Polarize – 10.9

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Sveta was out of her armor, and her tendrils flicked out with enough force to crack ice and send the hard crust of snow flying overhead.  As she approached, one of her tendrils whipped out and caught me, seizing my forcefield.

It let go a moment later.  Forceful as the grab had been, it hadn’t disrupted the field.

“Sorry!”

“My fault for getting too close!  Keep it up!” I called out.

In the gloom, even with the snow reflecting ambient light up, and with Sveta’s face being pale, it was still hard to make her out.  She was more easily detected by the loose ring of whipped-up snow and flecks of ice than by anything else.  I could judge the maximum range of her tendrils and look at the ring to estimate the center of it.  The origin point.

I floated, keeping one careful eye on the ring while my eyes scanned the snow.  It wasn’t easy to find what I was looking for.  Holes that animals had dug, depressions, and shadows cast by distant objects all looked the same.

As a group, we’d fanned out, moving over the field, the road a hundred feet to my left, the streetlights casting a yellow pallor over the field.

“We might have to call it quits!” Tristan shouted.

“If you’re going to wimp out, switch to Byron!  The cold doesn’t bother him!”  Rain.

“I’m switching to him, but it’s not because I’m wimping out!  He might have seen something, and he deserves a turn!”

“Yeah!  Sure!”

“Also, just saying, he’s got the crampons on his boots, and I’ve got the boots for running indoors!  He’s better equipped for the snow!”

“Sure!”

“Stop saying that!”  Tristan called out.

“We need to meet Spright too!” I called out.  “It’s about time.  Five more minutes!”

“It’s no big!”  Kenzie.  “I don’t want anyone getting cold!  We could go now, really!”

“We’re going to find it.”  Ashley, in a firm statement that I could only barely hear.

Sveta continued her patrol, edging closer to me.  I ceded the ground to her, flying up and back.  I could see a crop-circle style swathe that had been cut through the field in her wake.

I was rooting for her, really.  With her going to this much effort, the recent spell of frustration, and her needing to feel included, I wanted her to score a win doing what she was good at.

I looked skyward for a moment.  Snow was falling, which wasn’t helping our efforts.  High above, the barely visible clouds were clashing with one another.  We weren’t even that close to any portals.  I was glad to have the Wretch encapsulating me, keeping the worst of the wind off.  It made the cold something more insidious and subtle, than a blast that left me drained.

My phone buzzed in my pocket.  With gloves on, I fished it free.  Spright with a meeting place.

I didn’t respond right away, holding the phone in both hands instead.  My eyes scanned the terrain.  If I were all business, I’d have said time was up, that we should give up and meet our allies.

I glanced over at the section of field where Sveta was tearing things up.  Reaching, groping, finding a small tree to grab, or just standing herself up on some tendrils while reaching out with others.  A herky-jerky progress across snow with grass and rocks jutting out from it.

I crossed two numb fingers, looked down to look at the snow below me and tried to tell holes from rocks and shadows.

We were making the Advance Guard guys wait, but some things were more important.

“Found it!” Rain called out.

The tendrils stopped the thousand-flag-grab attempt.  There was only stillness, the dark tendrils invisible against a dark backdrop, the shape that was Sveta’s head too camouflaged and small to see.

Well.  Rain needed some wins too.

I floated over to Sveta as she returned to her body, which was sitting on a rock, the front and back halves of her torso hanging apart, a gap marking the divide.  I waited, quiet so that she wouldn’t be spooked and lash out, her coat folded over my arm.

Her arms and legs shifted slightly as she found grips on wires and the loop-pulls.  The handles, for lack of a better word.  She was still working her way back in when she looked up at me.  “Sorry I yanked you.  Did I hurt you?”

“No.  Forcefield, not me.”

“Good,” she said.  She pulled the two halves of her torso together, craning her head around to keep tendrils from getting pinched.  Clasped could be heard from the inside, and then her prosthetic hands reached up to do up more mundane clasps on either side of the neck.  “I was pretty sure.  My head plays tricks on me sometimes, and I am just a bit numb.”

She eased her way to her feet, moving slowly, periodically thumping around in her body as she lashed out within the confines of the suit.  and rearranged herself.

“It’s been a long day and a long night,” I said.

“Is it that obvious that I’m tired?” she asked.  She stood straight, and she lifted her chin to encircle her neck with a band of metal that had been hanging loose around the collar.  Metal clicked as it cinched tight.  She did the same with another band, closer to her neck.  Binding all of the tendrils into a ‘neck’ that was one solid cord.

I steadied her with one hand and held her coat so she could slide her arms into the sleeves.  “You wouldn’t be the only one that’s tired and cold.  But I think we’re doing okay tonight.”

“Don’t jinx it.  Weld and Crystal are supposed to get back late tonight, and if you keep talking like that then something’s going to get in the way of our reunion.”

“Mm, yeah.  Not sure what Crystal is going to say.  Knowing her, she’ll just go straight to sleep.”

“I’m looking forward to sleep,” Sveta said.  “Half of me wants to see Weld and talk for a straight week, and the other half wants to say nothing at all, to avoid overwhelming him.  Go back to the apartment, and curl up in bed.  Make myself a pillow nest on his chest and have him do this thing he does where he puts his hand at the back of my head, tendrils and stuff through his fingers, and puts that gentle pressure down on me.  Pushing me into the pillows and his chest with the weight of his hand.”

“You put way more effort into describing one of those things.  It sounds like you have a preference.”

Sveta smiled.  “I’ve been thinking about it lately.  But doesn’t it sound bad if I don’t want to talk to my boyfriend after not seeing him for a while?”

“You want to be close to him.  That’s, ah, I envy you having that to look forward to.”

“It’s weird to picture someone envying me.”

“Nah,” I said.  I bumped her shoulder with mine as we trudged over in the direction of the main group.  “Weld’s one of the truly good good guys.  And so are you, for the record.”

She shook her head.

“So are you,” I said, for emphasis.  “And you two deserve each other in the best way.  If you’re stuck on what to do, you could let him take the lead on how to reunite,” I said.  “If it was hard or ugly where he was, he might want to just cuddle instead of getting super into it.”

Sveta gave me a one-armed hug.

“I wanted to ask,” she said.

“What?”

“Ashley.  She showed me the lockpicking thing.  Was that because you said something to her?”

“No,” I said.

“Was it because… I hate to ask, even.  I shouldn’t ask.  Benefit of a doubt, right?”

“Did Kenzie listen in and share with Ashley?”

Sveta made a face.

“I think that was just Ashley.”

Sveta nodded.

The others were huddled.  Rain blew on his hands for warmth, then clasped them together, before folding them inside another pair of hands that stuck out of his sleeves.  Ashley didn’t look dressed sensibly for the weather, but as far as I could tell her hands didn’t get cold, and she was putting on a brave face, her back straight, hands in her pockets.  Her nose and ears looked visibly red in the gloom, though, and I strongly suspected she would be annoyed at the fact.

Byron was fine, of course, entirely in his element, and Kenzie had the stuff with her to dress for the weather.  She had the camera that Rain had found clasped in her gloved hands.  It looked like Byron was trying to free a bit of fabric from a sharp bit of metal without damaging the glove too much.

“How’s the camera?” I asked.

“Broken in six different and major ways.  But it’s nice to have the parts.  Makes fixing it way faster.”

“That’s good,” Sveta said.

Kenzie nodded.

“Spright wants to meet,” I said, showing them my phone- more to just indicate the glowing screen than to hold it out for them to see the text messages.  “If anyone wants to opt out, go home, warm up, recharge for tomorrow, build stuff, I don’t think anyone’s going to hold it against them.  Having some people who are a little more refreshed at the start of tomorrow could be good.”

The statement earned me some blank stares.

“I heard the emphasis on building stuff,” Kenzie said.  “You don’t have to shoo me away or anything.”

“I’m not.  I’m just offering an out,” I said.  “For a lot of us, this conversation could be personal or difficult.”

Rain made a sound, creaky and low in his throat, as if he was chewing on the idea.  “It’s because it’s personal and difficult that some of us have to show.”

“Then let’s go talk to Sidepiece and Disjoint,” I said.

“Fuck you,” Sidepiece said, turning to Swansong.  “The short hair looks good, hon, but you looked way better in black and fuck you.”

“The white is growing on me,” Ashley said.

“Is the ‘fuck you’ growing on you too?  Go fuck yourself with the business end of a broken bottle, yeah?” Sidepiece retorted.  She turned to Rain, “And while I’m at it, fuck you, kid killer.  You think she didn’t mention that detail?  I hope you shared with your team.”

“I did, actually,” Rain said.

“Did you share all the gory details, kid killer?  Did you tell them about her having to watch her daughter’s face get cracked open on a table every time it’s her night?”

“Yeah.  I explained some of that pretty early on.”

“Then fuck you, that’s secret identity shit, you asshole.  You act like you’re all for the rules and then you share that stuff?  Fuck you.”

“I left out the details pertinent to-”

“Then fuck you for leaving out details and not owning up to every last bit of it!” Sidepiece said.

“Fuck me either way, huh?” Rain asked, his voice quiet.

“No,” Sidepiece said.  “No, no, no.  Fuck you one particular way, okay?  Take the narrow end of the broken bottle I told her to fuck herself with, stick your narrower pecker into it, and break the neck off while you’re inside it.  Then fuck it.

“There’s a kid here,” Sveta said.

“Fuck her!  Fuck that surveillance state fucking tinker bullshit unblinking creepiness!”

“I think she’s pissed,” Capricorn said.

“Fuck you!  Fuck off!”

“I don’t think this is going anywhere,” Shortcut said.  “We’re not going to get anything useful here.”

“Waiting on a text,” I murmured.

“You really like making us wait,” he said.  “You let your guys go and now you want to benefit off of our catches?  Do you think we’re going to go home and let you take the credit?”

“They totally do,” Disjoint said.

“Shut up!” Shortcut barked.

“That’s not what we’re doing,” Capricorn said.  Byron.

“I guess I’m supposed to take your word for it?” Shortcut said.

“Shortcut,” Spright said.  “People don’t like capes right now.  Who are we supposed to be getting credit from?”

“Everyone,” Shortcut said.

I kept my mouth shut for the moment.  On my phone’s screen, Nat had left me with only an ‘asking around’.

Our group was assembled in a garage, for lack of a better word.  It was more like a shack, with sliding barn doors and a way through wide enough for a car to drive in and park, with the doors closing in front and behind.  The gas, tools, and other things had been carted away by whoever operated the place during the daylight hours.  The space was oil-stained concrete floor and thin wooden walls, the only decoration a table that was a wooden door and four planks for legs, and a pile of engine parts in the corner that clearly violated the rules that had been put up on the wall.

Sidepiece and Disjoint were by the wooden table.  Disjoint had a loop of something connecting him to the flimsy plank leg of the table.  Sidepiece had her hands cuffed behind her head.  She wore her partial, phantom-of-the-opera face mask, white with a ragged edge that had been beaded with what looked like red nail polish, to look like blood, black hair covering the part of her face that her mask didn’t.  She was curvy, except everything between the ribcage and the pelvis had been picked clean- her stuffed polyester coat covered most of that up, but blood stained the belt-line of her jeans.

Disjoint, meanwhile, was black, with a ‘blindfold’ band of white across his eyes, a mask at the bottom half of his face, meeting with the line of white facepaint.  More bands encircled his arms, not touching the spaces which were decorated with tattoos.  He wore a costume top,  and regular black jeans.  His coat had been removed by Spright and Shortcut before we’d come, and it had the same lines painted on the sleeves.

“I’m saying everyone counts when it comes to getting credit.  Because rep matters,” Shortcut added.  “Stupid fucking kids join them because they have the rep and we don’t.  Because they seem ‘cool’.”

“Damn fucking straight,” Sidepiece commented.  “I’d tell you to fuck yourself too, but you already did, wearing that fucking awful, uncooool costume.”

She drew out the word, with vocal fry amped up and it sounded like she was belching it.

Leaning against the wall, her arms folded, Swansong looked away to hide her smile.  Despite herself, Sidepiece smirked.  She corrected the smirk and spat onto the floor.

“This costume is focus group tested, moron,” Shortcut said.  He reached up and flicked one of the circular discs that seemed to intersect his costume, like Halloween knife-headband combination that kids could pay a dollar for, to make it look like the knife was stuck through their heads.

“So were the Jeep Rockaybe, the Roundphone, and the second Iron Giant movie, so good for you, you’re in shit company,” Sidepiece retorted.

“You’re not going to win this one,” Swansong said.  “Not if you get into a knock-down, drag-out back and forth.  You’ll lose.”

“I agree,” Spright said.

“Fuck that,” Shortcut answered.

“I will kick over this chessboard, shit on it, and I will strut like the pigeon I am!” Sidepiece said.

Ashley pointed at Sidepiece with both index fingers, as if to say ‘that right there’.

“And fuck you all!” Sidepiece added.

“You’re giving me a headache,” Disjoint said.  The table wobbled as he brought his head back to rest against the leg.  “Can you turn down the volume two clicks, ‘piece?”

“Aw, I’m sorry baby,” Sidepiece said.  She stuck her foot out in the direction of his foot.

Shortcut’s weapon came down, embedding itself in the concrete between the two feet.

“What the fuck?” Sidepiece reacted, going straight back to a maxed out volume knob with the ‘what’ and bringing it to a near-whisper by the end of the ‘fuck’.  “You almost took my toes off.”

“No touching.”

Still no response on my phone.  I knew it was a lot to ask, shooting questions Natalie’s way, but in our recent contact, she’d asked that we continue to loop her in.  I’d brought up where we were, and now she was phoning around.

Well, couldn’t hurt to try asking.  Maybe one of the two would answer.

“Why did Love Lost want the guns?” I asked.

“To shoot shit?”

“I said this was a waste of time ten minutes ago,” Shortcut said.  “I think I’m right.”

“You are so right,” Disjoint said.

I bit my tongue.

“She’s dealing with an anti-parahuman group,” I said.  “How does that make sense?”

“Pretty sketchy,” Sidepiece said.  “I wasn’t about that.  Stayed home, diddled my boyfriend.”

“Don’t say diddled,” Capricorn said.  Tristan, this time.

“Sketchy and it doesn’t make sense,” I echoed her words.

“It’s sketchy.  That’s all.  It makes plenty of sense, even if I don’t agree with it.  And no, I’m not sharing no details, so go fuck yourselves.  I don’t love what Love does all the time, but I respect her enough to keep my gob shut or otherwise occupied while she’s doing the shit I disagree with.”

“Sounds like a compromise,” Swansong said.  “I thought you didn’t believe in compromise, only conquering?”

“Fuck you!  I also believe in fucking class, which is why I gave your skinny white derriere the benefit of a doubt.  It’s why I’m behind Love all the way.”

“You’re white too,” Capricorn observed.

“And I have an ass.”

“Betrayal and undercover action is fair in the game, Sidepiece,” Swansong said.  “But the guns aren’t supposed to be part of it.  You know that.”

“The game’s done, Damsel.  The game got fucked backwards when the world ended.  And you, doing this?  You’re fucking it worse.”

“How does that make sense?” I asked.

“Coming after us?  Look at what’s happening everywhere!  Fucking heroes banding together under the Wardens?  You’ve got the four teams that nobody really cares about, some corporates, some mercs who are the only ones I could maybe respect.  You assholes.  And then the villains.  Everyone under one banner, and the ones who aren’t signing up with Brattletale, Goddess, Teacher or the evil Mayor?  What do you think happens to them?  To us?”

Her toe moved, indicating Disjoint and herself.  Shortcut’s weapon moved in reaction to the toe moving.

“Us,” I said.

“Fucking you!  Fucking heroes!  Leaving us no choice  but to band together with the top tier organized crime.  They’re the groups that know who to put where and how to stay out of your sight or keep their people out of the way.  And the rest of us get picked off.  You wanna fuck us?  Then you perpetuate a survival of the unfucked!

“I did miss you,” Swansong commented.

“Well fuck you, it’s your own fault you don’t get any of this for company.”

Sidepiece wiggled on the spot.  Shortcut moved his polearm in a warning.

“I missed your brain and your wit.  That belongs to Disjoint,” Swansong.

This belongs to me.”

“I stand corrected.”

Spright cleared his throat.  “Let’s get back on track.”

Looking at Shortcut, I could see that his face was visibly red.  He was that steamed.  I would have suggested he take a breather, but I was pretty sure that if I did, he’d be pointing that weapon of his at me.

He didn’t like the digressions.  Which meant he was falling one hundred percent into Sidepiece’s trap.  After being warned about it.

“I want a lawyer before we go any further,” Sidepiece said.  “Oh wait, they’re all dead.  The fucking world ended.  So let us fucking have our fun and kick some ass and go focus on the stuff that actually matters.”

“You’ve killed people,” Capricorn said.

“Allegedly.  And in this alleged situation I might have tossed a bit of spinal sheath into a moving vehicle and allegedly killed a bunch of people who got high off of my drugs that I’d already paid for.  They tried to give me seven tenths of what I ordered and tried to pass it off as all the tenths.  Allegedly.  They didn’t deserve to draw breath.”

“I didn’t think you used,” Swansong said.

“Only a bit, and never my own supply.  But I’ll sell if people want.  It’s more samaritan shit than what you fucks are pulling right now.  Letting some poor, hurting people numb the pain for a while.”

“Allegedly,” Disjoint said.

Allegedly,” Sidepiece added.

“Those aren’t magic words that absolve you of guilt,” Rain said.

While they chattered, I checked my phone and I saw the series of replies- I hadn’t noticed the buzz.

Natalie (Lawyer):
I asked people about taking in s.piece or joint.
There is no room.  Jails over capacity.  Homes and apartments in populated areas being used as temporary accommodations.
Do not want minor villains unless lasting injury or murder AND ironclad evidence that can rush them thru system.
Gang leader yes s.piece or joint is a no.
Sorry.

I got the attention of the others and showed them.  Capricorn and Sveta first, then Spright and Ashley.

Jesus.  This was Wild West shit.  It just kept getting worse.

“News?” Sidepiece asked.

I beckoned for Rain to come, and I showed him.

“What am I missing?” Sidepiece asked.

She wasn’t even shouting or swearing as much now, but her voice.  The vocal fry, the weird enunciation, like every word was trying to grab attention?  It was giving me a headache, like Disjoint had complained about.

I typed out a message in the text box, while Rain was beside me.  I let him read it, then showed Spright.

Confirmation from both.

“Sidepiece,” I said.

“Fuck you.”

“You’re kind of right.”

“Fuck y- of course I am.  About everything.  And fuck yourself.”

“What you said about the gangs?  People picking off the ones who aren’t folding themselves into organized crime?”

“You’re amping it up to a hundred today, based on what I heard.  You heroes.”

“You were right,” I repeated myself.  “The reality is that when we showed up at the Center tonight, it was because we wanted to communicate with Love Lost.”

“Love doesn’t really talk, you know that right?”

“How does that even work?” Spright asked.

“If it’s important, she writes it down, prints it out, and hands it out.  Game plan.  If it’s not, why say it?  We know she’s all class and she’s professional as shit.  If she says jump we jump and it works out.”

“So far,” Swansong said.

“Oh go fuck yourself.  You can’t even talk.  She beat you and scared you off.  That’s why you’re talking to me and D.J., you got lucky and you got us after you rolled our car off the road and I sprained my lower back.”

“You don’t have a lower back.”

“Fuck you.”

“We came to talk to Love Lost,” I said.  “Because we have it on good authority that Cradle is likely to take March’s offer.”

“Offer?”

“I’m willing to bet Love Lost got the same offer.  She’ll know what it means.”

“Not if you don’t tell her, and she’s not going to accept a meeting with you assholes.”

“When we said we were bringing you here to talk, we meant it.  We’re letting you go,” I said.

“Bullshit.  Trying to soften me and D.J. up.”

“We wanted to get a message to Love Lost.  You’re going to take it to her,” I said.

I saw Shortcut stand a little taller.  Behind his mask, his eyes went wide, intense.

Yeah, this was never going to go over well with him.  I’d left him out of the loop as I’d filled in the others, and Spright had too.  I felt pretty validated that Spright was tacitly agreeing with me here.

“If you want to stir shit up or make this harder than it needs to be, then we could just send the most cooperative of you two.  Or try leaving a message with one of your crooked cops.”

Sensible cops-”

“Allegedly,” Disjoint added.

“You keep using that wrong,” Lookout said, almost plaintive.  “Stop.”

“Am I allegedly using it wrong?”

“Yes!”

Sidepiece leaned back.  “We’re talking sensible alleged cops who recognize that the only towns that have a shot at making it are ones with protectors.  And not pussy focus-tested superheroes or asshole freaks like you all, either.  Actual make-your-enemies-go-away protectors.”

“Allegedly,” Disjoint said, again.  Lookout crossed her arms, trying to look tough.

A-guaranteed-ly, ackshully,” Sidepiece said, with a dangerous tone. “It’s what we’re about.  There can be no allegedly about if we’re going to grant any protection there.”

“Take our message to her,” I said.  “No guns.  No ground to air lightning cannons.  Keep it simple.  But right now, you’re right, there’s bigger fish to fry.  She should keep her head down, be careful about how she’s treating those enemies.  Cradle might be after her.”

“She’s not the head-down type, you know.”

“Her funeral, then.  The authorities do want her.  But for now we want to avoid disaster.  Cradle coming after her and winning would be a disaster.  She’ll know why.”

“Uh huh.  What’s the catch here?  Trading us for info on the new recruits?”

“You’re not a priority,” I said.  I wasn’t even lying as I said it.  If I had my way they’d be a priority, but I wasn’t about to get my way.  The courts were falling behind.  Or they had Fallen behind- the overburdened system had become most noticeable when the compound had been raided.  “This is about information and it’s about keeping the peace.  We know Love Lost is after Precipice.  We know what March is doing.  But if she’s willing to back off, so will we.”

“She doesn’t back off,” Sidepiece said.  “Don’t want to jeopardize my being freed, but I’d be disrespecting her if I pretended she might.”

“It’s fine.  We’re making the offer regardless.  I’d rather crack down on the masterminds and big threats.”

“While siccing other teams on all the fodder and bottom feeders?”

“They’ll do what they do.  We’re just… organizing better.”

“Fuck that.”

Spright bent down.  He undid cuffs, freeing Sidepiece’s hands from behind her head, and Disjoint’s limbs were uncuffed.  We’d cuffed ankle to ankle and ankle to table leg.  The hands had been cuffed in a way that kept them in view.  There wasn’t anything he could do that was faster than the spear-tip at the head of the halberd could be.

The two were freed, and they climbed to their feet.  The shitty table nearly broke as Sidepiece leaned on it to stand up.

“You’re really letting us go?”

“We’re letting them go?” Shortcut asked.  More red faced and pissed off than before.

“Never let it be said I never do anything nice for you,” Swansong said.

“You can still go fuck yourself,” Sidepiece answered, venom in her voice.  “But you can leave the bottle out of it.”

“How gracious.”

“Yeah, huh?  I’m a sweetheart like that,” Sidepiece said.  “This isn’t a head-game?  No tricks?”

“Go,” Spright said.

“No tricks,” I said.

“The creepy camera girl didn’t put trackers on us?”

“No.  My stuff is broken, thanks to you guys-”

“Don’t give the enemy information,” Swansong gently admonished.

“-and I don’t need trackers to know everything you do.  I kind of wish I didn’t know everything you do.”

“Creepy as shit little kid,” Sidepiece said.

Capricorn pulled the sliding door open.  The battered vehicle that Sidepiece and Disjoint had been driving before being intercepted was parked out in the snow, ice and snow covering the various windows.  Cold air blasted into a space that had only been tolerably warm because we’d had so many people inside it.  Now with the door open, it was cold again.

“What the fuck?” Shortcut asked Spright.  I imagined he thought he was being quiet about it, but he was naturally abrasive and loud enough that everyone could hear.

“Why?” Lookout asked.  “Why are we letting them go?  Because if I was actually supposed to put trackers on them, I didn’t.”

“They don’t have room for minor villains,” Capricorn said.

“They aren’t minor,” Shortcut said.

I actually agreed with him.  Places, times, and groups where the more violent enforcers had been active in the last two years had seen more than a few people die.  Some had been blatant – but only a few of the people responsible for those blatant deaths were still around.  Nailbiter was a major one.  A lot more of the deaths had been ambiguous.

Beast of Burden had been active in some out of the way spots, and in the wake of his demise, little things were turning up.  Deaths that had been missed in the midst of a lethally harsh winter.

Well, a winter like any ordinary one, but it had been a winter we hadn’t been equipped to deal with.  And in places that Beast of Burden and his gang had been throwing their weight around, taking protection money, an awful lot of people had gone out in the cold and died there.

Was it Disjoint and Sidepiece?  There was no telling.  Nailbiter was a killer, and her way of killing people left enough of a trail that if we got her we’d be able to send her straight through to a jail… where nobody would be able to hold her.

Which meant that if we got her, we’d check with the authorities, sketchy as the woman at the top might be, and with some luck Nailbiter would cease to be a concern.

I didn’t love it, but I was really hard-pressed to think of a better solution.

“We’re going,” Spright said.  He produced his grapple-tendrils, floated up into the air a bit, and the air began to ripple around him.

Off to the side, I saw Sveta scowl.  I rarely saw her outright scowl.

“Thanks for this,” I told Spright.  “Sorry it wasn’t for much.”

“Not very forthcoming.  Some hints on how they’re operating.  Motivation.  Gives us ideas on how to take them down next time.”

“We’ll compile our notes and share,” I said.

“Sounds good.”

I shook hands with Spright, and then we watched as the two of them took off.  They skated away, leaving ripples behind them, Spright using tendrils to haul himself forward.

“I can’t stand him,” Sveta said.

“I hear you,” I said.

“Stealing my power without asking and then being better at it than me?”

I nodded.  I took her hand and gave it a light shake.

“I can’t help but notice that we’re making deals with Tattletale, and we’re making deals with Love Lost,” Rain asked.

“They’re not really deals,” Tristan said.  “They’re pretty hollow.  We say we’ll leave Tattletale alone unless she does something that deserves being brought in.”

“Which means nothing,” Ashley said.  “Why would she accept?”

I flexed my hand.  The cold was making the burned and bandaged skin sore.  I was overdue for a debriding.

When I spoke, I was staring out at the distant city.  “She accepts because she wants to know that she can do what she’s currently doing without being brought in by us.  And maybe she gets an edge if someone else brings her in and she mentions the deal.  Makes us look bad.  But it’s worth it, to get the information, flawed as it might be.  She probably had other strategies in mind.”

“Or she’s high on painkillers and her head is fuzzy,” Sveta said.

“Or that.”

“And this?” Rain asked.

“Laying groundwork for later,” I said.  “I want to keep an eye on things now.  The pressure is ramping up as the hero teams organize, and I’m really curious to see how Love Lost, Tattletale, and March all react to the current state of things.”

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85 thoughts on “Polarize – 10.9”

    1. There’s also a bit near the start where it says “Clasped could be heard from the inside”. Shouldn’t it be clasps?

    2. “confines of the suit. and rearranged herself.”
      Allegedly mispunctuated.

      “no choice but to band together”
      Extra space.

  1. I feel bad that I can’t relate to Sveta’s dislike of Spright and actually like Spright’s character and personality. His power is his power after all, as much as a violation as Victoria’s emotion power is really.

    Shortcut is still a strange person. Really curious as to what goes through his head

    1. Yeah agreed, the worst I could say about Spright is that he was a little presumptuous with the power borrowing, but he has absolutely no way of knowing about Sveta’s issues in the first place.

      1. Where are the Sveta tentacles actually coming out of Spright’s body? On Sveta I’ve figured that that’s just what her body is, they come out of the back of her face like mop strings. Does Spright’s skin transform and extend into them when he wants, or do they come from somewhere closer to his center and break through his skin to reach out?

    2. That’s because it’s not really rational on Sveta’s part. When he uses her power… Well he does it better because he can control it, and isn’t turned into a dangerous monster. It’s a knife twist for Sveta. At the same time it’s not fair on her part. And Victoria is going to take her friends side in this.

      1. Well he is Pulling a Jack Slash and talks to peoples passenger without their knowledge. And if he can control him better that is very sad.

    3. Both Shortcut and Spright don’t seem to be very sensitive people to put it mildly, do they? I wonder if there is a connection, and if it is just those two, or something more widespread in Advance Guard for some reason.

      1. Cedar Point proved recklessness is a rather common trait in AG’s members. Fortunately they’re versatile enough to quickly reassess situations and prevent the worst.

        1. Yes, though I was refering to the fact that at least in Spright and Shortcut’s case recklessness seems to translate to insensitivity to other people’s feelings, and I wondered if in both their cases there is the same, or at least simlar reason for it, and if the insenstivity, and possibly the reason applies to other AG members. Could be just a group dynamic, could be some shared history perhaps?

      2. Spright is actually pretty sensitive. In Cedar Point he asked permission to copy Victoria’s powers, and here what is he really supposed to do? Walk away unpowered?

        I almost feel bad for Shortcut. his own team is lying to him. How long before he goes rogue over that bullshit?

        1. Well, he didn’t seem as sensitive this time. Could it be that he decided there is no need for such pleasantries, since Breakthrough has been working with him so many times already, or was he getting back at Breakthrough for making him wait?

          And it is not true that he needed Victoria’s or Sveta’s powers to move. He could just take Shortcut’s.

          1. “He could just take Shortcut’s.”
            Sure, sure. Take the power of the teammate he just pissed off by lying to.

            That’s a real good way to keep Shortcut on his side.

          2. @Evileeyore: He actually could. Spright’s a copier, not a borrower like Grue was. He doesn’t drain the effectiveness of the powers he’s mimicking. That’s why he tries to copy as many Mover powers as possible- it guarantees that he’s going to be the fastest person around. Here, he’s using Vicky’s flight to get airborne, Sveta’s tendrils to pull himself forward and he’s using Shortcut’s whatever-he’s-got to speed away and create ripples.

          3. Also, nobody lied to Shortcut. They didn’t even lie-by-omission. If they’d allowed the interrogation to continue for a while without informing him, you could make that argument, but they didn’t. Upon learning that they couldn’t arrest their captives, they immediately pivoted to Plan B. The only problem is that they didn’t warn Shortcut before the pivot. He’s right to feel slighted, but he was neither lied to nor allowed to maintain a false belief.

          4. @Earl of Purple “He actually could. Spright’s a copier, not a borrower…”

            Had to go back and read when he first copied Victoria’s flight. You’re right. So this inconsistency of character doesn’t serve any ‘real’ purpose. I mean it does, but it’s a meta purpose and that… eh. It feels cheap.

            @Pizzasgood “Also, nobody lied to Shortcut. They didn’t even lie-by-omission.”

            Actually they did. Shortcut was excluded from some initial briefing, presumably (based on Victoria’s thoughts) because she expected to have to just let them go. The ‘plan’ was never “And we’re definitely letting them go”, but it was largely predicated on the system’s lack of space to hold these two murders.

            Or does this line from Victoria’s thoughts mean nothing?
            “I’d left him out of the loop as I’d filled in the others, and Spright had too.”

            And Sprigth had too.

            Let that sink in a bit.

          5. Her statement about filling people in is referring to showing them the message that Natalie just sent, not some earlier thing.

          6. That isn’t how I took it (still not taking it that way), but he was still cut out of the loop (ie, lie of omission, literally, lied to by not being given information).

            Sure, sure, it was only for a few minutes, but it was a lie and done to keep him from flipping his shit.

            Which, news flash, if was going to flip his shit he still would have when they were released. He was ‘kept out of the loop’ to for no good reason.

          7. First of all, he was only in the dark for seconds, not minutes. Observe the sequence of events:
            1) Victoria receives the info.
            2) Victoria shares the info with Capricorn and Sveta.
            3) Victoria shares the info with Sprite and Ashley.
            4) Sidepiece realizes something is up and starts bitching.
            5) Victoria shares the info with Rain.
            6) Victoria informs Rain and Sprite about what she’s going to do.
            7) Rain and Sprite confirm the plan.
            8) Victoria informs Shortcut, Sidepiece, Disjoint, and the rest of her team about what she’s going to do.

            Second of all, a lie of omission isn’t simply keeping somebody in the dark. It’s keeping them in the dark in order to mislead them. That is not what happened here. Shortcut could plainly see that Victoria had received new information and was changing the plan in some way, and then he was immediately informed about what the new plan was. He wasn’t misled; he just wasn’t given the courtesy of Victoria delaying on informing the villains until after she or Sprite informed him. A snub, but not a lie.

  2. Of course there would be consequences for breaking the planet’s only prison. I’m surprised nobody paused to reflect on the fact that it was Breakthrough that really made it happen.

    That said, I rather enjoyed the byplay between Sidepiece and everyone else, she’s a joy and a wonderfully skilled word craftsman.

    “Brattletale” is going straight to my list of favorite words.

    (Also, the way Sidepiece made a pass at Swansong was amusing as heck)

    1. I love her attitude, she’s about as crude as Ashley is classy. Being able to squick Kenzie out of her natural tendency to please is surely a power to be reckoned with.

  3. You know this was a really interesting chapter and I liked the interrogation dynamic, …but for some reason all I can focus on is that Earth Bet made an Iron Giant 2

  4. It’s a bit sad that c-listers like Sidepiece and Disjoint know more about the state of the world than the protagonists we’re following, how long is it going to take before they realize a civilization needs more than duct-tape holding it together.

    Also, focus-tested might as well be replaced in any context by un-cool.

    1. Well, Worm did drive it home, that a villains are often basically a disillusioned heroes. It makes sense that they often seem to get how world works faster, especially when times are hard.

    2. “how long is it going to take before they realize a civilization needs more than duct-tape holding it together.”

      The heroes’ options are limited. Letting the villains just go about their business isn’t going to make things better. Quite the opposite, imo. Villains turning Gimel into a bunch of areas run by warlords is just going to turn all of Gimel in a world-size version of Somalia. Until another Earth comes in an relieves them of the burdens of rulership. They’ve got to try to hold the duct-taped civilization together because the alternative is worse.

      1. I’m affraid that the heroes’ option may be so limited that they will just need to choose which villains they are going to ally themselves with. In fact they already do, and for the most part they don’t seem to make all that bad choices. You could do much worse than Tattletale and Citrine.

        I also think it is a bit early to talk of world-sized version of Somalia. It may be a possibility down the line, but so far we see little more than a fragment of the Eastern coast of Gimel.US. Sure it contains a gigantic city, and probably the largest hub of portals in the known multiverse, but we know there is civilization in other parts of the planet, and situation there could be entirely different than in and around the megalopolis. Also remember, that while the megalopolis has population of 50 million, billions have survived the Gold Morning, so there can be other populaton centers around the portals on Gimel that are just as big or even bigger.

        1. Billions of survivors? What makes you think there are so many?

          In Taylor’s epilogue we learned that Aleph lost half a billion lives, and they called it minor. When Taylor’s not-mom expressed skepticism about whether minor was the right word to use, Taylor firmly agreed that it really was minor. That implies to me that Bet’s casualties were not just a few times as high, but many times as high. Like, at least ten times as high. In light of that, I’d find anything more than two billion survivors to be pretty surprising. And that’s the upper limit; it’s probably a lot less.

          The numbers we’ve seen in Ward so far back this up. The megalopolis has 50 million people, and Gary Nieves estimated there to be 26 million survivors still in Bet — though it’s not clear whether he was talking about all of Bet, or just North America. If we assume Bet had a similar population to the real-world just before GM and that Nieves was only talking about the North American population (i.e. potential immigrants to the City), then that works out to a 17% survival rate in North America. If that’s applied evenly across the world’s 7 billion people, we can estimate a total of about 1.2 billion survivors.

          1. I think you may underestimate survival rates from Bet based on the numbers you quote. Remember that thanks to multitude of portals in megalopolis plenty of people from Bet probably ended up in other worlds then Gimel. There is also the fact that in Glow-Worm Earth Mem is mentioned as a place partially settled by people from Bet, but one Gimel has no contact with. I don’t know where portal or portals to Mem are, but if any of them is located in continental North America, it may indicate higher survival rates than population numbers for Gimel.US and population left on Bet would indicate.

            Also remember that if casualty rates in other regions of Bet were fimmilar to those in Bet’s North America, there are still places on Earth with far mor people than US or other North American countries. In fact probably around half of Earth’s population lives in a triangle spanning from Western coasts of India to Northen Japan to Northen coasts of Australia. If those people were as successful in evacuating through a handful of portals as the ones from North America, they might have established cities around those portals with combined population far exceeding those of megalopolis.

            Modern US keeps it’s global domination in no small part thanks to excellent industrial base, high technology, and efficient economic policy, but on Gimel many of those adventages are either gone, or even become disadventages. People in less developed countries are probably much better prepeared to farm without aid of heavy agricultural equipment. Combine it with the fact that winters in many areas of Earth are less harsh then in area corresponding to megalopolis, and it may be that survival rates of people who came to Gimel from other regions of Bet can be higher then those in megalopolis.

            The only big adventage megalopolis has over other areas is the fact that it is well connected with other Earths – including some which apparently have been more inclined to support Gimel.US then hinder it, at least until now. Earth Cheit is just one example. The problem is that this aid seems to do little more than offset some of the problems with farming and counstruction Gimel.US has, and there seems to be no reason to assume that cities founded in some other regions on Gimel couldn’t be more successful even without such help.

          2. One more comment on how I see how megalopolis is constructed. Considering that people in megalopolis are still freezing to death in tents, plenty of people would probably agree that the way houses are constructed in megalopolis is both very American and a criminal waste of resources.

            The houses and flats where people live are just way too big. During winters with months of temperatures bellow zero degrees Celsius tents cant protect you from freezing to death unless you have been a nomad for half of your life, or have at least a few years of experience as a homeless person. The Gimel.US government should in the first place try to move as many people from tents to some warmer places as soon as possible.

            They should probably start by building wooden buildings with people squeezed as tightly as possible on bunk beds. Think concentration or POW camp style barracks. It is a horrible way to live, but should at least make it far more likely to survive the first winter.

            As soon as Gimel.US is capable of mass producing or importing concrete and steel, and provide electricity and running water, and process sewage, they should move to the worst post-WWII communist dystopia you can imagine – gray, blocky, multistory buildings with very small flats inside. No more then five square meters per person inside plus communal bathrooms and kitchens serving multiple families each. Families with highly valued specialists like Carol Dallon can get ten square meters per person including their own kitchen and bathroom. Building like these serve not only to protect from the cold, but also significantly reduce risks of epidemics and fires killing high numbers of people. An extra benefit from constructing apartment buildings like that is that they will likely last for at least a few decades, and can be later used as cheap communal housing for people who can’t afford to buy or rent anything better.

            Only after you’ve managed to get everyone out of tents, and are confident you can keep up with constructing places to live for new arrivals, you can (and should) move to building something better.

            Similar story with transportation – early on you should strongly discourage use of passenger cars. Stick to mass transit and bicycles. Treat a motorbike as a luxury good as long as you don’t have good access to proper oil mining and petrochemical industries, and you can spare resources to build roads and streets, that can handle heavy traffic. Leave space for those, and for parking spaces when you build your cities, but early on don’t build streets with passenger cars in mind yet. Passenger cars should really be used only by institutions like the police, and businesses for which a motorbike is too small, and van is too big. When it comes to transporting heavy cargo – do as much of it as you can by ships, boats and trains. Use trucks and vans as a solution to the last mile problem.

            Why so harsh? People on Gimel have have just survived an apocalypse. They have no means of surviving their first winter, and without industry needed to support proper modern civilization. Their first priorities should be short-term survival of as many people as possible and reconstruction of industry needed to survive long-term without falling back to stone age level of technology. Only after that is achieved they should think about luxuries and entertainment putting any strain on their economy. Until then they should limit themselves to singing and trading stories around campfires, and maybe reading an occasional book they managed to bring from Bet. Even use of internet once it is established should early on be limited to communicating essential information early on. Second priority should be archiving and providing knowledge and data needed for reconstruction effort and smooth operation of economy and the government. Only after you can ensure that you can move to online shopping, cat videos and online novels.

            Finally – yes I’m aware that people, especially those who are used to living in rich democratic countries, would quickly rebel against such treatment. Which is why Gimel.US should operate for it’s first few years in an emergency state similar to martial law. Such despotism can’t last forever. In fact it should last only as long as some semblance of normal life can be achieved. The people who are going to run the country for those first few years should expect to pay with their heads for their trouble, if they don’t allow the elections as soon as things get better, and if they don’t flee the country or go into hiding as soon as the elections are over. They should expect to be depicted as monsters in history books, and hated by at least a few generations. But saving human lives and basics of technological civilization must come first. Even before democracy. Definitely before high quality of life.

            I fully expect that places on Gimel, and elsewhere where people from Bet settled that follow the logic I described above should have much higher survival rates early on, and return to relatively normal lives much faster than anyone who tries to do it Gimel.US way. Unless of course you have some magical notes from Accord implemented by equally magical Thinkers like Number Man, but I already wrote once just how much bull… their powers are.

          3. One more stupidity I need to call Gimel.US on. Education. Gimel.US is just shooting itself in the knee by limiting university-level education so much. Sure, it gives them some more hands to work with now, but long-term you can’t have a normaly functioning highly developed country, especially a democratic country without well educated population.

            Every year with no working universities meas you lose some old university graduates who die or retire, and some potential new ones, who seeing they can’t continue their education, choose to take a career path that does not require it. Some of those people will come back to study when the univestities start accepting more people again. Many others won’t, and it will be a permanent loss to the society. To make matters worse Gimel.US can’t count on brain drain to cover the losses. If anything, they should be worried that well educated people will want to leave to worlds, where life is better, so Gimel.US needs to educate all specialists it will need, and then some.

            Not accepting Victoria to university is somewheat understandable. As a known hero she does not need as much education as an unpowered person with an academic record similar to hers to contribute to the society, so it makes sense to make her wait, when there are not enough places in universities. Having just three universities for a polulation of fifty million people is not nearly enough. It wouldn’t be enough even for one million.

          4. > Billions of survivors? What makes you think there are so many?

            > In Taylor’s epilogue we learned that Aleph lost half a billion lives, and they called it minor.

            Which means that Bet has ~6.5 billion survivors in it. Therefore, there are billions of survivors in the multiverse.

          5. Yes Jack Baxter, but my discussion with Pizzasgod is about the number of survivors from Bet. Nobody questions, that there are billions of survivors from all known Earths if you count their populations together. In fact there are likely tens of billions on all known Earths, possibly more, but as Pizzasgod pointed out the number of survivors from Bet is unknown, and could be low. His estimate was around 1.2 billion, and I just pointed out it could be higher – even in the vicinity of 3 billion.

            Ultimately though we just don’t know enough enough to be sure. We just speculate based on very limited data. The number be even well outside the 1.2 to 3 billion range.

          6. Remember that in the Taylor’s epilogue we learn about the number of losses on Aleph, not Bet. All that Taylor indicates is that at least some of the other worlds (including almost certainly Bet) suffered significantly higher losses then Aleph. The question is – how significantly. Pizzasgod suggested that Bet’s losses were at least ten times as high as Aleph’s, and I pointed out that there may be reasons to believe that the situation may be not quite as bad.

          7. @Alfaryn
            > The houses and flats where people live are just way too big.
            > They should probably start by building wooden buildings with people squeezed as tightly as possible on bunk beds.
            > One more stupidity I need to call Gimel.US on. Education.
            100% agree. It also confusing me a lot in Ward.
            This way of building the city could be reasonable during massive help from Earth Cheit (i.e. we can quickly build multistory buildings for everyone, no need to build wooden ones), but without such help plans should be changed.

            Also it looks like people works much less than required to actually rebuild society. Should be about 12 hours a day with 1-2 free days a month.

          8. Ther is also a fact, that I don’t believe in help from Cheit. Not because of lack of good will, but because of logistics. There’s only so much you can bring through a portal at once, and since the tracks seem to end at portal stations, you immediately get a mother of all traffic jams, when you try to get all of this cargo from the trains into trucks. Unless Faultline’s crew offers a service of making new cargo only Gimel-Cheit portals, it wouldn’t be possible to bring in enough cargo quickly enough to sustain a city so big growing so fast.

            On top of it Gimel seems to waste it’s time importing resources, like food and construction materials, instead of opting for fuel and machinery needed to produce all of it localy, which only compounds the problem.

          9. Also I totally agree on 12 hour long work days. And the sad part is that I didn’t exactly come up about this part about the communist dystopia. This is more or less like rebuilding some of the cities that ended up on the eastern side of the iron curtain looked like without the benefits of Marshal Plan.

            Of course there were differences. It was reconstruction of cities that housed from a few hundred thousand to a few million people, not building a new city for fifty million or more. This meant that a lot of building foundations, and underground infrastructure like sewers or water pipes were not that badly damaged. Some buildings you could use for accommodating workers and administration were still standing. All you needed to do was to clear the roads from rubble, do some minor repairs to both the roads and the buildings in question, and get basics like power and water. There were obviously problems Gimel.US did not have to face. Ruins, and damaged buildings can be dangerous by themselves. Add to it mines and duds, and you need a lot of specialists need to OK any area before you let the construction workers in, and they still need to be an call until a lot of the work is done. Even today there are no construction crews must know phone number of sapper patrols before anyone lets them dig anything, and for a reason. Duds as big as multi-ton bombs still keep popping out from time to time.

            Still I think it was easier and quicker to rebuild those cities than it would be to build something like the megalopolis from scratch with what I think people on Gimel.US have to work with. And rebuilding some of those cities, early on largely with apartment complexes as bad as I described above took over two decades, not two years. Even accounting for inefficiency of centrally planed economy I don’t believe that you could build something like megalopolis in two years. Not from scratch and with the foreign aid limited by what can be pushed through what we have seen about existing portals and infrastructure around them.

            If WWII and it’s aftermath on Bet looked anything like in our world, all people in charge of the megalopolis had to do is read some history books a little more involved then school textbooks, to know what needs to be done. Not that I did it myself, really. I’m just from Poland. This is stuff I learned by reading little more than my textbooks.

            And while I’m on the subject of cities that took decades to rebuild – I never understood why anyone considered sealing off Brockton Bay after Leviathan’s attack, and the crime wave, that come later.

            I understand such precautions after Simurgh’s attack, but what Leviathan and the villains (even the Slaughterhouse Nine) did to the city was in my opinion minor when you compare it to what cities that lost 50-80 percent of their buildings, and sometimes well over half of their population (with the rest often expelled) went through. And none of those cities were abondoned. Even if it took decades to rebuild them.

            Don’t tell me anyone would think, that restoring Brockton Bay (including dealing with parahuman crime) would be more difficult, and require more time and resources. So why anyone considered abandoning it?

    3. “It’s a bit sad that c-listers like Sidepiece and Disjoint know more about the state of the world…”

      They don’t. It’s just the excuse they’re using to justify their actions. It’s a thinly veiled ‘We aren’t making things worse, we’re just doing what we have to in order to get by’.

      It’s horseshit.

  5. As much as I dislike Shortcut, I’m kind of on his side here. If I’m going to risk my neck trying to stop explosive throwing Parahuman crooks, then just be told “tell them they’re naughty and let them go”, my give-a-shit is going to run out at some point.

    With a guy like Shortcut, I’m thinking he’s going to start “accidentally” hurting or killing villains so they are at least out of the picture to some extent. And he’ll probably feel justified about it.

    If you’re going to have powered vigilantes keeping the piece, you really need to give them some kind of justice system to work within, or they’re going to say “fuck it” and dispense their own.

    1. The funny thing is Breakthrough already does pretty much the same with their method of dealing with really bad threats by “dissapearing” them without due process and all that jazz. They apparently just don’t consider threats big enough just based on them being alleged murderers. I’m sure Tattletale and some others working on her level will be pleased with that.

    2. I totally agree with you, but what else they could do? The justice system was overworked and prisons were overfilled long ago, and the prison breakout has made it far worse. I’d actually expect that the adaptation of laws to such a situation would include capital punishment for the worst of crimes, and probably martial law or something in that spirit.

      P.S. Finally catched up with Ward. Woo-hoo!

  6. Does Sidepiece not know Goddess is dead, or is she treating it as an inherited title? And she also has “the evil Mayor” on her villains list…
    (Was there actually an election? Jeanne considered skipping that part, and then there was the portal thing, so it would make sense if there hadn’t been, but also I can’t imagine being Victoria or Sveta or Gary Nieves and not thinking about how she wasn’t even actually elected.)

    I’m so happy about Sveta’s thousand-flag-grab reenactment. Out of her armour and within earshot of other people and not hurting anyone. It gives me hope for her.

    1. It was never explicitly mentioned, but I presume the election actually happened that that Jeanne Wynne was elected. Tristan knew to refer to her as “mayor” when she showed up. No one’s talking about her like she just conquered most of the population of Gimel. Ergo: elected.

      1. Like, yes, but also—
        “If you wanted it, you could seize the reins. The others are down or out. You could take charge and start making decisions.”

        “We’ll take the city,” she said. “No use delaying now.

        and then the city got wrecked by half the portals expanding; hard time to hold an election, lots of logistical issues.
        No one’s gone “I didn’t vote for you!” or reassured themselves because at least the people did actually choose her or thought about how hard or inspiring it was or thought or talked about who they voted for. Lotta set-up and then… ???

      2. Until the elections Jeanne Wynn serves as a de facto “acting mayor”. Such person could still be titled “mayor” at least until her elected replacement took the office, so it is probably somewhat up in the air if the elections have happened already.

  7. It really surprises me that, given the desperate situation the Gimel society finds itself in with not enough prisons, huge swathes of population without food or proper winter shelter, etc. that execution has not become widespread. Please don’t take this as a statement of moral support for capital punishment – but if the choice is between letting violent criminals run free (since there’s no prison space) and permanently preventing them from hurting anyone again then execution just seems like a necessary evil.

    1. Executing them won’t work. Not really, or not reliably. Try it on Lung, for example. He won’t let you. Sidepiece regenerates; who knows how far that extends? Probably not far enough to survive decapitation, but she can regenerate her internal organs and is currently functioning just fine despite the fact she’s apparently lost her spleen and has no lower spine. Could she metabolise a lethal injection? Who’d manufacture it anyway, or are we going back to the Wild West and hanging people? Can you hang a man who could potentially teleport his head away and run off far enough to reattach it? Because if not, you need to figure out what you’re doing to Disjoint.

      Prison is tricky because you need to build one, but they had built one and it worked… Not perfectly, but it worked. Also, don’t forget there’s worlds run by villains out there- Lord of Loss has one, Marquise might have another, Bitch probably has one too, unless she’s a modern nomad running with her Sons of Bitch and dogs, chasing the bison that aren’t nearly extinct on Gimel. Most are probably setting themselves up as dictators and executing anyone who looks at them funny. Not executing people is therefore better PR, ‘look the big city isn’t run by villains who kill people willy-nilly’.

      1. Again an area where Tattletale would help.

        Tattletale, how do you kill Sidepiece?

        Her power would get you 60% of the way there.

        1. Tattletale could help with Sidepiece in another less lethal but more useful way too. If Antares just grabbed and put Tattletale on loudspeaker, chances are Sidepiece would quickly stop being a smartass, and start politely answering questions. The “downside” of this plan is that instead those two could decide they like each other. And Imp probably also wouldn’t mind making a new friend.

      2. “Executing them won’t work.”
        Sure it will. You just have to get creative.

        “Sidepiece regenerates…” “Can you hang a man who could potentially teleport his head away…”
        Pretty sure drowning would work fine on both of them.

      3. Get a tinker and have them clone foils ability via tech. Of armsmaster could clone clockblockers ability, then a sufficiently high rated tinker should be able to clone foils too. The old PRT probably had the specs on her power somewhere, its just a matter of finding em.
        Use that , and you can kill anything.

      4. Execution could work for most, but remember that there more than just moral issues with that. One is fact that use of lethal force by the authorities could lead to increase of violence from the villains, especially if they find themselves cornered by the “good guys” as they would have nothing to lose. Another – probably a bigger one is that there still S-class threats around, meaning that you may need help of all capes you can get one day. If you break the rules of cops and robbers game, and start executing villains you can forget about support from 90% of villan community.

        Exile to uninhabited worlds is probably much better solution to death penalty in extreme cases, at least as long as you don’t have Birdcage 2.0. In all other cases just harrasing the villains who step out of the line a bit, getting intel on them and proofs of their crimes is probably a better solution until you have a proper legal and penal system in place. Lack of those was one of the big risons behind the amnesty, and little has changed in this regard since Gold Morning.

        1. There could be political and diplomatic issues to consider. Remember for example that Gimel.US cooperates with someone in Gimel Europe at least as far as handling capes with dangerous and uncontrollable powers goes. If attitudes in Gimel Europe are anything like in our modern EU, executing people without extremly good reason may severely damage this cooperation.

          People in US may be divided over the issue of death penalty, but people in Europe (at least in EU) are overwhelmingly against to the point that the question if, and to what extent you use death penalty tends to seriuosly impact your diplomatic relations with European countries. Simmilar issues may exist in relations with other countries (such as they are) on Gimel, or even with other worlds. Decision wheter or not to have death penalty is never a purely internal one – it always is one of the more important factors that determine your position on the international scene, and with multiple wars threatening Gimel.US, they just can’t to afford the risk to lose allies.

          1. Bet.Europe came to a slightly different conclusion about government killing, at least in Lausanne… Gimel.Europe may have inherited that more violent attitude.

          2. Still doesn’t change the fact that killing people left and right with no better reason than the fact that your legal and law enforcement system can’t properly process all of your criminals is probably going to get you more enemies than friends.

            One thing we need to remember about Gimel.US is that with all of its portals unlike our US it has a lot of close neighbors and few natural borders to keep them away. Some of those neighbors have much larger population and industrial capacity than Gimel.US. Geostrategically it’s position is less like the US we know, and more like a small to medium sized country on the European Plain for example – it has excellent opportunities for trade if their relations with everyone else around, but is very hard to defend when someone stronger decides to invade.

            The threat of deploying capes have kept the Megalopolis safe from external threats so far, but if they provoke too many of their neighbors at one, Gimel.US may get invaded and possibly disappear from map very, very quickly, so they need to be very careful about how anything they do is seen outside.

      5. Another conclusion I came to today is that in our Earth, the US is the last Western state to have the death penalty. But this US has had super powers picking young people in trouble since the 80s. How many young people are sent to death row? I know it takes a long time for the sentence to be carried out, but if one in five people has the possibility to trigger and become a parahuman, then death row provides a lot of potential triggers. I was thinking about it at work (I have a physical job, so I think about all sorts as I work) and I could use ‘death row inmate’ as the basis for most powers, as described by the Weaverdice power/trigger links. Master, stranger, changer, shaker, blaster, thinker, tinker (probably after a few years with no other triggers on the way), striker… I couldn’t easily see brute, breaker or trump, but that’s it.

        As soon as the PRT suspects a link, it’s going to try and get the death penalty rescinded, possibly even before the PRT is the PRT. And certainly as soon as Cauldron start promoting the Birdcage- not executing supervillains is far more convincing if you’ve done away with the death penalty altogether. And now you’ve done away with the death penalty in the 80s or maybe early 90s, (with the exception of kill orders) you’ve got a whole generation who have grown up without it.

        1. I disagree. First of all, triggers aren’t that common- Piggot mentioned in her interlude in Worm (Interlude 13) that the unpowered to parahuman ratio in urban areas is eight thousand to one. The United States does not in our world execute nearly enough people for death row inmates to become statistically significant. I do agree that if a person has the potential to trigger then death row provides a good opportunity but life in prison is also provides those opportunities. Stopping the death penalty doesn’t stop those people from triggering. That assumes the government is even trying to stop people from gaining powers- Cauldron would encourage that, although that argument assumes Cauldron can do anything in a sensible manner.

          In a world with the Slaughterhouse Nine, kill orders, and the Endbringers I have a hard time believing people would get outraged over government executions, particularly when the death penalty takes at least a decade to execute one inmate. If the public approves of kill orders, they are unlikely to wax outrage over the death penalty because the emotions involved in those positions are opposed. The public only forces change on so many issues and I have a hard time believing that capital punishment rose to the top of the list on Earth Bet.

      6. > Try it on Lung, for example. He won’t let you.
        > Because if not, you need to figure out what you’re doing to Disjoint.
        IMHO, Ashley could kill almost anyone.

        1. Damsel of Distress, the Siberian, Scrub and Foil all have what I call ‘hyperlethal’ powers. They can get through most- if not all- defences. (March, with her Foil-light power, might also be hyperlethal, but I don’t know enough yet to say.)

          The problem with asking these people to be your executioner is that if they say ‘no’, you can’t kill the people who have been sentenced to death. Furthermore, of those individuals, two are former members of the Slaughterhouse Nine, one is a child who might be fifteen by now, and the last was a Ward who became a villain. Two, therefore, were executed by the heroes in the field. One would raise the question of ‘is it right to have a child be our executioner?’ and the last… Has a hyperlethal power but has never shown much willingness to kill.

  8. I’m sorta glad that Sidepiece and Disjoint are free because, despite Shortcut’s ire about the whole thing, they really shouldn’t be focusing on legality right now. Metropolis needs to first establish the unwritten rules before stuff like this. Love Lost was pissed at Hookline and Kitchen Sink for going after Kenzie. Therefore Love Lost needs to stick around. March? She doesn’t. Same with Cradle. Both need to jail.

  9. This is a little unusual for me, since I’ve not actually read this far in Ward yet, but here goes:

    Hi Wildbow! I’m an English Literature teacher at a high school in the south of China. Starting next month, I and the other pre-AP Lit teacher here will start using the first few arcs of Worm as our main text. I’m super excited to dig into it with my class, so I thought I’d take the long-shot and reach out:

    Is there any chance I could ask what The Author Thinks are some of the most interesting questions to “read into” the beginning of the work? I have a lot in mind myself (bullying, Danny, perspective, authority, and on and on) but, well, I’d like to know!

    Anyway, if the above doesn’t make it clear, I have a great deal of respect for your work. Thank you for doing what you do.

    1. Forgive me for speaking out of line, since I’m obviously not Wildbow, but just another new member of the community, but if you can spare a few hours, I think you should check out We’ve got Worm podcast if you haven’t already. It is based on https://www.doofmedia.com/ website, and mirrored on plenty other podcast distribution platforms around Internet. The podcast basically consists of summaries, analysis and discussions of individual arcs of Worm from the first to the last in the story.

      Considering the podcast is meant for entertainment, I found those discussions very thoughtful, and touching on a lot of topics you mentioned you thought about yourself along many more that should probably fit your lessons. It also probably helps that one of the hosts read the entire Worm before they recorded the first episode of the podcast – putting him in a position similar to yours, and the other host prepared for those podcasts by reading Worm only until the end of the arc they were about to discuss in the given episode – likely putting him in a position similar to your students’.

      All things considered I think you should find a lot of inspiration for your upcoming lessons there.

      1. Thanks, yeah. I do plan to turn to We’ve Got Worm, and probably to some extent to Wildbow’s comments to them on Reddit.

        1. Here are a few other places you may want to be aware of:

          1. IRC channels listed in answer to the sixth question in F.A.Q. section of this website. I haven’t been there myself, but they seem like good bets if you want to reach Wildbow directly.
          2. Worm and Ward audiobooks (http://audioworm.rein-online.org/ and http://parahumanaudio.com/) – just remember that they are fan productions. Don’t expect all of material there to be professional quality.
          3. Wiki for the Parahumans series (http://worm.wikia.com/wiki/Worm_Wiki).

  10. Three things, just finished reading the last 5 chapters:

    1. Victoria seems to be studiously not mentioning Taylor at all. Like with the territories in Brockton bay, why was she not mentioned? At all? Did she forget?

    2. Things aren’t being fixed. It’s “let’s all band together as heroes and arrest everyone, also, we’ll ignore rebuilding efforts and prisons and courts because we don’t really need that”. It’s weird. I get that the passengers wanna make ‘em fight, but…can the Parahumans not work as prison guards? Or rebuild places so they can hold people like Sidepiece and Disjoint? Is that impossible? Rather than becoming a huge superpowered gang that calls themselves “the heroes”?

    3. I recall Victoria saying there wasn’t much humans can do. I sat there, and I read that, and I thought “that’s discrimination!” It makes it clear that there is a huge divide between the humans and parahumans. But if you go and say, ah, the humans are all just lesser than I am, suddenly, murder becomes a LOT easier. A HELL of A LOT.

    4. Because I can’t stick to my own rules, a possible prediction, are the heroes going to become the villains? Is that where this is leading?

    1. 1. The first rule of GM club is, you don’t talk about Taylor.
      So are the other twelve rules. It’s a tacit ‘you had to be there’ thing they all share, and things are best left that way.

    2. Reassigning heroes as guard duty doesn’t sound like a very good investment…there’s not enough of them that can spare the time given the huge number of potential prisoners there are to deal with. Obviously people are working on the whole courts/prison system in the background, but there’s just not enough manpower or facilities. A lot of resources were put into the prison that just got dismantled.

  11. A short and sweet chapter. Are Sidepiece and Disjoint teens or just immature adults? I kinda think her attitude is funny but at the same time saying “fuck you” all the time to anyone makes any argument irrefutable and is bound to make you a target eventually. Still enjoyed everyone’s interactions and Kenzie’s uncharacteristic response haha.

    1. Back in the Fallen raid, Victoria described Sidepiece as an adult doing a bad job of trying to sound like a teen to be cute.

      Of course, shards being shards, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that Sidepiece’s regeneration becomes accelerated aging when there’s nothing to heal. In that case, she could actually be a teen stuck with a more adult body, forced to constantly tear chunks out and blow stuff up if she doesn’t want to die of old age before she’s thirty.

      1. There is also the fact that traumatic experiences can mess up person’s emotional growth, and every natural trigger has by definition had one. The fact that having powers can detach you from society can also be a big factor. Think about what they did to Ciara for example. Becoming a Cauldron cape isn’t without it’s emotional bagagge either. There are also people who can’t grow up even without triggering. Aisha and Brian’s mother comes to mind. Compared to those people Sidepiece is not that bad.

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