Blinding – 11.12

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“I’m back,” I told Darlene.  “That wasn’t a minute, was it?”

She shook her head.

I had Juliette with me, her arm around my shoulder.  She had a wedge missing from her side, and some horrific damage to her shoulder I couldn’t parse with the blood and the way her hair matted into the wound.

She pulled away as soon as there was a bookshelf in reach to lean on.  Hand over hand, with one arm barely functional, she crawled along the wall to the nook by the door, where she slowly eased herself down.  Still hand over hand.

“Do you want help?” I asked.

Juliette shook her head.  She reached over to the light switch.  Only half of the lights in the space were on, and with a flick of the lights, only the light from the back room where Lookout and Swansong were and the light from the stairwell we’d come from were there.

Nobody complained or commented.

She settled in against the wall, leaning sideways into it instead of sitting with her back to it.

I was wary as I watched.  There was something about how quiet she was and how rigid Darlene was, that made me feel like Juliette was a powder keg about to go off.  I had no point of reference, I didn’t know much of anything about her except that she and her brother didn’t get along, and the feeling persisted because- because there was no way she could be like that and not be bottling up emotion, ready to vent it at the next or nearest excuse.

She pulled out her phone from her pocket.  The screen glowed in the dark.  She fished in her pocket with the shaky arm that was attached to a shoulder with a gap in it that I could have put my hand through, and she pulled out the headphones that were threaded up and under her top.

I saw it coming as soon as I saw the glimpse of blue at her side, where it looked like a triangle had been taken out of her.  The headphone cord had been severed.

Her hands shook as she held the severed cord.

“Do you- do you want mine?” I asked.  “My earbuds?”

She nodded once, a single jerk of the head.

I pulled mine out.  Rather than approach, I tossed them to her.

In taking them, she turned further away from me.  As if she had to move away from giving a thank-you, refuse my existence further, because I’d supplied that help.

“Antares?” Darlene asked, a question in a small voice.

One eye on Juliette, I found my way to Darlene’s side, crouching down.

Juliette plugged the earbuds into both phone and ears.  Her head leaned against the wall as she stared down at the screen, the blue light illuminating a pale face with drops of red at the side, spray.

Darlene, at least, seemed to relax as Juliette did.  I touched her shoulder, and felt her start at the touch.

“I peeked in on Lookout and Swansong.  Capricorn is helping them.  If- I may have to go help him again.”

“Don’t leave,” she said, her voice small.

I slumped against the wall, going from a crouch to a hard sit.  She reached out, trying to hug me, and I pulled her a bit closer, which provoked a head shake.

It took a second to find a position where she was comfortable.  Not being too far from Aiden, her back pressed against his.  Her head in my lap, even though I wasn’t a person she knew.

My heart was pounding like I was in the middle of a fight, my thoughts were chaotic, and I was just sitting, trying to figure out how to handle this, worried that I was somehow doing this wrong.

“Lookout,” I heard Byron.  “Lookout, stop-”

Lookout came around the corner, hobbling on one leg, a hand at the wall, the other leg she was using terminating at the ankle.  She set the stump down, reached out to the wall for support, and paused as she looked at Darlene, Chicken Little and I.

Byron came around the corner, checking.  I signaled that it was okay, even though I wasn’t sure it was.

“Don’t touch him,” Darlene told Lookout, sitting partially up.  There was a panicked note in her voice.  “You can’t touch him.”

Silent, Lookout started forward again.

“Lookout,” I said.

There was a grim kind of determination as she made her way forward, more extreme than a limp.  I started to rise, but hesitated when she went straight past Chicken Little.  I had to catch her as she half-crouched, half-collapsed, landing between Darlene and I.  I eased her the rest of the way down.

“Thank you,” she said, quiet.

Just past her, Darlene looked wary.

“You can’t run on that leg,” I said.

“It doesn’t hurt,” she said.  There was a pause.  “It hurts a lot.  But putting weight on it doesn’t hurt.  It’s frozen like it is.”

Darlene nodded.

“This is doable,” Lookout said.  “I’ve been hurt worse than this.  Not that I want to say it’s minor, because it’s not, I want to sympathize and-”

She’d been hurt worse than this?  With her parents?  I found that really hard to imagine.

Or… not physical pain.

“Okay,” Darlene said, her voice tight.

Lookout was tense, fidgeting.

“Can I get you anything?” I asked.  “Either of you?”

Darlene shook her head.  She didn’t, I noticed, insist that I stay.

“My helm-” Lookout started.  I caught the hitch in her voice.  “My helmet.  The, um, I was thinking about what I was going to say when people showed up, and- can you help with my helmet?  I-”

She reached up with both hands.  One hand had a thumb missing.  The other had been cut at a diagonal.  There was nothing except a triangle pointing to the corner nearest where the pinky would be.

I hadn’t seen, glimpsing into the room before letting Capricorn handle our teammates, turning my attention to Juliette.  I felt guilty having left Kenzie, but I would have felt worse, making a promise to Darlene and not following through.

“I have it,” I said.  I tried to find the clasps.

“I thought what I’d say, and it sounds weird, now that I’m here, but watertight bodysuits really suck so much when you’re sweating a lot.  I feel like I’m swimming in here, and it’s full up all the way to the neck.  Is that gross?  I’m sorry if that’s gross.  I don’t know why I fixated-”

Another hitch of the voice.

“It’s okay,” Darlene said.

I didn’t have words.  I just focused on the helmet.  I found the clasps and opened them.

She was sweating profusely, but I wasn’t sure that sweat was responsible for the moisture at her cheeks.  Saying something or pointing out how out of sync that was with the smile on her face would have been betraying a trust, however.

My first concern was in mitigating the damage.  Kenzie and Darlene, and then Chicken Little who was lying a short distance away.  Was it making things worse, Kenzie being here?  I didn’t have the best read of Darlene or Chicken Little.  Kenzie sat beside me, her back to the wall.  Darlene lay on her side, propped partially up because to do otherwise would mean her head was in Kenzie’s lap.

“When help comes, you might need to put that helmet back on.  Darlene, your mask, too.  I know it sounds like the dumbest thing ever when things are like this, but it could be a lot of people, and once your face is out there then your secret identity is kaput.”

That got me a solemn nod.

“Are you okay?” Kenzie asked.

“Not very,” was Darlene’s response.

“Capricorn warned me Chicken got hurt.”

“Apparently,” I said, quiet, because I wanted to make my voice heard now, before the conversation reached a point where it was too much of an intrusion.

“They hurt him.  We couldn’t stop them.  He can’t see or hear much now,” Darlene whispered.

Matching Darlene’s volume, Kenzie said, “Can you?  I know it must hurt to be connected.”

“You and Chicken?”  A tighter tone of voice, defensive.

“You and me, silly.  I want to help him but…”

Lookout reached down, using the left hand that was only four fingers, no thumb.  Index and ring finger went beneath Darlene’s arm, while middle and pinky went over.

“Go easy, Lookout,” I said.

Darlene resisted a bit as Kenzie lifted the arm, but didn’t fight as it was moved toward Aiden, instead.

“Help me help him?” Kenzie asked, pushing the hand of the dismembered arm toward Aiden.

Aiden stirred slightly, then touched the arm, pulling it closer to him.  Both arms wrapped around the limb, pulling it against his chest.

Macabre, but I could see Darlene visibly relax at the gesture.

She wants to help too.

“Connect us,” Lookout said, insistent.

Her most injured hand reached down to Darlene’s intact one, touching wrists.  Lookout twisted around to see me and spotted the helmet.

I followed the unspoken request, putting it in reach.  Watched as Lookout moved her hand, Darlene moving hers in concert.  Used Darlene’s fingers as her own to reach to the back of the helmet, with me rotating the helmet to help.

The ‘bun’ at the back was soon disconnected.  A flick of a small switch made it open, two covers pulling back to reveal the camera ‘eye’.  Another two small adjustments made that eye turn left and right, then up and down.

The distraction seemed to help both of them.  No hitched breaths, no physical jolts of pain.  The light from the stairwell caught a bead of sweat at Kenzie’s forehead, lights glittering on the moist surface of Darlene’s eyes.

The camera was removed from its oblong mounting, moved over toward Chicken Little-

He jumped at the physical contact, squeezed Darlene’s arm harder.

The pad touched his neck.  The camera came to life, moving stiffly, the cover ‘lids’ opening and closing slightly, the ‘pupil’ narrowing and widening.  Rain’s tech.

Kenzie leaned into Darlene hard, pressing their faces together as the camera focused in on them.

“Hi!” Kenzie said.  “Hi there.”

“Hi,” Darlene said, to the camera-eye.

“Hi,” Chicken Little spoke for the first time.  “I can’t hear you.  I can’t see you clearly either.  I don’t think it’s because it’s dark.”

“We can work on that, can’t we?” Kenzie asked.

Darlene nodded.

I extricated myself, letting the two girls get to a more comfortable position, Kenzie communicating through Darlene’s power to get Darlene to act as her hands.  Darlene didn’t need me to cling to, at least for right now.

“Sveta?” I asked.

Silence.

“What can I do?” I asked.  My voice carried into the dark.

“Leave.  For your own safety.”

The words stung.  A gulf separated us.

“I can use my forcefield to get close.”

“Don’t.  Not when- not like this.”

She didn’t trust herself.  It wasn’t just the gulf.  She was several steps removed.  On most days I’d seen her at the hospital, she’d been one or two steps removed from hurting me.  One mistake to smash something into a forcefield, another mistake to do something to my body.

Here, to cover that distance, turn the corner, to smash my forcefield and then to hurt me, it required a sequence of mistakes.

And she saw that sequence as being too possible.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Me too.  I’m just- why?  Why couldn’t they take my word for it when I said I surrendered?  Why did they have to wreck it?  Why did they-”

There was a movement.  A object hurtled in anger, startling, then I startled more as that object exploded.

Not fire and heat, but a violent release of pressure.  Layered lemon-slices of plexiglass overlapping one another, each one curved and nestled into others to form a ball shape.  On impact with the floor ten feet from me, the pieces had sprung apart.  I could see where the damage had already been done, pieces sliced through, some pieces missing.

“Sorry,” I heard her voice.

“No,” I said.  I leaned against the wall, staring up at the ceiling.  “No need for any apologies.  I get it.”

“Can you give me some space?  I want to mourn.”

Mourn.

Byron was helping Ashley, and I knew they heard.  Both looked at me.

“The body,” I said.

“I really liked it,” she said.

“So did I,” I said.  I could have said there would be another one, if anyone in her immediate circle could help it.  Even that Rain had the details on the internals that he’d been replicating as something writ large.  Didn’t matter.  There was something sentimental about this body, and it was no longer usable.

“I could have killed him.  Them.  I had a split second to decide, and I worried that if I instinctively grabbed at the whip, then the tendrils would be cut loose.  They could hurt a lot of people if they weren’t attached to me.”

“You made the right call.”

“I think so,” she said.  “But it’s not easy knowing I might’ve stopped some of this from happening.”

“We have options,” I said.  “Trust me?  Can you just… give me some faith, that I can figure something out?”

A long pause.  Wrestling with herself, in more than one way.

“Yeah,” she said.  “Just… some space?  Until I trust myself?”

“I’ll be back to check on you soon,” I said.  I knocked on the wall as I left.

I had to walk around bookcases to reach the table where Ashley and Byron sat.  The table had been moved so that Ashley could watch Kenzie’s group.

About ten feet away, Flor was handcuffed to a desk – a professor’s desk, fit for the front of the classroom, with the internal shelves and drawers.  her legs were stacked against the wall, and she hunched forward, hair hanging down as she tried to tear open the wrapper from a treat from the vending machine with her teeth.  She’d been supplied with a lot of things, and for now that seemed to be keeping her content, much as Juliette’s phone was allowing her to tune out.

Treats and battery life were finite, though.

“Status?” I asked Byron.

“The rest of team blue is arriving soon.  We got a status update from Vista, we were debating calling emergency services, or which teams were even available,” Byron said.

I could see the toll that this dark place was having on him.  He sat closest to the glow from the back room where Swansong, Lookout, and Flor had been stowed.  His brother was hurt and he had to be acutely aware of that.

“No emergency services just yet,” I said.  “There’s not a lot they can do.  Let’s wait for our reinforcements first, regroup, make sure we know exactly what we need.  But people will have to show up to do cleanup.  This much blood is a biohazard.  The more injured people are going to need fluids and blood.  We’ll have to arrange it so we can brief them on the scene before they walk in.  Flor, Sveta… too many dangerous scenarios.”

Byron nodded.  “Good.  That sounds right.”

“Swansong?” I asked.

Possibly wary of a trap, Cradle had been less sure of the strikes he had delivered to Ashley.  Marks cut into thigh but didn’t penetrate all the way.  One mark cut into the prosthetic hand.  Once one leg had been severed at the calf, he had stopped.

Tristan had supplied a peg leg, with the raw end of the stump set into a blunted spike of stone with a growth meant to reach around the calf.  Strips of her dress bound it to the leg.

She sat in a way that had her leaning back, trying to look casual and failing utterly with the darkest of looks in her eye, as she surveyed everything around her, the various kids in particular.

“It’s fine,” she said.  “Works.”

“Did you get painkiller?” I asked.  Byron had found some in a kit.

“I don’t know if they’re okay to take with the meds I’m on,” she said.

“I can search it on my phone, if you want.”

She shrugged.  When she turned her head to look at the kids, I could see how drawn her face was, the meager light highlighting the rise and fall of musculature beneath the skin of her face and neck.

“Vista reached out,” Byron said.  “She couldn’t get ahold of you?”

“I put it in the other room.  I didn’t want any sudden noises bothering Sveta while she’s unsure of herself, and I thought it would be a good idea to charge it in case Juliette’s runs out of power.”

He nodded.  He could have called me an idiot for not being available.  I wouldn’t have faulted him.

But he wasn’t the type to do that.

Byron tapped through to find an image.  He slid the phone across the table in my direction.

Brockton Bay, not New Brockton, and it was thoroughly Vistafied, as Vistafied as anything I’d ever seen.  I recognized the scar, a section of the city where Bakuda’s bombs had been detonated in a massive bombing run, chaotic and unpredictable, and then sealed inside an encasement of concrete taller than most of the buildings in that area.

That encasement had broken when Brockton Bay had been hit, but enough of it remained to be recognizable, with color leaking out of the gaps, like fireworks in slow, two-years-to-get-this-far motion.  That section of the city was above the Boardwalk.  Folded forward, walls folded in.  Buildings meshed together like teeth of a zipper, many rooftops a matter of ten feet from the counterpart rooftop on the other side.  There were gaps, but many of those gaps were filled by the sections of the city that stabbed in from the west half of the city.

The ‘bay’ of Brockton Bay and the ocean beyond it was reduced to a vein of water that ran along one edge of the almost-cube.  Another wall was a distortion of things from pretty distant territory, if I could judge by the ‘rings’ where long distances of terrain had been compressed down: I was guessing Earth Bet’s Killington was among them.

A sign of how sparsely populated Earth Bet was, that she could pull that off.  A city folded like origami, distant locations pulled in, so that all of the places they needed to protect were within a few minutes of one another, one upside-down, one leftside-right, one placed at the back, so a lattice of ruined buildings and trees protected it.

One open face, facing the rest of the world, with the terrain leading to that face being warped, altered into ripples, made as slow to traverse as possible.

Go you, Little V.

“I bet she’s happy with that,” I said.

“She is,” Byron said.  He slid the phone to where Ashley could see it.

“Badass,” she said.  There wasn’t a hint of the smile I might have expected accompanying that word.

“I didn’t tell her.  I didn’t think she needed the extra worry,” Byron said, as he took his phone back.

“She’s scared,” Ashley said.

“Nervous, not scared,” Byron said, before I could say anything similar in Vista’s defense.  “She wanted to stay on the phone, we had a confusing minute when she thought I was Tristan.  Then we talked for longer than I should have.  She’s waiting for the attack, seeing only hints of them, having to rely on heroes to cover her flanks because her focus is so tied up in what she’s doing.”

“She’s made herself the King on the chess board,” I said.  “So long as she’s making that place that impenetrable, they have to get her to crack it and do what they want to do.”

“Something like that,” he said.

I thought about going.  Leaving this oppressive atmosphere.  Except that would be leaving Byron as the only able person on site, when there were too many volatile variables.  Darlene and Kenzie were getting on for now, but would that change?  What happened when Flor could no longer snack or Juliette had no phone?

When Sveta needed a friend, and I wasn’t around?

She was tough, but…

“Tell her,” Ashley said.

“Tell me what?”

“Valkyrie’s back.  I immediately asked if she’d help, but they’re doing quarantine.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Okay, well, if this goes on for a few hours-”

“Jessica,” Byron cut in.  “They found Jessica.  And some staff.”

“Bonesaw?” I asked.

He shook his head.  “Apparently not.”

Ms. Yamada?

“I left a message.  No response yet,” he said.

I folded my arms, feeling simultaneously relieved and anxious.  I wasn’t sure I would have had it in me to make that call and leave that message.  Not with the state of things.

“There aren’t many teams available.  I’ve been going through everyone I could think of.  They’re all tied up.  The villains acting like shitheels and going all-out isn’t limited to Cradle, Love Lost, and March,” Byron said.

“Did anyone turn up?” I asked.  “It doesn’t have to be to go after Cradle or anything.  Just… people we can trust to watch the fort?”

Byron tapped on the phone, then turned it around for me to see.

I frowned.

“Yeah,” I said.

Kids,” I said, over the phone.  “I’ve talked to the Undersiders at this point, I’ve talked to Sveta.  I know you’ve had a longstanding interest in keeping the gears turning and the greater machine working, and I fucking swear, if you screw us on this, if you pull the rug out from under us-”

“I’m not going to do that, Antares.  But I can’t tell you exactly what you want to hear, either.  You’re right that this isn’t okay.  But it’s also uncomfortably close to taking a side in an internal dispute.”

“Then take a fucking side!  We’ve put our asses on the line to protect this city.  We’ve gone out of our way to cooperate with you, and people are getting torn to pieces!  As far as I can tell, they’ve refined their mechanisms for tearing people to pieces!  Narrower and fatter margins for where the invincibility-immortality effect extends from the wounds.  You cannot be okay with this!”

“Calm down.”

“I’m-” I started.  I stopped myself, lowered my volume, and calmed down, but not because she’d asked.  Precipice, Rachel, Foil, and the Heartbroken girls had arrived.  Natalie drove her bug, guiding them to the building.  I was out in front, standing in the cold, pacing.

“Optics matter.  If we take a side now it might hurt everyone later.  I’m not okay with this.  But as long as it’s a feud-”

“They went after the Navigators.  How is that a feud?”

“So long as it looks like a feud… we’re reluctant to step in.”

“You’re useless,” I snarled the words.  “Completely, utterly fucking useless.”

“In this?  Maybe.  Partially.  We can make less overt moves.”

“Do,” I said, my voice hard.

“My husband says you threw a wrench into their finances.”

“And?”

“And they’re doing a workaround, reaching for other accounts to pay the mercenaries they hired.  He can interrupt that, he says.  It will add to the pressure, at least until they can pay their hires some other way.  It might mean you have less to deal with.”

I restrained myself from being too demanding.  “That’s a step.”

Provided,” the voice on the phone said.  “You take credit.  It’s an extension of what you started.  It will add to your mystique.  It casts reasonable doubt, when the reality would turn a dangerous amount of doubt toward economy and the man closest to it.”

The others had dismounted, or climbed out of their vehicles.  Worried lines creased Natalie’s forehead.  She hesitated, standing about twenty feet away from me.

“We’ve done you favors,” Citrine said, over the phone.

She said something else, but I was distracted by the sudden approach of team blue, who had dismounted and gotten sorted.  Precipice, Rachel, Candy, Chastity, Aroa, Foil.  I covered the mouth of the phone.

“It’s bad,” I said.  “Hang back a second?”

“I can deal with bad,” Rachel said.

With that, she led the Heartbroken girls into the building.  Precipice and Foil hung back, Precipice standing next to Natalie.

I uncovered the mouthpiece.  “I lost you for a second there.  Repeat yourself, Citrine?”

I saw Foil fold her arms.

“Ahem.  Favors.  We’ve done you some.  Knowing what Cradle and the associated groups have done, I can promise you that we won’t extend any favors his way.  The way forward will be hard for him, I think.”

“I don’t think he plans on sticking around long enough that he’d care,” I replied.

“Aleph aside, no universe is truly isolated anymore.  Many worlds have neighbors.  If they settle in Earth N, we can apply pressure.  If they move to Shin-”

I tensed.

“-Pressure,” she said.

“We could use that husband of yours on the field, if the stories I hear are right,” I said.  “He’s good enough that he could do it and not leave a trail that leads to you.”

“He is.  Unfortunately, we’re being targeted.  There are no valid moves on this board that don’t put us at risk of being picked off.”

Teacher?

I clenched my fist, angry.

“Is there anything else?” she asked.

“Permission,” I said.

“For?  To?”

“To do what’s necessary to deal with Cradle,” I said.  “And Love Lost.  Potentially others.”

“You don’t need permission for that, Antares,” Citrine’s voice was soft on the other end of the line.

“No.  But I want it,” I said.  “Tell me… if this somehow wraps up, and people ask questions, it won’t be your people who are putting the screws to us or making us out to be the bad guys.  Because I know that’s happened.  The lines always got pushed and tested, villains and even heroes would default to what was easiest, taking a bad guy out permanently, and then when the situation was tidied up, the authorities would crack down hard on them.  Because getting back to a state of normal meant removing all of the murderers.”

“I’ll do what I can, but I’m not the court and the courts aren’t me.  I won’t put you there, I’ll even do what I can to discourage it, but if you find yourself there through no fault of mine…”

My expression twisted and I had to fight to get it back to normal.  She did not make herself an easy person to like or even tolerate.

“Thank you, Citrine.  Some people just arrived.  I should look after things here.”

“Good luck.”

She was the one to hang up first.

I met Natalie’s eyes.

“Upstairs,” I said.  “Before you say anything, before you make any firm judgments…”

“This would be better if I was objective about it,” she stated.  “I shouldn’t get involved to the point that it colors my judgment.”

“If you don’t want to get involved, I understand.  It’s an ugly scene.”

“I want to get involved.  I don’t want to be overly involved,” Natalie said.  “I’m worried that that’s what I’m being led to.  I’m worried I started on that road when I helped Lookout.  Not that I regret doing that, but- you’re shaking your head.”

I was.

“Why?” she asked.

“I get it.  I really, really do.  You can be proud of the course of action -and you should, you really should- but still not like where you end up because of it.  That’s okay.  I get it.”

“But?”

“But nothing.  You earned your stripes.  You get to… call in a favor, or have your turn holding up the ‘it’s complicated card’ and being unreasonable-”

“That’s not what I’m doing,” she said.

“I’m not saying…” I trailed off.

“You kind of are,” Precipice  cut in.

I frowned.  “If you don’t want to get involved, cool.  I don’t fault you.  I respect the shit out of you for backing Lookout up, going the extra mile many times.  Dealing with Goddess and helping us there.  I don’t hold it against you if you want to draw the line there.”

“I-”

“Can you just- sorry.  I don’t want to say I respect you and then interrupt a second later, but can you let me finish?”

Natalie nodded.

“I’m tired, I’m not at my best, and I don’t want to frame this wrong.  I’m saying if you want out, you can be out.  If you want in?  If you want to check out the scene, get all the facts, have your say?  I would welcome any input.  I think we all would.  We’re shaken up.”

“Yeah.  Absolutely.”

I had to clear my throat.  It still hurt.

“If you don’t want to look at the scene, if you want to give your opinion without knowing the whole why?  You’ve earned that.  It’s unfair but you’ve earned the right to be a little unfair.  If you want to give that input, then yeah.  I’ll listen.  We’ll listen- the rest of Breakthrough, I think.  Just… don’t be unfair about it and call it fair.  I don’t think I’d be comfortable going this extra mile in any premeditated way if either you or the mayor said no.”

“You want me to sign off on murder?”

Put so bluntly, it was a heavy thing.

“Just… go upstairs?  Or settle in down in the lobby, wait for ambulances and cleanup?”

“Or go,” she said.

“If you want,” I said.

I saw her expression, put myself in her shoes for a second, and then I frowned, hand going to my face, pushing hair away, momentarily covering my eyes.  “I’m just realizing the situation I’m putting you in.  You can’t go, because that’s the same as giving permission, because you heard one end of the conversation with the mayor.”

Natalie hunched her shoulders, hands in her pockets.  “I’ll go up.  Don’t worry about it.  It’s been a shitty night.”

“Thank you.”

She headed inside, turning to where the stairwell was.

The wind changed direction.  There hadn’t been anything falling from the sky or stirred by the air, but with the change, snow was whisked from precarious positions, and flurries stirred up.

“I might have to opt out,” Foil said.

“Okay,” I said.

“I love the kids, many of them, I really do, but the horrific stuff isn’t getting easier with time.  You’re supposed to become numb to it, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I’m not becoming numb,” Foil said.  “Each time’s harder than the last.  I’m going to stay down here.  Keep watch.”

“Okay.  It makes me feel better to know we have someone watching out.  Just remember you’re being targeted too.”

“I’ll be careful,” Foil said.

I nodded.

Precipice followed me inside.

The door shut behind us, and he put his hand on my shoulder to stop me.  His mask glowed blue, the circuit pattern glowing in the unlit lobby.  Similar circuits traced his miniature arms.

“What’s our next step?” he asked.

“Vista may have this in hand.  It’s looking more like we might have to go after Cradle.”

“What Love Lost said… she fully expects me to turn myself in.  This is what she’s trying to do, right?  Apply pressure?”

“I don’t think she’s in her right mind,” I said.  “What she’s doing and saying don’t line up.”

“Maybe.  You’re not answering my question.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, she probably thinks you’ll give yourself up, to undo what was done to all the others.  Or she thinks that if those guys are left like this for long enough, they or their loved ones will turn on you.”

Precipice nodded.

“I don’t think it makes sense to do, Rain,” I said.  “I think they’ve proven themselves unreliable and dangerous, well past the capacity for any kind of deals.  If you turn yourself in, they’ll let the others suffer just to make you more miserable before they kill you.”

“I was wondering that,” he said, barely audible.  “A lot of time spent stuck in a room with them.  I can see it.”

“We’ll figure something out,” I said.  “If we can’t figure out a workable plan of attack, we’ll go after March and-”

I stopped as we reached the top of the stairs.  Natalie stood in the doorway.

Candy, Chastity, and Darlene were talking.  Aroa was with Juliette, and the fact that Aroa had been in what was effectively a car accident when the armored van had rolled was nothing compared to Juliette’s condition.  The pain was clear and the blood was everywhere.  It didn’t help that the lights had been turned on.

Kenzie didn’t have her helmet on, despite my earlier urging.  She sat with Chicken Little while Darlene’s family members clustered around her.  She didn’t seem aware of it, but as seconds wore on, she hunched over more, tension taking over her body, her hands pressed tight between her knees.

I touched Natalie’s shoulder, to get her to move, or to get her out of my way so I could act.  She reacted, turning, and Kenzie noticed.

Either because she was good at putting on a show or because having the right people around revitalized her, Kenzie almost immediately perked up, the signs of pain gone.

“Natalie!  And Precipice!”  she said, all smiles.  “Precipice!  I’ve been using your contact pads for Chicken Little.  It’s so useful!  Can you help me crack this?  I think the signal’s not translating right.”

“One second,” Precipice told her.

She bobbed her head in a nod.  Natalie entered the room, stepping around streaks and pools of blood, and Kenzie seemed happy as a clam to have Natalie around.

I studied the room, trying to see if I was missing anything.  Any powder kegs set to go off, any tensions, any people in need…

There was one, really.  Rain.

“We can’t discount the obvious,” he said.

“The obvious?  You’re not turning yourself in.  We already established that’s a bad idea.”

“The other obvious,” he said.  “It’s… seven-something o’clock?  Almost Eight?  It was six when we left in the three teams, thirty to forty five minutes to get to the locations, move between them.  Then this.”

“About right,” I said.

“It’s not all that long before I get knocked out by the dream room,” Rain said, quiet.  “Erin says I’m almost dead, I’m so unresponsive.”

“You think it’s a time window to go after them?”

“One of ours and three of theirs get knocked out.  It’s an edge.”

“And their mercenaries are possibly disrupted,” I murmured.

Precipice nodded.

I put my hand on his shoulder as I left him behind.  Byron was sitting in the chair next to Swansong, and even though I knew he hadn’t been touched by the whip, he’d presumably felt Tristan’s wounds, and it was clear from posture that he wasn’t bearing down well under the situation.  Swansong had barely moved an inch, except for that dark look in her eye to intensify.

Situations like this could bring out the worst in us-

Rain joined Lookout, bending down to see how the camera had been set into place.  Aiden raised a hand to bump fists with Rain, a relatively small hand meeting a smaller, mechanical hand.

Not just the worst in us.

Sine-squiggle.  Guncheck.  Greater-than symbol.

N.  O.  D.  E.  A.  T.  H.  S.

I spelled out the letters, tracing them.

After a pause, a response.

Circle with a diagonal line through it.  Square with wobbly side.  Arrow.  Trident.  Less-than symbol.  Circle with a vertical line through it.  Equal-sign with line drawn through it.  Parallel vertical lines.

There was no pattern I could discern.  There was no point, either.

But I couldn’t bring myself to stop, either.  So I traced out words.  The response came back, garbled, encrypted.  I wrote down the symbols as best as I could.  When I called it quits, I could go to the others, pass it to Rain or to Kenzie, and see if they could work out how the scrambling happened, and if there was a way to counter it.

I doubted it was easy.  I doubted it was possible.  There was no point to this, no pattern, and no way I could bring myself to give up, because giving up meant going back out there and-

-And I’d hit a wall.

I hunched over the sink, avoiding looking at myself in the mirror.  My notepad -actually a tall pad of sticky notes with lines on them- was balanced precariously on the sink, threatening to fall when and if I wasn’t careful to put the part I was writing on over the right inch and a half of sink.

Backwards two.  Two overlapping circles.  Backwards two.

The door to the bathroom opened.  I tensed.

I didn’t untense when I looked in the mirror and saw who it was.

“Thank you for coming, mom,” I said, without turning around.

“Your dad’s here too.  We brought the team.  Victoria-”

Mom,” I said, interrupting.

She stopped.

“Whatever you’re going to say, just… save it?  Please?  Whatever you want me to hear you out on, I will.  E-even Amy.  Her, you, family, obligations, anything.  But-”

I hesitated as my voice wavered.

“-not tonight?” I asked.

I remained tense as I saw her approach.  Inscrutable.

She gave me a hug from behind.

I stopped taking my notes, laying pen across the pad, my fingers pressing it down hard, as if to secure it there.  Resting in the sink, one arm draping out, a portion of Tattletale’s upper body was animated, a finger tracing its arcane runes at the base of my wrist.

“…give this a try?” I asked.

The emergency services workers had arrived.  Briefed by Foil on what to watch out for.  That being told not to go down one hallway was really important.  That one little girl in the bunch would ruin lives for fun and two more girls would hurt people or kill for a laugh.  Or something.

My mom’s team was helping to guard the location.  Protect Foil, protect us.  A technology blaster was pacing the area, searching for bugs or anything the other side might be using.  A thinker was talking to Lord of Loss and the mercenaries.

Even with the warnings, I felt it was best to occupy the hallway.

“Yes,” Sveta said.

“If you need to call it quits, say so,” I said.  “It’s insidious.”

“It’s insidious all the time.  If you’re right, then… maybe.”

“Maybe,” I said.

Rain stepped forward.  He lifted a hand, then dropped it.

At the far end of the hall, under the influence of his power, Sveta endured.

My dad, having helped with the heavy lifting, returned to the second floor.  The people who had camped out here weren’t intending to go to any hospital.  That included Darlene and Lookout.  Chastity was keeping Rain company while he worked, while Byron had his head down for what I imagined was the nap of the emotionally exhausted.  Ashley was with Kenzie and so on and so on.

Solidarity, friendships, bonds.  Support.

I watched from a distance as my dad approached one of the only people who happened to be alone.  Candy, who sat with her knees to her chest, while the doctor looked over Darlene’s wounds, a handful of feet away.

I heard her respond to his question.  “I don’t like when strange men get close.  Sorry.”

I saw him back off, walking away, sitting against a distant wall.

He created a globe in his hand, and he rolled it across the floor, to Candy.

She stopped it, then rolled it back.

It was, of course, a grenade, but he caught it, reabsorbed it, then created another, rolling it.

So the back and forth went, a half-dozen times.

I floated over.  The emergency personnel had cleaned, stitched and bandaged my foot and tended to some of my other wounds, but they couldn’t do much for my throat, except to hand me a pack of lozenges and tell me to stop by a hospital when I could.  They’d even been gracious enough to re-wrap my burned hand.

My foot being bandaged made me more likely to fly than to walk, if only because the compression there was a reminder to not put my weight on it.  Also because the amount of crud they’d flushed out when rinsing it had been alarming.

I settled down beside my dad, resting my head on his shoulder.  Candy passed the ‘ball’ to me, and I stopped it with my foot, before using my toe to flick it a few feet over to where my dad could stop it.

“That’s not the kind that blows up, is it?”

“Nah,” he said.  He let it stay there for another few seconds.  It popped more like ten soap bubbles than anything explosive.

Juliette, recently looked after, unwilling to go to a hospital, settled herself down a short distance away.  The ball was passed her way.

A game of not-even-catch that was more fit for infants than children or adults, but it seemed important, somehow.

I dialed.

One ring.

A second ring.

The third- interrupted.  A heavy click.

I put my phone down.  Juliette’s was still plugged into the wall, recharging, and I picked it up.

I dialed.

One ring.

A second ring.

The third- interrupted by a voice.  “This is the work number for Ms. Jessica Yamada, counselor.  I can’t come to the phone right now, but please feel free to leave a message.  If you have an emergency-”

I hung up.

Without picking my phone up from the table, I dialed her again, using my own phone.  I watched rather than listen to the ring, listen to the…

I saw it transition automatically from call sent to call terminated.

I knew that if I were in the right frame of mind, I could come up with a good reason.  I also knew that in any frame of mind, right or wrong, there were easily five or ten really unpleasant answers.

I didn’t feel up to trying it.

I approached Rain, who sat on the floor, doing upkeep with a pocket toolkit on a far-from-pocket prosthetic body.  It was like trying to fix a car crash.  Chastity still kept him company, guarding him, even though she wasn’t in the best shape herself.

“How are we?” I asked, pitching my voice to be heard.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Sveta said.

“It worked?” I asked.

“Some,” she said.  “I’m still going, even if I have to keep my distance from all of you.”

“Alright,” I said.

The table that Ashley sat at was close.  She tilted her head as I looked at her, her expression still grim.

“My sister’s coming,” she said.  “So am I.”

“Walk over here first,” I said.  “No stumbles, no falls.”

She stood from her seat, her leg wobbling as she put weight on the peg that Capricorn had provided.  Back ramrod straight, chin high, she made her way to us, her hand going out once to correct her balance.  Not what I could call a stumble.  Not quite.

I caught her as she reached us, and she leaned heavily on my shoulder.

“Okay,” I said.

We had the verdict from Natalie.  We had the opportunity, we had the motive.  The means- we would see if we had the means.

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196 thoughts on “Blinding – 11.12”

  1. This chapter really worked. It’s a hard one. But it’s good.

    Can’t wait to see what’s next. Times like this reading a web series in real time instead of catching up on the archive is tough 🙂

    1. Gotta agree. Powerful chapter.
      Time to forget the kiddy gloves and resume some bad habits. Sharpen up and get ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence, as they say.

  2. Aftermath typo thread:

    ““Did you get painkiller?””
    +s

    “Precipice cut in.”
    “And Precipice!” she said,”
    Extra spaces.

    “I don’t think it makes sense to do, Rain,”
    > “to do it,” ? Maybe speech pattern.

    “Almost Eight?”
    Capitalisation.

    1. “She reached over to the light switch. Only half of the lights in the space were on, and with a flick of the *lights*, only the light from the back room”
      lights -> switch?

      Fucking beautiful chapter, had to read it twice.

    2. > About ten feet away, Flor was handcuffed to a desk – a professor’s desk, fit for the front of the classroom, with the internal shelves and drawers.

      I’m not entirely sure if all of these commas are necessary in this sentence. Maybe only the last one? Maybe I’m wrong, I’m terrible with commas.

      > her legs were stacked against the wall[…]

      Capital ‘H’ at the beginning of the sentence.

      > There were gaps, but many of those gaps were filled by the sections of the city that stabbed in from the west half of the city.

      Not a typo, but this sentence probably could sound better if it was rephrased so that “of the city” wasn’t repeated. I don’t think it is a big deal, but isn’t Victoria’s inner voice is usually free of such clumsiness?

      > “Yeah. Absolutely.”

      Who said this line? Natalie or Precipice?

    1. Can BT just kill people who are stuck in the Dream Room? I mean, yeah, obviously they can, but it doesn’t seem as satisfying as killing them while staring deep into their eyes, seeing the panic intensify and then slowly ebb… not that I would know!

      1. Possibly, but I don’t see why they would. At least, not immediately. Better to capture them whilst they’re in the dream room, then they can keep them safe and secure until Cradle is convinced to tell them where he left Kenzie’s thumb. And her hand, and her foot. And Swansong’s leg, Darlene’s triangle, the ears and whatever other part of Chicken’s head, and the rest of Tattletale.

      2. I have this nasty feeling the BT is gonna DO a bunch of crap, and then Rain is going to come back and be like “Hey team, I just got some sweet Dream Room intel and… oh… oh… fuck…. oh”

        1. Heh… posted about more or less the same scenario elsewhere in this section, together with the cluster waking up in the middle of the fight and it’s members frantically trying to stop everyone from fighting or switch sides based on what they have seen or discussed during their “dream”.

  3. Okay, yeah. This chapter was good. I mean, the story as a whole is great, but I do love the aftermath and characterization bits like this one.

    ~Teian

  4. This is gonna be a long response. A lot of emotions here reading this chapter.

    You know I seem to generally be more forgiving about things here. I’m one of the people who argues that Amy isn’t evil, and hopefully someday can actually stop being such a screw, and maybe Victoria can forgive her sister and move on, even if they never gain back 1/1000 of the relationship they had before. But right now? Towards Cradle? Even if I forgive them later on, I feel I need the catharsis of them getting the shit beat out of them, and them learning the very motivations they had were wrong, the conclusions they reached were wrong, and be forced to admit, they chose to be bastards, even though they knew it was wrong. To see any delusions they had that they were anything other than the monsters in this story stripped away. Perhaps it’s because the anger is still so fresh, and glaring. And it’s not just the physical harm. It’s the emotional. Things that were worked on so hard to put together have been severed. Cradle wants to bitch about Rain “Taking me from me”? Sveta had it far worse, and when she started to gain it back, he went and smashed a big part.

    There’s a line from One Piece that I think captures my feelings. After the Franky family mugged Ussop, when the other Strawhats approach their hideout, Luffy reminds them. “Remember. Don’t leave a single bone unbroken.” In this case I’m not saying I want Cradle and co dead. A nice humiliation Conga would be okay.

    But all this talk about Victoria and co getting in trouble for murder if they kill Cradle? Excuse me. HOW THE FUCK IS HE NOT GETTING A KILL ORDER? But hey, I guess sometimes you’ve just got to show the restraint to not kill them, simply breaking all their bones to drag them into the courts, so they can then be legally executed.

    But if there’s one thing Breakthrough has learned how to do, it’s deal with trauma. Looks like we may have Aiden, Darlene and Kenzie be an OT3 (Friends), and maybe Rain will help Sveta.

    1. He effectively just got a kill order. The old infrastructure that produced them is gone, and hasn’t been rebuilt yet, but the interim legal system just condemned them to death.

    2. Who is there to issue kill orders? The PRT? They’re gone, the upper echelons dead and the rest working on rebuilding. The Guild? Disbanded, and didn’t really have that power in the first place. The President? Dead, I’m assuming, along with the Senate, Governors and Representatives. There’s a reason they’ve elected a Mayor and went without for two years. Cauldron? Now there’s a can of worms. Which Cauldron? Teacher’s? Or Citrine’s? One run by a mastermind master/trump, sent to the Birdcage for assassinating the Prime Minister of the UK and the Vice President of the US, the other by a mastermind’s old minion, both former villains.

      1. I think the Guild still exists actually, it’s just that Dragon basically runs them and we don’t know if their civilian infrastructure still exists. They’re probably based more in Gimel.Europe or dealing with S-level threats like the main Wardens team.

        1. The Suits were Europe’s team. The Guild was Canada’s team, which fragmented and broke up, lost its government funding and was officially disbanded before the PRT stepped in to give Canada an experienced parahuman crime team. Many of the Guild’s members joined the Protectorate as a result, but not all of them. And even those that did, didn’t always renounce their prior allegiance- Narwhal and Dragon were both Protectorate and Guild.

          Which means they lost their ‘civilian infrastructure’ long ago, and remained as an informal collective of heroes and do-gooders battling the crimes, organisations and individuals they felt most needed stopping, calling on one another only when needed. The Navigators weren’t Protectorate, or even PRT-aligned, and were offered Guild membership and turned it down. I think the Guild would have thrown itself into Gold Morning, as most of its members were heroes for idealistic reasons, not heroes for the paycheck and government sanctioned violence. This, I feel, would have resulted in high casualties in its membership, and any survivors would have joined the Wardens. There might be a few old Guilders still going it alone, stopping slavery on corner worlds and guarding food shipments to starving settlements, but not many.

          1. I like how your description makes The Guild seem like a traditional comic book superhero team like the Avengers or The JLA.

  5. Victoria in this chapter… “Let’s ask permission to use lethal force.”

    Victoria last chapter,

    ” I hurled another piece of concrete. She adjusted course to avoid it, slashed at a building wildly to bring down more chunks. ”

    Remember all the non lethal ways to throw concrete at people?

    I don’t

    Wildbow has been having all of his characters by virtue of their powers using lethal force for the past couple arcs.

    Except, with the air filled with razor blades, grenades, chunks of buildings, and bullets… We haven’t seen anyone get killed or hit by accident.

    When cops use guns, they are assumed to be using lethal force. There is no “shooting to wound” because they know that it’s impossible to control that when using a gun.

    Ashley’s powers and Victoria’s powers are already lethal. In the last 10 chapters, there are so many times where they have been trying to hit their antagonists and the antagonists dodged.

    “I didn’t use lethal force because they dodged…” is not a standard.

    It’s good she’s asking permission now. That said, it makes it seem like she knew that all the previous fights were all on Saturday morning cartoon rules, where Superman can throw a car at a mook but we know that the mook will dodge.

    1. Lethal force and everything leading up to it have always been on the table. It’s just been a matter of if people were willing to go that far, and if they felt the circumstances warranted it i.e. being in fear for their lives, trying to stop the maiming and torture of others, or stopping dozens of capes from being enslaved by Valefor. This is part of why the PRT existed in the first place, as a way to hold capes accountable for their actions. The civilians would determine if their actions were justified and punish them appropriately. Kid Win had his big laser taken away after the bank fight. Shadow Stalker was supposed to be restricted to non-lethal ammo. Here in Ward, Ashley was sent to prison after killing Beast of Burden, and Kenzie tried to provide false evidence that Ashley was in fear of her life. Nobody tried to arrest Chris for killing Goddess after she enslaved dozens. Nobody has arrested Sveta for killing the enemy cape last arc when the enemy was applying lethal force.

      In an ideal world (ha) Victoria would be calling the mayor asking for kill orders to be placed on Cradle and company. Unfortunately the legal infrastructure isn’t there for kill orders. So instead Victoria is asking for permission for *premeditated* murder/dimensional oublietting as she and her teams see fit, without needing to justify if they were in fear for their lives at any given moment to the government.

    2. Victoria isn’t asking permission to use possibly lethal force (BTW the breaker she was throwing concrete at wouldn’t have been killed by a hit). Victoria is asking permission to extrajudicially murder people in their sleep. It’s a reasonable distinction to make.

  6. Valkyrie returned, but she didn’t bring everyone with her. Not really something that fills me with confidence. Well, the good guys just got a big boost, but it will likely still not be enough. The whole time loop situation seems like something where the Heroes are extremely well prepared, and everything will go horribly wrong.

    What IS it that’s hidden in that time bubble everybody is afraid of?

    Wait

    Sooo if Taylor was in a coma at the end of Worm (like many suspect), where did the undersiders keep her? The world just ended, so good hospitals are scarce. And if she’s in a coma, her powers would still be there if she wakes up. So why not just store her away in a safe time loop bubble that just so happens to be on the undersider’s home turf?

    1. Who suspects that? We know where she is and what she’s doing, it was in the epilogue. The coma theory adds nothing and explains nothing, taking exposition at face value makes infinitely more sense.

      1. The theory has a fair amount of support, and Wildbow actually said on Reddit a few years ago that it’s what he was going for.

        Personally, I don’t think his explanation was particularly convincing, like the insistence that Contessa shouldn’t actually be capable of doing bullet surgery (which is what the coma interpretation says she did anyway). I’d also say this very chapter helps shut down that interpretation, by confirming that Taylor’s epilogue accurately depicted Aleph’s isolation situation.

        1. He also immediately followed that comment by saying he was kidding. And then threw doubt on that.

          The ending is what you need it to be, and was intentionally left vague.

          1. The best support for the false ending IMHO is how Contessa effectively stopped her from being a parahuman. That’s never been done before or after and I don’t see why it wouldn’t have been.

            But the best evidence that it was done is that Contessa worked with Teacher who had the inter-world blocking devices Taylor supposedly used. So it could make sense Contessa bullet surgeried Taylor, took her to Teacher for fixing and to arrange inter world travel and isolation.

            But there are alternatives. Taylor’s shard could connect to someone else OR she could be cloned and brought back that way.

          2. > The best support for the false ending IMHO is how Contessa effectively stopped her from being a parahuman. That’s never been done before or after and I don’t see why it wouldn’t have been.

            Actually, in Interlude 12½ of Worm (in which Battery buys a Cauldron vial), Doctor Mother says the following:

            “We try to avoid murder in the course of doing business, not just because of the moral issues, but because it draws attention. For leaks, our usual procedure is to discredit the individual in question and deploy our in-house division of parahumans to drive them into hiding, remove their powers or both.”

            She could be lying, but this could also be a reference to other instances of Contessa disabling powers. It’s not like there’s any reason to believe that disabling powers is impossible. We already know that powers can be affected via brain-surgery, so they aren’t some untouchable mystic mumbo jumbo.

          3. This is a very good idea Pizzasgood. I haven’t connected those dots when I read Worm, but it seems like there could be more people with their powers removed by the Cauldron around. I wonder if they will come up at some point.

            Looks like I may have to finally find the time to re-read everything published so far in the Parahumans series. It is way to easy to miss details like this on your first read through.

          4. By the way the thing that you quoted looks like a very strong argument for Taylor actually not being in some sort of virtual reality, as it looks like a confrontation that Cauldron can remove powers, and there was a theory that Taylor couldn’t really have her powers permanently removed, so it was really impossible for her to experience what we saw in Worm’s epilogue.

          5. Whoops, sorry about that post above. I somehow missed that this is basically what Pizzasgood said in response to comment by Charles. I blame having not enough sleep lately making me focus too much on little snippets from people’s comments, and not enough on overall topics discussed in threads formed by post replies.

          6. > Or should I say “a very nice catch” instead of “a very good idea”?

            Yeah. I was just bringing up data, not expressing a new idea, so “nice catch” is a better fit.

          7. Thanks, even though I was asking rhetorically. My English may be far from perfect, but it isn’t quite so bad that I couldn’t figure out which expression fit better once I’d spotted the problem.

            Still… feel free to correct me on such things in the future. The fact that I knew the right expression this time doesn’t mean I will know it every single time, and I don’t mind learning on my mistakes whether I spot them myself or others point them out to me.

          8. And sorry for expressing what was supposed to be my correction of my earlier post as a question, making you waste your time on writing an unnecessary post. I know that you had no way of knowing how much English I really know. I’m just annoyed about how many mistakes like this I keep finding in my comments (and I find much more than I write about, it is just that only some of them annoy me to mention). As I said before, I know why there is no way to edit our posts here, but at the same time I would feel much better if I could do it.

            At least it means I’m probably learning to write in more or less correct English in an accelerated rate thanks to my almost constant embarrassment about mistakes in my previous comments I can’t really correct. I guess it’s sort of like learning with Rain’s assistance.

            Still, I’ll try to remember to form such self-corrections as statements to avoid confusing everyone here.

          1. The haircut doesn’t prove anything. She’d been shot twice in the head; tending to the wounds would have entailed shaving her hair regardless of whether additional brain surgery was performed after she was unconscious.

    2. I feel like that would be MORE crazy than freeing Jack Slash – and it’s already been established that our big bads aren’t *that* stupid.

    3. What if it’s not *that* time bubble they are after?
      What if it was a time bubble no-one thought was a time bubble, such as appearing to be petrified?
      What if the occupant of said bubble was the main cause of years of trauma for our protagonist?
      What if OG Crawler came back?

  7. I feel like I just read the script of a documentary on veterans from Vietnam. Absolutely brutal.

    Shoutouts to Kenzie, Rain, Byron, Darlene, Victoria, and Victoria’s dad for keeping a good face up and doing what they could. Especially Victoria. Bravo, Vic, you have my respect.

    I hope Cradle gets what’s coming to him.

    1. Considering Wildbow’s past track record… There’s a chance that even if he gets to spend eternity in a never ending loop of being eviscerated Cradle’s still going to achieve his goals.

  8. Tears? Many.
    Sobs? Plenty.
    Emotions? All over the place.
    It’s moments like these that tell us readers that regardless of what the bad guys’ motivations are they are still wrong. To cause this amount of pain places you as the absolute worst. Someday maybe they can work on redemption. Regardless, this is the kind of thing that would’ve gotten them onto the PRT kill list.

    It’s not the crimes but the impact of the crimes that makes us feel.

  9. if nothing Else, i hope Rain is able to work up the motivation to fucking HAMMER Cradle for this.
    Hammer her, taunt her,mock her ALL night long about how her Daughter would run if she saw her now.. hammer her again and again and AGAIN with the fact that she’s torturing Children, just like her dear, departed little girl….about how he’s now OBJECTIVELY a better person then she’ll ever be- and if she was willing to do this, ever WAS….

    ask her how if she enjoyed it…if hurting them felt good… if she’s been dreaming about doing it to her kid….cant she hear the screaming?

    hey, she’s fair game and allready Certifiable- if he can push her into full-on snapping/having a meltdown she’ll be tactically useless due to being too compromised to be effective/controlled in combat-they’ve spent years/months trying to do it to HIM, and now there’s a massive chink in her armor…

    1. First off, Cradle never had a child and is a guy. Love Lost was the one with a daughter. Secondly, what would that solve? Rain is not the kind of guy who just hammers a sore point home from them. I get that your angry at them, but now is not the time for psychological warfare. Plus, not only does she not talk, but Cradle and possibly Colt will be there too. Nothing will be solved by trying to push that down onto her.

      Besides, I’m still in the belief that there is this inner conflict within Love Lost anyways and that March is truly the ringmaster of everything evil and despicable about this chapter. Cradle is definitely not helping things at all.

      1. I’m pretty sure this is primarily on Cradle. He’s the person who had to do the actual Tinkering for the whip, and March didn’t seem to be directing them tactically.

        1. The reason I’m focused on LL is she’s, at absolute best, an willing accomplice by inaction- Cradle might have been the most directly responsible, but given the specific circumstances of HER part of the trigger, and her previously drawing lines at killing/maiming kids, the latest slice and dice attack violates the only moral principles she was still claiming to have.

          On one hand her snapping under pressure with it being repeatedly shoved in her face before she can really get going with the self-righteous rationaliseation would be Carthatic to read,

          On the other, supporting something so out of charicter is the sort of thing that leads credence to the “5th guest” nudging the psychos of the cluster along- and if it’s possible to start making them paranoid/ doubt their own actions/thoughts, they’ll start second guessing EVERYTHING they do- or it might throw her off balance enough to make her an easier target…

        2. Don’t forget that someone timed a call/offer to Cradle on the battlefield that trumped what TT was going to offer.

          Could easily be March. Maybe she “gets” Cradle and LL on some level the others haven’t, to the point LL would compromise her rules. Something like bringing back her daughter? Or changing the past somehow?

          Who is that second throat LL needs to slit?

      2. Dammit i keep getting my names confused with those two and have no idea why- this is something like the 6th time (and the first I haven’t caught before postingo

        1. I don’t see the point of doing that to LL. LL is so beyond fucked up, courtesy of her trigger and being part of a clusterfuck (ha!) and the shard fucking her as much as possible, she needs either a power to deal with half of that shit or to be put down. Cradle simply has to be put down since he is a threat to all.

          I can’t figure out March yet. An Interlude with her would be great and would help us understand her better. Although, maybe remaining a mystery works too, since not every question has a neat explanation and maybe that is an appropriate situation for such a question.

  10. I’m really glad for this chapter and I think this is just what we needed. Nothing really tense. No real action to be had. Just sitting down and just processing what just happened. Flashbang just rolling around a sphere is just the thing that really cements everything we love about the characters. Tattletale is trying to communicate with the others, but nothing being tangible and making sense. Natalie and crew setting up for an all out war. All of this melancholy and somberness before the storm makes this, in my personal opinion, one of the best and important chapters in Ward to date.

    1. I totally agree. Just rolling a ball around is a good cool-down, something to focus on and a way to de-stress. I wonder if Flashbang did that with New Wave at any point. Hopefully he also counts as less strange a man for Candy in the future.

      Tattletale’s probably not making sense because her power is best with sight and she can’t see who she’s talking to. She wants to pass the information on, but can’t be sure it’s not being transferred to somebody she doesn’t want to have it. Darlene might be able to help there, sharing Tattletale and Antares. Or maybe she’s just given Antares the password to her computer in the thought that she was giving it to somebody who actually has her computer.

      1. If I had to describe the overall tone of this chapter (especially its beginning) with just one word sad I would say it was ‘sad’. I think, is a nice change of pace. A bit less intense body horror than in most of this arc, little action or adrenaline, and no capes grabbing their fleeting moments of fun until Mark started playing ball near the end. We haven’t seen this sort of powerless sadness for a while.

        Of course Victoria wouldn’t be herself if she hadn’t turn back into organizing medical care for everyone, and ensuring safety of the place as soon as Byron’s comment about Vista had her think about emergency services. Aside of obvious utility of such action, doing something useful like this probably serves as her coping mechanism here. It wouldn’t be the first time she depended on this one…

        Kenzie seemed to try to cope in a similar way, too this time, though for her it seems to be as much doing what she can for Chicken Little, as being with him and Darlene. Others? With a possible exception of Byron, their coping mechanisms seem different from Victoria’s, which is interesting, since, considering how much they are supposed to be pushed toward conflicts, doing at first glance seems like a natural candidate for a coping mechanism of a cape.

  11. I loved how… wordless the emotions came across here. It really emphasized how they’ve just reached the end of the rope, and are about to let go.

  12. Is Yamada being prevented from communicating with BT, or is she intentionally not communicating with BT? That could be a hint as to why she brought BT together in the first place, who on the team she considered to be the real threat, whether she and Valkyrie are working together, with what other parties they’re working…

    1. Most likely intentionally not communicating with them; she’s with the Wardens, presumably, who are unlikely to screen callas from her patients. So she seems to be maintaining informational quarantine, presumably for Thinker related reasons.

      1. Or she really doesn’t have any time at the moment. Even for Victoria. Any of those possibilities seem to indicate something really bad, but we expected it already, didn’t we?

        1. That would have been a reason to let the call from V’s phone go to voicemail like the call from a random number did. The automatic drop means something else. Eventually we’ll learn what that is, and it will be horrible.

          I knew that if I were in the right frame of mind, I could come up with a good reason. I also knew that in any frame of mind, right or wrong, there were easily five or ten really unpleasant answers.

          1. She could block all her former patients, because she doesn’t have time even for voicemail from them, but you are probably right Jess, that it is something else. Jessica seems like the sort of a person who would do her best to find the time for something like that.

          2. Considering that Dinah seems to be at everyone’s minds lately, wouldn’t it be funny if Jessica refused to talk to Victoria because Dinah told her to “cut this tie”?

          3. Heck, considering a possible precog involvement maybe Victoria is “the greatest threat” somehow? Dinah predicted Scion’s rampage long before even he knew it will happen. Could she do it with someone else?

          4. Alternatively Dinah could predict that any communication between Victoria and Jessica could be a catalyst of “the greatest threat”, just like a meeting between Jack and Scion was what led to Gold Morning.

  13. So… I just wanna check in on something, spit-ball a bit, etc.

    How PAINFUL is Cradle’s power supposed to be?

    Like… how to put it….
    The primary problem with Murdering someone is that that person stops existing. They have their ability to do stuff permanently removed etc etc etc.
    If you live in a universe with say… resurrection, and you kill someone and then resurrect them, (See… for example OOTS), that’s still bad, but its not AS bad… by a lot.

    Now… similarly, cutting peoples limbs off is bad because A) they don’t have the limbs and will never have them again, and B) it hurts a lot.
    Tying people up with handcuffs is not considered as bad.

    Disjoints power doesn’t seem to hurt disjoint, and none of our team is writhing in agony or dying of bloodloss apparently so….
    So I guess my question is, how well do classic ethics apply? What Cradle is doing is definitely bad and not okay, but if this is his best tinker method to disable an opposing team, and he plans and expects to return everything and its none painful (in contrast to say… bonesaw’s fridge art project), then….
    then that seems like it would make him an ENEMY, but not a total and utter monster, if that makes sense?
    Does that make sense?

    I’m not sure, I guess I’m just trying to figure out how ethics applies if the consequences of our actions gets substantially altered.

    1. Disjoint’s power doesn’t seem to cause him pain (unlike Sidepiece’s), but Cradle’s victims are definitely suffering a lot of pain. I’m not sure how you managed to miss that, but it’s been shown multiple times that this is a very painful process. And that’s entirely aside from the psychological trauma of being dismembered with no assurance that you’ll ever be whole again.

      Nor do I buy that this is his best method to disable an enemy team non-lethally. If this was just his actual power, then yeah, I could see that argument. But this is not his power. This is something he went out of his way to create by studying other capes. He could have just Tinkered up some actual fucking restraints. Something that knocks people out, locks them in pocket universe, nullifies their power, nullifies their will to fight, or whatever. Instead, he chose to dismember people. You could argue that he’s trying to make it as painless as Disjoint’s power and just hasn’t worked out the kinks yet, but I’m not very inclined to cut him slack right now. We’ll see.

      1. This is a good point.

        He is a Tinker.
        He has other options available, or at least could have, if he had put the effort in.

  14. Okay, so that was brutal.

    – Tattletale was spelling out what, a darkweb URL? A password? Random bullshit as her brain misfires because it wasn’t cut in half by Cradletech but stomped to mush by Cradle Boot?
    – Viktoriya is approaching a breaking point. Looks like she’s going to head it off at the pass and hit said breaking point on purpose. Someone’s gonna die
    – poor brave little Heartbroken
    – wonder if they can figure out a way to use Darlene to talk to Tristan
    – Lookout camera plus Rain interface-tech equals Aiden being able to talk. Yatta!
    – why is Rain hammering Sveta with his regret aura? Wait, are they using it to train Sveta to master her tentacles?!!!!
    – I was convinced I knew what March is up to and I still am — but I’ll admit I’m stumped as far as the danger of the time bubbles is concerned
    – I was never in the camp that thought of Rain as the bad guy in the tableau of their cluster — but hey, I might be biased. After all I read his interlude before those of Snag and Love Lost.
    – #RainDidNothingWrong
    – would really really REALLY like to Cradle’s interlude next (I suspect it will interleave with Operation Kick Them While They’re Down In The Dream Room)
    – I strongly suspect that Cradle used to be some kind of ice-cold psychopath before The Mall with several missing or at least severely muted emotions (a la Regent but perhaps more so)
    – thus when he rages at Rain for “taking him away from him” what he *means* is he is most pissed off by the fact that he now even *has* the ability to even be angry. This in turn is a result of their trigger. Personality bleed made him a better person and he. Couldn’t. Handle. It.

    So he’s now increasingly monstrous to compensate.

    1. I recognize a number of the symbols tattletale as logic and mathematical notation – ∅ is null/empty set, ≠ “does not equal”, ∥ is “if (previous stuff) or (stuff after it) are true then this is true”, etc. It could be a code, but it could also be an intentionally obscure statement or formula.

      Also think this interpretation of “you took me away from me” is dead on- Cradle has been “cursed” with empathy, and it’s driven him insane.

      1. I had no idea what “guncheck” was, but the very first search result I saw directed me towards the Wikipedia page for Houndstooth. I’m 70% confident it’s some kind of message, in symbols. The sort of thing that would make instant sense to Tattletale herself…maybe she’s just using Victoria to take a memo for herself later?

  15. > wonder if they can figure out a way to use Darlene to talk to Tristan

    They don’t need to. Byron can let him out at any moment, and if Tristan is in a shape we saw him last time, he cat talk. It will just be a painful experience for both brothers.

    > why is Rain hammering Sveta with his regret aura? Wait, are they using it to train Sveta to master her tentacles?!!!!

    I must admit that this use of Rain’s emotional power took me completely by surprise. If it will have at least some lasting effects on Sveta of the kind they seem to expect, it will be fantastic news.

  16. 1. Well, I was wondering if and when the artificial eyes Kenzie made with Rain’s tech, we saw before the TV show, would come up again, and here they are.

    2. > “I’ll be back to check on you soon,” I said. I knocked on the wall as I left.

    Poor Sveta and Victoria. They even took a hand waggle from them with Sveta’s body, and a knock on the wall is the best substitute left. All of it right after Sveta got to see Darlene and Aiden’s handshake and to feel a human body again. And sadly you could argue that Sveta is one of the least harmed people here – at least physically she’s technically perfectly fine, which is something we can’t say even about anyone else around except Byron. Not even about Victoria with all of those minor wounds she’s been collecting lately.

    This entire scene with Sveta just drove home how badly hurt everyone present at the beginning of the chapter was…

    3. I wonder what sort of meds Swansong is on? Something psychoactive to make her less dangerous, or something to do with her prosthetics?

    4. ‘Vistafied’ has to be the neologism of of a week. Probably not this week, but some week years ago, when someone in Brockton Bay (possibly Victoria herself) thought it up.

    5. Note how Victoria sees the Scar, and isn’t immediately reminded about the fight which ended up with her in Amy’s ‘care’ that ended up so badly for both of them. It probably shows how often she visited Brockton Bay between Gold Morning and the beginning of Ward. Of course seeing a rather extreme effect Vista’s power had on the scenery probably also contributed.

    6.

    “She’s scared,” Ashley said.

    “Nervous, not scared,” Byron said, before I could say anything similar in Vista’s defense.

    It is nice to see that both Byron and Victoria care, but will people ever see “little V” as an almost-adult who doesn’t need to be defended all the time? We know Missy doesn’t like it, and Victoria at least should know it too. I guess old habits die hard.

    7. With Valkyrie back I guess we can look forward to a beginning of a very different arc next week? Or will Valkyrie and the Breakthrough really interact with each other only after Victoria and co. finish their business with March, Cradle and Love Lost? It is also interesting to see that Bonesaw is not back. I guess that means no miraculous recovery for Cradle’s victims yet. Let’s hope that at least Jessica can find some time for them eventually.

    8.

    There aren’t many teams available. I’ve been going through everyone I could think of. They’re all tied up. The villains acting like shitheels and going all-out isn’t limited to Cradle, Love Lost, and March,” Byron said.

    Just how much of it did those three villains organize or predict? Is this March’s power at play again?

    9. Good to see that Victoria finally did her homework on her nominal employers-slash-sponsors – Citrine and Number Man. Of course she still likes them as much as Foil does (read – not at all).

    10.

    “Is there anything else?” she asked.

    “Permission,” I said.

    “For? To?”

    “To do what’s necessary to deal with Cradle,” I said. “And Love Lost. Potentially others.”

    Are we talking here about lethal force or “disappearing” them into worlds with no people? Maybe Natalie’s input will be the thing that will decide one way or the other? Or maybe Tattletale’s command-slash-plea near the end of the chapter? And by the way, Natalie has not only Victoria’s but also my respect for continuing to put up with all of this. She really deserves her place in the team. I wonder if it would be easier for her to deal with all of this, if she was a cape.

    11.

    Kenzie didn’t have her helmet on, despite my earlier urging. She sat with Chicken Little while Darlene’s family members clustered around her. She didn’t seem aware of it, but as seconds wore on, she hunched over more, tension taking over her body, her hands pressed tight between her knees.

    I wonder if it means that Kenzie is finally becoming a willing and accepted member of the Heartboken social circle, or the opposite? Darlene at least probably warmed up to her a lot, considering that she apparently didn’t insist on going to hospital with Aiden. Good job Kenzie! You may be Darlene’s only hope to become less dependent on the boy’s constant presence.

    12.

    “One of ours and three of theirs get knocked out. It’s an edge.”

    Looks like Rain assumes that Colt is indeed a new member of the cluster.

    13.

    She gave me a hug from behind.

    Looks like now we know what sort of disaster it takes to make Carol not only bring a rescue party, but also “mom up” a bit. She probably still needs to work a lot on it, but it’s good to finally see what looks like a step in the right direction.

    On a possibly related note it is nice to see that Candy seems to have as much positive effect on Mark as he does on her and Juliette. I wonder how the elder Dallons and the Heartboken knew each other when they all lived in Brockton Bay?

    14. I was wondering what will set the other Ashley in motion, and in what direction. I think that it may be good news for everyone that it happened now. At least it gives her a healthy goal to pursue now, and a good company to keep her in check. In my opinion it could end very poorly if she acted solo at this point.

    1. I think the leading theory for Ashley’s meds is that she’s got a prescription to help with bipolar disorder since it matches her symptoms fairly well.

      1. > 9: she knew who they were from the start.

        I’m under impression that she knew their cape identities, and what little was publicly known about Number Man and Citrine. Considering that she actually works with them, and how likely they probably are to manipulate her considering their history, she needed to know much more. Talking to Sveta and the Undersiders about them was probably the best thing she could do to get this knowledge.

        On the other hand trying to use this knowladge as a leverage by admitting it to Citrine may backfire in the long run.

    2. 3) Bipolar meds.
      5) We knew that already, because she’s got her files and records from her old house and mentioned it in a text to Laserdream in Glow-Worm.
      6) Not the same- they’re defending Vista because Vista isn’t there to do it herself. If she was there, then yes, that’s annoying.
      8) None of it. Tattletale’s interlude mentioned a villain gathering as the heroes started to crack down on the worst offences, and they agreed then and there to up their game. Cradle, Love Lost and March didn’t attend; the first because he was dicing the Navigators, and the other two for unknown reasons.
      9) Citrine’s in her files as an Ambassador. Number Man came out to battle the SH9K, and she’s probably spoken to Sveta about him after their last meeting.
      10) Lethal force. Abandoned on an uninhabited world is their new jail, Vicky wants more here.
      12) An idea I had today is that the Dream Room is keeping the cluster linked, and the shards can’t actually leave the cluster as a result. Colt, therefore, has Snag’s shard, not the fifth one. This also means I’m finally accepting the ‘broken cluster’ idea.

      1. > We knew that already, because she’s got her files and records from her old house and mentioned it in a text to Laserdream in Glow-Worm.

        Precisely what I was alluding to.

        > Not the same- they’re defending Vista because Vista isn’t there to do it herself. If she was there, then yes, that’s annoying.

        In this situation it sure isn’t annoying, but I wonder how much of Byron’s and especially Victoria’s reaction is because they see Vista as a little girl in need of protection, and if they would do the same if she was around.

        1. As far as Byron goes, he and Vista are the same age and she’s obviously a seasoned cape, so I really doubt he sees her as a little girl in need of protection.

          1. She also “fairly petite” (as Victoria described her in chapter 10.10) and a girl, and he is muscular and probably from a traditional Christian (Catholic?) family. After a couple of years as a cape Byron should be able to look past such things, but who knows? For some people habits based on traditional roles of people in the society and similar preconceptions die hard, even when intellectually they know those habits have no relational basis.

          2. Young hormones may also play a role.

            All of those reasons lead me to believe that it is not impossible that Byron subconsciously wants to play a role of “a knight in a shining armor defending honor of a fair maiden Vista”.

          3. I was objecting to the idea that he sees her as a child, i.e. a “little girl”, and to the idea that he thinks she is “in need of protection.” I was not objecting to the idea that he may feel protective toward her or toward women in general. There is a big difference between feeling protective toward people and feeling like those people need your protection.

          4. Well, he probably wouldn’t consciously admit even to himself that he sees Vista as a ‘little girl’, but subconsciously? I find it very likely. In Victoria’s words she is petite, and he is probably much larger then her. Same with Victoria’s view of Vista. There are reasons why she keeps calling Vista “little V”, and if Missy wouldn’t be such good friends with Victoria, she would probably dislike the nickname. Chances are that Missy has mixed feelings about this nickname even when Victoria uses it. It does sound a bit patronizing after all, and we know how Vista felt about being treated like a kid in Worm. She may still feel the same way, and being small probably doesn’t help her with that.

  17. I know it’s not the focus of the chapter, but hell yeah Vista!

    I have a sneaking suspicion that the time bubbles are a… Rosebud? McGuffin? I don’t know all the TVTtropes-ese by heart, but I think there’s literally nothing bad about playing with the time bubbles.

    Thinkers shied away because of the fighting surrounding the time bubbles. The escalation between all these groups is the bad event, not the time bubbles themselves.

    And March did win. She’s following a Dinah plot to get Breakthrough to take off the kid gloves, because we need Breakthrough to… Something something.

    And with Valkyrie back in action, I am holding out hope that Grue will be the one who rescues Tattletale.

    1. The trope I think your looking for is a Red Herring. A clue that deliberately leads the audience in the wrong direction.

        1. A MacGuffing is a plot-servicing thing. What people do with something could be a magician’s choice or could be actually a usable item but not an ultimate thing. WB in general has avoided McGuffins, as fast as I can see.

  18. Honestly having Slashley on the team could lead to a best case scenario where Cradle and Love Lost get completely murderer without said murderer being Victoria, Rain or anyone else who’ll feel guilty and awful about it even after everything they have done.

    Unless, of course, Cradle has some tinker BS that automatically turns off the invincibility/immortality in his victims when they die which is… scarily possible given this is a Wibblybob story.

  19. If they were thinking tactically the best thing to do would be to give TT the camera eye and Precipice’s arms along with a phone so she can better lead/inform them.

      1. Yes, INFORMING is the major part. The idea being that she may be able to give them an idea of where their body parts are, what they’re likely to be up against and any plans the bad guys have in place if her head and some other parts have been with the bad guys, possibly giving her information and insight that she could pass on.

  20. What happened to Amias? He was there with Juliette and Tattletale in 11.c, even though he was barely mentioned at all and we never saw him participate in any fighting, and now there’s no mention of him at all.

  21. …that was a good chapter.
    Everyone in pieces, not only literally, and holding each other together. I hope they manage it.

  22. 》 Sine-squiggle. Guncheck. Greater-than symbol.

    N. O. D. E. A. T. H. S.

    I spelled out the letters, tracing them.

    After a pause, a response.

    Circle with a diagonal line through it. Square with wobbly side. Arrow. Trident. Less-than symbol. Circle with a vertical line through it. Equal-sign with line drawn through it. Parallel vertical lines.

    ~ whatever symbol a gun check is, clearly means violence >
    Squiggle means “roughly equivalent”
    > could be sending info.

    I get “Roughly any dead? Asking you”
    “NODEATHS”

    diameter symbol,
    Square with one wobbly side could be Vista’s box (im sure it must. Possibly weakpoint)
    Arrow – direct attack (or becomes, direction not clear)
    Trident – three pronged attack
    < trident more likely

    Greek letter Phi
    Does not equal
    Parallel or pipe. (Possibly a road or portal. Combined with previous symbol, current situation is not as appears but should be rotated by ninety degrees? Look at things sideways?)

    I have a vauge idea that the diameter symbol and the phi symbol are a count down or a ref to time loops.

    In this timeline, vista needs to defend against a frontal attack but the real attack is multi pronged. If attack successful, time loop means new and different timeline?

    1. The diameter, or golden ratio, is not lined up, or not vertical. Instructions for fixing the broken Rejointer? That would have to be Tattletale’s priority. But if the influence is coming through Chicken Little to Darlene to Victoria then shouldn’t she be sensing aspects of all of those people?

      1. One thing we need to remember is that whatever Tattletale is trying to communicate, she expects either Victoria or someone around her to understand this code at some point.

        1. It could probably let us eliminate some possibilities, if we could determine the intended recipient of this information. Who is Victoria likely to share those cryptic characters with?

      2. Mentioned this above, but I think you might be reading some of these symbols in the wrong context, I think she’s using mathematical and logic notations here, especially set theory. She’s definitely trying to relay complex information, but I’m not sure if its an actual formula or she’s using it as a sort of shorthand or code:

        * circle with a diagonal slash: my guess is ∅ (null or empty set, “no valid answer”, a little bit like NaN in computer science)
        * square with a wobbly side: Possibly the fancy non-unicode Power Set symbol? (“set of all sets” in math, but the phrase itself may be relevant here…) Could also be ב (Hebrew letter bet) depending on what she means by square. There’s some more obscure possibilities in vector and matrix notation, too.
        * arrow : Dang it Victoria, what kind of arrow and which way is it pointing. There’s dozens this could be depending on what precisely it looks like.
        * trident: also several possibilities. Ψ or ψ are most likely (psi, generally used as a sort of “probably this” variable) , but there are also several variants on ∈ (set membership symbols, A ∈ B means A is part of set B, C∌B means B is not in set C, and so on)
        * circle with a vertical line: almost certainly phi, but whether it’s upper (Φ) or lower (ϕ) case makes a difference, as well as the context. Most uses deal with flux, phases, and vector angles- things that are changing relative to other things, basically. If the trident is Psi, ψ < ϕ is maybe (and this is tin-foil-hat-level maybe) "probable outcomes are changing too quickly to get a confident projection"?
        * Parallel lines: ∥ is loaded with possible meanings. In math, it's parallel or the very similar ∣∣ "divides exactly" (3∣∣6 is true). In logic, meanwhile, A∥B is "If A is true, B is true, or both are true, then this is true"
        * Backwards two. Two overlapping circles. Backwards two.: Some sort of ring or knot theory notation linking two conclusions? (with tin foil hat on, she just realized/indicated there's only one possible outcome to a chain of events, because all actions lead to "backwards two"?)

        1. The big question is – does Victoria have enough education to understand those symbols? My guess is that she doesn’t, otherwise she would probably use proper names of at least some of them. This message may be intended to be interpreted by someone else. Just one more reason why a hero like her could actually use a few years at a university.

          1. Also remember – Victoria may apply different meanings to those symbols than Tattletale does. For example if Victoria calls something “less-than” symbol, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is what Lisa means. It only means that she drew something that is identical or similar to ‘<', and nothing more. It is even entirely possible (though not necessarily likely) that there is no connection between what Lisa tried to communicate and any mathematical notation.

          2. To find the answer, you probably should start not by trying to analyze the meanings of the symbols separately, but to draw them first. Someone even tried to do it on reddit already:
            https://www.reddit.com/r/Parahumans/comments/anhlei/comment/eftlvyv
            I’m not saying that they got everything right. In fact I strongly suspect that they got at least a few characters wrong, but I think they had a good general idea to try to actually draw those symbols first, and only then try to interpret them.

          3. Maybe try to go even further? Try to draw them in a different sequence (for example top to bottom instead of left to right), rotate what you drew 90, 180 and 270 degrees, try to draw trace those symbols with your finger on a flat surface and see how your entire hand is moving when you do it, try different symbols that may fit the descriptions given by Victoria (for example a “circle with a diagonal slash” doesn’t say if the slash goes upper left to lower right or upper right to lower left), etc.

          4. And as Cromlyngames suggested the key to the code may be Victoria’s response to the first three characters, though even this is not something I would take for granted – Victoria would probably try to communicate “N. O. D. E. A. T. H. S.” even without Lisa’s input. She could have done it just as a response to Lisa letting her know that she is ready to communicate using symbols, and those three symbols Tattletale drew before Victoria’s message could be just the first part of the message we saw later, not a question about deaths.

          5. Also remember that the symbols themselves may be rotated, that Tattletale could see them from a different perspective than Victoria. For example “greater-than”, and “less-than” could have opposite meanings, or they could be meant as something that looks like “there is” and “for every” mathematical quantifiers. The only thing we can probably assume is that if one symbol is rotated, then all of them are rotated the same way.

          6. > be TT
            > get bisected by villains
            > they leave half behind
            > trace letters on an ally’s wrist to communicate
            > §H4Я₫ ╫∀£ρϟ! 👍
            > ⌤

          7. Not that I think that such rotation of symbols is likely, since position of Lisa’s hand should let Victoria know which directions Lisa would consider ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘left’, and ‘right’, but we can’t completely exclude the possibility of any rotation, not even by an angle other than multiples of ninety degrees.

            Of course the maddening part is that a lot of those symbols was described in such way, that we don’t know their orientation. Which way is ‘arrow’ pointing for example?

          8. Shard not mad! Shard just frustrated. Tattletale is growing cape. Needs her conflict if she wants get big and strong. How she thrive if she all goody-goody? Shard know she think Shard trying to ruin life, but Shard just want what best for Tattletale.

            Also, last line was Tattletale not happy face at Shard. Is OK! She will thank Shard later, Shard knows. Not like Shard not young lady once too! (Ha ha, Shard lies. Shard not ever young lady, but lies good for conflict!)

          9. Actually if I interpret Tattletale’s interlude correctly, her Shard never intentionally lies. It may tell something that is not true, when it has insufficient data, but the way it manipulates Lisa is not by outright lying, but being very selective about when and what truths it tells exactly, and what it doesn’t ever talk about.

          10. Let’s get back on topic, shall we? If Victoria and Tattletale indeed do have different ideas about where “up” and “down” of symbols are supposed to be, then “backwards two” may in fact be something like a lowercase Greek letter delta (δ), which could be hand-written as something resembling ‘2’ mirrored (hence “backwards”) AND turned upside down. It could happen especially if the writer can’t see what they are writing, as is the case with Lisa now.

            There are also certain symbols derived from greek delta, which can also be hand-written in a similar way – like a Russian ‘б’ (basically an equivalent of Latin/English ‘b’), and its counterparts in other Cyrilic scripts.

          11. Lowercase Greek rho (ρ) could also be hand-written in a way that resembles a mirrored ‘2’, if the writer can’t see what they are doing, though in this case it would not be upside down.

          12. Another interpretations of “backwards two” could be that it does not mean “mirrored” two but:

            Option 1. A ‘2’ written from bottom to top (beginning with the bottom line traced right to left, and then a hook from bottom left to top left) – in this case we can assume that all other named symbols were probably written in a direction they would normally be written, at least if they have the meaning Victoria attributed to them. It may mean that none of the symbols are rotated, but I’m not entirely sure what Lisa would want to communicate by writing ‘2’ that way. Mayby something like “move two steps back”, indicate something that is two of something behind, or just “minus two”?

            Option 2. It is not anything resembling ‘2’ at all, but some other symbol Victoria interpreted as “backwards two”, though I don’t know what that symbol could be. Two arrows down or to the left? Doesn’t feel like it. If that was the case I don’t think Victoria would be sure of the “backwards two” meaning. Is there another symbol that could convey this meaning in a clearer way? A symbol Victoria could know?

        2. @Scorpion451

          Aside from the meanings you and Cromlyngames pointed out, circle with a diagonal slash could also represnt null morpheme, which Tattletale could use to convey ‘silence’ (even though the meaning is not exactly the same). Not that I know how ‘silence’ would fit with the other symbols.

          1. It could also be the old way to represent ‘zero’, used mostly in times when low resolutions of computer screens made distinguishing between ‘0’ (number ‘zero’) and letter ‘O’ problematic, though seen sometimes even today.

          2. Found a proper English name for a zero represented this way. Apparently it is called “slashed zero”. You should be able to google it under this name if you don’t know what I meant by my description above.

        3. > Most uses deal with flux, phases, and vector angles- things that are changing relative to other things, basically.

          Psi also gets used all the time in quantum mechanics to represent wave functions. Phi also gets used in this way.

          As for the angles, we only need theta (Θ, θ) to have a full set traditionally used to represent Euler angles. Phi also gets used as a coordinate in polar coordinate system, but if you bump things one dimension up, and go to spherical coordinates then the second angle is, again, usually represented by theta, which seems to be missing.

          1. As for uses of flux outside quantum mechanics, I can’t think of a use which would typically include both phi and psi, but not theta, so it’s the same problem as with angles.

          2. Moreover I doubt that those uses of greek letters in mechanics (either classical or quantum) are things that Tattletale would use in a message for Victoria. Neither of them has any formal education in that direction, and while I think it may be possible that Tattletale could pick some of it from books, Internet, etc., I doubt Victoria did – she is a geek, but a cape geek, not a physics or maths geek.

            On the other hand, I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that Tattletale’s message is not meant to be interpreted by Victoria, so I wouldn’t completely exclude the possibility that we are looking in the right direction here. There are certainly enough tinkers around Victoria to figure out at least some physics, though again – probably not too much, as I think neither Kenzie nor Rain had a chance to properly study the literature required to at least connect certain greek letter with most meanings we traditionally attach to them in physics or mathematics.

          3. In fact we saw this exact problem with lack of education, when Kenzie was doing her homework. She had no problems grasping the concepts, but she still had to ask primary-school-level questions about definitions of basic mathematical terms. I doubt that either she or Rain will now suddenly start understanding symbols used in university-level physics textbooks, so we can probably rule out the possibility that such material appears in Tattletale’s message, unless we think that someone who had a chance to properly study those topics will have a chance to look at the message.

          4. Finally I wouldn’t be so sure that Lisa studied much (if any) university level physics or mathematics. I think she is intelligent enough to do it, and she has shown willingness to seriously work on expanding her knowledge, but she is also a busy woman – I doubt that she spent much time learning things that don’t have too many practical uses for her, and such academic topics probably don’t, so she probably wouldn’t know any quantum mechanics for example, aside from certain conclusions that may have practical meaning for her.

            For example she may understand the difference between many-worlds interpretation and Copenhagen interpretation better than most people do (because it may related to portals, and certain other powers that work with other universes), but she probably wouldn’t be able to write, much less solve, a Schrödinger equation even for simplest, textbook problems.

          5. And with that we can probably rule out the possibility of Lisa writing anything like symbols for wave functions (and possibly even simpler things – like Euler angles) in any of her messages, whether she writes them for Victoria or for a recipient of Nobel prize in physics.

            No matter how fun it would be to see Tattletale write something like that.

      3. I don’t think Darlene’s power was involved. Tattletale was using her own hand to trace things out on Victoria’s wrist.

    2. Yay, a puzzle! Mentioned it earlier; apparently “guncheck” might be a type of cloth pattern also known as “houndstooth”.

      Circle with a line through it: 🚫e.g.🚭, possibly a “no!” following Victoria’s befuddlement, or the logic symbol mentioned by scorpion451. If it’s the former, the note is intended for Victoria, and Tattletale is probably getting exasperated with her.

      IF they’re holding pieces of the teams hostage, that indicates Tattletale is likely with them. Given her ability, she might have just figured out what’s going on with March, the time loops, or whatever the jig is.

      1. > Mentioned it earlier; apparently “guncheck” might be a type of cloth pattern also known as “houndstooth”.

        I’m not so sure about it. How would you draw it as a symbol?

        And yes, I also agree that Tattletale is probably trying to communicate something based on what she learned from her captors and/or place(s) she was taken to.

          1. ‘#’ has been suggested elsewhere, but has any one of you heard it called “guncheck”? I’m asking seriously, because as a non-native speaker I simply don’t recognize plenty of English colloquialisms, slang expressions, regionalisms etc.

          2. I’ve never heard the word guncheck before. My first thought was that it refers to what I would just call a normal check (✓), with the gun part of the word referring to the L-shape that a hand makes when doing “finger guns” (i.e. thumb and index finger extended, the rest curled).

            Wikipedia redirects guncheck to houndstooth, and that fits with Victoria’s head for fashion, so I think the houndstooth people are right.

            I’ve never heard of either term being applied to #. I’ve only heard # described as pound, number, hash, sharp, comment, and ticktacktoe.

          3. If it is indeed ‘✓’, then the first part of the message could mean something like:

            1. “More or less (Sine-squiggle) OK (check meaning of guncheck), which is more important (greater than)…” and Tattletale more or less ignored Victoria’s “N. O. D. E. A. T. H. S.” response, and continued;

            or something like:

            2. “Don’t use (‘~’ – symbol of negation) lethal force (gun meaning of guncheck). This is more important than (greater than)…” In which case Tattletale could (miss)understand Victoria’s “N. O. D. E. A. T. H. S.” as a confirmation that Victoria understands the code, and continued.

            Or it could be some other combination of the meanings above, like:
            3. “Not (symbol of negation) OK (check meaning of guncheck)…” etc.

          4. Re. 1 it is also possible that Tattletale did NOT ignore Victoria’s response, and instead realized that Victoria misunderstood her charade as meaning 2, in which case the symbols Tattletale traced later may include meaning 1 conveyed with a different combination of symbols.

  23. If Colt is indeed a new member of the cluster, I assume that all Rain’s cluster members will see some of her memories up to the moment when she triggered. This in itself could give Rain some insights into what Love Lost has beed doing lately, but about memories of the other members? Will the memories they share remain limited to the moment each of them triggered, or will the cluster members have a chance to see what they have been doing until the moment of Colt’s trigger somehow?

    It could be a massive security breach both for all hero and villain groups that have ever worked with Rain, Cradle, Love Lost and possibly Snag until the moment of Colt’s trigger, and it would probably be critical which memories exactly, and it what order the members of the cluster get to see.

    1. On the other hand if the contents of those dreams will change the way I described, they could lead to a sudden shift in mutual understanding, and general relationships between the cluster members. Considering that the next fight may happen during the nearest “dream”, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the cluster members wake up in the middle of the fight and see them screaming at people around them to “cease fire” or “attack the other guys”. At least Rain, Cradle and Colt could do it. Love Lost would probably just scream… or type.

      1. And having them wake up after the fight could lead to similarly bizarre reactions, though the overall situation feel probably less chaotic, and more tragic.

  24. One more thought – the obvious moment to attack that Rain pointed out (when he and his cluster members will be “asleep”) will probably be just as obvious to March, especially considering her power. I expect her to be fully prepared to fight back then.

  25. Interesting to see Vicky fully in Taylor’s shoes….about to take the gloves all the way off, and asking the powers-that-be not to fuck her over when she does.

    Considering how that worked for Taylor? I’m not optimistic. But maybe it helps that some of the powers-that-Be used to be supervillains.

  26. Very nice chapter, like a balm after the last one. (Despite the fact that it actually shows a lot of horror scenes)

    My one hope is that if the big guns do deploy, they don’t get taken out of commission or co-opted super quickly.

    1. One way or another “big guns” will need to run into some kind of problems soon. This story needs to stay focused on Victoria somehow.

  27. So, maybe I missed something, but is Imp AWOL? If she’s hurt or cradlewhipped/hostage, she might have fallen unconscious, leaving her forgotten.

    We also seem to be missing one or more male Heartbroken. Did Colt kill them both, was the “digging” Antares saw a burial? Seems like the wrong time for that given their circumstances, but unless I missed something they seem to have vanishing from everyone’s consciousness into the aether. Almost did from mine.

    1. Samuel was shot, but fatally or not we don’t know. Roman was last seen battling in melee with Kitchen Sink (not sure if picking him was wise or not- Sink’s a primary blaster, so getting him in melee is a good thing, but with a brute aspect, making him harder to put down and ensuring he hits harder, too). Imp may very well be unconscious somewhere, especially since unconscious people don’t feel any emotions (I think) so Love Lost would then lose track of her.

      Then again, Samuel with his people-sense- if he survived- could have been able to rescue the unconscious Imp without anyone noticing.

    2. Wasn’t the group of prisoners taken by Love Lost supposed to be split up? Maybe not everyone got picked up and brought to the university yet? Or maybe even Imp is around and is keeping an eye on the Heartboken, ready to appear and intervene if something goes wrong, as she usually does.

    3. > they seem to have vanishing from everyone’s consciousness into the aether

      They cluster-second-triggered together with Imp 🙂

  28. Seems many readers found this chapter good. Well, I didn’t. Its just more wallowing in defeat. It is fitting in the way the story progresses but thats probably the main problem anyway. The way this story progresses: Its basically a line of defeat. Thats not really easy to read in the best of storys. But this one feels so disjointed (no pun intended).
    There was the Fallen arc that ended in disaster.
    There was the Goddess arc that ended in betrayal and defeat.
    Now we have the slice and dice arc that is just a dredge of misery.
    And the problem: where is the story backbone connecting it all?
    Something that at least gives all this misery some meaning.
    In Worm at least I personally had the feeling all the good and bad leads to something. It has meaning.
    Here I really miss that. And all the good ends bad anyway. Worm had a much better vibe to it.
    Okay, Worm was an exceptional piece of prose with great narrative. WBs Magnum Opus. It would be unfair to expect something like that with every story of WB.
    But Ward seems a long way from Worm in terms of world building and dramaturgy.
    It feels too much slice-of-life-ish and Villain-of-the-week-ish.
    Sorry. I’m reading this as a big Worm fan and had to put my thoughts to paper at this point

    1. It doesn’t feel very wallowy to me. Wallowing in defeat implies a sense of hopelessness and despair, giving up rather than pressing on. That’s not how I feel here. This chapter has an energy to it. If I had to pick one word, it would be consolidation. They’re regrouping, bringing in backup, making quick repairs or workarounds where possible, checking in with the authorities, and generally prepping to get back in the fight. We’re being shown that they are down, but they are not out.

      Also, the Goddess arc did not end in defeat. Unless you were rooting for Goddess? Victoria’s crew succeeded in shirking Goddess’s control and created the opening for Chris to eliminate her. Then, rather than let all the freed villains rampage through Gimel, he and Amy convinced them to exile themselves to Shin. And as a bonus, they also got Shin to help Gimel survive the winter. So that was pretty much the opposite of defeat.

      1. All the villains escape prison.
        Their team member Chris turns out to be a traitor.
        Amy turns villain for real.
        All of them move to take over Earth Shin.

        Where is this a victory for the good guys?

        And, well, it doesn’t have to be. It just starts to feel like a dredge of misery. And I am missing the story backbone that shows this actually leads somewhere. Which would make it more bearable.

        I am aware the scope of Worm was very different. There we followed people who were part of the world shaking events. Here we follow a support group who happens to have superpowers. And the world shaking stuff is only hinted at. We are at the end of arc 11 and I really miss some … yeah.. backstory and world building.
        I am still reading and I will continue to because I love WBs characters, their dynamics, their interaction. That counts for quite a lot in my book. I am just a bit disappointed that this lacks pretty much everything else that made Worm so great.

        1. > All the villains escape prison.

          That is an unfortunate thing that happened, but it was not a success/failure condition. Breakthrough had two goals they were trying to achieve. The first was to stop Goddess. The second was to save the prisoners from being killed by the bombs, even if it meant they could escape. Both goals were achieved. Success!

          > Their team member Chris turns out to be a traitor.

          False. After saving them from Goddess, Chris left the team and immigrated to Shin. He has not joined the opposition and begun working against Breakthrough and Gimel — in fact, since Amy and Chris went to Shin, Shin has begun to aid Gimel. The only wrongs he’s done Breakthrough are lying about his identity and not saying goodbye. That makes him an asshole, not a traitor.

          > Amy turns villain for real.
          > All of them move to take over Earth Shin.

          Conquest is not inherently villainous. We’re too ignorant about Shin to make a judgment call yet. For all we know, Amy and Chris are saving them from a nightmare of oppression and slavery. Or maybe they’re destroying a beautiful utopia. For now it is an unknown.

          1. There were deranged child killers like Monokeiros in that prison. And now they are “liberating” another world. Yeah.. I can see that being a win for the heroes 🙂

            Okay, Chris turns out to be a reincarnated grade A villain from the Birdcage, not a traitor.

            I guess everybody has their own definitions of success and failure. But thats okay.

    2. I think part of the difference between Worm and Ward is that in the former, the story is narratively driven initially by Taylor stepping in to her role as superhero/villain cape, which transitions into the “rescue Alcott” goal, which transitions into the “save the world” goal (the structure is more varied than that, the arcs don’t line up perfectly with those three goals, but that’s roughly the order of what Taylor’s objectives are). Ward on the other hand, has a very different sort of origin story as we follow Victoria’s rebirth as an active cape. I think we’re about to get the hook for the next/third? phase with this time loop&/Valkyrie. Victoria is conscious she’s dealing with things on a relatively small-to-medium scale of importance, the Wardens have been busy with the “big” stuff. She’s a more mature, experienced cape than Taylor.

      I guess…I can see why you might feel Ward is more villain of the week than Worm, but looking at the structure and themes of Worm and Ward, and I don’t see too much of a fundamental difference? If I had point at something, it’s that Ward has been keeping us in the dark about the menace on the horizon, whereas Worm namedrops the Endbringers before the bank heist. Ward has “interdimensional political chaos” which is a bit more nebulous and vague, I guess. I’m happy with it, good stuff to come, and the team dynamics and personal motivations are much stronger than in Worm I feel, even if the action arcs don’t rollercoaster-segue into each other as neatly as Worm.

      1. Well.. If you look at Worm: it starts with Taylor. Her school, her home. It expands to parts of Brockton. We hear of the Endbringers. We get glimpses of the Entitys. We meet the heroes and the villains. We have an Endbringer fight. Setting encompasses all of the city and expands to national level. Glimpses of whats going on in the world. Taylor is somehow always in the middle of it. And then it gets global and in the end when we see all unfold it gets multi dimensional. And we as reader kind of always are in the middle of things.

        If you look at Ward: we are in a big Multiverse. We kind of know a lot happens everywhere. But we dont see any of it. We know some of the S and A listers but we dont see anything of them. Vic and her team are doing small scale stuff and get their asses kicked all the time. And there is no sense of it all leading anywhere. No expanding of scope. No .. accomplishment.

        Maybe its just me. Cant rule that out. Just the feeling I currently have about Ward.

        1. For me, Ward has been less about the Parahumanverse, and more about Breakthrough specifically. If the scale of escalation of things paralleled Worm, it would almost inevitably underwhelm. “The world is in peril!!!! again” doesn’t quite have the same zing to it.

          Something that /has/expanded as Ward has progressed is Victoria’s stake in the team, her responsibility for them, their wellbeing, and their actions.

  29. It’s interesting that Rain says about _three_ enemies being down. It might be that he’s affected by Victoria’s opinion though.

    Another thought: the plan to attack the villains while Rain’s cluster is knocked out seems far too obvious and convenient to me. Even with possible March’s intervention. Rain just sitting around nothing but swearing at his cluster through invisible walls and watching how they just drop into the pit, being helpless to do anything about it? Far too easy. I expect the nearest dream sequence to show that the dreamspace was seriously hacked in some way to allow some kind of action in there too.

  30. I’ve been listening to the latest episode of We’ve got WARD podcast, and they quoted something from the previous chapter that caught my attention when, I was reading the chapter myself, but I didn’t comment on it and quickly forgot about it then, because I didn’t really know hiw to interpret it. Now that I have heard this bit one more time, I think I may form a theory about it. Here’s the quote:

    Somewhere down there, near the driver’s seat, Precipice was extending his power up toward me. I had to face those feelings, use them to forge myself into someone more effective, or quash them. Were they useful to Victoria Dallon? The Scholar? The Warrior Monk? Hell, I wouldn’t even rule out the Wretch.

    Does it look like another fundamental change in how Victoria treats the Wretch? First she’d been summoning the Wretch as a sort of a last resort defense, and even then only for a split second (the collision with the truck carrying the villains to the Norwalk Community Center, stopping Amy from pursuing her after she run from the family meeting), or just observing the Wretch in safe environment with no one present, trying to make sense of it, and what it says about her and her power (during the night she spent in her office in Patrol Block building).

    Then she started talking to the Wretch in her mind, asking it to cooperate with her, personalizing it.

    Now it seems like maybe she is starting to treat the Wretch the Forcefield like one of her personas – just Victoria Dallon, the Scolar, Warrior Monk, and maybe also Glory Girl and Wretch the Patient of the Asylum.

    Do you think it is a sign of progress, of finally starting to think about her power as a part of herself again? Is it dangerous? A symptom of a weakness in her psyche her power could potentially use to take over her mind? Is it a coincidence that this change happened at the time when Victoria starts holding back much less than she used to (giving a gun to Foil, breaking bones of two people during the last fight – even if she probably could try to find a way to defeat them without doing this sort of damage)?

    Do we need to worry that Victoria may become another cape “possessed” by her passenger?

    1. Lately there were also a few thoughts on Victoria’s internal monologue written in italics, which to me sounded like they may have been not entirely her own, but coming from her power. In chapter 11.10 for example we had:

      Sliced and diced a bunch of your buddies.
      […]
      Give me something I can break down.
      […]
      Answers, we find them, we help the others. If needed we break all of Cradle’s limbs and get him to tell us how to undo what he did to the Navigators.

      Through that, maybe we can stop March before she does whatever she’s planning.

      Is it happening already? Is Victoria’s power taking over her mind? Is this at least in part why she is seriously considering killing someone in the next battle?

      1. Maybe Victoria even more or less consciously realized that these sorts of thoughts are not normal to her and this is why she asked Natalie for an opinion even after getting a go-ahead from Citrine? Maybe she needed Natalie not as a legal expert, but as a handler in a Master/Stranger protocol, this time implemented not against Goddess, but against her own passenger?

        1. And sure, “Sliced and diced a bunch of your buddies.” is just a paraphrase of what the mole they interrogated in chapter 11.9 said, while the last quote sounds like a plan that may be justified considering the circumstances. All three sentences were thought under extreme stress caused by Victoria’s concern for the other teams, especially for Sveta.

          But “Give me something I can break down.”, and “If needed we break all of Cradle’s limbs and get him to tell us how to undo what he did to the Navigators.”? Those are not words that fit Victoria from Ward. Even Glory Girl was not that extreme, and Victoria hates GG’s excessive violence. Those are words of a Brute. Ones that she acts even upon in chapter 11.11.

          Something is going on with Victoria, and I don’t think it is just her in her head. She wouldn’t be that extreme, and that irrational. Even her focus on Sveta at the beginning of chapter 11.10 seems irrational – like something designed to make her think those thoughts.

          1. You’re probably overthinking this. What Cradle did to the Navigators is painfully close to what Amy did to Victoria, so of course she’s on edge and willing to get ugly in order to rescue them. And I think you’re reading way too much into the Sveta thing. I’m pretty sure the intent was to imply that Sveta was the one she was most worried about, not the only one she was worried about.

  31. Here is an idea about “the biggest threat” that both Valkyrie and Jessica would understand. It is Jack Slash. His shard allows him to break will of a parahuman, to make the passenger take over. It probably works only on parahumans whose ability to resist their shard is already weakened, but Valkyrie says she doesn’t feel human. All she wants is to feel more parahuman. She’s definitely susceptible, so for her Jack is the biggest threat, because he can’t be defeated by a cape, and he can make her every bit as insane as any member of S9, and considering that Valkyrie is a potential S-class threat, and in her own words the most powerful parahuman alive, she could do a lot of damage, before she is stopped, and it is not even certain that she could be stopped.

    Jessica understands this threat, because she knows how Valkyrie’s mind works, how easy it would be for her shard to “possess” her. She probably returned to Gimel with Valkyrie, and is not responding to any calls, because she needs to monitor Valkyrie 24/7.

    It also explains the flock, or why Valkyrie was so selective about absorbing powers from the daed capes, as we saw during that battle in Africa during her interlude – she wants to reduce the amount of powers she has access to, so she is less of a threat if she is compromised by Jack.

    1. It also explains why Bonesaw and Nilbog aren’t back – they are also potential S-class threats, and are just as susceptible to Jack’s power as Valkyrie. Let’s just hope Jack won’t go after Amy – she is probably easier to access than the other three, and possibly not fully aware of the danger.

      And it is possible that Jack is free already. If he was held beneath the Warden HQ for example, he could escape as soon as portals exploded. His escape , not losing access to Niblog, could be the reason why Valkyrie called the portal explosion a disaster.

      Oh, and of course as long as Jack lives, Valkyrie has a problem which can’t be solved with Nilbog’s help – as long as she keeps Eidolon’s power, she will remain a potential S-class threat, but if she makes Eidolon’s clone a part of her flock, it is possible that the Endbringers will become active again. Maybe it is even why the Fallen helped to blow up the portals in the first place?

      1. Jack is stuck in a time loop, and the faction that split from Teacher over time loop shenanigans was said to be uninterested in freeing him.

          1. Nobody in the Fallen has shown any ability or even possible ability that might even theoretically get him out. Even the End of Days guy in the Speedrunners might be able to send him into a dark pocket dimension for a bit, but then he’s dumped back into the space he occupied before- the same time loop he was already in.

          2. If it was easy for them to do, they would have done it already. It is possible that they have some plan to free him, which has to reach fruition yet. Maybe the split in the Teacher’s group was over trying to do something to prevent Jack’s release. Remember that he recruited plenty of Fallen. Maybe he wants Jack to be free for some reason – for example to make Valkyrie gather all powers. Remember that he probably wants to rebuild the Entity “at least in part”, and he could be able to get means to do it.

            March’s group wants to prevent that, and Love Lost works with anti-parahumans because they are a contingency in case Jack is freed

          3. Of course this means that there is a conflict of interests between the Fallen and Teacher – he wants Valkyrie to gobble up all of the powers, and they want her to spit out Eidolon, but both the Fallen and Teacher would want Jack to be free in the scenario I’m suggesting, so they have a reason to make a temporary alliance until then.

          4. The only problem with my theory that I can see at the moment is that Valkyrie said that “the biggest threat” is in the city, and unless someone figured out how to move Jack, he is still on Bet.

          5. Maybe someone who can free Jack (like Citrine) can qualify as the biggest threat then? All it would take is to ger Valefor to tell her to do it, and he is a Fallen working with Teacher.

          6. It could explain this exchange between Victoria and Citrine in this chapter:

            “We could use that husband of yours on the field, if the stories I hear are right,” I said. “He’s good enough that he could do it and not leave a trail that leads to you.”

            “He is. Unfortunately, we’re being targeted. There are no valid moves on this board that don’t put us at risk of being picked off.”

            Number Man is entirely focused on keeping Citrine safe from whoever wants to use her (probably Teacher’s group) to break Jack’s time loop.

          7. At the same time if March’s group want to prevent Jack from being released, she may want to kill Citrine, which would be another thing Citrine and Number Man have to worry about. It could also explain how Sidepiece and Disjoint knew about mayor being a cape – March told Love Lost, and she informed those two.

            It could also mean that Citrine could be one of the two people Love Lost wants to kill.

          8. > Of course this means that there is a conflict of interests between the Fallen and Teacher – he wants Valkyrie to gobble up all of the powers, and they want her to spit out Eidolon[…]

            Or maybe there is no conflict here? After all during Worm’s epilogue Teacher wasn’t happy, that Lung destroyed what probably was Eidolon’s clone.

      2. Since Jack can’t be defeated by a cape, I wonder if someone like Gilpatrick, Jasper, Jessica or Natalie will need to kill or otherwise defeat him.

      3. Um, Jack isn’t imprisoned anywhere. Well, he is. He’s trapped in a time loop of half a second or so in the trap-strewn thoroughly looted ruins of Los Angeles.

        In order to imprison him anywhere else, they’d have to let him out of his current very good prison. There’s… Four, maybe five people we know about who can do anything to him right now. And two of those are limited to ‘kill him’. Valkyrie and Foil can kill him. Citrine could let him out, maybe, with her trump/shaker fields. The arena guy whose name I can’t remember could also probably let him out, since his arena ‘cancels everything’. March might be able to do something with Sting-lite, likewise for Foil’s Sister’s Friend, the third in the cluster.

        And this is also assuming he wasn’t hit by one of Scion’s lasers, since Scion was also capable of breaking those time loops.

        1. I think that the Fallen may be trying to free him. Heck, March’s group could be interested in time effects not to break them all, but to learn enough about them to prevent releasing Jack. And Dinah could be trying to form an army of anti-parahumans to fight Jack in case he is released.

          1. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I can’t see how the Fallen could get him out. None of them have the right kind of Trump-level shenanigans that could release him from that bubble.

            Unless there’s one with the right kind of power that was conveniently off-screen for the Fallen raid, which is doubtful as Breakthrough- and Victoria in particular- fought most of their major capes in that attack.

          2. As I said in response to your comment a little bit above (I guess this is the “other” place you mentioned the same argument) – Teacher has recently recruited some of the Fallen, and he could have a motive to release Jack (to make Valkyrie gather all powers), and be in position to get the necessary means.

          3. The way I interpret this Tattletale said it about the splinter group, but not necessarily about Teacher. My theory is that it is Teacher who wants Jack out, and March’s group want to study the time effects, or otherwise interact with them to find a way to ensure that Jack stays in his time loop.

            It would go a long way to explain why Love Lost apparently feels remorseful for her actions with kids, and for siding with Cradle, but still choosing to do so anyway. It would also explain why Cradle told Tattletale that he has to chop everyone up. The risk of Jack getting out would probably prompt many otherwise not so bad people to use such extreme methods.

          4. Alternatively March’s group may be trying to use the time effects to kill Valkyrie, thus reducing the chance of her going into rampage or Eidolon ever coming back. In this case it may not be even strictly necessary for Teacher to try to free Jack, though it still seems the most likely explanation why Valkyrie would be so scared of “the biggest threat”, and why March’s group is willing to use such extreme methods.

            Do you think that there is someone else than Jack trapped in a time effect, who could be able to kill Valkyrie?

    2. Er… If Jack is considered to be any kind of serious threat, it can be completely nullified before his release with a Foiled bolt to his head. As much as he can’t be defeated by parahumans, I doubt it will extend as much as to make Foil miss a stationary target which doesn’t fight back.

      1. Remember that Foil was actually present when he was defeated, and it wasn’t her, or any other cape who did it. There is something about his power that makes it very difficult if not impossible for other capes to take him down. My guess is that his power affects other people’s shards in a way that prevents them from successfully taking a decisive action against him. It is probably why they ended up capturing, not killing him. Since he is not frozen in time, just trapped in a loop, this aspect of his power is probably still in effect.

        1. I don’t think so. Here’s the description of Jack getting trapped from Interlude 26.b:

          The man leaped down from the top of the wall. His light armored suit absorbed his fall, made it quiet.
          The D.T. uniform.
          He sprayed containment foam at both Jack and Siberian.
          Nothing. It wouldn’t achieve a thing.
          But Tecton took the moment of Jack’s blindness to duck, to strike the ground.
          The Siberian wasn’t immune to gravity. She fell, and just for a moment, she broke contact with Jack.
          Tecton slammed his fist into Jack’s stomach.
          The D.T. officer had turned the containment foam onto Gray Boy.
          Except Gray Boy reappeared, out of the way of the stream.
          The containment foam froze in mid-air.
          No.
          The Siberian leaped out of the fissure, then paced towards Jack.
          Her hand stopped an inch away from him. She lowered it.
          Jack had turned gray. Trapped, looped.
          “Pathetic,” Gray Boy said. “Stupid, useless. I thought you’d do something interesting, but you made yourself prey, instead of the predator. If you’re going to be prey, I want you to be my prey.”
          It dawned on Golem. Gray Boy froze him.
          Foil’s screams continued, and were soon joined by Jack’s, as Gray Boy started using his knife, reaching within the field.

          Pretty much looks like taking a decisive action to me, both from Tecton and (especially) Gray Boy. Granted, Gray Boy is some kind of a special case and Jack wanted to clone only one of him because he wasn’t sure he could handle more – but he could handle one until this moment, and Tecton was able to hit Jack too despite not being a special case. As I interpret it, Jack has some limited-PtV-against-capes, which necessitated a non-cape to get an initial hit in, and after that there was no way for Jack to counter attacks from Tecton and Gray Boy too. Foil could finish him off at that moment, but didn’t do it probably because she regarded him as a non-threat after he was captured, and/or she felt that he deserves to suffer in his loop. And after everyone realized how could he be a threat even while being looped, it was too late already.

          1. Still, there is a reason why that D.T. guy was singled out by Golem to lead the attack. There is a reason why I said that it is “very difficult if not impossible” for a cape to successfully take him down instead of just “impossible”.

  32. Something just occurred to me based on how Worm is very much a superhero story using superhero comic tropes (and subverting some of them, sure but that’s still using them).

    I absolutely love how Worm traversed from street-level stuff to city-wide stuff to Justice-League level stuff and then to a multi-dimensional crossover event a la Crisis on Infinite Earths.

    That led me to thinking about what sort of traditional superhero comic things it hasn’t done, and the biggest one of them is completely rebooting the setting and releasing new comics with new hot takes on all your favourite characters.

    And now there are supervillain antics involving time-bubbles, time-loops and dire warnings of multi-universal doom… I’m not saying that March and co. are going to trigger a multi-dimensional time rip that hurls our heroes into an alternate timeline, where only they remember the real timeline and have to try to restore it (or not), but that would totally be a superhero story thing to have happen.

    I honestly doubt that it will happen, because of all the reasons universe reboots tend to suck in actual comics, but if it does it will be amazing and I will roll on the floor laughing like a hyena.

  33. The other comments said something about a message of Tattletale, I don’t see any in this chapter. Is it the strange “N. O. D. E. A. T. H. S.” message? But the text doesn’t specify who it is from. How do we know it’s from Tattletale?

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