Blinding – 11.9

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The armored van cut its way through the thin sheet of ice that crusted the road.  I could hear the sound because the windows were all open, even the panels on the side, thick glass popped out and away.  Our driver was a mercenary in black, Korean, with sparse facial hair at the upper lip and chin, one gloved hand on the wheel, the other hand holding a cigarette up near his face.  It was cold as shit, and the comedown of the immediate danger meant my resistances were down, and I felt that cold twice as much as I normally might.

The open windows were partially for the cigarette, but the windows were mostly open for the smell.  Being smothered by Nursery’s power meant being smeared and soaked with juices, and those juices smelled like a fine blend of blood, urine, apple juice, and ham juices that had gone slightly off.  It was heavy enough on the air that I could breathe in through my nose and taste it in my mouth, back of the tongue to the tip.

The people in the back were enduring.  Foil had Parian’s head in her lap, Aroa at the end of the bench with her head turned so her nose was by the air that rushed through the window.  A very red, cold nose, but cold seemed preferable to smell.  On the other bench, Rain sat beside Chastity, who had Candy beside her.

I could imagine having a conversation with my twelve year old self, seeing her starry-eyed at the prospect of being a superheroine, and that conversation stopping before it even started because she’d gotten a whiff.

My phone rang.  I turned it over to see the screen, then raised it to my ear.

“Hi big V.”

“Little V.”

“Shit, are you sick?  You sound sick, and that’d be miserable, on top of everything.”

“Not sick,” I said, clearing my throat.  “A little froggy from pulling four pounds of unborn baby out of my throat.”

My mild amusement at imagining her reaction was dampened badly by the very vivid recollection of actually pulling the thread of Nursery’s powerstuff out of my throat.  I kept my breaths very shallow.

“I once got hit by something that made hear hear voices,” Vista said, through the phone.  “For me, the voices belonged to people who died and people I’d killed.  Took three months before it was at the point that I could ignore it, and for two of those months I thought it would be permanent.”

Couldn’t avoid it any more than you can get out of the way of someone’s flashlight beam, and then you’re permanently changed?  It was only three months, but I feel changed a year later.”

“No shit?” I asked.  I had to clear my throat again.

“Yeah shit.  How bad was your thing?  Sounds painful.”

“Not my best day.  Not my worst, but the night’s not over.  As nice as it would be to chat, I should ask why you’re calling.”

“I’ve been trying every few minutes for a while.   Did you have to turn off your phone for a bit for opsec?”

“Nursery’s power.  Jams signals.”

“Did you hear about the Undersiders who got shot?”

“I got a voice message, but we only had one dot of network connectivity so I couldn’t call for details or talk to them.  One Undersider and two heartbroken.  Unless there’s more?”

“Not that I’ve heard.  The villains want to get in touch to negotiate.”

“Hostage exchange, I’m guessing?”

“Yeah.”

“They haven’t given us a deadline and from the message I got, we don’t even know how the surgery or medical care is going.”

“Seems like the optimal time,” Rain said, from the back.

“What was that?” Vista asked.

“Question of timing.  They could try to negotiate now before things get complicated-”

“Before one of my siblings or cousins bites it,” Aroa muttered.

I gestured for them to pipe down.  “-I think the people who have the final say in negotiations are preoccupied.  They aren’t pushing a deadline on us, so for right this second, our read on it is that’s a wait-and-see thing.”

“Okay.  Wait and see.  I wanted to let you know in case you weren’t aware they’d been shot.  That was one reason I called.  There’s another.  Another two.”

“Hit me.”

“Do you need help?  I didn’t plan on asking, but you have a throat baby now-”

“Throat abortion, technically.”

“Good excuse for me to ask now, then.  Do yo want me to send you people?”

“How’s your end of things?  Tell me that first.”

“Wardens and your other teams are tackling the time bubble issue.  Things are ugly in New Brockton with the Undersiders no longer in charge.”

I winced.

“If you really needed it, we could send some people.”

I could hear the tone in the ‘really’, and it clarified the uneasy tone in the rest of it.  I’d imagined the city was on fire, before, when all of the villains had stepped up their game and gone on the hard, no-rules offense.  Things were still bad and we didn’t have enough capes on rooftops.

But if I really needed it, she would try, she might even find a way, and other critical things would suffer for it.

“We don’t know how bad the situation with the others is,” I answered.  “Can I get back to you on that?”

“You can.  Fill me in on your thing, so I can tell people higher up the ladder and figure out when and if we can get away sending someone.”

“Our team red got shot up.  Some of them were taken prisoner.  Ransoms pending.  ”

“That much I knew.”

“Team yellow is silent.  No communication.”

“Who’s on yellow?”

I hesitated.  The inquisitiveness wasn’t unusual for Vista, but being pressed when I was weary and my defenses were admittedly down had me on my guard.  My first thought was master-stranger protocols.  If she was compromised or if she wasn’t really Vista…

But she’d opened with ‘big V’.  I believed the story she’d told and I believed that the Vista I knew, in her right mind, might bring it up like she’d done.

“Victoria?”

“Tattletale, Chicken Little, three heartbroken kids, Sveta and Capricorn.”

“I wanted to make sure Tattletale wasn’t with you, get a mental picture.  The second reason I called- offering help wasn’t a reason-”

“Yeah.”

“A friend reached out.  I wanted to check with you before giving her your number.  ”

I could connect the dots.  “Hellhound.”

“Bitch,” Foil said from the backseat.  “I know it’s awkward, but it’s the name she chose.”

“Call her Rachel,” Vista advised me, over the phone.

“Rachel, Bitch.  Okay.”

“Can I give her your number?” Vista asked.

“Go for it.”

“Call me after if you can.  Let me know how it went.  And if you need something for that throat, hit up a gas station or a pharmacy, look for this medicine they sell that’s from one of the alternate earths.  Weird name, orange cap, blue bottle.  I lived by it the last time I had a cold.”

“I will.”

“Good luck with your teammates.  And with Rachel.”

I hung up.

“Vista’s giving Rachel my number,” I said.  “She doesn’t have yours, Foil?”

“She has it, she loses it.  Frequently,” Foil answered.

“She thinks if she can’t remember a number she shouldn’t have to bother with it,” Chastity said.  I looked back at her, saw her leaning her head back, eyes closed.  “People have tried to tell her about contact lists.  She prefers a smaller circle.”

“We don’t cross paths much,” Foil said.

“Any tips?”

“No good ones.”

Parian roused a bit, nudged her.  Foil bent down as much as she could without wrapping her stomach and chest around Parian’s head, in her lap.

“Don’t back down,” Foil said.

I fidgeted.

My phone buzzed in my hand.  My thumb was already ready to hit the button.

“Henchman here,” a young voice said.  “Acting as secretary- don’t nudge me.  I am.”

There was a pause.

“Secretary doesn’t sound weird.  What sounds weird is you interrupting me when I’m expediting.  Passing you to Rachel, Antares.  Good luck.”

I cleared my throat.

What?” was the answer on the other end, like someone had been been called at three in the morning, letting the phone ring ten times before the caller gave up, only for them to start again.

A sweetheart, Vista had said.

“You called me,” I said.

“I was supposed to go help Imp.  She got shot before I could get there, the rest of them caged.  Tattletale said to come to her, so I tried, and that went to shit.”

“Something happened?” I asked.

“It went to shit.  You’ve got my guys with you.  We’ll meet.  Drive-thru at Hot Pepper’s.”

“See you there, then.  We have to drop off Parian first.”

“Yeah,” she said.  She hung up.

She apparently didn’t want a timeframe.

In the backseat, Foil was twisting around.  The two benches faced each other, in true PRT- or SWAT-van style, and Chastity had moved to the other bench.  She and Foil were doing their best to extricate Foil from quivers and holsters without making Parian have to lift her head up, passing things across to Precipice.

After they were done with Foil, they took off the most ostentatious and ‘cape’ stuff of Parian’s.

When we pulled up to the clinic, a one-story affair with a plastic sign illuminated from behind above the door, people were waiting outside.  Foil, in civilian clothes, helped Parian out.  Parian was a petite middle-Eastern or Indian girl, which I hadn’t expected.

It looked like it would take a while to sort out, so I hopped out and flew across the street to the gas station.  I stopped by the bathroom first, to wash my face.  I pulled my phone out as I bought the little thing of medicine and some odor annihilators.  Supplied by another world.  I hoped there weren’t traces of cyanide or formaldehyde in it.

“Hey Little V,” I croaked.  as she picked up.

“How’d it go?”

“Reasonably, I guess.  The sweetheart thing is pretty hard to see.  It’s not that I don’t believe you believe it, but you might have lingering brain damage after the hearing voices thing.”

I heard her laugh on the other end.  Good to hear.

“It’s there, trust me.”

“Then we’ll see how it is face to face.”

“How’s your throat baby?” she asked.  It took me a second to realize she was asking how the baby was, not calling me baby.  It was like a slap in the face.  She went on, “Are congratulations in order?”

I shivered.  Still feeling the cold, still aware my defenses were down.  The clerk took my money.

“No congratulations,” I said, my voice a bit of a croak.  “I pulled out what I’m estimating was four pounds of baby from my throat.  Our friend that we just dropped off at the clinic got a seven pounder, I’m guessing, not counting all the rest of the stuff that was attached.”

“Gag.”

“Tell me about it.  I’m about to gag just remembering it, and don’t get me started on the smell-”

The clerk averted his eyes as I looked at him.  Yeah.

“We called ahead, they were ready to get her on her way to a hospital as soon as we showed.  They’re answering questions and filling in the clinic staff so they know what’s up.”

“Right on.  I hope she’s okay.  Hometown pride, you know?”

“I know.”

“Gotta hold on to stuff.”

“I know,” I said.

The clerk handed me my receipt.  I took my stuff, raised my eyebrows for him as he stared at me, then headed out the door.  I flew to the parking lot by the clinic, and I saw they hadn’t left yet.

Cold as it was, I decided to stay in the air.

I noticed the silence, and I wasn’t sure if it was a painful, awkward one.  “You were talking about it before.  Holding on to stuff.  The hallucinations.”

“I slapped my forehead after hanging up, cringing for bringing it up,” she said, almost groaning out the words.  “I don’t know why I did.”

“Was Dean one of them?”

“Yeah,” she said.  I could hear her voice over the phone, and the groan was gone.  Almost a relief.

“Was he angry?”

“He wouldn’t be angry, or he wouldn’t be Dean if he was.”

“He got angry sometimes.”

“But he wouldn’t be angry.  He wouldn’t stay that way.  He was just… better than, you know?”

“Absolutely,” I said, quiet.

“My therapist got so cranky about it.  We’ve got people who can see through walls.  Capable people.  I know someone who got stuck in a circumstance after an incident, she missed her time window to change back a few dozen times and now she just stays a giant magenta cat made of energy.  And a certain someone was strong enough to deal with being hospitalized for years after-”

I cleared my throat.  A second after doing it, I wasn’t sure if I’d done it intentionally to interrupt or if it was an accident.

“-After.  Strong enough to deal then and after.  So is it really hard to think maybe someone can be a really great guy, and I’m not puffing him up by calling him that?  That maybe she doesn’t need to take the one negative thing I say about him and run with it?”

“We puff him up a little.”

I heard Vista make a disgusting snorting sound over the phone.  I smiled.

“Are we trying to one-up each other here with war stories, because you just-”

“Nah,” she interrupted.  “Nah.  That’s for the boys.  I know that really cute guy in armor on your team has the competitive streak.  I’m… empathizing.  And saying something I wanted to get off my chest, I guess.  For a while after it wore off, I gave some real thought to going to where we’d stashed our bad guy and getting him to dose me again.  That was part of the quote-unquote ‘clinging to the good’ conversation with my cranky old lady therapist.  Most of the voices were friendly, and because I figured I’d gotten by, not telling my superiors.”

“Can’t do that.  Not giving them the information.”

“I know.  But this is all me trying to say that sometimes this all sucks.  Really sucks.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Sorry about your throat baby.  Me spending three months with voices in my head is the best comparison I can come up with.  Sucks.”

“At least you got something out of it.  Got to talk to Dean.”

“You didn’t get anything out of your throat-baby?  No cooing at the chubby little munchkin?”

I made a sound I hadn’t wholly intended to make.  Humor and disgust and cringe all together.

“Good luck with your team, Victoria.  This thing is a mess.  If you need help, we’ll send some people we can’t afford to.”

“The time fuckery is too important.  Too big, according to apparently everyone who knows anything.  Don’t.”

“If we don’t hear from you?”

“Don’t,” I said, again. “Don’t send anyone, don’t come.  Not unless you’re sure you can afford to.”

“Okay.  Don’t become one of those voices in my head, Victoria.  I’ll put you in a corner of my brain with Bastion, Barrow Rose, and Shatterbird.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Call me when you’re done.”

“You too, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

I hung up.

They were still talking, and I didn’t want to join in.  Too close to memories of being wheeled off.  Packed up into an ambulance, hearing people talk about me like I wasn’t there.  Being ignored.

Parian wasn’t being ignored.  Foil stroked her hair while talking to the professionals.

Still too close.

I flew straight down to the van.  I stepped into the vehicle, and I unloaded with the odor annihilators, spraying myself down, and being sure to get the seats and the rest of the vehicle’s interior.

It kind of worked.  I couldn’t trust my own nose, but the worst of the smell was gone, and what lingered was akin to a bad aftertaste, which was equal measures floral scent and Nursery-power.

As the others returned to the vehicle, the driver gave me a nod, apparently approving.

Candy, on reaching the back end of the van, took a whiff and broke into a stream of French profanity.

“I can’t tell if you’re mad or happy,” I said.

“So happy,” she said.

“I’m going to smell like flowers,” Precipice said.

“It’s better than smelling like hot dog water and pee,” Candy said.

“That’s true.”

Foil was the next to appear at the door.  I hadn’t been sure if she’d come or if she’d stay with Parian.  She took up her spot on the bench, and Chastity sat beside her.

“She looks like she’s in good hands,” I said.

“She does.  Let’s just get this done.”

Everyone climbed in.

Our professional driver continued to drive on icy roads with one hand on the wheel, but the armored van seemed equipped for the weather, he seemed confident, and I was pretty sure I could do something about any skids if I had to, as I’d done with Byron.  I forced myself to relax, uncapping the medication and tossing it back.  Half a bottle for now, half for later.

It didn’t have the bad taste I expected, but it was oily, and bad associations made me want to gag.  The effect on my throat was immediate, though, and as soon as I felt the cool sensation, the desire for a gag disappeared.

The fast food place wasn’t far.  Hot Pepper had a sign that showed ‘Pepper’ standing with only the portion of her body between nose and hips visible.  Her arms were folded and the folding held a giant hot pepper within her cleavage, in an association driven home by her pose and the kissy lips visible up at the top.

Question marks about why Rachel had chosen this aside, I could see commotion.  Cars blocked some of the view, but I could see people at the window, crowding to one side… and as we rounded the corner and pulled into the lot, I saw the giant dogs.

Rachel was attacking one of her own.

Before our armored van even pulled to a stop, I was out the door, flying.

“-be torn apart!” Rachel’s voice was raised.  She stood on the  back of a giant mutant dog that was stock still, head down, breath coming in and out in huffs.  “Which is it!?  Cut in half, chewed, or torn apart?  Or are you going to say something I actually believe!?”

‘Sweetheart’.

The man didn’t answer, fighting for a grip.  By the look of it, he didn’t have the breath to form words.  A dog had a paw on his chest, and was leaning forward, exerting what had to be hundreds of pounds.

“Hold on,” I said.  “Wait a second.”

“This is my business, not yours.”

“It’s everyone’s business if you’ve got people at the window over there watching.  Word gets around.  What happened?”

“He looked at me funny.”

“Y- what?”

“Don’t make me repeat myself.”

The guy on the ground was groaning.  I was reminded of the day I’d first glimpsed the Siberian.  This woman, then a teenager, attacking people in her territory for the crime of being there.  Maiming some.

She had henchmen, by the looks of it.  I looked at the nearest one.  “Am I missing something?”

“Nah.  He looked at her funny,” the girl in the heavy jacket covered in patches and buttons said.  Her eyes were heterochromatic.

Rachel whistled twice, two short sounds, more like a bird call than anything.  The dog lifted its head, peering at her with one eye.

“Soft,” she said.  She indicated the mercenary.  As the dog lowered its head, mouth open, she said, “Good.”

Not good,” I said, as I saw the dog take the mercenary’s head into its mouth.

“What the hell?” Rain asked, as he caught up.  The Heartbroken were with him.

Rachel, though, turned our way.  She wiped at her nose with her sleeve, leaving a wet line on it, then saw something- someone, and smiled.  She hopped down from her dog onto snow, gave it a few heavy slaps on the side, and said, “Stay.”

“Stay is good,” I said, eyeing the mercenary.

She walked past me to where the Heartbroken were.  Her hug of Chastity was forceful enough that Chastity had to take a step back, awkward with Rachel holding her.

“I’m still annoyed,” Chastity said.

“Get over it.  We have work to do.  Now hug me back.”

Dutifully, Chastity did.  The hug broke, and Chastity seemed very at ease in the wake of it.

For Candy, Rachel bent down, then straightened up.  A big hug, Candy’s feet dangling.  Rachel’s hand went to the back of Candy’s head, fingers in her hair.  Those fingers gripped the hair close to the scalp.

“Don’t muss my hair,” Candy said, into Rachel’s shoulder.

“Long hair is a weakness,” Rachel said.  “It’s something your enemies can grab.”

“You have longer hair.  You have dogs with longer fur.”

“I’m all out of enemies and my dogs don’t have hair when they’re grown,” Rachel said, “And I have long hair because I don’t care enough to bother one way or the other.  But you make your hair this nice, braid parts, put pins in parts, make it all shiny-”

“Conditioner, Aunt Rachel.”

“And you leave yourself open.  If a villain or a no-neck twit hero gets their hands on you like this, what do you even do?”

No neck twit hero?

“What are you going to do?”

“I’ll fuck ’em up.”

“You don’t hesitate then.”

“Of course not.”

Rachel let Candy drop.  Candy spent a second smoothing her coat and skirt before fixing her hair with her fingers.

Aroa tried to back away.  Rachel caught up with her-

I wanted to wince, because Aroa was the thirteen year old Heartbroken who apparently liked hurting people, and got a power that lashed out with pain and made people like the pain.

“No hugs,” Aroa said.  “Never hugs.”

Rachel stopped short of a hug.  A hand touched the side of Aroa’s face, two fingers above the ear, two below.  She moved the hand, Aroa’s head rocking.

“Don’t get into trouble,” Rachel said.

Head still moving side to side, Aroa rolled her eyes.  “Or you’ll make me pitchfork shit?”

“Next time, I’ll make you express anal glands,” Rachel said.

“I don’t even know what that means,” Aroa said.

“Popping out the pooper juice,” Candy said.  “After I embarrassed Darlene in front of Chicken Little, I got sent to Rachel and apparently I qualified as breaking the ‘don’t hurt the Chicken’ rule, so I got the bad punishments.  I had to do it four times.”

Aroa smirked.  Candy smirked back, less natural, more mocking of Aroa’s expression.

“It’s your job next time,” Rachel said.  Her hand stopped moving but it didn’t pull away.

Aroa glared up at Rachel.  “I don’t think you realize how fine a line you walk with us, abusing us like you do.”

“I’ll make you a deal,” Rachel said.  “Show up.  Come anytime.  Good clean food, playing with the other kids, swimming, riding the horses or dogs.  If you aren’t bratty and you don’t scare or hurt anyone, you get a pass.  No anal glands and no cleanup the next time you get in trouble after that.”

“I don’t plan on getting caught.”

Rachel put another hand on the other side of Aroa’s face, bending down, and putting her face the crown of her head.  She murmured something I didn’t hear.  Aroa nodded.  As Rachel took her hand away, she gave Aroa’s head a push.  Aroa rolled her eyes.

Last of that side of the group, Foil greeted Rachel.  A hand clasp, not a hug.

I glanced down at the mercenary, who still had a paw pinning him to the ground, his head lifted off the ground by the teeth that had slid between head and pavement, mouth not fully closed.  He barely moved.

“Precipice and Antares,” Foil said.  “Bitch.”

“Yeah,” Rachel said.

I put out a hand.  She hesitated, then took it.

Precipice did the same.  She didn’t hesitate.  Because she’d gotten over it with me, or because I was more of a reason to hesitate?  Past history?

Off to the side, Chastity was greeting Rachel’s henchperson.  A kiss on each cheek, deftly done, while the henchperson reacted in the awkward way just about anyone, myself included, did when a surprise dual-cheek-kiss was done to them, trying to reciprocate while a step behind.

“If you get your food and arrange meetups at a place like this, people are going to draw conclusions,” Chastity said.

“It’s good food.  I got you some.”

“I’m really not hungry.  But thank you.  At a place like this you’re getting pretty waitresses, not good food.”

“If pretty waitresses was all they had, then they wouldn’t be full of customers.  And they wouldn’t have a nice sign.”

“Can we address the guy with his head in a dog’s mouth?” Rain asked.  “It’s alarming.”

“It’s a soft mouthed breed,” Rachel said, patting the side of the dog with heavy slaps that sounded like drum beats.  The dog, for its part, wasn’t moving its head an inch- considerable given the size of that head.

“I don’t know what that means.  I never had a dog growing up,” I said.  “My parents said it wouldn’t be fair if we got hurt or if a supervillain got us, and we weren’t back for it.”

“Fair,” Rachel said.

“Not fair.  They had you,” Candy said.

I shrugged.

“We had a dog,” Chastity said.  As the Heartbroken turned her way, she clarified for her sister and ‘cousin’, “Not the fat man.  An actual dog.”

“What the fuck?  I don’t remember that,” Candy said.

“It died when you were small,” Chastity said.

Rachel stared at Chastity, her expression unreadable, just kind of ambiguously hostile, eyebrows furrowed.  Then she turned back to me.  “Soft mouthed means it’s gentle.  You could have it carry an egg and it wouldn’t break it.”

“Is it necessary?” Rain asked.

“We’ll see,” Rachel said.  “Off, Honeybun.”

The dog backed away, releasing the mercenary’s head.  Just from moisture of the dog’s breath, his head and face were damp.

“I didn’t have a look in my eye.  I’m just doing the work,” he said.

Off to the side, Candy shook her head.

“Lie,” Candy said.

“I’m fucking innocent of whatever it is you think I did!”

“Lie.”

“You’re lying to my face?” Rachel growled.  She stepped forward, gesturing.  The dog exerted more downward pressure.

“Fuck!  No!”

To my right, Precipice shifted his footing, head angled down.

I could see the faint change in the man, the way his jaw set.

“I get the pay, I do the work, I keep it simple!”

“Lie.”

The mercenary’s expression twisted.  Breath fogged as he hissed through teeth, his hands reached up to grip the dog’s leg, as if he could alleviate the pressure by lifting it- but that was next to impossible.

“I don’t know what you want me to say!  You’re utterly insane!”

“True, but iffy.”

“Fuck you!”

“True, but also iffy phrasing.  The intent is there.”

I folded my arms.  I knew that Candy didn’t have any emotion sensing or lie detection power.  This guy worked with the Undersiders and seemed to be under the impression she did, or that it was possible.

I glanced again in the direction of the restaurant.

“We should take this elsewhere.”

Rachel shook her head, glancing at me.  “If we take it elsewhere it’s going to be so they don’t see any bodies.”

“True,” Candy said, mischievously.

Rachel shot her a look.

“Whatever.  Let’s just move elsewhere, then discuss.”

Rachel whistled, and gestured for the dog to move its paw.

We lifted him up, Rachel, Rain and I draping him over the dog’s back.  As we finished, I saw Rachel glance sidelong.  First at Foil, then at mercenaries.

Foil was hanging back, apparently looking at Chastity and the henchman, but with a vantage point to see the entire group, the other mercenaries included.

“The only way this goes okay for you is if you cooperate,” I told the mercenary.”

“There’s nothing to cooperate about!”

“Lie.”

All based on a look, and a little girl pretending to be a lie detector.

I felt uneasy.

“You want to give us answers before we get where we’re going,” Rachel said.

“I don’t have any to give!”

“Lie.”

I saw the man’s expression twist.  I gave Rain a look, discreetly pointing between him and the man.  He nodded.

Guilt and regret aura in effect.

He twisted his head around, looking at the other mercenaries.

I spun around, relying on flight, not feet.  Already, the two mercenaries were acting, their expressions set somewhere between annoyance and alarm.

Foil’s actions were smooth, as she stepped in close.  As one drew his gun, she struck his arm.  It fired in the moment of impact, and the gunshot hit the ground right behind Rachel’s right heel.

Rain and I hit the other mercenary at the same time.  Rain’s hand caught the guy’s arm.  His mechanical hand reached up to grab the gun as I grabbed the guy, keeping his other arm from doing something.  Mechanical fingers worked at the gun, and pulled away the gun’s slide.

The mercenary knew some martial arts, and tried them on me.  A grip at my arm, pulling me forward, a twist of his body-

I inverted, flipping up, so my hands were down and my feet were up.  His leverage was nil, and with my hands gripping his hands, I could come down hard, the flat of my forearm against the flat of his, driving down.  Bone broke as I forced arm to ground, and nose broke as face followed.

“Are there others?” Foil asked.

“The one that drove us,” Rain pointed out.

“And these three,” Chastity said, looking down.

Rachel turned to the one that had ‘looked at her funny’.  “Speak.”

“I don’t-” he started.  He grimaced.  “Fuck.

Speak.

“We got a better offer.  Money froze up when the Undersiders left New Brockton.  The boss is being cagey.  We talk, you know.  About what happens next.  This is a cushy gig, how does it end?  And we collectively decided a year or two ago that if it ended it would look like this.”

“And you fuck us?” Rachel asked, gripping him by the collar.

I saw him set his jaw.

“May I?” I asked.

She didn’t let go or budge, staring him down.

“Rachel.  We’re working on this together.  Let me have a go.”

“Let’s cooperate,” Foil said.

Rachel dropped him.  He slumped to the ground.

I glanced at Rain, gesturing slightly, indicating our prisoner.  That got me a nod.  For the actual interaction, though, I had to get close.  I was glad for the armor at my knees as I knelt beside him.

I could feel Rain’s power.  Subtle, but there.

“Tell us.”

No answer.

I pulsed out with my aura.  Calculated, as I’d been doing as of late, to just extend a few feet.  The others would barely notice it, if they noticed at all.  A glance confirmed I was right.  No changes in expression, no reactions, no anger or frustration with me.

“Tell us who paid you and what this operation entails.”

No answer again.

Again, I used my aura.

Rain was exerting a constant pressure, magnifying regret, shame, and guilt.  My power was a slap across the face, a burst of emotion, a feeling plummeting to the pits of the stomach.

In the wake of my power, they’d rebound, reel.  Some emotion control powers could be used like that, to create a long-term effect that extended past the power’s duration.

That lesson was being driven home by Rain’s power.

“Cradle,” the man said, his head bent.  “Love Lost.  March.  They’ve met, they’re working together.”

“Kind of assumed,” I murmured.  “Try harder.”

A slap of my power got a reaction from him.

“Last I heard, which was before we left for the restaurant, they beat your buddies.  Both groups.  Sliced and diced a bunch of them.  If anyone asks…”

A pulse of my aura encouraged him to keep speaking.  He babbled instead.  “If anyone asks we were going to say we were with Tattletale until she bit it.  We’ll say- we were going to say, we only joined these guys when it was all over.”

“What are they up to?  What are they doing?”

“They’re retreating to another world, taking hostages with them.  That’s Cradle and Love Lost.  March is gunning for the finale.”

Not Finale, but the finale.

“The time-stop and time loop effects?” I asked.

With circles under his eyes, his expression a little wild, our captive mercenary nodded his head.  “Exactly.  As far as they’re concerned, they’ve won.  You just haven’t gotten around to realizing it yet.”

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104 thoughts on “Blinding – 11.9”

  1. Typo thread:

    “I once got hit by something that made hear hear voices,” Vista said, through the phone.

    Repeated word

  2. Finally working together!

    It’s statistically significant that the mercs agreed to do this a year ago and Tata either didn’t twig to it or didn’t care enough to put safeguards in place. Foiled by her own hubris. Shame.

    Rachel being the weird but favorite aunt to all the Heartbroken is amazing and wholesome and thank you megamuch for doing this. I will cherish this fuzzy feeling forever.

    Little V is, as always, a badass. Really loving the interactions between them this chapter and in general, but it doesn’t quite seem to mesh well with what happened in Worm between the two of them prior to Victoria’s wretching.

    But yeah. Time to wonder how/whether to save Tata’s pieces, and the rest of the teams.

    1. Yeah TT’s power has been undermined by an unknown influence. How else could she have been so wrong about Cradle? Still I don’t see how making Undersiders miserable leads to succeeding in March’s grand designs…

      1. Duh, March get’s Foil all to herself! And also one hell of a power boost, which is possibly also a goal, or the means to a goal.

      2. Perhaps March’s plan requires pushing TT into a second trigger so she can overdrive her intuition and teach March how to use the time bubbles to go back in time and fix her relationship with Foil before it all went wrong.

        1. And rebuild plenty of Earths (including Bet), and revive plenty of people (including Scion, and possibly Eden), while she is at it?

          1. Well, I guess it depends on the size of the time bubbles, but what if Dinah was right all along, and Scion will come back to life thanks to March reverting time, and go into murderous rampage around 2027 (if I count correctly)?

            Is this why precogs are behaving strangely lately? Their powers are getting confused due to the fact that there will be no future for the current timeline?

          2. Or maybe it won’t even be Scion this time. It is not that Dinah could tell it was Scion in every case. All she could tell Jack was the catalyst.

            Also it appears I might have misremembered the times. I’ve just found a bit in the wiki that predicted the end of the world due to Jack’s influence in two to eight years. I’m not sure where I remembered fifteen or sixteen years from. Maybe it was the time of the Apocalypse if Jack wasn’t involved?

          3. I just realized that something Teacher said to Marquis in the epilogue of Worm, something I quoted here multiple times, could support the theory that March and co. can indeed try to revert time, or travel backwards in time. Teacher basically said that he wanted to fight against entropy. Reverting time could probably do it. On top of it Teacher suggested that he wanted to put the Entities back together.

            Maybe the split within the Teacher’s branch of Cauldron was not about end goals, but purely about methods? If it is the case, time portals allowing travel to times before Scion’s (and possibly Eden’s) death, would make perfect sense.

            The only question is if it is even possible to use shard-given powers to resurrect the cores of the Entities, considering that those cores were supposed to exist mostly in dimensions that were supposed to be impossible to access by shard-given powers. On the other hand, if it was possible to kill Scion using those powers, maybe it is not completely impossible to do the opposite?

          4. Or maybe traveling backwards in time to pre-GM Bet would result in meeting a golden man, who no longer has access to a nearly unlimited well of power? The only question would is – how much of Scion would be left in him? Would he even be alive?

          5. If he was alive, would it be possible to communicate with him, and how much could he tell? Would it be possible for example to ask him how to stop the shards from trying to continue the cycle, as they appear to do now? Or ask him how to make the cycle continue in a way that does not wipe out the humanity? If Scion was de-powered because of the destruction of all of those shards he kept to himself in normally inaccessible dimension(s), and essentially reduced to being a regular human with memories of an Entity for example, maybe it would be possible to convince him to help, as death of humanity would mean his own death too?

            It would probably be a little more risky to try the same thing with Eden though, as Eden’s “pocket dimension(s)” filled with shards “she” left for “herself”, could be much less damaged than Scion’s. In Eden’s case it was her incomplete human body in Contessa’s homeworld that was killed. On the other hand Scion called her shards “dead”, so maybe killing that body DID cause all of those shards to die too? Or maybe they only died one by one as a result of extraction into Cauldron’s vials, and there are plenty of them still left alive in dimension(s) where Eden stored them?

        2. Regarding time traveling and such, what would happen if some Tinker made a scan of someone like Perdition/Thirty-Six, Grey Boy or Epoch? Thirty-Six’s absense seems particularly notable, because of his unresolved relationship with Thirty-Two.

          1. If time travel works like that, then Scion is alive in another point in time and should therefore still be able to move between time amd realities. That doesn’t really work for me.

          2. I would say a lot of it depends on whether time travel can, from the point of traveller’s view, affect entire multiverse at once (you really move back in time), or only a certain area, an object, a person, auniverse or limited set of universes (you restore a part of multiverse to it’s previous state), that can be affected by time powers.

            In former case you can really restore full Scion back to life. In latter case you could for example restore Scion’s human body, but it would still be cut off from the shard’s Scion has left for his personal use because they were destroyed in a pocket dimension that is normally impossible to access by powers granted to parahumans. It is an open question if such body would even be able to stay alive or if it would have a mind of the original Scion.

            All I can say is that powers of Perdition or Gray Boy seem to work the second way. It is an open question if the first way is even possible.

      3. I think there could be another explanation of why Tattletale was too slow to spot the moles. In her interlude we saw how detached from people she’s become. It is possible (especially with problems with March distracting her) that she just stopped paying enough attention to some of people to notice that something was off.

        What I find puzzling is that the mercs took the risk of trying to plot against Tattletale in the first place. Do they understand her power so poorly, or so well? The first possibility could also explain why one of them believed in Candy’s “lie detector” – but he was Rachel’s man, so maybe he knew little about the other Undersiders and the Heartboken. The other ones though? They should probably understand enough to know that under normal circumstances Tattletale would probably easily see through them, yet somehow they knew or at least felt safe to assume that it won’t happen now.

        Were they just that stupid, or did they indeed have someone with power to support them? It wouldn’t even need to be something directly interfering with Tattletale’s power. A Thinker who could just say that she won’t notice betrayal this time would also do.

        Also, remember Tattletale’s own words from the epilogue of Worm:

        You’d think she’d be really good at figuring that basic shit out on her own.”

        “You’d think,” Tattletale said. “But no. We’re really good at lying to ourselves. Take it from another thinker.”

        Lisa said it about Dinah then, but even at that time she was aware that those same words can be applied to herself. I’ve always been wondering if someone will do it to Lisa.

        I said it in last chapter, but I’ll say it again so you don’t have to dig for that comment, if you missed it then – in my opinion Dinah seems particularly likely to do it to her as soon as she realizes that Tattletale deceived her about Taylor’s fate, especially since we know that Dinah can hold a grudge if someone doesn’t play straight with her. Just remember how she threatened to cut PRT from her services once because she didn’t like the way they abused her prophecy.

        And Dinah totally has means to do something like this to Tattletale – using her power she could just figure out which mercs have a high chance of turning against Tattletale and at the same time a low chance of getting caught, if someone suggested them to betray the Undersiders.

        1. Some of the moles could even not know that the suggestion to turn against Tattletale came from an outside source. Theoretically only one of them could have been told, or even brainwashed by some master power to defect and suggest it to the others. I just don’t see any of the mercs, who know Tattletale well to come up with such idea on their own, or to agree to a suggestion of a merc who doesn’t know her that well.

    2. I don’t think that’s the right read. They didn’t make the plan a year ago, they just talked a year ago about what “the Undersiders going down” would look like, and now more recently when that seemed to be happening they started arranging their exit.

      1. Yeah the mercs did not technically betray TT until recently. Before then mercs only being loyal to the money is situation normal.

  3. Typo thread:

    >…for two of those months I thought it would be permanent.”

    >Couldn’t avoid it any more than you can get out of the way of someone’s flashlight beam, and then you’re permanently changed? It was only three months, but I feel changed a year later.”

    When you have repeated paragraphs of dialogue, the end of the first paragraph doesn’t need the closed quotation marks, but the start of the next one does. So it should be:

    >…for two of those months I thought it would be permanent.

    >“Couldn’t avoid it any more than you can get out of the way of someone’s flashlight beam, and then you’re permanently changed? It was only three months, but I feel changed a year later.”

    1. “I once got hit by something that made hear hear voices,”

      The double “hear”. Maybe the first one should be “me”?

    2. > Do yo want me to send you people?

      yo > you

      > Ransoms pending. ”

      > your number. ”

      Unnecessary spaces.

      > no-neck of a hero […] No neck twit hero?

      Is this disparity intentional? Is there a cultural reference I’m missing here?

      > Aroa smirked. Darlene smirked back,

      Candy, not Darlene.

      > “The only way this goes okay for you is if you cooperate,” I told the mercenary.”

      Unnecessary quotation mark at the end.

    3. our read on it is that’s a wait-and-see thing.”
      -on it is that it’s a

      “Hey Little V,” I croaked. as she picked up.
      -nix the first period

      He twisted his head around, looking at the other mercenaries.
      -Who? Rain or the pinned merc?

      1. hear hear > me hear
        permanent.” > permanent.
        Couldn’t > “Couldn’t
        pending.  ” > pending.”
        V’. > V.’
        ‘Sweetheart’. > ‘Sweetheart.’
        putting her face the > putting her face on the
        from moisture > from the moisture

  4. Amazing what a woman with the social skills of a dog, wired to read posture and body language more than facial expressions and tone of voice, can do with somebody who taught herself how to read faces and the attention of detail necessary to notice pauses and other such things, can do when they work together.

    Alternately, Candy really *does* have a lie detection power and lied about it to Antares.

    1. And it seems Rachel is better at realizing Mercs have screwed them over than Lisa is. Bitch is better at reading people now than Tattletale. That’s hilarious.

    2. Yeah, Rachel apparently took dog’s ability to read body language, and turned it into a low level Thinker power.

      As for Candy it does not have to be her power. It could be almost any combination of her trusting Bitch’s judgement, being sadistic enough to pull her “I can tell when you are lying” routine whenever she sees an unsuspecting victim, or just being that good at reading other people’s emotion from being over-exposed to people with emotion-manipulating powers.

      1. Thinker 0 only, however. It has as many downsides as advantages, all told, so it’s not great. Not even enough to be worth having, on its own. Only with her dog-boosting power is it worthwhile.

        1. I’m not sure it can be classified merely as a Thinker 0 power. In chapter 6.2 of Ward she said that she knew Chris. Imp suggested then that might have been just Tattletale’s video of Chris Tattletale had shown them, but in retrospect I think that maybe she recognized Chris as Lab Rat, despite having minimal interaction with Lab Rat in Worm (I think she might have even seen Lab Rat only twice – during a few minutes at the end of chapter 27.3 and the beginning of chapter 27.4 of Worm, and at the time described in Chris’s interlude.

          If she indeed recognized Lab Rat in Chris after that, then it indicates a memory and ability to decipher body language that’s well beyond human norm. The memory could be explained by “non-power related” circumstances (like her almost complete illiteracy – many illiterate people supposedly have excellent memories), but the end effect is like a Thinker or pseudo-Thinker power – one most people would probably give a level beyond 0.

          1. To be fair Rachel probably didn’t recognize Chris as Lab Rat all by herself. Yips clued her in. Could it be the smell of all of those chemicals Chris had on himself (not to mention Lab Rat’s own smell) that betrayed him? Looks like Rachel was right to bring that supposedly “bad” dog with her.

          2. Was he the one that talked down to her, prompting her to get tecton to tell her smart things to say to him?
            If so, she had more interactions with him then the other undersiders, and the talking down might’ve left an impression.

          3. Possibly. Either way it would be impressive feat for Rachel to recognize Chris as Lab Rat, if that is indeed what she did in chapter 6.2.

    3. Nah, it makes perfect sense. Dogs actually EXCELLENT at learning what human tone of voice and to a much lesser degree, facial expressions mean. The reason Rachel couldn’t pick them up in worm is simple- she didn’t just have the psychology of a dog, she had the psychology of an ABUSED dog- as in, she just defaulted to assuming all human interaction was negative, and was basically ferral.

      Now, she’s more like a guard dog, who can see humans as her family or pack, and is able to put her power to use without being held back by instinctive distrust, and like a domesticated, intelligent dog, and is capable of reading social situations on a completely diffrent, but still incredibly useful level than a normal human.

      Dogs are fucking amazing creatures when in comes to empathy and social reading. And yeah, I think this a legit thinker power.

      1. Actually even in Worm she wasn’t that bad at picking up human body language, and possibly to a lesser extent- tone of voice etc. mean. She certainly trusted those cues more than she trusted actual words. There is however at least some merit in saying that she was like an abused dog then. Like an abused dog she certainly didn’t trust humans much early on, ESPECIALLY when they spoke to her. She knew that unlike body language, words CAN easily contain lies, and her first assumption was that if someone is talking to her, they are probably trying to deceive her somehow.

        I always wondered to what extent her decision not to join Slaughterhouse Nine was dictated by the fact that Siberian tried to talk to her, and (even worse) left her a written message, instead of just limiting “herself” to body language. I think that Rachel could have become particularly suspicious of Siberian when she learned that Siberian was supposedly never seen speaking before.

  5. Also, I spotted Wagg the Dog! Good to see she made it and she’s still with Bitch. (Caught it on a re-read as I glanced up to reread Rachel’s interaction with the Heartbroken, otherwise it’d be in my first post.)

    Also, really interested in what Bitch said to Aroa.

  6. “It’s better than smelling like hot dog water and pee,” Candy said.”
    Wait there’s a difference between the two?

    And more Dean refferences. Cyborg Dean arc coming next?

  7. Plus I don’t see Little V and Big V being super different. They both grew up. Plus it’s really not uncommon for people who share grief to bond. They get each other. Their relationship was different before because they were both dealin with a recent loss.

  8. Sounds like we won’t get to rescue Tattletale, Capricorn and Sveta any time soon if they’re being taken to another earth as hostages. I can’t help but think that group is in for a really bad time while they’re offscreen…

  9. 1. First Imp said she used to date a hero, then Vista said about getting hit by something that had her hear things for months, and mentions things and people like a “giant magenta cat made of energy”… Sounds like we are getting either that meeting of Brockton Bay capes, or a retrospective interlude in foreseeable future.

    2. Victoria has no respect for people’s secret identities again.

    […]Our friend that we just dropped off at the clinic got a seven pounder, I’m guessing, not counting all the rest of the stuff that was attached.”

    She is talking about it next to a clerk in a gas station next to the clinic. This time there should be no problem since Sabah was taken straight to a hospital, so the clerk is unlikely to ever see her face, but it still is a very bad habit to chat about these sort of things next to random people. And it still could go wrong if the clerk exchanges a few words too many to the people working in that clinic, and they figure out that something Victoria said doesn’t match whatever cover story Sabah and Lily told in the clinic.

    When will you learn that not everyone is a C53 or a member of New Wave Victoria!

    Not to mention that even if no civilian is going to have any ill intentions, Victoria’s still unnecessarily terrorized the clerk. Glenn Chambers would probably tell her that’s the sort of thing where the anti-parahuman sentiments are coming from…

    And speaking of keeping secret identities secret Rachel is just as bad about it as Victoria. Chastity was right to point that out.

    3. Did Victoria inadvertently tell Rachel something important about her parents? Something that the Bitch likes to hear about people?

    “I don’t know what that means. I never had a dog growing up,” I said. “My parents said it wouldn’t be fair if we got hurt or if a supervillain got us, and we weren’t back for it.”

    “Fair,” Rachel said.

    “Not fair. They had you,” Candy said.

    And I guess Candy is going to get some shit job from Rachel on the next opportunity.

    4. “The time portals?” Interesting. Looks like we now know what the “other time related fuckery” was about. Looks like maybe it was not Teacher but but the splinter group who exploded the portals in the city. I wonder what they want to do with the time exactly? Stop it? Hurry it up? TURN IT BACK? If this is the last case could someone in the Shepherds and/or the Attendant be sympathizing or even working with the villains on that?

    5. Generally speaking it has been nice to finally get a chapter that is a little bit of a breather from near constant fighting and body horror we had for past couple of weeks.

    1. Re: Bitch- Rachel hates people who gets dogs and then never puts the time or energy into taking responsibility for them. She respects that Victoria’s parents knew they couldn’t guarantee the time so didn’t get one.

      And Candy said it wasn’t fair that they couldn’t put the effort into a dog, but could put the effort into a child. Which is a good point- if you can’t have a dog, because you’re scared of villains kidnapping/killing you and preventing you from going back, you really should apply the same arguments to having a child.

      1. About Rachel – that was my read too. About Candy – the way I read it, Candy could be saying that it is not exactly fair to have a child, and then deny the child something as simple as a dog, but your interpretation is probably better.

        1. Lots of families don’t have dogs, and denying one isn’t exactly unfair. Particularly since the Heartbroken didn’t have one, except the fat man and one which died when they were much younger.

          Wow, that raises questions.

          1. Yeah, but to deny their kid a dog just because something could happen to it? How could they be so cruel to sweet little Vicky?!

          2. Maybe Valkyrie shouldn’t have put down that dog-that-had-powers, but give it to Dallons for adoption? Do you think a paradog could just go fight the villains with the New Wave, instead of staying at home and worrying that one day they may not return?

        2. I read it as, they couldn’t have a dog because if they get in trouble then they might not be there for it; but they had a kid under the same circumstance.

        3. No, Candy was saying “if their life is too dangerous to own a dog, how could they justify leaving behind a child”.

          1. Well, I’m sure the New Wave doesn’t need to be taught this lesson anymore. It is pretty much what happened to Amy after all.

          2. And of course this just exemplifies the depth of the character… Candy is still a child, to a child everything is black and white, they don’t often make (or grasp) allowances for the vagaries of life.
            Like Birth control failures, or “love makes you stupid”, or whatever reasons couples in high risk professions decide to go ahead and risk leaving a child behind.

          3. It is probably not about Candy’s youth, and more about her ignorance or inability to connect known facts. She probably either doesn’t know Amy’s story, or failed to realize how it applies here.

            Or she is just so subtle and cruel at the same time that she intentionally made Victoria remember Amy, though I somehow doubt it.

    2. The giant magenta cat is Miss Wisp, a breaker with an exponentially increasing time to revert based on how long she is in her other form. She got trapped in a collapsed building and accrued decades of breaker-time.

      She was an NPC in bow’s Oakland game.

  10. On the bright side, Breaksiders can just let the Wardens know they have March incoming and let Chevalier, Legend and Valkyrie take her on now, while they go after the hostages. Granted, March has to have a plan for dealing with the Wardens but the Wardens have this tendency to thwart villainous plans by being the best in the worlds.

    It’s also possible that we could see Moonsong and her faction called in-the violent vigilantes could now have a target to focus their wrath against.

    Also curious to see if Tattletale’s group was taken hostage or just chopped up and left for dead-my money is on the latter, since if they had Tattletale and Aiden they’d probably try to leverage that more to get Foil to turn herself over but it seems nobody has any idea what happened to them.

    1. I’d guess mainly hostage, a few escaped, dead, or sliced to pieces. With Sveta in the first two groups, since she’s really hard to kill and if she gets sliced into several still-living chunks, all of a sudden everyone nearby is dead and super-strong, hyper-durable tentacles find that they can go where they want and wrap around every limb, neck, and skull they can find.

      1. Okay, worse possibility-what if they cut Sveta up, then left her tentacles in that area along with the cut-up people they didn’t bring with them?

        1. Depends on what they took with them. The power that cuts them to pieces keeps them alive, so long (presumably) that nothing they need to live is too badly damaged. Otherwise, she’s just killed her friends, which was a good thing.

          1. Remember that Victoria had a conversation with Nailfarer’s eye and a chunk of her brain, and Nailfarer’s cognitive function did not seem significantly impaired. I think the power keeps them alive no matter what.

          2. Yes, she did. But Nailfarer’s heart and/or other important organs were missing, so they couldn’t be put together again. If the heart is destroyed, perhaps by being thrown into a fire or dunked in acid or fed to a dog, would she still survive? If she does, why take the heart, when taking a vertebrae or two would work just as well?

            Taking the heart not only prevents them being put together, but is an implicit threat that they’re ‘alive’ only at the mercy of whoever did it- in this case, Cradle.

      2. They’ll most definitely restrict Sveta by sticking her to another hostage to prevent her from breaking out like that.
        Well, they will if they have any data about her. Otherwise they’re in for some poetic justice.

      1. This makes me even more suspicious that the Simurgh is the one who set up Colt’s trigger, even though that makes no sense. The one effect we know the Simurgh has produced recently was Chevalier mentioning her to Valkyrie – as a result of S moving – which preceded and may have caused Valkyrie’s vacation. The heroes don’t seem to have filtered these decisions through a Thinker power, for some reason.

        1. It might be the Simurgh’s fault in the general sense in which everything is the Simurgh’s fault, but there isn’t a good causality chain from the Simurgh’s recent actions.

  11. “Did you hear about the Undersiders who got shot?”

    “I got a voice message, but we only had one dot of network connectivity so I couldn’t call for details or talk to them. One Undersider and two heartbroken. Unless there’s more?”

    “Not that I’ve heard. The villains want to get in touch to negotiate.”

    “Hostage exchange, I’m guessing?”

    “Yeah.”

    “They haven’t given us a deadline and from the message I got, we don’t even know how the surgery or medical care is going.”

    “Seems like the optimal time,” Rain said, from the back.

    “What was that?” Vista asked.

    “Question of timing. They could try to negotiate now before things get complicated-”

    “Before one of my siblings or cousins bites it,” Aroa muttered.

    I gestured for them to pipe down. “-I think the people who have the final say in negotiations are preoccupied. They aren’t pushing a deadline on us, so for right this second, our read on it is that’s a wait-and-see thing.”

    Oh look, a situation with a delicate timeframe, and almost excessive potential to go tits-up at the slightest miscalculation. Who wants to guess this is when March decides to step in?

    1. Ah nuts, I screwed up the quote thingy like a moron. Sorry about that.

      tl;dr version: I’m guessing the upcoming hostage trade looks like exactly the kind of situation March could ruin with superpowered timing.

    2. Sounded to me like March was in Bet, screwing up the Wardens in their investigation into the time portals. Or about to, anyway. Super timing to screw up the bigger picture, and advance her goals in a big way. Whatever those goals may be.

      1. I wouldn’t be so sure. During last interlude Tattletale’s power put March in Cradle’s base. That read was off because of Victoria’s intervention with Love Lost’s computer, but it still meant that March was in the building recently enough that she would need a direct portal to Brockton Bay, or something along these lines to pop up there so quickly. Not impossible because of her apparent direct or indirect connection to Teacher, but I would say that it is more likely that there are some other people giving problems to the heroes there.

        Of course those people could be associated with March. I just doubt March is, or will appear there soon if at all.

        1. Maybe the Khonsu faction of the Fallen would be interested in opposing the heroes in Brockton Bay or New Brockton? Or maybe the problem they run into there is something else than hostile capes attacking them directly? Vista’s “Things are ugly in New Brockton with the Undersiders no longer in charge.” could indicate some other problem than a straightforward cape battle.

  12. You know what? With all of those prophecies of doom, exploding portals and time shenanigans, I think it could be possible that at some point the only safe places for people to run to culd be not corner worlds, but sealed worlds, like Aleph is at the moment for example. Would it be a possible end state of this book? Could the stage of the hypothetical volume 3 in Parahumans series be just a single, sealed universe?

    1. If such universe would be sealed from the inside, it would of course still be theoretically possible to leave it by removing the seal, just not without exposing everyone inside the universe to whatever destroyed universes that were not sealed. In such situation, if humanity wanted to expand its sphere of influence, it would probably turn to the traditional ideas of exploration of outer space, or depths beneath the Earth’s surface. Certain powers would probably interact with those pursuits in interesting ways. Mannequin’s tech would probably work for both, Legend theorized that his power could be suitable for interstellar flight, etc.

  13. Ok… this is getting spooky… Am I the only one who saw “time portals” in the chapter text? Am I loosing my mind, or did Wildbow edit the chapter text after release again?

      1. Maybe Wildbow spoiled something by accident? He knows in his head that the villains are going to do something with “time portals”, and for a second he forgot that Victoria isn’t supposed to know about it yet.

        1. It may not even be the only such error Wildbow made in this chapter. Someone on reddit (here: https://www.reddit.com/r/Parahumans/comments/ak38a4/comment/ef43xeq ) noticed that despite what Victoria said, we never actually saw Vista call Rachel a ‘sweetheart’. We know that Vista would call Rachel something like that, but we never saw Vista use the word before Victoria brought it up during this chapter.

          It may be implied that Victoria and Vista talked about Rachel “off-camera”, but it may also be that he simply forgot to put it in text somewhere in this chapter or in one of earlier conversations between Victoria and Vista.

  14. I’m kind of mad about how easily imp and company got taken.

    Her power is passively on.

    She should have been effectively invisible and standing away from the group.

    Also, she was willing to use lethal force on breakthrough, but wasn’t willing to put bullets in heads from the beginning vs. love lost?

    1. She has an arm that makes her power less effective. And I dont think she was willing to use lethal force on breakthrough lol, she was almost certainly bluffing

      1. I still think that she could allow herself to be captured for one of three reasons:
        – she is planning to gather information, and escape later,
        – she is making sure that nothing happens to the kids (especially Heartboken), or that they will not do something everyone will regret later,
        – she is so badly wounded that she really needs quick medical aid.

        In the last case Imp may have a serious problem with her power. If she needs a surgery for example, she will probably need to stay conscious through the entire thing. Otherwise the surgeons will forget about her before the operation even starts (unless someone manages to turn her power off from the outside).

  15. I don’t think the Victoria from the beginning of Ward could have worked with Rachel to this degree. Maybe just a sign of how the burden of leadership, especially with a team as troubled as Breakthrough, has emotionally, morally, and intellectually toughened her up.

    1. Agreed, but a lot of it could also be the fact that Vista vouched for Rachel, and Missy’s word means a lot to Victoria.

    2. And Bitch has done some growing up as well. She’s less “immediately aggressive”.
      Also, Victoria may have done her homework and might understand (to a limited degree) why Bitch is the way she is and is is thus willing to cut her some slack.
      Or maybe it’s one of those “The villains have crossed the line, I’m willing with villians, I’ll cut my sides villains some slack”.

  16. I just realized how bad the situation of everyone cut to pieces by Cradle’s inventions can really be. It is possible that it may turn out that the only person who can restore them to their previous state coud be Scapegoat, who I, considering he apparently is Fallen cultist of Khonsu, may belong to the group that split off from Teacher. One more reason why March, Love Lost and Cradle may think they have already won.

    1. Sorry for the botched edit once again. In the above post either scratch the second “I” or substitute it with “I think”.

    2. Scapegoat did join the Fallen church. But we don’t know which Endbringer he devoted himself to, or even if he joined that whole-heartedly. The Khonsu cultists were the Speedrunners. Scapegoat’s not a Speedrunner, because he was in the Wardens and they were an independent villain team that signed up with Prancer.

      Scapegoat did join Teacher, however.

      1. Ok, maybe I mixed up which branch of the Fallen Scapegoat belonged to. Apparently we simply don’t know at this point, though I still wouldn’t exclude the possibility that he IS one of Khonsu’s. There is nothing that says that the Speedrunners are the only ones.

        On the other hand we don’t know when the split in Teacher’s group happened exactly. Maybe he left with them. In fact I suspect it is quite likely – if someone was to escape from the Teacher’s group, they probably would need to have a way to break out of the influence of his power, and Scapegoat is the only person who can do it that we currently know about. It would mean that he is more likely than not to be one of the secessionists, or however you would call them.

        1. His power doesn’t fit. Most of the subtle Masters/Strangers are in the Mathers, worshipping the Simurgh. Duplicators and some speedsters go to Leviathan and the… Crawleys? Can’t remember. Brutes went to Behemoth and the McVeys (unless they’re Leviathan’s). The Speedrunners were Khonsu’s, and they focused on time/space manipulation. I’d think he’d probably go to Leviathan’s, as they were the party-people who did a lot of recruiting, since if he’d gone to the Mathers he’d have been Mama’d and the Behemoth lot disbanded after Scion killed Behemoth.

          1. Well, the way I understand it Scapegoat’s power could be understood as a form of space or timeline manipulation, especially if we assume that many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct in the Parahumans setting (or at least that Scapegoat believes it to be correct), and he finds replacements for body parts for people he heals in alternate timelines where those same people’s counterparts were not harmed.

            As far as I remember the explanations of his power we saw in both Worm and Ward seem to fit the many-worlds interpretation perfectly.

            See here if you are unfamiliar with this theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation

          2. Maybe, but that wouldn’t fit his power in my opinion. He is about manipulation of timelines. Sounds more like Khonsu than any other Endbringer to me.

          3. I disagree. Khonsu manipulates the speed of time. Scapegoat uses parallel universes as a basis to modify people. These are totally different things. Calling them related “because time” is like saying that origami and research are related because paper.

            Bohu is the most similar to Scapegoat. She alters structures, and he alters people. His adoption of other people’s afflictions is also superficially similar to Tohu adopting other people’s powers. These aren’t great similarities, but it’s much less of a stretch than likening him to Khonsu.

          4. What I’m trying to say is that the faction a given Fallen ends up in has probably less to do with how their powers really work, and more about which Endbringer their powers remind them about. Since Scapegoat probably thinks of his power as working in different timelines (and anyone who knows about common history of various Earths is likely to think about different universes as “timelines”), Khonsu probably fits his perception of his own power best.

  17. My working theory about the time bubble thing is that they’re going for Alabaster. Think about it for a second. Alabaster can revert himself 4. something seconds in time. If Teacher can break the bubble, then somehow break Alabasters power and extend it over a city, or possibly a world, things will revert to 4 seconds before the activation of the time bubble. If I remember right, that’s during the Leviathan fight. Theoretically that means he’s back, and depending on how things work, Scion too. Scion might be extradimensionally dead, in which case his body would drop dead where it is. At the very least, Teacher has access to his and Eden’s corpse.

  18. So apparently Rachel knows how to handle her mercenaries better than I expected. Oddly enough, I feel as betrayed as the Undersiders do right now.

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