed in the instant before I made contact.

The Wretch’s hands and feet stabbed into the earth, cracking the frozen ground.

He’d darted away, letting go of the blades.  Sveta swung again, and he dodged, moving further away.

Further away, but still making incremental progress toward the front doors.  The truck had been parked in the far corner of the parking lot, as large as the parking lot of any mall I’d been to, and he was four-fifths of the way to his destination.  There was a real risk that Love Lost would see the flashes or hear the noise and respond.

The primary danger, though, was that if he feinted one way and moved another, it might mean he could reach the doors and pass through, surrounding himself with a few hundred hostages, and a dozen more escape routes.

He was functionally a breaker, and I had a limited sense of what worked and didn’t work for breakers.    I’d met and talked with Velocity, and I’d met and talked with Shadow Stalker.  I’d read up on others.

He was also a tinker, and I had some idea of the tools that served against tinkers.  Not that I’d fought many before Gold Morning.  Leet and Bakuda, really, and Bakuda only in that I’d been trying to evacuate people from a series of tinker bombs going off.  She had been nowhere nearby.

Still, the others needed the distraction.

Sveta caught him, swinging the blades through his electric body.  It bought me a few seconds to look, as I flew down, putting myself between the tinker and the cars.

Cars- I couldn’t use them as weapons.  Because destroying people’s property in a lower-stakes encounter like this would do more harm than good, because I wouldn’t hit him anyway.  He was too fast, too on guard for it.

The road was dirt, but dirt wasn’t useful.

The building itself?  No.  If things got that far, he was out of reach.

I could see the artificial speed bump in the road.  A hump of dirt, painted yellow.

My eye fixed on that.  Yellow paint where the dirt sloped up against sidewalk, to mark the rise, to let people know to watch their step, and-

I retreated, flying over the cars.  The tinker broke away from Sveta, saw me heading one way, and started to take the long way around, the front door in his sights.

I dove for the ground, and I had the Wretch dig its hands into the earth.  I couldn’t rely on it to do as I wanted, but I could do something else.  Faced with a second me that reached out and lashed out mindlessly, I could deny it, I could allow it to work…

Or I could at least make it lash out in a predictable way.  I could lean on the fact that the Wretch outlasted a sustained hurt better than it outlasted a sudden, sharp kind of hurt.

I spun.  Each outstretched arm swiped at the earth.  A sustained battering, spread out across the Wretch’s limbs.

I carved my way a few feet into the ground near the speed bump, drove my hand into the fissure that cracked the hard earth there, and found my prize.

The tinker had escaped Sveta, and he had escaped Rain.  He found his orientation, and he lunged.

I lunged too.  Wretch active, I tore the flexible pipe out of the ground, flying along it, so the Wretch skimmed along its length, raising it up.   The hump wasn’t just a speed bump, but earth covering the pipe that had been set in a shallow trench and then covered.  Water or power to the Lyme Center.

A tripwire for my quarry.

The tinker grazed the pipe, and the tinker conducted across it, stretching out ten or fifteen feet to the left, and an equal distance to the right.  I knew Shadow Stalker had trouble with electricity running through walls, with rain and even things as simple as smoke thick in the air.  I knew Velocity had his own issues, a reduced ability to affect the world, to the point that mundane obstacles and barriers like closed doors could hamper him.  Other breakers had their difficulties.  The uncommon hazards.

I dropped the Wretch, which let me easily drop the pipe.  While he was disoriented, I was free to fly in.  I smacked into his midpoint, and the Wretch helped to scatter him again.

Inside the building, the power flickered and died.  All was black for a long moment, the only real light was cast by the tinker.

I reached out and the Wretch found a grip at one of the arm-rings.  I let the Wretch break it, and the tinker’s arm snapped back into reality, with ripple effects of real-self tinker appearing across his body.

He dropped to his knees, in apparent surrender.  I remained stock still.

“We should go!” Sveta called out.  “Rain’s already going!”

To my left, the lights were coming back on.  A backup generator had come on, or the break in power had been a temporary disruption in the line more than an outright shutdown.  I could see Love Lost on her feet.  The claws had dropped out of one of her sleeves, a wire and rod framework that tipped each finger with a two-inch claw.  Her other hand was pressing the mouthgear down over the lower half of her face.

We should go.

It was good that Rain was getting out of here.  It was harder for him to move.

We backtracked, moving faster than Love Lost could easily chase.  Back to the truck, where the engine was still running.  Rain was approaching it.

Byron, Swansong and Lookout were there.  Lookout was in costume, and wore a jacket and pads along her legs, along with her bodysuit.  Swansong looked like she should be cold, but wasn’t.

“Love Lost is coming,” I said.

“We outnumber her,” Ashley said.

“Not if she has half this settlement working for her,” I said.  “Let’s disable the gun and regroup.”

“I can blast it,” Rain said.  “Except it could blow up, apparently.”

“Let me,” Lookout said.  “A gun like this has to have targeting, and I can work with targeting.”

“I have tinker notes,” I said.

“Give it to Rain.  Let him look.  I’ll fiddle.”

“You have forty-five seconds,” I said.

“Got it!”

Swansong lifted her up onto the truck bed.

I turned to Byron.  “You guys good?”

“We ducked into a store.  My brother swapped out for me, Swansong and Lookout switched looks, since they’re wearing the disguise pendants.  Nailbiter passed right by us.  Trick was getting out without looking suspicious.”

“Good,” I said.

“Tristan’s idea,” he said.  “Electricity tinker?”

“Something like that.”

“Lookout!” Rain said.  “Found the pages.  Here’s targeting.”

She reached down as he reached up, passing her the book.

A glowing screen illuminated the pane of her helmet as she leaned over it.

“We’re good!” she declared.  “But this isn’t our last stop.”

“We can’t dawdle,” Swansong said.

“Remember what I said about guns?” Lookout asked.

“Guns?” I asked.

“Come on!”

We hurried in the direction she’d pointed.

“I think I got a read on what they were saying,” Lookout said.  “On the surface, this was a weapons deal.  They’re providing Love Lost’s group with guns and other weapons.  She’s supposed to help them when they demand it.  Any target they name.  If Love Lost wins, then it’s good.  If she loses, then it’s another cape out of the picture.  Right?”

“Makes some sense,” I said.  “I’d have a hard time believing that’s the full picture.”

“They were getting pissy because she was saying some targets were off limits.  Well, she wasn’t saying much of anything.”

“Colt was,” Ashley said.

“Yeah,” Lookout said.  She huffed for breath.  She wasn’t out of shape, but she wasn’t a runner either, and we were far enough out at the edges of the parking lot that the lot hadn’t been fully cleared of snow or debris.  Just a little more effort for those putting boot to muck, especially when she had shorter legs.

Sveta, at least, seemed to be doing okay.  She was still holding the two folded bits of metal.

I checked to see if the coast was clear, and I saw Love Lost.  She stood on the hood of a car, back straight, hair and coat moving in the wind.  Not chasing, not using her power.  Just staring.

No Nailbiter at her side.  Her tinker was a little worse for wear, and her reinforcements hadn’t yet arrived.

“Here!  These sedans,” Lookout said.

A person stepped out from between the cars, hand at his waist, reaching for a gun.

He saw the size of our group, and he raised both his hands instead of drawing his weapon.

“You’re with them?” I asked.

“Fuck you,” he said.

He’s with them.

Byron took the guy by the shoulder, leading him to the side, where he was made to kneel on the frozen ground, hands at his side.  Byron divested the guy of his weapons.  A knife and a gun.

“How did you know it was these?” I asked Lookout.

“Because I was keeping an eye out for trouble using the Center’s surveillance before it all went hinky.  We saw the anti parahuman dorks show up, except we didn’t know it was them then.  These are their cars.”

“Tail ends are low to the ground,” Rain said.  “Heavy weight in the rears.  Did they bring the weapons with?”

“Fuck you,” the guy said.

“If you’re going to be mad, be mad at yourselves,” Swansong said.  “Your laziness.”

“That’s a good eye, Precipice,” Byron said.  “Can we check?  Tear it open, Vic?”

“No, don’t break it.  You could damage the contents,” Swansong said.  “Sveta.  Pick it.”

“I don’t know how to pick locks.”

“Do you know what raking is?  You should be capable.”

Sveta frowned.

“Come.  I’ll show you.”

In the distance, Love Lost only watched.  I saw her clench her claw.  Nailbiter had appeared, standing behind her, and I saw the electric flicker around the tinker, who was wholly human again.  It was broken gear that was crackling.

They didn’t attack or approach.

“This is the cheap and dirty way of opening a lock,” Swansong said.  “You want to jostle the pins.  Go back and forth, as soon as you feel them, pop them up.  Keep pressure so the lock is turning-”

“Already doing that,” Sveta said.  her hand was removed, and tendrils were groping at and around the lock.  “I have to use my smallest tendrils, which are also the shortest, which is awkward-”

The trunk popped open.  I saw the surprise on Sveta’s face.

Inside, packed in cases with foam inserts separating them, rows of weapons.  Not Gimel or Bet weapons, at a glance, or at least, not from any country I was aware of.  The script was blocky, and it looked like it had been stamped on.

“Taking photos,” Lookout said, tapping the side of her helmet.

“How did you know how to lockpick?” Byron asked, quiet.  “You couldn’t when you were a villain.”

“I study,” Swansong said.  “It’s the kind of thing I watch before bed.”

“It’s cool,” Sveta said, and her smile seemed genuine.  “It’s neat to know I can do that.  Thank you.”

“Mm hmm.”

The enmity, the frustration- it didn’t seem as bad now.  It helped to have other focuses.  Three nondescript cars with trunks packed with munitions, instead of jealous relationships.

I picked out some samples- things we could show others, as well as a slip of paper and a lid.  I held all three.

I met Swansong’s eyes.  I jerked my head a hair toward the trunk.

Everyone stepped back as she reached forward.  Her power licked out, and it bucked and kicked, flaring to its full range as it twisted, tore, and annihilated everything in the car from back windshield to bumper, including some of the rear tires.

She did the same for the other two cars.  We opened each, and then we destroyed the contents.

When I looked back, Love Lost and her retinue were gone.

“She’s gone,” Byron observed.

“No,” Rain said.  “It’s not over.  She wouldn’t leave things the way they are now.  Her losing, especially to me.

“There’s something more going on,” I said.  “Something she’s doing, people she’s working with.”

“Yeah, probably,” Rain said.  “But I’m more concerned that she’s so willing to back off now.  She wouldn’t back off.  Not unless she was absolutely sure she could do something meaningful soon.”

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75 thoughts on “Polarize – 10.8”

  1. Wow the anti-parahuman people did not wait long at all to sell out all their principles to become gun-runners for Love Lost, huh. I wonder which world they’re getting the guns from? Cheit is the obvious answer but it’d be neat to get a look at one of the others.

    1. In WB’s works as IRL, prejudiced people are easily led around by those who don’t care about their prejudice but really value their potential brutality.

      I worry that electric breaker tinker man was specifically invited to do something clusterific to Precipice, and that perhaps during their fight he already did it. That would be a reason for LL to be more patient than usual.

    2. The problem is if you want to show parahumans doing massive damage, or get rid of a parahuman who is proof your ideology is wrong or has holes, the only real way to do it is to get parahumans to do it, or use parahumans to kill parahumans. Sveta, for example, won’t fall to a gun. Nor will Nailbiter. Antares might survive the first shot, the second would be trickier. That Tinker won’t be shot easily, either.

      There’s two whole classes of parahuman who are hard to defeat with guns- Brutes and Breakers- and plenty of others outside those groups who are hard to shoot. Narwhal, for example; her Shaker forcefileds protect her. Tecton’s power armour. Clockblocker’s time-stopped costume. And if you don’t go after parahumans in costume and using their powers, after you kill them people only have your word they were a parahuman.

      1. I think it very much depends on a situation. Most Breakers and at least some Brutes (including Victoria for examle) can be killed with just a single bullet if they don’t expect an attack. Few capes are bulletproof or have other defenses that matter (like denger sense) on all the time.

        The problem is for the gunner to survive if the cape in question has friends. It is probably why most parahumans operate in teams. Guns generaly don’t do much against most parahumans who expect to be shot at – applies to regular humans too to some extent, but since parahumans tend to live lifes full of conflict, they think of ways of dealing with most common methods of attack, and even with powers around guns are still among the most common.

        If anti-parahuman guys need Love Lost for something, then they either expect to be attacked, or want to go after a large group which can’t be reliably be taken down all at once, or they want to go after one of the very few capes who can counter a hidden sniper or never leaves a well protected safehouse, bunker or something along those lines.

        1. Alternatively they arrange attacks by Love Lost on regular people or groups to increase sympathy for the anti-parahuman movement.

          …actually, with Love Lost’s emotion power they COULD go after parahumans. Enrage them in populated areas and let them damage their own reputation by attacking civilians.

          1. Her power definitely fits as a tool for a terrorist organization focusing on causing indiscriminate damage (as opposed to going only after carefully selected individuals), and the anti-parahuman movement does not seem to be above such tactics.

    3. “Not Gimel or Bet weapons, at a glance, or at least, not from any country I was aware of. The script was blocky”

      I’m not sure where now but I thought it was mentioned that Cheit something like Hebrew for their text, which fits with their theocracy system. That would fit the “blocky”-ness description.

    1. They got samples and pictures and wanted to deny the weapons to either group. As a quick and dirty solution, it’s ideal.

    2. “Taking photos,” Lookout said, tapping the side of her helmet.
      I picked out some samples- things we could show others, as well as a slip of paper and a lid. I held all three.

      They kept evidence. They destroyed the weapons.

  2. I totally missed something and I’m not sure where. I thought Love Lost was effectively mute due to her power? When did that change?

  3. The sparky tinker can probably see or sense electricity, or at least his goggles probably do. So none of Lookout’s camo gear can get close.

    Hopefully he has really good battery tech that Lookout can reverse engineer from the notes and what she saw of his equipment.

      1. “Love Lost looked very relaxed, her coat removed and folded over the back of the couch, while she talked with anti-parahuman people at the next couch over.”

    1. She didn’t do any talking. She was negotiating, but it was mostly her sitting there looking kinda intimidating while Colt said what (I assume) she had been told to say. Maybe LL gestured a bit to get her point across and steer the conversation, but she didn’t actually talk.

      It does seem that she doesn’t need the mask to not scream, which I find a bit disappointing. It would’ve been interesting if she were forced to wear the mask at all times, and had to work around that as well as being mute. A cool character trait for her to have, and a cool extra little detail of her power.

    1. I think it was right the firt tme round ith Vicky admitting to herself that she had a bit thuggish as heroes go, in her youth. After all, she dragged Amy along to cover up her excesses like the guy that she threw against a dumpster and had to check that she ahdn’t killed him.

    2. “Disjoint guy, white, skinny disconnects and teleports body parts
      Sidepiece, girl, white, curvy, hurls explosive chunks of her flesh. V. dangerous.”
      The punctuation seems a bit inconsistent. Not sure if thats intended.

    3. “a bag fast food,”

      “work for breakers. I’d met”
      Extra spaces.

      “The tinker grazed the pipe, and the tinker conducted across it,”
      Repetition.

      “We saw the anti parahuman dorks”
      Missing hyphen.

    4. That was Victoria admitting that she was both kinds of brute. Earlier int he story she admits to herself that she’d been violent and impulsive as Glory Girl, acting mainly to stoke her own ego rather than out of a desire to help people.

  4. Good thing Kenzie took pictures of the evidence, could be helpful as defense if Love Lost goes for alternative avenues of attacking than straight up going after them and combating. Seems like she has some ulterior motive for letting them destroy everything. Makes me wonder why the anti-parahumans would team up with LL. Emotional manipulation? A heafty paycheck? Troubling either way.

    1. Kenzie’s photos are of somewhat limited use as evidence. They are for example rather useless in a court, as she can’t prove they are not falsified, especially since is not exactly a secret, that at least from technical standpoint such image manipulation would be trivial for Lookout to accomplish. The samples are a different storry. They work as proof that can be easily questioned, though if the guns can be linked to the owners likely depends on what’s on that slip of paper Victoria has picked up.

      The photos are also not needed to convince someone who does not need or require irrefutible proof to act, but why somebody like that wouldn’t just take Breakthrough’s word on it? Just saying that they saw more guns like the one they got should be just as good as saying that Kenzie’s pics are legit.

      Their only use I can see is if the contents of these photos are carefully analysed later, and someone notices some detail on them, that Breakthrough missed earlier. Of course Lookout’s skills are perfect for such analysis, so it still makes perfect sense to take them, just not for all of the usual reasons.

      1. People will question it anyway, especially the anti-humans and people from the interview. Doesn’t make it not true what it is. And I’m pretty sure Team Breakthrough will use the evidence to convince other teams to rally with them.

    2. “There were a bag fast food,”
      Was
. I get that there are more items in the sentence, but this is still incorrect.

  5. Vicky, talking about how you don’t trust other people to be in control after putting yourself in an administrative role isn’t doing wonders for your rep as Not A Dictator In The Making. Also, I’m sure that the decision that throwing around cars would cause too much property damage is totally compatible with tearing up a power line to a public building.

    I get that the circumstances were different, but still.

    1. It… Kinda is? Smashing up cars is a big deal; they’re expensive and still somewhat rare- rare enough that people aren’t replacing the ones they bodged together out of spares- plus you’re damaging whatever the thrown car hits. Ripping up a bit of dirt road and the electrical cable? Well, the cable’s still there and mostly in one piece. Call out an electrician or a tinker and it’s an hours job at the most.

    1. Let’s wait to see his end of the story before we pass our judgement. He may have his reasons. It is never simple with capes.

  6. This is another op where Tattletale’s involvement would have been beyond helpful.

    Seriously, put Tattletale on the couch instead of Victoria… or give her access to the game feed/fake sitcom and she would know everything about Love Lost’s operation within 4 seconds.

    Victoria: “Let’s start a villain surveillance and coordination operation.”

    Tattletale: “I have a decade of experience at this and it’s literally my superpower.”

    Victoria: “SCREW YOU!” *Proceeds to do a C- job at it*

    1. Yeah… If only you could trust her word or intentions she’d be perfect for the job.

      Unfortunately, she’s Tattletale.

      1. Also, what would it mean for team morale (not to mention Victoria’s position as a leader) if they had to look for this sort of external support for everything they do? Especially from a known villain who makes no secret from the fact that she is using them?

        1. There is also the fact, that Lisa is making terrible job of building trust, or at least appearing to be genuine. I know that her power and personality made it difficult from the start, but I get the feeling that the poor girl seems to have mostly given up on even trying to do it.

          1. I think she just gave up with Vicky. There’s too much history there, to the point that even the people that Vicky doesn’t distrust that could vouch for Lisa would only become untrustworthy in her eyes by saying that Tt isn’t literally Satan. In Vicky’s mind Lisa corrupts everyone that listens to her. Amy and Flechette were good guys, Parian was a rogue, and then Tt twisted them with her words, creating monsters where there was once goodness. You can’t reason with that.

          2. Sure, some things may have happened behind the scenes, but remember how many people we saw Tattletale with in her last scene in Worm. Does it look that anybody join that inner circle since then? Can Lisa have with those two what she had with Taylor? Let’s face it – Taylor set a high bar. It will be difficult for anybody to connect with Lisa at the same level and she knows it well.

            On the plus side in that same scene it is clear that those three have not given up on getting Taylor back yet.

      2. I feel like Tattletale post Slaughterhouse had a change of heart. She was still a warlord, but she dedicated herself to the cause of stopping Cauldron, saving Dinah, and stopping the end of the world.

        Post Golden Morning, she’s running things in New Brockton and trying to keep people to cops and robbers and preserving the peace.

        She doesn’t have goals inimical to Victoria’s.

        1. I think Tattletale’s change of heart was a slow, gradual thing, and it started to happen before Slaughterhouse Nine came to town. Remember, that she agreed to take down Coil and save Dinah shortly after the Leviathan battle, when she talked with Taylor near the monument dedicated to those, who died in that fight.

          On the other hand it took her a long time to start caring for other people without Taylor’s prodding, and it is still uncertain if she would a complete stranger in need at this point (as opposed to helping someone she already has some sort of ties with, or helping society in general – both of which she has done by this point), so as good as she is now in her own way, she may have not reached the idial of a good Samaritan, and she may not even want ever get to that point.

          And if she did, she would likely make sure nobody exept her closest friends knew about it. She has a reputation as a villain to keep after all.

          1. Tattletale was planning and preparing to take down Coil since the start of the story, before she ever met Taylor.

          2. Maybe, though I was under impression, that earlier Lisa just wanted to be free of Coil one way or the other. I may be wrong about it, but I’m under impression it was Taylor who made it about saving Dinah, and that made it necessary to fight against Coil instead of just trying to convince him (though to be fair – they did leave Coil an option to surrender Dinah, even if they knew he wouldn’t take it). Before Taylor’s intervention I’m pretty sure Lisa would be perfectly happy to just find a way to leave Coil herself, and not bother about anyone else, whose lives he has or would ruin.

          3. One more thing about what I think motivated Lisa to help save Dinah from Coil. Lisa didn’t do it for Dinah, or to be rid of Coil. She did it because she had a heroic friend, who at critical moment chose to remain loyal to their friends, rather then do the “heroic” thing, and sell the Undersiders to the Protectorate.

            At the same time that heroic friend remained heroic enough, that after she felt abandoned by both the heroes and the Undersiders, she chose to try to save Dinah alone, and even when Lisa explained her what Coils powers are, she still chose an almost certain suicide by Coil rather then abandoning Dinah.

            As much as Lisa felt guilty about Dinah didn’t do it to save her, she did it to save Taylor, because Taylor has proven bo be her friend first, and a hero second.

            I said Lisa went after Coil because of Taylor’s prodding, but it was obviously a great understatement. It was something more like an emotional blackmail. One that worked, and one that Taylor is not really guilty of, because she didn’t intend it to be a blackmail. It just turned out to be.

    2. Unfortunately, the Great and Powerful Tattletale is busy hiding under Matryoshka’s skirt right now, so we’ll just have to make due with Vicky and her motley crew.

  7. Here is another of my crackpot, tongue-in-cheek ideas. Victoria can’t help but become a benevolent dictator, and people like Shortcut will all come around and decide they either love her for it or completly hate her for it. Everyone will have strong emotions about her. She will end up with a big group of fiercely loyal followers, and a big group of just as fierce enemies.

    It has to do with how I think the powers may choose their people in the first place. Remember that some people seem to trigger only in certain kinds of situations and won’t trigger if you expose them to different kinds of stress no matter how strong.

    The idea is that the passengers don’t look only for the sort of stressful situation their chosen parahimans will keep tormenting themselves with. They also look for other personality traits and inclinations that the powers may reinforce. Those may be even hidden talents, that the parahumans in question are not even aware of yet. All that maters is that those personality traits somehow resonate with the powers, that after some prodding the character and skillset of the parahuman reflects their power and vice versa.

    Take Taylor as an example. She is a powerful, double triggered Master. Likely from the get go, even if her second power is completely shut down by Manton effect until Gold Morning. It is reflected in the fact, that she has a supreme talent for managing people, and solving problems through those people. She is not tied to a single management style. She can exert power from any position within an organization (from unquestioned leader of a villan group, who de facto run a city, to a convict who is given a not-quite leadership position of a small group of Wards within PRT-Protectorate-Wards complex – just look how with so little formal power she makes PRT and the Protectorate bigwigs do what she needs them to do, or at least not to get in the way of her plans). She knows how to work with people who love her (Undersiders later on), those who like her and trust her only to some extent (Chicago Wards), those who are unsure about her (Panacea), those who feel betrayed by her (Undersiders right after the Leviathan battle), those who fear her (PRT directors after Alexandria and Tagg’s deaths), and those who hate her guts (Bitch early on, Shadow Stalker near the end od Worm). She knows how to organize people, how to motivate them, how to make them better team players (Bitch again), how to delegate, how to ensure smooth transition of power if she needs to leave. And perhaps most of all she knows how to use people to succeed in whatever she is attempting to do.

    All things considered Taylor sounds like a powerful Master even without her powers, doesn’t she? If she pursues carrier in business, she will no doubt soon become a very successful CEO of a very prosperous company on Aleph.

    Now let’s see what Victoria’s powers tell us. She is a Brute in more just her power – as much as she wants to be a Warrior Monk, and as much as she want to de-escalate, she ends up charging head on into problems with all forces available to her that in her opinion can take a beating she expects them to take. Even when she tries a more subtle approach, it usually seems to be done to position her for a final brutal confrontation. The way she went after Love Lost just now in a great example. She is so much a Brute, that even her team is called Breakthrough (and yes – I am aware that there are more implications behind that name).

    As a flier she also understands importance of mobility (Mover) and having information adventage (pseudo-Thinker 1, remember?). What did she do with her hero coordination center? Enabled hero teams to work outside some restrictive “territories” – giving them mobility, and gave them access to information thy need. And this is just one example. Another would be how she is so focused on gathering and studying all available information about capes, to the point she even wanted to make an accademc carrier out of it! She also is always very aware of which of her teammates are free to move at the moment, and to what extent and makes her decisions with that in mind.

    Finaly we’ve got her aura. Which brings me bach to the begining of this post. To me it screams chrisma. The kind of charisma that brings either reverent sort of love or fearful sort of hatered. And Victoria seems to have this sort of charisma even without her power. How else would she bring someone as antisocial, self-centered, and prejudged against heroes as Ashley to like, respect and follow her so quickly? How else would someone so calm and calculating as Lisa fear Victoria so much that she would give her information for little more than spoken ensurance that she will not put Lisa or any of her people in some unpopulated world “if they do nothing to deserve it”. It is not rational to take something so weak for the info, unless Lisa already has plans to do something that is bound to make Victoria seek personal vengeance, and Lisa knows it would have to be something big, since she knows that despite all of her flows Victoria is one of the good guys at heart. Sounds like it is fear and not reason speking through Lisa this time.

    With this sort of charisma I think Victoria will grow to be a very polarising figure. Those who will be with her will be with her because they love her, or at least deeply respect her. Those who will be against her will fear and hate her. Few will remain indifferent about her. Sounds like a benelovent dictator? Sounds like an escalating character in an escalating story?

    Sounds simmilar to Taylor? It probably is, though with two key differences. People ended up doing what Taylor wanted them to do no matter what they thought or how they felt about her, while they will follow Victoria precisely because of how they feel about her. Taylor for all her inflexibility in which aims she chose to pursue, was quite flexible in how she used people to achieve those aims, while I expect Victoria’s methods to remain very much informed by Brute-flier-emotional-manipulator aspects of her personality, but she can possibly be a little more flexible when it comes to choosing aims.

    The only remaining question is about the assumption I made at the beggining. To what extent human’s personality determines what passenger they get, and to what extent the passengers influence parahuman’s personality. Between the fact, that certain people seem to trigger only in certain kinds of situation, and the fact that except possibly some extreme cases (like Bonesaw) they seem to remain fundamentally the same people, just more “intense and dramatic”, I think it is a little bit of both, but maybe I’m wrong?

    1. On the topic of Taylor becoming a big shot CEO. How about this?

      “Taylor we desperately need you to save-”
      “Sorry Lisa, can’t talk right now. Got things to do, people to meet, a multinational corp to run. Got a husband and teething twins at home. Plenty of people depend on me here. You are already making me late for my next meeting. Talk to my secretary, I’m sure we can squeeze half an hour for you in next two months. Bye!”

      1. “Look Ms. Wilbourn I’m sure whatever it is, it can’t be more important than the recent oil prices rise, the recent interruption of shipping lines from China, and the Indonesian embargo on rubber ducks. 18th of November 13:45 sharp. Mrs. Hebert-Seneca doesn’t not have time for people who are late these days.”
        “But you don’t understand! The Endbringers and the Sleeper are already-”
        “Have a good day Ms. Wilbourn. Hello Mr. President.”
        “Hello Ms. Kozakiewicz. About that meeting tommorow, with what has happened in Taiwan I’m affraid I’ll need to be in the Congress then. Could I reschedule?”
        “It is quite allright Mr. President. I’m sure Mrs. Hebert-Seneca will understand. Let me see… Unfortunately her nearest open window is on the 3rd of January at 9:30.”
        “How long can I have then?”
        “One hour.”
        “Sigh… It will have to do then. Please reserve it for me.”
        “Of course Mr. President. I’ll make sure to let her know that you visited us personally.”
        “Thank you Ms. Kozakiewicz. I’ll see you then. Goodbye.”
        “Always a pleasure Mr. President. Have a good day.”

        “-at Gimel.”
        “Why are you still here Ms. Wilbourn?”
        “Nevermind, sorry to bother you, I’ll see myself out now.”

        1. “Newsflash! Today on emergency summit NATO countries unanimously decided to restore draft after yesterday’s failure of talks with authorities of Gimel.US regarding the return of world-renowned CEO Taylor Hebert-Seneca kidnapped last week, and extradition of interdimentional terrorist group known as the Undersiders! Fourty seven other countries including Russia and China have already promised their support for what looks like will be the first interworld war fought by Earth Aleph!”

          Did you really think that Lisa would take “no” for an answer?

          1. “I said I was sorry, ok? i didn’t know it was this urgent. I really thought it was a social visit, and it is not like I didn’t care. I even told Klara to give you a better date then him. Not that that prick didn’t deserve it if he thought that his speech in the Congress was more important than our meeting.”
            “Just tell me one thing…”
            “Why there were old Accord’s notes in my laptop? Your guess is probably better then mine. Why I didn’t delegate more of my work, so I would have more time? I couldn’t divulge that I’m trying to implement a plan of a known madman, could I? Why I had to run so much of Aleph’s economy that they practically can’t live without me anymore?”
            “No, no, no! I’ve figured out those already. Who do you think I am?”
            “Then what?”
            “The rubber ducks, Taylor. For the love of God, why the rubber ducks?”
            “Oh, that is because my kids asked me to give every child in the world one for their next birthday present. I was so proud of my little Munchkins. They’re so young, and they already think of the others first. How could I say no, especially when my work is basically spoiling humanity anyway already?”

    2. It seems like I’ve just run into a quote which seems to more or less support my theory, at least as far as people with powers resulting from national triggers go. Doctor Mother in chapter 29.7 of Worm:

      > “Natural powers tend to fall more in line with the subject’s nature,” the Doctor said, ignoring Sveta. “Complimentary to their personality, their needs, and so on. Better to leave that door open, in case it comes down to it, or to retain the ability to take a vial at a crucial juncture.”

      1. ^ “[…] at least as far as people with powers resulting from NATURAL triggers go.”

        Joys of using an autocomplete function on a tablet…

  8. Kind of telling how Skitter’s style of criminal management wasn’t brought up in Vicky’s internal musings. Makes me wonder if she’s even aware of the school near-battle where a sizable chunk of the common students preferred the villains to the actual authorities.

    Of course, Vicky’s kind of throwing stones in glass houses with judgement on the Undersiders considering not only the criminal past of some of her current teammates, but also a sister engaged in world conquest and a mother that’s supportive of both that and brain-washing depending on the target.

    1. I’m sure that between her intrest at capes, and her intrest in her home town, and that most of the time she didn’t have much more to do than watch TV when it happened, Victoria has at least seen what was on the media about confrontation in Arcadia High. IIRC it included a cell phone video recording of the incident.

    2. This is most likely because Skitter herself became the “Boogeyman” of the cape community.

      No one really wants to mention her.

    3. I think mention should also be made of Victoria’s own past, where she brutalised street thugs on a semi-regular basis and then pressured her sister into healing them and covering up for her crimes.

      Victoria viewed being a ‘Hero’ as an inherently Good Thing, and therefore anybody who became a ‘Hero’ became a better person for it, even if they aren’t particularly likable. So as much progress as Victoria has made, there are still elements of her original black and white morality, where the labels are just as important as the actions.

    4. Taylor was warlord of a neighborhood for two months, during which she ran a dictatorial surveillance state funded by blood money from Coil. I think Victoria would describe it as “a totalitarian nightmare where punishments were inflicted at the whim of an unstable, violent teenager, funded by money her teammates had made from their own criminal activities. An unsustainable act of twisted charity from someone with deeply distorted morals.”

    5. There was an interlude that included a review of all the territories in Brockton Bay. IIRC, Skitter’s territory got 5 stars, including an anecdote of how a guy was robbed, and the next day all his stuff was in his apartment along with an apology note and $200. I think if she really thought about it, Vicky would have to admit Breakthrough is doing a worse job than Skitter did.

      Glassware brought up how Taylor was running a totalitarian surveillance state funded by blood money, but I would like to point one thing out. Breakthrough is running a surveillance-based hero group using Kenzie, funded by blood money from Mortari, where all information goes through them before being decided who goes after what villain, not to mention how half the team are murderers and former criminals. They’re a shitty version of Taylor’s territory, without the apology notes.

  9. Victoria is really bad at codenames during an operation. Probably comes from her formative years being in New Wave, but still. And yes, Sveta isn’t extremely conspicuous, Ashley and Rain are known convicts and Kenzie’s civilian identity got leaked… but codenames are part of the cops & robbers side she’d like to restore.
    Still a long way to go, miss Warrior Monk.

    1. Ashley and Rain are not convicts as they have not yet been convicted of anything. All they’ve had so far were hearings to determine whether the city would bother prosecuting them in the first place. In both cases the conclusion was that they’d be tried, so they were sent to the prison to await their trials. So for now they are only defendants, not convicts.

      But yeah, they’re known quantities.

    2. This ship has sailed a long time ago I’m affraid. Everyone in team Breakthrough has been seen in public so many times in their civilian identities with Victoria and Sveta that anybody who pays attention has known who they are for weeks. Gimel does have Internet and people carry around cameras in their cellphones after all, and don’t tell me nobody would be interested in who the two capes – one known for years and another obvious one just from her looks – can be seen around the town with.

  10. I am getting really sick of Victoria’s weird moral thing where she regards simply *being* a superhero as an inherently good thing which means that you are a good person.

    Victoria, you just described Bitch as a feral lunatic, while you worked with the Brockton Bay Wards who actively sheltered and enabled a murderer.

    You described yourself back then as a ‘a bit of brute’. No, Victoria. You beat people to death in the street with no trial or formal arrest, you did it more than once, and you morally blackmailed your sister into saving their lives at the last second and covering your ass for it.

    The amnesty which was extended to everyone after Gold Morning? It was extended to *you* as well. Fucking act like it. Generate some self awareness.

    Jesus Christ. At least Taylor knew that she was a monster in an unjust world.

    1. It IS getting harder to swallow Vicky’s outlook on things when it comes to specific events and characters readers know in Worm. Certaon things can be forgiven by the fact she doesn’t know details like the readers, but that can only go so far. Especially since it seems like she should know more than she apparently does, if she was at all interested in the truth about what actually happened in her home town. The full story on Shadow Stalker alone would be an eye opener (where is she anyway?).

      The current chapter really brings it home with her mental comparison to Bitch contrasting with her past self. Bitch being feral back then? Yeah, that’s fair. A lunatic? Not really, especially if the standard is hurting people while Vicky was flirting with murder charges over losing her temper while downplaying it all as ‘being a bit of a brute.’

      And the thing is, that it all would come off as a lot less hypocritical and sanctimonious if Vicky wasn’t actively trying to change her behaviour. The contrast with Skitter is that Taylor accepted that she wasn’t a particularly good or moral person, but just tried her best to make things better in a crapsack world where there wasn’t a lot of good options. Vicky on the hand is supposedly out to improve herself as much as the world around her, but always seems to slide back into trying to have the moral high-ground and judging everything from it.

      1. Rachel hurt people for no other reason than they were in her arbitrarily defined “territory,” often maiming them for life. What else are you going to call a girl who brutalizes anyone that crosses her path?

        1. Part of my point here is that if Bitch had been brutalising and maiming people while calling herself a hero and wearing a professionally produced costume, Victoria would be bending over backwards to cut her slack.

          What I’m getting overwhelmingly sick of is the absolutely unquestioned moral axiom that Victoria seems to live by: “Superheroes = Good. Costumes and codenames and having branding mean you’re a superhero and therefore you are Good.”

          Victoria’s like a kid who grew up in a family of cops and thus genuinely believes with all her heart and soul that all police officers are heroes, and that there is no such thing as systemic corruption, racism, or police brutality. Even though she’s fucking seen it with her own fifteen eyes.

          1. I think you’re being incredibly unfair to Victoria. Earlier in Ward we got some exposition about how Victoria hated how often E88 members got off scot-free and got rewarded by their gang for their crimes. That suggests to me that she is very familiar with systemic corruption, racism, and police apathy. The idea that she would approve of brutalizing and maiming random people is ridiculous though. Victoria’s axiom is less “Superheroes = Good” and more “Supervillians = Bad,” and that’s pretty much the case. You can go on and on about them being more “honest,” but that doesn’t count for much unless you have some really screwy morals.

            Frankly, it’s bizarre how much shit people give Victoria for beating up a skinhead. It’s not like she singled him out for no reason, and he practically admitted he did it and would get away with it. I think she just had the bad luck of being the person first used to introduce the morally grey aspect of being a hero. That or she went against Taylor (and now Tattletale).

          2. @Sassafras

            It’s the fact that that chapter very, very explicitly confirms that this wasn’t just Victoria getting angry and going too far that one time. It is that she did so habitually, to the point that Amy was getting sick of covering for her. So, yes. Victoria (at that point in time) was absolutely on board with brutalising and maiming people, without trial and without arrest.

            Also, she didn’t ‘beat him up’. She threw an entire dumpster at him in the street and it crushed his spine.

            Mate, Victoria is *not* a good person. Now, she’s a shitty person who is actively trying to be better, that is definitely correct…but she’s still carrying around a shitload of weird moral baggage, a lot of which she clearly got from her parents and from being raised in the household of the Dallons. You know, the same household that fucked Amy up to the point that she treated the idea of helping the Undersiders defeat the Slaughterhouse 9 as morally equivalent to falling to the Dark Side.

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