Blinding – 11.2

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Rain and I worked together to remove Sveta’s rigging.  One attachment to her suit served as a mounting for two arms; she had the larger arm with the feminine hand on the end, and another ‘arm’ with an elbow joint that had the fragment of mask, like a small shield that could pull close to the face or move away.

There was a single second of danger where her tendrils were capable of reaching out into the world, but Sveta was concentrating and the situation was calm.  The metal of her suit’s arm and chest pulled together, and she stood straighter.

The weight of it, as odd as it was, wasn’t a concern to her.  The balance issue, however, was apparently a hassle.

The headquarters felt dark, even with all of the lights on and monitors glowing.  It might have had to do with the weather outside and the late hour, and it might have had to do with the fact that I was bracing myself to deliver hard news.

I’d ridden with the others in an effort to stay connected and keep a thumb on the pulse of the group.  Going from a dark car with only the light of headlights on the road ahead of us to our headquarters, where the light felt insufficient left me feeling like I was underwater and the surface was a ways off.  The world beyond the headquarters and car gave me an ominous vibe.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to be before I have another good tinkering day,” Rain said.  “I can try taking notes, if you have immediate feedback.”

“It works like this,” Sveta said.  “If I had to bring up any issues…”

She didn’t finish the sentence, and as Rain took off his mask and raised his eyebrows, motioning for her to continue, she remained quiet.

“Why are you trailing off?” Rain asked.  “I want to know.”

“Sorry.  I’m already asking for a lot and saying ‘no’ to ideas.  It’s stronger but it doesn’t feel as strong as I’d expect a hand of this size to feel, but I’m not sure if I’m using it at its full strength so that might be bad feedback.  When I use my regular body, I’m pretty strong if I want to be, but I end up holding back because I don’t want to break it.  I might be doing the same thing here.”

“We can’t know until you test its limits and break it,” Rain said.

“Except I can’t do that while I’m in the field.  If I screw something up I have a hundred pounds of dead weight to drag around.”

“Can you do it here?”

I could see the hesitation on Sveta’s face as she turned around, looking at the hand that was planted on the floor, the arm extending up, and over, to where the ‘shoulder’ now rested on a table.

“I get it,” I told her.  “My mom sent me to clinics for testing my powers.  It’s kind of rare that you ever get to get an exact reading on your power’s strength.  Especially when it’s durability.”

“Yeah,” Sveta told me.

“Except one of those things is Victoria talking about her flesh and blood body,” Rain said.  “And- I’m suddenly realizing I sound like an insensitive asshole.”

Sveta swatted his shoulder.  “You’re fine.”

“The arm can be fixed more easily, is what I wanted to say,” he said.

“I dunno,” she said.

“You’re used to holding back,” I observed.

I could see the realization cross her face.  The connecting of two dots.  I could relate it to a lot of moments where I’d missed something that seemed objectively obvious.

We weren’t always obvious.

“That’s true,” she finally said.

“I could try putting together a gauge,” Rain said.  “Something like a visual indicator or audio indicator that measures what you’re putting in, with a max limit if you get to the point that metal starts bending or snapping.”

“That might work.”

“What else?” Rain asked.

“Well, um, this is a really obvious one, but I’d love it if it was more complete.”

I left them to the discussion.  I stopped by the table by my whiteboard and collected my bag and some spare clothes.

In the bathroom, I stripped down and rinsed off, aware of the blood that came away from my hair and skin; I hadn’t been aware it was there.  Not mine.  There was smoke, there was sweat, and there was grime.  My skin was still bruised from my fight with the arena man two days ago, and as much as adrenaline pushed pain into the background, the pain came back.  I ached.

All of that was secondary to the problem of figuring out how to deliver the bad news.

I’d been focused enough on the present and the future that I hadn’t been paying as many visits to memory lane.  I felt unwelcome nostalgia welling now as I pulled on a t-shirt, faced myself in the mirror, and took on the rituals necessary to arm myself.  Damp hair fixed and sorted, combed out and braided.  Teeth brushed, some makeup to take the shine out of my skin, to minimize the dark circles under my eyes, and some tinted chapstick because the cold weather would shred my lips if I let it.

Some of the nostalgia lay in how I was doing up my makeup at a late hour.  The Victoria that had been Glory Girl had done that, knowing that in another few hours she would be taking it all off and going to bed.

That Victoria had, just as I was doing, found injuries she hadn’t been aware of while going through the routine.  Hiding injuries had been important to cultivate the illusion of complete and total invulnerability.

The Victoria of the present put a bandaid on a cut, between jaw and ear.  If I had cause to go out in costume anytime soon, I’d remove the bandage and cover the injury up.

There was another side to the nostalgia.  Darker.  After being turned from Wretch to a Victoria made of stray animals, of rats and dogs, I’d stumbled through the days.  My skin hadn’t felt like my own, and it hadn’t really been my own.  The layers I put over that skin were in my control, and even the most basic of makeup could be the outer layer that worked with the inner turmoil and found reconciliation with the skin and meat in between.

It calmed me, to have something I’d chosen at a store and pull that on over my t-shirt.  In tonight’s case, it was black jeans, and then a sweater, light gray and ribbed, with white laces at the ‘v’ of the collar, pulled through gold-ringed eyelets.  Whatever the crisis, whatever anxieties plagued me, it was important to me that I be able to tell myself that my appearance wasn’t cause for further anxiety.  It had been critical back in those dazed and lost days when I’d been recovering, post-Gold Morning, but it had always been a thing for me.

I could have called it a casualty of growing up with my mom, but even Aunt Sarah, as nice as she was, had made remarks to me as a child when I hadn’t dressed for an occasion, or when I’d tried and failed to dye my hair, or when I’d been ten pounds overweight.  Couched, hinting, even being nice about it, or not saying it to my face, but remarking on it to my mom or dad with me overhearing by chance.  My dad, my uncles, my teachers, my friends… everyone had at one point made remarks that reminded me it was a thing I was supposed to pay attention to.

Even Dean.  I’d thought he was safe, that he got me because he sensed my emotions in a limited way, and that he’d figured out things most others hadn’t because he’d seen the hurt or embarrassment from the sidelines.  Then he’d said something, I couldn’t even remember what it was now, and I’d gone off on him – I’d even stopped talking to him for two weeks, over  a comment that would have probably passed without mention had he said it to a friend.  Had I been asked then, I wouldn’t have been able to put my finger on why.  Poor Dean definitely wouldn’t have.

Easier to be bulletproof.  To figure things out and take care of it.  To make it as much a part of my routine as making sure I had my phone in my right pocket, keys in the little sub-pocket at my left, and wallet in the front pouch of my bag.

Tonight, the anxieties I was wrestling with had little to do with the Wretch.

I could hear noise outside.  I set my jaw, looked at myself in the mirror, and felt that pang of dark nostalgia once more as I forced my eyes away from the reflection, aware of how things weren’t as they should be.

I left the bathroom, collecting my things on the way.  Sveta sat at Rain’s table, while Rain was at the window by the door.

“They’re back from the hospital,” he reported.

I took a look for myself.  There was a taxi below, and Ashley, Kenzie, Natalie, and Tristan were getting out.  Kenzie shuffled more than she walked.  I snatched up my gloves and hat, skipping my coat to be quicker, and stepped outside into the bluster of early winter.

The taxi pulled away as I reached the bottom of the fire escape.

“Hi!”

“Hi Kenzie,” I said.  “Hey Natalie, it’s been a while.”

“I’ve missed a lot,” Natalie admitted.  “A little bit on purpose.”

“It’s fine,” I said.  “You read the emails?”

“I did.  That’s completely different from being here, participating.”

“Nah,” Tristan said.  “It’s not like we needed the legal know-how, exactly.  We haven’t been arresting as much as we’ve been controlling the damage.  Most jails aren’t taking new people.”

“That’s only part of my job, isn’t it?” Natalie asked.

“I guess so,” Tristan said.

“How’s the neck?” I asked him.

“I popped stitches, is all.  No arterial bleed.”

“It looked like an arterial bleed.”

“Doctors said it was probably bleeding for a minute before I realized.”

“Glad you’re okay,” I told him.

He smiled, before heading to the fire escape.

Kenzie and Natalie walked to the fire escape as well, Natalie supporting Kenzie.  I offered a hand, but because the fire escape was only wide enough for two people, I flew at the side, my hand at Kenzie’s armpit to stabilize and support.

“How are you?” I asked Ashley, looking back.

“I’ve been bored out of my skull.  How has it been, living with our roommate without me there?”

“Surreal.  Fine.  We’ve been ignoring each other, except I brought food home a couple of times, and she brings me tea.”

“Perfect,” Ashley said.

“Speaking of,” I said.  “Are you hungry?  I know-”

“Yes,” Tristan cut in, from the top of the fire escape.

“-it’s late, but I figured you might be eager for something better than hospital food.”

“Yes,” he said, again.

“I could eat,” Ashley said.

“You two want to come with?  There’s something I want to bring up.  Natalie, your input would be appreciated too.  That second role of yours you mentioned.”

“I was going to stick with Kenzie and make sure she’s okay.  I don’t know if I’m still a de-facto guardian, because things are so hairy and she’s at the children’s place now, but nobody’s told me to stop.”

“You should go,” Kenzie told her.  “Catch up with the others.  You need a break from me, and I’m going to sit down and spend fifteen minutes getting caught up on my tech and all the data that’s rolled in while I’ve been gone.  I won’t be doing anything.”

“I don’t want you bending over or crawling under the desk,” Natalie warned.

“I won’t.  I’ll make Rain do it.”

“Be nice to Rain,” Tristan said, sounding like a stern mom.

“I am!  He enjoys helping as much as I do.”

Tristan put a hand on the back of Kenzie’s head, steering her inside.  She had two feathers stuck through the single ponytail at the back of her head.  No hairpin, either.

I grabbed my coat, and we got ourselves sorted, with the others changing or organizing their things while I made sure I took down all orders on paper.  Ashley was in for our walk, even though she still hadn’t fully mended.

S.P.I.N.E.  A plan for going about this.  I was pulling from lessons imparted by my family again.  This particular lesson had been from Uncle Neil, and my heart was heavy with the memory of how he’d died, and how it tied into the acronym.

‘S’ stood for schedule, setting the context for the discussion.  It was what I’d spent the most time wrestling with over the past few days.  How to approach this.  All at once?  One at a time?  What was the best venue for it?  Schedule mattered the most because I could do everything else right and screw up here, and group dynamics, interruptions, or the tone of things could spoil it all.

“How was your vacation with your boy?” Tristan asked.  He was asking Natalie.

“He’s not ‘my boy’.  It was nice.”

“Did you tour the sights?” Tristan asked.  “I guess there aren’t many sights, with the city being new.”

“We hung out.  We drank, we completed a one thousand piece puzzle.”

“I hope you did more than that,” Ashley remarked.

“I don’t think I’m going to talk about that, thank you.”

“It sure sounds to me like he’s your boy,” Tristan said.

“Victoriaaa,” Natalie said.

“Yeahhh?” I asked, drawing my voice out in the same way.

“Did you ask me along just so you could throw me to the wolves?”

“I’m not a wolf,” Tristan said.

“A wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Ashley said.

“Goat, not sheep, and it’s not clothing.”

“Keep deluding yourself.  I’m happy to admit to being a wolf.  I’m under no illusions.”

The streets were empty, the snow coming down in drifts as the wind blew it from the rooftops.  A dense sheet or collection here, then another there.

“You said you wanted me here for the other part of my job,” Natalie said, cutting in while there was still room in the back and forth between Ashley and Tristan.  “Is it Kenzie?”

“I was assuming it was,” Ashley said.  “Except you brought Tristan, and he doesn’t connect to Kenzie.”

“I chime in for leadership decisions and things,” Tristan replied.  He looked annoyed.  “Kenzie and I don’t not get along.”

“But you haven’t figured her out,” Ashley said.

“It’s not Kenzie,” I said, before things got any further.  “Not exactly.”

I had their full attention now.

We still walked, but they were quiet, all of them watching me.  Ashley had a reddish tint to her nose and cheekbones, her only headwear was a pair of earmuffs.  Tristan was better bundled up, while Natalie was best prepared, wearing her puffy jacket that was primarily for function.

“Kenzie,” I said.  “If you’re listening in, I’d really appreciate it if you’d stop.  I’m going to talk with these guys and if everything’s good, I’ll talk to the rest of you about it now.”

There was a pause where nobody spoke.

“It’s worrying that you have to do that,” Natalie said.

“What’s going on?” Tristan asked.

“I got the files from Dragon.  I got some other information too.”

“And it impacts the team,” Tristan said.  “Kenzie in particular?”

“Yeah, the team,” I said.  “We talked about this before, back when we were all shopping, but I should go back to it.  What do you know about Chris?”

“Chris,” Tristan said, with a bit of surprise.

P.  Following the scheduling, ‘S’, was perception.  See where others were at, restate the known, and get them in the right frame of mind to think and talk about it.  Forgetting ‘P’ was to risk dropping something on someone right away.

“Nothing we didn’t cover in the shopping trip,” Ashley said.  “He wants to be close to powerful people.  He’s secretive to a fault.  His power is destroying him.  Kenzie defends him fiercely.”

“I don’t know much,” Natalie said.  “I tried to give him some of the same kind of support and help we’ve been trying to give to Kenzie and he refused it.”

“He’s an asshole, but he was our asshole,” Tristan said.  “Then he wasn’t, and it’s getting to me that we don’t know why.  Did you figure out why?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I figured out why.  I think you guys need to know, and I guess the question is how you want to know.  I can dish it all out here, or I can tell you enough that you can give some input on how we approach the others.”

Tristan asking like he had helped to shortcut things.  I didn’t have to figure out how to approach ‘I’ in the acronym.  Invitation.  Asking if they want the information, empowering them to handle the situation.

“This is serious?” Natalie asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “This fills in a lot of the blanks, and it’s not pretty.”

“Tell us,” Ashley said.

Okay.  I took a deep breath.  My breath fogged as I exhaled.

“The file was Ms. Yamada’s.  She wrote about Chris.  A message for colleagues, in case she couldn’t carry on her duties.  For Chris Elman, the very first line was a statement.  Chris lies.”

“No surprise there,” Tristan said.

“I barely talked to him and I’m not exactly shocked,” Natalie said.

No response from Ashley.

In the S.P.I.N.E. acronym, the ‘N’ was for ‘necessary information’.  The meat of things.  Uncle Neil had told me to stick to the facts, to be blunt.

I wasn’t as blunt as I could’ve been, but I was still blunt.

“He’s not a changer,” I said.  “And he didn’t trigger after Gold Morning.  He has a long history.”

“How long?” Tristan asked.

“It goes back a decade,” I said.

“He’s thirteen,” Tristan stated, voice firm, like he could say it with enough authority to make it so.  Then, in a one-eighty in every respect, he said, “He’s not thirteen.”

“No.”

“If he’s not a changer then that thing about him being experimented on…”

Tristan trailed off.  Natalie picked up where he left off.  “…I never heard about him being experimented on.”

“It was the story,” Ashley said, and there was no positivity or humor visible on her face or in her body language.  “A sob story that ensured we wouldn’t push too hard or ask too many questions.”

“He lied about everything,” Tristan spoke the realization aloud.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “Something happened.  But it may have been self-inflicted, in a way.  I could get into the nitty-gritty of it, what we know, who he was, and the dots we can connect between the two of those, but I want to leave it up to you guys.”

“Who was he?” Ashley asked.

“Lab Rat,” I said.

“Oh no,” Natalie said.

“That’s a reason to be secretive if I’ve ever heard one,” Ashley said.

I looked at Tristan.  He was frowning, not looking at any of us.

“If you need a refresher on who Lab Rat is, I could go over the bullet points,” I said.

“Fucking asshole,” Tristan said.  He clenched his fist, shaking his head.

“Don’t pop your stitches again,” I warned him.

Tristan shook his head, then winced, reaching up to touch the bandage at the side of his neck.  “Let me think on this.  Bring me out when you have food and things have settled.”

“You’re not going to immediately unsettle things, are you?” I asked.

“Nah,” he said.

He switched, blurring with his eyes flashing.  The blue of the eyes faded, and Tristan became Byron.

Byron’s eyes turned down, looking at the ground as he walked.

“Is he dangerous?” Natalie asked.

“Can’t say anything for sure,” I told her.  “But he disemboweled a tyrant and as far as we can tell, he’s taking over a portion of her world.  If we go by past history, and if we assume nothing’s changed, he’s dangerous.”

“Everyone’s supposed to get a second chance,” Ashley said.

“Yeah,” I agreed.  “But if it was offered and he didn’t take it, if he decided to hide and operate in secret, does he really get that benefit?”

“I’d say it depends,” Byron said, barely audible.

“Yeah,” I said.

The last letter in ‘S.P.I.N.E.’ was E.  Empathize.  Leave room for others to feel, to process.

We weren’t far from the dingy little restaurant, which had a rotund Japanese-style ogre at the side of the sign, a cow tucked under one arm, beside the stylized letters stating simply, ‘BEEF BOWL’.

Nobody went in, not right away.  I’d taken two days to wrap my head around it, to equip myself with information, and decide on how to go about approaching the others.  I could stand in the cold for five, ten, or twenty minutes while they digested the facts.  I was prepared to answer their questions, if they had any.

“This isn’t easy,” I said, to give them an excuse to express any feelings they were holding back.

They didn’t have questions, and they didn’t want to express whatever it was they were so clearly feeling.  Ashley had gone cold, distant.  Natalie was thinking.  There was only a single quiet comment from Byron.

“This is going to do a number on the others.”

He wasn’t wrong.  Uncle Neil had taught me about the S.P.I.N.E. acronym because as heroes, we were often on the front line for tragedy.  It was a tool for delivering the worst kind of news, and for preparing people to grieve.

The Chris we knew was gone.

The chatter as we got back to the hideout was happy.  I put the paper bag down on the table by the door.

“Victoria!  Hey!” Kenzie greeted me.  She’d shucked off all of the outdoor clothing and was sitting in her chair, everything illuminated.  She wore a new sweatshirt that was at least two sizes too big for her, purple, over a blue shirt with a monster on the front.  Her skirt came down past her knees and she wore leggings beneath.  She’d put on slippers rather than shoes.  She’d also, I noted, put on her hairpin, and tucked the two feathers into it so they swept along the side of her head.

“Hey, good news!  Is everyone back?”

I cracked the door open to poke my head out and check.  “Yeah.  They’ll be here in a second.”

“I got intel,” she said, her eyes glittering.  “I can’t name my source, and the intel comes with stipulations.”

I looked at the feathers in her hair.  “What stipulations?”

Sveta answered me.  “We can’t use the information against the Undersiders, and we need to be discreet.”

“Is that so?” I asked.  I heard the others at the fire escape and opened the door.

“And I agreed to certain special favors,” Kenzie said.

“Don’t say it like that,” Rain told her.  “They want to see your tech.”

“Kind of like how the speedrunners showed Rain’s cluster their tech, except not evil and-”

“And not like that situation at all, really,” he finished.

“I’m showing off my tech, and people are interested,” Kenzie said, legs kicking.

“He sent the information without even bargaining first,” Sveta said.  “The pictures and the requests.  It shows a lot of faith in you.”

“Or he’s an idiot,” Ashley said.

Kenzie spun her chair around, glaring.

“Let’s hope it’s the former,” Ashley said.

“It is the former,” Kenzie replied, trying to sound dangerous.

The others came inside and the door mercifully shut.  Space heaters were buzzing throughout the open space, producing the faint smell of burned dust.

Byron changed out, allowing Tristan free.  I saw Tristan’s expression, the seriousness, and what simmered beneath the surface.

“Do you want to see?” Kenzie asked.  “I was counting the seconds until you guys got back.”

“She wasn’t,” Rain clarified.  “But she is excited.  You guys were gone for longer than usual.  What were you talking about?”

“Heavy stuff,” Tristan said.  He tore open the brown paper bag, taking a bowl of ginger beef and some chopsticks.  “I’m so glad we have food if we’re going to discuss this.  I skipped dinner and I’m running on empty.”

“You have me worried now,” Sveta said.

I got other things out.  I passed Sveta a bowl, then put Kenzie’s request on the table next to her.  Some peanut chicken, a small tray of salad with dressing in packets, and far too many fortune cookies.  She reached for a fortune cookie, and I grabbed her hand, moving it to the salad.

“Is this what you’ve been stewing on?” Sveta asked me.

“Yeah,” I answered.

“How bad, on a scale of one to ten?” Rain asked.

“What’s a ten?” Tristan asked.  He was already eating.

“Gold Morning,” Rain said, dead serious.

“Seven, then,” I said.

“I would have called the Goddess situation a seven, with what happened to the prison,” Rain said.  He was entirely serious now.

I’d wanted to handle this better.  I returned to the acronym.

“Where do you guys stand on the subject of Chris?” I asked.

“Oh,” Rain said.  He looked a little crestfallen at the name.  “That’s ominous.”

“Is he okay?” Kenzie asked.

“I don’t know.  We don’t have any updates on what he’s doing right now, or how he is, but we do have information about him.”

“I always had a bad feeling,” Sveta said.  “It started as a small discomfort when he was in the group.  I could sympathize, turning into a monster, not having control, but… it was always a bad feeling and the little things only added to it, never really making that feeling less intense.”

“I really don’t want to spoil a reuniting of the team with us dumping on Chris,” Kenzie said.

“I’m not,” Sveta said.

“You really kinda are,” Kenzie said.  “And I understand why, he left and that sucks.  It’s easier to deal with if you get angry instead of sad.”

“Kenzie,” Sveta said, and her voice was lower, “I understand that you want to respect Chris and his feelings-”

“And you should want to too!”

“-But please respect me and don’t minimize my feelings to protect his.”

“He’s not here to defend himself, so if I’m being forced to take a side then I’m going to take his.  I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” Sveta said.  “I’m sorry too.”

Ashley approached her, sitting on the desk beside Kenzie’s keyboard, a bowl and chopsticks in hand.  She didn’t look like she was having an easy time with the chopsticks.

“We’re not dumping,” I said.  “At least, that’s not the intent.  I respect that Sveta’s instincts were to be uncomfortable around Chris.”

“I don’t like the word instincts,” Sveta said.

“Fair.  Feelings?” I offered.

“Feelings,” Sveta said.

“And I don’t want to condemn him either,” I said.  “But what I’ve found out looks pretty bad.  It’s up to you guys if you want to tackle this in one way or another.  We could raise the subject tomorrow.”

“I won’t sleep all night if I’m busy imagining the worst outcomes,” Rain said.

“I want to know,” Kenzie said, looking stubborn.

“I’m not sure you do,” Ashley told her.

“I do.”

I looked at Sveta.

“You told the others?” Sveta asked.

“A little less loaded.  Easier to bring up,” I replied.

“I’m trusting you on this.  I’m going to be pretty stung if you didn’t have good reasons.”

I nodded.

“What is it?” she asked.

That brought us to the ‘I’ of the S.P.I.N.E., this time around.

“He lied to us,” Tristan said.

My breath caught in my throat.  “Hold up.”

“What did he lie about?” Kenzie asked.

“Everything except his first name, apparently,” Tristan said.  “Everything.

“Tristan,” I said.  “Hold up, okay?  Stop.”

He looked like he was going to say something, then stopped.  He put the bowl down hard, chopsticks laid on top.  Only about half was eaten.

“Sure,” he said.

“Everything?” Rain asked.

I opened my mouth to try to formulate a reply, then closed it and nodded instead.  No way to sum it up.

“Why?” Sveta asked.

“Because he wanted to keep it a secret that he’s a villain with a lot of enemies.”

“A lot?” Kenzie asked.

“He was in the Birdcage,” Ashley said.

“What did he do?” Sveta asked.  “What was so bad that he couldn’t use his old identity, when Bonesaw was walking around free?”

“Semi-free,” Ashley said.

“My point stands.  Valkyrie used to be a dangerous villain,” Sveta said.  She looked at me, and the statement that didn’t follow was telling.

“My sister, too.  She was dangerous,” I said.

“What did he do?” Sveta asked.

“Can I ask that we gloss over that?  We can get into the details tomorrow, after we’ve absorbed the basic info tonight.”

“You know where he is right now, don’t you?  How pressing this is?  He’s on an island in Earth Shin, near their equivalent of New Zealand, with other parahumans and people.  I’m really sorry to bring this up, but your sister and her dad, they’re on an island nearby, they’re having all parahumans come to them.  They’re negotiating with governments.  That’s a lot of people potentially under his thumb.  If he’s dangerous-”

“He’s Chris,” Kenzie said.  She looked to me for her validation, which broke my heart a little.  The smile on her face broke it a bit more; she wore an expression which would read to others like she thought this whole thing was a joke.

“Except he isn’t,” Rain said.  “He has a history?  Who is he?”

“He’s Lab Rat,” I said.

I could see everything go out of Sveta, as she heard that.  I saw Kenzie’s eyes widen just a bit- she recognized the name.

Rain, by contrast, seemed baffled.

“He’s a tinker?” Kenzie asked.  She laughed, a smile creeping across her face.  “That’s hilarious.”

“Who the hell is Lab Rat?” Rain asked.  “Keep in mind, I spent half my life in places without radio and television.  He went to the Birdcage, so it sounds bad, he’s a tinker, so that’s a lot of options for bad, but that’s all I’ve got.”

“He made mutagenic serums.  The transformations,” Sveta said.  “He was dosing himself?  Or did his power change?”

“Dosing himself.  The medicine he kept with him.”

Kenzie banged the table.  “I feel so dumb!”

“Easy,” Ashley told her.

“I didn’t even think!  He asked me not to record him changing and I didn’t because I knew he’d be naked at one part of it, and I’m absolutely not allowed to take those kinds of pictures, accidentally or on purpose.”

“Easy,” Ashley said, again.  “Count to ten.”

“That’s your thing, not mine.”

“Count.”

“He experimented on a lot of people,” Sveta said.  “He turned them into monsters.  Freaks.  You’ve seen the kind of transformations he can manage, except- the ones we saw were uglier.”

She met my eyes as she said it.

I nodded.

“You’ve seen them?” Natalie asked.

“At the hospital,” Sveta said.  “The asylum.  Parahumans who can’t control their powers and victims of parahuman powers get sent there to be taken care of.”

“You’ve talked about it,” Tristan said, uncharacteristically gentle.

“I was there for a month and a half, so I could talk to a therapist every day without worrying about rotations or anything,” Kenzie added.  “I didn’t really see many others.”

“We’ve all- most of us have seen or been the victims of powers,” Sveta said.  “I’m one.  There were a few Case Fifty-Threes there.  Um.  People who lost their minds, one way or another, or who were already struggling with something and who had powers that made it worse.  People who were hurt by tinker experiments, in ways that conventional medicine couldn’t help.”

“Bad situations,” I supplied.

“In the few years that Lab Rat was active, for every one person who went to the Asylum for one reason or another, there was a Lab Rat victim.  He tested his serums on people and not every single one changed all the way back.”

“Did anyone ever ask him why?” Kenzie asked.

Kenzie,” Sveta said, her voice hard.  “Don’t.”

“I’m just saying!  Maybe there was a really important reason, or maybe he couldn’t help it.”

“Kenzie,” I said, before Sveta could get riled up and say something regrettable.  “This is a no-fly zone.”

She giggled in a nervous, bewildered way, “What does that even mean?”

“I hear what you’re saying, but… we can’t extend the benefit of a doubt.  Not about this.  Not until we have a reason to.”

“If we have to have a reason it’s not the benefit of a doubt,” Kenzie replied.

“It’s too close to home,” I said.  I tried to keep my voice level.  “For me, for Sveta.  You can’t make apologies for his actions until we have more information, not when some of us here are unable to forgive people who did the exact same thing to us.”

“But you guys-” Kenzie started.  Ashley put a hand on Kenzie’s shoulder, and Kenzie slumped back into her seat.  She pulled her feet up onto her seat and hugged her knees.  “Okay.”

“Did they get better?” Rain asked.

I was already shaking my head when Sveta said, “No.  You know how his Screaming Anxiety form kept screaming?  There was a woman like that.  Her mind didn’t exit that state, and she roared out cuss words nonstop.  All day, every day, without ever sleeping.  She had surges of strength that meant she couldn’t be in a regular hospital.  There was a man who boiled alive.  The bubbles would swell-”

“I don’t- I don’t need details,” Rain said.

“They were still there when I arrived at the Asylum, along with a few others that had survived,” Sveta said.  There was a hard edge to her voice, like she could’ve been angry or burst into tears in the same breath.  “When Victoria did.  They were probably still there on Gold Morning.”

“He was my friend,” Rain said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“I know he was younger, or-”

“He wasn’t younger,” I said.  “Twice your age.”

“Ah,” Rain said, and he huffed out the word like it had hit him straight in the solar plexus.

“Sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter any to me,” Kenzie said, stubborn.  “It doesn’t change anything.  In fact, I kind of feel validated, because it fits everything in super neat with my seating chart-”

“It should matter,” Ashley said.  “And let’s just let the others talk a moment, no commentary.  Please?”

“I didn’t have many friends, when I first came to group therapy,” Rain said.  “I didn’t even know Erin properly then, everyone at the compound had turned on me.”

“He gave you games and comics,” Tristan said.

Rain nodded.  “And we talked online, whenever I was online.  He helped me research clusters and find details on Love Lost, Cradle, and Snag.  And he’s a complete and utter monster?”

“Apparently,” Sveta said.

“We can’t know one hundred percent,” I said.  “He’s apparently an experiment.  Not a clone, but a malleable housing for the DNA signature for the agent to hook into, I’d have to reread the notes.”

“Ashley was a clone and she turned out okay,” Kenzie said.  “Better than her former self.”

“That’s true,” I said.

“The malleable house stuff,” Rain said.  “That was why he was falling apart?  He was trying to fix something by creating permanent changes?”

I hesitated.

“He lied about that too?”

“He was apparently doing the exact opposite of what he was saying.  Trying to weaken the ‘Chris’ in him to make the changes stick longer.  Intentionally creating changes to break down his old self.”

Rain rose to his feet, and in the same motion, pushed on the table in front of him, sending scrap, food, and his tools to the ground.  The table followed a second later, everything crashing in a sharp, deafening noise, with a short yelp from Natalie.

Natalie, who had been watching from the sidelines.

The bowl rolled around on the floor for a second, the only sound.  The sound wound down as it lost momentum.

Where the sound faded, I heard another.  Kenzie’s nervous giggling.

“Please don’t,” Rain said.

“I can’t help it.”

“Come,” Ashley said.  She winced as she picked Kenzie up out of the chair.  “Slippers off.  We’re going for a walk.  You and me.”

The giggling stopped and started in the minute or so it took for Ashley to get Kenzie to the door and make her put her boots on.  I helped, getting the coat, hat and gloves, with Swansong’s stuff in my other arm.

Rather than put those things on, Ashley just opened the door, stepping out onto the fire escape without winter clothes.  I handed everything over, and she shut the door.  They’d get dressed for the outdoors outdoors.

The door closing mercifully shut out the sound of the nervous giggling.

Rain stood with his eyes up toward the ceiling, fingers knit together behind his head, forearms pressed against his ears.

“I fucked this up,” I said.

“I don’t think there was a good way to do it.”

“I was considering one-on-one, once I’d briefed people I thought were safe,” I said.  “I was seventy-five percent on Ashley, I thought that if she did have an outburst, it would be okay so long as she was away from Kenzie.  She surprised me.”

“She once said her default for every person she meets is to be disappointed in them,” Tristan said.  “There’s never any surprises if they live up to that disappointment.”

Rain was only just now relaxing, lowering his arms.  He looked down at the table he’d overturned.  “I’ll clean up.  I’m sorry.”

“I’ll get it,” Natalie said.  “Please.  It’ll help if I can do something.”

“If you bring the stuff, I’ll help,” Rain said.  “I told myself a long time ago I didn’t want anyone cleaning up for me.  It’s a rule.”

“Okay,” Natalie said.  She was on the other end of the room, so I barely heard her.

“If you’d done Kenzie last, she would have gotten curious and found out, and she would have been hurt,” Sveta told me.  “If you told her first, we would have realized something was wrong, and I would have had a pretty hard time knowing I was last on your list of people to tell.”

“Is it okay that I told you after-” I started.

I stopped because she was already nodding.

Off to the side, Tristan had pulled Rain into a hug.  I looked away.  Rain was kneeling by the mess, separating things from the ginger beef and rice.  I would’ve helped, but I had the instinct that he wanted space.

Sveta- her arms were folded, her head bowed.  Her expression as angry as I’d seen it, as she looked at nothing in particular.

I’d known Sveta would take it hard.  Rain had caught me by surprise.  Kenzie had too, in a way.  I’d prepared myself for the mindset that the others would want to grieve, and I hadn’t anticipated the abject denial, even though it was one of the classic stages of grief.

I didn’t trust myself to approach any of them, so I turned toward the screen that Kenzie had left live.

The images were there on the monitor.  Bulletin boards with notecards stuck to them.  Not so different from what we had in our hideout.

I pretty quickly realized what they were.

Tattletale’s notes.

Scary notes.  They had some starting points on the people who’d attacked us, notes on the portal, and some theorizing on the greater threats in play.

Almost casually, figures like the Bogeyman were name-dropped and discarded.  Amy and Chris were a footnote.

Fucking dangerous information for us to so casually have, and dangerous information to be sending out.

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135 thoughts on “Blinding – 11.2”

  1. Wow Aiden, really working to find the limits of Lisa’s affection huh. What a good kid.

    We all expected Kenzie to take it hard but Rain was a surprise. Given his upbringing it probably shouldn’t have been though…

    1. I’m not sure Aiden is really going behind Lisa’s back here. Part of the deal is apparently having another tinker look over Kenzie’s tech, and I can’t think of a way he could pull that off without Lisa noticing.

      1. It doesn’t have to be a tinker, who will watch Kenzie’s tech. I can’t even remember from the top of my head if any of the groups working with the Undersiders have a tinker in their ranks, although powers of some of those people – like Snuff are still unknown, so it is possible. In Snuff’s case we don’t even know if he has any powers at all.

        It could be that Aiden just wants to see the toys Kenzie can do, and maybe compliment her while he is at it. It may be that Undersiders, or the Heartboken just want some more info, on what Kenzie can do exactly, even if they can’t replicate it.

        On the other hand Aiden said that he is loyal to the Undersiders, and going behind Tattletale’s back could or could not be seen as disloyal, depending on how you define loyalty. There is chain of command, and the need to play straight with the teammates, but there is also doing what you think what is good for your teammates, even if they would disagree.

        Is Aiden naive enough not to see this last interpretation of loyalty?

          1. Maybe? I would have to look up their physical descriptions and compare them to figure out if it is possible. It would certainly explain why we apparently didn’t see Scrub with Faultline’s crew in last arc.

          2. We’ve seen Snuff in action and his abilities don’t work like Scrub’s did, although Scrub could probably do somethimg similar if he had enough control. Snuff made some kind of effect that sucked powers(?) into it during either the first or second fight at the truck stop.

        1. Sure, but it may tell her only post factum, or she may decide that if Aiden is determined to go around her back it is better to let him do it, and deal with the consequences than to stop him, upset him, damage his trust in her, and go against Taylor’s legacy at the same time. Especially since if he is determined enough to do it behind her back, she would have to lock him up to make sure he won’t succeed eventually.

          1. On the topic of Taylor’s legacy, did you notice this bit from Aiden’s interlude?

            She would have agreed with me. She would have been disappointed you fought me on this.”

            She didn’t respond, opening the door and then closing it behind her. He could see through the bulletproof glass where she was talking to the mercenary.

            He felt frustrated in a way he couldn’t articulate, which was probably by her design.

            I’m not sure if Aiden is reading the situation correctly. It may be that his argument hit Lisa so hard that she couldn’t find any good verbal response. Think about it. Lisa, who is “I’m going to say something that will destroy you” Tattletale, lost for words!

            Looks like this time she landed on the receiving end of her own trick, and it really hurt her. It may be another reason why either she let Aiden give Breakthrough that info, or even did it herself.

  2. Damn. That was painful.
    I gotta say I’m impressed with Ashley for continuing to step up and put so much effort into helping Kenzie.
    I’m worried this could create a rift in the team if Kenzie can’t accept it and just goes deeper into denial…

  3. “The Chris we knew was gone.”
    The Chris you knew isn’t gone. He never existed.

    Poor Kenzie. She is not taking this well. In fact knowing what we do about her mixed up expressions, the giggling… Oh dear. Oh deary dear.

        1. I don’t think Kenzie is there yet. Maybe in a few months or years, but that level of emotional honesty (… that doesn’t sound like the right word) is probably still outside her ability to express.

          1. It may have less to do with being honest with herself, and more with reaching the breaking point of her facade. We saw her get there in her early memories during her interlude (with Mrs. Johnson), and we know she was close to it again by the end of that interlude:

            It would just make her start crying like a baby, and she needed to get Victoria on her side, make sure that the wrong things weren’t said and that things didn’t get out of control with the group.

            I think there’s a good chance she may let her guard down enough around Aiden to reach that point again.

          2. Funny thing is that if she reaches this point with Aiden, and on top of it she explains the basics of her history with her parents (which may very well happen at that point), she may be surprised by how much understanding and sympathy she may get from the Heartboken. Kenzie’s relationship with her parents has many similarities with Heartboken’s relationship with their father.

            It could be a big twist for the love triangle.

            And by the way is it a triangle? I still think that Candy may also have a crush for Aiden and is keeping emotional distance to spare Darlene’s feelings.

            Another possible twist could be that if Candy does indeed have feelings for Aiden, with Darlene’s power one missed heartbeat in a wrong moment could make those feelings obvious to Darlene and possibly everyone else in the network at that moment. Darlene may even know already, and keeping quiet about it to spare Candy’s feelings in turn.

  4. I’m glad we know now why Lab Rat was sent to the Birdcage when Bitter Pill wasn’t- why Bitter Pill is a B-lister and Lab Rat was… Really not. Bitter Pill has to work to permanently transform people against their will. Lab Rat, apparently, had to work the other direction, although… I can imagine just dumping the screaming lady out on the street after failing to shut her up a couple times.

    If any of his prior victims survive, they’re in Europe. Although screamer might just be running around the ruins of the Asylum, too afraid to walk into an ambush and too strong to capture easily.

  5. I take it back. I don’t think I like Chris as much now that we’ve seen Rain’s reactions and heard the Lab Rat horror stories.

    1. Well, let’s take the second chance approach. Chris led a couple folks to their untimely deaths, then ripped Goddess a new everything. Still in the realm of redeemable so far.
      Of course, that was when he focused on using his new identity. He now has potential access to probably millions of guinea pigs, but we don’t know yet if he’ll go that way (wishful thinking, I know)…

      What he is going to do in his new situation is the defining turn in how likable he will end up.

      1. It almost feels like too much to hope that Chris, the actual Chris who doesn’t want to be Lab Rat, will win out in the in. This is Wildbow we’re talking about. However, just because I like him less doesn’t mean I completely dislike him now. I sincerely wish that Chris will ‘see the light’ in the future, but who knows? Anything could happen.

      2. He asked about mindless minions. The body of a human, with no mind to torment, is still a far cry from Lab Rat’s cruelty. For his jokes about the orphanage being full of test subjects, Chris seems to have never actually used humans for his experiments since he spawned. And if the minions he wants to experiment on, are truly mindless, then that will remain true. He may even stop if he learns they actually aren’t, though that’s pure supposition.

        Lab Rat, would not have waited so long before experimenting on humans, he’d have gone for the first vulnerable kid he could get, as far as I understand his modus operandi.

        Chris being different, may not make him better than his creator, but so far he is showing no intent to be the same kind of monster as Lab Rat, even with Shin at his disposal. He’s his own guy.

        It would be some deliciously cruel writing if Chris never goes that way, but ends up dying to Breakthrough in the end anyways.

  6. Two things.

    Sveta took it all so emotionally that she omitted one, possibly big piece of info that could work in Lab Rat’s favor. During Gold Morning she was on the oil rig. She saw that Lab Rat’s boxes saved lives there.

    It looks like whatever information source Taylor had on Lab Rat probably wasn’t accurate. On the oil rig she was convicted that her transformation was temporary, yet every Lab Rat’s victim in the asylum was proof that he could do permanent transformations, and all of those happened before he ended up in the Birdcage. Were whatever sources of information Taylor used falsified?

      1. Yes, but even under the effects of the transformation Taylor was sure, it would be temporary. She wouldn’t be so sure if she knew about all of those people he had sent to the Asylum. On top of it, we don’t even know if her transformation has completely reverted on its own, since Taylor couldn’t exactly examine herself carefully after the transformation, but before being healed by Panacea. It may be that only Amy knows what shape Taylor’s body was at after the transformation.

      2. It “wore off” after she had dried and then jumped back in the ocean. Many insects don’t handle immersion well. Her custom insect transformation might have lasted longer if she had stayed out of the ocean.

    1. Those transformations weren’t necessarily permanent- they might have had more obvious immediate effects, and those that went to the Asylum were ones where it hadn’t fully worn off, or it might be that it wore off in 99% of cases.

      Alternately, Taylor trusted Lab Rat wasn’t going to abuse the ultimate Endbringer truce by permanently transforming the capes arrayed to save the world.

      And I’m not sure if Sveta would have known that the guy handing out the boxes was Lab Rat. Taylor knew, because she had attended Cauldron meetings with the guy. Sveta had bigger issues than the identity of the bloke handing out boxes to the squishy capes that needed them. I don’t think he’d have approached the Irregulars with such a box- Weld wouldn’t have been able to use one, nor would Sveta.

      1. Sveta knows, she was present, and could hear this conversation in chapter 27.5 of Worm:

        I communicated through my swarm, instead. What little of it remained, anyways. Drones and buzzes and chirps. “Lab Rat. The boxes he gave us, they’re designed to trigger when we’re hurt, force a transformation.”

        “Might get a few more recruits,” Sanguine said, not looking up from the wounded. He had hands extended to two different wounds on one individual, and was drawing blood into one hand and letting it snake out of the other, flowing into the wound. Was he cleaning it?

        “His transformations are temporary. Buying time. He cut me in half, and I’m not sure I’m going to be in one piece when this stops working.”

        1. But was she listening? Sanguine was, obviously, but Sveta… At the time she had to do a lot of concentrating to not kill people. She was bending bars rather than killing people. She may have been keeping an ear open for instruction, but Taylor’s swarmvoice is hard to pick up, or can be, and the conversation wasn’t about her.

          1. Sveta even took part in that conversation a few moments later. It’s a pretty safe bet that she heard, especially since a half transformed Taylor coming back to the oil rig, and explaining through her bugs, what happened to her probably caught everyone’s attention at that moment.

          2. And Sveta was attached with metal clasps to Weld she was safe without havig to fully concentrate on not killing anyone. It is said that she was detached a bit later:

            He began undoing the little clasps of metal that bound Garotte against his body. She unfurled, reached out to railings, to edges of metal.

            Not to mention that Weld himself was close enough to be the first person to respond to Taylor right after the bit I quoted in my previous post, and close enough to Taylor to speak, not shout, and for her to respond with a simple nod then:

            His transformations are temporary. Buying time. He cut me in half, and I’m not sure I’m going to be in one piece when this stops working.”

            “But it worked?” Weld asked.

            I nodded. The motion was jerky.

            Since Sveta was attached to Weld then, she must have heard this exchange clearly.

          3. Then I am mistaken, and she should have known.

            Except it’s been two years, and it was a one-time thing. She may have forgotten, or it might be that she’s too angry over the betrayal and deceit to remember the time she met the real him.

          4. I think it is less about not remembering, and more about not thinking clearly in the heat of the moment. Such event is in my opinion difficult to forget. She may change her mind a bit once she calms down. Weld may also point the importance of this detail to her, if she shares Victoria’s revelations with him, and I think there is a good chance she will.

          5. It would be particularly difficult for Sveta to forget, considering the whole event involved freshly transformed Taylor, an we know how Sveta feels about such monstrous transformations.

            At least there is a good chance that Weld will be more rational about it – both because he is generally less emotional than Sveta, and because he wasn’t exposed to the results of Lab Rat’s experiments to the extent Sveta was in the Asylum, so it should be a less sensitive topic for him.

        2. Frankly, does it matter? Sveta has been very clear that she doesn’t think helping to save the world cancels out mutating people against their will.
          And Lab Rat didn’t do anywhere near as much good as Cauldron did.

          1. Wrong. Lab Rat did a whole lot more good than Cauldron did; by saving Taylor with his insect serum, he allowed Khepri to happen, and the doses that he gave to Rachel for her dogs were directly responsible for the final push that bullied Scion until he let them kill him.

            Compare this to Cauldron’s efforts to contribute to Gold Morning, which essentially amounted to a speed-bump that delayed Scion for like half an hour while he murdered his way through all the Case 53s on his way to the corpse of the Thinker Entity.

          2. I ‘m not saying that Sveta will suddenly give Lab Rat “greatest hero of Gold Morning award”, or that she should. I’m saying that maybe this way she will realize that there was more to him than just a monster turning people into freaks of nature for his own gain.

            For her, and for most other members of Breakthrough it could be the first step in realizing that Chris’ situation is complicated too. For example if this was Sveta’s first reaction to knowing about the relationship between Lab Rat and Cryptid, can she really blame him for lieing to the group about it? Where would be his second chance be (first chance really, as you can’t blame him for Lab Rat’s deeds, as most of the group seems to do), if everyone automatically condemned him just because he has Lab Rat’s memories?

            Later maybe she will even realize that Chris is just another Lab Rat’s victim and blaming him for his predecessor’s sins is just completely unfair. Of course lieing to the group still wasn’t a good thing to do, but it was understandable given the circumstances. The big thing that should decide how everyone should judge him should be nor his lies, neither Lab Rat’s actions, but what he will do now. What will his experiments on those supposedly “less than human” (not that I’m buying this line of reasoning) slave soldiers from Shin will look like, and what purpose will they ultimately serve? How far will those experiments go? Is he planning to do them just for his own gain, or to be able to help others?

            Sure, it still does sound a lot like Cauldron’s justification for their crimes, but maybe through Chris Sveta and others will be reminded that Cauldron did what they did because of desperate situation they faced, and it isn’t so simple to blame them for taking desperate measures they took, as it would be if they did the same in any other situation. And considering that the situation Chris is facing (both with his identity and the connection to Lab Rat it includes, and with the threats people seem to be facing- especially in megalopolis) he may be understandably desperate himself.

        3. Here is what Taylor knew about Lab Rat, when he was released from the Birdcage in chapter 27.3 of Worm:

          Lab Rat, conversely, had worked in secret, developing formulas that could transform people into monsters. He had used formulas on the homeless, then when the local homeless ran out, started picking off individuals that were isolated, out for jogs in the early morning or new visitors to his town. It wasn’t clear just what he was searching for, in developing the formulas. What I found myself wondering was whether he’d been testing his work on his test subjects before using them on himself, or if it was the other way around.

          Both ideas were weird, almost inexplicable.

          I’ve gone through rhe rest of the chapter, entire chapter 27.4 and chapter 27.5 to the point I quoted above, to try and find if there was any indication that Taylor would have a reason to think that her change would be temporary. The only thing that could make her trust Lab Rat’s box not to permanently screw her is that Lab Rat said he was wearing one himself. Not a very encouraging argument in my opinion.

          So either Taylor’s sources were wrong, and she didn’t know Lab Rat’s transformations were not completely temporary (not likely, considering she knew about the homeless and other isolated people, who were his victims), or her sources were correct that his transformations left permanent side effects, and at that point she was just past worrying about any possible side effects happening to her, or other people who at that moment could only be saved by Lab Rat’s work. Quite possible considering both the stakes of the battle against Scion, and the fact that at that point everyone on the rig was very likely to die in next few minutes anyway.

          1. Golden Morning was a time when people didn’t much care about long-term consequences because the Thinkers said Scion was going to wipe out all life on every Earth within the month. They’d given String Theory everything she asked for to make a gun stronger than her Moon destroyer.

          2. Yeah, and considering that Taylor ultimately ended up sacrificing herself to beat Scion, she probably was even more in this mindset than most people fighting that day.

      1. She probably reacts emotionally because of the reasons I stated above. I think there is a good chance she will come around after she calms down, and maybe talks to Weld about it. He was with her on that oil rig, and he probably will react in a more rational manner, both because he is a more rational person, and because he doesn’t have all the baggage regarding Lab Rat’s failed experiments she has from the Asylum.

        1. Come around to what?

          Weld has no real connection to Lab Rat outside of the Oil Rig. I don’t see him going to bat for the guy concerning his torture experiments.

          1. He can point out to Sveta that Lab Rat saved lives on that oil rig. Sure, almost everyone, including the worst monsters fought Scion that day, but it still has to count for something how Lab Rat chose to do it. It is also important that he chose to come to that rig, he could have those boxes delivered by someone else, yet he decided to do it himself.

            I think Weld would notice such details.

          2. Sure, but maybe Chris’ situation will drive it home for her that Cauldron used desperate measures to deal with desperate situation, so while she may not like them, she has to admit that considering their circumstances it is hard to simply condemn them, like she seems to do. I’m not saying that she doesn’t have a good justification for her hated of Cauldron or Lab Rat, but this hatred makes her miss important nuances, nuances she seemed to remember when she decided to side with Weld against other Irregulars during their attack on Cauldron’s base. I elaborated on Cauldron, and on Chris’ situation a bit more in a wall of text above. You may want to read that one too.

        2. @Alfaryn

          But you just said it yourself; Sveta has already realized and acted upon those nuances before, going so far as to work with ex-Cauldron members in Ward.

          And I think it’s been made pretty clear that her current attitude is as “sympathetic” as Sveta’s ever going to feel towards them.

          1. Like I said in many posts here – she is upset, and it is understandable after getting something so big dropped on her. I think that her decision to side with Weld in Cauldron HQ proves she may at least try to understand Chris’, and possibly Lab Rat’s point of view. Remember she didn’t want revenge against Cauldron. Instead she wanted to know if Doctor Mother (the only one of them, who actually would have to make an effort to get the answer) cared enough about her, and other C53s to at least remember her name. She didn’t lash out even after she has learned that dear “doctor” didn’t remember. Doctor Mother died only when Sveta had to choose someone to die, and as she said at that point Mother was the most logical choice (even though I suspect that Sveta may still regret this death, and may be unsure if her hatred for what Doctor represented played a role in this death – just like she was upset about killing Noontide despite it being a life or death situation – Sveta just keeps tormenting herself with guilt like that; it’s part of her personality, and one of her biggest problems at this point).

            It makes me think that Sveta may be inclined to give Chris a benefit of doubt once she calms down. She certainly did give it to Mother.

    2. At the time everyone met on the oil rig, Sveta had already spent her time in the asylum with Lab Rat’s victims and with Victoria. If her opinion is set now, it was certainly set back then. Hearing Weaver compliment Lab Rat was probably a(nother) strike against Weaver rather than a point in Lab Rat’s favor. If her opinion of Weaver improved later, it probably wasn’t to Lab Rat’s retroactive benefit.

      Although perhaps if she had heard Clockblocker’s delightful photosynthesis anecdote, she would have changed her mind…

      1. I’m not saying anything about Weaver complimenting Lab Rat. In fact as far as I remember she did not, unless you consider stating the facts that he saved her life a compliment. I’m talking about the fact that from all ways Lab Rat could go about his involvement in Gold Morning he DID choose saving lives, and risking his own in the process by coming to the rig.

        1. Yeah sure Lab Rat was not a purely evil person. (Of course this means his experiment Cryptid is even less so.) I’m just saying that Sveta couldn’t have been expected to see that at the oil rig. She had extremely limited experience at that time. She remembered her captivity at Cauldron and the asylum, and a short interim of freedom she’d spent with her idol Weld and the rest of the Irregulars. She hadn’t even killed Doctor Mother yet.

          “Lab Rat was/is a horrible evil shit” is a foundational belief for Sveta. It will take her a lot of work to get past that. She might do it, though. The dream she has that she won’t even admit to herself is to have a standard human body again. ISTM that Red Queen, Cryptid, and Marquis are uniquely suited to making that dream come true.

          1. I don’t think anyone can help Sveta get a normal body without cutting her connection to her power first “you can’t just stop being C53”. Of course Cryptid and possibly Panacea or Niblog may be able to do just that.

            As for Sveta’s interpretation of what she saw on the oil rig, calming down, and possibly having a chat with Weld (who was there with her, is less emotional and hasn’t seen all that she saw in the Asylum, so he may be less prejudged against Lab Rat) may help.

  7. Huh, Victoria is much more ambiguously “Chris is Lab Rat” than I expected. Yamada seemed pretty in the middle in the conversation we saw; not sure if that’s reflected in her notes or not, if she changed her mind or it’s Victoria’s reading that’s different.

    1. Victoria either missed this nuance, or she is just as unfair to Chris by not mentioning it, as Sveta is by not mentioning Lab Rat’s involvement on the oil rig.

      1. I’m not personally convinced Sveta knows Lab Rat was at the oil rig. There were a lot of people there, and Sveta had bigger issues to worry about- like not killing her allies, protecting the Irregulars, and maybe getting close enough to see if she could hurt Scion. She might have seen Lab Rat, even noticed that he was a Birdcage inmate handing out boxes. But that doesn’t prove he’s Lab Rat. He could be anyone; there were a lot of tinkers in the Birdcage. Or it could even have been a trusted confidante handing out boxes for their tinker boss who wasn’t attending because his power wouldn’t have helped.

        1. I quoted the bit from chapter 27.5 a few comments above, where Taylor explicitly said in Sveta’s presence that the transformation that saved her life was caused by Lab Rat. Sveta almost certainly heared it. She even voiced her opinion a moment later in this conversation.

      2. I think between their own involuntary transformations, having spent a lot of time with Lab Rat’s victims in the Asylum, and Chris’ lies Victoria and Sveta simply refuse to believe in, and possibly even to think about any redeeming qualities of either lab Rat or Chris.

        Interestingly Kenzie who’s been through all of the above except being transformed herself defended Chris. She did it even though she probably didn’t know about Lab Rat’s role on the oil rig, like Sveta did, or read Yamada’s notes, like Victoria did. Kenzie did it probably mostly because, well she refuses to see anything wrong in pretty much anyone she knows, much less has a crush on, but paradoxically she may be also the one who’s more reasonable in this case than apparently prejudged (understandably, but still prejudged) Victoria and Sveta.

  8. Is Victoria really going to brief all the other Heroes on the information from those notes?

    It’d fit with her character, but would give them a big advantage.

    1. I think it’s more likely that if she informs other heroes, it will be just team leaders she can trust, and other trusted people, who in her opinion can make sense of those notes. It doesn’t make sense to just show everyone notes clearly coming from Tattletale, especially since she would need to admit that part of the price was agreeing not to use them against the Undersiders.

      Imagine what would happen if someone like Shortcut knew about it.

  9. Wow, people really want to give Chris the benefit of the doubt. They are ignoring the fact that Chris has lied from the get go and the emotional trauma everyone is going through and just saying that Chris should get benefits of the doubt and the others shouldn’t.

    1. They aren’t saying the others shouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt. They’re saying that since the others got the benefit of the doubt, so should Chris.

      Keep in mind that Chris’s lies were harmless. It’s not like he framed or maligned anyone, nor did he manipulate them into doing bad things on his behalf. All he did was construct a fake identity to avoid persecution. He didn’t even lie about who he is, just about his past. The creepy guy who hung out with them, tolerated Kenzie, helped Rain with searches and games, traded banter, bucked at authority, and generally Chrised it up? That was real. Also worth remembering that Chris saved Rain’s life, prevented Goddess from using Kenzie to Khepri Gimel, and pulled their assess out of the fire after Victoria pissed off Goddess.

      So yeah, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. For now. His discussion with Amy was concerning, particularly the bit where Victoria came up.

      1. Yeah I feel like everybody totally glossed over Chris offering to ‘helo Amy keep Victoria forever’ ??? Like maybe he was lying, he lies a lot obviously but still, that was a recent and extremely troubling for the idea that Chris deserves the benefit of the doubt

        1. It is probably that people don’t really know what Chris’ plan to “get Victoria for Amy” involves. Remember that Amy herself has the power to pretty much brainwash Victoria if she just gets an opportunity to get her hands on her sister, and has already shown that she is not willing to do it, at least not after Slaughterhouse Nine. She even chose to go to the Birdcage than to risk going down that road further.

          Lab Rat spent years with Amy in that prison, so it seems likely that he understands that Amy would not accept Victoria being brainwashed, or otherwise forced against her will to be with Amy, either by Amy’s power, or through other means. Remember that Chris doesn’t offer Amy Victoria on a silver platter, but tells Amy “I can get you there”, so it means Amy herself would need to be involved in the process somehow. It may mean that despite all of those memories of years in Birdcage, he still misunderstands Amy, and just offers to give her an opportunity to brainwash Victoria, but it seems just as likely that he thinks he can somehow put Amy in position, where she could convince Victoria somehow.

          It may be that he just seriously overestimates his own ability as a mediator, but it may be that he actually has some argument or strategy good enough to at least make Victoria willing to listen to Amy, and at least seriously consider not only forgiving, but also staying with Amy.

          I have no idea what this argument or strategy would be (and Amy didn’t even let him begin to explain), but we need to remember that Chris had an opportunity to get to know Victoria rather well, and he is intelligent enough that he could see something that is not obvious to a reader like me at the moment. All I know is that if Chris understands Amy well, then he would try to propose a plan where Amy could “keep Victoria forever” against Victoria’s free will. Once again – he is intelligent, and he likely knows Amy well, so I think he understands her well enough to understand that Amy would not accept any other way to be with Victoria.

          So ultimately giving Chris a benefit of the doubt includes assuming that what he tried to propose to Amy regarding Victoria wasn’t unethical, or at least not too unethical.

          1. Of course he could have just proposed to give Victoria to Amy without a plan how to do it at all, because he knew Amy would refuse just to get a reaction he got from her, but it would be a risky play. What would he do if Amy decided to accept? What would he do if she didn’t want to have anything to do with him after proposing that?

            There is not that much space between Amy’s agreement to his proposal, and her refusal to have anything to do with him after hearing it, so unless he considers himself a perfect judge of Amy’s character (and I don’t think he thinks THAT highly of himself), he probably had a plan for at least one of those possibilities, and since the second possibility (where Amy would want to have nothing to do with him anymore) looks like it gives him nothing of value, he probably has a plan for the first possibility, which brings us back to conclusion that he probably had some plan to really give Amy what he promised her, like I described in the previous comment.

          2. I figure it was mostly about image. Chris is just some two-year-old teenage unknown; she’s not going to trust somebody like that to bail her ass out of the fire. He wanted her to make a deal with the devil, and Lab Rat is the devil she knows, so he became Lab Rat. That meant being more creepy than he is as Chris, because he needed to sell that he was still the hyper-competent A-list villain and block leader.

            I also suspect that he was unconcerned about what he’d do on the slim chance she wanted Victoria as a slave. Keep in mind that he’s only using Amy as a means of doing something big, just as he used Breakthrough to find the opportunity to do something like this. He only needs to string her along until he gets what he wants. After that, he just has to deal with the risk of Amy and Marquis coming after him for reneging on the deal (assuming he doesn’t go out with a bang when he does the Big Thing). If his scheme makes him powerful enough, they could be a non-issue. Similarly, he could arrange for them to die, be weakened, or be too busy frantically putting out fires on Shin to worry about him. Other options include faking his death, getting trapped as a monster, being “exiled”, or otherwise creating a situation where he cannot be expected to carry out the rest of the plan. And then there’s good old fashioned talking-her-out-of-it (probably by pointing out consequences that will result, rather than making any kind of moral point).

            But yeah, there is the very real possibility that he simply doesn’t care what happens to Victoria. He might even think it would serve her right for being a snoop.

          3. It all may be, though if I was Chris I would be very concerned about a possibility of turning Panacea and Marquis against me, no matter how powerful I would become. Her power is a potential S-class threat, and he is a very successful villain, who is completely devoted to her. Separately either of them may be manageable. Together they can be an extreme threat pretty much as long as they live, and aren’t brainwashed, or locked in a place as secure as Birdcage, have their powers neutralized or something else along those lines.

            I’m not certain Chris would be willing to take such risk, unless he either plans to eliminate them, or has somehow found a sure-fire counter at least to Amy’s power (which doesn’t seem completely impossible given his tinker speciality). Crossing those two seems much worse than having to find a way to realize his plans without their aid. Is Chris really crazy or desperate enough to do it?

          4. Another problem Chris would have to consider is that Marquis and especially Amy have a lot of very powerful friends, friends that include people like Dragon, Valkyrie, Bonesaw, and possibly even Niblog and plenty of former Birdcage inmates other than Valkyrie for example. Even if he somehow managed to deal with Amy and Marquis, can he also deal with all of them?

          5. Not to mention that if Chris did do something really bad to Amy, he would probably have to deal with New Wave, and most likely also Breakthrough, and although they are not exactly as powerful as the people I listed above, New Wave may prove the most determined of his enemies in such case, and Breakthrough just has a dangerous combination of influence among the heroes, and knowledge about him as a person. Can he risk this too?

          6. And the funny thing is that are only the threats Chris knows about. If he did something bad to Amy he may also have to deal with the Undersiders, because of how guilty Lisa really feels about Amy (something he probably doesn’t even suspect), and the Undersiders are masters at explaining the element of surprise after all.

            So yeah, trying to cross Marquis may be something Chris could get away with, trying to cross Amy could bring imperative four big problems on his head. He would need to do something equally big to stand a chance against all of those people, and I’m not certain he has means to do it.

          7. Those are all real concerns if his strategy is to eliminate or imprison Amy and Marquis. If his strategy is to simply get what he needs and then leave without helping her enslave Victoria, then things are very different. Very few of those people you listed would be interested in hunting him down over not getting involved in human trafficking.

            Better yet, he could get those people on his side if he treated the whole thing as an undercover sting operation. Wait for Amy to start pressuring him to hold up his end of the deal, record an encounter, then go public with it.

            As for scaring Amy off with the offer, that wasn’t a risk. It’s been a long time since she’s been skittish around creepy villains and their creepy offers.

          8. I wasn’t worried about him scaring Amy with his offer. I was worried about a possibility of Amy being revolted by it too much to be able to stand him. Amy not willing to work with him if that happened, could be only the beginning of his problems with her. If that happened, or if he decided to go public with Amy’s answer if she agreed to enslave Victoria he would have enemies in Amy and Marquis, and if he dealt with them too harshly, some of the people I listed could go after him despite anything he would reveal on Amy. Paradoxically I could imagine Victoria being one of those people.

          9. Not that I think Chris would expect to have to deal with Victoria in this situation, considering how Lab Rat’s relations with his sister looked like. I think it is pretty likely that he would have a serious trouble imagining a family bond so strong that it would cause someone (Victoria in this case) to come to the rescue of their family member (Amy) despite this member not only seriously harming the rescuer on the past, but even stating the internet to do so again in the future, as it would be in this case. The fact that as long as Chris knew her Victoria had a real problem even thinking about Amy would probably mislead him even further.

            On that note I wonder how much longer it will take Victoria to honestly admit to herself that whether she wants it or not Marquis is also a member of her family now.

          10. In fact I think that considering how dramatic capes can be, the sisters may end up reconciling with each other not after an honest, emotional talk in calm, controlled conditions, but when one of them will come to the other’s rescue. And after that happens there may even no longer even be any real need to have that talk (though they would probably have it anyway).

    2. I think that Chris should be judged on what Chris did. He isn’t Lab Rat, and shows no signs of being the same kind of awful as Lab Rat. This doesn’t make him innocent or good, it just means that he isn’t forcibly transforming other people as far as we’ve seen. The biggest sticking point for both Victoria and Sveta.

      The lies, the silent abandonment to go play despot, the seeming manipulation, yeah, he should totally be judged for that, that was all Chris.

  10. So….Is it just me, or did Dragon make a big mistake here by giving Victoria this information.
    And did Victoria potentially make a significant mistake by sharing it?

    I guess I mean… as far as I can tell, this information does nothing but hurt the team. It hurts Rain, it hurts Kenzie, it hurts Sveta, it… pisses off Tristan.
    And the next time they meet up with Chris, them having this information IS NOT TO ANYONE’S ADVANTAGE.

    If they met Chris again, and didn’t know, he’d treat them with ambivalence, possibly see them as potential allies, or possibly just people to be ignored. Fine.
    Now that they know this? And if they start spreading it around?
    He is going to treat them like a threat. Enough of a threat that Vicky is now (presumably) his enemy. He might be slightly more forgiving to Kenzie and Rain, but that’s about as far as I can see his interest in the team spreading.

    And tactically, what do they gain?
    Knowledge that the sketchy kid on the team is indeed sketchy, and that he is a tinker rather than a changer.
    So what?

    To be clear, given who Vicky is, and how she operates, I don’t see her ever making a different call in this situation…
    and V is working on less information than we readers (presumably)…
    But Yamada kept Chris in the group for a reason, and she kept these things secret knowingly, and having all this let loose…..
    I don’t think it will be net positive.
    In real life I tend to be fairly allergic to secrecy, but if we have Chris (who IS NOT Labrat, and who has NOT been running experiments on civilians), running on paranoia and survival instinct, then there seems no way this is not going to go very very wrong.

    The Tactical advantage here just doesn’t seem worth it.
    … but of course, if you are Vicky, and have seen the results of Lab rats experimentation… I can see why this is the only choice that could have been made, but still disagree with it.

    1. The information wasn’t given for a “tactical advantage” in a fight.(Though knowing the true nature of someone’s power is one) Yamada wanted it spread so that Victoria would know what she’s dealing with.

      And the fact that you genuinely think Chris would kill them *just for knowing* makes Yamada’s effort even more justified. Having the team remain unaware of a hair-trigger sociopath would only end in disaster.

      1. That is NOT a fucking hair-trigger sociopath.
        Hair-trigger sociopath stabs you in the back for making him angry.
        (Don’t you wish this was hypothetical?)

        This is a cautious sociopath acting to end threats to his existence.

    2. Remember that Dragon prefers to see the best in people, and both wants them, and hopes for them to become the best people they can be. She did it with Colin and with Taylor. She may want to do it with Breakthrough. She probably hopes that Breakthrough will come to understand Chris well enough not to blame him for Lab Rat’s crimes, and to forgive him for his lies.

      It would be the best outcome for everyone – Chris wouldn’t have to lie anymore, and would have people he can trust. It would help a lot with his paranoia, and the way it drives him away from people. The rest of the team could gain his trust and possibly even friendship, now that there are no more secrets standing in the way. All everyone needs to do now is to give each other a benefit of doubt, and just honestly talk through the entire situation. Chris would have to explain his reasons for his actions, and what he really thinks about Lab Rat. The rest of the team would have to explain their feelings about both Lab Rat, and Chris’ own actions, especially his lies.

      It is obviously the best case scenario, but Dragon obviously strives to achieve those, and you could say that she was rather successful with Taylor and Colin, so it’s not impossible that she will succeed here too.

      Worst case scenario – Breakthrough got a critical piece of intel on Chris if they ever need to fight him. Knowing details of someone’s powers, and especially knowing that Lab Rat’s powers can affect other people or that he has an entire bag of tinker’s tricks at his disposal, is not nothing. It can be a decisive factor in conflict, both on and outside of a battlefield. And the moment Chris left with a group of villains for Shin, this conflict become quite likely.

  11. Ahhhhhhh! But Chris ISN’T Lab Rat. He never was in the first place, and his transformations are an intentional ploy to further remove himself from who he was. I don’t know for sure, but his POV gave me the impression that he resented Lab Rat for putting him through all that, and, depending what the Shinese mindless slaves shape up to be, that it gave him greater empathy for the victims of his experiments.
    Ah K rant over

      1. Actually she probably suspects a lot of it already. She certainly sees a distinction between Lab Rat and Cryptid:

        Rain nodded. “And we talked online, whenever I was online. He helped me research clusters and find details on Love Lost, Cradle, and Snag. And he’s a complete and utter monster?”

        “Apparently,” Sveta said.

        “We can’t know one hundred percent,” I said. “He’s apparently an experiment. Not a clone, but a malleable housing for the DNA signature for the agent to hook into, I’d have to reread the notes.”

        All she may need to do is reread those notes, and think a little bit more on what it may mean for Chris’ sense of identity. It may be enough for her to at least consider that he may feel about Lab Rat, and the entire situation the way he does.

    1. I 100% agree. I’ve been really peeved by all the anger and distrust directed at Chris since his interlude – people seem to be conveniently brushing under the rug things that don’t fit into the narrative they want in a very Victoria-esque way. Chris isn’t Lab Rat. In fact, he even says he hates Lab Rat for forcing him to slowly assimilate back into what he once was – that’s the entire point of his interlude and him breaking free of the cycle. Sure, the cycle of memory transfer was only intended to “break” once Chris became “Lab Rat” enough to break it, but who knows where that limitation is? What if it’s just 40% Lab Rat? 60%? Either way, there’s a very sharp distinction between the two of them, and there isn’t even any indication that Chris has the same motivations that Lab Rat did. If anything, Chris is – as you pointed out – using the transformations to become more monstrous specifically because he wants to change as much of himself as possible from his initial “Lab Rat” programming. And on top of that, we don’t actually know Lab Rat’s own motivations for his work – we just know that the way he worked towards his goals was evil. Even 30% difference in individuality between Chris and Lab Rat would be more than enough to make me doubt that they’re the same person with the same motivations, thoughts, and methods. Our two Ashley’s alone have proved how different “clones” can be based on the things they experience alone, let alone the fact that in Chris’ case he had his own personality and mind before ever injecting “Essence of Lab Rat”.

      Is he morally skewed? Sure. He’s out for himself because that’s the only thing that was ever programmed or developed within him. Does that make him inherently evil? Of course not. Just because someone doesn’t work towards the greater good and is selfish does not make them evil. Chris hasn’t done anything so far in this story that justifies this kind of vicious response from the readers, and I’m frankly disappointed in the community for falling into the exact same trap that our protagonist is constantly falling into – prejudice and expectation trumping sound logic.

      1. If you say he’s not labrat, then you get to say “at least he’s not experimenting on other people.” (pretty damn sure he’s not.)

    1. Not really a typo I suppose but ‘thumb on the pulse’ is a tricky turn of phrase. One doesn’t take a pulse with the thumb and a trained emergency responder would know that.

    2. >Tristan asking like he had helped to shortcut things.

      Tristan asking like he had, helped to shortcut things.

      Without the comma, it reads like the entire sentence is all a single dependent clause.

      1. Putting a bogus comma in there doesn’t make it any easier to understand. I would just rephrase it. “Tristan’s question helped to shortcut things.”

  12. Am I the only one that wants Sveta to get an Andalite exoskeleton? 😁
    As I mentioned in a previous post, I think Lookout and Tattletale are the info-gathering dream team. One of the best information gatherers and THE best analytical Thinker.

    1. It seems this primitive comment system is incompatible with thought-speech. I will try again.

      Yes, adopting a quadrupedal form would be very sensible. The superior stability inherent to the Andalite form would be reason enough, but with Rain as the designer, her artificial hooves would almost certainly have fingers, augmenting her Andalite stability with the versatile grip of a primate. Between that and a weaponized arm-tail, she will be quite formidable! Unfortunately, she’ll still be two eyes short of an Andalite. They will need to enlist Kenzie’s help when she calms down. If she calms down. She may need help. Do humans still know how to make cinnamon buns?

  13. Poor fucking Rain. His first real friend turns out to be an experimental offshoot of a dangerous Birdcage inmate that reduces victims to screaming and boiled messes.

    Rain needs a goddamn actual win. Give him a fucking win Wildbow!

    We don’t need him suffering like this!

    1. In my head canon he is winning the Ashley or sveta championship. But Erin will most likely win the Rain championship if she just makes some effort. I expect the boar to surprise us like he did in twig with the Sy championship, Tristan winning would be interesting.

  14. Anyone else notice Lab Rat became his sister? Pick up victims off the street, use them for personal gain, rinse and repeat.

  15. Honestly, I find the development interesting. Less harmonic team up/break ups than in worm, more insights into characters.

    And Sveta is the last one to receive her Interlude, so I guess, it’s either her or Viky herself who is the bomb Yamada feared to happen. I mean come on? Rat Lab is the perfect narrative point to stick it on now. In narrative and outside. And WB wouldn’t be himself if that’s the easy out of the ominous threat that there is.

    1. Tream Breakthrough‘s mix is really a all in Bag:

      – S9 Clone+Roommate, Killers
      – Cauldron Mutated, massmurderer
      – 2 People Fused Power, 50% Narcistic Disorder tried to kill brother
      – Formerly mutated power victim
      – Ex Apocalypse Cultist Killer
      – Kid Genius Psychopath
      – Selfcopy of a Psychopath, massmurderer/Mad Scientist

      Or

      Shaker
      Brute
      Shaker
      Brute
      Cluster Blaster (Tinker)
      Tinker (Stranger)
      Tinker (Changer)

      1. I must say I disagree with both “massmurderer” labels. In Sveta’s case there was no intent to kill a helpless person, and murder implies such intent.

        In Chris’ case, he is not Lab Rat, and as far as I can tell we don’t even know if Lab Rat has ever murdered anybody. He arguably gave plenty of people a fate worse than death, but he may have never murdered anybody. You could argue that Chris murdered one person – Goddess, but considering what she was about to do, you could argue that it was at least in part defense of necessity. Of course this argument doesn’t fully apply considering that Chris’ actions were premeditated – he planned to kill Goddess even before he met Amy.

        Even if we consider this one a murder, it is just one person, which hardly makes Chris a “massmurderer”.

          1. If you torture someone to screaming in agony, and you DON”T kill them?
            Ya might be a psychopath.
            You know, in the real world, where people hack off limbs of children so they can’t escape slavery.

            LabRat, for all the evil he was, wasn’t doing it for a fucking profit.
            So, in short, better than our World!

          2. I’m not saying he wasn’t a psychopath. I’m just saying that I can imagine several other mental conditions, personality disorders and such (like sociopathy, or maybe even an extreme paranoia for example) that can result in similar behavior. I’m not at all qualified (not to mention that we probably don’t have enough information about Lab Rat’s past at this point) to tell which one may apply to Lab Rat, so I’m just saying it may be something else than psychopathy.

    2. Why would Vicky be the bomb when the whole reason she was brought in was to help defuse the bomb that already existed in the group? TBH, I dont think there are any tricks here, I’m pretty sure its just Chris who Yamada was concered about

  16. Thought: the Faery Queen was present at the oil rig fight, right? So she would have likely collected Lab Rat’s shard-ghost.

    Once Valkyrie returns to the City, I think Breakthrough might want to have a meeting with her so that they can talk to one of her ghosts…

    1. That talk could be interesting. Both how it would go, and it’s consequences. And what if Cryptid was to meet this particular shadow one day?

    2. Hmm, do they even know that he died on the rig and that she was there at the time? I don’t think she has him as a shadow. She doesn’t collect every soul and tinker powers are not so useful to her.
      She is also kind of hard to approach and even if it all works out, what would they even talk about? He doesn’t know them, he doesn’t know Chris and the only info they can get is on his past and what Chris is supposed to be, not who he is.

      1. Oh, but once Ciara is back she will bring back Yamada, right? That would be an interesting talk. Breakthrough could reach out through her. Now that Lab Rat shadow looks like a very intriguing plot line indeed.
        But I remain sceptical on both counts, the meeting itself between them and the soul-shard.

        1. Another interesting talk could happen between Yamada and Dragon, and it wouldn’t be a pleasant one for Dragon, considering that the first thing to talk about would be the issue of not only breaking into, but also spreading confidential information on Jessica’s patients, and we all know how big of an issue it is to Jessica.

      2. Sveta (not to mention Weld) was on the rig, so she should know Glaistig Uaine was there. It is anyone’s guess however if she collected Lab Rat. I think there is a good chance that at that point she would collect anyone she could, considering how desperate were things at the time.

        1. Things were desperate for everybody else, because to them it was an apocalyptic fight for survival. To her, it was an argument with her dad in an attempt to secure another ten minutes of playtime before being sent to bed.

          1. Even if that was the case (and I don’t think it was at that point considering how she helped Eidolon reach his full potential then), she probably wasn’t too picky about the souls she ripped then.

  17. I don’t get what exactly their problem is. Yeah, it’s heavy stuff, serious, it’s a problematic topic and emotionally destabilizing for some, but it’s not the lying, hiding and deceiving that they have an issue with, but with his past, history and identity?
    That’s a lot of hypocritical bullshit right there when it comes to this team.
    Rain is murderer, no question about it, even after being a hero. So many innocent people died, so much hurt for the survivors. He “created” 3 new villains. He was a villain. Right, not by choice, cult and all that and he regretted it after and he’s really sorry, it’s what triggered him in the first place. He wanted to go to jail and make amends, but even so he got a slap on the wrist for that… and he is out of jail now.
    Ashley was a villain before too, she is also a murderer and she was a small part of SH9. Our Ashley is just a clone now (which brings whole other set of problems), but she killed after GM too, she also went to jail, she also got out real fast.
    Tristan is (was) borderline psycho and an asshole and he is a hero only on paper. He if could’ve got away with it, Byron would still be “dead”, his own brother. Not even the first time trying to kill each other.
    Sveta has a kill count in the hundreds. She didn’t have control, she was kidnapped, forced to forget herself and forever changed, she was used, discarded, with no will, no choice. The blame is in Cauldron and in the power (her body). But she got help…
    But when it comes to Chris, there is no help, only hate, suddenly you can’t bring yourself to blame it on the power, even a fraction of it, because they all have such a firm grasp on their agents and all is peachy? You can’t blame in on the growing-up environment or the very reason for the trigger and nature of the power, although Rain was way way worse in such situation? You can’t get past the fact that he is not the real Lab Rat, that he suffers because of the real Lab Rat, he doesn’t want to be more like him and he tries to break free by breaking himself? But there are no problems whatsoever with two Damsels?
    Everybody gets a new chance and a clean slate, but apparently not. Let’s not forget that he was in the Birdcage for years, he did help for the end of the world and he is not like he used to be right now. But if these are the reactions, it was indeed better to keep the truth hidden and to distance himself. He was still a part of the team, still had their backs and he tried the hero stuff. He didn’t lie to spy or to hurt or to exploit, he did it to protect himself from enemies and friends alike and he had every right to. Because now that he’s gone it’s all forgotten and they are all against him. I get the feels of betrayal because they didn’t know and didn’t expect it, but let’s get real and put the personal excuses aside. Calm down and see that almost all of you all are actually worse than him before you start judging and hating for no obvious and sensible reason. You are all monsters. (kuddos, K, you are the only true friend).
    Lab Rat shot up to my top 3 favorite characters from the second book and some others fell even lower than before. I hope we see him again soon and that he plays a big role in later arcs. (Imperative 4 ofc)

    1. What can I say? The only big thing I disagree with in this post is how you judge most of the team based on their initial reactions. I’m sure they’ll come around (at least some of them will) once they calm down, and try to see things from Chris’ perspective. And it is not that Chris is entirely off the hook for lieing either. Considering just who’s been in his group he should have told them. It is probably what Yamada wanted him to do, when she created the therapy group in the first place. Hiding his connection to Lab Rat from the public may have been a reasonable step for Chris. Hiding it from those people, who had so much in common with him, who were in such a good position to understand him, was just giving in to his paranoia.

      1. You are mostly right, you can say I’m the same as them (except the powers and problems…). But even if he couldn’t have known their reaction and ultimately chose to hide who he is or was, seeing now how they turn everything about him into something personal when actually it’s not, just rubs me the wrong way.
        Judging, hating and even such sharp reacting based only on screwy emotion and ignorance when every one last of them went through something similar and nobody turned their back on them… Yamada wanted him to open up for his own good and to help himself, but maybe things would’ve turned even uglier like that. There is no way I could see them the same way. I really hope they calm down, see the thing from his point of view and try to help him. But they “grieve” and “mourn” him already.

    2. 1. They can’t be certain he was ever on the level or really their friend. He lied about everything even after they all put themselves out there. The information the team was given was very sparse, focusing on the worst parts, so it’s only natural that there minds would go to worst case scenarios.

      2. When Rain revealed he was Fallen there were similar reactions and they came around to him. You act like people’s initial responses are the only ones they’re allowed to have. People need time to process and ask questions, like they did with Rain. Chris never gave them the option and we’re only getting about 0-30 minutes after the reveal for everyone but Victoria.

      3. They probably don’t think of themselves as mass murderers anymore. They’re people who used to do bad things, but are trying to be heroes and help people. Chris is someone who is currently doing bad things, like trying to take over a planet, and they didn’t know why. Also, you’re ignoring that they want to on some level make amends for their actions while Chris is still working hard to justify his. Not Lab Rat’s actions, but his own lies and misdeeds.

      4. The slate also wasn’t cleaned as far as I can tell, it was set aside to be ignored until someone had reason to use it against you. That was brought up with Fume Hood (in the attack on the community center), Tristan (note how his brother is the only person from his past who has actually forgiven him and the rest of his family just tolerates him for Byron’s sake), and Victoria (she works to try and not be a Brute, was blamed for not being able to save her family from an Endbringer during the TV interview, etc.) There is no Get Out Of Jail Free Card, there is always someone who will use your past against you, and Chris has given them a lot of reasons to do so.

      1. 1. They can’t be certain, so the first thing they do is lash out and condemn him. Yes, he lied, but now they know who he was and that is the reason itself he lied. Like they can’t imagine why he would hide his identity… The information they have is mostly about his past. They judge him based on that. They know they don’t have all the info, they even know he is just a copy and not the original. They don’t just go to the worst possibilities, they accept them as clear facts and see him as the same monster the real Lab Rat once was.

        2. Rain’s reception was not like that at all. First of all, Yamada was still there, there was therapy, control, things were slow, they were all new to the team which wasn’t a sure thing at the time at all. They didn’t find out out of nothing either, there was easing into it, Tristan already knew and they talked about it little by little. He was a victim and they all saw him as victim. There was a clear enemy and a way to help.

        3. What they think or not think doesn’t change the facts, but they are perfectly fine to bombard him with the same kind of facts. Chris left the team without warning and explanation. How is this a “bad” thing as a whole? Because he went the same direction with some known villains? They all went to see, talk, make deals and even help known villains. The lines between hero and villain are muddier that ever. Did he actually commit a crime? And they didn’t? They just take it personal for a lot of reasons, but was it really gonna be so much better if they found out before the whole Goddess thing? Seeing how they react and their reasons, it’s a good thing he is not close.

        4. Actually Chris tried to avoid doing exactly that, to give them any reasons or information. He didn’t want his past known and he was trying to get away from it himself. If he decides it’s better for him to be incognito, he is in his right. He wasn’t a criminal anymore, he didn’t hide from the law, he hid from the world. The rest of team feel and think he is an unforgivable madman, the devil himself, not because what he is doing now, but because what he has done before. And that wasn’t even Chris, but Lab Rat.

        But the whole point here is that I’m not defending Chris, I’m just saying how disappointed I am of the rest of them, even if it’s just an initial emotional response and they may actually calm down, think about it and change their views and opinions. It still is the most hypocritical and low reaction they could show.

    3. Eeeeeeehhhhh, idk if saying the rest if the team was worse than lab rat is really fair. Yes they’ve all done shitty things but I think it’s worth noting that they’re all younger than twenty. Tristan Victoria and rain are genuinely remorseful for what they did in their pasts, and that doesn’t make it better, Tristan and rain are literally killers/would be killers, but they did these things as teenagers and have already seen they were wrong and are trying to better themselves. Lab rat spent at least 10+ years as an adult deliberately ruining people’s lives right? I’d say lab rat was worse than anyone on breakthrough ever has been, the only one with a higher body count than him is sveta and she really had zero control over that whatsoever. Plus while it is debatable if Chris should really be held responsible for Lab Rat’s actions, it’s notable that chris doesn’t really seem bothered by the horrible things his predecessor did to other people, he wants to escape his past life and be his own person but he still doesn’t seem that offput by the whole ‘tortured and murdered dozens of people’ thing. Plus there’s that business with offering to give victoria to Amy, presumably against her will… Idk I like Chris and I don’t think he’s beyond redemption but I do think breakthrough’s reactions are pretty fair.

      1. > I think it’s worth noting that they’re all younger than twenty.

        While I don’t think it does anything to undermine your argument, I think it’s worth noting that the issue of Breakthrough members ages us a little more complicated. I wrote about it a little more underneath the Chris interlude, but in short Chris, Ashley, Victoria, and possibly Sveta can all count as over or under twenty, depending how you count it:
        – Chris has a two year old body that looks like teenager’s, and has memories of a person who was around thirty the moment they died in his head,
        – The original Ashley was a little above twenty, when she died, so both surviving Ashleys have effectively memories of twenty-something olds, but their bodies are two to four year old, depending if you count from the beginning of the cloning process, or from the moment they were finally released from their vats,
        – Victoria lived for twenty one years, and it is reflected in her memories, but her body has been apparently de-aged to the point where it looks and supposedly functions as if it was nineteen,
        – We don’t really know how long ago Sveta was born, it could have been over twenty years ago; consequently we also don’t know how old those glimpses of her old world she apparently sees sometimes may be; we don’t even know exactly how long ago Cauldron wiped her memories, and released her in Russia, though I think it is safe to assume it was much less than twenty years ago.

  18. Looks like Victoria didn’t drive Sveta and Rain back to headquarters:

    I’d ridden with the others in an effort to stay connected and keep a thumb on the pulse of the group. Going from a dark car with only the light of headlights on the road ahead of us to our headquarters, where the light felt insufficient left me feeling like I was underwater and the surface was a ways off.

    Of the group that was in the police station in the last chapter only she, Tristan and probably Byron have a driving license. Rain is too young, and Sveta had no means to drive a car until she got her body, and I doubt any examiner would let her do it now. Tristan was in no shape to drive, and if Byron would, he and everyone else wouldn’t get back from the hospital by taxi.

    It is probably good that they don’t even try to drive after those exhausting couple of days. Victoria and Tristan (and possibly Byron) are likely still terrible drivers even on a good day. They certainly were in chapter 7.3:

    “Thanks, Chris,” Tristan said, sarcastic. Traffic started moving again. He started the van moving again, then made another abrupt stop. My head smacked back against the headrest.

    “How do you not know how to drive?” Chris asked.

    “I know how to drive, Chris. I got my license before the raid on the Fallen, in case we needed to drive a bus or something. I needed something to do when I wasn’t at the hideout.”

    […]

    I offered my own input, “I can fly, so it was never a priority. I can drive, I had my license, but the only practice I really got in the last four or five years was driving the Patrol buses from parking space to parking space so we could shovel the whole lot. Tristan is a better driver than I am.”

    and they didn’t have much chance to practice since then. At least Victoria did not, Capricorn drives Kenzie’s van from time to tome if I remember correctly, though I don’t remember if it is always Tristan, or both of the brothers.

    On that topic Victoria’s driving license is probably dangerously unused. People like her remind me why I think it is a good idea to just give every person, or at least every adult a cheep, state issued, secure ID document with a photo, instead of forcing them to make a driving license if they want to get such document (like almost every country in the world other than United States do). One would have thought, that with all of those capes who either can’t or don’t need to drive a car, someone on Earth Bet would get a hint… Not that it isn’t a problem in our world with people who don’t need a car to move around on daily basis, cant afford one, or are too disabled to drive.

    Still, Victoria should probably think about taking some remedial driving lessons if things ever quiet down. She’s probably more dangerous as she is now than she would be if she didn’t have her license at all, because she may feel tempted to drive in emergency situation, and especially in such situation (and accompanying agitation) she probably shouldn’t.

    On a possibly related note I wonder if Kenzie’s van is still next to the place where Navigators were attacked. Quite possible if it was damaged in the ambush on the investigators, or if both Byron and Ashley don’t have driving licenses. If the van is in good shape and Ashley does have a license, but Byron doesn’t, or if both of them don’t, but someone from outside the team agreed to drive the van from the crime scene back home than the van may still be parked around the police station we saw in last chapter, or still “home” if Tristan had enough common sense not to drive with a fresh wound.

    1. People like her remind me why I think it is a good idea to just give every person, or at least every adult a cheep, state issued, secure ID document with a photo, instead of forcing them to make a driving license if they want to get such document (like almost every country in the world other than United States do).

      FYI, the United States does do this. The cost varies a bit depending on the individual state; I just looked up half a dozen and saw everything from $12 to $40. Where it gets harder is if you’re homeless, since the state generally requires some kind of proof of residence. But for normal people who just don’t drive? Getting ID is a non-issue.

      1. This is new to me, I was under impression that in US you generally have a choice between a poorly secured card with social security number, the passport and the driving licence? Was I wrong, or has something changed in recent years?

        Either way it is only more reason to NOT get a driving licence, if you don’t plan to keep the skills necessary to be a safe driver, the way Victoria didn’t do it.

        1. Also, what this ID really give you, is it (when used alone) a sufficient proof of identity in any public institution in the country, and in private institutions like banks? If it is not, then it is not much of an ID.

          1. Ok, I just read some Wikipedia articles on identity documents, especially in the US, and if what’s written there is correct, I’ve got just two things to say:
            1. You are at least technically correct about the ID cards,
            2. Boy soes this look like a legal mess with recent law changes, and unnecessary duplication of work and documents on state and national level, especially after introduction of passport cards; when I see things like this I’m really glad I live in Poland.

            Looks like I can learn most surprising things in this comment section.

          2. Sorry if it sounds like I’m complaining about US again, but I’ve been thinking about what I read about state issued ID cards, and I think may have found a possible problem with them. Since they are issued by DMVs instead of driving licences to people who for whatever reason have no right to drive, doesn’t it mean that using such ID card automatically brands you as someone who either can’t learn to drive, or can’t afford to get a car? Can one person hold both state-issued ID card and a driving license at the same time?

            Once again I’m not trying to criticize US system here, I’m just trying to figure out how it works in practice, and what its potential issues can be. I’m also not trying to say that Polish system is superior in every way, or free of controversy, since it clearly isn’t.

            It always bugged me for example that getting your ID card in Poland is mandatory when you turn eighteen (though carrying it with you is fortunately not), and for men it is tied to undergoing a mandatory health verification process to validate their ability as potential conscripts. If you add to it that in Poland you still need to inform the state about any changes of your permanent place of residence, and any long-term temporary residence you may have (like an address of a dorm you may live in as a student), and you get a rather frightening vision af a state that can potentially draft any adult man at any moment. Not as bad as it was during the cold war, but still.

            On the other hand what is a middle-sized country bordering Russia (and Germany, if we think a few decades back) supposed to do? At least having to provide an address of your residence means that most people don’t need to go through any voter registration process, or bring anything then their usual ID card to vote in Poland (though it can still be a little more complicated than that if you expect to travel outside the usual place of your residence on the day of vote, and it may be impossible to vote if you can’t predict such trip in advance).

          3. From what I’ve seen, it seems like we’re only allowed to have one state ID, whether driver’s or non-driver’s. That’s the case where I live, anyway. If I switched from one kind to the other, I’d be required to surrender the old one.

            Since I have a normal driver’s license, I don’t have any experience with the stigma situation (or hopefully lack thereof). I doubt it’s much of an issue in practice, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people tend to feel self conscious about it at first. Particularly people who had a license that was taken away.

  19. I really loved the SPINE acronym. It felt like Wildbow was literally telling us his tips on how to write a good reveal scene in a novel. Which, are often botched.

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