Blinding – 11.4

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The schism remained.  The Shepherds, Advance Guard, Wayfarers and Kings were absent.  The room would have felt crowded if everyone was present and it felt too empty with the more aggressive heroes gone.

I wondered if there was ever a group size that would feel natural.

We’d wanted to gather information.  We’d asked for six hours, admittedly, and it was well past that deadline, but information was why we were here.

‘Here’ was a room in a library where the lights were off because the grid had failed and power was being conserved, and the morning light from outside was obscured by snow that had piled up against the window, with frost cluttering every inch snow didn’t touch.  The light that came through was diffuse and mottled, dimmed and slightly blue, because the glass was solar glass that reflected the yellow and gold hues.

Relay, Cinereal, Weld, Aleph Wolf from the Lone Wolf Pack, Lark from Auzure, and Caryatid from the Malfunctions were all gathered around the room.  I had Precipice at my right, and Foil to my left.

Mayor Jeanne Wynn was also present.  Her presence in the room felt like a shadow when the room was already dark.  The yellow of her shirt under her suit jacket was more striking than some of the costumes present.

Foil’s hand rested on the table, fingers at the file folder with pictures.  My pictures.  The gasoline had saturated my office to the point that even the copies of my original files had a lingering smell to them.

She turned the file so people could see.  A distant image of Cradle, taken by way of flying camera, saved to a computer.  I’d printed it out when trials had been happening.

“Tattletale says she’s seventy percent confident that the attacks on the Navigators were Cradle, who slipped custody when the prison was emptied,” Foil said.  “He had an unknown hireling use the device by proxy, and that hireling worked alongside Lionwing and two Case Fifty-threes.”

“Those two aren’t ex-Irregulars,” Weld said.  “But they’re tied into the community.  People have seen them.  I’ve put out some feelers, but I can’t promise results.”

“Seventy percent certainty that Cradle is responsible isn’t a hundred percent,” Cinereal said.

“It isn’t,” Foil admitted.

“Can we trust what she’s saying?” Relay asked.

“Are you asking if we can trust Foil or are you asking if we can trust Tattletale?” Weld asked.

“I was asking about Foil, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on both,” Relay said.

Relay was standing in for Foresight, after Brio had caught a bullet and while Countenance was leading elsewhere.  Brio hadn’t gotten back up.  I was a little worried that Relay was closer to the leadership, which was about twenty-five percent personal bias, and twenty-five percent that he knew I had my doubts.  The rest was a blurrier mixture of my not knowing him and my instinct that Relay was driven more by emotion than logic.

If Relay had made the call when the hero teams had split off into two groups, would they have stayed?

I could see Relay’s eyes move, studying me briefly before looking back to Weld.  Foil and Tattletale – where did we stand, and what answer could we give that didn’t cross Relay’s crude mind reading?

“I was her teammate for a short while,” I said.  “I like her.”

The nicest, only truly honest thing I could say.  I had reservations and questions about someone who had heel-turned like she had.

Foil nodded, dropping her eyes, as if to acknowledge what I was thinking.  “Thank you.”

“Antares and Foil were on my team when I was first leading the Wards in Brockton Bay.  I hold Foil in high esteem,” Weld said.

“Thank you,” Foil said, stoic, standing up straight, no longer with a hand at the files.

“Can I ask you why you’re here, Foil?” Relay asked, head tilted so he was looking up at Foil more than at her, his tone the sort that was best suited for quietly asking someone if they had a gun and if they planned to use it.

“The Undersiders felt that if we were sharing information, we should have a representative here.”

“That’s not what I’m asking,” Relay said.

Foil frowned.  Her mask covered most of her face, but the shift in her lips was unmistakable.

“He wants a read on you,” I said.

Relay met my eyes without moving his head, then looked back to Foil.

“I want to help,” Foil said.

“You believe Tattletale’s information is good?”

“Yes,” Foil said.

“But you have doubts… not about the information?” Relay asked.  “About your team.”

“If I was a hundred percent certain, I think that would be more concerning,” Foil said.

“If you were a hundred percent clear you were on the right side, you’d be a Fallen-” Relay retorted.

Precipice didn’t move a muscle at that, but Relay looked at him all the same.

“-But if your head is full of noise and contradiction when it comes to your team, that’s almost as bad,” Relay finished.

“I can do the most good where I am, with the Undersiders,” Foil said.

Relay, head still unmoving, looked down at his hand, where it rested on the table.

“Do we move forward on seventy percent confidence?” Relay asked, without looking up.

“Cradle is a danger and he’s done nothing to earn trust,” Cinereal said.

“He’s done nothing wrong that we can say for certain either,” Relay pointed out.

“He likes to bide his time,” Precipice said.  “But there have been hints that he’s doing business.  I believe it.”

“You’re biased,” Relay said.

“I definitely am,” Precipice replied.

Relay nodded at that, as if it was entirely okay now that the bias was out in front of things.

“He’s cold and focused right now.  I won’t get into how I know, but I have a sense of him, like he probably has a sense of me and how I’m doing.  He’s dangerous.  I could see a world where he’s doing this.  Using tech to torture people like that.”

I cleared my throat.  I had all eyes on me.

“The activities of Cradle seem to be only half of it,” I said.  “It’s a half I’d like to ask you all to please let us tackle.”

“Us being who?” Relay asked.

“What’s the other half?” Weld asked, before I had a chance to answer.

I drew in a deep breath.  “The Undersiders and Breakthrough will tackle the situation with Cradle.  I think we have some sense of his motivations.  Love Lost too.  We plan to keep them separated if we can.  In exchange, we’re helping the Undersiders with a related problem.  But the mercenaries are up to something else and we’d like to ask you to focus some attention on that.”

Cinereal still had that dangerous, intimidating thing going.  She leaned back, looking very casual and very ominous, and she asked, “How bad is this else?”

“We don’t know,” Foil said.  “But Tattletale is pretty certain that their focus is on the time stasis effects in Earth Bet’s Brockton Bay.”

“Tameka Schooley.  Lee Pemberton.  Tom Kahn.  Bakuda’s test run and one use when she was terrorizing the city,” Jeanne Wynne spoke up for the first time.  “Alabaster, Jotun, and Dauntless… Leviathan hurled them into a time stop effect when defenders tried to use one of Bakuda’s leftover tinker weapons to stop him.  Wanda Fowler, Sarah and Patty Martin.  Henry Holmes.  They tried to break into what locals termed ‘The Scar’, an ongoing cataclysm from a bombing run that had been made using more of Bakuda’s leftover technology.  They entered because someone had told them that The Scar had veins of diamond, gold, and other rare materials inside it, where matter had transmuted to different forms.”

“Did it?” Aleph Wolf asked.  “That someone was right?”

“Yes.  Rumors got out while barriers to contain the effect were being put up.  The workers saw things.  Unfortunately, that area also had a lot of active dangers that hadn’t gone off, settled, or stopped.  The four risk-takers tripped an inactive weapon and were trapped by a fourth time-stop effect.”

“Maybe they’re still after that stuff,” Aleph Wolf said.  “Times are tight.  A big chunk of precious metals could go to some other dimension and pay for… a lot of things.  Get a whole city or the city through the winter.”

The Lone Wolf pack was a band of heroes that were taking an especially wild west approach, patrolling the periphery of the city and the surrounding worlds.  They answered problems where problems came up, they teamed up when absolutely essential, which was mainly if there was a bounty to share, but they were otherwise independent.

Aleph Wolf was exemplifying the ‘stick to the basics’ mentality, as well as the group’s ‘heroic mercenary’ streak.

“I think it’s more worrying than a cash grab,” I said.  “Teacher and his mercenaries parted ways.  If it was a question of cash in a really dangerous area… Teacher would put his thinkers and tinkers to solving the problem, he’d succeed, and he’d be in good shape.  I can’t see why he’d back off.”

“The Wardens were looking into those effects, as well as the ongoing Gray Boy loops,” Jeanne said.  “They researched it and decided no.  The same people who petitioned the Wardens then petitioned the government.  It crossed my desk, but I already had some faint knowledge of what it was about.  I considered, researched, and came to the decision that yes, I know a way to undo the effect.  No, I won’t actually do it.”

Using her power, I thought.  She could free people from perpetual torment and she says no.

“Why no?” I asked.

It wasn’t Jeanne who answered.  Cinereal gave me my reply.  “Thinkers say no.  They’re either drawing blanks or they don’t like what they see.”

“Nothing specific?  No details?”

“No,” Cinereal said.  “But if you look at some of the other major thinker blind spots, you’re going to find yourself running into topics like Eidolon, Sleeper, the Endbringers, Valkyrie, the Island-state, the Pastor incident…”

“Concentrations of power,” I said.

Jeanne shook her head.  “Complexity of power, most often.  Whatever thinker powers come into play, with these cases, there’s often too many variables to fully consider, thinkers report that their powers are fuzzy, inconsistent, or blacked out.”

“And it’s not just the time-stop bubbles in Brockton Bay that are an issue?” I asked.

Jeanne shook her head.  “But Brockton Bay is one of the largest collections.  Keep that in mind.”

“And you don’t know why?  The thinkers can’t shed any light on this?” I asked.

“Little.”

“You’re saying you checked, you’re saying no, risky for reasons you can’t disclose.  The Wardens checked, and they’re saying no, the thinkers think it’s volatile somehow…”

“Yes,” Cinereal said.  “Volatile is a good way to put it.  It might not explode.  It might be devastating.”

“Okay,” I said.  “And for the record, I want to stress that Teacher said no.  He broke with his mercenaries from Cheit because they wanted to go after this.  Are the mercenaries after it because so many people are afraid to touch it, or do they know something we don’t?”

“I couldn’t tell you,” Jeanne said.

“Can you send me information on the victims?”

“I will.  Bakuda’s victims, the three heroes-”

“Not all heroes,” I said.  “Alabaster and Jotun were white supremacists.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.  Files on those two groups, and the group in the bubble caught the group that snuck into The Scar.  I’ll send you what others sent to me.”

Trying to wrap our heads around a problem that apparently even thinker powers couldn’t tackle without running into blind spots.

Daunting.

I turned to the heroes, my eye mainly on Cinereal and Relay.  This wasn’t an easy ask.  “We can’t get directly involved until we’ve tackled Cradle, Love Lost, or some other peripheral things.  If we can make headway in solving any of those issues, we should be able to converge on the mercenary problem from multiple angles.  In an ideal world, we’ll catch up with them from the flanks while you’re approaching from the front.”

“We’ll do what we can,” Cinereal said.  “But we don’t have many resources.”

More crime and incidents than we had heroes to send to them.  The city was still on fire, and we didn’t have the means to put every single fire out.

“When you say resources, you mean heroes,” Foil spoke up.

“Yes,” Cinereal said.

“Do you have money?”

“Are you hiring yourself out?”

“No,” Foil said.  “But there are a lot of capes out there who are worried about the winter.  Most costumed stuff doesn’t pay.  The guys you’re dealing with are hiring mercenaries.  This Order of Four, the Case Fifty-Threes.  If you’re really pressed for manpower, we can send you a list of people.”

“A mercenary we hire is someone the other guys can’t,” Lark said.  “I can look into that.”

“We’ll send you the list, then.  I can send copies to anyone else who asks.  You can tell us if you know something about the potential hires that means they can solve a problem we have or if they’re going to be a problem.”

“I’ll talk things over with Countenance,” Relay said.  “My gut feeling is that I’m worried you’re getting mired in something personal, while we’re sticking our necks out with something that thinkers can’t vet.”

“If you have any suggestions or alternatives-” I started.

“I’ll talk to Countenance,” Relay stated.  Firm, final.  He did with me what he’d done to Foil, angling his head so he looked up at me more than he looked at me.  The brow and a partial view of his eyes dominated his expression, as a result.  He took notes on the pad in front of him, as if he was leaning forward to write.

But he still studied me.

Nobody else was willing to commit, with the largest and most influential hero team in our group that wasn’t the Wardens being unwilling to do more without checking with the boss.  The Wardens were too caught up in other things to dedicate themselves unless it was something on the scale of the prison or the Fallen camp, but I was reserving hope that Cinereal would talk to others about the time bubbles.

“We’ll touch base again soon?” Weld asked.  “If you’re approaching the same problem from two directions, you’ll want to compare notes.”

I looked at Relay, who nodded.

If we’re getting involved in the time bubble issue,” Relay said.  “But we’ll meet soon regardless.”

“Capricorn Red will represent us for the next meeting,” I said.

That was it.  For lack of a better word, the room dissolved, with everyone shuffling around, splitting up, or leaving the area.

Weld signaled for my attention.

“You good?” I asked Precipice.

He nodded.

“Foil?”

Foil glanced at Jeanne, who was walking toward her.

“You want backup?”

“No.  I know what this is about.  Old alliances and favors owed.  Tattletale told me to expect her to show up and to expect this.  I’m just the middleman.”

“I’ll stick around,” Precipice said.

I had to wonder if Foil was happy like this.  Having to go out of her way to even collaborate with the heroes, and then being questioned when she did.

I kept an eye on her up until I caught up with Weld, who had retreated to a far corner of the room, mostly out of earshot of others.  He seemed mindful of the other people in the room, his mouth shut.

Relay was already gone, teleporting out.  Aleph Wolf was just leaving.  The moment Aleph Wolf was out of the room, Weld finally spoke.

“What do you think?”

“I think if Alabaster is potentially a part of this, it’s worth reaching out to the Shepherds.  Victor and Rune from the Empire are in the Shepherds now, under new names.  They knew Alabaster and they might know something about Jotun.  He was small-time.”

“Okay.”

“Can you handle that?” I asked.  “The Wardens are neutral, so you can talk to the other group without issues, right?”

Weld nodded.

“I hope the division between the heroes isn’t straining things with Sveta.”

“With different bosses it might,” he said.  “We’ve been together for about three years, depending on how you define ‘together’.  You were a big part in that.”

I smiled.

“I think we’re okay there.  Nobody’s demanding that I make any hard decisions yet.”

“Good,” I said.

“I did want to ask something though,” he said.  “I don’t-”

He stopped himself there.  He stood with his back to the wall, the window beside him, and the texture and material of his ‘skin’ made for a striking image.

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t have a lot of friends that I can talk to about certain things,” he said.  “I have teammates, but few who have spent any amount of time around Case Fifty-Threes.”

“Is it about the Fifty-Threes who were doing mercenary work?”

“No.  No- it’s not that.  It’s more awkward.”

With that, I knew just what he was talking about.

“Ah.  I get it now,” I said.

He didn’t reply, and I didn’t press.  More of the heroes filtered out.  Jeanne was talking to Foil, with Precipice standing beside Foil, not really joining in.

“She welcomed me home from my mission away with… affection.  I’m assuming she talked to you about it.”

“Yeah.”

“She brought it up after?”

“She seemed really happy.  I didn’t get details.”

“Can I-” he started.  “I don’t want to put you in an awkward position, but I don’t know who to bring it up with.”

“Ask, or share,” I said.  “I get the feeling it’ll do more harm if you don’t.”

“It wasn’t good,” Weld said.

My heart sank.

“I love her, don’t get me wrong.  I was game to experiment and find something that worked.  But none of it worked.  None of it.”

“Fuck,” I said, under my breath.  My fingers dug into my arms.  “Damn it.

“Well put,” Weld told me, sounding just as miserable.

“Can you communicate?  Find a way…?”

I saw Weld already shaking his head.

“I thought I’d play along to make her happy.  Like I do when she wants to experiment with food.  We’ve had some small, tiny successes there.  Maybe there could be a success to be found here.”

“Of course.”

“I spent a while thinking about it.  I think I was wrong, thinking I could do that.  I think each time I try to play along, it’s only pushing me away.  It takes what we can’t have and pushes it into my face.”

I snapped my head around, looking at him.

His forehead was creased, brow knit.  Quicksilver eyes looked back at me.

“I know it’s a fucked thing to say, but I like girls and part of that is liking girls’ bodies.  Sorry if that’s TMI.  I haven’t had one of these conversations with anyone.”

I shook my head.  My heart was pounding in my chest, as calm as I was trying to appear.

“I feel like a traitor, even saying it.  Saying I’ve entertained thoughts about breaking up with-”

I stabbed my finger at his shoulder, using the Wretch to give that finger the power to push his heavy metal body.  I pushed his shoulder into the window’s frame, indenting the metal and damaging the wood.

“Ow,” he said.  He blinked, metal closing over those liquid silver eyes with etched irises.  “Actually pretty close to feeling pain there.  Ow.  That registered.”

“Breaking up?” I asked him, my voice hard.

“It crossed my mind, after the other night.  And the nights since.  I know that makes me the scummiest hypocrite, saying I’m not sure I can date a Case Fifty-Three when that would disqualify me in a lot of people’s eyes.”

I dropped my finger.

“No,” I said.  “You’re not.”

“You don’t have to lie,” he said.

“I’m not.  You don’t have to date a Case Fifty-Three anymore than a black person would have to date another black person.  That’s a screwed-up mentality.”

“It’s different,” Weld said.  “Being black is the most normal thing in the world.  Being me, being Sveta, being Chantilly or Gentle Giant, it comes with complications.”

“If you were disabled, you would not be obligated to only date disabled people.”

Weld shrugged.  With his broad shoulders, decorated with melted fragments of metal, it was a pretty dramatic movement.  “You can say that, but I still feel like a hypocritical scumbag.”

“I don’t think you’re a hypocrite.  I do think you’re a bit of a scumbag, talking about dumping my best friend.”

Weld nodded, with enough fervor that I felt bad for being hard on him.   “I want to do right by her.  I mean it when I say I love her.  But that love gets confused.”

“Confused?”

“It’s there.  But I don’t know if it’s the love I feel for the woman I’m going to marry, a girlfriend, a best friend, or even a-”

He didn’t finish the sentence.

He was being really open.  Maybe more open than he’d been with anyone except Director Armstrong, at least with this stuff.  But he didn’t finish the sentence.

“It’s like trying to compose something and skipping out on the vocals or the strings.”

“Percussion would be a better metaphor,” I said.

I didn’t smile as I said it, and Weld didn’t smile as he heard it.

“There’s no workable physical aspect, and I want that aspect.”

I folded my arms.  Weld did much the same.

Fuck.  Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.  Fuck.

At the other corner of the long conference room, Jeanne was leaving.  Precipice and Foil hung back, talking with one another.

Fuck it all.  Fuck.  Fucking why did this have to be so hard?

Precipice shot me a curious look.  Foil walked past him, and for a second I thought she was walking around the table to approach us, interrupting the conversation.  She was walking to the window though, still at the far end of the library’s conference room, looking down toward the parking lot, then out at the city.  Precipice indicated a portal in the distance, cutting into the sky.

“I’ll make you a deal,” I told Weld.

“Please.  Anything you can offer.  If I could feel sick, I think I actually would feel sick over this.”

“You tell me before you do anything.  You promise me you will, and you keep that promise.  Because if you do something like break up with her on impulse it’s going to be worse.”

Weld nodded.

“And I swear, if you tell her the actual reason why, I will tear your arms off.”

“How do I do that?” Weld asked.  “I want to communicate, be honest that it’s not all that great, and try more avenues before claiming defeat.  Not that there’s many more, but she’s not stupid.  She can connect dots, if that’s the big issue we’re wrestling with and then I break up with her without explanation.”

He’d talked about feeling sick, but I was the one who felt that way now.

Poor fucking Sveta.

“The deal,” I said, because I couldn’t answer the question that easily if addressing it directly.  “Is that you warn me in advance if you make a decision.  I’ll be there for her with ice cream and my shoulders ready to cry on.”

“Okay,” Weld said.  “I’m not sure I’m there yet.  The decision, I mean.”

“Second part of the deal?  Figure out a way that explains it, okay?  That makes it not about her lack of a body or physical incompatibility.  Because that will annihilate her.”

“Yeah,” Weld said.

“For that, you need to take time, and you need to give me time.  Let me research.  Let me ask questions.”

“We’ve looked at a lot of options and possible power interactions,” Weld said.

“Let me research,” I said, my voice terse to the point that it was almost hostile.

“Then I will,” Weld said.  “Okay.  How long?”

“A month.  Two.”

“Month and a half?”

I shrugged.  Already, I felt more like I was buying time to stave off devastation than I felt any hope that I’d stumble on a solution.

“Victoria,” Precipice called out from the other end of the room.  “We’ll be outside!”

I twisted around, looking down at the parking lot.  “Trouble?”

He shook his head.  “Getting organized.  I’m going to load some stuff into the car.”

“I should go,” I said.

“Thanks for being a friend,” Weld said.

“You know, if you break up with Sveta, meet a gorgeous girl and break Sveta’s heart again, I’m obligated to throw you into the center of the Atlantic Ocean.”

Weld winced.  “Sveta’s dished on my weaknesses, I guess?”

“Hm?  Not really.”

“Fear of mine.”

“Through the stratosphere then, so long as it’s ignorance and not maliciousness, but I don’t think you’re that kind of guy.”

Weld shook his head.

“What you do is your choice.  You don’t have to stay with her.  But you have to be gentle.”

“I don’t even know if I will go through with it,” Weld said.  “It’s just… thinking.  The idea of making her genuinely happy makes me happier than anything.  Even imagining that I might make her sad is making me more miserable than I’ve been in a long time.”

I put my hand on his shoulder.

“Go,” he said.  “I’ll go after the Shepherds, distract myself by talking to some vaguely familiar and probably hostile faces.”

Victor and Rune.

I slid the window open, then flew through, heading for the lot.  I shut the window behind me, and floated down.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck…

Precipice and Foil were just now reaching the ground floor.  I waited for them.  Rain indicated the dumpster at the edge of the street.  Metal for roofs, fencing, and power tools that had been thrown out, because they’d been made cheap in a time of need and they hadn’t been made to last.  He’d spotted all of it when we’d pulled up to the library.

We loaded as much as we could fit into the trunk.  Foil used her power to slice some pieces of corrugated metal into smaller chunks.

We climbed into the car.  The driver turned on the engine, but he didn’t pull out of the parking spot.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

He held up a note.  There was still tape at the top.

I didn’t even get a chance to read it when the passenger door opened.

“Scoot.”

I turned to look.  Rain was shifting to the middle seat.  At the open door, Imp was climbing into the car.

“What were you doing?” I asked, trying to sound more casual than suspicious and unsure if I was succeeding.  I was usually better at that, but- conversation with Weld.

“Went with Mrs. Wynn.  When she was done talking to us, she got on her phone to talk to her hubby and some guy called Balminder.”

“And?”

“This Balminder guy has Cauldron vials.  We talked about how Tats said there were Case-53s at the attacks.  Mercenaries, right?”

“Yes,” Tattletale said.

Both groups were assembled in the hideout, with only Rachel absent.  They’d decided it was time to call her.

Sveta sat beside me, very still as she watched Imp.

“They were talking out loud about whether their vials could be responsible for the new cases.”

“And?” Sveta asked, her voice tight.

“And they think no.”

Both teams and a collection of the Heartbroken were assembled at our headquarters.

I’d thought earlier about how the conference room had felt too empty, but how it would feel too full if everyone was present.

This was that weird middle ground, I decided.  Not a middle ground where the porridge was just right, but one where it was both too hot and too cold.  Fucking uncomfortable.

Chicken Little had a pigeon in his hands, and Kenzie was fitting something around its neck and chest.  One of the Heartbroken- Candy, I was pretty sure, was sitting on the edge of Kenzie’s desk, feet propped up on the back and front edge of Chicken Little’s chair.  Dark hair, braided close to the scalp at one side, the rest left as a tumble.  Darlene knelt on the floor by Chicken Little, holding the cage with more birds inside.

Others were scattered around the room.  Some boys were in Chris’ old corner, having found and started up some of his old games.  One had been given to Kenzie- it wasn’t a video game player, but a scanner.  She would dismantle it later.

Older Heartbroken were scattered in with a trio of mercenaries, and were managing some of the remaining Heartbroken.  A seventeen or eighteen year old with really long, wavy hair was stepping on a leather whip she’d wound around one girl’s hands, keeping the hands pressed to the floor.

Eerie, to think about where they came from and how very dangerous they were.

A hell of a lot of emotional firepower.

On the topic of firepower, Ashley was present, sitting on the floor with her legs tucked under her.  When we hadn’t been sharing info as a group, she had been talking quietly to the little girl that was Kenzie’s age who had her hands bound by the whip.

Parian and Foil sat on plastic cases with perishable foods inside.  Tattletale stood off to one side, a healthy distance from the dangerous little ones, looking at various screens.

“New Cauldron, same as the old Cauldron,” Sveta said.

“They have less resources.  And they rule Gimel,” Tattletale said.  “Different mission statement now.  From getting through the end of the world to surviving the aftermath.”

“When you put it that way, you make it sound like they’re on our side,” Precipice said.

“New Cauldron, same as the old Cauldron,” Tattletale said, indicating Sveta, who she’d borrowed the line from.  “Doing things that everyone should be unambiguously on board for and making every enemy possible along the way.”

“Great,” I said.  “Countenance and I exchanged a few texts while we drove back.  Relay gave him a quick recap and he reached out.  He sounds…”

“Undecided?” Byron-as-Capricorn asked.

“On the positive side of undecided.  Agreeable but yet to say he’s sure he’ll do it.  They’ll try to look after and stall any plans for the mercenaries and what they’re planning with the time bubbles.  If we catch up or figure out why while we’re dealing with the mercenaries’ allies, we use that info to help them wrap up.”

“We can’t focus on the mercenaries and stop whatever it is they’re doing?” Foil asked.

“We don’t have leads on them.  We do have some loose leads on Cradle’s business dealings, places Love Lost’s people have been seen, people they’ve hurt, and some last known whereabouts of March.”

“We go after them, then,” Byron-as-Capricorn said.  “All at once, after one target?”

“Coordinated strikes,” Ashley said.

“I dunno,” I said.  “I like the focused attack better.  Our goal is to keep them from achieving their goals or our worst case scenario.  A focused attack guarantees we take the most problematic person out of the picture.”

“March,” Foil said, definitively.

I drew in a slight breath.

“You don’t think so,” she said.  Again, a statement, firm.

“We’re supposed to be cooperating,” I said.  “The best order to remove threats would be to remove one of ours, one of yours, another one of ours.  It gives the best odds that we see this through.”

“Or we coordinate,” Ashley said.  The kid on the ground was inching closer to her while she focused on us, wriggling and twisting until her arms threatened to dislocate, just to get closer, gnashing teeth.  “No need to worry about order if we’re going after all of them at once.”

Capricorn shifted.  From Byron to Tristan.

“I think coordinated,” he said.  “It’s faster, and it means we can support the other groups.  Even if we fail on one front, we have better odds of keeping them from uniting.  Doing what you say, Victoria, and keeping them from achieving any goals and meeting up.”

I glanced at Tattletale.

“Don’t look at me,” she said.  “I’m here to collect information, because it’s warm, and we needed another place to go while March is hunting us.  You have some of my mercenaries.  You can ask me one favor.  I may refuse it.  But I’m not getting involved personally.  I need to conserve strength.”

“You can be-” Foil started.  Parian pulled her back down to her seat.

“I can be such a bitch sometimes?” Tattletale asked.  “At least I’m upfront about it.”

“I think we should split up,” Imp said.  “Coordinate.”

I had my reservations.  Still, sometimes with groups, a mediocre plan that everyone was on board with was much better than a fantastic plan with disgruntled people and people who had no idea what they were doing or why.

I nodded.

“Let’s get organized to hit them all at once, then,” I said.  “Three groups, three raids on March and the two members of the cluster.”

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112 thoughts on “Blinding – 11.4”

  1. TT sounds like she’s tired of running this show. Imp would probably take over, but I could see Foil switching teams to Breakthrough, just because she’s a cluster and that’s how Breakthrough rolls.

    Happy New Year to Wildbow and all his fans!

    1. She would have to convince Parian first, and I don’t think it’ll be easy, or break up with Parian, and I don’t see them doing it.

      1. Parian wanted Foil as a lieutenant, with Parian calling the shots (lampshaded, of course, by taking the name “Foil”). Foil is maybe still a lieutenant, but Parian ain’t the captain. Parian had real motivations back then. Now Dolltown is gone and March has given Foil the focus of this pair. Maybe Parian has grown as a person and no longer has to have that? Maybe not? Either way, she has shrunk as a character. Foil was still interesting when Parian’s interests motivated the couple. With the situation reversed, Parian has disappeared. She is boring so the relationship is boring, and it’s contributing very little to the story. The relationship could be redeemed as a narrative hook by a bit of discord. Might we see an interlude in with some argument and resentment, to motivate a (perhaps temporary) break-up? For Parian’s sake I hope so!

        1. No, we don’t. What we need is an opportunity for Parian and Antares to talk without either one being nervous or pressured. Parian has disappeared for one very simple reason- Vicky is not Taylor.

          Taylor got Foil because she flipped Parian from Rogue to Villain, and Parian took her girlfriend with her. Vicky didn’t know Parian, they might have met occasionally at cape conventions in Brockton Bay, but they didn’t have a working relationship and they don’t know each other. Those meetings probably went as far as talking about clothes and the possibility of Parian making New Wave’s costumes. If even that far; Parian’s a master, and many masters are shy or otherwise reclusive, and being a rogue, Parian was a noncombatant so they can’t even talk about beating up the same thugs.

          Vicky does, however, know Foil- they were both on the Brockton Bay Wards at one point, and whilst neither of them stayed on the team for long, it gave them a chance to socialise without the masks and get to know each other properly.

          1. That’s true as far it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. We’ve had lots of non-POV interludes. We have all fallen in love with Sidepiece even though I’m not sure that Victoria has even met her. If Parian has something interesting going on, WB needs to drop it on us quick, even if it’s just a tiny detail to imply that a bigger mystery exists…

          2. Antares has met Sidepiece. Vicky interviewed her and Disjoint after the electro-tinker fight a couple chapters ago. Also Vicky was close enough to hear Sidepiece yell ‘Do you want a piece of me?’ at the Fallen during the Fallen Raid.

          3. Of course you’re right about that delightful interrogation, but if anything it points out even more Parian’s complete failure to do anything of note. She has also been around, since all the Undersiders are on the run together, and hasn’t done anything remotely interesting. I guess it’s good that she hasn’t fallen back on the vaguely pathetic “I don’t know how to villain” shtick she had when first recruited, but why haven’t we seen her e.g. charming some of the younger Heartbroken children with beautiful animate dolls? Or solving any problem with some other reasonable use of her powers?

          4. Parian has never been a very violent person. She helped against Leviathan, and Gold Morning, and maybe Behemoth (but I can’t remember her being there) but she’s not somebody to go out of their way to hurt someone. (Her power probably penalises her for this.) As for not doing anything, we know she’s made a line of memorial clothing, with skyline designs from Brockton Bay and New York at least. Erin and Vicky both have worn clothing by her. But if she can sit out, she will.

            Charming the Heartbroken with animate dolls? They’re Heartbroken. They puppet people, not dolls- Parian won’t impress them. But the thing is, if the Undersiders need to get around, they ride Bitch’s dogs, which are stronger, faster and more agile. If they need to hit something, they use Bitch’s dogs, which are stronger and more durable. Parian’s dolls are back up. They’re expendable in a way Bitch’s dogs aren’t, but they’re also trickier to get around discretely, since if they aren’t being animated they’re a pile of cloth. Quite a large pile of cloth, at that, and probably at risk of being stolen to be turned into blankets. They also need her to puppet them, unlike Bitch’s dogs which can be ordered by others. During the Fallen raid, I expect Parian was hanging back with a doll or two, offering protection to Tattletale.

    2. Regarding Tattletale being tired of running the Undersiders, I always thought that she never wanted to do it. At first she left the position to Brian. After his second trigger and associated emotional problems she let Taylor do it. Only after Taylor left, she took the position herself, because there was nobody else fit to do it.

      In military terms I always thought she preferred to be the chief of staff, and let someone else to be the commanding general. And just like it often happens in military, when the general was gone, chief of staff was a natural candidate for general’s position, and did an adequate job despite never having the right temperament to feel comfortable with it.

      1. And yes, she might be trying to groom Imp for command. As bad as Imp is, she is still probably a way better choice than for example Bitch or Parian.

        1. Frankly Imp would be better than TT. No paralysis from analysis (the typical trap for Thinkers in-universe and IRL) when Imp is in charge. At a basic level, and more even than most other Thinkers, TT can only ever be reactive. Imp is self-directed. She has never needed orders because for the most part no one even remembered she was available for orders. She only needed to be childish when there were no children around. Since the timeskip she has been an adult influence. Also she has a strong unacknowledged drive to emulate Skitter, who was definitely more effective as a leader than TT has been.

          As the Heartbroken grow into their strength, they will form the most powerful portion of Undersiders anyway. (At least until CL gets a portal to an Earth where the K–Pg extinction event never occurred.) Parian and Bitch can be associate Heartbroken, called out every few months when they need some powerful minions. (Again, until…) TT and Foil seem destined to go another direction…

          1. There are a few problems with Imp taking over leadership of the Undersiders. The first one has been lack of her maturity, though as far as I can tell she is getting better in this regard, in part due to her age, in part because of the responsibility of taking care of the Heartbroken. Tattletale probably also did her best to influence Aisha in this direction, as part of “grooming her for command”.

            The second problem has always been Imp’s aggressiveness – she always threw herself into danger head on, counting on her power to keep her safe. As much as Undersiders as a whole group were from their very beginnings about being proactive, Imp may be taking it a bit too far. It could be dangerous for the group, if she was as reckless with them, as she is when operating on her own. This style is also not exactly ideal if you have a territory to protect, so it would probably be more difficult for the Undersiders to keep New Brockton under Imp than it is under Tattletale. Of course depending on how their current problem with March resolves, they may no longer be able to regain control over that territory anyway.

            The third problem is that it is probably impractical to have someone as a leader, if that someone can’t be combat effective, and be remembered by her teammates at the same time. It would be difficult for Imp to coordinate her team in combat, since she needs to turn her power off every time she has to give orders.

          2. Still it is true that Tattletale is probably more comfortable reading reports, and making plans (chief of staff’s job) than motivating people, and making quick decisions when she doesn’t have enough info to say if her decision is better than any other, but she needs to make one, and appear to be convinced that it is the correct one, because visibly hesitating could have a devastating impact on team’s morale (commanding general’s job).

            Of course Tattletale has less problems with making quick decision’s than most chief-of-staffs-turned-commanding-generals would have, because her power means that she:
            a. rarely has no idea which decision is better,
            b. when she really has no idea, she can still say “my power tells me we should do this”, and most people will believe her,
            but she still would probably be happy to get rid of her burden of command, and focus on what she does best – gathering and analyzing information, and creating longer term well informed plans based on her analyses.

          3. Oh, and providing some quick insights in a heat of battle, but without having to make all decisions based on those insights herself.

          4. Regarding point b. two posts above, it may even not always be to her advantage. Sure, she’s got great poker face when it comes to telling people what is based on her power, and what is just her guess, and most people usually believe her, when she says it is the former, but those who know her better also realize that she is not always truthful about it, and may second guess her even when thanks to her power she really knows better.

            Not to mention that by her own admission even her power makes mistakes sometimes.

  2. Oh man I did not need relationship worries with Weld and Sveta. Will someone figure out remote controlled, anatomically correct android bodies for them or something? Don’t make Vicky throw him into the stratosphere with an arc that lands him in the middle of the Atlantic.

    And they are splitting the party up? Poor Rain, he’s going to have problems no matter who they send him after.

    1. > Oh man I did not need relationship worries with Weld and Sveta.

      Oh boy… Weld broke the fundamental rule about relationships – never fake how you feel, including in bed. I see it as far worse than any thoughts about breaking up he has. This is 100% on him, and his cowardice.

      “It’s there. But I don’t know if it’s the love I feel for the woman I’m going to marry, a girlfriend, a best friend, or even a-”

      -daughter? You know what Weld? I really like you, and I get where this is coming from, but this is one more reason why you deserved to be poked with the Wretch today.

      > Will someone figure out remote controlled, anatomically correct android bodies for them or something?

      Ten by ten? If it is even possible for W&S, I think this is where I would start to look for help. Pity nobody other than D&D know about it, and D&D almost certainly don’t know about W&S’s problem. See 16.y of Worm, if you don’t know what I mean.

      > Don’t make Vicky throw him into the stratosphere with an arc that lands him in the middle of the Atlantic.

      From 27.5 of Worm:

      “We need to go,” the tendril girl said. “We’re no use to anyone dead.”

      “I can’t swim, Sveta, understand?” Weld’s voice was quiet. “It’s not- I’ll stay behind. We’ve got the case for you to hide inside. Sanguine can carry you. You should go.”

      “We need you, Weld,” Sveta said.

      Weld looked away.

      “Another form,” Sanguine said. “Something that floats.”

      “I’m metal.”

      “Metal boats float,” Sanguine said.

      Weld frowned.

      “What is it?” Sveta asked.

      “I’m not sure it’ll work.”

      “If it doesn’t,” Sanguine said, “walk.”

      “On the ocean floor?” Sveta asked.

      “He doesn’t breathe.”

      “It’s not that simple,” Weld said. “I’m going to stay. I have old teammates to look after. You guys should leave.”

      “Not without you,” Sveta said, her voice angry.

      Weld’s fear of drowning strikes again! I love little touches like this.

      From current chapter:

      Weld winced. “Sveta’s dished on my weaknesses, I guess?”

      “Hm? Not really.”

      “Fear of mine.”

      How could you even think something like this about Sveta, Weld!

      1. I think from what Sveta’s said about her fears in the past, he was probably about to say sister, not daughter.

      2. Interesting that you went ‘daughter’. I finished that sentence with ‘sister’. And for Weld breaking the rule… This is probably his first relationship. He led the Wards four years ago, so… I’d say he was no older than twenty, and he’s been with Sveta for three and a half years. It might not be a forgivable sin, but it’s certainly an understandable one, from that angle.

        Also, it’s not a fear of drowning, because he doesn’t breathe. I’d say he’s more likely scared of the dark, and the bottom of the ocean is a serious dark, particularly since he knows there’s light up there, somewhere, he just can’t get to it. Except it might not be light up there; it might be night time. He can’t tell; there’s a reason why it’s called the ‘Abyssal Plain’. Maybe he’s walking in circles, there’s no landmarks. On Gimel, there’s not even any shipwrecks to keep him going if he needs metal… Does he rust? Seawater is one of the most corrosive naturally forming substances around, he’ll find out if he does. He’ll find land eventually, right? How long does it take to walk across the Atlantic? Wait, the only people who have managed it have been speedsters, they don’t count. And him, hopefully. Unless he’s going in circles.

        1. I also thought about “little sister” almost as soon as I posted that.

          As for “drowning”, I guess I misspoke a bit, I should have said “sinking”, aand I’m not trying to suggest that it is an entirely baseless fear. Many phobias aren’t.

          1. And if you want to be extra specific, it is probably something like “sinking far away from land” or something along those lines, but that would be too much of a mouthful for the tone of that post, wouldn’t it?

        2. I’d be more afraid of the crushing pressure then the dark if I were him. It’d turn him into one of those scrappy blocks you see in scrapyards. Probably one of the few ways the guy could really die. And even if he didn’t die from it, the pressure would keep him from moving. Imagine spending eternity alone in the dark unable to move and with no hope of ever getting free all the while enduring the pain of a billions of tons of water crushing down on you.
          … Great. Now I’ve scared myself.

          1. Pressure underwater doesn’t work like that though. Stuff in a scrap press get’s pressure from outside. If you’re underwater, the pressure is on all surfaces of your body. The force pressing your arm towards your body is canceled by the force from the other side of the arm forcing it in the opposite direction. What remains is pressure on your body itself. I think Weld is made of solid metal, so not much to compress there.
            Hope I am not being too much off a smartass here.

          2. That’s not how water pressure works though. Right now at this very moment, (assuming you have a surface area of roughly 1.9 square meters like the average adult human male and are at sea level) you have 19.6 -tons- of force pressing on you from the atmosphere.

            Since it’s evenly pressing in all directions though, there’s no real net force you need to overcome in order to move. (which is why deep-sea fish don’t need to be ludicrously strong in order to swim around freely)

            Similarly, the pressure of the ocean’s depths only matters for durability if you’re trying to preserve a pocket of low-density air inside yourself. (in which case you’ll only need a couple inches of steel, which isn’t a concern for Weld and his full-metal body)

            If you don’t need to breathe, you can let your lungs fill with seawater and have it counteract the force being exerted from outside. This is how flimsy deep-sea fish avoid being crushed, by not having any low-density voids inside themselves and keeping neutral with the surrounding water.

            Now, Weld’s eardrums are another matter and might be popped as water pushes in on the air trapped inside them, but that’s not something life-threatening. (and if he’s letting his lungs and sinuses fill with water anyways, he could probably equalize pressure by yawning/swallowing and letting the Eustachian tubes open. Of course that brings up the issue of getting the water out afterwards, which would be all sorts of annoying and justification all by itself for not wanting to walk on the seabed unprotected)

          3. Well, it won’t let me reply to you guys, so I’ll reply to myself, and hope y’all see it. I didn’t actually know that about underwater pressure. All I knew was that there was something called “crush depth” where a sub’s hull is expected to collapse when it gets to that depth and deeper. I figured it would be the same sort of thing for Weld. I feel like I’ve learned something here. I like that. Thank you both.
            Still, it’s possible he is as ignorant about this stuff as I was, and does fear the pressure because of it.

          4. There’s only so many replies the comment section can make, and this one’s maxed out.

            And what I’ll also say is that it’s not too hard for Weld to remove the water from his body, since all he has to do is change shape so all his water-admitting orifices are below the water-filled voids he wants to empty. Provide a hole in the top to prevent a vacuum and he’s set for draining.

        3. > Unless he’s going in circles.

          Sounds like he needs to magnetize his body, so he can at least always tell which way magnetic north is.

          1. He can’t magnetise his body. Or not all of it. He’s an alloy of every metal he’s ever touched. Aluminium, copper, iron, steel, all of it. It’s why I specified metallokinesis, not ferrokinesis. Also, magnetising like that might be beyond his control.

          2. I know, just joking again. However if he could make some part of his body mostly ferromagnetic, I think that becoming a living compass would not be impossible for them. Even some birds can do it, so why not he?

          3. I’m not sure how much control he has over what metal goes where. I think it’s re-purposed by his shard based on its properties and bodged into doing what the shard needs it for Weld’s survival. His internal organs are copper alloy, for example.

            Also, it’s not the first time I’ve missed a joke you’ve made.

      3. Reminder that as a Case 53, Weld has little-to-nothing in the way of memories prior to Case 53ing. Leaves him (and Sveta) a little short on references for relationship emotions, maybe a little short on context for the feelings they have for each other.

        1. Of course. Not that anyone is an expert when they are in their relationship, and it is not like I suggest that Weld should be condemned for life for what he did or something like that, but you’ve got to admit that he made a very basic error of lieing to Sveta to avoid hurting her feelings, and by doing so he only made situation worse.

          If she ever learns about the lie in a wrong way, she will be hurt even more, and because she has a wrong impression about what works for him, she won’t know to look for something else. And it all happened because he was afraid to tell her the truth.

  3. Soo, three coordinated strikes on Cradle, Love Lost and March, who just so happen to be coordinating too in this very moment. That’s a disaster in the making if I ever saw one.

    Also, in the list of Thinker blank spots I noticed some new things: “the Island-state, the Pastor incident”. Have we ever heard of these before? Or is it a Sleeper kind of thing.

    1. Island-state makes me think of the island that Amy and Chris took over, especially if the problem for thinkers is that there’s too much power interaction since a bunch of villains are there.

    2. We’ve heard of the Pastor incident, I think it was mentioned offhandedly in Worm, and WibblyBlob wrote a short found-footage style thing on Reddit that just raises more questions than it answers. Basically, a pastor managed to take over a small town through power fuckery and it was quarantined, but we don’t really know anything more than that. Here’s the link to it: https://www.reddit.com/r/Parahumans/comments/4yyakn/what_is_the_pastor_incident/

      I’m pretty sure it’s the first mention of the Island-State, though. Maybe there’s a WoG out there, but I don’t think we know anything about it.

  4. Someone is dying soon. My money is on Tattletale or one of Team Breakthrough, other than Sveta’s heart is broken by Weld.

    Also, way to slip in those obscure Spacebattles references, Wildbow.

  5. Typos?

    > One of the Heartbroken- Candy,[…]
    > One had been given to Kenzie- it wasn’t a video game player, but a scanner.

    Missing spaces in front of both dashes?

    1. Files on those two groups, and the group in the bubble caught the group that snuck into The Scar.
      -not sure which groups, and groups was said twice

  6. So many observations! So many questions!

    “Capricorn Red will represent us for the next meeting,” I said.

    It is funny how specific she was. I guess the brothers are still in full agreement that Byron isn’t supposed to do anything that would resemble taking a leadership position.

    Victor and Rune from the Empire are in the Shepherds now, under new names.

    At least we know who from E88 joined the Shepherds! Can anyone guess their new names?

    “[…]They entered because someone had told them that The Scar had veins of diamond, gold, and other rare materials inside it, where matter had transmuted to different forms.”

    “Did it?” Aleph Wolf asked. “That someone was right?”

    “Yes. Rumors got out while barriers to contain the effect were being put up. The workers saw things.[…]”

    Old, good alchemy, or just nuclear fission and fusion? Just how many laws of nature can one Scar break?

    Chicken Little had a pigeon in his hands, and Kenzie was fitting something around its neck and chest.
    […]
    Others were scattered around the room. Some boys were in Chris’ old corner, having found and started up some of his old games. One had been given to Kenzie- it wasn’t a video game player, but a scanner. She would dismantle it later.

    Pigeon cameras? How does the scanner fit into this?

    What is the deal with Ashley, the whip, and the Heartboken (both the one with tied up hands, and the one standing on the whip)? Did Ashley has just make some new friends?

    1. I think the scanner was something Chris used to covertly copy the team’s powers for his tinkertech, disguised as a game.

      1. Could be. I haven’t thought about this kind of “scanner”, but it fits. I wonder what sort of new cameras and boxes await us in the future, if this is the case.

        1. On the other hand, I hope that we won’t soon see that every tinker has a scanner built for this purpose somewhere in their toolkit. It would be boring if every one of them did the “getting inspired by other powers” bit the same way as others. They already display a pretty universal understanding of each other’s notes. If it goes like this, tinker powers will become pretty much interchangeable in every way other than their specialty. We would not want it, would we?

          1. Kenzie understood electro-tinker’s notes, because she’s surveillance. That’s understanding information. Or, well, she didn’t necessarily understand it, on first read. It’s less that she can duplicate his tech, more that she can see what he does and how he does it and figure out how to copy his effects or use his lightning tinkery to boost her cameras. Also, Kenzie’s been a tinker for a while. Longer than Rain. She got more useful info from Rain than vice versa, which is how she was able to build a camera she can plug into her head- she used Rain’s plug-and-play cybernetic hook up- the thing Rain does better than his cluster. None of the others had plug-and-play limbs; Snag built extenders, Cradle builds massive arm-based mechs, and Love Lost builds gauntlets that go over her hands.

            Secondly, scanning powers almost certainly works differently for everyone, and would get different information. That’s why both Love Lost and Cradle scanned Disjoint; Love Lost (or possibly Cradle) got the info that let them rip the Navigators apart and keep them alive.

          2. Different information from the scans, yes. But I was talking about how the scans are done. Why would it even always need to be something that requires something that you would call a scan? Why not something like “look at the effects or power at work and get a flash of inspiration”, or something even more exotic, specific or difficult to explain?

          3. Maybe for some it is. But for Chris/Lab Rat, he needed a scanner. And the thing with scanners is that they work similarly to cameras, and Kenzie loves those.

            Kenzie herself, I hasten to add, has shown absolutely no prior evidence that she could already build a scanner of this type. And if she does, there might not be much she could build inspired by it. She’d probably be better at copying thinker powers, various clairvoyancies than Lab Rat, who created Brooding Anger out of a scan of Nursery.

          4. Of course it could more or less work, if “scans” would for one tinker mean “attaching it to a hundred galvanometers at once”, for another “put it in a test tube, mix with a few chemicals, and look at it under microscope”, for the third – just measure it with a ruler and a thermometer, for the fourth – listen how it sounds, when you whack it with a hammer, and so on. I just would like to see as much variety here, as with their final products.

          5. Here’s a thought. When Kenzie first pulled out her time-camera, Chris asked if it could take photos of inside the body and after Kenzie said yes, they had a look at that woman’s brain. Would that have been a scan for Lab Rat?

          6. Could be. I’m definitely for some “scans” not requiring any sort of physical measurement, just learning about something that can serve as an inspiration. It such case “scan” would be a rather unfortunate expression.

            Well, nobody said that everyone who contributed to creating tinker’s slang expressions needed to be a great poet or something along those lines.

          7. EoP: That’s a good thought. Other commentators have disagreed, but I’m pretty sure the target of that scan, “the woman in sunglasses”, was otherwise known as Goddess. Antares hints on this pretty hard. “This could be a perception power [danger sense]…. What if she’s a master, and that’s… whatever control system she needs to manage her minions? See, hear, coordinate?” Immediately after that Cryptid was all, “forget about this stuff, guys, I’m hungry now!”

            Was he actually paying very close attention to that scan of Goddess’s corona pollentia and using that to engineer a “twisted betrayal” form to counter Goddess’s mastery? If one is pretending to be a Changer, it might be good to obfuscate one’s Tinkering as idle questions that just happen to steer one’s teammate’s Tinkering.

          8. Judging by the Weaver Dice documents, just about all Tinkers can build scanners like this, yes. Scan Trinkets are one of the standard consumable items that most Tinkers are capable of making.

          9. Tinker powers are based on technologies of other species from previous cycles. What looks like a flash of inspiration is mostly a memory of these technologies. A lot of species probably spent time trying to figure out various powers, so there are a lot of scanners available to remember. If the overall physics of the universe is still relatively simple, any scanner might work on any power. (though maybe the tinker still won’t have a way to replicate it. )

            Some scanners might look for communication with the shards, while other might look for whatever the effect actually is. This may effect whether the devices draw on the target’s power sink, the tinker’s own, or another source.

            If Riley makes a clone that just uses its power constantly, could she drain the reserves of the shard and unpower the original?

    2. The Scar is a tinker-made cataclysm which might just be expanding- I got that impression from what Jeanne said about it here. The answer is probably ‘all of them’, particularly since it was Bakuda’s tech that did it, and we know she had scanned Vista (creating bombs that violated geometry) and Clockblocker (creating bombs that broke time). And once you’ve broken geometry and time, gravity’s a short hop away, and if you can break gravity, and create freeze bombs and black hole implosion bombs and pain bombs and time bombs then there’s not much you can’t do.

      1. I’m not convinced Bakuda needed to scan people to make those bombs. I think Tinker tech comes from that species that hunted down and drove out the Shards, who had the technology to bend space and time and that inspired the space-time distortion Shards.

        1. Bakuda said, when she turned up with Uber and Leet dressed in a Bomber Man outfit, that she’d managed to scan Vista. It was a Vista bomb she was going to detonate in Grue, before Skitter cut off her toes.

  7. Okay, who’s got dibs on being part of the March strike team? OnetwothreeNotIt!

    Maybe just feint a diversionary attack on her.

    1. I’m affraid that none of those attacks will be planned as diversions, and that at least one of them will spectacularly fail. They forgot the first rule of survival in bad horrors and RPGs – never split the party.

  8. My god. Weld’s and Sveta’s relationship troubles are surprisingly realistic. Even though Weld realizes that he’s being an asshole, he’s doing it out of kindness and it’s ultimately his undoing. Antares’ “Fucking why” was so well deserved.

    It’s things like that that make me love the Parahumans. We have real people that have powers that lead to incredibly bad situations for everyone involved.

      1. Haha funny jokes aside, this is the kind of thing that I’ve seen happen with the relationships of both a disabled friend of mine and a couple who are asexual. The partner wants a relationship with a certain dimension they just can’t provide and it winds up being unfair to everyone when they can’t find a way to work it out.

        1. Dragonus45, Interestingly we seem to have commented on two aspects of Sveta and Weld’s problem. You concerned on the inability to provide, what the other party wants from the relationship, I – on lieing to your partner about it. Those two problems are usually, though not always, connected (they are in this case), and not exactly the same.

          1. In particular:
            – those two things will require completely different solutions,
            – only lieing is something we can blame Weld for,
            – as long as Weld doesn’t admit the truth to Sveta, they won’t be able to do anything about Sveta being unable to satisfy Weld’s needs, which is a big part of why his lie is such a big problem.

          2. I’m not even sure of the exact nature of the Weld/Sveta problem. This seems focused on Sveta’s physiology, but isn’t at least part of it that Weld can’t really feel anything? Even if Sveta had a fully functional body, could it do anything to physically stimulate Weld?

            Hell, based on my own understanding of male anatomy (being a dude), I’m not sure how a guy goes about feigning stimulation. There’s generally a pretty noticeable indicator.

          3. Well, if you want to be so technical, I definitely wasn’t talking about literal orgasms. In Weld’s case feeling anything is a problem after all. Even Weld’s erection would probably be a miracle neither Sveta nor he are even hoping for.

          4. Weld’s whole body is moved by a form of personal metallokinesis. It lets him change shape. If he wants to have an erection, he can probably move his dick to make it look like he’s got an erection.

          5. Honestly, I think both of them would be happy to just have a satisfying cuddling session. With Weld’s muted touch, even that would be a great accomplishment, and judging from what Sveta described it is probably exactly what they were trying to do.

  9. Sigh. It finally happened. I caught up and now have to join the masses of people waiting for the next update. Thankfully I also started a second read through of worm to keep up my needed doses of worm. Awesome stories wildbow!!!

  10. I can’t really see Weld/Sveta being open to an open relationship, though that might solve the problem.

    I was wondering when something would go wrong for Sveta. She is way too stable to be on Team Therapy. /cries for Sveta 🙁

  11. I guess that just oral wasn’t good enough for Weld. So, time to see if Rain can upgrade Sveta’s prosthetic body to be realistic enough to satisfy him?

    1. Yeah, I’m having the same issue trying to understand exactly what the problem is. We know that even if she’s only a head Sveta has more control over her mouth than anything. If the problem is that Weld can’t feel something as relatively gentle as oral stimulation (even with plenty of tooth action?) then he’s SOL as far as relations with any normal woman go. If he needs really powerful pressure to feel anything then I don’t see why a tendril-job from someone known as Garrote won’t do it. We know he can actually feel things since the Wretch made him flinch. What exactly is he looking for? A woman he can really cut loose on that can take a pounding from his body without being destroyed? I guess it’s not impossible in this universe, but he’s actually got something pretty damn close with Sveta…

      1. I got the impression that he wants a woman whom he can enjoy looking at naked. It is not clear what physical activity if any would be satisfying for either of them.

  12. Theory time!

    It just hit me. At the end of her interlude Valkyrie did not need to explain to Yamada, what “the greatest threat” was. Could it be not because she did it earlier, but because this threat was what Yamada discovered in the first place? What if it even was the same thing Yamada was so worried about when it come to the therapy group? Like whatever is in the fifth section in Rain’s dreamscape for example? It could potentially be even worse than Lab Rat, Kenzie’s “unblinking surveillance state”, and other known problems the group has.

    Was it the reason Yamada didn’t send anyone Amy’s way, but spent time and effort to put Victoria – an experienced hero, she knows and trusts in the group? Not to just help people in the group deal with their problems after the sessions are over, but to hopefully have Victoria reduce the chance of that great threat manifesting, and if it ever does – to have her as a first line of defense or as an early warning system of some sort?

    1. If it is Rain, or whatever is in his dreamscape, then it could also explain why the Fallen leadership was so interested in his power.

    2. I mean, I think Yamada was just concerned about Lab Rat re:Breakthrough – and I suspected Chris a while back – but that leaves me confused about “the greatest threat”.

      1. I still have a suspicion that Jessica’s warning pertains to Sveta. She’s the only one who hasn’t had an interlude. Even in Worm, we only saw her from somebody else’s POV. She’s also the natural choice for a shocking reveal. Everybody else was an unknown, and they all turned out to have at least vaguely unethical stuff either actively going on or planned for the future. Only Sveta’s shit was fully in the past. She’s the one we already knew and trusted. So obviously she’s going to be the problem we don’t see coming. Then there’s the fact that her impending breakdown has been foreshadowed all story. She’s been holding herself together with duct tape and bubble gum, and supplies are getting scarce.

        I wonder what her Endbringer name is going to be when she finally snaps and does something desperate.

        1. I don’t know about “the greatest threat”, but there definitely will be something big to learn about Sveta yet. Still, I think it is more likely that we will see more about Sveta’s problem firs, and then we will make a full circle back to Rain (who was our first properly explained therapy group member), and it is where the real problem will start.

          Remember that aside of the fifth corner of his dreamscape, there are other things pointing out that there is something wrong going on with clustes in general. I’m not even talking about March’s obsession with them. I’m talking about Teacher’s conversation with Marquis in the epilogue of Worm.

          Teacher noted how devastating some powers can be, when working in concert, “putting the whole back together, at least in part”, could be possible, has something to do with fighting against entropy, and that it ties somehow into creating “An alliance, not for villainous purposes, but to achieve something greater. Fighting against entropy and all that is wrong in the world.”

          I think that clustes sound too much like “putting a part of the whole together” to not be either the big problem, or a solution to the big problem, and the ominous fifth corner of Rain’s dreamscape makes me lean more towards the problem than the solution. As far as potential solution go – I think team Breakthrough (including Sveta and Chris, but possibly excluding Rain) will turn out to be a big part of it, and so will Teacher, and whatever he is doing.

          1. Sure, the clusters are probably going to condense down into a bunch of Goddess-tier capes, likely with Rain as one. But what’s going to kick things into overdrive is Sveta desperately getting a Tinker surgery to make her more human but instead ending up with the ability for her tendrils to burrow into people’s spinal cords and override control of their bodies. Then with Sveta puppetting all of the upgraded cluster capes, The Great Clusterfuck can begin in earnest.

            To defeat her, Victoria will have to get Amy and Chris to reshape her to look like Weld (who is dead by that point thanks to an assisted suicide by way of Ashley).

            As for the “threat” Ciara’s worried about, that one’s easy. She’s got a crush on Greg Veder and is at a complete loss as to what to do about it.

          2. Alfaryn is right, Greg Vedar is the solution! He’s watched enough anime to be okay with this. Greg is brought in to love the newest Endbringer back down. the world is safe but the new PHO is doomed by the combo trolling of the worlds most horrible power couple.

        2. As for Sveta-as -Endbringer theory, who knows, maybe she always was? Remember how doctor Mother couldn’t remember Sveta’s name in chapter 29.7 of Worm, and how Sveta did not let Number Man answer that question? Maybe it is because Sveta never was a Cauldron test subject? After all the brand on her face could be faked, her memories about being fisherman’s daughter could be lies, and as far as I can remember she never ended up face-to-face with a precog, who could say that they can’t see her in their visions thus betraying her true nature.

          1. Well, even if she is an Endbringer, at least she appears to be the cutest of them. It has to count for something, right?

  13. Why would poking at the Scar in Brockton Bay be so fraught?

    Kidding – it’s always the Simurgh. She asked her bro to trap Dauntless, in order to protect her long-term plans. She would have to act if he were released.

    1. If you want to go this paranoia route, then you may want to remind yourself just who near the end of Worm went to sleep listening to Simurgh’s lullaby…

    2. Regarding the link you posted, I don’t think it is a correct comparison. Precog Shards, aren’t Turing machines trying, and failing to predict other Turing machines. They are just artificially prevented from showing their parahumans certain creatures or complex power interactions, but can still predict and show results of those creatures’ actions.

      An example would be Dinah’s power which couldn’t show her Scion, but predicted deaths resulting from Scion’s rampage.

      1. First, that’s why I didn’t link an article on Turing machines or their halting problem. I linked the version that applies to the Simurgh, God, and all possible beings in all possible worlds.

        Second, the Smurf shouldn’t have any artificial limitations, because she comes from Eidolon’s shard and that was never meant to go to a human being. Scion never gave it Manton-style limits or built-in weaknesses the way he did with most Thinker powers. (The only way I see it happening is if Abaddon deliberately limited the shard to sabotage Eden, and I never bought the premise there.) And yet WB said somewhere that Contessa’s power can beat or even deceive the Smurf’s. That implies Oracle-halting-problem style difficulties.

        1. The way I see the “oracle halting problem”, it allows to establish a hierarchy of machines, with machines higher in the hierarchy being able to predict halting of machines in lower hierarchy,but not the other way around. If someone like Dinah can predict results of actions by someone like Scion, and if we assume that Dinah’s power is no higher in the hierarchy of oracles than Scion’s own power (and we probably should, because it would probably be dangerous for Scion not to keep his best precognition ability to himself), then she shouldn’t be able to predict results of Scion’s actions, especially to a point where her predictions could provide useful clues on how to defeat him, when he is using his own precog powers (as he did during Gold Morning). The fact that she could do it seems to indicate that no such hierarchy of precog powers is possible, or at least that there some precog powers at the top of the heap (Scion’s, Dinah’s, Contessa’s, probably Simurgh’s) that can’t be ordered into such hierarchy, even if all of them trump some other, weaker precog powers.

          1. Well, again, it seems logically impossible for anything to fall outside the hierarchy instead of just making it more complicated. The following is logically possible:

            1. Do what the Simurgh seems to think about doing in that one interlude, which is try to win anyway. Use ordinary inference.

            The individual is understood well enough that their actions can be guessed after they disappear from view.

            2. Do what Jack does to Tattletale, which I suspect the Simurgh encouraged him to do as a way of making #1 possible. Limit options. Jack silenced Tattletale, limiting what she could do with her Thinker power. Then he manipulated the conversation in subtler ways, leading it towards the sort of game he liked. That was possibly predictable in advance just from knowing Jack’s personality and powers. Note that Coil’s death (by my logic) probably removed a major inconvenience for the Smurf, but I’m not saying she could see it directly. Rather, she brought the 9 to the city and created at least two possible paths to Coil’s death. The first, Crawler, would also have killed Dinah. It succeeded in putting her power out of commission, removing options and making prediction easier. Another example: LeviBro put Tt out of commission for exactly the length of time it took Taylor to tell the U.S. government she’d rather go to the Birdcage than join the Wards. That’s kind of suspicious.

            The upshot is, Dinah could know how to create a strong resistance to Scion without actually seeing his death (or any consequence thereof) with certainty.

  14. Sounds like asking about breaking the time bubbles at all makes Thinkers upset, which is odd given that there’s quite a few time bubbles about holding numerous different people of different allegiances and abilities.

    I think maybe Tattletale should focus on the problem, since she’s the first Thinker to get useful answers about the Endbringers and was able to turn her Thinker power against Scion.

    As for what it could be… Khonsu maybe? The Simurgh contacts him by temporal manipulations, and he was born in a place of temporal anomolies, after Eidolon had gone into Brockton Bay and engaged in battle across the city after the creation of the Scar. Maybe breaking the wrong bubble or doing it in the wrong way will make him think his big sister has given him an attack order, and maybe she won’t bother to countermand it.

    1. I lean towards a theory that I’m pretty sure somebody posted in the last chapter. They’re going after The Crawler (yeah, I know “The” isn’t part of his name, but I feel like he deserves it). The Scar is his grave, but if a significant enough chunk of him got caught in a stasis bomb, it could probably regenerate despite the rest being completely vaporized.
      And in addition to the fact that they might be trying to break into time bubbles in the Scar, bringing back The Crawler would be horrifying, especially to Vicki. It’s a lower grade threat than Jack, but a lot worse than freeing a powerful hero and two average villains.

    2. Also depends on the bubble. Leviathan put some people in one, remember, and he’s the second smartest of the first three Endbringers. Maybe second smartest of all of them- I don’t know how smart Khonsu and the Tohu/Bohu pair are.

      Khonsu’s a good idea, and nobody wants him turning up again. Might also be that, with the Scar, there’s other unexploded bombs trapped in the time bubble, in which case opening it might have serious unforeseen consequences, particularly if the Scar-bubble is near the portal. A Vista bomb warping space to decrease the distance between the portal and… A glass-bomb, or a fire bomb, or whatever other crazy bomb type that Bakuda had created and didn’t get to use on-screen could be pretty catastrophic. New Brockton is the best developed and sturdiest part of the city, after all.

  15. Scary thought… Weld gets a crush on Victoria/Antares.

    The thing that triggered me was when Antares used the Wretch to push him and he noted that it was almost painful and “registered”.

    Suddenly he’s staring at a full bodied girl who can actually summon the strength to register his touch senses.

    Want to devastate Sveta even more? Don’t just tell her you’re breaking up with her, confess you have a bit of a thing for her best friend.

    1. Yeah, not to mention that there seem to be so many guys feeling that way about Victoria that soon she will need to change “Antares” to “Helen of Troy”.

    2. Haha yes, “registered” is such a wonderfully vague word. Antares seems to be looking for something besides the usual lame prettyboy capes herself, but she’s probably too loyal for something like that. Weld might want to ask Chicken Little how to pique the interest of more than one lady on the same team…

      1. Interestingly the answer to Sveta’s problem could be as simple as “Just squeeze him harder!” We know she’s used to holding back. It has been even reminded to us in chapter 11.2. Could she be doing it with Weld?

  16. I know they specified the time stasis bubbles, but it feels a bit ominous to me that I was just thinking of the potential for a revived Crawler, and then the Scar is mentioned as an area of major threat.

  17. Oh no, another one of those relationship plots of people lying to each other, with the main character cought in between without knowing how to help. Really hoping there won’t be like 2 entire chapters dedicated to Victoria figuring out their problems.

  18. Vic is wrong here and so is Weld. Weld and Sveta should talk about this. No weld shouldn’t say “I need a normal body girl” But he should talk about how whats happening isn’t working for him. The fact that whatever they tried isn’t good may be a failure of trying enough options, or it may not, but if not- there is much to be gained by trying and little to lose.

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