Polarize – 10.12

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My boots hit the snow-dusted ground.  With the impact, I made the transition from being weightless and able to move myself in any direction at will to feeling gravity assert itself on me once more.  I felt another weight, the kind one referred to when they spoke of heavy hearts, burdens, and social pressure.

Eight hours of intermittent snowfall hadn’t covered up all of the blood.

The fact that the ground was hard and had ice here and there made the footfalls seem that much heavier.  Ice crunched and I could imagine boots coming down to crack stone.  Even dirt, which should have absorbed impacts, allowed for audible footfalls in the relative silence.  The only noise came from the wind and the light midday traffic, on a road that would take three or four minutes to walk to.

Foresight had sent four of their ten members to us.  It might not have sounded like much, but they were good.

Brio had his standard look going, pirate and ninja combined, without any of the explicit signifiers of either, all with gold veins running through it.  He was all presence, loping swagger, and casual competence.  I’d seen him before in coat, eyepatch, and far too many belts, and seeing him now I realized that he’d been dressed casual then.  He had more belts, including some strapped to his leg and arm, and every one of them had a use, keeping a small arsenal in place.  His right hand and forearm were through the bars of a steel riot shield with a viewport like a Foresight logo, and his left hand rested on two weapons- index fingers extend out at the base of a gun, and the heel of his hand at a sword.  His side of the riot shield had a decorated sawed-off shotgun fixed to it, pointed at the ground, and some ammunition strapped in.

Crystalclear was keeping Relay company.  Crystalclear had updated his costume, and it looked good- the black of it made the quartz-like crystals that jutted from him look that much more distinct.  The crystal growth was more exaggerated than before, but I was assuming the simplest explanation – that the crystal was better than skin and scalp being exposed to the cold.

Relay, meanwhile, was wearing a more ‘cloth’ costume, the long sleeves mostly separate from the body, a series of overlapping folds extending down his body to the ankles.  There were a lot of gaps in the cloth, and through those gaps I could see the sheen of metal, form-fitting enough to be chainmail.  Single spikes were visible here and there, when he moved in the right way- one at the gap where the sleeves would have met the shoulder, another at the blindfold, extending up the forehead, and another at the wrist, like a blade hidden up his sleeve.  He was the ‘rescue’ combo-teleporter and long-distance communicator.

As they got closer to the scene, walking over from the road, Relay hung back, breaking away and ending the conversation with Crystalclear.

I expected Crystalclear to join Anelace, since the two had to be closer in age, but Crystalclear headed straight to Brio.

The stragglers were taking longer.  They were less of a ‘march forward’ bunch.  Recycler and his teammate Retouch were talking to the Major Malfunctions, and Fume Hood was tolerating a conversation with Sweet Justice.

I could have gone to that group, checked that they were okay, touched base, warned them about the details they might see.  Especially with Finale in the group, it might have been warranted.  At the same time, her teammates were with her, and I couldn’t see a good angle to approach and join the conversation without outright barging in.

That, and I wasn’t sure I had it in me to manage too much more.  Having the heroes split over what to do had taken a bit out of me, as had the late night at the hospital.  I needed a breather.

I’ll warn Finale before they see anything bad.

What are the odds that any those heroes who acted outraged over the treatment of the Navigators even visited the victims or the crime scene?  Wayfarers excepted.

I felt petty and annoyed, and I wasn’t sure I trusted myself around the wide-eyed heroes.

I walked over to Anelace, instead.  He watched me despite wearing a mask without eyeholes – only the white lines of an illustrated dagger on the side, the center of it marking the eye.  His coat  was form-fitting and shorter than Brio or Relay’s, showing just how narrow his waist was, and his costume bottoms were similarly slimming.  A little edgy, being all black, but there was enough variation and decoration that it looked more like its own style than anything forced.

Maybe Ashley was rubbing off on me.

“Your team okay?” Anelace asked.

They were late, and he was asking diplomatically.  “They had to pick up another teammate.  Tress went to the hospital to ask some follow-up questions and get some answers from Scaffold, now that he’s talking.  She knows the communication forms necessary to talk to Nailfarer and Slingstone.”

“I got Brio to request and pull some of the crime scene and medical photos,” Anelace said.  “I was curious about the weapons used and the way the damage was done.”

“Personal interest?” I asked, my eyebrow raised.

“Never wanted it to be,” he said.  “But powers don’t always give us what we want.”

“Fair,” I said.  I could read between those lines easily enough.  He was a thinker, and thinkers were especially prone to being pushed into the mental states or dilemmas they were in when they triggered.  It made me curious, but I wasn’t about to push.  Anelace had been decent to me.  “What did you find out?”

“They traded off attacks in quick succession.  You described it as a blitz.”

“Yeah.  Surprise attack, all-in.”

“And the attackers swooped in.  One hits, and before the person they hit is even finished reacting, the next hits.  Coordinated.”

“That makes me think tinker or master minions.  Or thinkers, even someone like Teacher.”

“Or Occam’s razor,” the guy with a blade theme said, “simplest solution and everything.  They could be a team that has spent a lot of time fighting alongside one another.”

“I’m not sure on that.  How many people are this strong, this experienced, and yet complete unknowns?  I feel like we know enough general details that it would click and we’d snap our fingers and say it’s this team or that team.”

“Could be they aren’t from America.”

“True.  Or Bet,” I said.

“Whoever they are, they’re coordinated but I think they might have individual personalities.  The big guy with the claws tried to mercy kill Scaffold, maybe after the others in the group had walked away, but it didn’t work.”

“He didn’t like how far that went.”

“Seems not,” Anelace said.

“Good.  Thank you.  That little detail about the throat cut was bothering me, and this narrows things down.  If there’s that kind of personality involved, it might rule out things like minions and tinker drones.”

“Teacher thralls?”

I made a so-so gesture.  “I think they have some personality.  I could see this scene playing out as described.  Either way, thank you.  It’s a good interpretation of things.”

“You’re welcome,” he said.

We stopped walking, or rather, he stopped before I did, because we were at the very edge of the scene now, and going further risked stepping on bloodstain.

I turned around, so I faced Anelace again.  He was oriented with the bloody crime scene ahead of him, and I faced the distant road, as well as our straggling teams that were still heading to the site.

I saw the distant constellation of orange lights before I recognized the Kenzie van.  A ditch lined the sides of the rural road, and the orange lights created a bridge for the car to pull off the road and drive straight onto the field.

“I’m less sure on this one,” he said, his eyes scanning the scene.  “I saw some of the injuries.  One of the attackers attacked from above.  Blades or talons going straight down, getting caught on the flesh.  Some weight was behind it, angle was too straight.  I’m really curious about that one.”

“Weight behind it- a whole body’s worth?  If someone flew and then came down without flight?”

“No,” Anelace said.  “That much weight would have pushed the cut all the way down, or pulled the victim to the ground.  They stopped themselves, or held themselves back.”

“Good,” I said.  Did that mean high control?  Or very low control, flapping wings?  Did they not want to touch ground?  “Trying to visualize that.”

“Can’t say more until I see more.  It might mean there’s a fifth attacker in the ambush,” Anelace said.  “You counted them by footprints?”

“Police did, with the heroes helping, yeah.”

“Yeah.  This is bigger than the pictures suggested.”

I nodded.  Worse in daylight.  The darkness where the headlights didn’t shine had created a sense that the scene was smaller.  It was possible the officers had parked on or over parts of the scene, now that I could see just how far the blood had been scattered.

“I don’t want to insult your teammate or your friends over there, but can these guys handle this?  Your tinker is a kid, isn’t she?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “She’s the only one who can operate this camera, though.  We talked it over, see if we can’t strike a balance.  But she was insistent on doing it.  She’s- she wants to help.  She’s a hero at heart.  Even when it’s not good for her.”

“All of us are insistent,” Anelace said.  “And none of us would be here if we were concerned about the sacrifices involved.  What about them?”

He indicated the collection of stragglers.

“The Major Malfunctions?”

“Recycler and his teammate too.  The hooded woman- she was from the community center attack.”

“Fume Hood has other experience.  Low-level, but a good few years of regular activity.”

“Good to know.”

“Major Malfunctions… new.  But I know two of the three can handle themselves.  Teacher threw an army at us, and they all held their own.”

“Respect.”

“I think it was his B-listers, to be fair.  He saved the real soldiers for the prison.”

“If you fought an army, take credit for fighting an army.  Give them that credit.  What about the eco heroes?”

“Recycler and Retouch are veterans in their own way.  I’m less sure about them.”

“Why?”

I frowned, pausing to raise a hand in greeting as the van pulled up at the very edge of the scene.  Byron had been driving, with Swansong of all people in the passenger seat.  Precipice, Lookout, and Sveta got out of the back, with Precipice carrying the bulky time camera.  Byron jogged over to help, switching to Tristan, who said something.

“I haven’t fought alongside them.  That’s part of it.  The other part is that  Recycler and Retouch are from Dryad Project 3.  Sponsored,” I said.

I gave Anelace a look.

“I heard of some incidents.  I didn’t pay much attention there,” he admitted.  “Other focuses, I was new to my powers, and I didn’t have any reason to investigate some group in another state with nothing to do with me.”

“Nah, it’s fine,” I said.  “Most of it was covered up.  It was a slow motion train wreck.  It makes me wonder if I should assume they learned from the team’s mistakes or if they’ve become lasting casualties of them.”

“What kind of train wreck?”

I sighed.  I didn’t want to be unfair, but I did want to paint a full picture.  “I mean, they’re sponsored, not corporate, so they had someone paying the bills and all they had to do was hero.  And they were pretty good at that.  The sponsors?   They started it off on the entire wrong foot.  Way too much promotion and way too much money pushed into a team with self-imposed mission of saving the planet.”

“Not a bad mission, considering how we ended up.”

“That’s the issue.  It wasn’t saving the planet from Endbringers or other threats.  It was saving us from ourselves.  Pollution, deforestation, ecology all things that have their validity… on Earth Aleph.  People didn’t buy it.  And if people aren’t buying, how do the sponsors get the money they invested back?”

“Bad management decisions, then.”

“Hired a bunch of bright, genuinely cool heroes, diverse, all good, but few of those heroes cared about the mission before they joined the team, some didn’t care after, and the ones who were really gung-ho got sidelined-”

I paused to indicate the pair.

“Ah ha.”

Was it unfair to stress that the two were really hyped and serious about the ‘green’ thing, when we’d had bigger concerns?  It was true, but I wasn’t sure, and I had no idea if it factored into their judgment or their ability to handle situations like this.

I shrugged.  “The lack of care from sponsors and the hired-on heroes seemed pretty obvious to most.  Then the team got on the wrong side of the Youth Guard, broke or toed the line of just about every damn rule in the book when it came to costumes, school, friendships, throwing kids into violent situations… Two pairs of parents were saying they hadn’t seen their kid in weeks.”

“That was the part I heard about.”

I smiled.  “Yeah.  And the shitty thing is they had some good heroes.  Recycler and Retouch weren’t hip in a way that worked for Dryad Project Three, but they’re strong, they’re pretty capable with potential to place themselves in the public eye, and they’re earnest, which is really important.”

“Those two seem to have come out of the train wreck okay.”

I held my tongue, because there was some stuff that I’d heard third-hand.  My mom had talked and had drinks with a woman from a costume company at one point a while back, not long before Leviathan.  Tipsy, the woman had confided things that weren’t hers to share, and my mother had told me, because she’d thought I needed to know what to watch out for.

I didn’t want to continue the chain of rumor mongering when it came to stuff that was that personal.  The names we chose and the costumes we wore were so important.  On her move from the bench to the main team, Retouch had been given a new look.  Makeover, name, no more time with her boyfriend.  She’d been transformed from girly girl to athletic tomboy in image and told to play a role, say certain things.

At fourteen, just three months into that new position on the team and the life that came with it, she had torn out an entire fistful of her new short hairdo in the midst of a public meltdown and then retired from being a hero, indicating there was a lot more going on behind the scenes.  Worse still, despite her voicing her retirement, she was pulled back in, mandated by contract, made to make appearances and attend events.

“Seems so,” I said.

“What happened in the end?  Gold Morning?”

I shook my head.  “Two members of the other serious or semi-serious members joined a villain eco-terrorist group.  The team was barely staying afloat with money from sponsors, after a hundred fines from Youth Guard, court cases, more promotion and marketing, and then a reporter dropped an expose.  The sponsor wasn’t a saint in the eco thing, with cover-ups.  The heroes were a distraction.”

“Everything that could go wrong went wrong,” Anelace said.

I nodded.

The time camera was set in place.  We’d been outed on the time camera use when the police had come through.  They’d written it into reports, and a few of the team leaders read the cliff notes on any and all reports, just like some patrolling heroes listened to the police scanners.  They’d asked, and we’d told, as part of the attempt to get people on board.

Anelace’s voice interrupted me while I was in the midst of forming the thought that I should say goodbye and go warn the more innocent members of the various groups that things were about to get ugly.

“I wish you’d joined Foresight.”

I raised an eyebrow.  “Thank you.  Or- I’m not sure what to say to that.  Came out of nowhere.”

“We’re talking about teams, and I’m seeing all these different teams.  It’s important.  Who we’re with.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “One of the most important things.”

“You’re okay with them?”

Swansong was guarding Lookout, ensuring she sat with her back to the scene that was slowly unfolding.  The lines of falling snow were dominant, blocking much of the view.  Sveta made her way over to help, and bumped shoulders with Ashley as they formed a two-person wall to block Lookout’s view.  They exchanged words, and they seemed at ease.

They were very, very different people, but they could talk, and they seemed to enjoy the moment.  More than that, Sveta seemed to be in a reasonably good mood, considering the scene that was slowly being mapped out.

Tristan and Precipice were talking.  Precipice -Rain- had transformed.  I knew he still carried a lot.  I wasn’t of the opinion that he should be freed of that burden.  But he was helping, he was doing good, and if he ever worked off that burden, truly worked it off, then he deserved to be free of it.

Tristan was explaining, indicating the images.  Red peeked through cutains of streamer-like tracks that the snowflakes had made.  People hung on his words rather than the images, and that might have been merciful.

“I like them,” I said.

“Some good ones in there,” Anelace said.

“Are you angling at something there, Anelace?  It feels like you’re talking around a subject.”

“Every time I say something I’m thinking about five responses I could make before I decide on one I’m not entirely satisfied with.”

“You want to join?”

He shook his head.

“Because the alternative is you’re going to say something really nice or really awful, and you’re working up the courage.”

“It’s not too nice or too bad, Antares.  I was talking about keeping good company, and I think my team screwed up by not taking you when you interviewed.  Everything you said when you were talking about your strengths and your vision was on point.”

“Thank you.  But your teammates weren’t wrong.  I wasn’t in a good place.”

“Better place now?”

I shrugged.  “Much.”

“If you ever want company, patrolling, minor mission, surveillance-”

I turned my full focus to him, and he stopped talking.

“Yeah,” he said, terminating the prior thought, then before I could respond, he added, “It’s an open invite.  You caught my attention when you showed up to a superhero job interview in business casual, and I’d like to get to know that person better, whether it’s a work relationship, friendship, or something more.”

I drew in a breath, pausing a second to try to formulate my thoughts.

He jumped in before I could, “No pressure.  I know capes have hangups, I know we’re all busy, and we’re all still kind of mourning-”

Dean, I thought.

“-I won’t be offended if you say-”

I interrupted him, “I’ll be offended if you don’t let me get a word in.”

He made an amused sound, shifting his footing.

“Maybe,” I said.  “I’m working through stuff, and like you say, I’m working on all of this.”

He nodded.  He looked very at ease, all considered.

“Whatever I end up deciding, I’m flattered.  And I think you’re a good guy.”

He looked away, studying the distant New Brockton and the portal that loomed above it.

“Earlier, you said I was dancing around things,” he said.

“You were.”

“I was.  I don’t want to dance about this.  It’s heavy and I know it might spoil the mood or fuck my chances, but there’s never going to be a time to mention it.”

“You’re not a good guy?” I asked.  He was right, the mood had shifted a bit.

“I know a bit about the Asylum.”

I winced.  Ah.

“My friend ended up there.  I know ex-staff from the place, and through them I figured out some members of your team came from there.  Lookout for a very short time, Tress for a long time, you.  I can make an educated guess that the rest of your team came from there.”

I shook my head.

“No?”

“Nah,” I said.

“I won’t talk about it, it’s safe info with me, even when I have a team that likes to pry.  But I didn’t want to hold onto it and not let you know I knew.”

“How’s your friend now?” I asked.

“Gone.  Long gone.  Which is a mercy.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“Open invite,” he said.  “No pressure.  I should go look after my team.”

“Same here,” I said.  I gave him a light punch in the arm.  Arm’s length, but physical contact.  Safe as I could manage.

I had a lot of thoughts, but I suppressed them.  I wasn’t sure he was my type, but he wasn’t a boundary pusher, except for bringing up the hospital, and I had mixed feelings about that.  It raised my guard and it lowered walls at the same time.

All of the thoughts were cast in a weird, distorting shadow, because thinking about the hospital even in passing was putting me in a frame of mind where I could remember being the Wretch and having the recurring thought and feeling that I’d be alone for the rest of my life.  The default way of thinking about myself and thinking about the possibility of doing anything with anyone were all switched over to that, because it had more weight than a hundred years spent like I was living now.

Not easy and not worth thinking about for now.

Sveta was smiling a bit as I caught up to her.

“No,” I said, pointing at her.

“I can’t tease you?”

“Maybe another day, when I’ve had more sleep.”

“You can tease me,” she said.  She smiled wider.  “I had a good night.  I know you told Kenzie not to call me and you kept me out of the loop so Weld and I could catch up.  I have mixed feelings about that-”

“Me too.”

“-But the good feelings in that mix are very good.”

I gave her a hug.

“We figured something out,” she said.  “It was nice.”

“I know I shouldn’t ask,” I said, “But I’m really wondering… how?”

She smiled and she didn’t give me an answer.

I knew that when Kenzie was happy, she bounced.  When Ashley was especially pleased she had small smiles and she looked like she was queen of the world- brimming security and self worth.  Tristan had a light in his eyes, and Byron came out of his shell.  I’d never seen Rain happy, though-

That was a mental joke to myself.  I’d seen insecurities and hangups that had tortured him for a long time just fall away.

Sveta in this moment was all of those things.

Seeing her happy made me just a tiny bit of all of those things.

I had moisture brimming in the corners of my eyes, seeing that.  A pan- a cure all for the creeping sentiment that had come with the mention of the Asylum.

“Since when are you a crier?” she whispered.

I hugged her with one arm, tight, then shook her.  “I thought you weren’t going to tease me.”

“Not about that.  About this?  Definitely.”

“Lookout,” I called out.  “Rescue me from Sveta.  Tell me how we’re doing.”

She called back with her answer, “I’m being asked to make this work without looking, which is dumb, and it’s slow as anything.  That’s how I’m doing.  How are you doing, Antares?”

I let go of Sveta, and she smiled as I pulled away.  “Tired but hopeful.  Last time you added extra batteries to speed it up, didn’t you, Lookout?”

“They’re attached.  But there’s a ton of on and off snow that’s not going straight down or down at an angle, thank you giant portal over there, and that’s taking time to calculate and render.  And every time the wind blows it moves snowflakes across the ground, which is all stuff I have to filter without looking at it.  It’s dumb.”

“If I could unsee what I saw last night, I would,” I told Lookout.

“But when I get this done, you’re going to look, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.  Have to.”

“I have to look too!  See?  Same!”

Fume Hood and Crystalclear were talking off to one side.  Catching up, it seemed.  Past them, I saw the trio of Malfunctions with the duo of eco heroes and Sweet Justice.  It looked like Caryatid was still shielding Finale from the worst of it.

“Victoriaaaaa,” Lookout complained.

“You’re in a mood, huh?” I asked.

“Because this!  Because I miss my old workshop, and the living situation when I’m out of costume is so crowded and so annoying, and nobody pays much attention to me.  And because this!

She punched a button.  A screen on the face of the box lit up, displaying a line drawn out by pixels, hot pink on an electric blue background.  The line started normal, then doubled back, then traced a bizarre path, corkscrewing.

“That color scheme hurts my eyes to look at,” Swansong commented.

“It hurts my brain to think at,” Lookout said.  “That’s a Witten particle flying around like a balloon with the end undone.  Because life has to be hard, right?  They don’t do that.”

“Witten?” I asked.

“Gravity particle.”

Oh.  In the past?”

“Yup.”

“That’s got to be Vista.”

Lookout turned slowly, then stared up at me.

She turned back to the screen, brought her head back, and swung it at the flat face of the cube.

Swansong caught her head before it made contact.  Her voice was low.  “People are watching.”

“It mucks everything up.  There’s a giant smear in the middle of it and it’s impossible to pick things out.”

“Work around it,” Swansong said, her voice still quiet.  “As much as we don’t want it to be true, others define us by how we act when we’re at our lowest and our worst.”

“I’m not that low,” Lookout said, typing now.  “I’m frustrated.”

“Frustration can bring you down as easily as any other sentiment,” Swansong said.

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked.

“Do we have any time travelers here?”

“Pretty sure we don’t,” I answered.

“No way to go back in time and tell Vista to not smear my crime scene recreation?  Why did she even do that?”

“Headlights, to shed some light on the scene.”

“There are other ways to do that!”

“Voice calm,” Swansong said, her own voice quiet and firm.  “Even when angry, we restrain ourselves.”

“Do you, though?  You kind of rant sometimes,” Lookout said.

“When was the last time?” Swansong asked.

“This morning,” I said.  “You didn’t like how your clone pierced the teabag when she put it in your cup.”

“In her cup,” Swansong said.  “She pierced the bag she was placing in her cup and then she gave it to me while taking my cup.”

“Scandalous,” Lookout said.

“Do you know how I know it was my cup?  Because hers is chipped and scratched from top to bottom.  I thought she forgot and gave her the benefit of a doubt, that cow abused that graciousness, and she did it with a smile.”

“You don’t need to tell me,” I said.  “I heard the entire thing while I was getting out of the shower.”

“I apparently need to tell you because you didn’t get the full picture.  That weakling has died eight times and it wasn’t enough to teach her any sense.”

“By that definition you died too,” Lookout said.  She was back at work, sitting on a case, keyboard in lap, typing.  Apparently she could hold a conversation and work at the same time.

“No.  Death is the province of failures.  Between the two of us, I am doing fine, and she is the failure and eternal disappointment.  Do you know how I know?”

“You have a better fashion sense,” I said.

“No-  Yes, but that isn’t the defining element.  I know because I do not fuck up tea, and I wouldn’t connive to hide my shame and my failings as a parahuman being if I did.”

“Are things going to be okay if I step away?” I asked.

“Yes,” Lookout said.  “I’m going to work around the smudge.  Maybe we can get something from the edges.”

“Wasn’t what I was worried about,” I said.

“It’s fine,” Swansong said.  “Worry about what my dear clone has coming to her.”

“Ooh,” I said, mock serious.  “No tea?  Oh, no treats with the tea?”

“Thin ice,” Swansong said, pointing a finger at me.  “You’ll see who gets no treats.”

“I so want to sleep over sometime,” Lookout said.

I left them to that conversation.

Brio was walking through the storm of still images.  Here and there, he would lean into things, squinting as he got in close – not that it was much use.  Most of the figures were especially distorted and existed in continuum.  I stopped at the edge.

“Technical difficulties?” he asked, as he emerged.  He looked at Relay, who was off in the distance, then at Crystalclear, who nodded.  Anelace, without looking, raised a hand in response to some message.

“Some difficulties.  Sorry.  I wanted this to be a better launching-off point.”

“We don’t have much to go on,” he said.  “Anything we can get.”

“Did Crystalclear’s patrol of the area-”

A distant crack interrupted me.

It took me a second to place where the sound had come from.  There weren’t many good places to choose, with so much flat ground around us, and it was really only the road that worked.  My first impulse was that cars had collided.  Even that they’d hit our parked cars, that had pulled off the road.

No.  It was a gun.

Relay was way out in the field, and I could see the divot where the bullet had hit ground, sending dirt flying out to land on otherwise pristine snow.

I took to the air, trying to get a sense of the scene and what we were up against.

Relay teleported to where Brio had been.  There was a moment where there was only a shimmer of light around Relay, who twisted, casting out an arm, pushing the shimmer out.  Then Brio materialized at the head of the shimmer, fifteen feet away, bringing his shield up just in time to block another bullet.

There was a second’s pause, and then I felt the impact as the Wretch went down.  I flew back at an angle and down, then changed direction before touching ground.  I skimmed the ground, hoping that the humps of snow here and there would provide me some cover.

I saw a fence up ahead, barring my way, and headed straight for it.

Who were these guys?  Guns, accurate fire at a distance- my first thought was March.

The Wretch hit the fence first, and I canceled it in the moment I noticed the contact.  My gloved hands caught the fragments out of the air.  Slats of wood with broken ends.

I paused, a shattered plank of wood in each hand, taking one second to grasp the situation and make sure that nobody was crossing the field and attacking the more vulnerable members of the group.

Not nearly enough people were standing, and people were gathered around some of the people who had crumpled to the ground.  Some of my guys had gotten shot.  Allies.  Possibly my team.

Traffic had been stopped by two vehicles that had turned sideways to block both lanes.  Dark figures I couldn’t make out were behind our cars.  Our van.  Using the vehicles for cover while they unloaded real munitions.

More blood on this already bloodstained field.

I took flight, straight up.  The Wretch absorbed one shot.  If there were others, I didn’t hear or see any sign of it.

I was coming straight back down, and if I had any say in things, it’d be their blood that would be shed on this field, not more of ours.

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128 thoughts on “Polarize – 10.12”

  1. Someday I’ll learn that anytime my warm fuzzies start flowing, tragedy is right behind.

    I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but I didn’t realize how many bullets had been shot until Victoria mentioned how many people had fallen. I don’t know if the text needs/wants more ‘kracks’ and such.

  2. Uh oh, my first thought was shamrock. If it is March then that’s an oof, she’s strong.

    Vikki is baddass and very terrifying to have someone like her charging at her.

    I think Vikki is ready for brio, but I don’t know if they would go well together, I still want spright… lol.

    1. It’s also the day after the incident, which means the villains already met and decided to go to war. I’m thinking that’s what’s happening right now (probably with some newly acquired alt-Earth guns too), and the mention of March is a red herring.

    2. I don’t think it’s March-March has perfect aim and timing. If it was her then that first shot would not have missed.

    3. Anelace, not Brio. And I think she could do well with him…I’ve liked him since he first showed up, and I feel like he had a pretty nice approach here. I am wondering what it’s like dating a thinker, though.

      (On that note, I do want to see Brio in action; his description here sounds badass.)

  3. Man, this is guy number 5 that wanted to bang Victoria? Shit. First Byron, then Spright, then Moose, then Jasper and now Anelace. Girlfriend is gonna have no problems getting laid with all these guys falling at her feet. Speaking of laid, how the fuck did Sveta manage with Weld? The one time Wildbow skimps on the details…

    But seriously, we know there were four attackers on Navigators, five if someone never touched the ground. One of them has to have the power to break up body parts without any consequences or bloodloss. Another is a hunking brute with claws that tried to mercy-kill Scaffold. The team works together amazingly well together that it can’t be just a random group of mercs bunched together. So, this team is probably a non-Bet cape team, like Cheit, whose been mentioned a lot but has absolutely not even been seen.

    1. I’m going to cross off two of those. Byron’s in a situation where all he can do is look, and if I were there I’d look long and often. And Moose was flirty battle-banter. If Kingpin started flirty battle-banter with Spiderman or She-Hulk, it wouldn’t necessarily mean he wanted to bang them. Also, I think Moose was well aware it probably wouldn’t happen and they might not have met again, which would have made him a little freer.

      I don’t think it’s a Cheit team because they didn’t have many parahumans until recently, and still don’t have many by the standards of other worlds, like Bet/Gimel, Aleph, or Shin. But non-American Bet/Gimel, or Aleph sound possible. Maybe even some of Goddess’ followers from Shin.

    2. There days when being on the aspergillosis spectrum is a real bugger. Including involuntarily working out how Weld and Seta managed it.

      I’m consoling myself by granting myself a thinker 0.5 rating…

      1. > Including involuntarily working out how Weld and Seta managed it.

        What’s so bad about working it out?:) Though it’s fairly easy to imagine something that probably would work… (not so easy in-universe, naturally)

        1. I wish Weld and Seta lots of luck. Also, flexibility, stable energy generators and reliable power sources. Along with Wd 40 supplies.

          1. What I’m worried about is if Weld and Sveta are using proper protection. I mean a lot of metals Weld is made of are probably highly toxic. Depending on where he had been some may be even radioactive.

      1. Vaguely. It was in 9.6, just after she, Byron, and the MMs fought off Teacher’s horde. First he pointed out how Victoria said she missed the Patrol Block instead of saying she missed him specifically. Then a little later he had that “I like you… guys” moment.

  4. We interrupt your daily episode of Parahuman CSI for this important cut-in of potential shipping followed by domestic slice of life comedy.

    Hails of gunfire are expected to hit later in the day.

    1. Yes I was thinking things were going way to well and everyone was too happy. Except for Swansong. What kind of evil clone can’t get tea right?

  5. Oh the weather outside is frightful
    And nothing about this is delightful
    And they can see out of detached eyes
    Let them die, let them die, let them die.

    What a way to spend the holidays

  6. Okay Anelace, you have temporarily won me over with our shared love for business casual women and medieval weapons, but I’m watching you!

    We didn’t get to meet Apple Cider 🙁

    Brio sounds fuckkng amazing. Fanartists, do thy work!

  7. Possible typo

    > […] and his left hand rested on two weapons- index fingers extend out at the base of a gun, and the heel of his hand at a sword.

    It is only one hand, so shouldn’t it be something like “index finger extended out”?

    1. > Two members of the other serious or semi-serious members joined a villain eco-terrorist group.

      “Members” unnecessary repeated. “Two of the other serious or semi-serious members joined a villain eco-terrorist group.” would probably sound best.

  8. Let us have a moment of silence for another rare instance of Carol Dallon being a good mom.

    ….

    We’re up to like two now, right?

    1. Perhaps somewhere out there in the multiverse there’s a Carol who’s a good mom and who’s biggest complaint is that Amy just keeps going through girlfriends.

      1. That should be aspergic spectrum. Idon’t know why it autocorrected to whatever aspergillosis is but I’m now off to look it up….

  9. Great chapter and classic Worm. Surrounded by a slaughterhouse/execution scene and the characters still manage to find time for actual happiness and personal progress. Human spirit ftw.

    Also, here’s hoping Kenzie gets some solid data on Vista’s power and pulls some reverse-engineer Tinker shenanigans. Maybe cameras that can zoom in around corners, or across continents?

  10. It’s good to hear how Rain’s improving, because it’s happened slowly enough- and he’s been out of focus enough- for it to have gone unnoticed. Even by Victoria, and I hope he manages to work off his burden too. He was a shitty person in a shitty situation who’s broken and rebuilt himself into a less-shitty person.

  11. Is the fact, that Kenzie used to be in the Asylum new, or was it mentioned at some point, and I missed it? Who do you think could be Anelace’s friend from there? Some other people from there were mentioned in Worm, like the other person who could only be safely approached if you wore that protective gear Yamada used to visit Sveta. Do you think it could be someone like that?

    It is interesting to see how mention of Asylum still not only brings Victoria’s thoughts back to the Wretch, but also makes her self- conscious about touch, and about words like panacea. She still has a lot to work through.

    Sveta seems to have taken being kept out of the loop last night by Victoria better than I anticipated. Part of it was probably that she knows Crystal was there, but I suspect part of it could be that it was a really satisfying night with Weld.

    And well… a sneak attack with guns is one way to counter the camera.

  12. “Some of my guys had gotten shot. Allies. Possibly my team.”
    Crystalclear could see a bit of future, there should be some warning…

    1. He sees edges and hard things. People are soft and wiggly, he can’t see them well- he can’t make out expressions, for example. Furthermore, bullets are fast, rounded and small. He sees big things easier and sooner, so he’s not great at that.

      All Thinkers have blind spots and downsides. All powers, for that matter. Crystalclear can’t see he’s being shot at in time to make a difference. Unless, of course, he did, but was too far away to alert everyone and simply grabbed whoever was nearest and dived for the ground. It’s going to be handier than yelling ‘Gunfire!’ half a second before the bullet arrives.

  13. This reminds me of a typical terrorist tactic: plant two bombs, one set to go off a half-hour to an hour after the first one. The first one maims whoever happens to be nearby, and the second one goes off to maim the first responders that show up to treat the people injured by the first bomb.

    1. That gives me the thought that this gives more credence to the anti parahumans being behind this. After all, the attack did not occur last night while there were normals such as cops on the scene. Now that only parahumans are on the scene, the ambush occurs.

  14. I enjoyed the hell out of this chapter. Happy Sveta, grouchy Kenzie, Ashley experiencing sibling rivalry, and Brio the pirate ninja with a riot shield. This is good stuff.

    Still haven’t gotten to meet Sweet Justice, though. Hopefully now that the fighting’s started we’ll get to see them bust out some sick moves.

  15. I liked this chapter a lot. It felt like a whole lot of stuff came together really well with Victoria’s point of view, pacing, plot, character stuff, just a whole lot of stuff which really reminded me of the first few chapters of this story in a really good way.

  16. I honestly absolutely hate Victoria.
    She has no remorse for her past brutalizations but thinks Rain shouldn’t be free from his burden? Rain who was given away by his parents to live with a massive cult and pressganged into doing what he did in the first place? I guess she was “da good guy!” Right?
    Also with all her trauma over the wretch she never has once acknowledged she would be DEAD if not for that transformation. I’m getting sick of her shit, an absolutely exhausting protagonist.

    1. She actually does feel remorse for her transformations, and she has also acknowledged that she’d be dead if it weren’t for her transformation-it’s just that she would rather have died, both at the time and afterwards.

    2. She actually does feel remorse for her past actions, and she has also acknowledged that she’d be dead if it weren’t for her transformation-it’s just that she would rather have died, both at the time and afterwards. Furthermore, she is echoing Rain’s own feelings on his burden, what he did and why he did it. He doesn’t consider his environment an excuse for not saving those people when he had the chance-at most it is a mitigating factor, and he feels rightly driven to make amends.

    3. I think you may judge her a little to harshly. She says Rain shouldn’t be freed of his burden, but should work it off instead, that there should be no absolution for him without penance first to put it in more religious terms. She recognizes, that he has changed, and thus he has made important step in his penance. She just thinks that it is not enough yet for absolution, that he needs to do more.

      She doesn’t judge herself that differently either. She admited Glory Girl’s shortcomings, and is working to change herself. This is big part of the meaning of Warrior Monk for her – not just someone who can deal with her trauma from her Asylum days, but also a new self which may be able to atone for sins of her old self so to speak.

    4. Something I’ve noticed in a lot of comments is that people forgot that Panacea did not turn Victoria into a Eden ripoff in order to heal her. From 15.x in Worm: (Amy) “I… I had to wait a while before I could let her out, so I could be sure she had healed completely. I-“… “I didn’t want her to fight. And I didn’t want her to follow, or to hate me because I used my power on her again.”… “So I thought I’d put her in a trance, and make it so she’d forget everything that happened. Everything that I did, and the things that the Slaughterhouse Nine said, and everything that I said to try to make them go away. Empty promises and-“… “She was lying there, and I wanted to say goodbye. I- I-“… “I wanted to see her smile again. To have someone hug me before I left forever. So you wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore. I- I told myself I’d leave after. Victoria wouldn’t remember. It would be a way for me to get closure. Then I’d go and spend the rest of my life healing people. Sacrifice my life. I don’t know. As payment.”…
      “I wanted her to be happy. I could adjust. Tweak, expand, change things to serve more than one purpose. I had the extra material from the cocoon. When I was done, I started undoing everything, all the mental and physical changes. I got so tired, and so scared, so lonely, so I thought we’d take another break, before I was completely finished. I changed more things. More stuff I had to fix. And days passed. I-“…
      “I lost track. I forgot how to change her back.”

      Amy healed Victoria and could have stopped there. Instead, she decided to wipe Victoria’s memories and have one last conversation with her, added some physical changes, and then when she tried to undo it, her worm took over and turned Victoria into an Eden lookalike. The last part comes from one of Wildbow’s WoG from Spacebattles where he says in response to someone comparing Eden’s corpse and Wretch Glory Girl “Funny how parallels appear. Almost as if Panacea had been recreating something from something she saw in a trigger event.”

    5. Something that I have noticed in several comments for Ward is that people seem to think that Amy turned Victoria into an Eden rip-off in order to heal her. What actually happened was (quotes from Amy 15.x) “I… I had to wait a while before I could let her out, so I could be sure she had healed completely. I-“… “I didn’t want her to fight. And I didn’t want her to follow, or to hate me because I used my power on her again.”… “So I thought I’d put her in a trance, and make it so she’d forget everything that happened. Everything that I did, and the things that the Slaughterhouse Nine said, and everything that I said to try to make them go away. Empty promises and-“… “She was lying there, and I wanted to say goodbye. I- I-“…

      “I wanted to see her smile again. To have someone hug me before I left forever. So you wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore. I- I told myself I’d leave after. Victoria wouldn’t remember. It would be a way for me to get closure. Then I’d go and spend the rest of my life healing people. Sacrifice my life. I don’t know. As payment.”… “I wanted her to be happy. I could adjust. Tweak, expand, change things to serve more than one purpose. I had the extra material from the cocoon. When I was done, I started undoing everything, all the mental and physical changes. I got so tired, and so scared, so lonely, so I thought we’d take another break, before I was completely finished. I changed more things. More stuff I had to fix. And days passed. I-“… “I lost track. I forgot how to change her back.”
      (Thought from Carol) A caricature. A twisted reflection of how Amy saw Victoria, the swan curve of the nape of the neck, the delicate hands, and countless other features, repeated over and over again throughout. It might even have been something objectively beautiful, had it not been warped by desperation and loneliness and panic.

      Amy healed Victoria, and then tried to wipe her memory and (probably) make some physical changes (maybe make her prettier as a gift?). Her Worm ended up taking over in the middle of it, and Victoria became the Wretch.

      1. That was my interpretation more or less. It only begun as an attempt to heal, and quickly went into darker places of Amy’s psyche, though I’m unsure how much it was the power taking over, and how much it was Amy feeling lost, heartboken, afraid (to the point of denial) of her own power, of the entire situation, and of what her future is going to be, once other people find her and see what she did to Victoria.

        Anyway thanks for the quotes. It is nice to see Amy’s perspective for reference.

  17. So she is absolving herself of her burden and moving past it as the warrior monk? No, that’s not even true, she doesn’t even consider it a burden in the first place. She currently holds the keys to an insanely unethical disappearing hole and is ready, willing and able to use them, she hasn’t moved past it at all, just has taken her cruelty and disregard to a macro level.
    I just think Vicky is a hypocrite.

    1. Did you not actually read the part you’re complaining about?

      “But he was helping, he was doing good, and if he ever worked off that burden, truly worked it off, then he deserved to be free of it.”

      Victoria sees herself as in the same position as Rain.

    2. You’ve got it backwards. She isn’t trying to become Warrior Monk to be able to say “I’m a different person now. Whatever I did as Glory Girl doesn’t matter now”. She understands that a lot of wrongs she committed comes from flaws of Glory Girl’s character. Reinventing herself as Warrior Monk is just the first step for her – a way to ensure she won’t make the same mistakes again. Once she’s become a better person she can start to make up to the world for what she did in the past.

      What else is she supposed to do? Lock herself in a cell and whip herself to blood? It could count as a sort of penance, but not a very constructive one. It would not help anyone in any way, wouldn’t make up anything to anyone.

      Victoria decided she needs to work off her misdeeds by making the world a better place. First she tried to do it as an Expert for the Patrol, and as an academic – a Monk without a warrior part so to speak. Then she realized that the people don’t want this sort of help from her, and that she can help better using her powers anyway. That’s where Warrior Monk comes in – she tries to help and work off her debt by being a better hero, than she used to be, a hero who doesn’t have Glory Girl’s flaws.

      1. Also on the topic of self-punishment, don’t you think that Victoria has suffered enough already in the Asylum? It may have not been by her choice, but it still was to some extent because of her own actions, and it certainly has given her more than enough time to reflect upon her actions.

        On top of it – what sort of punishment could she bring upon herself, that would top what she’s been through already? The only thing that comes to mind would be to ask Amy to turn her back into that wretched creature she’s been for two years “because she doesn’t deserve a better life”, and do you truly think that she doesn’t? Were her crimes really so serious she doesn’t deserve a second chance?

    3. How on earth do you read this far into this story and somehow miss all the bits where Victoria is reflecting on her past actions and admitting how shitty they were?

    4. > She currently holds the keys to an insanely unethical disappearing hole and is ready, willing and able to use them

      1) We don’t know even yet what exactly this disappearing hole *is*; nor do we know how ready Vicky is to use it.
      2) And what kind of more ethical solution could you offer? The world has ended and currently isn’t even nearing to being fully rebuilt. Parahuman crime is rising, unwritten rules are being broken, legal system is overloaded beyond any measure, and the only prison for parahumans just got destroyed (not to mention that it wasn’t nearly as reliable as Birdcage). I’m sure that a real-world solution for a similar situation would involve field martial courts and capital punishment, and that would be as ethical as people could get.

      1. The hole is Kenzie’s hacked teleporter, the only downside being that they can only use it by changing the coords when Teacher tries to use it. They also have a kinda-alliance with Tattle, which means that if they both agreed it was someone who had to go (like monokeros), they could without a problem.

        Also, if all else fails, I’m sure Valkyrie has some kind of power boost, plus dragon.

        Also, since they have teleporters, can we get Weaver back from Aleph?

        (Yes, I know the WOG)

        1. > the only downside being that they can only use it by changing the coords when Teacher tries to use it

          And another downside being that the person going into this hole will be whoever Teacher is trying to teleport. That’s a serious restriction, I guess.

          > (Yes, I know the WOG)

          And I probably don’t:) The WOG was about Taylor not returning?
          (that would be actually perfect for her, in my view)

          1. The WOG was something along the lines of ‘it was a fever dream, didn’t happen, Taylor is dead’ IIRC (don’t quote me)

            Also it makes an entry portal and an exit portal between 2 dimensions. They can move both!

          2. Except that wasn’t actual WOG. Wildbow ended that explanation with, “Just kidding. Or am I?” So it was obviously meant to be taken as speculation, not a definitive statement one way or the other.

          3. > Also it makes an entry portal and an exit portal between 2 dimensions. They can move both!

            IIRC, that was never stated to be so. And it makes little sense, given that when we see Teacher’s portals on-screen, they are physical devices meant to be stepped into. Lookout specifically said that the portal needs to map out the surroundings of its exit point, that’s what allows her to apply her “counter-surveillance” specialty to interfere with it.
            Besides, even if it were the case, it would work one time at most because Teacher definitely wouldn’t just blindly try again and again once he notices that something went wrong with his teleportation.

    5. Seems to me that you’re _determined_ to hate Victoria no mattter what people say.

      Learn the lesson of what many of WierdBowl’s stories are trying to tell. No one’s perfect. Everyone tries to do the right thing, but find it hard because they’ve got foibles/faults or because they don’t have all the information.

      Everyone is human – Everyone is different.
      Accept this and let go of your hate.

  18. “Ooh,” I said, mock serious. “No tea? Oh, no treats with the tea?”

    I love how well WB writes in humerous beats lately, natural, memorable, realistic and charming.

  19. I wonder which heroes were hit by gunfire, and how badly. As much as it would make sense plot-wise I really hope we won’t see in next chapter that Ashley took a bullet for Kenzie, especially a fatal one. Not that I wish for anyone else to die.

    1. And the funny thing is that Ashley wouldn’t be even most painful to lose. Just the one who I think would make most sense. It is a Wildbow’s story, we know what it means. Someone will almost certainly die. What if it is going to be Sveta? What if it is gonig to be Kenzie? What if Wildbow is rolling dice again, and even Victoria isn’t safe?

      At this point losing pretty much anyone on the scene would be painful. It doesn’t even have to be a member of Breakthrough. Imagine it would be one of the Major Malfunctions, or Anelace, or Fume Hood. Even if it is one of the capes we don’t know that much, I’m certain Wildbow can easily find a way to make us us feel bad abut their death later, and for not feeling this way from the start.

      1. Rolling rice again, huh. I somehow didn’t think about the fact that he could do that again. Victoria is safe, however; Ward isn’t Worm and would be a completely different story without our main protagonist.

        1. On topic of dice and odds, notice that there apparently was enough pause after the first shot for Victoria to realize what’s going on? Looks to me, that the attackers may be prioritizing killing someone specific. Who do you think it could be?

          Two options that come to my mind first would be Lookout and Precipice. There are obviously other options, like the team leaders. Whoever it is the attackers’ choice could tell us a lot about their identity and motives. It will probably pay attention to look at who’s got hit from this perspective, as the intended target would be among the most likely ones to be both wounded and killed (along with the ones, who the attackers would see as the highest threat to themselves in this fight, and the ones who would not have enough experience to immediately duck).

          1. Also, the original target would be by far most likely to take a bullet to the back, unless they’re one of those people who didn’t look at the crime scene when the shooting started. It could let us distinguish this one person from any other casualties.

          2. One more thing to consider is that if this is a hit and run, what is the attacker’s escape plan? Unless they have someone or something to teleport them out or keep the heroes pinned or otherwise occupied, they need to preserve their cars (Tristan and possibly Ashley may have means of disabling them), make sure no hero uses their power to chase them (Victoria and possibly Sveta come to mind), or let others do it (Relay can probably do it). They also need to make sure nobody kills them before they manage to drive away (Sveta and Ashley probably have best means to do it quickly, they may not be willing to do it, but the attackers need to at least consider the possibility).

            They probably should make sure that the camera will not be used to identify them. Killing Kenzie is the only way to make sure, though if they don’t want to go after children, the camera itself is the next obvious target.

            All things considered it is a lot of targets, so either the attackers are stupid or poorly informed (doesn’t look like it, considering how well they’re organized), fanatical enough not to care about their lives, are holding some nasty surprise which will keep the heroes occupied when they flee, or are expecting to have enough adventage to disable all of those targets, in which case they probably expect to be able to kill or incapacite everyone.

            Those details of their plan can also tell us a lot about the attackers.

          3. Pretty sure this wasn’t going to be hit and run, and they are after everyone they can get. While shooting has already begun, they are unloading some *real* munitions.
            (I have a feeling this looks like Teacher. not 100% sure though)

          4. If it is not a hit and run, then they either don’t value their lives at all, or feel VERY confident. It is a lot of capes to take on. Makes me think, who was so important or dangerous that he deserved a bullet before everyone else started shooting. If you don’t want to be absolutely sure that one individual is dead before capes had a chance to react, you should start with a full salvo, not a single shot as was the case.

          5. Being honest If Rain ends up being the one shot, I will burst into laughter.
            “He died as he lived, suffering”

      2. It’s not going to be Sveta. She’s nearly invulnerable, and even if the bullets wrecked her suit, she has enough control to just hop into her hamster ball.

          1. What ‘head’? She’s made of tentacles growing from a face. That’s all she is, her suit includes a head and a wig because she doesn’t have enough head to have hair. And if her face isn’t made of the same kind of flesh as her super-durable tentacles, in some ways her Case 53 transformation is less extreme than Weld’s, because his entire body is made of metal. Or Newter’s, whose skin is blue and whose natural fluids are hallucinogens- even his blood, likely even his cerebrospinal fluid. Or Gregor’s, whose face is just as translucent as the rest of his flesh.

          2. We know Sveta’s tentacles can be injured, and it doesn’t take an Endbringer to do it. Why would her head, or whatever part of a head she has, be any different?

          3. She appeared in Russia. Russia’s cape scene is not like Euro-America’s. All heroes work for the government, and are encouraged to politic and manoeuvre against the other heroes, and use lethal force against villains- to the point the villains, if two gangs get in a fight, will stop fighting and both walk away until neither villain is in danger, because every villain is needed to fight off the heroes- and she racked up a kill-count in three digits before the Russians asked for the Protectorate- foreign capes they don’t trust at all- to come and take her away.

            I think that means she’s hard enough to kill the Russians didn’t manage it. I think she can tank a bullet. And when were her tentacles injured?

          4. Checked the wiki- it took *Scion* to hurt her. A bullet is not going to cut the mustard unless it’s Stinged, or has some other power to make it a super-bullet.

          5. I don’t think that Scion’s attack you mentioned was as destructive as you seem to indicate. plenty of other people survived it. Even considering that she dodged as soon as she realized what’s happening, and even considering she was on regeneration drugs Taylor probably wouldn’t survive. Sanguine would also die, and the oil rig would be seriously damaged.

            I seem to recall that Sveta did take some minor damage to the tendrils in another fight, though I can’t find it at the moment. I may try to look for it later if the next chapter won’t bring anything conclusive about Sveta’s resistance to bullets.

            I did however find those two quotes. One from chapter 9.9 of Ward (let’s see if those tags work as I expect them to, while we are at it, sorry if they won’t, and I end up messing everything up):

            “Hurt- you hurt the guards?” Sveta asked.

            “Maybe they were bad people,” Kenzie said. “Right?”

            “Would you rather be shot by them?” Goddess asked, ignoring Kenzie.

            Somehow Sveta didn’t protest, that she can take a bullet at that point.

            The other quote is from the same chapter, when Sveta came under fire from some prison guards:

            “Stop shooting my body!” Sveta called out, arms up in front of her face.

            She seems to prioritize protect her face over her prosthetic body. Why would she do it if she was confident she is bulletproof?

            As for the Russians, they probably weren’t desperate to kill her. Otherwise they would evacuate an area around her and use artillery or bombers with all sorts of ammo – including tinker made. Either something would have worked, or Sveta would be famous for being as tough as Alexandria.

            Sveta may be tough, thougher then most people, but I doubt she has no reason not to be afraid of bullets.

          6. I don’t think that Scion’s attack was all that powerful. Otherwise the oil rig would be badly damaged, and Sanguine probably wouldn’t survive it. Taylor despite being on regeneration drugs, and ducking early would also probably take more damage than just some blisters.

            I seem to recall that Sveta took some damage to her tendrils at some other point, but I can’t find it now. Maybe I’ll look more if the next chapter doesn’t bring anything conclusive.

            She is definitely afraid of bullets. See those quotes from chapter 9.9 of Ward:

            > “Hurt- you hurt the guards?” Sveta asked.

            > “Maybe they were bad people,” Kenzie said. “Right?”

            > “Would you rather be shot by them?” Goddess asked, ignoring Kenzie.

            Somehow Sveta didn’t protest she could take a bullet at that point.

            > “Stop shooting my body!” Sveta called out, arms up in front of her face.

            Why would she worry more about her face, then her prosthetic body if she was bulletproof?

            As for the Russians, I don’t think they were desperate to kill her. Otherwise they would evacuate the area, and used artillery or bombers filled with all sorts of munitions including tinker made ones. Something would have worked, or Sveta would be famous for being as indestructible as Alexandria. The Russians kept trying infantry, probably only small teams, and with some luck and speed Sveta wouldn’t have to be bulletproof to survive that. My guess the Russians were more interested in keeping her contained than in necessary killing her.

            It is likely, that Sveta is tough, but I don’t think she is so tough that she wouldn’t have to worry about bullets.

          7. Also somebody in Russia talked to Sveta. Enough to give her a human name, enough for her to learn at least some Russian – enough that she still uses some Russian words from time to time, even when she speaks English. She might have been there for years, but it still would be unlikely happen if nobody spoke to her then.

            It just doesn’t sound like “Kill this horrible monster now! At any cost!” sort of situation.

          8. Why would she worry more about her face, then her prosthetic body if she was bulletproof?

            Personally, I don’t think she’s bulletproof. But if she is, then the answer to your question is that there’s a painful middle ground where you’re durable enough that a gun won’t kill you, but still flimsy enough that the experience is severely unpleasant. Not unlike being punched in the face.

          9. But wouldn’t Sveta prefer to take a punch over risking killing someone because her shell has been punctured one time too many?

          10. Scion’s attack wasn’t that powerful. It just annihilated most parahumans unfortunate enough to stand in the way, even if like Gavel they had a high Brute rating and limited invulnerability. It’s only so powerful they had a Trump from the Birdcage gifting his own invulnerability to capes that were already super-durable, like Alexandria. It only completely destroyed Britain in one hit.

            Seriously? Scion’s attacks were powerful, and though he may not have been using his full power at the oil rig because of the limited collateral damage and using his powers shortened his life, everyone else caught square in the beam died.

            As for protecting her face… Eyes aren’t made of super-durable tentacle-flesh. A bullet in one of those might be able to kill her, though it’s a small target in another small target.

          11. Scion was toying with capes on the oil rig. Experimenting. We don’t know what would happen if he went all-out, but we know he could destroy a Great-Britain-sized target with a single attack. He intentionally held back on the oil rig, presumably to see what would happen if the parahumans will suffer. It wouldn’t make sense for him to use an attack that would vaporize everyone in an instan at this point.

            As for Sveta’s eyes not being bulletproof, doesn’t it defeat the original argument we were discussing here that Sveta can’t be killed in this firefight? Unless you say that bullets can’t penetrate any further, and Sveta can’t be killed in this fight, but “only” go blind?

          12. @Exejpgwmv

            To the point of letting arguably less bullet resistant Victoria take bullets for her? I thought Sveta was Victoria’s friend, and wanted to be a hero? Not to mention that taking bullets to her arms to protect her face endangered Capricorn, who was next to her at that point in chapter 9.9.

            Covering her face makes sense only if having it hit would be worse, and considering the risk Sveta put Capricorn and Antares at by hiding her face behind her arms instead of making her face a target, or even just charging in “worse” sounds to me like “likely fatal to Sveta”.

        1. You mean the dice? He probably did stop, but he could theoretically do it to challenge himself, and to keep the story unpredictable. If he was to do it, gunfight with a lot of characters we care about involved would be a good moment to do it if only to remind us, that in this mundane weapons in hands of unpowered peple can still very lethal to capes. Just remember what happened to Vikare.

          I’m not saying Wlidbow is or will ever do it again. I’m saying that he could, and I think he’s so good we could never realize he did it unless he told us. I don’t know about you, but I never realized he did it with the Leviathan’s fight until I found it mentioned somewhere.

  20. Analace’s ..ahem.. analysis of the attack from above really stood out for me here. Let’s see. We have:

    Attacking from directly above.
    “Blades or *talons*”.
    No footprints.
    Less than a full bodyweight.
    Possibly “flapping wings”.

    Sounds like the finger is being deliberately pointed at a certain Haast Eagle of our recent acquaintance. Which of course means that it’s not the eagle at all, because of tropes, but.. what if it was? And why on earth would it be? Any out-there speculation would be welcome!

    1. The thought just occurred to me that Ward has significant elements from the Whodunnit genre…

      I’m still guessing that it’s Love Lost, though.

    2. You want crazy Haast Eagle theories?

      Let me eliminate one possibility first – if the villains’ meeting we saw in Tattletale’s interlude is the same as the one mentioned by the heroes in last chapter, then it couldn’t be Aiden with the eagle. The boy got his bird shortly before the meeting – after the attack on the Navigators.

      Now let’s see what I can come up with.

      Theory one – there is one more way to control the eagle than Aiden’s power. Tinker tech, a power that makes the eagle open to suggestions, the bird is just trained, etc. The eagle was used in the attack, and then delivered to the Undersiders. If either Kenzie or her camera will be taken out without the heroes getting a clear picture of the crime scene, Undersiders will become prime suspects as soon as anyone sees Aiden with the eagle. The whole plan has March’s fingerprints all over it.

      Theory two – same as above, but there are two Haast Eagles. One was used in the attack, the other one was delivered to the Undersides.

      1. You think that’s crazy enough? Bwahaha! Theory three – same as above, but the second eagle is also Aiden’s. He secretly had it before Tattletale has given him the other one, and used it in the attack. And Teacher is also secretly controlled by Aiden (he has essentially the same Administrator power as Taylor, and Taylor was already shown to be able to control people). So, right now Teacher’s men are attacking the heroes to cover up the involvement of Aiden. But the heroes have seen talon marks and so on, and when they’ll know about Aiden’s (second) eagle, they’ll guess about his involvement anyway (though for wrong reasons). So Aiden will try later to set it up as if he was manipulated by Teacher and not vice versa. He’s just an innocent kid after all, the heroes will believe him.

          1. What if he is even more? What if he is Abaddon’s daddy, who came here to pick up the pieces of Entities Abaddon broke?

          2. Can’t be. Aiden is Taylor’s bud, and Taylor was not an Abaddon cape. But you’re right, I’ve forgotten Abaddon undeservedly, it has to be involved too. But it’s not Aiden. It’s the eagle! The one who was used in the attack. Aiden thought he controlled it, but it just faked being controlled and played along. And while Aiden was just inspired by S9, Eagle’s plan is much more sophisticated. It wants to become the core of a new Entity, and for this Entity to be as powerful as possible, the shards must be stress-tested as much as possible. So, it’s actually Eagle’s power keeping victims alive, and what we have seen is creation of the first multi-second-trigger cluster ever. After the Navigators get reassembled, they’ll notice their powers are breaking their limits and bleeding into each other. And then two of them are going to be disassembled yet again by the third one who couldn’t resist temptation to take all of his cluster’s power to himself.

          3. > Can’t be. Aiden is Taylor’s bud, and Taylor was not an Abaddon cape.

            That is unless Taylor’s passenger was what it appered to be. What if it is some god of Entities, who fooled Scion into thinking he was Scion’s shard, while in reality he came down to pass his judgment on the Entities, and so far has found the Warrior unworthy, and decided to end him at the end of Worm?

          4. Seriously though T.T.O., let’s maybe end it before Giant Space Tiger figures out how to report us both for trolling or something.

          5. Ehh, and I just thought about expanding our theory with a fourth Entity:)) Don’t think such comments are actually discouraged here, but ok. Three Entities are pretty good already, let’s stop at that 🙂

          6. I wouldn’t mind comtinuing if Giant Space Tiger gave us his go-ahead seeing that he is the one who asked for the crazy Haast Eagle theories. I even have one more theory to post, but seeing that we seem to have gone from crazy into ludicrous, I don’t know if he appreciates what’s going on.

            Let’s respect the fact, that he might prefer something down-to-Earth than what seems to be our nervous reaction to that recent discussion about Parahumans multiverse cosmology from David and Ciara all the way to evolution of Entities.

            So should we continue Giant Space Tiger?

          7. It won’t allow me to reply to the outermost branchlet of the comment tree so I’m carving my reply into here, instead.

            Yes! Yes! By all means continue as long as you have the will! At this rate, between the two of you, the plot of “Woah” (the mono-syllabically and alliterativly titled sequel to Ward) will be revealed in its entirety before we even meet this Eldrich eagle overlord again. Which is fine by me.

            I somehow missed the timing altogether which sets the attack ostensibly pre-Aidenbirding, so I am definitely not the best detective on *any* of the earths, and I’m including the ones with no human population in that accounting, since I’ve just been outwitted by an Eagle.

          8. Don’t feel bad about being outwitted by the Eagle, it is obviously a god of fourth wall, who’s sitting behind Wildbow telling him what to write. Which would mean that everything that happened in all of Wildbow’s works, not just some of the the wounds Navigators suffered, happened because of the Eagle.

            Alternatively Wildbow is secretly the Eagle himself.

            Also Jess what do mean by your comment? Did you try to say that Entities should’ve been taught about importance of safe sex, parental responsibility, and dangers of overcrowding before they basically ate their own planet? In this case I fully agree. Or did you mean something so boringly serious that it obviously has no place in this thread?

          9. By the way, Alfaryn, you gave me a nice idea about Taylor’s shard being not what it seems. Come to think about it: Taylor has shown the ability to control and coordinate everyone and everything, make desisions for everyone, use everyone’s senses and even powers, much like Entities use their powers. If you were Scion, would you just send such a power away? No, crearly Taylor was an Entity’s avatar (that also explains why Contessa needed two bullets to deal with her). Zion and Eden already had one, so it leaves us with two possibilities: either she was Abaddon or a fourth Entity, previously unknown (we even know its name: Khepri). In the first case, Aiden and Eagle work now together. And in the second case, we can suppose that Khepri probably did not like Entities spreading destruction through worlds and wanted to give other species a chance (and the only way to do it is to kill every other Entity). Then, much like we had Zion/Eden as a Warrior/Thinker pair, now we’ll have Abaddon/Khepri (and Eagle/Aiden as their avatars) as Collector/Destroyer. For now, their goals align temporarily, but ultimately they will oppose each other.

            And regarding a god of fourth wall, here’s another theory: it’s Sleeper. He doesn’t have anything to do with Entities, he just sleeps and sees the Wormverse in his dreams. And when Tattletale mentioned that he’s active – it actually meant that he’s sleeping, and that’s a good thing. That’s why when he was sleepwalking to Earth Zayin, everyone was getting out of his way and abandoning that world to him – to make sure no one accidentally wakes him up, thus ending the whole multiverse.

          10. Just a little joke. T.T.O.’s last sentence reminded me of the “classic” formulation of Occam’s Razor.

          11. And here I thought that after breaking the fourth wall, and suggesting that the Eagle is writing a self insertion fanfiction it will be difficult to come up with more crazy theories. I’ve got to give it to you T.T.O. – you’re better at brainstorming those ideas than me. I especially like the one about the Sleeper.

            As for you Jess, I guess your last comment confirms your earlier comment was at least in part one of those “boringly serious” ones – about keeping theories simple, by eliminating unnecessary elements from them, and not one of those “silly” ones about the Entities going at it like rabbits? It’s a valid argument, though I feel like this entire thread has extrapolated way too far on too little information to even consider Occam’s Razor without making the “boringly serious” silly in it’s own way. So great joke either way, I guess?

            Either way it’s been fun, but I’m affraid I need to take a break here. I feel like I’m out of semi-serious theories, and piling up the ludicrous is starting to be boring, and probably does little to inspire the semi-serious anymore. Unless I do come with something good in a short while, I think it’s enough of this discussion for me, so… see you in the next one?

          12. I liked the Occam’s Razor joke, it’s not so much serious but rather geeky. So…Jess’ Razor?
            And by the way, my theory about Khepri being the fourth Entity doesn’t violate Jess’ Razor! Because Khepri-Entity strives to reduce the number of Entities:)) (and Occam is already quietly mourning at this point, so let him be…)

            Alfaryn – thanks for your words 🙂 See you in the next one!

          13. Of course I also knew the razor was a joke, I just tried to add an extra silly meaning to it.

            Also my thanks to Giant Space Tiger for starting this silly thread, and allowing us to keep going till the end, and of course to Wildbow for making it all possible, though this last one is obviously only a small drop in the sea of gratitude we all have for the author. Not that it hurts to voice our gratitude for him from time to time, right?

          14. One more thing about Taylor’s Shard being not what it seems, and this time it may be a little more serious. Scion saw Taylor and her power in his interlude. Why didn’t he recognize it, and thus know he should kill Taylor, when he was faced with swarm of capes in the final act of Worm?

            Was he so bad at abstrct thinking that he didn’t realize it was the same Shard, only used differently? Was he so sure there can no longer be such drastic change in Taylor’s power, because in his interlude he saw that Taylor triggered twice already? Or did the Shard managed to change in such way that Scion didn’t recognize it as Taylor’s anymore?

  21. I have a feeling this is going to get ugly… Can’t wait till Saturday’s chapter, moreso because I expected some reveal in this chapter from using the time camera. Though there was kind of a reveal about a “counter” to the camera (maybe only until Lookout learns how to work around it).

    And by the way: “A pan- a cure all for the creeping sentiment…” – really liked this small touch.

  22. Here is a new theory why Tattletale doesn’t bother “becoming a hero”, and why nobody wants to mention Taylor in casual discussion.

    Lisa is one of the few people, who check the status of S-class threats daily, even when she is on the run from someone like March. She KNOWS that those threats WILL hit one day. There is no if in it for her – she knows they will hit. It is just a question of when, and how well will everyone be prepared for that day. She may even be preparing for the day ALL of humanity is supposed to die (like the day all powers are supposed to be collected for example).

    By comparison most people, including most capes (with Victoria still very much among them) behave like children who think if they cover their eyes and ears, and think happy thoughts those big bad monsters under their beds won’t come to get them. Only this time it doesn’t work, because S-class threats are not imaginary monsters living under their beds – they’re very, very real. Khepri actually happens to be one of the S-class threats, who are mentioned most often, probably because she turned out to be benevolent the one time she was active, and because a lot of people remember her as Skitter, Weaver, or just Taylor. Ask yourselves – when was Sleeper or any of the Endbringers mentioned in a conversation?

    From Lisa’s perspective the only thing that counts is whether or not humanity (capes in particular) are prepared and willing to face S-class threats and the possible doomsday when those come. Everything else is either means to this end (like her little empire in New Brockton, or the game of cops and robers meant to keep enough children alive and willing to cooperate when the next S-class threat hits), or a secondary or personal goal to occupy herself with when there is nothing she can do about the S-class threats (like making life of an average Smith on a street a bit better, rising the actual kids of her group, or even situation with March and Foil).

    Why would someone with her perspective even consider “switching sides” in the children’s game? She only plays along to keep the majority of capes and the general public happy. She is going to stay on the side that lets her do more to keep everyone better prepared for the S-class threats or worse. Even if fhe switched sides it wouldn’t mean the peple would be better prepared for the real threats, so she may as well stay on the side on which she can do more to further her primary objectives, and at this time it’s the villain side.

    1. “By comparison most people, including most capes (with Victoria still very much among them) behave like children who think if they cover their eyes and ears, and think happy thoughts those big bad monsters under their beds won’t come to get them.”

      That is extraordinarily uncharitable.

      1. It is maybe a bit harsh, I intentionally did formulate it like i imagine Tattletale would explain it to someone not that close to her – someone like Victoria. It is unfortunately also human nature. Just think how most of us treat problems like global warming, threat of nuclear war (especially with continued proliferation of nuclear weapons), or dwindling of natural resources like fossil fuels, fresh water, forests or arable land.

        Those are our S-class threats, but how many of as can seriously say we spend more effort to deal with them than to live our daily lives? Aren’t we like children too?

        1. The problem with this mindset is that in the face of citywide/national/global threats most people realistically have only two choices:
          1 – Worry themselves sick, or
          2 – Ignore it and hope someone or some group with the clout manages to solve it.

          Even most capes in Worm/Ward are at this level. Even as a group what is Major malfunction going to do to the Simurgh?

          And while TT might speak that way to drag someone down, I doubt she’d be that harsh to anyone she actually wants to motivate into working on the problem.

          1. The problem is that Tattletale knows that those problems need to be solved, and that she can’t do it alone. Capes as a whole community need to try and solve those problems, because nobody else have the power necessary to do it. Even all capes working together can’t be certain they can do it. They certainly can’t do it if they insist on ignoring the situation though, so she needs to find a way to give them a reality check in a way that will make them more motivated to do something with than scared of the real threats.

            And Tattletale knows that explaining matters to people like Victoria in terms of children who hope beyond all logic that all of those problems will just go away is not the best way to motivate them. It is precisely why she keeps her mouth shut on this matter around Victoria.

            All she can hope to do is to steer as many capes she can towards maturing enough that they can face the harsh truth, and in fact I think it may be both what she’s been trying to do with Victoria’s team since the beginning, and what she may hope to accomplish on a larger scale through people like team Breakthrough, and their TV interview, or their network of hero teams.

            Reminding heroes and villains know that the game isn’t absolute, and there will be people who will break the rules may also serve as a wake up call for the capes who still insist on behaving like children. It may be part of the reason why she didn’t try to stop the villains from going to war at the meeting from the interlude.

            It may not be the way she would prefer it to be done, both because of moral reasons, because it may damage chances of cooperation when capes need to fight S-class threats, and because it will mean that more potentially useful capes will die.

            On the other hand the actions villains from the meeting are planning may still serve the purpose of reminding people that life isn’t a game, there are serious problems around the corner, and everyone needs to stop living in denial, and start being serious about preparing to face those problems.

            Tattletale faced a serious dilemma at that meeting, and decided to take the option, that is more painful in short term. Possibly because everyone at the meeting has proven just how childish their behavior still is, and how much they need to snap out of it before it is too late.

          2. And note, that the key thing is that NOBODY has enough clout to solve the problems alone, or in a small group. The only chance is that pretty much all of the available capes will cooperate. In a way making people cooperate on really big problems is not only the only chance of survival, but also Tattletale’s way of continuing Taylor’s legacy.

  23. I’ve got a new idea about who the gunners in this chapter could be. Remember the discussion with diplomatic envoys from Earth Cheit (in Crystalclear’s interlude I think)? When Cheit threatened using WMDs, Jeanne responded with threatening “nightmares”. It is a mutual destruction situation. Cheit can’t afford all-out war against Gimel.US at this point, but they may try to work around it.

    What if they’re supporting domestic anti-parahuman terrorism in Gimel.US? They could be the source of guns Love Lost was about to get from the anti-parahumans. They could also provide people, who coud organize, and train the anti-parahumans. Turn them from small disorganized groups of like-minded people into an effective organization?

    This organization in turn could provoke a small civil war between the heroes and the villains of Gimel.US, which could in turn lead not only to dead capes, and capes who can’t work with each other when faced with an external threats (such as invasion force from Cheit) – it could also lead to public opinion turning against the capes even more for breaking the rules of the game, which in turn would make it more difficult for the capes to coordinate with unpowered population in case of Cheit invasion. Supporting the anti-parahumans is probably the best way at this point to weaken Gimel.US without giving Gimel a casus beli, which could lead to the mutual destruction situation I’ve mentioned.

    After the anti-parahumans have done their job of dividing Gimel.US’s population, the Cheit military can step in. Some of the population both powered and unpowered will obviously resist, but some of them may play a role of fifth column, and later welcome Cheit’s troops as liberators. It would be mostly the unpowered who are getting more worried about capes getting out of control, and those villains, who are worried about things like the identity of current mayor, or Victoria’s little plan to remove some of them without trial by sending them to an unpopulated world or something.

    With population that divided a risk of mutual destruction is lower, because even if some of the Gimel capes try it, there is a chance they’ll be countered by those capes, who see Cheit’s “liberators” as a lesser evil than the current establishment.

    As a side note I’d like to offer some thoughts on how Gimel.US can oppose a military invasion from Cheit, or any human-populated Earth. Some capes are “nightmares” capable of acting like weapons of mass destruction. Niblog, Bonesaw, and Panacea are good examples. Valkyrie’s probably another one. Those are equivalents of NBC weapons capable of threatening mutual destruction. Those capes are few, and generally known, so they could be countered by a surprise attack, or a threat of nukes.

    There was Goddess, who could threaten to overtake a planet, possibly even without a major war. It is unclear if anybody else could do it now, but I wouldn’t count Goddess’ cluster out for example (how would we call them by the way; I vote for Godless). At this point however it would probably be difficult for them to pull another Goddess-like takeover, even if they could, because this method probably depends too much on ability to recruit Cheit’s capes, and could result in Cheit taking drastic measures, like putting a kill order on every cape on the planet.

    Some capes can be formidable in conventional warfare. Dragon is probably worth a couple bomber and fighter wings, or a few battalions of ground forces alone, but Cheit can probably overwhelm such capes with numbers of troops they can throw into open war.

    Most capes however don’t fall into any of those categories. In open battle some of them are worth a few dozens of trained soldiers, some are worth a few, some just one, and some are worth even less. What most Gimel.US capes (and probably most ex-Bet capes) are perfect for is guerilla-style warfare. Especially urban resistance.

    Most resistance groups struggle with lack of weapons or ammunition. Capes are either their own weapons and ammunition, or can make them if they’re tinkers. Another problem is that urban resistance needs to work in conspiration, at least until it is in a position to try an open uprising. It just happens that with the game most capes have learned some basics of conspiration, like use of false identities. They may have some bad habits regarding those – the game has made them used to thinking that their opponents will simply respect their masks and cape names, which will not be the case in this sort of war. Still it is probably worth more to have someone who needs to relearn how to approach some basics of conspiration than to have someone who has to learn everything from scratch.

    Obviously for it to work the resistance capes would need to pick new code names, and to swap their costumes for civilian clothes, or something that looks like civilian clothing. On top of it some capes – like Case 53s would just need to stay in hiding, and only reveal themselves to the enemy when they can ensure that they can disengage and retreat quickly.

    Another problem early on would be the high risk of betrayal by the resistance members, and infiltration by enemy agents. This is in part due to early problems with establishing an organization working in conspiration, when you are working with people who have some bad habits from the game.

    In case of Cheit’s invasion the bigger part however would probably be the fact that early on as I mentioned a large part of Gimel.US population, including many capes, would likely support the invaders. This would likely change as people get tired with Cheit’s occupation, which would likely involve stationing a lot of troops and something akin to martial law. Cheit would need to do it since Gimel.US is an important portal hub, and Cheit invasion would be seen as a threat to peace and balance of force between all connected universes. The presence of organized resistance would only force Cheit’s forces to act more oppressively with time.

    To sum it up, one possible scenario of conflict between Cheit and Gimel would work like this:
    1. polarization of Gimel’s society by Cheit – supported anti-parahumans, and subsequent cape-on-cape civil war,
    2. conventional invasion of Gimel by Cheit; mutual destruction avoided by targeting selected capes, who are capable of it, and well… threat of mutual destruction being mutual,
    3. overwhelming of Gimel.US (and eventually the rest of Gimel) regular cape-supported militaries by Cheit’s far numerous troops supported by the fifth column, and subsequent occupation of Gimel,
    4. slow birth of organized resistance on Gimel largely based on capes (but also other people) unhappy with occupation,
    5. strengthening of the resistance as Cheit’s continued occupation turns out to be more oppresive than previous Gimel’s governments,
    5a. possible support of the resistance by some other Earth unhappy with Cheit’s presence on Gimel,
    6. uprising, or series of uprisings on Gimel possibility together with attack by a new bunch of “liberators” from the Earth that supported the resistance.

    From that point there can be multiple outcomes:
    – failure of the uprising, which could turn the situation into a struggle between the Cheit conquerors and the conquered nations of Gimel; such struggle could take many decades or even centuries, with a potential uprising roughly once per generation,
    – occupation by the new liberators, which could lead to the same scenario happening again, though possibly with a lower chance of success for Gimel patriots, as the new occupant would likely know enough about the resistance (thanks to their previous cooperation) to quickly arrest or otherwise neutralize most of the resistance warriors,
    – actual liberation of Gimel followed by rebuilding and complete reconstruction of both Gimel’s socio-political order, and it’s relations with other Earths.

    I’m not saying, that all of it will happen, but don’t you think a scenario like this is plausible? Especially the first point about the anti-parahumans being supported by Cheit in order to weaken Gimel.US internally?

    1. Of course the above scenario could be at any point interrupted by an attack by an S-class threat like an Endbringer, or possibly the robot army from Bet. Cheit and Gimel may even end up having to fight together, though it could become anything from temporary truce to a permanent peace or even alliance.

      Also the resistance would obviously not be idle before the uprising phase. I expect them to hit Cheit military, police forces, possibly administration, and logistics, especially portals linking Gimel an Cheit and any trains and railroads passing through those portals. Other forms of resistance, like propaganda warfare, supplying friendly Earths with intelligence on Cheit, and their military, all the way to organization of an underground state or states, which would organize aspects of civilian lives mishandled (intentionally or because of incompetence) by the occupant, control the armed resistance, and represent Gimel on other Earths either directly, or via some government(s) in exile.

    2. Actually, based on Gary Nieves’ interlude, I think that anti-parahumans are most likely actually supported by Cheit. And regarding your points, I’d add another one possibility in case of an open war: Gimel’s parahumans infiltrate Cheit and take the guerrilla warfare to their side. In addition to their advantage in guerrilla tactics, they also have superior capabilities for infiltration, being capes against non-capes.

      And I have some doubts about targeted strikes on “WMD” capes. Nilbog – likely yes, because he doesn’t have neither his “kingdom” nor means to recreate it. Bonesaw, maybe (but she has a habit of building so much precautions into herself that she’s likely to survive the first attack on her, and then she’ll prepare even better). But Valkyrie? Not much easier than going against Scion, I think.

      1. Valkyrie is probably reasonable enough at this point not to do anything drastic out of fear of Cheit’s WMD response. Even Niblog and Bonesaw are likely to remain neutral for the same reasons. They all know, that Cheit’s nukes may not be a bluff, and they know that there are much bigger threats than Cheit invasion, things that may require their full attention soon, even at the cost of Gimel.

        The atmosphere cannon Valkyrie disabled in her interlude could for example mean that despite deaths of Scion and Eden, the Shards try to continue the cycle as they were programmed to, and the next step would be to kill all humans on all Earths, so shards can be collected. Remember that Valkyrie described the power of that tinker on top of the tower as NOT a broken trigger, but wotking as intended. Seems like at least one of the Shards wanted the tower to happen for some reason.

        The only problem is if Cheit can have intel reliable enough to think they don’t need to worry about the “WMD capes”. They could have it if there is a good precog, or a different strong thinker working for them, and there at least two or three such people, who are unaccounted for, and could either have reasons to work for Cheit, or be forced to do it. I’m thinking specifically about Contessa, Dinah, and the Clairvoyant.

        As for guerilla warfare against Cheit on Cheit it could happen, but not on large scale in my opinion. Resistance movements are generally only as strong as the support of their local population, and I doubt that they would get much of that on Cheit. Some espionage, targeted sabotage, and even assassination or terrorist attacks could be possible, but probably very difficult, risky, time consuming, and costly to organize, so I expect them to happen only on small scale in case of espionage and low-key sabotage, or very rarely in case of things like spectacular sabotage, terrorist attacks and assassinations. Generally not something most of the resistance members could or would participate in, though some thinkers, strangers, or certain tinkers would probably be well suited for such jobs. Other people, including capes and highly trained operatives could possibly serve as their bodyguards and other sorts of support.

        1. Also the more spectacular forms of guerilla warfare – like acts of terror, or assassinations of key Cheit figures both on Gimel and on Cheit would probably bring very serious repercussions to people of Gimel, so they would probably only happen if things were already desperate (for example if Cheit started committing genocide on Gimel). I don’t think this is a likely scenario, especially early on.

        2. Another problem with using capes for guerilla warfare is that most of them can be identified not only by their cape name or costume, but also by their power. If you can do it than all you need to do to capture this cape is to find someone else who may know, where the cap you are looking for may be hiding, and force them to talk. The simplest way about it would be to go after an old teammate of the cape you are looking for, one whose location is known and who can be captured and interrogated easily. If you can get one such cape, you may get a domino effect, where capturing and interrgating one cape can lead to capture and interrogation of more capes and so on.

          To avoid it the capes would need to not only take new codenames, new costumes (or stick to civilian clothes), but also move to new homes, never visit their old hangouts, etc., so they can’t be found even by people who knew both of their identities before the invasion.

          It could be done by individual capes, or by entire teams, but in the latter case everyone in the team would need to have absolute trust in the others – both as far as their dedication to the cause or the team goes (to avoid intentional betrayal – basically one teammate selling the others to the enemy) and their ability to avoid capture (to avoid betrayal due to torture) goes.

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