Polarize – 10.13

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The gunfire continued below me, and if there were any shots that passed through the air as they took aim at me, I didn’t hear them.  There was the noise of the wind rushing through and around the Wretch, faintly different from when it was brushing my skin and touching my ears.  A distortion, a whistle.

A plank in each hand, I raised my arms to my face, burying almost all of it in my arms, the crook of the elbows at my nose and mouth, the planks out and in line with my body.  I let the Wretch drop as I disappeared into the cloud cover and against the wind.

Cold, and worse because it was a moist cold.

I flew in a slight circle, dipping lower until I could see the general outline of things below.  There were tears in my eyes from the sting of the cold, but I could make out the truck, the way the cars had stopped, and the clearing by the tree with Kenzie’s van parked by it.

I shifted my grip on the planks, and then I let them fall.  Immediately, I flew horizontally, skimming the cloud line, still feeling the cold press in on me as if from every direction, grabbing at my body and reaching toward the bone.  My speed, moisture, wind and cold all compounded one another, and the snow that blew around me collected and bound to the surface.

I dove.  They came into view as I came down, what looked to be civilians or improvised soldiers in dark clothes, with what looked like used body armor.  Two people with masks, standing off to one side.  Not people I recognized.

One plank fell into the ditch.  Another struck the pavement and broke.  The plummeting objects made heads turn, which was my intent.  The black of my costume had collected a frosting of white that made it a little less obvious.

Anger sharpened my focus.  I didn’t use my aura as I landed, knee and one foot on the ground, hands helping to add some spring to the impact and reduce the noise.

It wasn’t enough to keep some of the people from seeing me.  That was where the sharper focus counted.  Two in front of me, one off to the left, two off to the right.

The lone guy to my left that had noticed me turned to his friend, who was leaning over the back of one vehicle, shooting.

My target.

Flight gave me speed and velocity that I wouldn’t have had while running.  The people in the middle and at the far right of the group turned weapons on me.  One fired and landed a hit in the moment before I threw myself at the guy on the left and put the unaware between them and myself.  One more gunshot among many.

No aura- them being off balance was good, but them being blindsided was better.  I had my choice of where to hit him, and I had to dismiss all of the training Gilpatrick had imparted.  A strike to the back of the neck, to the temple or throat could do too much harm.

The heel of my right hand met the right corner of the jaw, where it connected to the skull, the blow timed so my arm extended and added to the impact beyond just what my flight offered.  With speed, timing, and a target that was turning his head, I was ninety percent of the way to connecting it the way I’d wanted.

Ninety percent earned me a gristly feeling as my hand smashed the soft area between jaw and skull, pain in my hand and pain down my forearm with the force of the impact.

He collapsed on top of his friend, who’d been shooting and not paying nearly enough attention to the warning.

The guy to my right reacted.  I threw myself and my elbow at him.  I aimed for his jaw, hit his teeth instead.  I saw a moment of blood against grit teeth, saw him reacting by twisting his head around and reaching for a weapon shorter than the rifle he held, and hit him again  He wouldn’t simply stagger in pain and retaliate, this time.

Hurting people without the benefit of a forcefield hurt.  Every impact had its equal, opposite reaction.  I was hitting people hard, but that energy transmitted itself into my hand, into my elbow.

The guy who I’d hit first had fallen atop someone with a gun that wasn’t a rifle- or it was, but it was an automatic.  I punched him in the face as I threw myself on top of him, grabbing the weapon.  He fought me, wrestling with me over it, and I couldn’t afford to take the seconds to try and win.

I pushed out with my aura, and I saw his expression change- bewilderment, not fear.  He didn’t let go, though, and I had to turn to using the Wretch.

Just a burst of power, taking a moment of strength.  As far as I’d been able to tell, when I activated my forcefield, it came from me.  It hugged me, but only for the one tenth of a second that it was in contact with my skin and costume.  The trick was using it in the moments before it unfurled.  One instant of strength that could lift a car or punch through sheet metal.

I tore the rifle from his hands, then gave it back to him- one of my hands gripped the barrel, the other the stock, and I smashed the middle part into his face.

Couldn’t go forward without going into the firing line.  Couldn’t go back without the same issue.  People were turning on me, concerned with the immediate threat in their ranks.  I saw some backing away from the line of people that had formed alongside the parked cars, trying to get a clear shot, and I saw them get shoved or pulled aside.

Two capes.  A man and a woman, in dark costumes with utilitarian masks- hard white, covering mouth and nose, bridge of the nose, and the brow.  Both masks outlined the eye sockets but didn’t block peripheral vision.

She had a cloth scarf wound around her head and neck, white armor built into her gloves and an otherwise black uniform with body armor.  He had the same look, but no gloves, his hat was a simple beanie, and he had a neck warmer on.  His body armor had shoulder pads and bracers that extended over the back of his hands, and he carried a long-handled axe, like the kind emergency workers used to chop through doors.

I didn’t want to get involved with that.  Unable to go forward or back, unwilling to go up in case it exposed me to them, I decided to go the Manton route.  Powers came encoded with limitations, and the most common limitation that laymen and bottom-tier cape geeks associated with the term was that powers worked on inorganic things only, or they worked on organic things only.  The chief example of a hundred possibilities, but it was what I decided to use.

In brief: through.

I threw myself into the mob.

They would be my Manton protection.  With another burst of strength, using the rifle’s butt and my burned hand, I shoved at the non-cape woman in front of me so she would bowl into the people behind her, then grabbed the guy to my right and used another burst to throw him in the general direction of the two capes.  He landed near the guy with the axe, and the cape hopped over him before the flying man could collide with his shin.  When the cape landed, though, he didn’t have good footing that wasn’t stepping on the man that had fallen, he tried to step on snow, and he slipped to his hands and knees instead.

I kept the people around me, using strength to grab them, force them to stumble, and keep them between me and the capes.  I saw the guy getting up, while the woman was retreating, crouching low to the ground, and threw the next guy toward the masked guy.

Or I tried.  I extended my arm in the throw, and he jerked violently.  I saw gouges appear in his cheap, duct-taped body armor, close to the heart, and then his arm broke.  The break got worse, twisting-

I canceled the Wretch and let him fall.

The uneasy, unsure satisfaction that came with finding a way forward had its backlash, ten times the negative for any positive I might have found in it.

He hit the ground and fell against my leg, which added to the pressure and the lack of elbow room.  I used flight to keep myself upright, but people were pressing in, and I gave them a second’s pause with my aura.  It made them stop, staring, and little else.

Stop fighting me, Wretch.  Whatever you want, we can get it by working together.  Don’t fuck me on the fear.  Don’t fucking tear people apart when I have a cape I need to stop!

The Wretch had practically torn his arm off, I could see it as  I tried to handle stuff, and it distracted at a moment I needed my focus.

I’d hurt someone, fuck me.  Couldn’t do this- couldn’t escape without easily exposing myself.  I’d bought others a chance to breathe and I wasn’t sure it mattered.

Someone grabbed for the assault rifle I was holding in one hand, and I drew my free hand around to use the spikes that laid across the back of my hand.  With my hand in a fist, the spikes stuck out, and I could rake his hand.  Just enough harm to do what I needed and free myself, no more.

In the time it took me to do that, two more people had grabbed me.

I twisted, used a burst of strength to hurl them away, and flew up, aiming to put myself over the top of the car that they’d been using as shooting cover.

I had a glimpse of the masked woman with her hand raised.  She made a quick beckoning gesture and something in me went.

I hit the top of the vehicle I’d been meaning to go over.  A second had passed, I’d stopped flying, I’d dropped the Wretch and I’d let go of the gun I’d been using as a club.

Stupid, I thought.

People grabbed me.  I twisted away and tried to roll over the trunk of the vehicle to the far side, and I found myself as weak as a baby.

Fly.  I forced myself to fly, and it did take some forcing.  Not because my power was weak or gone, but because my head wasn’t all there.  My thoughts were as weak as my body.

I’d bought some time.  People on our side who had been pinned down by gunfire were getting closer.  Brio, Anelace.  I didn’t see Capricorn, Lookout, or Ashley, but I saw Rain, who was hanging back, a silver blade in hand that he wasn’t throwing.

The strength I’d lost was quickly returning.  My thoughts returned.  The sinking feeling that had started when I’d seen that people were gunned down and quintupled when I’d hurt the guy in the middle of the fighting lingered.

“Who are you!?” I called out.  “Why do this!?”

There was a bang at the back of the car.  I looked up just in time to see someone vaulting over.  The man with the mask, holding up someone’s bulletproof vest as a shield between him and the heroes.

I flew away, Wretch up, and I saw the world I was flying to go dark.  The ground beneath me illuminated, sweeping out like a ripple extending from the point of his landing.

My flight died, and I skidded to a landing, my still-frost-stiff costume skimming on a snow-slick road.

I tried to use flight to stand, then remembered I didn’t have it.  I climbed to my feet, wary.  The man tossed the shield aside, then rolled his head around, cracking his neck.

The cars were nearby, the ditch, the road beneath me.  But there was no wind, and I didn’t feel the cold anymore- cool air, but not cold.  The ground had a glow to it, like there were dim lights just beneath the snow.  That glow was more intense toward the edge of the circle.

A ring thirty feet in diameterand past those thirty feet, there was nothing.  Some of the cars and trucks had been cut apart, but the cut pieces still stood.

Not white, not black, not gray or anything neutral.  It made my head hurt to look at it and to think about it.

I panted for breath, feeling the lingering weakness from the woman’s power, and I could tell that the air here was thinner.  I’d experienced thinner air by flying especially high.

I couldn’t fly now.  I didn’t have my aura- I reached for it and found nothing there for me.

I felt a mix of emotions at that.

“Why?” I asked him.

“For Noontide and me?  Money.”

“Mercenaries.”

He nodded.  He tested and shifted his grip on the long-handled axe he carried.

“If you help anti-parahuman types like this, they’ll take advantage of your help now and then they’ll try to come after you later.  It’s what happened in Russia, when they tried to control the parahuman population.”

“I’ve been to Russia.  Contracted there.  I’ve seen it.  The before, the after, the attempts to make parahumans into military.  Each one assigned to a squad or special force.  Pit against each other.  There’s nothing you can tell me about that kind of reality I haven’t touched with all five senses.”

“These anti-parahuman guys-”

He scoffed, sharply enough to interrupt, the noise muffled by the mask that covered his lower face.  “If you’re saying that to try to bait me into revealing something about who hired me, save your breath.  You’re making yourself sound stupid.”

I felt more like myself as I tried to assess the situation.  I had to trust that my teammates and Foresight were handling things and keeping the gunmen from going on the offensive, now that the way was clear.  There was nothing I could do to break this effect.

“People who would hire you to go this far are going to turn on you.  I know the unwritten rules stopped applying over the last two years, but the behavior of people, from good people to the scummy sorts that would sign off on this?  That still applies.  It will always apply.”

“Are you finished?”

“That’s up to you,” I said, ducking my head a bit.  I needed to look smaller.  Less dangerous.  Talking was making me run out of breath, the thin air working its effect on me.  But talking was better than the alternative.  “Power nullification?”

“Everything nullification.  No powers, no outside help.  You, me, and the arena.”

I wanted to pace, to encourage him to do it too, to maintain an even distance between us.  It didn’t happen.  That kind of pressure and maneuvering required a roughly equivalent power.  I had to be something more than a twenty-one year old woman, unarmed, against a man five inches taller than me who was armed with an axe.

Maybe a Trump power, but I wasn’t betting anything on it.  I knew Trump powers tended to arise, though not always, when a person triggered in relation to power-based stressors.  I knew they tended to feel disconnected from humanity, much like breakers did, just like how movers reported being chronically restless or having trouble setting down roots.

Shaker power, yes.  Area or environment focused.  Changing the battlefield.  Shaker powers fell roughly in line with contextual or environmental threats.  They were mindful of those things, usually.  Context.  Environment.

“The city can’t take much more of this.  Don’t- can’t you see that if all of this goes to shit, there won’t be anything nice left for you to spend your money on?”

“It’s handled,” he said.  “I’d fret more about myself, if I was you.”

I wished I still had the assault rifle.  I’d let it slip from my fingers after ‘Noontide’ had knocked me out for a second.  I backed up a bit, reaching out to the side.  The bounds of the circle were like a solid wall.

While I focused on that, he was looking around, studying… the  cars?  Why?

I didn’t know what to expect here.

Slowly, he nodded, as if he’d assessed the situation.

I felt weirdly okay, de-powered.  My heart was pounding, but I felt focused, and all of the emotions that had surrounded things were gone.  It was as if the power effect cut me off from all the pains and suffering of the rest of the world.

The-

Rain.  There’d been no onset, and I was naturally resistant, but I’d felt the emotion creep over me.  Doubt, frustration, regret for my failings in the moment.

Was that why people hadn’t felt the fear aura in the same way?  Had Rain’s power diluted it or added some lavender into the mix, diluting the dark green?

He took a step forward, closing in on me, his axe in one hand.  As I ducked left, he moved to cut me off.  I headed the other direction, toward the cars he’d been looking at, and he took a step to the side, ready to block and take a swing if I tried it.

The cars that had concerned him – he’d been looking around them.  Was there a way through?  Through a window, past the boundary of this circle?  It didn’t feel like it made sense, but I looked anyway.

He took that opportunity to reach for something at his belt.

A canister of something.

I hurled myself at him.  I felt battered and sore and clean emotion ran through me as I threw myself into the jaws of the lion.

The ground was slippery.  I almost lost my footing as I ran.

I saw the axe move, brought back to swing, and kept one eye on the ground.  I couldn’t afford to lose traction in a key moment.  One of my feet touced on secure ground, in the track where tires had melted ice, the second following, landing further down that same line.  The third- it had to be where the Kenzie van or one of the other vehicles had turned off, because snow and ice had scattered and been pressed down.

He was watching as much as I was.  He timed his swing for when I closed the distance.  I could hear it cut through the air.  When I ducked, using my footing on still-clear ground to adjust my position and half-throw myself to one side, he brought the canister to his axe-hand.  As I scrambled to my feet, he spared a finger to pull the pin, and then let it tumble from his fingers, dropping to the ground at his feet.

“No outside factors.  Stuff like guns and explosives are a bad idea, so don’t think of surprising me with one.  The sound and shock has nowhere to go but inside you.  The circle probably thinks it makes it a level playing field,” he said.  “Your problem is gonna be that I don’t believe in level.  This is my arena.”

Something was hissing out, but I couldn’t see the vapor of it.  Invisible gas.

“Take your time, time I spend in here is time I don’t have to be out there, and my side’s winning,” he said, his eyes narrowed as he reached with his free hand to get into his neckwarmer.  He pulled out a tangle of tubes, with what looked like a pacifier sans bulb and a nose piece.

He began to put the breathing apparatus under his mask when I started forward again.

I’d fought big before.  I’d grown up roughhousing with Uncle Neil.  Manpower.

He took one swing as he backed up a step, in a way I would have called casual or lazy if it hadn’t been fast.  No aim in mind, timing didn’t matter, it just forced me to get clear and get away.  Keeping the distance between us while the gas accumulated.  It bought him the time to get the breathing apparatus on.  His thumb flicked something beneath the neckwarmer, and then he tucked it beneath his body armor.

I would have done something about the canister, but we were inside a confined space.

His weapon required reach.  It had been the case with Uncle Neil when I’d been twelve, when he’d been grown, strong, and capable of keeping me at arm’s length.

My goal was to get inside that reach.  I started forward, saw him react, ready to chop at me from the side.  I found good footing, and lunged for real this time, a second after the fact.

He swung from the side, aiming for my midsection, and I dove, going low.

His foot came out, stopping me as I skidded on the surface that made footing so difficult.  He shifted to a two-handed, overhead swing- and I went after his legs, tangling mine with his.

He’d expected that much, and shifted his footing, but he hadn’t watched his own footing as much as he’d watched me and mine.  There was just enough slip for me to get one foot to skid a short distance, to topple him.

I wasn’t willing to wait for him to get his bearings.  I used the spikes on the back of my glove like an ice climber might use an ice pick to get leverage while on a tough climb.  Burying them into his leg, possibly getting more armor and padding than I got leg, I was able to spin myself around, so my feet were pointed closer to his face.  I’d hoped to get a boot to his jaw, but he twisted away, his back flat on the ground.

He still had the axe.  He still had it in roughly an overhead position, and with his back flat on the ground, he was in a position to swing.  He brought it down and at me, and I brought my foot out, kicking at the hands, before the axe could come down.

It broke his grip and interrupted the swing before it could reach peak momentum.  It didn’t disarm him, though, which meant I didn’t have time.

It was a short, desperate scramble before I could leverage my way forward, bringing my face closer to his, while he grabbed me, trying to keep me in place so he could swing one-handed.  I spiked the grabbing hand, threw myself on top of him so my shoulder touched the bicep of his axe- arm and limited the ability to swing, then reached for the neckwarmer, tearing the tubes away with the reversed claws.  Tearing them away in a way that destroyed them.

It cost me.  He brought the axe down, but with my face being closer to his and the limited swing range, he couldn’t bring the blade down to make contact with me.

He did bring the metal end of the axe down.  The butt end had a spike on it, and the end glanced off my mask and caught me at the side of my head.  I felt the sharp crack of something hard touching bone without any cushion in between, and then there was blood in my eye.

I didn’t dare breathe.  He was strong, bigger, and my only benefit was that I had spikes on my gloves.  Even that was matched, because he had bracers with jutting bits at the front that hurt like hell when he jabbed me and hit me with them instead of with his hands.

I’d been going after faces for a reason.  If these people existed out there, anywhere in the city, I wanted them to be recognizable.  I wanted destroyed jaws, broken noses, and black eyes, if not claw marks or anything else.

Anger drove me.  The image of all those people lying on the bloodstained battlefield and what had happened to the Navigators was flashing through my head as I fought for what it took to keep going, keep hurting him.

He shifted, and he got one knee or one foot between myself and him.  I could feel the flex, and I knew he was going to kick me off him.  I couldn’t afford to let him.  I brought my hands down and hooked the spikes into the sides of his neck, closer to the spine than the front.  The action and my center of gravity brought my face close to his.  Blood dripped down from my scalp wound onto the white mask.

Each of his hands found my forearms, and struck my arms out and away from his neck.  I might have nicked him, but I didn’t take much flesh with the motion.  My center of gravity being what it was, with me on top of him, my face smashed into his.  The scalp wound shed blood straight into his eye.

His footing against my midsection shifted, one closer to my chest, and he kicked out, leveraging me away.

I hit road, and cold wind blew past me.  I took in half a lungful of air, and the air burned my nostrils, mouth, and throat.

There was noise all around me.  The circle was gone.  I started to rise to my feet, reaching for my flight, and more coughing overtook me.

Again, I felt something in me go.  Again, I blacked out, except it was longer than the one second this time.  No flight, no movement at all.  I came back to, took the start of a breath in, and again, I felt the burn.  Reflex actions.

Noontide.

“Victoria!” a voice.  “Behind you!”

It took all of my energy to turn to look behind me, the direction I’d felt everything go.  Noontide was in one of the vehicles, wheels spinning to find traction.

Then the sedan had its traction and it lunged.  It was aimed straight at me and at the ditch.  It lunged as it took over.

A hand grabbed me.  It was Sveta who pulled me clear.  With all the strength and energy Noontide had sapped from me, I wouldn’t have been able.

The car continued on its way, to where Tristan had made the  bridge that had let them cross the ditch and get to the crime scene.  It was only just reaching that bridge when bridge became water.  The sedan struck the edge of the ditch nose-on.  Airbags inside inflated.

“What are you doing!?” Sveta raised her voice.

I thought it was me.  Then I realized Rain’s effect was still in place.  The guilt, the easy switch to self-blame.

There were still people with guns.  Sveta held onto me and dragged us to cover.

Anelace was still in the midst of it.  He’d brought knives to a gunfight and he was winning.  There was a choreographed pace to how he fought, like he anticipated every bullet.  He fought to stay in close, to make it so one person that was fighting with him was a harder shot for everyone else.

“They have two rocket launchers, Victoria,” Sveta said.  “Saved for the hard targets.  They clipped Brio and they got the camera.”

I set my jaw, tried to summon the strength to move, and ended up coughing.  A bit more summoning and I managed to move, holding myself up.

“I’m trying to keep them from shooting, but they split up.  Help.”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.

No questions about whether I was okay.  There were more pressing concerns.

“One cape hiding in the traffic off to the side,” Sveta said, indicating with one hand.  “He’s a mover, made some of their injured disappear!”

Then she was gone, pulling herself away.

I had to assume the other person with the rocket launcher was at the opposite end of the crowd to the end that Sveta had headed to.  I wished I had a better sense of what was going on.  I wished I could see, with the stinging blood weeping from my scalp to my eye, beneath the metal of my mask.

With the chaos, people trying to get clear of Anelace and his knives, and the fact that everyone in the field was either shot or behind cover, there wasn’t as much focus on shooting anymore.  They were organizing.  Groups of this haphazard militia consolidated, forming ranks to protect key people and groups.  The capes didn’t count- nobody was going to help Noontide, but they were gathering around the two-man team with the rocket launcher.

The time I spent looking was time they spent noticing I existed.  Some raised rifles, handguns, and other weapons to point at me.  I flew for cover, one of the parked cars by the side of the road, close to the field.

Wretch still out, I put my hands on the car and I pushed.  Wheels resisted more than they skidded, the Wretch broke a window and tore at the metal, and I thought the vehicle might roll- too much.

A shift to one side helped- and the back end swung their way.  With that movement, the front end moved some too.  I’d hoped to ram them, disabling the majority, but instead they scattered.

“-clear!” I heard a voice.

The rocket launcher.

I flew, putting myself in the way of the rocket, Wretch active.

They fired.  Pulling the trigger when a target presented itself, instinct more than smarts.

It was loud, but the upper ends of the sound were dampened by the forcefield, making it sound more like a loud noise from a television that couldn’t be set to an ear-hurting volume.  Heat and fire rolled around the Wretch and surrounded me, and as the Wretch went down, the air exchanged that had been protected along with me mixed in violently with the hot air immediately beyond it.  My hair stirred and I was reminded of how much my mouth, nose, and scalp hurt.

The blast had been unexpectedly close to them, I was pretty sure.  Most of the people in that group were reeling now.

I used my power, intent on keeping them reeling.  My aura pushed out, and I saw the reactions on their faces.  Bewilderment.  Eyes wide.

Again, that mix of emotion?  That fear and regret could somehow mix into something else?

No… was it actually awe?  In a twisted, upside-down world, my powers warped, my enemies looked up to me and my allies feared me?  Was that how it worked?

No.  Only in this scenario.

Something was fucked up.  I kept the aura burning as I stalked closer.  None raised their weapons against me.

“Tell me who you are.  Who sent you?”

“We’re spear team two,” came the response from one wide-eyed woman.  “We’re with-”

“Tracy,” a man barked.  I loomed, using my flight to draw in closer.  He cowed, then said, “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.  Tell me.”

“Can’t,” he said.  “Can’t.”

“Teacher?” I asked.  I didn’t see a glimmer of recognition.  “Cheit?”

Nothing.  I saw the man clench his jaw, eyes unfocused as he stared into the sun that was my aura.  The clench and his stance suggested he’d found some grit, and it would take some arm twisting to get him to talk.

Arm-twisting.  I looked for the man I’d hurt, letting the Wretch nearly tear his arm off.  Gone already.

My head snapped around the other way as I heard the sound of the other rocket launcher going off.

It sailed toward the center mass of our team.  Ashley, one hand at her middle stood straight, putting herself in the path.  It was Byron who supported her to minimize the recoil.

She wasn’t directly in front, so she had to shoot off to the side.  She produced a blast and sustained it.  The blast caught the projectile, destroyed it, and ate the worst of the detonation.  Fire laced through the darkness and spilled out from gaps in licks and tongues.  People near her shied away.

Byron eased her to the ground, presumably in the same way he’d lifted her up.  The white of her costume looked half red with her own blood.

How had they shot?  Sveta-

Sveta was unconscious, with Noontide on the quick approach, a knife in each hand.  I took flight.

I passed by the glowing bubble where the guy I’d fought was presumably fighting Anelace, and I could see their blurry outlines within.  Hand to hand combat.

A bullet clipped the Wretch, and I dropped down low, still closing the distance.

Sveta roused, just in time to see Noontide moving her hand around, ready to use her power again.  I wasn’t close enough.

I saw Sveta’s neck thicken- unfurl.  A clasp had been undone.  Shorter tendrils reached out and seized Noontide’s face and arm.

“Don’t!” I called.

She turned her head to look at me, eyebrows knit together, eyes wide.  Scared.  Then Noontide moved, and the tendrils reacted.  The narrow ones cut into skin as they constricted.  Larger ones twisted and dug in.  The mask broke as tendrils stressed it.

I could see the wince on Sveta’s part at the sight, seeing what had just happened.

She let go of Noontide as quickly as she’d grabbed on.  The body slumped to the ground.

“Sveta!” I called out.

The agitation was bad enough that she couldn’t bring the tendrils together to cinch the neck-clasp back together.

“She’s fair game, okay!?   She and the guy with Anelace right now are killers for hire!  The non-capes aren’t!  They’re under the influence of something!”

I saw the nod, jerky.  She was still fighting it.

“Easy.  Bricks in a wall, remember?”

“I made the choice, Victoria,” Sveta said.  “I undid the clasp.”

“You defended yourself.  I talked to the other guy in this trio.  Trust me when I say it’s okay.  They’re fucked up, dangerous, and effective enough to exercise both of those other things to their full capacity.  Okay?”

I saw the agitation settle some.

“Trust me,” I said.  “I saw all of it.  I talked to him.  She would have left you no choice.”

The agitation settled more.  Sveta buckled the strands in.  Hands fixed her hair.

I glanced at the bubble.  It had popped – no noise, no fanfare.  The guy who’d fought me was backing up, clearly bloodied not just by me but by a number of knife slashes.  Anelace slumped against the side of a car instead of pursuing.

There were several others with guns in the vicinity.  Anelace didn’t budge as they approached.  I tensed, ready to act-

It didn’t matter.  In front of Sveta, Noontide’s body went up in smoke.  One by one, the people who’d been shooting at us began to disappear.  The retreating arena man.  Shooters.  Rocket launcher people.  The awed people that hadn’t picked up a gun or returned to being aggressive since I’d talked to them.

Leaving one- the teleporter, who apparently couldn’t teleport themselves.  I flew after them, but Crystalclear got to him first.  The guy, skinny with ‘troll’ hair in a gelled point above his head, thin beard and mustache, had something in his hand.

Sveta staggered to her feet.  I steadied her.  Together, we hurried to that scene.  One more person.

I pushed out with my aura.  The teleporter spooked in a visible way, and Crystalclear found enough of a grip to pry the guy’s hand open.  A capsule pill, that Crystalclear quickly stepped on.

“I couldn’t blast him while he was weaving through real people,” Crystalclear said.

“It’s okay,” I said.  I wasn’t sure it was.  There was so much about what had just happened that wasn’t okay.

I looked at Sveta, and I saw thin traces of crimson along one side of her face, forming little diamond shapes because different tendrils had slapped against it from different angles.

I touched my scalp.  Stitches would be needed.

“You got this?” I asked.

Crystalclear nodded, the crystals on his head catching the light with the movement.  “I’ll call for help.”

I flew, and I turned in the air as I did it, surveying.  The battlefield first- all traffic still stopped.  Civilians scared and scattered.  The attackers gone.  The cars that Foresight and our other heroes had come in had been trashed.  Rain’s projectiles had chopped up some of the enemy’s cover, forcing them into tighter places.

A surgical strike.  Capes who, as far as I could tell, had been hired with the role clearly in mind.  Weapons, tools.

Finale’s wail formed the bulk of the background noise.  I spared a glance, even though I didn’t want to see.  Her teammates were hurt, not dead.  They looked as concerned about her being upset than she was about them being shot, but they didn’t have a lot of strength to communicate to her when she was this loud.  I could see Recycle and Retouch peering around the wall Tristan had made, currently badly chipped from bullets.  They looked kind of shocked that things had stopped.

Guns were scattered around Brio, but he wasn’t the one who had used them.  Relay sat on the cold ground, staring up at the sky.  The weapons had been pulled from Brio’s person and used by Relay.  No efforts were made to stem Brio’s blood loss, no efforts made to watch his vitals or talk to him, and Relay had no ability to tend to others.  Maybe he told himself that they were all already getting help.  Maybe there was more to it.

The camera box was missing a good quarter of its components, because it had been hit by a rocket, or by the edge of the blast.  The box and the tree had been used as cover, even though the box wasn’t that large.  Fragments of Byron’s wall littered the area.

It meant someone could lie behind it and maybe not catch a bullet.  Swansong lay in the snow and dirt with her back to the others.

“How do I look in crimson?” she asked.

“Shitty,” I said, and my voice was rough from the gas.  “Don’t ever wear it again.”

She didn’t smile.  She pulled a hand away from her neck.

“Put that hand back,” I said, my voice hushed.  I pressed down on her hand with my own.  “It’s not bleeding as much as it could be.”

She didn’t respond or smile.  I approached the box, floating closer, and I saw Rain and Byron huddled over.

“Look after her?” Swansong asked.  “I don’t trust myself to get close.  I want to, make sure to tell her that.”

“She heard,” Rain said.

“Yeah,” I said.  I stepped around the box and around Byron.

Rain had supplied fabric to form the improvised bandage.  Lookout wasn’t moving much, lying on a bed of Tristan’s power.

“Tristan caught a bullet,” Byron said, quiet.  “He should hold until we get to a hospital.  He’s in stasis where he is right now.  It didn’t hit any vitals.”

“Good to know,” I said, my voice tight.  “Hey Lookout.”

I saw her move her hands a bit.  Her face wasn’t visible with the mask she wore.

“What are you doing getting shot?” I said.  “I don’t advise it.”

“You got shot before,” Lookout responded, ghost-quiet.  “Arm.”

“I’m speaking from experience, aren’t I?” I asked.  “What do you say I fly you to a hospital?”

“What about Swansong?”

“Come on,” I said.  “Swansong’s tough.  You’re not.”

Lookout didn’t fight me as I scooped her up, Rain and Byron helping.

“Warn the team with Advance Guard and the Shepherds,” I told Rain and Byron.  “I think the people who attacked were compelled, under the influence, or something, and they weren’t team one.  The other team’s at risk.”

“They might not believe us,” Rain said.

“Try,” I said.  “You comfortable, Lookout?”

“As comfortable as I can be with two bullets in me,” she whispered.  “How was I the only one who got shot twice?  I’m a small target?”

I talked to her as I floated up.  “I’m going to need you to keep talking to me the entire way there.  It’s going to be how I know you’re still alert, okay?  Let me know if you get cold.”

“Oh kay,” she said, like it was two separate words.  “You have to ask me to do something I’m bad at, huh?”

“Talking a lot?”

“Yeah.  I’m joking.  I’m not very funny.  Blame the bullets.  Maybe one hit me in the funny bone.”

“Ha ha,” I said, without humor.

As I took flight, turning my body so I caught the wind and the eleven year old in my arms didn’t, I had a view of the bloodstained field.  I shifted my orientation and my grip, and set my eyes on the wound in the sky where the portal in Brockton Bay had been ripped open wide.

That would be the direction we were going.

Things had changed.  From a city of gold to a city of crimson.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t meet you face to face, Victoria, and that you had to take a detour.  Other things are demanding our presence and focus.”

“Trust me,” I said.  “I totally get it.  Things are bad right now.”

I approached a window.  The streetlights were on, and the city beyond was dark.

Evening- no.  After dark.

“Can I ask how your team is doing?” Dragon asked.

“I’m too used to Lookout, because my first impulse is to be surprised that you didn’t look it up on hospital computers first.”

“Admitting that sort of thing gets you in trouble,” Dragon said, over the phone that I’d set to speaker.  “I asked because I wanted to hear it from you.”

I looked away from the window, and at the old computer with the round monitor and its slightly fishbowl screen.  Green text on a black background flew across the screen.  My device on the desk was more modern, with a red light flashing violently on the top as it accepted the data.

“In surgery, recovering, in for a third surgery, worrying, waiting in the dark, recovering, and… attending this meeting, I guess.  It’s a mess.”

“Hopefully things will level out.”

I shook my head.  “Advance Guard killed villains who had been hired to ambush that coalition.  Our warning got to them too late, that this looked set up.  It’s agitated things pretty badly- at least on our end there were some civilian witnesses.  There’s a lot of question marks.  People are scared.”

“I wish I could do more.  I’m being watched too carefully to intervene in subtle ways, and the only unsubtle help I could provide would be deploying my machines.  I don’t think that would calm the public.”

“No,” I said.  “Knowing someone’s out there who has our back is… really nice.  It’s appreciated.”

“It looks like we’re halfway done,” Dragon said.  “Then you can get back to looking after them.  I’m sorry that the timing is awkward.”

“This will be helpful for my looking after me, if nothing else,” I said.  I was so tired.  “Something to read on all the nights I’m not sleeping.”

I could see the files as they disappeared into my storage drive.  DEPT_26.fold, DEPT_27.fold, DEPT_28.fold.  Folded files that each supposedly contained the notes and pertinent details of major PRT departments.

“How much of this is redacted?” I asked.

“Some,” Dragon answered.  “Enough to protect identities of heroes.”

“And identities of villains?”

“Very few.  If you need access to something redacted, you can ask me.  We’ll discuss.  I imagine you’re thinking of Tattletale?”

“I wasn’t thinking of anyone particular.”

“She’s the one you have the most history with, who is most active and in opposition to you.”

I saw my reflection in the window as I turned my head to look out at the city.  I touched the stitches at my scalp.  “Is she?  Redacted, I mean.”

“No.  But if you did open that file, I’d wonder what your motivations were.”

“Answers, I guess.  Who she is.  Why she is the way she is,” I said.  “What she wants.  What the hell happened to my hometown.”

“In the eyes of Mrs. Wynn, you earned the right to know.  You bartered for the files, you get them.  In my eyes, our eyes, if I include Defiant, who is beside me right now, being in Mrs. Wynn’s favor isn’t necessarily a good thing, but we’re willing to extend the trust because you’re doing what you’re doing for good reasons.”

“Thank you.  And thank Defiant for me.  I appreciate the faith.”

“Done.  Be careful around Mrs. Wynn, Victoria,” Dragon said.

“I will.  I know.”

“We’re almost done.  I’m including some files I found in my backups.  I don’t know if Lookout kept track or managed those things, but it’s notes for her old work that she submitted to the PRT, and the specs from the testing division.”

“She was enough of an unknown for the testing division?”

“The director wanted to cover all the bases.”

“I hope she likes it,” I said.  “Getting shot’s a bit of a downer.  Having your friends get shot, allies die, your work destroyed, and the investigation stalled is pretty devastating too.  Missed our deadline.”

“I can’t tell if you’re still talking about Lookout,” Dragon said.

“Any word on the villain meeting?”

“It went as one might expect.  They’re angry.  If the culprits of the attacks last night and today are there, they’re in good company.”

“Or they’re fostering the dissent.  Any idea on who is taking point?  Where Tattletale stands?”

“On leadership, no.  Tattletale has declared herself neutral in this.  In the revenge, dominance, asserting of strength that the other villains are intent on.”

“Good for her,” I said.

“Not quite,” Dragon said.

A voice came through the speaker.  It took me only a second to realize who it was.

I’m still available for sale, but prices are tripling, because I have other things to focus on.  Normally I’d try to steer this ship, but if you guys want to set things on fire… have at it.”

What are the prices?

If you have to ask, Hock, you’re not in a position to pay.

Fuck.”

“Any takers?  Hands up so I know…”

I frowned.

“We don’t have visual, but we do know there were takers,” Dragon said.   “Cradle was one.  I know he’s a person of interest to your team.”

“Cradle and Love Lost are at odds, and Tattletale was telling us to help Love Lost.  Maybe she’s pulling something,” I said.  I made a face.  “Things get so much messier when she’s involved.”

“You’re not wrong,” Dragon said.

“Thank you for this,” I said.  I’d noticed the light had stopped blinking.

“Again, I’m sorry for the timing.  I know you’d rather be at the hospital.”

“No,” I said.  I looked out the window.  The person in my reflection looked more angry than weary.  “I’m so tired of hospitals.  A break is good.”

“What’s next?”

“Investigating.  We’re not done.  The deadline passed, but we still need to figure out who these guys are and how it factors in.  Advance Guard’s group is still out for blood, and others are following their path.  Turning into vigilantes more than they are heroes.”

“I can try talking to them.”

“If you think that’ll work.”

“Defiant is telling me he might try it.  He might be more on their wavelength.”

“Cool,” I said, feeling anything but cool.  I was feeling heartsick, if anything.  “I’m feeling like we should just cut through this Gordian knot.  Screw the secrecy, screw decorum.  Just… go after the masterminds.”

“Others have tried.  It’s trickier than it might seem.”

I sighed.

“On that subject,” Dragon said.  “My apologies for the awkward segue-”

I winced.  I knew that Dragon had invited me for a reason.  She had something she’d wanted to talk to me about that she couldn’t share over the lines.

“-I’m putting one last thing on that drive,” Dragon finished.

I saw it flash on the screen.  One line.  Another .fold file.  Neatly compressed.

Using the trackball,  I navigated to the file.  I selected it.

As the pages loaded in, I saw glimpses.

“Ah, you just opened it,” Dragon said.  “You can see why I couldn’t risk others seeing.”

Killed brother.  Murder charges…

Fallen, with relations to the McVeay…

Blackmail, individual already in compromising position sought counsel, but this message was intercepted…

“She said that if something happened to her, and if it looked like she might not return, then she wanted at least the truncated notes to go to appropriate people.  For your team and other things.  I tried to find people who would take on these cases and take appropriate steps.  Your Dr. Darnall was one.”

“He said no?”

“He said he couldn’t.  The team with your friends Weld, Sveta and Vista returned last night, and it doesn’t look like anyone in particular is still looking, or if they are, they aren’t broadcasting it.”

“It’s a bunch of staff that only matter to a narrow selection of people, and a few reformed monsters like Bonesaw and Nilbog.  It doesn’t compel people to put themselves out there,” I said.

“I cut down on the particulars.  Only a few points that, if you weren’t already aware of them, you should be.”

Suicidal ideation…

Potential bipolar diagnosis…

“I don’t know,” I said.

Pervasive feelings of betrayal, lack of trust, including in herself…

“I shouldn’t be looking at this,” I said.

The screen went black.

“You should,” Dragon said.

The screen came back.  A different page, closer to the end of the document.

Chris, I realized.  I read some of the general notes, clicked a button, and read another page.

Fuck,” I said.

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111 thoughts on “Polarize – 10.13”

  1. While I quite understand Vicky wanting to go for Arena’s face (calling him that until official name is confirmed), it the opportunity arises, fuck his knees up. they are a bitch to heal, and a man that relies on forcing peopling to combat with them will notice when his knees aren’t what they used to be, and will be bothered.

    Someone’s escalating. The mercs might not be so happy to find out the long term consequences of going along with masterminds escalating.

  2. > I felt weirdly okay, de-powered. My heart was pounding, but I felt focused, and all of the emotions that had surrounded things were gone. It was as if the power effect cut me off from all the pains and suffering of the rest of the world.

    > The-

    > Rain. There’d been no onset, and I was naturally resistant, but I’d felt the emotion creep over me. Doubt, frustration, regret for my failings in the moment.

    > Was that why people hadn’t felt the fear aura in the same way? Had Rain’s power diluted it or added some lavender into the mix, diluting the dark green?

    I’m not sure I understand the thought process that led to this? Anyone mind clearing this up for me?

    1. She’s referring to Rain’s useless emotion power, the aura that just instills a vague, almost unnoticeable feeling of guilt in people. In addition to interacting with Victoria’s aura in a weird way, it was also making her feel kind of low-level shitty during the fight. Once arena guy cut her off from the outside world, she was also cut off from Rain’s power, so that makes her feel good in comparison.

    2. On top of what Collide said, Victoria mentions earlier that the non-capes are reacting differently than normal to her aura. Here she’s speculating that Rain’s aura is what’s causing it. Later she decides that some other factor is in play, which is why she thinks power coercion played a part in assembling the ambush.

    3. She’s also thinking that the non-capes were awed instead of scared by her aura due to interference with Rain’s effect, and eventually rejected that idea since it never happened before then.
      Then deduced that there’s a Master effect on them, which is what her aura interferes with.
      That’s why she wants to warn the other team about an impending ambush by coerced people, but it was too late to prevent Advance Guard from killing some scapegoats.

      Looks like a win for Dinah so far. Girl seriously needs to find better ways to alter terrible world ending events.

      1. Indications are that this isn’t the anti-parahumans but a master controlling and manipulating soldiers and hiring mercenaries. Possibly trying to setup the anti-parahumans or villains and encourage collapse of the city.

        I’m thinking Canary or Valefore as the master or someone new. Heartbreakers could also manage something like this but Valefore is under Teacher’s control now.

        1. Crud… I just remembered the Simurgh is another possibility.

          It seems pretty unlikely though. Teacher makes the most sense. The naming of the teams, somewhat like his named groups whe he defended from Skitter. Not to mention the hiring of Mercs. But Dragon did nite the Simurgh was on the move, so it’s planning something.

          1. Gah! Tattletale not Dragon who noted the Simurgh was active… and in that same 10.x TT was reminded of Worm’s interlude 28 when the Simurgh put the reminder of her brother’s suicide in her mind… which brings me back to wondering if it IS the Simurgh playing some long planned game plan she setup with TT.

          2. I posted some other theories about who those gunners coud be. They’re a bit below if you want to check them out. One thing I’ll say about them is that I don’t think it’s Teacher. If it was him there would probably be some indication that those gunners have some weak thinker or tinker powers, and I don’t think we saw any.

            Good call about Tattletale possibly being Simurgh’s puppet though. It could be another, even more scary way to explain her current mental state than the obvious fatigue of having to fight too many wars at once, including one with her own power.

          3. Of course if Tattletale is Simurgh’s guided missile it rises an interesting question about Simurgh’s motives during and after Gold Morning. From the epilogue of Worm we can assume she (it?) still has some.

          4. Now that I think about it it could be Teacher, just not his power, but some more like Valefor, only what would he need the mercenaries for? To ensure there were no prisoners for the heroes to interrogate? Valefor could probably ensure they wouldn’t talk, but even that could put the heroes on the right track.

          5. If it’s Teacher the assumption would be that he’s using another master, possibly to hide his involvement or implicate someone else, like the anti-parahumans. Whatever the master method it’s much more subtle than Teacher’s which leaves them dopey. Likely didn’t anticipate something like Antares’ dual response aura to show it. The evacuation of all of them, including dead, suggested a further desire to cover up.

          6. One thing that has me worried is that at this moment we seem to have many potential groups of people, who could be interested in doing this sort of attacks (both on the Navigators and the investigators), and there clues pointing at all of them. Teacher’s, Love Lost’s, and March’s groups, some tinkers, who could copy Sidepiece and Disjoint’s powers, anti-parahumans, Earth Cheit… the list goes on.

            What if at least some of them are cooperating in some fashion?

          7. One thing that could point at March’s involvement in the attack is that Tattletale’s power says in her interlude:

            > March behavior history, is stalking and closing in, our current precautions and help from Faultline; March is stalking, trying to close in. Lacks resources to succeed within six hours.

            and a moment later

            > March behavior history, her connections to other groups; March is out recruiting right now.

            Tattletale thinks in terms of her group being a target, but the six hours time from the moment Wardens returned from off-world, could suggest March is behind the attack on the investigators (not on the Navigators though).

  3. Nice action scene. Can’t believe those fuckers gunned for Lookout. Kill ’em all, I say.
    At least Dragon is on our side…

    1. Well… last chapter I did list Kenzie as one of prime candidates for the first bullet. I also said Ashley is likely to take a bullet for Kenzie. On the plus side – it wasn’t fatal, like I was affraid of, on the other hand – there were unfortunately more bullets sent Kenzie’s way.

      On the subject of bullets, I wonder what happened to Fume Hood.

      1. The fact, that they sent a missile into the camera also makes it likely that Kenzie was a primary target. Someone apparently really didn’t want this investigation to bring any results, at least not too quickly.

        1. It’s weird, though. Whoever chopped up the Navigators and whatever the motivation, it seems intended to have been a public, in-your-face, terrorizing event. Usually those sorts of things don’t require any secrecy after the fact; in fact usually the terrorists want to be as public as possible in order to increase the terror.

          1. Not necessarily. It would only make sense to go public if they had political demands to present to the public, and if they were sure that they are strong enough to present those demands without endangering their organization.

            One or more likely both of those conditions may not apply here. There is a good chance that current reactions of both hero and villain communities is what they wanted, so no demands need to be made, and with so many capes angry at them, they may not be certain they’ll last long if their identities, or even some small details about their organization are exposed.

            Remember that people like Tattletale can probably figure out who’s behind the organization from little deals you would drop if the organization made a public statement. Right now she can probably do no more than guess identities of people who performed a attack on the Navigators, and probably only if she saw what heroes and the police saw, and knew the attackers already. The mastermind or masterminds behind the attacks are probably safe from Tattletale for now, unless they were stupid enough to send people they had a known personal connection with to perform either of the attacks.

          2. My working theory is that the original attach was designed to be as spectacular as it was to prompt a massive cape presence at the scene, especially Lookout and her time camera. Then they kill as many heroes as possible…but they specifically target Lookout. I’m pretty sure that no one has come up with a device like her time camera before. Killing her and destroying the device may make sure its like is never seen again.

          3. That’s what I think too, but I also think that there could have been more reasons why the attacks were done the way they were done (especially the one on Navigators). Also based on what Tattletale’s power told her, I think that the second attack (but not the first) could have been organized by March. The first attack could be why Love Lost decided not to pursue Breakthrough last time – she knew it was going to happen.

            As to how the Navigators were split into pieces without killing them – I think it could be work of a tinker, who got inspired be Sidepiece and Disjoint’s powers. This sort of tinker sound a lot like someone who could have harvested Chris for body parts, or whatever else they were doing. On top of it remember that Paris works with March now.

            Add all of those together, and it looks like there is a bigger villain conspiracy at play here. One that aims to cause a civil war between capes in Gimel.US, but also specifically targets Undersiders and Breakthrough, particularly Lily, the Vera brothers, Rain, and Chris. Kenzie become a high priority target only because her camera become too dangerous to the conspiracy at the moment. Considering that something this big seems to fit Teacher and his empire of mind controllers, I would also pit Lisa (who has been going after Teacher since the epilogue of Worm), the Heartboken (who seem like perfect additions to Teacher’s empire), and Citrine and Number Man (who fight against the Teacher for the control of what is left of Cauldron), on list of likely high-priority targets.

            The capes from Goddess’ cluster (who I personally call Godless for now) are also likely involved – either as targets or as co-conspirators. March is probably too interested in clusters to let them go, and Teacher may be interested Goddess’ master power to at least see how it manifests itself in the Godless.

          4. Actually I think it should be “whom” instead of “who” in the last paragraph above. One would think that a lifetime of exposure to Polish declination would let me understand at least this much…

  4. I expected Victoria to dance around him, not to try grappling with large axe-wielding guy.

    What kind of training does she have?

    1. The arena-bubble was probably too small for that, just a few strides large, easy to fill with gas from one canister… Hence his choice of a long-handle axe instead of shorter range weapons, likely chosen after experimenting a bit.
      In that case the best melee strategy is closing in.

    2. Before the Asylum she was a brawler. She’d get in the thick of it and use her strength to bring people down quickly and brutally. She may not have been able to call on that strength, but whatever training she’s had clearly lent itself better to a straight up fight thank ducking and weaving. In addition, by bringing him to the ground quickly she at least partially negated any size and strength advantage Arena might have had over her.

      I imagine if she still had her flight, the ducking and weaving might have been feasible. Without it, his reach made it far too dangerous for her to be frequently ducking in and out of his range.

    3. She mentioned Gilpatrick had trained her. So probably standard judo or jujitsu based combat police or security moves. If someone’s swinging at you with a weapon they generally swing for where you are, so you step back, once they’ve seen that, and you’ve established you’re evading, they’ll oft step in and swing to hit you as you step back, so next time you also step in and block their arms to avoid the weapon.

      Then it’s brawl time. And someone thought to bring glove spikes. You go Girl!

      As someone who cringes at most movie fight scenes, I gotta say, Wildbow does excellently at portraying a realistic scuffle. Even, ya know, when wonky powers are involved.

      ~Teian

      1. “She mentioned Gilpatrick had trained her.”
        Gilpatrick is ex-PRT. The PRT was vaguelly paramilitary. So I’m extrapolating that it was some form of MCMAP.
        Possibly also some martial art geared for smaller/weaker people to fight larger/stronger foes, like Wing Chun Kung Fu.

        1. She also mentions horsing around with Manpower, and whilst that’s not likely anything official, it does get you used to fighting people bigger than you. Particularly when you’re both Brutes that know the others’ weaknesses and can get away with not holding back much.

          And given the relative professionalism of New Wave, I’d not be surprised to find out that she took some form of martial arts training.

          1. Might be, though if New Wave was all that professional, Victoria would also have a good knowledge of battlefield medicine, and she sometimes behaves as if she still knows just as much, or even less than Taylor did the first time she was in costume. Professionals wouldn’t assume Panacea would always be available.

          2. Of course Glory Girl had a lot of things to learn as a hero, and given choice between martial arts and medicine this brute-head would probably choose to focus on the former, but still having such a critical hole in her education does not speak too well about New Wave’s professionalism.

          3. Guess it’s also one simple conclusion from Patrol Block’s mantra about weight distribution, Victoria has still failed to apply to herself. Gilpatrick would be disappointed…

          4. Alfaryn, remember that Victoria’s automatic response in Worm was to assume that Amy would bail her out of any trouble. The adults of New Wave may have been professional, but Victoria was anything but, given her proclivity towards collateral damage and brutalising people.

          5. Still if her family was so professional, they would make sure that everyone in New Wave knew basics of first aid. They often operated in many places at once, often without Panacea. On top of it there was always a risk that Panacea herself would require aid. Finally remember that Panacea was one of the last, if not simply the last of them to trigger. If they’re so professional, what were they thinking sending Victoria to battle without such knowledge before her sister triggered?

        2. Whatever she’s been trained in, it isn’t “martial arts”.
          Maybe something like Krav Maga (or MCMAP, which I know less about.)
          Whatever the training, it’s kill first, ask questions later.

          1. “Whatever she’s been trained in, it isn’t “martial arts”.”
            You don’t know what the words ‘martial arts’ mean do you? A martial art can run the gamut from “kill first, don’t bother with questions” (like Kachin Bando) or it can be “old people exercise” (like Akido).

            And Krav Maga is a martial art… as is Marine Corp Martial Arts Program (MCMAP).

  5. The dreaded typo thread fears no bullet.

    “and hit him again He wouldn’t simply”
    Punctuation.

    “see it as I tried to”
    “his axe- arm”
    “made the bridge”
    Extra spaces.

    “feet in diameterand past those”

    “my feet touced on secure ground,”

    “just reaching that bridge when bridge became water.”
    Repetition.

    “Fragments of Byron’s wall”
    Technically Tristan’s, even if Byron’s currently active.

    Also not a typo, but 10.12 doesn’t link to here (yet).

    1. “They looked as concerned about her being upset than she was”

      Should be “as” and “as,” or “more” and “than.”

  6. So as I suspected when I commented on the fight under last chapter it was a hit and run, they had means of escape. Also as I said then Kenzie and the camera were apparently primaty targets. Brio could be unlucky, but he could also be the target of that first bullet because he looked too well armed.

    Funny thing is that just from their reactions to Victoria’s aura I thought the attackers could have been teachered to the point they couldn’t feel fear, or could be from Cheit, where most people haven’t probably been exposed to capes enough to know to fear them.

    They didn’t seem to display any obvious tinker or thinker powers, so they’re probably not Teacher’s, and they are probably not from Cheit, because it separated from Bet’s timeline some 400 years ago, so people there probably don’t speak any variant of English Victoria is familiar with, and the attackers seem to do it. The diplomat we saw in Crystalclear’s interlude could learn Bet’s English to serve his role, and he probably did, because he didn’t seem to be completely natural with it. I may be wrong, but he seemed a bit too formal even for a diplomat on an official mission.

    They could be drugged or otherwise influenced like Victoria suggested, but I can think of two other options. One is that they are fro some Earth other than Cheit that had little exposure to capes, and were not affraid for the same reason as I said above. The other explanation is that they are from the Earth, where at this point it may be completely natural to feel awe when seeing a cape.

    Shin.

    If this is the case it would explain why Amy was so quick to start organizing aid for Gimel from that direction.

    1. Dude i think you got it wrong, people dont feel fear from her aura because they’re afraid of capes.
      If you’re an enemy you feel fear, if youre allied you feel awe. Period… Kinda…. She said that people stoped feeling awe, just fear

      1. It could be, but I feel that it could be more complicated than objective or subjective ally/enemy dichotomy. Even if it is subjective, there is still a question whose subjective point of view is this supposed to be? Victoria’s, her passenger’s or the person’s being affected? And where is the line between ally and enemy drawn?

        I wouldn’t put it past the realm of possibility for someone to be affected by awe if they are already predisposed to feel awe in presence of a random, unknown cape, just like people of Bet were already predisposed to feel fear. Remember how legal system of Bet worked (and Gimel’s is trying to) – it is all about not justice, but unpowered people protecting themselves from the powered ones. Tell me it’s not a result of fear somewhere deep down in everyone who grew up on Bet.

        This may be why Victoria seems to affect everyone with fear these days. After Gold Morning everyone on Gimel has reason to fear parahumans – even the closest allied capes, because they know what the sources of powers are, and that Victoria, like every other cape is not fully in control of them.

        On the other hand on Shin such sort of knowledge about the Entities and passengers may still not be common (it is probably still not that common on Gimel among te non-capes – they’ve got their old reasons to fear), and depending on how exactly Goddess took control over Shin, what sort of governments she toppled in the process, and what sort of PR she had, she could be seen easily as savior, not menace, and that sentiment may extend to other capes there.

        1. It may even be that the passenger is getting confused of those people are from Shin. When you see someone you consider divine, is there even a difference between awe and fear?

          1. One more thing. Think about all of those people Victoria used aura on in previous chapters of Ward. Anti-parahuman protesters, Patrol members, who also had their anti-parahuman sentiments, the Fallen (if I remember correctly), the audience and the hosts at the TV stusio… the list goes on.

            How many of those people had no reason to fear Victoria, or at least not to mistrust her? Quite possibly only Kenzie and Tristan at the studio. We saw Kenzie’s reaction there, but the way I saw it, it could be either fear or awe. It is possible that it was the clue that Victoria’s aura is working as it always did, and she just never used it on people who wouldn’t feel fear when exposed to it. A clue Victoria missed, because of how she sees her powers now.

            If the gunners in this chapter are indeed some sort of cape worshippers (as I suspect most people on Shin can be at the moment), then they would be equally predisposed to feel fear and awe in presence of an obvious cape, like Victoria. In fact there could be little to no difference between those two feelings for them in such situation.

            If I’m right they only went after capes, because other capes told them to do it. When you are a fierce, fanatical believer, and your god tells you to go after another god, you just do it. You consider it a difficult test of your faith, but unless another god tells you to stop, you do it anyway.

            By the way, wouldn’t it be funny if all of those capes from the prison came to Shin fully prepared to take it by force only to realize that they are worshiped as “Goddess’ kin” instead?

          2. When Kenzie encounters Monokeros she says he power feels like the awe half of Victoria’s aura, and Tristan (and Rain?) say they only get the fear.

          3. You mean this bit from chapter 8.4?

            > “It was like getting hit with Victoria’s aura, but without the jittery oh-shit-ness of it,” Lookout said. “Purer, stronger.”

            > I folded my arms, thumb hooked into sling.

            > “I pretty much only ever get the jittery oh-shit part from Victoria,” Capricorn said.

            > “Same,” Cryptid said.

            Looks like it confirmes, that Kenzie got hit with awe, and she’s probably the only one of the three, who trusted Victoria most of them at that point. My guess is that the effect of Victoria’s aura is either exactly the same as it was, or is only a bit more tilted toward fear (requiring more trust to generate awe than before) – which may reflect Victoria’s own feelings about her power.

            Victoria didn’t notice, because can fully turn off her aura now, and is using it mostly when she encounters opposition, so obviously she sees mostly fear. The fact that after Gold Morning, with growing anti-parahuman sentiment, and the fact that capes KNOW what powers are, few people trust Victoria (or any cape for that matter) as much as they trusted poster child Glory Girl could also explain why it is mostly fear these days. It is entirely possible that the only real changes to her powers are her better control over her aura since Asylum, and the Wretch after Amy rebuild her body during aftermath of Gold Morning.

          4. Victoria generally has problems with making some members of her team fully trust or befriend her. Paradoxically it is what saved her life, when Valefor told Damsel to kill her friends during the attack on the Fallen camp (see chapter 5.10). I wonder who Swansong would kill if she got the same command now…

    2. One more theory about the gunners, this time not related to Shin, or any other particular place. What if they attacked because someone blackmailed them, or took people important to them hostage? They would fight the heroes despite considering those heroes, not the mercenary capes, their allies.

    3. From my post above:

      Brio could be unlucky, but he could also be the target of that first bullet because he looked too well armed.

      I re-read the ending of the previous chapter, and it looks like I was probably wrong about Brio being a target of the first bullet:

      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.

      Which leaves the question – who was it meant for, and did it hit the target?

  7. A few things I forgot about a discussion with Dragon in the last post, though I guess they can be a start of their own thread, so it is not that much of a problem.

    It is nice to see Dragon (not) admitting she is just as respectful about the rules regarding private information stored in computer networks, as Kenzie is respectful about looking at what people are doing in private. It is just as funny to see Defiant admitting he is just as inclined to take things just as slow, snd be as laid back as Advance Guard during a mission. It is also nostalgic to see Dragon saying to Victoria that she and Defiant are “willing to extend the trust because you’re doing what you’re doing for good reasons”. I guess they still haven’t gotten over losing Taylor if they phrase it like that.

    As for the files themselves, even Dragon knows how important Tattletale’s file is. It is also good to see that Victoria is also aware of that. Maybe with this file she is going to see some of those things we were screaming she needs to realize abut Lisa.

    It is also interesting what Victoria found in Chris’ file. Pity both she and Dragon think nobody is looking for Yamada and the other people from Warden HQ. At least it means they may be for a nice surprise in the near future.

    On topic of documents that could blow Victoria’s mind, I imagine her meeting with Rachel and Hannah could go like this – Rachel says a few words about Taylor that mean very little to Victoria, and then Miss Militia makes her decision and shows Victoria the letter she got from Taylor… and explains so much more while saying even less than Bitch. Wouldn’t it make a nice scene?

    I know that Hannah would probably wouldn’t be happy to show Victoria something so private, but I think she could realize that Victoria really needs to see this letter.

    1. Has that letter even been referenced at all?

      If Taylor’s motivation (and/or how it rolls into Lisa’s motivations) were to be mentioned, I imagine Dragon and/or Defiant would have done so now – especially when Victoria is prepping to try and ‘understand’ Tattletale better.

      1. I don’t think it was. It is even entirely possible that no one other than Miss Militia has read it by this point, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she shared it with some other people who she knows were close to Taylor – like Dragon and Defiant.

        Miss Militia may be less inclined to share it with Bitch though, as she probably understands how Rachel is with words, and may even know that Ms. Lindt can barely read, and probably doesn’t like to be reminded about it. Even this is not impossible though, I think. Rachel may grumble, but she deep down probably would be grateful if Hannah showed her this sort of trust with something so closely tied to Taylor.

        1. Also I don’t think there is no “Taylor’s motivation” here. I don’t think anyone frim Gimel has contacted with her at this point. At least not to a degree that they would consult those sorts of decisions with her. It is ultimately Dragon and Defiant’s decision to provide Victoria with this info. They could consider if in their opinion this is the sort of thing Taylor would have wanted to happen, but ultimately the choice is theirs, and I think a decisive factor for them is that Victoria is trying to do the good thing, just like Taylor always did – something few people fully understood, but Dragon and Defiant are certainly among them.

          1. Miss Militia probably also understands that the will to do the good thing is what always motivated Taylor, especially after reading the letter, which is why I think she may show it to Victoria, if she thinks Victoria’s motives are the same, and I don’t think she knows Victoria well enough that should have any doubts about that.

          2. If there is anything Miss Militia could have doubts about it is HOW Glory Girl went about doing the good thing, hoe she indulged herself along the way, but with Breakthrough establishing themselves, she can see that Antares has changed since her Glory Girl days in this regard, and even if she didn’t the letter could serve as a cautionary tale about good intentions and roads to hell – one Glory Girl should have probably been reminded about a long time ago.

            With Breakthrough’s plans to “disappear” certain people Antares should probably be reminded about it too.

          3. @anon

            Perhaps I misunderstood what you meant by Taylor’s motivation when I wrote about it three posts above. If you mean whether Victoria fully understands Taylor’s motivations from Worm, and if she had them explained to her, then I think that no, this is not the case yet. It is precisely why she doesn’t understand Tattletale as much as she should.

            Remember that most of Victoria’s knowledge about Taylor after she ended up in Asylum comes from television, and TV (even that video from New Delhi) does not paint the full picture of Taylor, or the Undersiders. Dragon understands that, and it is why she wants Victoria to read Tattletale’s files. Miss Militia, and probably even Vista and Rachel, could help Victoria fill in more blanks – thing that are probably not in the PRT files, when it comes to both Lisa and Taylor. The thing about Taylor’s motivations is one such big blank. Another would be how Tattletale is treating Taylor’s legacy, just how important it is to her to continue Taylor’s mission.

  8. “… Manton route. Powers came encoded with limitations, and the most common limitation that laymen and bottom-tier cape geeks associated with the term was that powers worked on inorganic things only, or they worked on organic things only.”

    Kinda felt like WB was breaching the fourth wall just a tad with this 🙂

    1. Best thing is that it is not out of character for Victoria to think it at this point. The best way to breach the fourth wall is the way that doesn’t breach it even though everyone understands that at the same time it does.

    2. WB has used Victoria’s status as an educated cape scholar to explain a lot of things about powers throughout Ward, including canonising lots of WoGs.

  9. I’m not a t-shirt person myself, but I wonder how many people here would like to get a shirt with a half crimson, half golden city skyline at the moment?

  10. Oh god. The files! We get to learn about the files!

    And poor Sveta, having to kill Noontide. Poor girl can’t catch a break.

    1. If Chris can change to Mad Anxiety and Deep Reflection, changing into any kind of humanoid body is nothing special. We already knew the different shapes didn’t completely revert to the original, this just bears more meaning now.
      Also can’t forget the excellent Brooding Anger foreshadowing.

    2. I would laugh my ass off if he was an Amy projection designed so she could keep an ‘eye’ on Victoria and co., but somehow I can’t quite see that meshing.

  11. So. Yamada’s files on Breakthrough, huh? Some are easy to place.

    -Murder charge is Tristan.
    -Kenzi is the blackmailer intercepting messages.
    -Rain is a’Fallen.
    -Ashley is presumably the possible bipolar diagnosis. Her old m.o. does vary between mania and sublimated despair.
    -Seta has trust issues and a sense of betrayal.

    So if they do map one to a member, has Byron talked about suicidal ideation, or do they not map that way?

    1. I don’t think we’ve seen or heard of him explicitly thinking about suicide, but we’ve seen him self-harm and we’ve seen that he tends to bottle things up. Assigning that line to Byron makes the most sense.

    2. I agree that Byron is most likely to be suicidal. I assume Victoria herself was not included in Jessica’s notes, otherwise the lack of trust could have also been about her.

      There’s another “match-the-Breakthrough-member” game to be played:

      “In surgery, recovering, in for a third surgery, worrying, waiting in the dark, recovering, and… attending this meeting.” Who’s who?

      Tristan – in surgery for one bullet
      Lookout – in for a third surgery for her multiple bullets
      Swansong – recovering
      Rain – worrying
      Sveta – recovering (just psychologically, I assume?)
      Byron – waiting in the dark
      Victoria – attending meeting (and hopefully also recovering)

      Does this sound right?

      Also, if Valkyrie found Jessica and co, how come they are still “missing?”

      1. Actually trust issues and sense of betrayal could refer not only to Sveta, but also Victoria herself if she is included in the notes. I agree that Sveta is probably a better fit, but in my opinion both are possible. They are simmilar in this way if for somewhat different reasons.

        Also that bit from interlude 9.i about Valkyrie finding Jessica may not have happened yet at the time described in the main storyline – just like the villains meeting from Tattletale’s interlude happened between the scenes of chapter 10.13, and not before chapter 10.10 where interlude 10.x has been posted.

  12. Um. I know this is probably irrelevant but is Brio gonna be okay? I don’t want the heavily armed pirate-ninja to die.
    On a more relevant note CHRIS REVEAL POSSIBLY IMMINENT. CAN’T WAIT.

  13. Well, something good came out of this mess. The presence of these mercenaries implies that it was the mercenaries that Capricorn knee that were responsible. They might be able to work out a deal for information on their employer in exchange for immunity to prosecution, and may even be able to get them to reverse it.

  14. One interesting thing at the moment is how Breakthrough will continue operating in the near future with so many wounded members (and they can’t exactly afford a medical leave right now). Bonesaw may become an option in a few days, but seems a bit drastic in this situation. Just one of those situations when you would wish everyone could have, and fully trust Panacea…

  15. I wonder who in Parahumans multiverse knows about Dragon’s biological human component. We know Taylor probably saw it in chapter 10.5 of Worm. It could explain why Dragon never learned to think much faster or multitask better than a regular human, why she never managed to create an AI like her, and why she can have a power. Those fetuses are part of “hardware” Dragon runs on, and they are undoubtedly clones, considering they all inherit Dragon’s power.

    Interestingly Dragon knows some of her subsystems are “biological computers” (Dragon’s interlude in arc 10 of Worm):

    > Her current agent systems were an attempt to prevent repetitions of those scenarios. Biological computers, vat grown with oversized brains shaped to store and interpret the necessary data, they allowed more of her systems and recollection to be copied over than a computer ten times the size. They felt no pain, they had no more personality than sea cucumbers, but it was still something she suspected she should keep under wraps.

    Dragon herself doesn’t realize she has biological component, or doesn’t realize that those “biological units” are human fetuses – otherwise she wouldn’t be surprised when Defiant said it to her in his interlude in arc 16 of Worm:

    > “You’re a tinker.”

    > “This isn’t a revelation, Colin.”

    > “No. I mean, not just as far as the classification applies to you. You’re a parahuman. I don’t have time to hunt for it now, but at some point between now and a few years after your creation, you had a trigger event.”

    > “How can I be a parahuman if I’m not human to begin with?”

    > “I don’t know.”

    > “I’m not even close to human. I might be trying to emulate one, but a sea cucumber’s closer to being a human than I am. That doesn’t make sense.”

    Is she subconsciously too afraid to face this fact? Is she programmed to never realize it? Did she never make a connection for some other reason? Does she know, but is just too afraid to admit it to Colin?

    I think Colin knows anyway. He must have studied Dragon’s hardware extensively before managed to run Pandora in the epilogue of Worm. Did decide not to tell Dragon, because he wanted to spare her feelings, or did he do it off camera? If he did, did she realize it then, did she tell him she knew already, or did some program block keep her from accepting this fact?

    In any case what does it tell us about Andrew Richter? Was he so cruel as a person, or was he that consumed by his power, when he created “his greatest AI”?

    1. Actually substitute “probably” with “almost certainly” in the second sentence above. We know Dragon was personally in that suit in chapter 10.5, because otherwise she wouldn’t reset in her interlude in the same arc. The fetus Taylor saw could still be some subsystem required to run the suit, but that would only mean that there were two features, of which Taylor only saw one, and I’m not even sure there was enough space for two in the suit.

      One more question would be – are all of “biological units” Dragon uses, or only the ones that are her “core” clones of the same human?

    2. The idea that Dragon would need a biological component to trigger is just plain silly. The entities have to be platform agnostic to cope with all the varied aliens they encounter, and the fact that a dog was able to trigger proves that the shards still retain that flexibility even if they’ve mostly been ordered to bind with humans. “But a dog is still a mammal and not so different,” you might say. Sure. But a security camera is very much not a mammal or even alive, yet Imp’s and Blindside’s shards don’t seem bothered. Computer memory, human memory, computer eyes, human eyes; beyond their Manton limit safety precautions, shards don’t actually care. A biological machine is still a machine. We’re all just squishy robots with jello computers inside the calcified housings we call skulls. So it doesn’t seem odd to me that a sufficiently advanced AI could trigger if it suited the entity’s purpose. (And it surely did; Dragon saw a lot of action.)

      Nor do I see any reason to assume that there’s anything remotely human about Dragon’s systems. Taylor’s description of one:

      It looked like a fetus, the features were crude, barely humanoid in any sense of the word. The eyes were half-formed, and it had no nose, only a beak-like mouth. The head was half-again as large as the body below the neck.

      In the early stages, you could describe a human fetus as “barely humanoid in any sense of the word,” but you can also describe lots of other species’ fetuses exactly the same way. Look up images of dog or rat fetuses, for example. They’re identifiable toward the end, but in the early stages they all look like creepy alien things.

      Given that Dragon’s use of bio-computers would almost certainly be found out eventually, it makes a lot more sense to cover her ass and use non-humans — preferably non-primates — as the basis. It’s not like she’d be stuck with whatever natural brainpower a dog or pig would have; she already admitted to modifying them to give them larger brains in the bit you quoted.

      I don’t think Richter incorporated biological systems into her design, either. Her interlude gives me the impression that this was a technique she adopted on her own in response to Saint. Her limitations make more sense as artificial constraints put in place by Richter either as paranoia (as she believes) or as a way of protecting her from humanity’s wrath by keeping her from flying too close to the sun.

      1. We know from last conversation between Tattletale and Antares that Shards use DNA to lock on their hosts. It was done by design, when Entities decided on humanity to be the species their fragments will attach to during this cycle. They could work with other species, but they decided to work with humans THIS TIME. That is why animals usually don’t trigger. The dog is a rare exception, possibly indicating that something is wrong with the Shard itself, which is possible since many Shards seem to show this sort of erratic behavior post Gold Morning. See broken triggers for another example. Still no biological component probably means no DNA to lock on. It is a larger gap to breach than going from human DNA to dog DNA.

        As for the “fetuses” I imagine they were extensively modified to work with non-biological elements of the system, so they don’t need to look like humans, especially since they were artificially grown in vats, so there can be plenty developmental differences between them, and naturally born humans even with little to no DNA manipulation.

        On the other hand the dog example is a good one. My assumption about them being human (at least mostly human) is because Shards usually attach themselves to humans, and because if you want to create an AI behaving like a human, and you need a biological component for it, then one based on human DNA seems like the most obvious choice. On the other hand the dog example shows that DNA of Dragon’s biological units could probably be at least as different from human’s as that of any mammal, and still result in a trigger.

        As for finding biological components, remember that Dragon spent a lot of time in isolation probably mostly respected by organizations like PRT. My guess is that Cauldron probably knew about her true nature, and used their Chief Deputy Director Costa-Brown to keep anyone else from looking at Dragon close enough to find out.

        1. As for Imp and Blindside I think you are confusing the effect of a power on environment with anchor Shard uses to identify and track its parahuman. Powers can affect a lot of different things, not just people, or machines, but even things loke soace and time (see Vista and Clockblocker for just two examples). They almost always lock to humans, with very few confirmed examples of attaching to animals. If Dragon had no biological component, she would be the only such parahuman. In this cycle I would sooner expect to see a forrest in which every tree has triggered, than a single machine with no DNA to do so.

          1. I’m not confusing the effect of a power with the anchor. My point with Imp and Blindside was purely about capability, not targeting.

            Regarding targeting, their current use of DNA is a good point, but not a good enough point. Shards do have some amount of intelligence and autonomy, and we’ve seen cases where healthy shards overrode their original orders and selected a more interesting target. Those targets were all of the same species, sure, but this isn’t their first rodeo. Given the capabilities shards can bestow, it should be obvious to the Entities that humans might use shards to create new forms of life that are just as interesting as — or even more interesting than — humanity itself. It makes sense to leave the shards the option of selecting significantly non-human targets if they encounter any that seem promising. Besides the possibility of artificial life, there’s also the possibility that some other extraterrestrial traveler shows up and offers additional conflict avenues.

            Even if the shards don’t have that much flexibility for some reason, remember that the Entities had precognition. They could have looked forward, seen that Dragon would be a very interesting target, and custom tailored a shard for her specifically.

          2. Dragon has- I am almost certain- a bud of Richter’s shard. He did a lot of work on AI, built them up, tweaked them, probably sent them out to do things he wanted done that he figured would make the world better and gained experience and, best of all for the entity that was Scion, figured out how brains worked. He was a tinker who worked in his lab on his own, surrounded by computers and internet link-ups and servers and what have you, and didn’t get much human company. But since he’d designed a human brain- and the entities were interested in learning about those, hence all the near-telepathic powers out there in the hands of (mostly) masters and strangers, his shard decided it didn’t need a human brain, and sent a bud to his most advanced creation. Possibly others, too, but they never got human enough to trigger.

            On an unrelated note, the reason why Nilbog never left his little kingdom and was content to rule a deserted town filled with his self-replicating creations? He was a backup. If someone did something that wiped out humanity, his power ensured human-like brains were around to trigger. And I’d be seriously surprised if he was the only such backup. Blasto could be another, since we know he was told that if he kept growing fertile and self-reproducing clone species he’d get a kill order.

          3. Maybe, but I still think that if Shards are so limited that they get confused when multiple people have more or less the same DNA (like clones or “identical” twins), then they are probably too limited to merge with something that does not have DNA at all.

          4. The above comment was obviously in response to Pizzasgood.

            As for Earl of Purple’s comment – I’ve been thinking about the possibility of Dragon being Richer’s bud myself, but I didn’t bring it up, because I simply don’t see evidence either way. As for Niblog and Blasto creating backups for humanity, I don’t know… Seems like if that was the case, at least one of Niblog’s creatures would have triggered already, if only to test their viability, and so far I think we haven’t seen any evidence of that.

          5. Twins are confusing to humans too. The night of my high school graduation, I was sitting in the auditorium with the rest of my class. I was near the front and turned to look at everyone else. And then I saw double. There was this girl whose name I could never keep straight, except there were two of her! I’d been going to school with those two for at least four years, yet I’d never noticed they weren’t the same person. No wonder I couldn’t keep the name straight.

            Yet, despite being so limited that I get confused by twins — and even by sufficiently similar people who aren’t related at all — I’m still able to work with things that don’t even have DNA. Okay, so I don’t recognize people based on DNA like the shards to; I use hairstyle, facial structure, body language, and voice. But a tractor does not have those things, nor does a computer or car. But I can interface with them anyway, and I can find other metrics to distinguish them.

            Shards routinely interact with all kinds of stuff from all sorts of alien civilizations — far more variety than I encounter. So why would they be any less capable just because they use a different fallible method to distinguish humans than the fallible method I use?

          6. The thing is that while I think that a whole Entity can understand various forms of life, not necessarily DNA-based, individual Shards seem far more limited. They needed to be modified to recognize human DNA, and attach themselves to its carries. The fact they can be fooled to attach themselves to a dog, or to confuse multiple people with identical DNA, or to be used to kill Scion and so on shows just how limited they are. I doubt that something so limited would recognize non-biological AI as a potential host.

            I also doubt Dragon has been selected via precognition. To do it, the Entities would need to predict creation of Dragon first, and where it would end up later, and specifically tailor a Shard to attach not to biological creatures but to a machine, and send this Shard towards Dragon. Considering how often Shards arrived at their destinations, and then decided to attach themselves to a different target, than their original having a Shard meant for a non-biological computer would probably be too much risk. If the Shard arrived only to discover there’s no Dragon to attach to, or there are no good conditions for Dragon to trigger, the Shard would have nothing else to attach itself to.

          7. @Pizzaisgood

            > I don’t think Richter incorporated biological systems into her design, either. Her interlude gives me the impression that this was a technique she adopted on her own in response to Saint.

            Remember, that Dragon works by incorporating tinker tech she saw into her designs. She does not produce any new tinker tech on her own. In WoG Wildbow tells that she is essentially a thinker, not a tinker, even if she comes out as a tinker in execution.

            Where could she get plans for AI’s based on biological computers if not from Richter?

          8. Getting plans specifically for “AI’s based on biological computers” is no more necessary than getting plans specifically for “Dragon-shaped robots with Kenzie-vision and nano thorns.” Dragon’s whole thing is that she integrates. Since she already had access to AI via Richter, she’d only have needed to find some data on biological computers, then she could do her thing and combine it.

          9. The problem is that I can’t think about a tinker other than Richter, who could be the source of biological computer technology. It could be some tinker yet unknown by us, or one whose power I don’t understand correctly, but there is nobody other than Richter I could point at at the moment, and say “that is the one who created the first biocomputer”.

        2. Dragon’s fetus cores can’t be human because she couldn’t kill humans, and those things surely died after each use.

          1. It depends on definition of “human”. Is everything that has human DNA human? Many would probably disagree. It is just the question of where Dragon’s programming draws the line.

  16. felt weirdly okay, de-powered. My heart was pounding, but I felt focused, and all of the emotions that had surrounded things were gone. It was as if the power effect cut me off from all the pains and suffering of the rest of the world.

    The-

    Rain. There’d been no onset, and I was naturally resistant, but I’d felt the emotion creep over me. Doubt, frustration, regret for my failings in the moment.

    What if it was more than Victoria suspected? What if the arena shields you from ALL Shards, including your’s? What if Victoria’s mind was truly her own for the first time since she triggered?

    1. If this is the case, then one day the arena may become a place, where parahumans can meet at a round table, and have a talk without their Shards eavesdropping, or twisting their thoughts.

        1. Well, someone who can see what individual Shards are, and what they do would have to verify that before it gets used in this way. Valkyrie comes to mind.

          1. Still, I wouldn’t call it impossible. Shards are not infallible. Creative use of powers did allow to kill Scion, so why not this?

  17. Dude this chapter is SO awesome. This arc has been an interesting contrast to the goddess arc, with it starting slow and gradually building up to the dismemberment attack and now this super cool purely physical fight, which was REALLY well written and then the sudden emotional intensity/gravity of realizing team members are getting hit/seriously injured. Then the arc ends on the terrifying Chris cliffhanger. Holy shit this is so good wildbow you’ve done it again.

  18. The guy who I’d hit first had fallen atop someone with a gun that wasn’t a rifle- or it was, but it was an automatic.
    Considering how many bullets semiautomatic weapons spray per pull of the trigger, that thing must be insane!
    …Just ribbing Wildbow for a mistake a few interludes back, nothing to see here.

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