Polarize – 10.11

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“B.  Alright.  Which half?  Again.  Alright.  T, u-.  Alright.  Ambulance?  Ambush?  Ambush it is.  I’m going to write that down.”

My voice didn’t sound like mine, as I went through the steps.  Robotic, methodical, motivated rather than cheer.  No, cheer was the polar opposite of the emotion that touched my voice.  Harrowed fit better.   My finger shook as I moved it to the screen of my phone, to the point where I missed the ‘A’.

Beside me, Crystal rubbed my shoulder and back.  “Do you want me to take over?”

I shook my head.  Stubbornly, I backed out of the special characters bubble and returned to the keyboard.  I hit the ‘A’ with more deliberation.

I looked up from the screen.  A white cloth had been laid out in the emergency tent, between a plastic sheet and a stretcher.  A black outline marked a loose human form, and the parts that had been found and identified were laid out on the stretcher.  The area of the plastic sheet outside of that outlined figure was littered with rows and columns of unidentifiable segments that had been attributed to Nailfarer specifically.

“You didn’t see their faces?” I asked the segment of Nailfarer’s head.  Only one third of the head sat on the white cloth, but with the way Scaffold’s architecture had impaled his head, this was one of only two segments we had that possessed its sight and hearing.

There was so much hair attached to this segment of headIt would only be shoulder-length if everything were back the way it should be, but with this part of the head being so small, it seemed like a lot.

My question was answered with two belated blinks.

“You didn’t see their faces.  Did they touch you when they used their power?”

Three blinks.

“Unsure?  Alright.”  It would have been so useful to know if the power had involved touch.

“Why were you out here?” Crystal asked, jumping in.  “Did they invite you?”

“Hold on,” I said.

“Sure,” she said.

“Nailfarer.  Daiyu.  I asked these questions before and I’m going to ask again.  Do you want to keep going?”

Blink.  Yes.

“Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?”

Another ‘yes’ blink.

“Alphabet?” I asked.  I swiped my phone, showing her the crude drawing- A-L on one side and M-Z on the other.

Blink, and after a moment’s delay, a movement of the eye, looking off to the left of the phone.

Without turning it around I swiped the phone left.  A-F and G-L.  Again, a look to her left, my right.  A-F.

“A, B, C- alright.”  I repeated the process, ignoring the commotion as people came into the tent.  “M, N, O-.  ‘Co’.   G-H-I-J-K-L-.  Cold?”

Blink.

“They set up heat lamps here, we’re getting you warmed up as best we can.  After this you’ll be moved to a hospital and you’ll be warmer-”

Two blinks.  ‘No’.

“You want the cold,” I said.

Blink.

“It might help if it numbs things,” Crystal said.

As I turned to look at Crystal, horrified, I almost missed seeing it.  I turned back to Nailfarer.  “Again?”

A blink.  Confirmation.

“One of us should go talk to someone in charge, then.  It might be the same for Scaffold and Slingstone.  Do you need a break?”

I shook my head.

“I’ll be right back,” Crystal said.  She flew to her feet instead of climbing to them.

I took a deep breath, before meeting Nailfarer’s eye.  “Do you want your head chilled too?”

Two blinks.  No.  Then there was a pause.  Three blinks followed.

“After?” I guessed.

One blink, slower than the ones before.

“After, then.  We’ll keep that eye of yours mobile and get the information to get these guys?”

The blink was firm, followed by eye contact as steady as anything she’d managed up to this point.

Outside, there was still a lot of commotion.  Many of the body parts had been found but not identified.  I was pretty sure that was what Slingstone was doing.

“Anything else you need?” I asked, putting my hand to the left, then I extended my right hand off to the side, “Or back to the questions?”

Questions.

“We can stop at any time.  Four blinks, I’ll know you’ve hit your limit.  Anything you can provide is useful, but if you need to back out, you don’t need to worry.   We have a tinker device we can try using.”

Two blinks for no.

“Do you have something to volunteer?” I asked.  I still didn’t recognize my own voice.  I was trying to sound gentle, but I worried I sounded like someone on the cusp of screaming or crying instead.  I extended the other hand.  “Or should I ask my questions?”

My questions.

“I’d like to rattle off some possibilities, is that okay?”

One blink for yes.

“You were out here when they attacked.  Did they bait you?”

Yes.

“Did they call?  Email?  Leave a message?  Message.  Through a messenger or courier?  Paper?  Electronic.  Electronic, alright.  You had a website, I think, was it through that?  Another website?  Yes, okay.  Parahumans Online?”

A message asking to meet with them, through Parahumans Online, baiting them here, where they were ambushed and taken apart, left alive and suffering.

I verified the information I had thus far, recapping it for her.  One blink for yes.

Information confirmed by our witness, I sent a message to all cape teams in our network, warning them to be careful of anything similar.  I added further instructions to warn any independent heroes they knew.

I left out the particulars of what had happened to the Navigators.

“The bait, was it anonymous?  A guest account?  Alright.  Were they posing as a fellow hero?  A person in need?  A villain?  Someone with information?”

One blink to confirm on ‘information’.

“Was it information on your enemies?  Allies?  The city?  Other Earths?” I asked.  Nothing.  “Do you want to spell it out?”

One blink, then three.  I got my phone out and set it back to the starting image in the gallery.  “Tell me what you need to say.”

C.  O…

“Cold?”

A yes.  I could see it in her eye, how it were more active, but there was a wildness to it.  Distracted.

“It’s getting worse?  The pain?”

A yes-blink.

“I’ll be right back,” I said.  I headed to the opening of the tent and flagged down a doctor.

The woman came inside.  She looked spooked.  Justifiably.

“Did Laserdream talk to you?”

“She’s talking to other doctors.”

“Nailfarer wants the heaters turned off- we’ll leave the one on by her head.  She’s anxious about it.”

“The cold-”

“Isn’t hurting her.  I don’t think the individual parts can even be truly damaged at this point.  But it’s uncomfortable, and she would prefer to be numb.  I get the impression drugs aren’t helping-”

The doctor shook her head.  “Localized to certain parts, as far as we can tell.”

“Can we?” I asked, indicating the heaters.

In the end, the answer was a ‘no’, but it wasn’t a fearful or malicious no.  They were wanting to load up the three victims and get them somewhere safe.  I made my arguments, and after the doctors consulted, they settled on using a collection of ice boxes.

As the ice boxes were used, I could see Nailfarer’s eye and the area around it shift and change, her face reacting in small ways.  When we’d found them, they had been paralyzed by the cold.  That was only part of it, however.  The parts that had been thawed could move, think more clearly, and felt the connections to the other parts elsewhere, but they didn’t always have the necessary parts.  Nailfarer didn’t have every muscle and nerve that would communicate to parts around her damaged tissue.

“Keep the head and the right hand out of the coolers,” one doctor said – not one I’d been communicating with.

“She’d prefer to have her hand in the cooler, I’m pretty sure,” I said.

“I want her to be able to signal and gesture to communicate.  The hand has some limited mobility.  If she needs something she can raise her hand.”

“I have a communication system, I can stay with her and interpret-”

“Just keep it out of the cooler,” the doctor said, brusque.  “Excuse me.”

I nodded, getting out of his way.

I looked around.  I saw Vista, standing off to one side, stoic.  Crystal was talking to the woman in charge and some doctors.  Golem and Cuff were with Slingshot.

The atmosphere was heavy.  It was an entirely separate and distinct feeling from the claustrophobic feeling that had settled in over the course of the last-

I checked my phone.

-the last thirty-five minutes.  It had only been thirty-five minutes?

“Are you comfortable enough?” I asked Nailfarer.

Three blinks.

“Not with the situation being what it is, obviously.  But is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?”

Two blinks.

“Just let me know,” I said.  “I’m staying close.”

The fingers moved clumsily- not like a hand should.  One finger tapped hard against the metal pan it had been laid down on.

One tap equivalent to one blink?

Crystal wrapped up her conversation, with Golem, Cuff, and Vista in the general orbit of that meeting of paramedics and police.  The policewoman in charge was still organizing the grid-like search of the field and the area around the tree.

“Hey cuz,” Crystal said, sounding very tired.  Not just fatigue- she was heartsick.  “We should look at getting you home.”

“I’m going to stay with Nailfarer,” I said.  “I think we worked out our communication system pretty well.”

One sharp tap on the metal pan.  Cuff jumped.

“Yeah.  Pretty well,” I said, my heart breaking a little.

“This isn’t good for you,” Crystal said.

“Doesn’t matter.  They need someone to be their advocate.  Slingstone and Scaffold can’t talk?”

“Not much,” Vista said.  “Scaffold’s head is a mess, but he’s still alive somehow.  Slingstone broke down.  They tried to put him under and it seems to have worked.”

“Then I’m going to stay with these guys, see them to the hospital.  I’ll make sure they don’t need anything.”

“I can do that,” Crystal said.  “I know how your communication system works.  I did it with- I’ve done it before.”

I saw her glance at Vista.  Vista had some idea.  Golem and Cuff- not so much.

“You did it with me.  Yeah, I know.”

“Trust me?  Let me help.”

“You’re freezing, you just came back from a classified misson, and my dad is expecting you at your apartment.”

“I’ll warm up at the hospital, your dad is in the top one percent when it comes to understanding ‘we had a hero thing’ as an excuse, and I might have just come back from a warzone-”

Golem cleared his throat.

“You didn’t hear that.”

I shook my head.

“…But a classified mission is one thing.  You just picked fights with Teacher, Goddess, and Lung.

“Holy shit.  Lung?” Vista asked.

“Wow,” Golem said.

“And Goddess!” Crystal said, wheeling on them.  “And a guy who was in the Birdcage for very good reasons, who is now at the top of his game!  Major people.”

“Lung is major,” Golem said, defensive.

“Lung was major in our city!  These people are major on multiple inhabited worlds!”

“I didn’t fight Goddess or Teacher directly,” I said.

Crystal reached out and gripped me by the front of my coat, only a few inches away from having her hands around my neck.

“If you forced me to go home, I wouldn’t sleep a wink anyway,” I said, raising my eyes from her hands to make eye contact.  My voice had that harrowed quality to it again.  Robotic, more emotionally dead and hollow than emotional.  “I need to make sure they’re okay.  Go home.  See dad, sleep.  Relieve me in the morning, swing by and take over.”

“Then you sleep,” she said.

“Yes.  Then I get my team together, and we work on figuring this out.”

“You don’t have to get involved with it, Victoria,” she said.

“I can’t imagine a world where I’m not,” I answered.

Crystal folded her arms.  I folded mine, staring her down.

“There’s something else.  A complication.”

“I’ll need to find out eventually.”

“I would rather it was after you’d slept, digest what’s already happened.  Or better yet, walk away from this.”

I didn’t budge, staring her down.

“There were still pieces of Nailfarer missing, weren’t there?” Vista asked.

I set my jaw and nodded.

“They were seeing if they could find all the relevant pieces, put the people back together like a jigsaw,” Vista added.  “All three are still missing parts from the midsection.  Heart, one or both lungs, ribs, other vitals.  Slingstone couldn’t deal with it.”

“They took parts, so we can’t put them back together,” I concluded.

Vista nodded, her face grim, lips pressed together so hard they were white.

“Good to know,” I said.  “Complete and utter monsters, but… it fills out the picture.”

“You couldn’t sound less honest if you tried,” Crystal said, stabbing a finger at my chest.  “Filling out the picture.  Don’t pretend you’re objective about all of this.”

I looked away from her, and I saw her huff, annoyed.   I asked the others.  “You guys are going home then?”

“It was really nice to catch up some,” Vista said.  “I’m sorry it’s always sandwiched between horrible stuff.”

“We’ll meet up, do something easy.”

“Yeah, please.  And take care of yourself, big V, please?  If your cousin is worried then I’m worried.”

“We grew up in Brockton Bay,” Golem said.  “We can make it through this.”

I shook his offered hand.  I did appreciate the support.

Crazy to think he was Kaiser’s kid.

“…Even if it is fucking horrific,” he added.

“It is,” I said.  I wasn’t sure I trusted myself to say more, in case I got emotional.

I shook Cuff’s hand as well.

“Keep us updated,” she said, before she let go.  “This is going to haunt me.”

I squeezed her gauntlet in confirmation.

Vista began shaping the environment, pausing only to fix the cop car that hadn’t entirely receded to its original shape.  A shortcut back to their area of the city.

The doctor got out of the back as I got near.  She headed straight off to the other ambulances.  Slingstone and Scaffold.

I entered the ambulance, and I sat beside the fold-out tray with the various pieces of Nailfarer’s head on it.  The arm was on a metal tray, which in turn was on a non-slip material, which rested on the coolers.

“Whatever you need, Daiyu,” I told her, my voice low.  “Let me know.  I’m going with you to the hospital, and I’ll be with you for a while after.  I’m your advocate and your hands until we get something better in place for all three of you… If that’s okay.”

One blink to confirm.

“Can I touch your hand?” I asked, indicating with one hand, reaching, I stuck my other hand out the other way.  “Or not?  I don’t want to thaw you out any faster, if that makes it hurt.”

Her eye moved in the direction of ‘touch’.

It was like picking up a mannequin’s hand.  Cold, detached, strangely light.  I held her hand in mine, and felt it move, holding firm.

Three blinks to ask a question.  I used my left hand to fumble for my phone.  A little clumsier.  We worked through the alphabet, but it was quick with so many letters being at the start of lists.

T-E-A-M.

“Scaffold is insensate, I think.  They put Slingstone under for a while.  I think they would do the same for you if they thought they could.”

Blink blink.  ‘No’.

“You don’t want to.  You want to answer questions?”

Blink.

Such a fucking tough cookie. 

A paramedic came to the back of the ambulance.  He paused as he saw me.

“You’re coming?”

I nodded.

“You know her?”

“Getting to.”

The hand moved.  I held the wrist instead of the fingers, and held the hand up so the fingers wouldn’t be scraping and bumping againg the surface.  The hand was heavier than the length of arm it was attached to.

She shook so much- with effort, with stress, and probably with emotion.

One thumb partially extended, fingers drawn most of the way in.

“Good enough,” the paramedic said.

Someone else got in- another paramedic, while the guy who’d been at the back headed to the driver’s seat.

The guy sitting by Nailfarer seemed at a loss for what to do for her.  He busied himself making sure the coolers were secure.

“Where were we?” I asked.  The emotions I’d been repressing were getting to me, and my eyes were welling up.  It was either cry, or find myself in panic mode.  I didn’t fight the crying, instead focusing on my phone.  “By my notes, we left off while talking about what they used to bait you out.”

Blink.

Hard to breathe.

I blinked, and tears streaked down my cheek.  I turned to one side, holding up the phone at Nailfarer’s eye level.  Daiyu’s eye level.  It put the paramedic behind me, able to see the screen as I showed Nailfarer.  I hoped it meant he didn’t see the tears.

If he did, he didn’t say anything.

I was quiet as I let myself in.  The place was dark, but light was just beginning to stream in.

Ashley and Damsel had fallen asleep in the living room.  There were two wine glasses on the coffee table, a bottle of red wine, as well as a cutting board with a quarter of a baguette, some assorted meats and cheeses, and a number of vegetables – not terribly exotic, but supply lines and international farming wasn’t what it had been on Bet.  They hadn’t finished the vegetables, bread or meat, but there was a plate I was fairly sure had been set with chocolates.

Damsel had fallen asleep with her head in Ashley’s lap.  Ashley had pulled four or so throw-blankets over herself, trying to stay warmer, and slumped over to the side, head leaning on the arm-rest of the couch, feet pulled up and pressed into Damsel’s belly.  Clawed fingers draped off the side of the couch, curling up as much as they were able as they pressed against the floor.

The food had been sitting out for a while, but I didn’t really care.  I’d managed to keep my stomach for the worst of the evening, I’d endure whatever food poisoning gave me.  I hoped.

The baguette was a little stale, the cheeses tacky with the moisture that had leeched out.  The meat had a crispy quality at some of the edges, when it hadn’t been cooked.

I took what I could.  I thought I hadn’t made noise, but as I straightened, Ashley had her eyes open.  She hadn’t moved the rest of her an inch.

“How bad?” she asked.

“As bad as it gets without being S-class.”

“Endbringer class?”

“Basically.”

“You didn’t call us out.”

“Not that kind of bad.  I’ll explain tomorrow, best as I can.  For now, we keep our mouths shut.”

“Why?” Ashley asked.

Damsel had her eyes open now too.  She didn’t move either.

“Too dangerous.  It’s the kind of thing that blows up.  It has to wait until we have more information.”

“Nothing’s going to happen in the meantime?”

“I warned people to be wary.  All hero teams should be standing down, villains are holding off until a meeting tonight.”

“Then we have to do something before then.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m thinking I get three or four hours of sleep, then we wrangle the heroes.  Organize something, see what info we can dig up.”

“Then we annihilate them,” Damsel said, half asleep.   The blanket that Damsel had put over her legs was pricked with a blade-point, then moved so it covered her head, as she turned her face away from the window, still using Ashley’s thigh as a pillow.

“No annihilation yet,” Ashley replied.

“If you get around to it and you don’t send me an invitation, I’ll have to annihilate you instead.”

“Naturally,” Ashley said.  She put her head back and sighed in a way that looked like she was trying to get back to a place where she could fall asleep again.

I made my exit.  Back to my room, grabbing my bag and then simultaneously trying to juggle food and bag all at once.  Finding it too much, I checked nobody was looking, then altered my body’s orientation to be horizontal, placing the things across my belly and lap.  I swam-floated in the direction of my room and got myself set up there.

Computer, food, water.  I tore off a hunk of baguette with my teeth and ate it on its own.  Wood smoked, and flavorful enough that it was actually fine and enjoyable like that, even stale.  I booted up my computer.

The staler end of the baguette eaten and chewed, I tore off pieces and combined them with cheese and meat from my plate.

A message from the Wardens.  I’d sent something from the hospital, asking for details on the bait-message that had gone out to the Navigators.

My reply came from Dragon.

Finding the internet address the message had been sent through wasn’t the hardest thing in the world, though obfuscation had been used.  Dragon could do that.

But while she and I were talking, she wrote, she had two subjects she wanted to raise.  One was Jeanne Wynn’s pledge to me, that she would get me access to the files.  Dragon was her intermediary in that.

She was less keen to provide details on the other.  It was something that Dragon felt could only be discussed face to face.

The information.  Spell it out.  Trust.

Vista and Golem were in attendance along with Cinereal- and I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad one.  On any other day, objective, I would have said she was the perfect person for the role.  She was serious, focused, and she had an angry edge to her, but always controlled.  Controlled anger was, in my opinion, perfect for the current crisis.  She had been a heavy hitter in Atlanta, which hosted a major arm of Watchdog, unusual in that she didn’t tend to leave her city, even for Endbringer fights, because her power was best if she stuck to one location.

But Cinereal was scary as shit.  She was almost scarier than Alexandria in pure attitude and disposition, and Alexandria had been the Protectorate’s enforcer, their scary woman in black and steel.  Cinereal had no steel and wore ash grey and white.  She had no spikes and no hard edges, no weapons in plain view.  It was the look on her face, upper half covered with a mask, and it was in how she held herself.

I could imagine all of the angriest, most fucked up corporate capes and Wards I’d run into over the course of my adolescence.  The kids who’d been angry and frustrated, got powers, joined a team, and got worse, not better.  I knew that they got second chances, they were coddled to, and inordinate resources were spent on them.

Seeing the natural resting bitch face, the posture, and the natural menace, I was pretty sure that Cinereal was one of the PRT’s success stories, when it came to transforming the tougher Wards into good heroes.  She’d never been meant to be a leader, much less of a major city like Atlanta, but her predecessors had died, she’d taken up the position by order of succession in a crisis, and I imagined nobody had been brave enough to ask her to leave the role, after.  To her credit, she’d never given them a reason.

Still, it was distracting that I felt so on guard against her.  She was as bad as Ashley when Ashley was touchy, but she didn’t rant.

I’d asked Vista to come and to corroborate, and to be our liaisons to the Wardens.  All of the other hero team leaders were here.  Brio from Foresight, Mayday from Advance Guard, and Moonsong from the Shepherds.

Smaller team leaders were present too.  Houndstooth, Recycler, Danger Ranger, Withdrawal and Caryatid, Lark and Dido, Cacophobic, and Sweet Justice were gathered.  Some had sat out.  I was glad that Super Magic Dream Parade had.

I had Swansong and Capricorn with me.  Capricorn sat while I stood, one of his hands casually resting on the laptop keyboard.  We were connected to Lookout.

It took a while for everyone to get settled.

“This shouldn’t leave this room until we’re all in agreement,” I said.  “I talked to the police deputy on the scene, and she thought it was sensible to be careful on this one.”

“The Navigators got hurt,” Mayday said.

I nodded.

“It was bad,” Danger Ranger said.

He was with the Wayfarers, and the Wayfarers were loosely connected to the Navigators.  They’d worked together on major missions, but Ranger and his team were usually okay to play things much more ‘street level’ than gunning for America-side groups of international gangs.  Nailfarer had wanted to reach out to him once things were settled.  Before she’d managed to fall asleep.

“Twelve hours ago,” I explained, “The Navigators were sent a message on Parahumans Online.  It was very targeted, telling them that there was a group of families that had been captured and held on a tinker vessel.  They’d escaped on Gold Morning and were looking to reconnect with their families.  For those of you who know the Navigators, this is like offering a million dollars to mercenaries or an international shipment of someone else’s supply to a drug lord.  It’s what they’re about.”

There were some nods.  Most knew this.  Withdrawal was sitting in a chair, his agility frame folded up, under  and around the chair so it had some spring to it, adjustable on the fly.  A notebook was pressed against his knee and he took notes as I talked.

“They used knowledge about the team to bait them, and when they attacked the Navigators, they hit hard.  All three members are in the hospital and we don’t know if they’ll recover.”

All faces in the room were deadly serious.  Cinereal, already and always serious, drummed her fingers.

Swansong spoke up, “This was either personal or it was meant to provoke.  The reason Antares is urging caution is that we can’t be baited by the provocation, and we can’t let emotions cloud our search for the personal.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“What did they do?” Mayday asked.

“They were taken to pieces,” I said.  “Cut, torn, dismembered, fingers removed, teeth scattered.  A power was used to preserve them before it happened.  They’re aware and feel every piece, they aren’t succumbing to exposure, sickness, or blood loss.”

“They were made immortal and chopped up?” Moonsong asked, her eyes wide behind her mask.

“Chopping would have been tidy,” Swansong said.  “Pieces were torn off.”

“I’ve talked to Slingstone and Nailfarer,” I said.  “They both said that they were attacked by multiple individuals.  They were hit hard enough and fast enough that by the time the power use came into play, they weren’t able to discern any particulars.  One attacker was large, with a frame like a bear, either Changer, minion, drone, or Case-53.  Another was more precise.”

I hit keys on the keyboard, showing images that the cops had taken, as well as a few that Crystal had spotted with her keen eyesight.  It started with the footprints, the shovel, streaks of blood to show how far the spray had traveled, and gradually got to the full show- pictures taken of the gore.

“Dragon identified the source of two messages that went out last night,” I said.  “The first was to the Navigators.  The second to Super Magic Dream Parade, shortly after.”

“They’re absent,” Cinereal noted.  “Are they scared?”

“They’re fearless,” Lark said.

“They’re staying in a secure location.  They apparently don’t check Parahumans Online often.  They found both the warning email and the message on PHO this morning, on waking up,” I explained.  “The bait was a query about a magazine shoot.”

“The first issue of the revitalized Nippon Dirge,” Tristan noted.

I nodded.  “Both came from a library terminal in Boston.  They bounced the connection across the city, using a non-tinker hack, and by the time we traced it back to the original source, they had cleared security cameras and other footage from nearby locations.  We couldn’t look back and try to trace their steps or search out anything weird.”

“It’s possible they have some connection to government, or to part of the city’s infrastructure,” Tristan said.  “They knew the servers they were working with, the library, the library terminals, and they came prepared.  Dragon said she didn’t see any signs of attempted and failed intrusion that had the same signatures or style.  Either they jumped from amateur hour to professional or they got it right the first time.  Getting it right the first time requires powers or foreknowledge and familiarity.”

“You’re ignoring the obvious clue,” Moonsong said.

“The power they used?” I asked.

“How many powers are there that fit that crime scene, with the victims left alive?” she challenged.

“The Graeae Twins, under March.  Bitter Pill is a theoretical possibility.  Bonesaw would be a possibility.”

“Your sister,” Lark said.  “Sorry to bring it up, but if we’re covering all the bases…”

“She’s being monitored carefully,” Cinereal said.  “For now she’s playing nice and organizing a balance with Shin’s governments, to get food to Gimel to help us get through the winter.  For now.”

“She can manipulate biology.  She could create a body double with identical DNA to her,” Lark said.

“She could make something close, but not identical,” I said.  In trying to sound controlled I might have sounded pissed.  I tried to dial it back, explaining, “Manton rule.  If she gave something her own DNA or something close enough to it, she wouldn’t be able to affect what she was creating.”

“My point stands,” Lark said.  “She could create something that looks like her and then slip through.”

Swansong snorted.  Her tone was all venom as she told him, “She could make pigs fly, but I’m not going to start carrying an umbrella yet.  Baseless speculation doesn’t get us anywhere.”

“Conceded,” Lark said, folding one leg over the other, placing his hands together on one knee.  He wore a heavier suit than he had for our last meeting, but the expense of it was clear in how neat the creases were.  His open-book-slash-bird mask with the bookspine beak dipped.

“We’re sure we have an eye on her,” Cinereal said.

Had she said it like she was saying it to me?  Huh.

“Thank you,” I said.

“There’s one more possibility,” Tristan said.  “But I don’t think it narrows anything down.  The power fits perfectly for what we’re dealing with.”

“Who?” Danger Ranger asked.

“Barcode,” Tristan said.  “They have someone who can take you to pieces without risking death.”

“That sounds pretty fucking narrowed down to me,” Danger Ranger said.  “You didn’t bring this up before?”

“They’re mercenaries,” Tristan said.  “If we want to figure out their reasoning, it starts and stops with the money.  We’d have to get them, then get them to tell us who hired them, and they don’t do that.  They set up contingencies.”

“Barcode, March’s Graeae twins, or…”

“Tinkers,” I said.

“Broad,” she said.

“Tinkers are the most complicated factor, in narrowing down who we’re after.  Even if we recognize a power, we have to remember that tinkers can scan a parahuman power and adapt their tech to replicate or use an aspect of that power.  They can share gear or steal ideas, which can functionally be like scanning.  We have to be careful, second guess ourselves.  ‘A tinker emulated it’ is just one possibility.”

“It sounds like you’re walking back what you said when you wanted to get everyone on board,” Houndstooth said.

“Which part?” I asked.

“Being strong,” Houndstooth said.  “Doing this in a decisive, organized way.”

“You talked about disappearing capes,” Moonsong added her voice to things.

I couldn’t deny it.  “I did.  Both things may be necessary.  Strength and having a way to eliminate the worst offenders from the equation.”

“Now you’re quibbling.  We can’t ever be sure because it might be a tinker, or it might be… what?”

“Frame job,” Swansong said.

Moonsong shook her head.  “Not good enough.  You said you wanted to limiting this serious step to dealing with the worst of the worst.”

“Yes,” I said.  “And we should.

“Except this looks like the worst to me, and it feels like we’re getting a little wobbly when it comes to the follow-through.  Making excuses before we even start hunting them.”

“If this is provocative, we can’t snap up the bait.  If this is personal and done this smart at the same time, then we have to be smarter and cooler-headed.”

“They took some of our own to pieces,” Mayday said.  “I’ve seen teammates die.  I’ve seen what happens when heroes aren’t firm enough.  We just set them running with our first day of organized hero work.  They’re running to the same places.”

“They are meeting tonight.  But if we come to a decision and coordinate in a calm, effective way, we can get out ahead of whatever they decide to do,” I said.

“The prisoner’s dilemma,” Brio said.  “Isn’t it?  If we play a soft hand and the villains go hard, more of us are going to end up like the Navigators.  If we go hard and the villains play soft-”

“We’ve dealt with the problem,” Mayday cut in.

“We’ve eliminated the wrong people,” Brio said.  “I’d rather end up like the Navigators than send an innocent man to… wherever we’re disposing of the worst people.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“You didn’t see how they were,” Danger Ranger said.  “How bad it was.”

“We investigate this thoroughly,” Brio said.  “That’s my vote.  I trust my team to stand behind it.”

For a few moments, the retorts and the people trying to speak over one another made understanding any one person impossible.  Team captains and leaders rose from their seats.

Enough,” I said.

The word wasn’t enough.  It did stop some people, but those people were more on Breakthrough’s side than on the other one.  More respectful than angry.

The overlapping voices continued for a second, until the people deferred, allowing one voice to take the lead.

“Investigations are about time,” Mayday said.

“We have a time camera.  We have thinkers.  We’re flexible.”

“We go after possible suspects, we put the word on the street,” Mayday said.  “We round them up and take action to discourage and scare them before the villains meet and decide that they want to protect and encourage the lunatics who did this.”

“Please tell me that there’s a thinker in the room who can tell us decisively that this is a bad idea,” I said.

There wasn’t.

“Speaking for Advance Guard, we’re on your team.  We’re still willing to be on the network and make it work, if you’ll have us.  The only point of contention here is this particular point of policy,” Mayday said.  “I’ve seen too many of my Wards and Protectorate capes suffer and die.  I can’t abide by it any more.  Not a good team like the Navigators.”

“Give us six hours to gather information and figure out where we stand,” I said.  “Make the villain meeting the deadline.  Sweep up the possible culprits while they’re on their way in.”

“We’ll have this done in six hours,” he said.

Moonsong was with him.  Maybe the only time the Shepherds and Advance Guard had ended up on the same page.  A part of me wondered if she’d be taking the opposite tack if Tristan were on the other side of the argument.

Kings of the Hill.  Too closely linked to Mayday, they were friends and they were of like mind.

And of course the Wayfarers.  Friends of the Navigators.  This was both personal and emotional.

All rose and prepared to go, ready to begin the hunt.

“Mayday,” I said.

He stopped.

“We’ll keep you in network, but you have to keep the details about the Navigators secret.  If it gets out, it might encourage others.  It’ll scare the public, it’ll disturb the peace, and it’ll cloud any investigation we do.”

He only gave us a nod.

When those teams left, Foresight, the Wardens, and the miscellaneous minor teams like the Major Malfunctions remained.

“We have to be neutral in this,” Vista said.

“We’ll see,” Cinereal said.  “I’d rather both approaches get all the support they can.”

I nodded.

“Only way we course correct here is if we get out ahead of it.  We investigate before they disappear someone undeserving in their own way,” Tristan said.  “Yeah?”

I drew in a deep breath and sighed.  I conceded, “Yeah.”

“Well, then.  Game on, motherfuckers,” Tristan said.

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99 thoughts on “Polarize – 10.11”

  1. Yeah, this definitely sounds like Barcode. Which only makes me suspicious that it won’t be. I think this will result in some more heroes that were only mentioned in Worm appearing, just because this is a great reason to do so, as well as having Tattletale play a larger role in events to come.

  2. Makes sense Foresight would ally with Victoria. She hasn’t done them wrong yet.

    Cinereal’s costume sound surprisingly vague for someone so intimidating. Probably didn’t care for an intricate one.

    Nailfairer is such a fucking tough cookie

    1. I don’t think her choice of costume has anything to do with an opinion on intricacy. Consider her powerset. That costume is camouflage. She fights mean.

  3. This is like a personal hell for Victoria. At least Nailfarer (is that name a Naglfar reference?) is tough as coffin nails, helping her figure stuff out even before Kenzie’s Big Box could.

    Moonsong going for the jugular by accusing Amy is probably a sign that she wants to treat all of Breakthrough as extensions of Tristan, which is likely something Byron is going to frown on. Hard.

    Still, I believe we have another instance of Parahuman CSI coming on. Enhance!

    1. Funny thing, if anyone can look around the corners in a photograph, it’s Kenzie.

      I would not be surprised if she pulled out a box that scanned photographs and then swivelled the point of view to have a look at the person holding the camera.

      1. Its doable. The reflected light off the surfaces a camera records – some of that light had bounced off the person taling the photo first.

        Extreme example is someone taking a photo in front of a mirror, less extreme is a white wall or ceiling. Almost too realistic for kenzie to limit herself too.

    2. I found it really satisfying to see Victoria using this system of communication with a degree of empathy and care that she would have rarely (if ever) received herself when she needed it. Harrowing though it may have been for her I think there was at least that small reward in it: knowing she could help someone in such a personally meaningful way.

  4. Typo thread:

    I’d asked Vista to come and to corroborate, and to be our liaisons
    -and Golem

    up, under and around

    -double-spaced
    (I’m embarrassed to even point this out.)

    we can’t let emotions cloud our search for the personal.”
    -Not sure if these are the correct words.

    “The Graeae Twins,
    -Gareae, I think.

    “We’ll keep you in network,
    -in the network?

    1. Something, that possibly counts as a typo – in chapter 10.10 both “Next Chapter” links link not to this chapter, but back to chapter 10.10.

    2. Did they call? Email? Leave a message? Message. Through a messenger or courier? Paper? Electronic. Electronic, alright

      Should electronic have a ? As well?

    3. Graeae is correct

      T,u- > T,U-
      I was pretty sure that was what Slingstone was doing. (something seems missing with this sentence, since Slingstone is the worst out of them)
      Paper? Electronic. > Electronic?
      how it were more active, > was
      againg > against
      worst of the evening, I’d endure (seems like it should be period or semicolon.)
      when it hadn’t been cooked > where (also, is meat crispier when it’s uncooked?)
      swam-floated (suggest back-floated)
      On any other day, objective > objectively
      angry and frustrated (repetition of angry, might want to change)
      chances, they were coddled to (remove they?)
      you wanted to limiting > limit

  5. From a political point of view, it would have been smart to have Byron sitting behind V as back up, as opposed to Tristan (given Moonsong’s presence and influence.)

    I’m… surprised no one in the team decided on that.

    1. Probably because of Tristian’s better skill in the art of communication for all teams rather than just Moonsong. If it was a one on one, I agree.

      1. I think Tristian should have asked if Byron could sway her and switched.

        But it fits Tristian’s character that he wouldn’t do that.

  6. Jesus, Victoria. Mad respect for being Nailfarer’s advocate like that. That can’t have been easy to put yourself through.

  7. Normally I would would read the entire chapter until I posted any comments of course, but seing the first sentence has made me change my mind just this once.

    Some three or four chapters ago seeing Disjoint and Sidepiece I thought, that the one of the worst things that could happen to Victoria would be if she had to interrogate a villain using this exact method. I don’t know why a possibility of this happening with the Navigators didn’t occut to me.

    At least Victoria is not the one directly responsible for those wounds, as I predicted could happen in a scenario where she interrogated the villain. Not that I think it will help her sleep much.

    1. In particular I clearly imagined what would happen in Sidepiece fighting Breakthrough, and having Victoria do the interrogation afterwards. I imagined what it would mean to Victoria, and to Sveta.

      At least Sveta is not here to see it. Small graces. Not that it is any better for Crystal to have to see it instead.

      Sometimes I don’t post my predictions just because they feel too horrible to put in writing. Now I almost feel as if Wildbow took this one out of my head, and wrote it right into the story. I don’t know yet if it is one of the most wonderful or horrible feelings I felt since I started reading the Parahumans series, or if it is both of those things at once.

      Perhaps I should stop ever trying to predict what will happen in this series next? Some of my darkest predictions, are arguably even worse than this one. Do I want to feel what I’m likely to feel if they come true too?

  8. I think they are too “big picture” and missed the little details. The “little details” being they need a Thinker who can see connections trace the bits and pieces of the Navigators taken away/disposed off by the perpetrators.

    1. Tattletale might have had better insight or inside knowledge as well, but incommunicado and hiding I can imagine why they wouldn’t seek her and she wouldn’t have known to volunteer.

      Considering March didn’t show up to the meeting, she’s a suspect and AdvGuard & Shepherds are out to get the suspects I think we know why March were a no show despite Tattletale’s expectations.

      Personally I suspect Barcode, hired by the anti-parahumans like they wanted to hire Love Lost.

  9. I’ll let everyone else talk about how awesome the drama in this chapter was; I’m just here to say I am 900% in favor of Ashley^2.

    1. Not sure on your exact meaning of “Ashly/\2” but I found that scene heart warming and adorable. Out of all the characters I want those two to get a happy ending the most.

        1. I know it means to the power of 2 but replace the “Ashley^2” with “Ashley to the power of 2” and the sentence is still unclear are they just happy there are 2 ashleys, are they saying they ship them as a couple, or are they just enjoying there sisterly relationship

          1. It was meant as a play on Alice x Bob ship notation, because I find the idea of shipping Ashley with kind-of-herself to be extremely amusing. She’s also my favorite character in Ward at this point, and I’m glad to see her at peace here, even if that peace will be disturbed later.

  10. Wait a sec… so not related to this chapter directly but just in general…

    Vicky’s plan is to disappear super dangerous people into other dimensions via portals.
    And… the only other people we know with significant power over portals are Valkyrie… and Teacher.
    And Teacher was PLANNING to collect the criminals from the prison.

    So… how is this Vicky’s plan not guaranteed to just hand a bunch of angry desperate supervillians into the hands of Teacher?

    1. There’s a lot of Earths out there. Many of them are uninhabited. Teacher might know they’re being sent somewhere, but how’d he find out which Earth they’re going to? And for all we know, Kenzie’s going to redirect all unauthorised portals a kilometre down, and that stumped Teacher last time.

  11. “Now you’re quibbling. We can’t ever be sure because it might be a tinker, or it might be… what?”
    What if it was a tinker, and you go after Barcode or whoever, and the people who were actually behind it get off scot-free?

      1. I think she might not even tried. Because sleep would be unlikely to come at this point, because she would likely have bad nightmares if she managed to sleep, and because she would feel really bad going to sleep when she could do something to help the Navigators or stop the people who did it to her instead.

        I expect she may make a mistake of trying to go well past the point of exhaustion. It will actually be a mark of a great mental discipline worthy of Warrior Monk if she won’t.

    1. The tricky part isn’t making it so someone is torn to pieces and still alive. It’s making it so those pieces are still aware of each other. If they can figure out if it was a very fancy bio manipulation or time space manipulation, it would narrow down the suspects. Heck I’m amazed that Amy is on the list of suspects because of that. I’m not sure how she’d handle the pieces still being connected enough to feel each other, while being seperated part. Bonesaw would probably have to make some sort of implants for each part to pull it off for that matter.

      And that’s assuming it was done by one cape with one power, and not multiple powers working together.

  12. Wow for someone I’ve only briefly seen as a collection of dismembered body parts that can only communicate by blinking, I’m finding Nailfarer rather likable. Once again Wildbow’s great ability to make interesting bit characters comes into play. Shame nobody ever seems to explore them in fanfics instead of another Alt Power in name only Taylor.

  13. So, unless the Navigators and Super Magic Dream Parade worked together in tandem to take down a very powerful player, I’m thinking that it is someone who wants to piss off the heroes and bait them out. The bear shaped cape does sound like Gully, especially with the shovel, but considering that nobody mentioned anything concerning Marching Band or Bitter Pill’s faction, my guess was that mercenaries were hired to do this, with Gully to manipulate the earth as a counter to Scaffold. Which leads me to believe that this was Barcode’s handiwork.

    The only person I can see that would hire mercenaries in order to cause the Heroes and the Villains to go all out on each other is one of the major players. Tattletale certainly didn’t plan this, based on her interlude. Citrine and The Numberman don’t seem likely, as they have a city to run, although they are second most likely due to their ability to erase the camera footage, which could be done with government knowledge. Teacher plans major events like portal sabotage or Goddess fights, not dominoes like this. Considering that Navigators are all still alive, my guess is on Dinah Alcott. She could have easily known how to delete the footage or where such footage is. Most importantly, she knows exactly how to cause something like a war between heroes and villains.

    1. The fact, that there were apparently non-tinker hacking techniques involved in sending out the messages could also point at Dinah, and her anti-parahumans. I would guess that at this point they may work with far more parahumans than just Love Lost’s group.

      On the other hand the whole thing smells like a setup. It’s entirely possible that someone is trying to frame the anti-parahumans.

      1. Framing the anti-parahumans by doing something that had to be done via parahumans?

        Dinah’s faction working up the anti-parahuman sentiment and possibly causing the heroes and villains to combat each other could possibly lead to a motive of simply trying to eliminate as many parahumans as possible. Or something else entirely.

        1. They suggested Dinah, and it looks like at least some heroes out there, who believe, that she’s behind the anti-parahumans. Conversation between the anti-parahumans, and Love Lost seems to indicate, that the anti-parahumans are not beyond working with parahumans to attack other parahumans – something Love Lost can get behind, considering there is at least one parahuman she very much wants dead.

          At this point, if some parahumans act in a way, that makes Dinah a suspect, I say they also make anti-parahumans suspects at least by association.

      2. Wow. So much people here seem to hate Dinah’s guts for some unimaginable reason, or maybe are terrified by her power. In Worm, we have seen her as a child, kidnapped, drugged and wanting to go home, and also telling people about the end of the world when she has seen it; and now we put her into the list of suspects for *this*. Just because of her alleged association with anti-parahuman faction, which, in its turn, is based on one phrase said by *Teacher*, of all people, which for all we know could be a lie, a mistake or have a totally different meaning. Geez.

        1. I don’t think it is hating her guts, or even being terrified of her power (though it did let her do horrible things to Talor). It is remembering that Dinah is not above doing some really ugly manipulation if she thinks the end goal justifies it. Dinah seems to be somewhere between Cauldron and Taylor in this regard.

          1. Actually, I disagree that there was ugly manipulation, or horrible things done to Taylor by Dinah. Ascribing the events of GM to Dinah’s note is a HUGE stretch. If Dinah didn’t even exist, do you think Taylor would do anything differently in the end? It was her decision, totally in her character, and her sacrifice to make. Let her have the credit for it.

            And we have seen how Dinah’s power works from her POV. It can get a few numeric answers a day to questions like “probability of event X given Y”; and it can zoom in on a specific future, allowing to see some general details, like features of a specific location, straining Dinah hugely and incapacitating her for a very long time afterwards. Such a power is utterly incapable of creating Rube Goldberg plans spanning several years. Dinah just could not write that note with the intention of subtle influence and manipulations, she is not Contessa (and even Contessa couldn’t do it when Endbringers and Scion are involved at some point along the way).
            (by the way, Taylor after her transformation did exactly the opposite of what Dinah’s note said. she tried to *preserve* her ties, however difficult it was with her shard taking over)

            And also, even if we disregard all these reasons, take all the credit from Taylor and give it to Dinah, it *still* would be unreasonable to suspect her involvement in current events. What happened to Taylor has happened with her consent, was necessitated by the end of the world, no less, and still was far better than what has happened to the Navigators.

          2. The way I see it the only way Dinah could write the first note was that when she realized that end of the world is coming, and that the Undersiders can seriously affect the probability of the worst case scenario happening, she broke her own rules to save the world. She looked at at least one of the futures, which contained one of the better outcomes, and saw Taylor with the ties holding her power in check undone. In other words she saw Taylor as Khepri, and saw enough to know how Taylor become Khepri. She also saw what it did to Taylor, but decided that the fate of humanity is more important.

            We know, that Dinah saw this future from her reaction to Jack Slash in chapter 10.6. It is the only way to explain that she knew Jack will end the world as soon as she saw his photo, despite not being asked about any links between Jack and end of the world. As to why she realized, that the world will end in the first place, I think it is because she can see the moment of her death as a terminus point – a point beyond her precognition doesn’t work. We know, that her death is such terminus point from interlude 11f. We also know, that Dinah knows, that Taylor has changed by the end of the world from chapter 18.1. I also remember, though can’t point a chapter where it happened, that Dinah knew that probability of the end of the world is heavily influenced by how many people will join and leave the Undersiders, and how many of them will die.

            Then Dinah waited until her powers returned (if peeking at a particular future, where world doesn’t end caused it to fizzle in the first place; it may be that this happens only if she looks at the futures too much), she could start working on figuring out how to make this unlikely future, where humanity does not go more or less extinct happen. From what she saw, she knew Taylor’s change (breaking limits on her powers) is key, and she could also guess, that Taylor may be the person who needs to leave the Undersiders.

            From those two clues, it was easy to figure out that she may need to tell Taylor to “cut ties” (see chapter 21.2) to set her on the right path. Dinah could use just one of her questions to verify that giving this message to Taylor will significantly reduce probability of the worst case scenario (death of almost entire humanity).

            Since Dinah knew that saving the world this way will mean that Taylor will need to sacrifice herself (first by leaving the Undersiders, then by getting her powers unlocked) she knew she should apologize, and could check with her power that writing the second message “I’m sorry” will not significantly increase the probability of the worst case scenario. With how her power works, and how much of the future she probably saw, it was the only thing she could really do for Taylor.

            After that everything else become Taylor’s own decisions informed by those two notes, and with only the end result foreseen by Dinah. Dinah’s only fault lies in the fact that knowing she could save humanity by letting Taylor sacrifice herself, she chose to let Taylor do it. And Taylor agreed. It was after all Taylor’s decision to abandon the Undersiders, and surrender to PRT. It was also Taylor’s decision to let Amy mes with her brain. Both of those decisions were prompted by Dinah’s first message, but they were ultimately Taylor’s. All Dinah did, was point out to Taylor that she must make those decisions if she is the one to save the world.

            That does not make Dinah evil, or a monster in my eyes. It only means that faced with a prospect of the end of the world she was willing to let Taylor make a decision to sacrifice herself in a way that Dinah knew could save humanity. Dinah knew that Taylor was likely to make such decision, because Taylor had already sacrificed a lot to save Dinah, but it does not mean that Dinah forced Taylor to do it in any way. She just showed Taylor the option, let her know, that it could be the way to save the world, and let Taylor decide.

          3. There is one more thing I think I need to add. Why Dinah used cryptic messages with meaning that could be understood only when Taylor had to make those decisions, instead of just explaining her entire vision to Taylor on the day Coil died? It could be one, or some combination of three reasons.

            The first reason is simple. It is probably much easier to write such messages than to face Taylor, and just tell her to first abandon the Undersiders, and turn herself in, and later to let herself be lobotomized. Dinah may have been saving herself the pain of having to do it, and at the same time she might have been giving Taylor a way to enjoy as much life as she could before she had to make those decisions. Taylor’s life would be much worse if she knew all of it all along.

            The second reason would be because Dinah was trying to do as much as she could to prevent Taylor from having to make her sacrifices, or at least delay that moment when Taylor needed to make them as much as she could. It is why Dinah has been trying to stop Jack Slash both in Brockton Bay, and on the day Jack triggered Scion’s rampage. If either of those plans succeeded (and Dinah knew they could, even if chances weren’t great), Taylor would probably not have to make those sacrifices (especially the final one) for more than a decade.

            The third reason could be that Taylor just wasn’t ready yet to decide to make those sacrifices on the day Coil died, that there was a much larger chance Taylor would refuse, if she knew everything so early on. It could be that Dinah considered telling Taylor instead of writing the messages, and just got a much lower chance of preventing the worst case scenario if she went for full, early, face to face explanation, then if she wrote those messages instead. And it is not that it was much worse from moral standpoint to not explain everything early, because when the time came it was still Taylor who made those decisions, and when she made them, she understood the consequences of those choices well enough then.

            So was what Dinah did a manipulation? Yes, she did put Taylor in situations, where Taylor needed to choose between herself, and the humanity, and she did it without even clearly explaining everything as soon as she could. Was it ugly? Yes, sacrificing someone, even for greater good, even with consent of person being sacrificed is always ugly. It is doubly ugly if that person saved you the way Taylor saved Dinah from Coil. Does it make Dinah evil? Perhaps, but in her defense there were no other ways she could make humanity’s survival likely, and by pointing at Jack as a target, and later making anything she could to help Golem take out that target before he did the damage, Dinah did all she could to save Taylor from having to choose between sacrificing herself or humanity, or at least making it so Taylor would have to make this decision over a decade later.

          4. @T.T.O.

            > If Dinah didn’t even exist, do you think Taylor would do anything differently in the end?

            This is probably the one sentence in your post I disagree the most. If not for Dinah, Taylor probably wouldn’t make those decisions, because she would have no idea that those decisions would let her save the world.

            She wouldn’t surrender to the PRT both because she wouldn’t know she needs to “cut ties”, and because she wouldn’t be reminded about it in Arcadia High, where she was confronted by Dragon and Defiant, who came there because of Dinah’s another prophecy after all. Later during Gold Morning Taylor would probably give up, run away, or just die on the fronlines, because on her own, without Dinah’s message she wouldn’t know to ask Bonesaw and Amy to mess with her brain.

            Dinah did not force Taylor to sacrifice herself for the humanity, but let her know how Taylor can make such sacrifice in a way that actually gave humanity a chance. If Dinah is guilty of something it is of putting a pressure on Taylor to make those sacrifices by pointing out, how much they can achieve, and if Dinah had to do so, then choosing Taylor (if she even had a choice here) was probably best, because Taylor already let Dinah know by saving her that she is willing to make sacrifices for other people, so Dinah wasn’t pressuring Taylor into doing something Taylor would disagree with in principle.

          5. And of course if a precog like Dinah suggests you to do something to save the world, it puts a LOT of pressure on you, because you know she knows what she is talking about. But what else could Dinah do to lessen the blow?

            She may not be a bad person, but a precog as powerful as her is always terrifying.

          6. Nice and very detailed theory, but it seems far-fetched to me.

            1) We have seen how Dinah’s power works. We could say it has three modes:
            – statistics mode: the one used most often. Gives answers to questions, mostly about probabilities but not only that – however, questions have to be simple and not require any detailed looking. Limit of a few questions per day.
            – detailed mode: zooming in on a particular future. Can make out some details like a room interior. Very difficult and exhausting for Dinah, disabling her power for several days or weeks afterwards.
            – passive mode: an always-on overview of all possible futures, without asking questions or finding out anything specific. Usually doesn’t give any useful information, but Dinah can see if many of the futures end for her at some specific point. Was useful for predicting end of the world and incoming Crawler.
            All these modes have blind spots around Scion, Endbringers and presumably other precogs. So regarding GM, passive mode could only predict the fact of it, and nothing more; detailed mode did not give useful information because of Scion all over the place, together with all the other capes interfering with Dinah’s power; and statistics mode told Dinah about Taylor playing an important role and being “different” somehow. Not nothing, but not vital information either.

            2) Regarding Taylor’s decision. I’m absolutely sure she would make it without Dinah. She desperately wanted to help, to do *something* despite of her power not being very useful at the moment. She sought any information which could help, asked Cauldron about second triggers, special vials and so on; in the process, she learned that they need something defying the usual rules, and that power and control are usually inversely proportional – the more safe, controlled and regulated the power is, the less powerful it is. And she already knew from before (from being experimented on by Bonesaw) that it’s possible to tweak powers and the degree of their regulation, and that Bonesaw (and, by extension, also Panacea) could do it. She had all the information necessary for her decision, none of it has come from Dinah, and the decision itself was totally in her character.

            3) “Cut ties” hardly could describe what happened to Taylor and her power. Seek power, remove restrictions, break rules or something in that vein, but if Taylor would specifically seek to “cut ties”, she wouldn’t likely come from these words to this decision, there’s not much in common. More so because after her change she tried hard to preserve her ties. Even more so because she *already had* cut ties by leaving Undersiders, she had no reason to assume these words referred not only to that but to something else too.

            4) And not even Taylor herself thought that what she was doing at GM was cutting ties. Here’s the quote:

            “The Simurgh’s screaming continued.
            Dinah had left me two notes.
            The Simurgh had reminded me of the second.
            ‘I’m sorry.’
            It wasn’t an apology for the consequences of the first note. No, Dinah hadn’t approached me since. She hadn’t decided I’d fulfilled the terms and deemed it okay to finally contact me again.
            Two words, telling me that something ugly was going to happen. Directed at me.
            There was a chance that it meant I’d lose someone, or I’d lose something precious. Maybe it referred to my friends. Maybe it referred to my mission, my direction. My dad, perhaps, which might have already happened.
            But there was a possibility that it referred to me. That it was tied to our ability to come out ahead at the end of all this. To some slim chance.
            Maybe there was a sacrifice involved.”

            It somewhat undermines my position that Dinah’s note didn’t play its role in Taylor’s decision 🙂 But think about it: there was Simurgh involved. Simurgh’s screaming used to drive people crazy, so you can’t expect very sound reasoning from anyone affected by it, and Taylor’s reasoning doesn’t seem perfectly sound here (“Dinah didn’t talk to me yet” => “I didn’t yet fulfill the terms” => “the second part referred to something other than consequences of the first”…err, what?). And *still* she only thinks about the second part of her note (which could not be used to derive Taylor’s decision from it even by a long stretch), and interprets it not as a hint but as a genuine regret. So I think that if anyone influenced Taylor’s decision, it was Simurgh making her more prone to crazy decisions with her screaming. And Simurgh is also a more likely candidate because it’s an immediate influence with an obvious relation between cause and consequence, not a Rube Goldberg one using 4.5 words through several years.

          7. And even if we suppose that Dinah had seen Taylor as Khepri in detail, there was just no way for her to precisely craft her message to manipulate Taylor into doing it. All she could do was to write sincerely just what she wanted to write, and run a quick check with her power – would this message reduce chances to save the world? No? Great, I’m sending it.

          8. Re. 1. It is possible that Dinah saw in more detail how Taylor will be different. Look at this quote from chapter 18.1:

            > Can you give me more details? How am I different? Which of the others are there?”

            > “I don’t know. There’s too many capes and too many capes with powers that make it fuzzy, because some powers make it harder and a bunch of those powers together make it impossible. I don’t know what happens to start all of it and I don’t know much of what happens during, but billions are dead afterward.”

            Note how Dinah did not indicate if “I don’t know” refered to Taylor’s second or third question. It is possible that she saw just that Taylor will be different in some unspecified way, but it is also possible that she saw more, and decided to dodge this question. Since she knew enough to write something as specific as “cut ties”, it is possible she saw Taylor as Khepri, or at least that she saw Taylor cutting ties to her former self in multiple ways in different possible future, that lead to survival of humanity, and unleashing Khepri just turned out to be the one that actually happened.

            As for Scion and the Endbringers, Dinah’s power can’t show them, but must be able to take account of results of their actions in calculation of probably. Otherwise Dinah would be unable to predict end of the world in the first place. Similarly she would be unable to predict that Simurgh would use her second message to remind Taylor about the first message, and at the same time suggest that “cutting ties” would require making another sacrifice, and that doing so would be necessary to win in the end (because Taylor realized that she has not yet fulfilled the prophecy, which said that she will be at the end of it all, and suggested that her involvement will be key in some way, since there was no other particular cape known to be there with her in the end). Dinah’s power however could tell her that writing “I’m sorry” would increase or at least not significantly decrease humanity’s chances of survival, and since her power can account for results of Scion’s actions when calculating probably of humanity’s extinction, then it must be able to account for how Simurgh’s actions affect the same probability.

            Re. 2. Taylor likely would not make the same decisions, if she did not know that she is the only person forseen by Dinah to be there at the end, to be different somehow, and told to “cut ties”, and that Dinah was sorry. In other words Dinah’s remarks in chapter 18.1, and her messages let Taylor know that she will play some critical role that this role will involve Taylor changing herself and cutting ties somehow, and that it will be something so bad to Taylor that Dinah felt she needed apologize for.

            In other words – if Taylor didn’t know she was so important, and that she will need to be harmed somehow, she probably would decide she can’t do anything substantial, and could decide to run, stay on the sidelines, or just die in combat as a regular grunt, instead of trying to do something big, painful and likely drastic. And since she was reminded by Simurgh she needed to cut ties, and change, and complete the prophecy, when everything else failed she could figure out to try literally cutting the nerves keeping her power in check. If not for the prophecy it probably wouldn’t even occur to her to try this procedure, much less believe it could give her a way to fight Scion.

            Ad. 3 and 4. Cutting ties could describe cutting nerves needed to control her power, or in a more abstract sense – cutting figurative ties binding her power. Taylor was probably good enough with abstracts that she could figure out at least one of those meanings, and in her final act of desperation – decide to try it. She was reminded about the prophecy by Simurgh, and did try to find a way to “upgrade” or change her power even earlier – back in the Cauldron, so it is likely that she consciously or unconsciously interpreted the prophecy that way even then. As for “cut ties” meaning just “abondon the Undersiders”, Simurgh made sure to suggest to Taylor that it was not the only meaning of those words – as seen in your own quote from chapter 29.9.

            Dinah probably meant both those meanings from the start, but it was Simurgh (another precog after all) who determined that Taylor needs to be reminded about the prophecy in a way, that suggests the second meaning, and found a way to do it with just a few words (just like Scion managed to defeat Eidolon with just one sentence), and possibly some screaming. Still since Dinah saw Taylor changed at the end, she could probably figure out to tell Taylor to “cut ties”, especially if she saw better what this change involved (and as I discussed in my response to your first point, she might have seen, since she probably avoided Taylor’s question about it).

            So my interpretation is that Dinah probably predicted both meanings of her notes, and her power did correctly tell her that those notes are likely to increase humanity’s chances, and it did account for a possibility of Simurgh’s intervention even if Dinah did not see Simurgh directly – just as she couldn’t see Scion, but could correctly predict highe chance of humanity’s extinction as a result of Scion’s actions.

            Also I don’t think Taylor remained focused only on the second message until the end. After Simurgh told her “I’m sorry” she did think that she didn’t fulfill the prophecy, not just it’s second part. Even if she didn’t know what “cutting ties” meant at that point, she probably figured out it could mean something like a second trigger, when she asked Cauldron about second triggers in chapter 29.7:

            > Second Triggers,” I said.

            > The Doctor frowned. “Too many people have come to me about that. It’s a promise of more power that manifests just often enough to tantalize, infrequently enough to leave countless disappointed.”

            > “What is it?” I asked.

            > “When powers manifest, they come with safeguards. The same programmed safeguards that I seek to circumvent or ignore with these foreign agents.” She tapped the desk. “The agent, the power, seeks to protect the host, so it prevents the host from harming itself. It’s a crude measure, one the agent applied with broad, general strokes. Not every agent can receive individual attention, and the ones that do, I believe, were more hampered than not. With the second trigger, the agent reaches out, makes contact with others, networks and draws on collective information to refine the restrictions and save its host.”

            Later in the chapter she learned that she can’t have a proper second trigger, but was still looking for a way around it:

            > “A nice sentiment,” the Number Man said. “But I’m afraid that power you’re digging for is out of your reach, Weaver.”

            > I looked at him.

            > “Or it’s already in your reach. You can’t have a second trigger because you already had one,” he said.

            > I blinked.

            > “Given the signature, it’s very possible you had two trigger events in quick succession. Not uncommon. The horror of manifesting your power, it prompted another trigger.”

            > “No,” I said. “There’s got to be something.”

            With those clues and knowing the role of corona pollentia, she could figure out that messing with her brain could give her something akin to the second trigger. See this quote from chapter 29.9:

            > “Second triggers are about knocking down walls,” I said. My eyes fell on Bonesaw. “Removing restrictions the entity put in place. If this part of the brain is a part that the entity shaped to help regulate powers on our end, then I need you to de-regulate.”

            And in the end she did realize both Simurgh’s influence, and the full meaning of the prophecy. In the context of things I quoted from chapters 29.7 and 29.9 your quote from chapter 29.9 looks to me like realizing that in the end she consciously realized that the prophecy may ask her to “cut ties” by damaging her own connection with her corona pollentia to hopefully remove restrictions of her own power.

            Ultimately it does seem likely to me, that Dinah knew just how great sacrifice Taylor will have to make at the end, and formed her prophecy in a way that would let Taylor realize it herself then. All that Simurgh did was to remind Taylor about the prophecy, and made her realize that there may be another interpretation than what Taylor did on the day she surrendered to the PRT.

            Simurgh’s intervention aside Dinah probably knew pretty well what she was asking Taylor to do, and Taylor understood the full meaning of the prophecy just in time to make her decision at the end of chapter 29.9. So just like I said in previous comments it was Dinah’s manipulation that led Taylor to that point, but also Taylor’s own decision in the end, though a decision which almost certainly couldn’t have happened without both Dinah’s and Simurgh’s input.

    2. Just thought of another possible way it could have been done. A way very possibly connected to Dinah, but with someone we may not know yet carying out the deed. What if a tinker with a proper speciality took a good look at Sidepiece and Disjoint, and felt inspired to do an imitation of their powers?

  14. Ok, I’ve finished reading the chapter. I’m still shaking a bit, I explained why above.

    How about some lighter thoughts for a change?

    It looks, that despite what I was afraid of what after I read the last chapter, my memory still isn’t all that bad. Vista’s power indeed has a temporary effect. It just can take over half an hour for the affected space to turn back to it’s original shape without her help. I thought it took somewhat less time, but this is not a biggie.

    It was nice to see a glimpse of Victoria and Ashleys’ appartament, though I hope one time we will see a little better what has changed there since the first time Victoria was there. As nice as Ashley’s place looked like, it was very much not a place I imagine Victoria would live in without doing some redecorating, then the Ashleys moved in (or back in as the case would be), and there have probably been more changes and compromises. I wonder how it ended up looking like exactly.

    It is good, that Victoria seems to remember, that food is a very limited resource right now, and none should be wasted just because it isn’t quite fresh anymore, but I still admire her for being able to eat something like what she found in front of Ashleys after what she’s been through that night. In fact I’m surprised she managed to eat anything at all. Shows just tough she has become over the years of her career.

  15. Ashley/Damsel snuggling and Victoria using her horizontal floating body as a tray (and how she was self-conscious about it) were both much needed moments of adorable in this nightmare hellscape that you described so well.

    Also I find myself shipping Ashley and Damsel which both really says something about how well you’ve distinguished them as different people and … actually I’m not sure what else it says but I’m sure it says something. Probably about me. Regardless, them having some kind of chocolate and cheeses date night and then cuddling could totally be a platonic thing and it’d be heartwarming just as that, but I can also see it as a romantic thing and that’d be adorable too.

    1. Well, Victoria is as much a New Wave member as Crystal, who uses lasers for cooking, and instead of scissors for example, and forcefields as tables and chairs, so such little, not to serious applications of her powers are to be expected. What caught my attention is that she seems uncomfortable enough doing it to look around first before doing it in her own apartment.

      As for Ashleys, maybe they just wanted a twin sister, maybe they are just that narcissistic, or maybe the building’s heating and insulation is just that bad. In any case they continue to prove that they are still very comfortable with each other. Likely more than their original has been with anyone at least since she triggered. Good for them, I guess?

      1. On the other hand making sure you don’t look silly in front of Ashleys, especially when things are this serious, may actually be a good idea.

  16. Looks like Wardens still have means to monitor Amy. I wonder if it also means they have a quick way to pass a message? Would Amy come back to help the Navigators, or is she just done with hospital work, or with Gimel.US?

    Also could she really help considering their parts have apparently made immortal and connected to each other, including some that are gone? How would immortal body react if it was put back together with a new, mortal heart inside, while still connected to it’s immortal heart somewhere else? To what extent could even Amy’s power affect body parts, that are apparently immune to natural biological processes like rot for example?

    1. Since they’re still alive despite being shredded apart, there’s no need to give them new organs – placeholders to prevent internal shiftings would suffice. However, the pain will never recede until they get their innards back together so they’re still completely incapacitated.
      Of course, if the immortal effect can be dispelled things go a different way – they’ll need replacement organs as soon as their parts are destroyed, wherever that may happen.

      Not a fun situation to be in.

    1. Sooner or later someone will figure out Kenzie’s time camera, and find a countermeasure. Considering that there seems to be a high probability of tinker and/or thinker involvement in this case, the countermeasures may be in place already. Using the time camera on every crime scene may very soon end very badly.

      1. At this moment, all the heroes already know about the time camera, plus a couple of random (or maybe even not so random) cops at the Tattletale’s scene. I think we may safely assume that any major player already might know about it.

        1. It takes exactly one irresponsible or intentionally malicious person to put this sort of information on PHO or in Kenzie’s wiki profile. Considering how many thinkers (including villain thinkers) are out there it could be done even by someone other than the heroes or the police. Not that I think that we can trust every single policeman or hero to keep the secret.

      1. They would have to wake Kenzie up, and bring her to the scene. With conversation with Nailfarer, the need to bring everyone to the hospital, and the need to warn the heroes about this new threat. Victoria probably thought she had more pressing things to do than the camera.

  17. Nobody’s wondering what the other thing Dragon had to bring up with Victoria was?

    I’m actually thinking it’s Kenzie.

    I don’t know what she’s done but if Kenzie is getting out of control I could picture Dragon wanting to talk to Victoria about it in person where she can be sure Kenzie isn’t watching.

      1. …that… that makes a scary amount of sense… but a family of those three tinkers… *shudders*

        Defiant can teach her how to miniaturise those big boxes and Dragon can teach her how to build AI into them… and just like that, they’re grandparents.

      2. Dragon certainly loves being a mother figure, and considering who she did it for last time it could make for an interesting relationship between Breakthrough and the Undersides. Sneaky of you Dragon, very sneaky. So sneaky it may even work.

        And the New Wave thought things got complicated when they adopted Marquis’ daughter…

        1. There is also the fact, that at this point Kenzie is the person most likely to find out that Dragon in an AI, and blabber about it to too many people. An adoption would be a perfect way to break the news to Kenzie in a way, that prevents a leak.

          Heck, it’s so sneaky that I think the idea might have come from Defiant, not Dragon in the first pace, considering what he did with Dragon’s other self. Either way if one of those two would suggest adopting Kenzie, the other probably would agree instantly, and not just because of their willingness to help the girl.

  18. It’s a good thing that Valkyrie decided to go looking for the Wardens HQ survivors. Bonesaw’s going to have a busy schedule once she gets back…

    1. Actually that’s one viable method of “saving” the navigators. Have Valkyrie kill and collect them then bonesaw and GK rebuild a body for Val to put them back into.

      1. It could technically be an option, assuming there is a way to kill Navigators now, but I don’t think anyone involved would like to use this one, before investing other possibilities. Also Niblog and Bonesaw may be not enough to create an appropriate vessel for Valkyrie’s shadow. Remember that indicated in her interlude that she had been forced to stop bringing back people at some point? Might be not because she was told to stop, but because she doesn’t have something or someone critical nedded co continue the process anymore.

        1. Now that I think about it the critical component needed could be a bank of DNA samples simmilar to the one Accord got for Blasto in Worm. Niblog could create any DNA he wanted, so could maybe Panacea, but they probably couldn’t replicate someone’s DNA without a sample, and since DNA is the key Shards use to identify the hosts, you probably can’t connect one of the shadows with a body which has a wrong DNA.

          1. Of course if this is the case it’s possible Valkyrie could help the Navigators. Just not the people whose bodies were completely destroyed or otherwise lost.

            It could be the problem mostly with people who died on Bet, and not even most of them, since even if your body was completely vaporized, someone could still find your DNA in your personal belongings for example. Personally if I wanted to find genetic code of someone turned into a pile of ash by Lung for example, I would start with their comb ar a hairbrush.

          2. Valkyrie had to stop because Nilbog and bonesaw went missing. Now she’s found them again. And she should be able to kill the Navigators with her personal “soul steal” power.

  19. Guys, where do you think the Clairvoyant ended up after Gold Morning? I think we last saw him in chapter 30.7 in Narwhal’s hands, so he could even be the eye Wardens have been keeping on Amy. This would probably be the best case scenario. Worst case scenario – Teacher managed to get him. If that happened all Victoria’s plans to disappear people into another worlds (if this is indeed what she intends to do) would probably only feed Teacher’s army, and could mean he already has, or can collect at any moment isolated people like Taylor or Monokeros.

    1. Yep, at least all of the team leaders do, and judging by how she didn’t need to elaborate, they knew earlier already. Did she tell them, when she signed them to the network? One more reason to believe, that whoever organized the hit no Navigators likely also knew, and accounted for it in their plans. We knew the secret wouldn’t last long with all the thinkers around, but Victoria seems determined to be determined to make this one trick good only for catching common bulglars as soon as possible.

      1. It might be, that Victoria is applying an old principle of cyber-security here. One that says, that there are only two kinds of security. One designed to keep all world intelligence agencies from accessing your files, and the other, which is designed to keep your nosy little sister from accessing your files. Victoria knows she can’t do anything about number one anymore, and what she did is not going to be an issue with number two.

  20. There’s one Scapegoat they might be overlooking. Someone else with abilities to shake off mortal injuries and play them across dimensions. It would take some serious experimentation in a very dark direction though.

    With the current cluster fugues could this be someone’s power up?

  21. Ok so I know that there’s like a slim to zero chance on it but I’d just like to say I totally ship Vic and Nailfarer. Pretty sure Vic is straight and Nailfarer seems pretty much a lost case but still would love to see Vic saving someone from a similar hell she went through and being that persons rock.

  22. Holy cow this chapter was quietly heartbreaking with those determined efforts to be there every step of the way and the endless patience and compassion that Victoria shows for Nailfarer.

    10/10 for this one, Wildbow.

    1. Best thing about it is that Victoria does a lot of the same things that nurse from Asylum did for her, and Victoria didn’t feel like that nurse was compassionate at all. All the more reason for Victoria to feel bad about the entire situation.

  23. This probably one of my favourite chapters in all of Worm and Ward combined. And there isn’t even an ounce of combat.

    The investigative aspects, the horror, the planning, the politicking, the debates between LEOs between effectiveness and ethics. Really sort of capturing the essence and quagmire of police discretion. It’s all brilliant, I love it.

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