Interlude – 11.a

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“Ahahahaha,” she fake-laughed.  “My sides!  Oh wait.”

“You need new material, ‘Piece.”

“If I didn’t repeat myself once in a while, I wouldn’t get to hear your dulcet tones telling me how unfunny I am.”

“Ha ha.”

They hiked through the snow and underbrush so thick that it was oftentimes easier to walk on, instead of walking through.

Sidepiece reached out for D.J.’s arm, gripping the forearm, ducked under a branch, and then stepped down to lower ground.

Thirty feet away, he was using a stick to prop himself up.  He only had the one hand, but he could lean heavily on the stick for added balance.  He spared her a glance, withdrew his arm, rotated the forearm, and then flung it out instead of teleporting it.

The hand gripped a branch, and the forearm stuck out at a convenient height and angle for her to grip.

“Masks or no?” D.J. asked.

“Sure.  Can’t hurt.”

“We’re going to be near people.”

“We’ll be lurking in the trees like creeps.  We might as well wear masks.”

“Uh huh.”

She put on her mask, a new one that had been provided by Love Lost.  It was in the shape of a skull, but limited to a cut that only covered the middle third of her face.  The mask attached with glue and stayed stuck where it was.  A mouth portion covered the portion of her face between lips and chin.  The teeth of the mask were modified, as were the shapes of the eye sockets, but it worked.

Damsel had fucked up and bailed when it mattered, but she’d had other things on point.  Sidepiece had a compact filled with black grease paint.  With her thumbs, she applied it to upper and lower lids, with a little curl up at the edges, like exaggerated eyelashes.  Nothing so delicate as Damsel had been, but Sidepiece didn’t consider herself delicate.

D.J. had a similar mask, but it was limited to the lower half of his face, broken into two parts, which he exaggerated by breaking his head into two parts, the upper half suspended over the lower.  He had his own greasepaint, white to contrast with his black skin.  He used his one hand to draw horizontal lines and highlight other gaps he created with his power.

She gave him a thumbs up, smiling.

The lights of civilization glowed beyond the trees, but the footing didn’t get any easier to manage.  The divide between pain-in-the-taint nature and snow-covered concrete was a harsh one, with bushes and piled-up branches standing high enough that she could stand three feet above solid ground with parking lot two paces in front of her.

D.J.’s hand once again provided a hand-hold as she navigated the wood underfoot.  She settled in, leaning against a tree, and tapped on his wrist with one finger.  “Let go for me.”

He let go.  She retained her grip on his arm, cradling his arm in hers.

“I want you to know you’re a proper fucking gentleman, ‘Joint.  It warms a lady’s heart.”

She punctuated the statement by taking his hand and laying it down flat against her chest, where her coat didn’t cover her.

“That’s not your heart, ‘Piece.”

“Is so.”

“I’m not complaining,” he said.  “Not about that.  Keeps my hand warm.”

She laid her hand down over top of his, sandwiching it there, and then pulled her coat around, to cover both of their hands.

“I don’t want to tell you to stop, but can you keep it where I can see it?” he asked.  “I might need it.”

“I’ve got us covered,” she said.  She used her free hand to move her jacket, which was open, showing off her midsection.  There was enough missing that she’d been able to position two holsters so they were strapped around her spine and each other, the guns angled so she could reach down and draw one.  Even when her coat was pulled tight around her body, the matched pistols wouldn’t show.

“Come on,” he said.

“If there’s trouble, I’ll give you back your arm.  Yeah?”

“Fine.”

Considering, she shifted the coat, buckling it at the top, still allowing for both of their arms and hands to be inside the coat, and left the lower half unbuckled, her midsection and the two pistols exposed and in reach.

“This shit is risky,” Disjoint said.

“Aw, buddy.  Are you scared?”

“Aren’t you?” he retorted.

“Nah.  I’m mostly worried we hiked this way for nothing.  What are the odds that they see us in a car while driving here?  If they even show up?  It’s so fuggin’ stupid.  If I’m scared of fucking anything I’m scared of being set up to do fucking stupid things for no fucking good reason.”

“Love hasn’t wronged us once.  She’s smart.”

“Isn’t smarts,” Sidepiece said.  “Smarts is what you learn from a book or teacher.  Street smarts from a street teacher.”

“You don’t need to lecture me about street smarts.”

“I’m more street than you, anyway, I don’t think that’s what she’s about.  She used to be law, before she was lawless.  She’s got a good eye for things, and that’s where she shines, ‘Joint.”

“A good eye even when she’s not looking, which makes me worry.”

“She’s looking.  She’s not telling us about all of it, but she’s looking.  What we’re doing right now?  It’s so she can look.  We’re trustworthy eyes.”

“Uh huh.  Trustworthy.”

“Mostly trustworthy.  But a week ago I saw her talk to this skank, woman was making booze in her bathtub and definitely not using the bathtub for its usual purposes.  She was hanging around Love’s turf, trying to pawn off her bathtub booze, scaring off anyone who had a sense of smell.  Right?”

“Uh huh.”

“Most people would tell the skank queen of stank to take a hike.  Love turned her into an asset.  She still hangs around, she still pawns, but the product’s a bit better, the skank showers once a week now, and she reports in.  Things she’s heard.  Things she’s seen.”

“That’s usually the way it works.”

“Nuh uh.  I’ve known people who ran a neighborhood, expected people to tell them if there was any news, but didn’t care otherwise.  My family was like that.  I’ve known people who ran their blocks like a business, with rules like how you take fifty percent of what you get and reinvest it back into the business.  I’ve even known ones who paid people for information.  But the goal was profit.  Maximizing money in their pockets at the end of the day.”

“She’s different?”

“Her goal is information, ‘Joint.  If you look for it, you’ll see it.  But she’s willing to break even on the business side of things to buy unreliable information.  She’d be willing to send us on a wild goose chase that could go nowhere, and that bothers me.”

Disjoint shook his head.  “You’re off.”

“I think she would, and if she will, that means we’re lower in her eyes.  There’s a class system here, like castes in India or whatever, and stank skank with the bathtub booze is bottom tier.  I don’t want to be at the mothersucking stank skank level.  If this is a shit job then it means she’s not all that and it means I’m not all that to her.”

“Not what I’m saying.  I don’t agree about the information part.”

Really?  You’ve got to pay attention and look, D.J..  See what she’s fucking organizing.”

“I’m looking.  Not always at the same things you are, but I’m looking.  I see the people she’s putting in place, but I don’t think the point is information.  The point is emotional.  She knows that information gets her what she wants.”

Sidepiece considered, then shrugged.  She wasn’t sure he could see her in the gloom, but his hand was in place to feel the shrug.  She smiled at the thought, and spoke through the smile.  “Revenge.”

“Hate and rage.  Revenge means there’s something that can be done and once it’s done then that’s the end of it.  I guarantee you, ‘Piece, she’s going to get what she wants and those emotions she’s feeling won’t change a bit.”

Sidepiece felt uncomfortable, hearing that and kind of agreeing with it.  The playful smile dropped away, and she found herself staring out across the dark parking lot.  There were only six cars in a lot that could have held a hundred, and it wasn’t because the mall was closed- the lights were on, signs lit, and store interiors illuminated.

“She’s still classy as shit,” she decided.

“She is.”

“And pure sex.  If she gave me a clear signal, I’d go to town and I’m only a bit into women.”

He drew in a deep breath, then like a robot, recited the practiced line, “I decline to comment on the grounds that it would self-incriminate.”

“Baby,” she cooed.  She stumbled along the heaped branches and rocks to get close enough, and he caught her, the hand at her front going rigid and providing some of the leverage to keep her from falling.  She leaned hard into the hand and reached up to touch his face.  “There’s no criminating here.  No discrimination, no incrimination, no cremation.  You’re safe from me.”

She felt his hand at her chest move reflexively at the line.

She’d never known a guy like Disjoint, and she had known a lot of guys.  When she had been fourteen she’d dated sixteen year olds.  They’d wanted one thing.  That hadn’t changed when she’d been sixteen and dating eighteen year olds.

It might have continued as a pattern, except shit had gone down when she was eighteen, and she hadn’t come away in one piece.  It had taken her a while to try again.  When she had, she’d been twenty, offering herself to thirty year olds to see if they’d bite.  Some bit.

She hadn’t realized what she’d been looking for until she stumbled into it.  A guy her age, who’d been hurt when she’d been hurt.  She could offer him the sort of thing that other guys wanted, and he liked it, but it wasn’t why he stuck by her.

No.  It was fucked up, but he stuck by her because he liked it when she was nice to him.  It revved his engines and it made him happy in a day to day way.

She wasn’t good at being nice.

“Headlights.”

She saw.  Across the parking lot, vehicles were convening.

“I brought binoculars if you want ’em,” D.J. said.

“I trust you.”

D.J. brought his hand to his face, two fingers at each eye.  He pulled his hand away, and his eyes were each between two fingers.  His own eye sockets were black pits, rimmed with red flesh and the horizontal ‘blindfold’ of white grease paint that he’d applied.

He stuck that hand out in the direction of the headlights.  The eyes fritzed like a bad video tape, then disappeared.

“Breakthrough,” he said.  “Some of them.  No Damsel.  Nobody else.  I’m going to have to put my ears over there to catch what they’re saying.”

“I’ve got you.”

She drew closer to him, supporting him with her body.  He reached up to remove his ears, which was a little more involved than simply removing the exterior portion, then he cast them out as he had the eyeballs.

When he did this, he was blind and deaf, but he also lacked balance.  Sending eyes or ears one at a time while keeping one close by only served to further disorient him, and the eyeballs didn’t come with eyelids, so he couldn’t close his eyes to filter what he was seeing.

This was the dangerous part.  If the ‘heroes’ realized they were being watched, they could retaliate.  If it came to that, D.J. would have to bring back his eyes and ears, and they would have to scram.  A fighting retreat, against people who could fly, do the retractable doll-limb thing, and that shit with the silver blades that had killed Snag from Love’s cluster.

She’d told herself a long time ago she would face danger with a smile.  As her heart beat faster, she told herself it was excitement.  This shit was neat.

She rose up on her tiptoes and kissed his mouth.

He broke the kiss, muttering, “Keep an eye out.”

“I will,” she said, before tracing the letters on his stomach, spelling out what she was saying.

There were more headlights.

Another car, beat from bumper to bumper.  It parked in an empty spot at the edge of the trees, as far away from the mall’s door as was possible.  It put the driver fifty or so feet away from Sidepiece and Disjoint.

An employee of the mall.

Sidepiece drew D.J. in for another kiss.

“You’re distract-” he started.  Her finger on his lips silenced him.

She maintained the kiss while the person walked by, apparently choosing a course where the snow and ice wasn’t as pronounced, which meant walking beneath the overhanging branches of trees, and walking within ten feet of the pair.

Sidepiece watched with one eye, hoping that if the person did see, they’d think it was two people having a ‘snog’, as she’d heard characters in a tv show say.  The masks were a drawback when it came to camouflage, but she could hide some of that with her hand up by D.J.’s face.

“Hello!?” the person called out.

She sighed into D.J.’s face as she broke the kiss.

She looked at the employee, someone wearing an orange shirt with a big blue button featuring a cartoon computer chip with eyes, mouth, arms and legs.  She’d seen it on television.

D.J., too, was looking in the employee’s direction.  An androgyne figure, short-haired and cute despite having lines around the eyes suggesting they were closer to thirty than twenty.

And very wide-eyed, seeing a man without eyes and with cavities instead of ears standing at the wood’s edge.

Sidepiece turned, giving the employee a view of her midsection.  She started to draw her gun, and the person bolted.

She reached past the gun and up into her ribs, digging for the liver and digging into the liver.  Pointed fingernails helped her to sever the connective tissue, and to get her fingernails in and around just enough that she could get a grip on it.  When she tore it out, she felt the damage to nearby parts that were still connected by tatters and webbings of tissue.

A second later, the wounds were puckering up, the liver drawing into itself to close up the damage, hardening around where the damage was worst.

With a practiced throwing motion, she cast the gallbladder out and over the employee’s head.

It exploded outward without much noise, but with a visible puff of smoke and a spray of fluid, with a volume far exceeding what the tiny organ should have held within it spreading out over pavement and ice.

That D.J. didn’t seem to notice suggested it was quiet enough that Breakthrough hadn’t heard.

The person stopped running before she ran into the caustic acid.  They looked back to see what was happening, and Sidepiece aimed a pistol at them.

“Listen carefully,” Sidepiece said.  “That acid’s nothing compared to what I can do to you if I hurl something bigger at you.  And I will.  I’ll throw something at you that will make you a greasy smear.  The only way you live is if you listen.  Nod if you understand.”

The person nodded.

“Take your phone out, drop it.”

The electronics employee did as instructed, pulling the phone from an inner coat pocket.  The phone bounced instead of breaking.  A protective case.

“Kick it into the acid there.”

“Please.”

“Now.”

The person kicked, but the traction of the case was enough that it barely traveled.

“Don’t be fucking stupid,” Sidepiece warned.

“I tried- I’ll…”

It took two more kicks to get it into the puddle.

“You’re going to reach into your car and move very slowly.  You’re going to drop the keys.  You can kick them under the car.  I’m being real fucking nice, because the alternative is to destroy your keys and leave you without your car.”

The person obeyed.

“You’re going to sit.  All lights and engine off.  You put your hands on the dash, and you don’t move until we give the say-so.”

Sidepiece made sure the employee obeyed.

“If you have to piss, piss yourself.  You don’t move a muscle.”

It was another few minutes and another six cars -the new ones parking much closer to the mall- before any cars joined the cluster that were parked in the corner of the lot.

“It’s the Undersiders,” D.J. reported.  “Bunch of kids ran off.  Going shopping I guess.  Adults stayed to talk.”

“Figured,” Sidepiece murmured.

“It’s a meeting about fire… the Undersiders set a fire to burn intel.  Hm.”

Sidepiece waited.

“Tattletale wants to protect sources.  Antares is threatening to leak intel.”

“Sounds like Love’s thing,” Sidepiece murmured.

“They’re sharing info.  Love Lost is going to love this.”

Love Lost screamed.  The scream hit Nailbiter and several members of the Patrol.  That it hit Nailbiter didn’t really matter.  Nails was filled with piss, vinegar, and rabies, and having the dial set to ten on ‘rage’ didn’t change a lot.  It made her more intense, aggressive, and focused, and far less likely to choose any option that wasn’t ‘fight more’.  It did the same to her enemies, but they weren’t going to win that fucking fight.

When they’d reported the meeting over, Sidepiece had messaged Love Lost.  The response had been an address.  This intersection.

No elaboration.  If she’d known it would be a fight like this, she would have hurried.

Sidepiece adjusted her coat, pulling it open so the buckles came undone.  She ran toward the thickest part of the fighting, raising her voice to a harsh pitch, “Give me the word!”

“Get ’em!” Nailbiter shouted.

“That’s two words!”

Nailbiter’s fingers elongated, narrowing into rigid, sharp lengths, which scuffed the road near Sidepiece’s feet.  Sidepiece cackled.

A patrol soldier whipped around, gun raised, and kept spinning, as Disjoint’s hand gripped him and shoved him.  A judo move at long range.  The guy stumbled into another soldier’s way, nearly getting shot.

Sidepiece reached into her coat and reached for another organ, her fingers sliding on slick tissue and the fluids that periodically dripped down from the upper half of her torso to the bottom.  Her kidney- not her right kidney.  That one was still growing back.  Her left kidney was ripe, and the faint, sharp pains told her it was loaded.

The sharp pains became something pronounced as she gripped the kidney and set to tearing it away.  There was a sound like wet cardboard ripping, audible snapping as the congealed and hardened parts around old injuries broke away.  Her right knee trembled with the effort and the pain, to the point she almost fell to the street, but then the last attachments broke, and she had her kidney in hand.

She even gave it a brief shake for good measure, feeling the reactions stirring within, like the fluids within the kidney were coming to a boil, the bubbles pushing out through the solid matter.

“Run!” someone gave the order.  A captain, who twisted around and aimed to open fire with their assault rifle.  Disjoint fucked with their aim.

They were already running, but they were running on a battlefield obstructed by their rage-filled allies, with parked vehicles here and there, and all of the other normal obstacles of a sidewalk, like mailboxes, trash cans, and trees.  Those things funneled them.

It was a question of waiting until they were caught, then aiming for the concentrated mass, favoring the side with captain that had just tried to shoot her.  Aiming wasn’t a guarantee, but her throwing arm was well practiced.

She lobbed it, and her timing was perfect, because it went off while over the heads of the crowd.  On any ordinary day, the kidneys produced a chemical blast, concussive, congealed, and activated- like napalm with something more noxious instead of fire.

That was on an ordinary day.  Her kidneys were packed with kidney stones, which would have better been described as sea urchins that chose to dwell in the kidneys.

Her power translated that quality into a kind of aggressive shrapnel.  Ten people were cut down.  Three of them hadn’t even been in the radius of the initial detonation.

Even on an ordinary day, most of her organs had another effect.  The blood they shed and the bits of flesh they carved out were activated, much like her kidney had been.

A smattering of smaller explosions followed the first detonation.  Where blood had sprayed, it ignited, burning like oil that had been touched with a lighter, brief but hot enough to hurt.

“You assholes are a mess!” she cried out.

“No,” Disjoint said.  “You’re hurting us more than them if you say it.”

“You need to get organ-ized!”

Muscle came away in strips.  Pulling at the stomach muscle near the spine made her thigh tremble.  She flicked the strip out in the direction of a pair of people who were finding their feet.  The explosion was smaller, localized, and put them down.  Muscle was clean- too concussive to tear away chunks and cause a chain reaction.

Nailbiter swatted at the stragglers, sending them sprawling.  Sidepiece quickly pulled away another segment of muscle, nearly losing her footing as nerves got to her, and then flung it out, as best as she could.  Straight into the mass.

“Can’t stomach what I’m dishing out?” she asked.

Stop, please, mercy,” Disjoint cried out, from the distant rear of the fracas.

She smirked.

Three more patrol soldiers remained.  They looked like leadership, and two of them had riot shields.  Nailbiter was playing with her food now that the rage had subsided.  A prod here, a poke, trying to get over, under, and force a continual retreat that put the patrol leaders further from their fallen friends.

Nail-fingers and feet that had been sharpened down into singular points stabbed the ground near the fallen, but by careful positioning or sheer luck, Nailbiter didn’t stab anyone who was lying on icy pavement.

She tugged out a knob of fat, from between organ structures.  Fat burned like blood did.

With index finger and thumb, and a bit of the enhanced strength that her hands and forearms had, to help with the tearing, and throwing, Sidepiece flicked the glob of fat.

The fat made a sharp sound and splatted out into a thin slime, which promptly ignited.  One plexiglass riot shield was on fire now.

She kept one eye out for D.J.’s hands.  She counted both wrestling with the commander’s own hand and foot, a targeted attack that was aimed at the one person without the riot shield.  It served to separate him from the others, which exposed him to Nailbiter.

But Disjoint was occupied, which meant he couldn’t do much as one of the men with the riot shields raised his rifle, aiming it around the shield.  Sidepiece had to run for it, hurling herself to the ground.  There wasn’t much cover there, she was a sitting duck, and she knew she made a better target than some, given her proportions.

But she was near some of the wounded patrol officers, and the man with the rifle wasn’t willing to risk hitting them.

She hadn’t even seen Love Lost start moving, but she saw the middle and end of the movement- a shape along the wall, hair and dress flapping, claws sparking as they hit stone and brick, and then the plunging descent, feet planted squarely on the captain’s shoulders, driving him to the ground.

She leaped forward from there, and her claws scraped the plexiglass riot shields as she slipped between them.

Without turning around, she reached back to scratch both men.  Ragged cuts- one at the side of the leg, the other from thigh to armpit.

Love Lost panted as she turned around, surveying the fallen, her mask dangling with one side attached at the right side of her jaw, the other unclasped.  The pants weren’t normal ones, either- there was a note of something in them.

Almost a whimper, or the pained intake of breath between screams, except the screams had been a minute or two ago, not a second ago.

With the attachment of the mask, she composed herself in posture, straightening to her full height.  Her claws ran through hair, a stroke of the back of the hand smoothed out the dress.

The look in her eyes took longer.  Wild, almost crazed.

Then calmer.  A perpetual glare.

“Would it make your evening better to know we got some really fucking good intel?” Sidepiece asked.

Love Lost pointed a claw at one of the guns that lay on the ground.  She held up a finger.

“That first.  Got it.”

Sidepiece bent down to grab some of the guns off of the men.  Seeing Nailbiter extend an index finger, threading through multiple rifles by the trigger guards, Sidepiece picked up an assault rifle and flung it into the air.

Nailbiter stabbed out with two fingers.  She caught the gun between them, like she was holding it with chopsticks.

“Don’t be a pain,” Nailbiter said.

Sidepiece winked.

Nailbiter’s index shortened until it could pass through the trigger guard, and then the two elongated ‘chopstick’ fingers withdrew.

“We should call for an ambulance,” D.J. said.  “I’m not sure if you all killed any.”

Love Lost made a motion with one hand, claws glinting where they were mounted on her fingers.

“Calling,” D.J. reported, hesitating as he turned to the others, “what do you think?  Three ambulances?”

“More than that,” Sidepiece replied.  “What happened?”

“They came after us.  We came back at them harder,” Nailbiter said.

“Good thing D.J. and I showed up when we did,” Sidepiece said.

Nailbiter gave her a look.

It wasn’t that Nailbiter disliked her or she disliked Nailbiter, but Nailbiter was a veteran.  Almost a decade under her belt, being a villain.  That shit hardened a woman.  Nailbiter wasn’t one to relax, play around or laugh at jokes until she’d had drinks.

By contrast, D.J. wasn’t hardened enough.  He was here because she was here and if pushed he sometimes collapsed.  He was figuring her out and she was figuring him out.  They made a good team, because she could deal with numbers and he could trip up any one enemy.  But even this shit with gunfire, or shit like the Fallen, it wasn’t as big as some of the shit they could end up getting stuck in.  She wasn’t absolutely sure he was fucked enough in the head to have her back when it counted.

She missed Damsel.  Damsel had been willing to let the facade crack to fucking smile now and then.  Sidepiece had started to think it was all an act, part of the undercover op, but during the interrogation in the shed, she’d still seen those small smiles.

Shit like that fueled Sidepiece.  It was rare she could meet someone and feel like she could take on the world with them at her side.

She kept picking up guns.

She wasn’t done with Damsel, she decided.  If the princess wanted to act proper and heroic, then Sidepiece would find a way to drag her into the muck.  There was a kind of romance in the mental picture of the two of them too beat up to move, bloody and dirty, and the facades cracking.  Emotion pouring out.

There was a romance to the scene, but a purely platonic intent, she decided.   Damsel’s ass was far too skinny for Sidepiece’s tastes.

Speaking of.  They had a report to make.

“How did you know that Tattletale wouldn’t pick up on us?” Sidepiece asked.

Love Lost looked over one shoulder, peering through red hair at Sidepiece.  The hair had been dyed at one point, when Love Lost had been doing covert missions and had sought something more subtle, and it still lacked its brighter tones as some of the dye was still there.  Blood red, if anything.

Love Lost’s claw moved, tapping out something in the air.  She slashed it to one side, as if it was a kind of punctuation.

Sidepiece’s phone blared with the refrain from an angst pop song as the message came in, “Follow you, follow you, into the rage…”

Other phones went off simultaneously, throughout the group.

Love Lost (is the muthafuckin baws):
SURVEILLANCE.  HER HEAD IS BOWED AND POSTURE STOOPED IF HER POWER IS EXHAUSTED

“Thinker headaches,” Nailbiter said.

Love Lost nodded, slightly shrugging one shoulder, still walking at the head of the pack, still without looking back.

“What’s that?” Sidepiece asked.

“If a person with brainy powers uses her powers too much…” Nailbiter hissed the words, lisping the ‘s’s.  “Suffers for it.  Saw it in the Birdcage.  Thinkers can’t get the privacy to hide when they’re hurting, and can’t not use their powers, when they need to hold their own.”

“A weak point,” D.J. said.

Love Lost’s claw moved.

“Follow you, follow you, into the rage…”  The phones rang.

Love Lost (is the muthafuckin baws):
SHE WILL FAKE IT TO FEINT WHEN SHE REALIZES WE KNOW
FOR NOW WE TIME OUR MOVES

“We weren’t in that much danger, then, surveilling?”

Love Lost made a so-so gesture.  Her claws tapped at the air, poking at an invisible keyboard.

“Follow you, follow you, into the rage…” the phone’s ring tone sounded.

“Put that on vibrate,” Disjoint said.

Sidepiece snorted.

Love Lost (is the muthafuckin baws):
CAMERA TINKER A DANGER
WHAT IS NEW INTEL?

“Camera tinker wasn’t moving around much, or using much tech,” Sidepiece said.

Disjoint elaborated, “Half of what they were talking about was smoothing things over between some of the kids.  Either fighting or getting along too well.  Chicken Little and Lookout.”

“Look out, the sky is falling,” Sidepiece said.

Love Lost’s expression had changed.  It always did when kids were involved.  She even changed her attitude when it came to Colt.

“They talked about where the major players are, and who’s involved.  They have a good guess about the attacks that took the Navigators and some of the Advance Globs out, thanks to Tattletale.”

Love Lost nodded, very cavalier about that fact.

“Matter of time, huh?” Sidepiece asked.

Love Lost nodded again.

Love Lost didn’t like using the phones to communicate, which meant that half the time she was leaving things up for others to infer or guess.  If someone could fill in the blanks, then Love Lost allowed it.  Screw up too many times or put the wrong words in her mouth, and that someone would get sent to do a shit errand and kept out of the way.

The inner circle mostly had it figured out, now.  Disjoint stayed quiet rather than guess.  Nailbiter only guessed in the middle of a fight.  She worked well with Love Lost in an all-out fight.

“They’ve been working out who’s who.  Shin’s quiet, Teacher overreached and some of his mercs from Chiet are rebelling, doing their own thing.  Apparently, Bitter Pill isn’t leading the thinkers from the Point,” Disjoint said.

Love Lost typed in the air.

“Follow you, follow you, into the rage…”

Nailbiter’s fingers extended into points, perilously close to Sidepiece’s throat.

The scene remained utterly still for a few seconds.

The phone started up its ringtone again.  “Follow you, Foll-“

The points of Nailbiter’s fingers touched skin.  Sidepiece set her phone to vibrate.

“Yeah,” Disjoint said, looking at his phone.  “That’s their best guess.  Pill is the face, or a partner in leadership.”

Sidepiece looked at the phone to see what the guess was.

Love Lost (is the muthafuckin baws):
BLUESTOCKING

Love Lost nodded.  She drew to a stop, then looked around.

“Trouble?” Disjoint asked.

“No, not trouble,” Nailbiter said.

Love Lost pressed a claw to the fanged mouth that was molded to her lower face, covering nose, mouth, and cheeks.  A single finger to mime ‘silence’.  Her other claw went up in a ‘stop’ position.

The group was quiet and still as Love Lost extended a claw point skyward.  Love Lost tilted her head.

The hand came down, pointing, then motioned again, quick.

Hurry, was the intent.

The group hurried.  Sidepiece’s legs hurt from all the walking, especially the uneven walking through the forest, their shortcut to avoid being seen as they made their way to their vantage point at the edge of the mall parking lot.

“New security measures.  Extending her sensory ranges, and feeling out for tech.  It takes a minute,” Nailbiter hissed.

They entered the hideout.  Love Lost activated the door’s locks, both mechanical and mundane.

“Breakthrough knows you won’t deal with them, so they asked the Undersiders to.   Undersiders know March is prepared for them, so they’re asking Breakthrough to alleviate the pressure.”

Love Lost typed at the air.  Sidepiece couldn’t look at her phone, as she was busy taking off her winter clothes.

Love Lost (is the muthafuckin baws):
WHAT ARE THE UNDERSIDERS GOING TO SAY TO ME?

“Nothing useful, since we know what they’re doing and who they’re working with,” Sidepiece quipped.

Love Lost shrugged slightly, her head moving in acknowledgement of that simple truth.  Even distant friends of the Fallen kid were off limits for alliances.

“They’re supposed to tell you that Cradle is dangerous, he wants to kill you and take your power, and-”

Love Lost moved her hand.

“I know.  They said it before.  They’ll be more insistent, try deals.  They said the worst case scenario is that Cradle allies with March and then takes you out of commission.  Second worst case scenario is you ally with March, Tattletale seemed pretty sure you wouldn’t go after Cradle.”

Love Lost stepped into the living room, claws clicking against the floor- three at the toes, one stabbing down from the heel, her feet encased in thermal stockings that extended up her legs.  The moisture didn’t seem to stick to any of it, wicking off immediately.

Colt was lying on the couch, and sprung to her feet as Love Lost entered.  Love Lost gently pushed her back into her seat.

A knife-finger pointed at Colt, a warning.

“Sorry,” Colt said.  “I tried.”

Disjoint continued, “There was other stuff, Cheit’s mercenaries and some follow-up to the portal or something that they’re planning, but they didn’t talk much about that.  Mostly their focus was on teaming up and trading enemies.  Making sure March doesn’t get in contact with any member of your cluster, and making sure Cradle-”

“-Doesn’t steal the powers of another member of the cluster,” was the response.

Cradle stepped out of the kitchen.

Sidepiece met Disjoint’s eyes.  Her hand moved closer to her midsection.  Shit.  Shitty shit shit shit.

“They don’t understand the most basic and fundamental truth when it comes to the Mall Stampede Cluster,” Cradle said.

Love Lost visibly winced at the mention of the mall.

“Sorry, L.L.  But the fact is, if we were going to kill any member of the cluster, it’s going to be the kid,” Cradle said.  “You don’t need to worry.”

Love Lost nodded.

Cradle, tousle-haired, wearing tinted goggles and a mask, looked as much like a kid as anyone, Sidepiece observed.

But as irreverent as she tried to be in the face of an unjust, grisly world, she could read the tension in the air.  She could shut up when absolutely necessary.

Her stomach was doing flip-flops.  Her pancreas was at that stage in its growth where each tiny growth made it twitch and flip up, then flop down, slapping lightly against the raw meat around it.

“I’m ninety percent done our second version,” Cradle told Love Lost.  “I got peckish, I decided to use the kitchen.  I told your henchman there to sit on the couch and let me tinker together some snacks.  So take that claw away from her throat.”

Love Lost withdrew the claw.  Her eyes narrowed.  She started to type.

“Ninety percent because I want another scan,” Cradle said.  “You gave me one of… his, I think it was.”

He was pointing at Disjoint.

Love Lost nodded.

“I’ll get one of my own.  The data you collect is slightly different from what I get.  Differences in focus.”

Love Lost looked at Disjoint.

“So long as it doesn’t hurt me any,” Disjoint said.

“It won’t,” Cradle said.  His smile was thin, hollow.

Are we pretending that we weren’t just talking about Cradle hurting Love Lost?  He says he won’t and we believe him?  Sidepiece wondered.

“They suspect you, I don’t know if you heard that part,” Disjoint said.  “Hurting the Navigators.”

“Okay,” Cradle said.  “All the more reason to get version two up and running.  And a bit more manpower.”

Love Lost walked over to the coffee table.  Rather than pick up the files there, she speared them with claws, so each file was on a different claw-point.

She planted them on the counter-island that sat in the middle of the kitchen, where Cradle could easily see.

“Kitchen Sink and Hookline.  It’s a start.  Are they forgiven?”

“They can prove themselves worthy of rejoining us,” Nailbiter said.

“Ah.”

“Love Lost and I talked about it before,” Nailbiter clarified.

“It’s a start,” Cradle said.  “The mercenaries we hired before-”

“Money’s tied up,” Nailbiter said.

“I’ll put some forward,” Cradle said.  “It always bugged me in the cartoons, when the villains had a plan that almost worked, and when the next Saturday morning rolled around, they tried something completely new, instead of refining the old idea.”

“Are you a villain, then?” Colt asked, from the couch.

“I’m a planner.  We’ll hire the same people who did the job last time, and we’ll use version two of the weapon.”

Love Lost started typing in the air, claws stabbing at an invisible keyboard.

Cradle seemed to know what was being typed before any phones rang, because he added Love Lost’s line, “And if they don’t want us getting in contact with March… I think that’s exactly what we need to do.”

Love Lost nodded, claws touching her hair to brush it aside as she stood straighter.

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97 thoughts on “Interlude – 11.a”

  1. The insight into Sidepiece’s power is interesting.

    Different organs do different things, and that’s quite interesting. Wonder what happens if she doesn’t use her power? Is there a risk of her kidney exploding if somebody sets her on fire? Or if she doesn’t rip it out and throw it at something for too long? Did she alter her diet to get kidney stones, or was that a happy accident?

      1. If kidney stones are part of her trigger, then she wouldn’t know or have to explain what happens when she doesn’t have kidney stones.

        1. She could have triggered due to stones, but normally she doesn’t wait for them to form. Her power gets rid of stones.

          1. I’m personally of the opinion she triggered from some form of eating disorder, exacerbated by other issues in her life (ones which probably also fed into the eating disorder). Kidney stones… If they’re bad enough, could maybe cause a brute-type trigger, but Sidepiece is a blaster with a brute aspect. Maybe a slight changer one, too.

  2. Uh Oh, this isn’t good. Love Lost is definitly on the ball. And I think it’s time to say “Fucking Tinkers”. Because if Cradle studied Disjoint’s powers, he could have made something that would do the effect that was used on the Wanderers. To make matters worse, if TT was accurate about what’s needed to do the power steal for a cluster, that is custom made for it, since it would keep the victim alive, but weak, and let you keep some of their DNA on or near you at all times.

    1. You mean the Navigators, not the Wanders? If so than I agree. It even mostly fits my previous predictions about some tinker getting creative with Disjoint’s power. I wonder if Sidepiece’s current heart originally belonged to one of the Navigators. I also wonder if the “talons” that got one of them were really Love Lost’s claws, or Nailbiter’s fingers. The big footmark might have been left by Cradle’s robot.

  3. >“And if they don’t want us getting in contact with March… I think that’s exactly what we need to do.”

    Famous last words, my dude.

  4. Am I a bad person for being happy to see certain alleged murderers again?

    Also if Tattletale had a headache when she got intel from the Breakthrough, I wonder how much she was guessing without the benefit of her power, how much she figured out before the meeting, and how much she managed to get by pushing her power. Or was Love Lost mistaken or lieing about Tattletale having a headache? What if Tattletale has already been faking a headache, and the person Sidepiece caught was sent there by Lisa to keep an eye on Sidepiece and Disjoint, to see what intel they get, what they will do with it, and how will Love Lost react? Did SP and DJ brought a tail with them to LL’s base?

    It also looks like Lisa’s prediction about Breakthrough’s enemies going after the Undersiders, and probably also the one about Undersider’s allies becoming their enemies is already coming true. Both thanks to that little intel mission by Sidepiece and Disjoint?

    1. In fact a lot of the Breakthrough – Undresiders meeting could have been staged by Undersiders or even both groups for Love Lost’s benefit.

      1. …and the double Gold Morning symbol in the previous chapter was our clue that the really important discussion happened between Imp’s capture and the meeting.

        1. The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that the meeting at the end of last chapter was set up for Love Lost’s benefit. Think about it – when Imp was hit with a flash gun she had two choices.

          She could surrender, and if that was the case she would not have the feathers at the meeting, or she could disappear, but considering that she was blind someone from the Undersiders side would need to come to pick her up, and considering that Imp was a short distance from Victoria and Ashley’s home, which was just attacked, they would probably notice Imp’s ride, which means that the Breakthrough – Undersiders talk would happen before they got to a mall. It would also explain why Tattletale began the meeting with those words:

          Let’s try this again,” Tattletale said.

          It is obviously not the only possible explanation, but she could be refering to the fact that she and Victoria already talked one that night.

          1. Of course it is also possible that Tattletale called Antares as soon as Imp was captured, and bargained for Imp’s safe release, and a subsequent meeting to throw off any spies. The feathers could stay wit Imp to draw Love Lost’s attention to kids, and away from something that could let her realize that there is something wrong with this meeting.

            Considering that Victoria probably already read Lisa’s files, the hostility between the two could also be largely an act to throw off Love Lost, make her think that the relationship between Breakthrough and the Undersiders is worse than it actually is.

            One way to make sure would be to see if someone can recognize the “mall employee”

            She looked at the employee, someone wearing an orange shirt with a big blue button featuring a cartoon computer chip with eyes, mouth, arms and legs. She’d seen it on television.

            D.J., too, was looking in the employee’s direction. An androgyne figure, short-haired and cute despite having lines around the eyes suggesting they were closer to thirty than twenty.

            Does this description ring any bells? Could it be someone connected to the Undersiders or Breakthrough? Preferably a good enough actor to sell the image of a random terrified civilian? If the meeting was taking place at night, when there was little chance of random witnesses, it probably wasn’t an electronics employee it appeared to be.

          2. I think that Imp surrendered after taking multiple shots from Kenzie’s flash gun. Remember that Victoria was not as strongly affected as Ashleys or Aisha because she “had the presence of mind to fly away before more shots could land”. Imp’s new arm meant that while nobody could see where she was while she was cloaked, everyone could remember that there is an unknown attacker around. Kenzie probably kept using the gun until Imp surrounded and decloacked.

            The fact that Imp did not give the feathers back at that point suggests that there was negotiation between Breakthrough and Undersiders during which they decided that the feathers will be returned during the meeting at the mall. The only reason I can think of why it was done that way is that they wanted Sidepiece and Disjoint to see it happen – probably because Tattletale or Rain figured out that Love Lost would react emotionally if the topic of relations between the kids would be brought up during the meeting, and emotional reaction makes it less likely that former detective Love Lost would figure out that something was off with the meeting.

          3. Heck, I’ve just realized that with Kenzie’s holographic tech the “mall employee” could have been about anyone who can drive a car, and has more or less simmilar size, though a member of Breakthrough seems most likely. Maybe Natalie? Probably not Ashley, because I don’t think she can drive a car, and even if she did, she is probably still blind. On the other hand if she could see and drive, she would be a natural person to send to keep an eye on Disjoint and Sidepiece. Sveta is also out as a person who probably can’t drive.

          4. Oh, and doesn’t a cute, androgynous person with a button featuring a cartoon character from TV sound like an appearance Kenzie would come up with if she had to design and program one in a hurry?

    2. I think that’s a mis-assumption on their part; Lisa couldn’t turn off her power even if she wanted to. It’s always feeding her information.

      The only thing the headaches prevent is concentrated effort with it.

      1. She can wear her power down to tha point, where it stops working completely. I happened on the day Taylor surrendered to the PRT. I think it is highly likely that Lisa never allowed it to happen again, considering how much it cost her that day.

        1. Also considering that in Victoria’s words “it had been a few hours” between fight with Imp and the meeting and Kenzie had cameras from Aiden, Tattletale’s was power probably completely unnecessary to find out about Disjoint and Sidepiece’s presence. Entire area around the mall was probably under Kenzie’s surveillance by the time those two arrived.

          Considering how good Tattletale usually is with security, I think that time and location of the meeting at the mall was intentionally leaked to Love Lost.

          It could go further than that. I could believe that Aiden could maybe send some documents through insecure channel, but Kenzie would probably rise an alarm about it as soon as possible, when she got them. Sending them that way could be either a part of Lisa’s plot to bring Love Lost’s spies, or (I think more likely) Aiden and Kenzie’s plot to force a confrontation between Breakthrough and Undersiders.

          1. Even if Aiden and Kenzie sent the documents via insecure channels to force Victoria and Tattletale to talk, it could have an unintended side effect of alerting Love Lost, which Lisa could exploit to her advantage by organizing the meeting to feed Love Lost’s people some misinformation for example.

          2. The fact that in previous chapter Kenzie took her time to put on full winter clothing before grabbing her flash gun and going to deal with Imp suggests that she knew that Imp was bluffing, and she would not kill anybody. The only ways for her to know would be if Aiden predicted that Imp’s attack would be the response to information leak, and told Kenzie that Imp wouldn’t go for a kill in this situation, or if together with the documents from the Undersiders sent through insecure channel Kenzie also got a secure message warning her about the attack in advance – either from Aiden, if he was working alone, or from Tattletale, if he convinced her to give Breakthrough the info with his reminder about Taylor, and it was her who engendered the leak.

          3. Also the fact that Kenzie brought her gun to Victoria and Ashley’s place despite being told to leave all of her tech behind seems to suggest that she could have known about Imp’s attack beforehand.

            On top of it how did Imp know address of Undersiders’ HQ and especially the apartment? Admittedly the Undersiders could came into possession of this piece of info in a number of ways, but what if Kenzie just told them, to make sure that Imp will attack the apparent, where Kenzie was waiting for her with the gun.

      1. Yeah, sorry. I know I’m usually bad when it comes to this, and on top of it this time just so many details from recent chapters just started to click for me and form a single cohesive picture that I’m even worse than usually.

        I’ll try to rein myself in a bit.

          1. Ok, just a few questions for you. I think I know the answers, but I want to let you try answer them yourself, and see if you come to the same conclusions as I did. What are the chances that Patrol would just attack Love Lost and Nailbiter when they did? Why did they do it, if it wasn’t by chance? What is absent in Victoria’s internal monologue in the last scene of the previous chapter? What did we not see during the investigation in chapter 10.12 and did not have confirmed or denied later?

            How many moves are Breakthrough and Undersiders ahead of Love Lost, and possibly Cradle and/or March at this time? What sort of a genius Wildbow is to think of all those dots for us to connect?

          2. Oh, and when I said I had “just a few questions for you” I didn’t mean just Ethical. Everyone is invited. Let’s compare thoughts. If you post your answers, I’ll post mine. I think my questions are easy, so answering them shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll just have to see if I suggested too much in them, and if someone can find different interpretations than mine.

          3. I don’t think the Patrol attacked Love Lost & co. I think Love Lost attacked the Patrol. Possibly because the Patrol was, well, patrolling near where Love Lost was doing something she didn’t want observed.

            We don’t know what’s going on here, because Sidepiece arrived after the fight had started. She doesn’t know (or, likely, care) about who started it, she just wants an excuse to throw her kidney at someone.

          4. Maybe, but what are the chances that Love Lost happened to learn about the Patrol near her place exactly when her people were spying on Breakthrough and the Undersiders? How often does Love Lost fight the Patrol anyway?

          5. The Patrol Block is like a cross between a police force and the boy scouts, (or so I have always interpreted it) so there’s a routine there. It’s pretty easy to ambush them because of that. They carry guns and wear bulletproof vests, because they’re supposed to assist the emergency services whenever it’s needed- see the Fallen raid, where they guarded prisoners and provided reinforcements to the heroes trying to evacuate civilians and hostages.

          6. The Patrol Block isn’t going to attack villains, because they aren’t police. They’re community support officers- people approach with their issues and they help how they can, make arrests if necessary and otherwise mediate issues. They’re going to defend themselves if needed, but they aren’t going to go out and confront villains- because most of them are older teenagers, fifteen to eighteen year olds.

          7. They also follow heroes into community centers assaulted by villains, make sanitary cordons around battle zones full of capes armed with guns? Don’t even their paper pushers more or less function, and for the most part keep discipline during zombie apocalypses? Give them some credit.

            Don’t they work with Breakthrough’s network?

            Don’t many of them, like Jasper, Harris and Captain Gilpatrick think they owe Victoria?

            When was the last time when Love Lost or anyone in her group murdered, or planned to murder someone who wasn’t a legitimate target or Rain?

          8. I am giving them credit! They do all those things, because they’re reinforcements for the police. I wouldn’t say ‘lots of them owe Victoria’, though. Because so far we’ve seen three chapters of the Patrol Block- Harris’s, Gilpatrick’s and the one led by the lady from New York- and they’re an organisation throughout the City.

            They work with Vicky’s network because they guard the jails and keep the peace. They’re good, but they aren’t Dragon’s Teeth. Most of them are perfectly ordinary teenagers who are in the Patrol Block because it’s a chance to socialise with people their own age, there’s limited entertainment options available, and it teaches them how to use guns. Most of the best probably hope to join the police or other emergency services.

            The riot shields are a bit puzzling, but don’t forget they’re using equipment salvaged from the ruins of Bet, and each Block leader focuses in different areas- Gilpatrick on training, the lady on stopping bad guys, and Harris apparently on keeping the peace- so maybe this group specialises in crowd control, or simply doesn’t have enough bullet proof vests to go around and so they got riot shields instead.

          9. And how often do you think they patrol in groups of over ten people?
            I know that city is at war, but such group seems too big to just catch regular small time criminals, and offenders, and too small to have a chance defeat most randomly encountered parahuman villains, much less villain groups.

          10. My conclusion is that they were aiming to engage Love Lost and co., but not defeat them. What could they accomplish just be engaging Love Lost? What could they still do, after they were defeated?

          11. ‘Keeping the peace’ is not and has never been about catching criminals. It’s about making people feel safe enough to go about their daily lives. Deterrent first, particularly with the overloaded justice system.

            Love Lost attacked the Patrol Block. Why? Well, maybe she (or one of her underlings) was up to something in the area, or needed to distract the authorities from somewhere else. And if I was a lone villain, planning a mugging or robbing a corner store of food, a group of ten + guys with guns would be a pretty good deterrent. Most parahumans aren’t so scary that guns don’t scare them. Nailbiter and Sidepiece are the only two here that could really take a bullet, I think.

          12. Why would she need a division while tow of her capes are spying on Breakthrough and the Undersiders? Why split forces into three groups (LL and Nailbiter, SP and DJ, whoever does the thing that would need a diversion). It is not like SP and DJ would need a diversion, it could even alert the Breakthrough, and lead to premature ending of the meeting.

          13. And it is not like LL would provide a diversion for a villain robbing a corner store, if it wasn’t her villain.

          14. What are Hookline and Kitchen Sink up to? We haven’t seen them for a while, but from this chapter we learn they’re still with Love Lost, though not in her favour. Are those the only capes in her employ? What if they were going to crack down on the bathtub moonshiner?

          15. > What are Hookline and Kitchen Sink up to?

            This is actually a good counter-argument, though I don’t know if it is sufficient. For now I’ll leave you with this quote:

            Love Lost made a motion with one hand, claws glinting where they were mounted on her fingers.

            “Calling,” D.J. reported, hesitating as he turned to the others, “what do you think? Three ambulances?”

            “More than that,” Sidepiece replied. “What happened?”

            “They came after us. We came back at them harder,” Nailbiter said.

            Does it change your mind?

          16. While we are at the topic of capes who work, or used to work with Love Lost, what happened to the electric tinker who EMPed Kenzie’s camera? This is a question I DON’T have any answer for at the moment, just like I don’t have anything regarding Kitchen Sink and Hookline. Any ideas?

            Another set of questions without answers is tied to a Tattletale’s quote from the previous chapter:

            “You gotta scrub it all. You didn’t get it fair and square, and some of that is stuff only I and my sources know, that the kids don’t pay much attention to. When people start blabbing about details that only I’m supposed to know, it makes my sources jittery. Some of them are in very dangerous places.”

            Who are those sources? Why would they be jittery? What are those dangerous places she is talking about?

            I think one way to approach this is to forget for a moment she has her power, and think about what does she know that she shouldn’t without an inside man. The first possibility I thought about is someone with Teacher and/or the Order, who told TT about their quarrel. There is a possibility of someone next to March, who could warn the Undersiders about the attack(s) in Brockton Bay, and/or provided clues about March’s method of stealing powers within a cluster. Any other ideas on this topic?

          17. Hmm. Forgotten about that bit. I think it’s possible they went after the bathtub moonshiner and that was Love Lost’s retaliation. But yeah, it seems likely that the Block may have started it, even if I don’t think they started it deliberately.

            Re: sources- Scapegoat’s got known dealings with Tattletale. And he’s in a risky position as a cape affiliated with Teacher but not a student. Could be someone else, though. Likely someone we don’t know.

          18. I admit I forgot about that quote too. This is why I didn’t bring it up for so long. To apologize I’ll post my theory on Patrol-Love Lost’s team fight here.

            I think that Victoria managed to get some veteran volunteers in Patrol (probably arranged via and led by Gilpatrick) to go after Love Lost as soon as the Undersiders-Breakthrough meeting staged for LL ended. A risky mission, but probably not suicidal because Love Lost wants to kill only one person, and other members of her group also seem to be disciplined enough to avoid unnecessary killing, especially since they work with cops. Crooked cops, but still cops.

            It was done to make Sidepiece and Disjoint leave the scene without looking at it or “mall employee” too closely, but more importantly it was done so that the Patrol could hear SP and DJ initial report to LL, and see LL’s reaction. I think there is a good chance that Gilpatrick will tell Victoria in detail how that conversation went within a day.

            On top of it it could let someone working with the Patrol to tail Love Lost’s group, and/or organize the stakeout outside Love Lost’s base, though I think this is less likely considering that she still has plenty of eyes and ears in the area, and as a former detective can predict something like this. If it happened though, there is a good chance Breakthrough will know that Cradle and Love Lost are working together again, and possibly that they want to cooperate with March.

            The attack was done by the Patrol, and not by some heroes for two reasons – to make Love Lost’s group comfortable discussing their new intel on Breakthrough and the Undersiders without checking if their opponents are all unconscious first, and to make it more likely that nobody in LL’s group will try to retaliate against them later – heroes in costume are much more likely to be remembered and recognized than some random Patrol members. It is also much less likely that Love Lost will move her base to a different location after facing the Patrol than any heroes. On top of it Victoria probably can’t trust any of the other hero teams as much as Gilpatrick’s men, and the heroes are probably still stretched thin dealing with all of the emergencies around The City.

            If all of the above is true, then every single of those Patrol members has balls of steel, and deserves a medal. There is also a good chance that they just significantly reduced a chance that Rain will be successfully murdered, or that March will get her hands on Foil, not to mention plenty of other damage those villains would do if Lisa and Victoria didn’t just get all of this information on them, while feeding them their own misinformation about how Victoria and Lisa don’t want to work with each other, or how they will try to convince those two to stay away from March (while in fact as infiltrated Love Lost and Cradle are at the moment, all they will accomplish is lead Breakthrough and the Undersiders to March’s hideout).

            So this is my Patrol attack theory. What do you think about it? Is it something that Victoria and Lisa would try and manage to pull out, or is it too much for them (because they aren’t good enough masterminds, uncompromising enough or for any other reason)? And what about my other, non-Patrol related questions?

          19. I don’t think Vicky and Lisa’s working relationship is good enough for that level of plotting, which is why I disagree. I also think it’s a little callous, to send partially trained teenagers after villains- some of whom with serious parahuman chops and very little compunction about killing- and I’m not sure either Lisa or Vicky are that callous. Lisa… Maybe, but she’s trying to be a good person, for a given value of ‘good’, and deliberately sending teenagers after villains like Love Lost’s crew- a team who has been compared to the Slaughterhouse Nine- does not seem very ‘good’.

            I’m also not convinced that Lisa knows LL was watching. Kenzie might, and she may send the information to Lisa, but I don’t think Lisa’s aware of it.

          20. I think that current relations between Victoria and Lisa may be much better than they let Sidepiece and Disjoint know during the meeting they observed. There are plenty of reasons why their relations could have significantly improved over last couple of days. I discussed many of them in my walls of text above, before I moved to asking questions. There are also some more clues hidden in those questions I put there for you to analyze.

            As for sending teenagers to fight dangerous capes, who says those are teenagers. I said that this was a mission for volunteer veterans. Remember that plenty of Patrol senior members have military and/or PRT experience. Gilpatrick has both.

            I also would not exclude a possibly that if this Patrol attack was prepared in advance, then there were some capes waiting in the background to bail the Patrol members out if things got ugly. They just couldn’t show their costumes if everything went according to plan. It could be even possible that some of the people in Patrol uniforms were capes themselves. Probably not all of them, because neither Lisa nor Victoria could organize enough capes they could trust with such masquerade to form the entire unit, but possibly a couple?

            The situation in The City is desperate enough that some capes could probably be convinced to do it if it could mean a significant progress toward ending the war, or catching people responsible for attacks on Navigators or the investigators working on Navigator’s case, and (SPOILER) my answer to at least one of my riddles I posted for you to solve shows, that Victoria knew about Love Lost’s and/or Cradle’s involvement in the attack on Navigators for some time.

            If March was also involved, and I already posted a couple of times that I think she was behind the attack on the investigators, and Lisa could figure it out than Lisa and Victoria had one more reason to cooperate, because it means going after people who want to Kiss/Kill (or just Kill) Foil and Rain.

          21. Regarding Scapegoat possibly being Lisa’s mole in Teacher’s camp, what sort of info could endanger him if Victoria acted on it? Is it this bit that we saw in Aiden’s interlude?

            Bogeyman of Cauldron: captured, weapon kept up sleeve
            Dinah Alcott: compromised? Shift of motives?
            Why capture/corner/co-opt precogs?

            Teacher seemed to be interested in precogs in Scapegoat’s interlude if I remember correctly.

            And what about this other set of notes Aiden saw?

            Valkyrie: scared
            Dragon: hid for a while. Scared
            Legend, Chev: staying away on long missions. Clandestine meetings.

            Does Lisa have a source in Wardens and/or Guild.

          22. Could the hero Aisha used to date be Lisa’s source? Or better yet, could it be Crystal? Did Victoria just put her own cousin in danger?

          23. If Crystal was Lisa’s agent than it could put Crystal’s conversation with Valkyrie in new light.

            Does Lisa have a source on Shin? Who could that be. My first guess would be Amy, followed by Marquis and possibly Chris.

          24. You know what? If Lisa has an insider in or around Wardens, then whoever it is, I bet their name appeared on the list of people who returned from the mission outside Gimel during her interlude (10.x). So the list of suspects is:

            Cinereal
            Weld
            Golem
            Tallboy
            Laserdream
            Rocketround
            Typhlosis
            Vista
            Stank Bank

            With people having known connections to Lisa, or Brockton Bay being more likely.

            Also, from last chapter:

            “Let’s try this again,” Tattletale said.

            Could it mean “Let’s try going after Love Lost again”? Because it sure seems like this is what Breakthrough and the Undersiders are doing tight now, especially if you consider those two questions I left for you to figure out:

            1. What is absent in Victoria’s internal monologue in the last scene of the previous chapter?

            2. What did we not see during the investigation in chapter 10.12 and did not have confirmed or denied later?

            Try to answer those questions and you will see why I’m sure you’ll see why I’m so convinced that Victoria and Lisa are after LL, Cradle AND March right now. Here’s a tip from 10.x to get you started:

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

            Another tack, playing with different segments of information…

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

            Think what happened some 6-12 hours from that moment.

            Another from chapter 10.12:

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

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

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

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

            Not wings, another mover power coupled with nearby trees.

            And one from chapter 10.8:

            When I looked back, Love Lost and her retinue were gone.

            “She’s gone,” Byron observed.

            “No,” Rain said. “It’s not over. She wouldn’t leave things the way they are now. Her losing, especially to me.”

            “There’s something more going on,” I said. “Something she’s doing, people she’s working with.”

            “Yeah, probably,” Rain said. “But I’m more concerned that she’s so willing to back off now. She wouldn’t back off. Not unless she was absolutely sure she could do something meaningful soon.”

            What happened soon after that?

          25. Ok, I spent a few hours writing my longest wall of text here yet, detailing my theory. I sent it, and it apparently didn’t go through. Unless it appears later (which happened to me before), I guess there will be no full explanation for you.

            Instead here are just quick answers to some of my questions:

            > What is absent in Victoria’s internal monologue in the last scene of the previous chapter?

            Her usual thoughts on what Lisa is trying to pull off this time. Normally she is constantly trying to second guess everything that Lisa is saying. If I’m right now she doesn’t have to do it, because both ladies are acting for Sidepiece’s and Disjoint’s benefit.

            > What did we not see during the investigation in chapter 10.12 and did not have confirmed or denied later?

            If anything useful could be seen on time camera. We know Kenzie was trying to clear out the picture. It is possible that most investors could identify some of Navigators assailants just before the shootout started, and could fill Victoria in after she brought Kenzie to hospital.

            > Also don’t malls usually have both internal and external monitoring systems?

            Of course they do. All Kenzie had to do to notice Sidepiece and Disjoint’s arrival was to hack the mall’s security system.

            > How many moves are Breakthrough and Undersiders ahead of Love Lost, and possibly Cradle and/or March at this time?

            Quite a few if I’m right.

            > What sort of a genius Wildbow is to think of all those dots for us to connect?

            We all know this one is rhetorical, don’t we?

          1. At least for now I plan to avoid reddit. Too much to keep track of, too many people who kept throwing around theories for years, too high chance of accepting some fanon as truth without sufficient proof, too high chance of Wildbow saying one word too many, and spoiling something for me. I know he tries to avoid spoilers, but it must be difficult to never let anything slip. Not to mention that I prefer author’s work to speak for itself.

            I don’t say I’ll never do it, but for now I think I’ll wait and see if I’ll ever feel I’ve outgrown this comment section.

          2. Also, if anyone of you wants to repost or otherwise use my posts on Parahumans subreddit I don’t mind if you make it clear there what comes from me, and leave enough information there so people from reddit can find my original posts you are referring to. I think that something to the effect of “Alfaryn said in the comments section of chapter such and such of Ward said…” should suffice. Of course a link to my post in question would also do.

            If you want to make me extra happy, you can let me know here in which thread on reddit you did it, but it is not required, especially if you want to quote me so often that you would risk spamming the comments section here with links to reddit or something. In particular I don’t think there is any need to bring my attention to the same reddit thread twice.

        1. Thanks, but I really need to figure out a way to not take everyone’s fun, and write half of the comments sections by myself. How about I try posting some questions (like those I’ve just posted above) instead of answers? Would it be more or less fun for everyone?

          1. Are you on reddit? If you started asking lots of questions in the chapter threads there, I think people would definitely get into it

          2. Honestly, I have a lot of fun reading your theories. I kinda look forward to them, especially when I don’t have time to do a re-read.

            Questions are definitely something you could try, regardless. It would be great if we baited other minds down the wormholes of theory and analysis.

          3. This is the plan more or less. Plus I strongly suspect that some of those questions will let some people around here with a knack for brevity (something I definitely lack) put together some of my theories using about a tenth of words I would use. And don’t worry, I strongly suspect that may walls of text won’t disappear entirely, as I will probably have plenty observations I won’t be able to put into questions, or questions that won’t get answers from other people, or will get answers I will want to elaborate on. The plan is just to try to make it so my walls of text won’t completely spam comments sections.

            Will see how it goes. For now it is just an experiment to see if I can do it in this form, and if we will like it more this way.

          4. my only complaint is about synthesis, you could say all you do with half the words, but hey, as ethical said, you do your thing, and this is a discussion forum after all, so its better for you to say too much than to not say anything at all

          5. Yeah, I know. Being brief both in speech and in writing has never been my strong point. Language barrier doesn’t help either. This is in part why I’m experimenting with this “questions instead of lecture-like explanations” format.

          6. But i think you should try reddit, because, i dont know how other people tend to do, but after after Tuesday im not coming back to this chapter to ad any coments or read anything, in reddit the post/walls/questions could be reanalysed more easily and oftenly

          7. Like I said in response to Ethical’s comments above, I don’t want to deal with reddit yet, but maybe one day. I feel like I need to get a better handle both on my understanding of Parahumans series (mostly to avoid being influenced too much by fanon) and my posting habits (mostly to avoid responding to my walls of text with more walls of text) before I go there, especially considering that there are so many old, but important threads to read there, so many people post there, and Wildbow post there.

            In short Parahumans subreddit feels a little too overwhelming at the moment to me, but I’m not saying it always will.

          8. Questions are preferable to answers, as they’re asking the reader to think of ones they might not have thought. Posting answers kinda takes some of the fun out of it to me imho.

          9. @Meteaura22

            Why don’t you try to answer some of my questions above that are “not at all designed to lead you to what my theory on what’s been going on in last few chapters” (ok, most of them totally are), and post your answers, and thoughts on them?

            So far only Earl of Purple has been doing it, and we could use more eyes on the problem, both to check if my theory can be correct, and to try to find answers to those of my questions, which I honestly don’t have answers to (like who could be Lisa’s informers mentioned in the previous chapter).

  5. Okay, so now that we know Cradle and Love Lost were behind the attacks on the Navigators…what the hell was with the stolen organs? Is it how Sidepiece refuels? Or are they using them as components of some kind?

    Colt just hanging around there becoming party to more and more crimes. And she’s got that “third chance to turn back” coming up.

    1. “I want you to know you’re a proper fucking gentleman, ‘Joint. It warms a lady’s heart.”

      She punctuated the statement by taking his hand and laying it down flat against her chest, where her coat didn’t cover her.

      “That’s not your heart, ‘Piece.”

      “Is so.”

      One organ accounted for?

    2. The organs were taken so they couldn’t be simply stitched back together and go out and be heroes again. Also possibly as a subtle threat- the attackers still have the hearts at least of the Navigators, and hearts are needed to live. Scaffold survived having his throat cut, but… Would he survive if somebody tossed his heart into a bonfire?

  6. The ‘is so’ seems strange if so, I thought it when I first read that and didn’t even think of the missing hero’s organs when I did.

  7. Typo thread:

    the snow and underbrush > snow
    gripping the forearm > gripped
    hand down over top > on top
    side with captain > the captain
    Chiet > Cheit
    done our second version > with our

    1. The mall employee is mostly referred to with gender-neutral pronouns, except for

      “The person stopped running before she ran into the caustic acid.”

      Always nice to see some NB representation though!

    2. english is not my first language but. “When they’d reported the meeting over, Sidepiece had messaged Love Lost. ” doesn’t sound fully right.

    3. to help with the tearing, and throwing,
      -delete first comma

      Love Lost typed at the air. Sidepiece couldn’t look at her phone, as she was busy taking off her winter clothes.

      Love Lost (is the muthafuckin baws):
      WHAT ARE THE UNDERSIDERS GOING TO SAY TO ME?

      -Need to change it so SP can look at her phone

      sprung to her feet as
      -sprang, as usual

      Her pancreas was at that stage in its growth where each tiny growth made it twitch and flip up,
      -each tiny motion

  8. How could we possibly forget that when it comes to Wildbow, whenever he presents two worst case scenarios, the actual events are something much worse.

    The one question that’s currently going through my mind is that it seems that Love Lost’s group had nothing to do with the Navigator’s assault. Which means it could very well be Cradle using Disjoint’s info powers. Which means this whole mess is Cradle’s plan to take out Rain.

    If so, then we know a lot of what Cradle planned.

    First, attack the Navigators. Make sure his “version 2” worked. He tried both the Navigators and Super Long Ass Name Team. SLANT doesn’t check PHO forums, so the Navigators showed up. Cradle tested Disjoint’s power with ripping people into shreds. One of his mercs didn’t love what Cradle was putting down. So they tried to mercy kill them. What’s next? Well, Cradle knows that Breakthrough are going to time-camera the whole shit, so Cradle gets Noontide and Challenger together to destroy the time camera, but they have to leave Rain alive. Rain’s fate worse than death to absorb his powers is something Cradle needs done. So they take out Brio and try to wound Breakthrough and co. as best as he can. Noontide dies, Challenger escapes and a teleporter gets left in the care of the Thinkers. Cool. Now, Undersiders and Breakthrough team up. Cooler. How to retaliate? Cradle, Love Lost, Sidepiece, Disjoint, Nailbiter, Kitchen Sink, Hookline, Challenger, and the mercs Cradle worked with for the hit on the Navigators team up with March, the Granae twins and Paris. The villans are going to do a repeat on the Fallen to basically fuck over Rain and make sure he pays.

    Basically, Goddess was a big fucking interlude in the “Let’s make Rain suffer.” chronology that is Ward. This poor boy is not taking any breaks whatsoever.

  9. Me, and my dirty mind…

    1. Lisa thought that she is only “pretty sure” that being aero ace is just her, and not her power’s fault. Her power overanalyzes people, and tries to paint everyone as a threat, plus it gives her headaches. Pug’s power turns off powers AND provides a space safety cut off from everyone in the world but the two people inside. What will his face look like, when he realizes that his power is a huge turn on for Lisa?

    2. Give Darlene a few years to mature, and to get over her insecurity, and her power could give her and her partner(s) a VERY interesting sexual life.

    1. It took me awhile to figure ouw what the term Aero ace meant. Althought I’m not reasonably confident that it pertains to asexuality. It’s jsut that After after asking a few other brits, who, unlik me, have with non cisgender/heteros life experience, thturns out they;d never run inot it either.

      So,

      A) How did the term come to be and from where, please.
      B) MANY people have put there minds to Lisa having a sex life somehow. Hell, Imp could gaslight her into thinking LIsa had had the best sex ever if she wanted.

      OT Alfaryn? You once said that humour doesn’t always translate across langguages, so @m going to try one of my own. (Here’s hoping it worksas funny and not offensive but only one way to be sure)

      IMP. Take off and nuke the place from Orbit…
      ME. How did you get here???? And no. Anyway, here goes.

      If a guy walks into a convenience store in Warsaw or Krakow and asks for furniture Polish, would they leave out with a canister of ‘Mister Sheen’ or a very sprightly, amazingly hard working old grandmother with a tablecloth and a duster?

      1. Honestly? I’ve seen this sort of “Polish vs polish” puns so many times that I no longer find them very funny, just because they have been overdone.

        And it is not that only English has such bad puns about Polish. Guess what is said the main export product of the town called Police is? It is a real town in Poland, not far from city called Szczecin in the north-western corner of the country. Guess what was the bus line number going from Karwia to Hel was? Again both Karwia and Hel are real places in Poland, and they do have a bus connection. I think you will know once I tell you that in Polish “Hel” is pronounced almost exactly as “Hell” in English, and even if it wasn’t Hel from Scandinavian mythology would probably suffice to give that bus line that number.

        I could tell you many such jokes originating from Poland, but how quickly would it get boring?

        As for Lisa being asexual – see my thoughts on it in my answer to Ethical’s post below, or if you want to read much more of them – in the comments section of Lisa’s interlude.

        1. Ok, if you haven’t guessed already, the answers to my joke questions are:
          – equipment for law enforcement all over the world, clearly labeled with a name of a place, where it was manufactured,
          – 666.

          The second one is particularly good, because it is real. Google it if you don’t believe me.

      2. > A) How did the term come to be and from where, please.

        Aro-ace comes from a phonetic shortening of aromantic asexual, because an eight-syllable label gets clunky fast.

      1. She said she is “pretty sure” she is asexual without her power, not 100% certain. When it comes to almost anything else I would trust her “pretty sure”, but considering how much her power has been messing with her throughout that interlude, and how much she seemed depressed about it, I would not exclude the possibility that she is wrong. Notice that while her power doesn’t appear to lie, it does seem to present facts in a very biased way, and as far as I remember we NEVER saw her power psychoanalyse herself. All she knows about herself comes from her, not her shard, and I think that at least ever since she triggered she lacked objectivity necessary to come to objectively correct conclusions about herself through introspection. People in far healthier states of mind often struggle with it.

        In simple terms she is very lonely, as her power making it very difficult for her to open up enough to form deep emotional bonds with people, very unhappy with her life, and with her power, and has chronic headaches on top of it. I would not expect anyone in a frame of mind this bad to be able to form any romantic bonds, or to be able to relax enough to “share a bed” with anyone no matter what their sexuality might otherwise be. That she even internally thought about her sexuality in such situation tells me that she probably has NOT come to terms with it yet, and it might be in part because there is a conflict between her sexual preferences, and what she thinks they are.

        I may joke about it here, but I’m actually worried, that by entering this emotionless relationship with Snuff, she may be setting up herself for a serious heartbreak in a while theoretical future, when she will be in a better frame of mind, and realizes that she was wrong about both her sexual and romantic inclinations, and there is someone “right” for her, but this person isn’t Snuff.

  10. It’s confirmed, Love Lost definitely has the evil villain intel on point. The ending seems to suggest that they’re going to get ahead of Breakthrough and Undersiders. What plan does she have in store for them? Will she form an alliance with March? Will more chaos in this world of Wildbow occur? Find out on the next episode of Blinding!

    1. I don’t know, I think Love Lost has been intentionally misinformed by Breakthrough and the Undersiders, who are preparing to spring a trap on Love Lost, Cradle and March. See my theories above to find out why I think it is the case.

      1. Oh I have, to be frank you have quite an obsession with theories fellow reader, not that it’s entirely a bad thing. 🙂

        1. It is just that what’s happening here keeps reminding me about Taylor and Lisa’s “master-stranger protocol”, mercenaries who Tattletale asked for to “protect” her territory, and the circumstances of Coil’s death.

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