Heavens – 12.1

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The red and blue lights from the police cars and the red lights from ambulances lit up the courtyard of the University, with multiple vehicles parked on the broad, normally pedestrian-only walkway.  The lights were inconstant, ambulance and police cars flashing at a slightly different rate, so they desynchronized, creating a strobe pattern, then resynced.

No noise.  Only darkness and the lights.

There were students gathering around the edges.  Some of my mom and dad’s teammates were keeping the perimeter clear.  I could see people in pyjama pants, wearing boots, hats and coats, and others with bags of fast food or supplies bought from on-campus stores who had forgotten about their now-cooling meals.  They had to know it was bad.  Superheroes covered in blood.

In another course of events, I might have been among them.  And then- then what?  Would I be stepping forward, volunteering help and expertise, touting my time with the Patrol block?  In that timeline, would I have made headway against the nightmares and the loathing of my own skin?  Had I made headway against the nightmares and the discomfort with skin that wasn’t human and hadn’t come from humans?  I hadn’t vanquished my demons.  I’d just… scared her away.  She was some other Earth’s concern now.

Now there were more demons.  Cradle.  Love Lost.  March.

No scaring them away.  That wasn’t how this ended.

Alone, I wasn’t sure where I stood.  A few things figured out.  That I couldn’t be just the Warrior Monk, or just the Scholar.  But I wasn’t alone, and that was maybe the biggest difference.  Not necessarily all for the better, but still a big difference.  I had backup, and I had distractions.  People I could dwell on instead of myself.  We were all fueled by different things, and I was fueled by dwelling on others.

Yeah, not all for the better.  Lookout was seriously hurt for the second time in a matter of days, an ambulance picking her up.  I’d started all of this because I’d wanted to help Ms. Yamada, and given that I’d been unable to reach her on my phone but I’d been successful in at least reaching her answering machine with a stranger’s, I was pretty sure she had blocked my number.

Capricorn emerged from the building, one hand on his helmet as he adjusted the fit.  No cloth layer beneath like Tristan had switched to.

Rachel followed.  Her dogs were small now.  A chihuahua with bulging eyes and a spine malformation was in the lead, bouncing ahead, stopping as she whistled to rein it back.  The other two were a jowly hunting hound, and a husky.

No, not a husky.  Damn, that was spooky to see.

As they stepped outside, the dogs were made to sit.  I saw the changes begin, with the chihuahua bouncing up excited as it started, Rachel making it sit again.  With the intermittent darkness as the emergency lights flashed, it didn’t look like a gradual change, but one of fits and starts.

She more or less ignored Byron and I as she handled the dogs.

Probably for the best.

Rain emerged in the company of Chastity and Cassie, Rachel’s henchman. Rain was holding the destroyed whip segments, while Chastity held her arm out for him to poke at.  She still wore the arm that Love Lost had made.  Cassie observed from the side.

A mismatched set.   Precipice was in costume, his mask and the mechanical right arm bearing the circuit board pattern in a glowing blue, his costume modified from a winter coat with a hood.  Chastity was wearing nice clothes and a coat that looked like she’d had to go to Paris or New York to find a store upscale enough.   Cassie in a bomber jacket with patches and badges on the sleeves, some looking like they were there to mend rips or tears.  The hair that stuck out beneath the hat with earflaps was longer in the front than in the back, in a way that made me think her hair had gotten too long and she had just gathered it all up into a single ponytail and then cut it off.

It put Rachel’s comments to Candy about the long hair in another light.  What was it like to even be Rachel’s henchperson?

But she got along with Chastity.  Since they’d reunited, they had been together at every opportunity, breaking apart only because of the serious fighting and the differing modes of transportation.

The hound was tall enough that it could stick its nose into Cassie’s face without rising from its sitting position, licking her with a tongue that looked more like a braid of three tongues than a single one.  Armor plating was already sprouting, and skin was splitting to show muscle that would potentially wrap up and around without much rhyme or reason, only maintaining the rough shape of a dog.

“Sveta?” Rain asked.

I pointed skyward.  Rain turned on the spot, craning the circuit-board masked face up as he looked to the rooftop.  Sveta’s face was just barely visible.

He extended a hand, and the face bobbed in a motion that was too fluid and extended to be called a nod.  For me to emulate it, I would have had to use flight or have my head sink into my chest cavity.

I’d tried to fly up to Sveta on exiting, to talk about the route she could take that didn’t risk contact with any rubbernecking college students.  She’d asked me to go.  Her control was better after Rain’s ministrations, I had some protection, but she hadn’t wanted me near.

Mourning.  Grieving her lost body.

Now Rain was using his power again.

“Please tell me that you can figure out something about their location from the broken pieces of the whip,” I told Rain.  “Or the glyphs Tattletale drew, or- anything?”

“Love Lost was inspired by the body part severing whip when she designed her whip-claws,” Rain said.  “The groundwork’s there, but not the implementation.  Not the… energy source, for lack of a better term.  The nucleus.”

“But she was going in that direction?”

“Yeah.  Seems like.”

“Fuck her then,” I said.

Yeah,” Rain responded, with some fierceness I didn’t tend to hear in him.  Some of the others nodded.  Chastity.  Rachel.  Byron.

“Any luck de-scrambling the signal?”

Rain shook his head.  “Lookout’s looking, but I don’t think this is her specialty.”

“She’s busy with the doctors now,” I said, quiet.  “I was hoping we’d have more to go on.”

“We have enough,” Rachel said.  “They got enough blood on them that my dogs can follow.”

“Good,” I said.

“Almost grown,” she said, indicating her dogs.  “We good to go?”

“In a sec,” I said.  “We’re missing people.”

It took another minute for our missing people to show.

Ashley, limping on her peg leg, with one of Rain’s miniature arms wound around it, the hand touching the ground, not as a foot, because it couldn’t bear any weight, but as a way of getting some sensory input.  She didn’t bring Lookout with her, which was probably for the best.  Natalie would look after Lookout, Darlene, and Chicken.  It would be Natalie’s call, based on how Lookout was doing, whether Lookout would be talking to us on comms.

My parents might’ve arrived before Ashley did, but they hung back a touch as Ashley caught up with us, my hand going to her shoulder to steady her, Rain immediately checking on the hand attachment.  I glanced back at them.  I saw Foil join them.  The last of our group.

“How is Lookout?” Byron asked.

“Upset.”

“Relatively?” Byron asked.  “Putting the situation aside?”

“Very upset,” Ashley said.  She looked at me.  “My sister wants to know where we’re going.  She’s with the two Citrine recommended.  They’re traveling west from our place.”

“We’ll let her know as soon as we have an idea,” I said.

Ashley nodded.

My parents approached.  Foil went to stand by Rain.

“Hello again, Rachel,” my mother said.

“We’ve met?”

“You’ve met,” Chastity said.  “We’ve met.”

“Briefly, before I took a break from things,” my mom said.

“Are we going?” Rachel asked, gruff, impatient.

“We have a vehicle,” my dad said.  No longer in ‘dad’ mode.  Not in looking-after-hurt-kids mode, or his speak-softly-so-civilians-don’t-get-intimidated mode.  Superhero mode.  “Who’s in?”

Straight to business.  We had a clock, and none of us were particularly interested in wasting time.

“We have the armored van, too,” Foil said.  “Beat up, no airbag, villains unloaded from the back and passed into cape custody.”

“Good,” I said.

“Do you want to ride with me?” Cassie asked Chastity.

“Shouldn’t.  As much as I want to, after the last crash, I’m not dressed for a ride.”

“Precipice?” Cassie asked.  Very casual, pointed.

I’d caught a glimpse earlier, while Precipice worked with Sveta.  Sitting at the end of the hallway, Chastity had traded off with Cassie so she could look after her sisters and ‘cousins’.  Precipice had had his hood down and mask off while talking to the henchwoman.

“He shouldn’t,” Chastity said, before I could say anything.  “He has tech to look after.”

“Or driving,” I said.  “He handled the drive well earlier.”

“Another time,” Rain told Chastity.

The teams split up between vehicles.  Rachel mounted the hound, while henchwoman Cassie found a seat on the wolf’s back.

The dogs were on the main road before the armored van and my dad’s truck were out of the parking lot.  The two vehicles followed, and I watched to make sure that Sveta had caught up.  She situated herself on top of the van.

I’d reclaimed my earbuds, and my phone was fully charged.  I began dialing a group call.  I was maybe the only person present in a position to address everyone.

“Speaker?” I asked, as my mother joined the conversation.

“You’re on speaker phone.”

“Dad?” I asked.  He was in his truck with Foil and Chastity.

“Yeah.  Don’t use this much, had to find the button.”

“Rachel, Cassie, you can hear me?”

I got a nod from Rachel.  Cassie looked to be mostly dealing with staying mounted on the wolf, which was a tougher ride.

“Sveta?”

I saw Sveta nod her head.

“Okay.  The members of this cluster pass out at a set time every night to rearrange their powers and the strength of those powers, dream, and communicate.  This is our time window to do something.  That’s the good.  We have resources.”

“So do they,” I heard Rain.

“They have resources too, yeah.  That’s the bad.  They have mercenaries hired and contingencies planned, and they have our teammates’ body parts held hostage.  We have to keep in mind that he knows we know about the time window.  Anticipate that he’ll have guards, mercenaries, hirelings, traps, deceptions… Love Lost had some nasty traps at her hideout.”

“They’ll have eyes on the roads,” Foil said, through the phone.

“They will.  Lookouts, people watching their rear and flanks while they get where they’re going,” I said for the benefit of Rachel and Cassie.

“I’ll get off the main road.  I may come back to give ’em a sniff,” Rachel reported.

“Rachel’s going to try to stay more out of sight,” I said.  “Can you roll down the window of the van, Foil, and make sure Sveta can hear?  I’m going to stick with her right now.”

“I’d rather not roll it down,” I heard Sveta, distant.

“Belay-”

But the window was rolled down.

Sveta was perched on top, and as she was, she was as in control of that body as I’d seen maybe three times ever.

“Do you want the windows rolled-”

I saw her shake her head.

Foil left the window open, and Sveta hung near the top of the van.  Rachel was starting to peel away, her dogs running now in places where a lookout wouldn’t immediately spot them and identify a telltale sign of Undersider or Undersider-Breakthrough action.

Helps that there aren’t headlights on the dogs.  We’d be spotted a mile away. 

On reflection, it was patently insane that they were traveling as fast as they were with no headlights.

I followed Rachel and the dogs as they left the road, running through the fields to the side, where no streetlights shone.  I kept the Wretch active while flying out of reach of them.

“They have hostages.  We can’t charge in.  We can’t make noise.  Swansong, Damsel, and Rachel are our biggest, noisiest attackers.  Capricorn, Flashbang and me are a step down.  We have more ability to be quiet.  This is a covert mission until we get a better sense of where the hostages are and what measures we’re up against.”

“I can be quiet,” Rachel said.

“Rachel says she can be quiet.”

Swansong chimed in, “I spent years on my own, every bite of food I ate and every piece of clothing I wore was a result of me being stealthy.”

“It’s-” I started.  Damn it.  “Yes.  Absolutely.  If our covert group needs a distraction, though, you’re best at making a lot of noise.  Then you can use that stealth to slip away.”

“That got you a sigh and a nod from Swansong, for the record,” Byron relayed.

Rachel was silent, face hidden thoroughly by her winter wear.  Unreadable.  I couldn’t tell if she was listening and unhappy about it or if she wasn’t listening and was happy at the prospect of imminent trouble.

“So we’re all on the same page: the go-ahead to kill,” I said it into the phone.

I let those words hang.  Weighty ones.

“Kill who?” I heard Swansong.  “Specifically.”

“It wasn’t specific.  Love Lost, Cradle, and March, for sure, but anyone who’s aiding and abetting.  Obviously this doesn’t include people who don’t necessarily know.  I think it was a surprise for Lord of Loss and Nursery.  Mayor says yes, for all that counts.  Lawyer-”

I had to remember my mom was present.  How to relay the tacit permission without throwing a wrench into Natalie’s professional life?

“-Talked to me,” my mother said.  “She won’t tell you yes, but today she isn’t telling you no, either.  I think that’s as close as you’re going to get.”

Essentially my take on it.

“That’s where we stand,” I said.  “They’re planning to delay, so be ready for any master-stranger stuff that might tie us up or obstruct us.”

“Protocols?” Byron asked.

“At the first excuse, yes.  But only then.  Otherwise it slows us down.”

“Can’t get a nose on the scent with the wind!” Rachel raised her voice.  “Going to the road!”

I started flying in that direction, to stay in earshot and to signal my acknowledgement.

The dogs reached the road, running alongside.  One ran with nose almost to the ground, a precarious kind of stampede forward, when it couldn’t look firmly in the direction it was running.  The wolf and Cassie took up a position head, clearing the path.

I felt bad for the cars that were on the road tonight, seeing this sight.  The dogs, even though they were on my side, were objectively things of nightmare.

I heard Rachel whistle.  The dogs peeled off once again, away from the road, away from everything, so they ran through places where tent cities had stood and where trees had been cleared but only skeletons of buildings stood.  A wilderness of the interrupted urban.

She was saying something.

“-ent North.”

“They headed North?” I asked.

“This way!” Cassie shouted, pointing.

“Turn north,” I told people on the phones, as I flew straight up to get a view of what was involved.  I could see the headlights of cars that weren’t going anywhere.  “It looks like one of the portals to Earth N!  Be wary!  Company parked up further ahead!”

Earth N.  Lord of Loss’s Earth.  It had been Marquis, before Marquis had vacated.  Deader and Goner had controlled territory there too, off of one of the portals.    An Earth of a dozen corners, where the settlements were spread out and hard to reach, so a bunch of the ‘corner worlds’ were on the same Earth.  Which in reality made sense, when so much vetting had been necessary, to watch for invasive species, disease, and hazards.

We’d been once before, when looking for the culprits of the portal attacks.  We’d found Earth Cheit’s people camped out there.

Now?  Now it was a different kind of problem.  It was where the villains had retreated to, for the most part, since Hollow Point and similar locations had failed.

And right now, the villains were pushing the limits, rebelling hard against the idea that heroes finally be asserting proper authority again.  Rebelling somewhat more understandably at the idea that if people were a real problem, we might have to incarcerate them and not let anyone know where, lest we run into another fiasco like we did with the prison.

Bluestocking, Prancer, smaller villains, bigger villains…

None of the above.  I was a dark form flying through the dark, and no lights touched me.  Nobody looked up.  I could scout their number, look for familiar faces, and get the lay of the land.

It was as though they’d sensed that we’d be coming at them angry and willing to cross lines.  There were humans gathered around the parked cars, and cars situated so they blocked the access to the portal.

“Headlights off,” I said, through the phone.  “Stop if you can see them parked ahead.”

I had a position to see the truck and van park.  Nobody among the cars seemed to notice.

Rachel, Cassie and I joined the others, parked in the darkness, looking at eight cars with at least fifteen people gathered.  Two of those eight cars blocked the entrance to the building where the access to Earth N was.

On the building itself, more people were gathered.  People-mounted spotlights swept over the field and the road, but didn’t reach far enough to illuminate us.  There were more than fifteen people in or on the building itself, and that was just the ones I could see in plain sight through windows and on the roof.   They were armed.  Rifles.  Not a police, patrol, or station employee’s uniform in sight.

They’d taken the station and now they guarded it.

Everyone was climbing out or half-climbing out of the vehicles to get a view of what we were up against.  I saw Sveta’s pale face in the woods off to the side.

“People we can deal with,” Ashley said.

“We have to deal with them without immediately sounding the alarms,” Byron pointed out.  “Which is awkward, because that’s a lot, and they look organized.”

“Cell phones don’t tend to work across dimensional portals,” I said.  “In a theoretical world where we could get in and block off anyone from getting through the portal to notify the other side, we could hit this place pretty hard and still remain covert.”

“Could flood it, turn it to stone before the flooding gets to the other side,” Byron said.

My mother was hanging back, staying quiet.  My dad looked pensive.

“Thoughts?” I asked.

My mom answered me.  “I think you know what the answer is.  Time is short.  Are you asking because you want to be fair and maintain the team equilibrium, or because you really do need the advice?”

Which had a faint tone like, if I needed the advice, I’d failed somehow.

“Because every bit of feedback is an opportunity to do what comes next better.”

“They got away.  This is where they went.  Every minute that passes, they’re either getting where they’re going or they’re already there and they’re laying traps, organizing their people, or getting ready.  Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

Just hearing that last line made my hackles raise.  I hated that line, because it seemed to always be paired crosswise with ‘you can always do it better’.

My mom seemed to sense the raised hackles, because her expression softened.  “You know the team and team dynamic better.”

I looked to my dad for backup.  But my dad wasn’t my dad right now.

“Do you remember the engagement patterns we used to drill on?” Flashbang asked.

“Of course,” I said.

“It would be nice to get some use out of those again.”

“I’m noticing you’re saying engagement.  You want to blitz,” I said.  And mom’s implying I want to blitz.  “Any objection to hitting them and wiping them out before anything else?”

Some shaken heads, some silence that wasn’t uncomfortable or damning by my best estimation.

“Chastity, Capricorn, with us.  Stick by Flashbang.  Precipice, Swansong, guard Cassie and the vehicles.  If we run into a wall, you’re our backup.  Swansong can punch through powers, minions, anything we can’t seem to stop, Precipice can punch through obstacles.”

Precipice turned to look at the situation.  A long straight road with woods on one side and field on the other, cars sitting with engines running and headlights illuminating tracts of land.”I have to be there to hit stuff.  If you’re in there and you run into trouble-”

“We’ll signal.  You’re sticking by the truck for a reason.  Cassie can get you in and Cassie can get you away.”

He nodded.

“Rachel?  Hold the flanks.  There might be people coming from down the road.  Once we signal, bring everyone that’s not inside back in.”

I saw the frown on her face.

“We’ve got a team going right for the heart of this place.  Number one thing, we stop them from reaching the people on the far side.  Then we clean up from the inside out.  You guys handle the outside in.  Yes?”

“Mm,” she grunted.

Great.  Great communication.

“Sveta, I know you don’t want to go inside while you’re unsuited, so just help from the flanks, follow our rear.  I’ll try to stay in communication.  When we get through, we’ll bring you across.”

“I’ll do what I can,” I heard her say.  A voice like the one she’d used in the hospital.  “I want to try this but I’m really afraid it’s not going to work.  A lot of things didn’t.”

“Really truly, just knowing you have our back matters,” I said.

I saw her nod.  I wasn’t sure she believed me.

“We don’t have long,” Rain said.

I nodded.

“Dominoes,” I told my parents.  “Capricorn, Chastity, with us.  Be ready to run.  Rest of you, spread out.  Capricorn?  Give yourself a water gun further down there.  We’ll need it to reload.”

“Reload?”

“You’ll see.”

They did.

“Small, small, empty,” my dad said, creating his energy orbs.  Hard light around a swirl of energy.  He tossed them to my mom.

She shifted into her hard, indestructible sphere form, and I snatched her out of the air with one arm before she could hit the ground.

Run!” I gave the order.  My dad ushered the two forward, Capricorn’s armor making metal on metal sounds in tune with heavy footsteps, Chastity far lighter.

I flew, Brandish tucked under one arm, a large sphere.

With a bit of Wretch strength, I hurled the sphere.  It crashed into the two guys on guard duty, I landed, and I kicked it, channeling about seven years of active frustration with the maternal unit into the kick.

It lost a lot of momentum by the time it struck any of the people on duty.  I remembered talking to Lord of Loss’s men about how his people were recruited.  Were these among them?

The ‘ball’ that was my mother was an indestructible projectile.  I kept it moving, a prelude to my own arrivals, as I plunged into each group in turn.

At the station housing the more discreet portal to Earth N, they’d noticed.  People were running, some had guns and were getting to cover.  Others were heading inside.

We only had seconds to get a grip on this.  Which meant-

“Hit ’em!”

I kicked the ball hard, full Wretch strength.  She flew through the air and collided with the lip of the roof, tearing into it.

In a flash, she was Brandish again.  Her one arm swept out, hurling a sphere.

The detonation was small.  Bright, with impact but no heat and no fire.  There was a ‘whump’ and a shockwave that scattered snow and dust, with multiple people sent sprawling.  A second toss, with much the same effect, but it included some of the people who were getting to their feet too quickly, and it sent them tumbling, with some frantic movements to avoid falling off the roof.  Not that here was a great chance, given the short lip around the perimeter, dotted with cornices that hid the places where the prefab building had been put together.

The third toss landed in the midst of another group, who scrambled away.  She lunged into and past the sphere that hit the ground, catching one guy.

I took my cue, going after the remainder.  Two people close enough together that I could land beside them, driving my elbow down into one’s shoulder, grabbing the other by the back of the hood and, pausing as I delivered the elbow-strike, heaved them forward and face-down into the surface of the roof.

To the side, the ‘grenade’ burst into a sputter of bubbles.  A fizzle.

Brandish was already twisting around, her weapon across his neck.  They sank down, and the weapon followed them, the tip searing into and through the cornice beside the man.

“Radio,” she said.  “Walkie talkie?  Now!

He reached for his coat.  She beat him to it, reaching inside the open coat, and pulled out the walkie talkie.

“You will tell them it’s a trap.  Tell them to freeze, and make them believe it!  They are not to call anyone, they aren’t to pass through!”

“I-”

She moved the sword, singing beard-hairs.

“Fuck!”  He fumbled for the walkie-talkie.  Again, she beat him to it.  Making everything fast and fluid as he followed instructions.  “Do not go through!  Your lives depend on it!  Find a safe place and remain where you are!  The portals-”

I reached out, covering the mouthpiece.  “The portals are unstable.”

“The shrinkage,” he said, through the walkie talkie.  “They think it’s what happened before the other ones went bonkers.  No passage, no signals through!  Stay put or evac!”

Hopefully that would do.

I had to leave the cleanup to the others.

“Gun?” my mother asked.

“In my belt.  At the back.  I dropped my rifle,” the man said.

She reached around  behind him, got his gun, and slid it into her belt.

“Reload,” she told me.

“Yeah.  Go with the others.  I’m diving in.”

She turned into a sphere.  I grabbed it and hurled it toward my dad.  Again, distance and air resistance ate into the forward momentum, even with the Wretch active.  My dad, Byron and Chastity had paused by the constellation Byron had drawn out.

My dad caught my mom out of the air.  Those days in the gym hadn’t been for nothing.  When she changed back, she was in his arms, her face close to his.

Dorky, lame, embarrassing.

And I resented it, for reasons I couldn’t put my finger on.  Dorky, lame, embarrassing, and I couldn’t have gotten more of this?  Or it couldn’t have extended into things that weren’t shock-and-aweing a bunch of desperate assholes who were willing to work for a villain for a chance at the good life?

I couldn’t stay to watch, as much as Dr. Darnall might have asked me to think it out.  I pushed the guy I was holding with my aura, ratcheting up the panic.  “Who do you work for?”

“Uh-um!”

“Fast answer!”

God I hated how I sounded like my mom had sounded in that instant.

“Lord of Loss.  But we’re being hired out to someone else.  Love Lost.”

“You know he’s a lunatic.  You know she’s violent and she works with killers under her.”

I saw him shake his head, frantic, jarred by my aura.

Then the fleeting admission.

I grabbed him, bringing him closer to the edge.  Was there an angle I could throw him and a place I could put him where he wouldn’t die on impact?

And a tendril grabbed him.

Seizing him, then depositing him firmly in a snowbank.

“Good one!” I shouted.  No time or breath to waste.  But that had saved me the time it would have taken to deposit him down there.

I flew around in a sideways arc, diving for a side window.  That put me inside the building.  Once the Wretch was active again, I plunged through the floor.  There were people with guns, and I flew into each of them.

I knew the general layouts of the stations.  I’d visited more than a few.

Punching through obstacles and walls put me in the center area between all the terminals, past the initial gates.  Staff had already cleared out.  I could hear the noise outside, powers being used.  Chastity’s voice.

A voice crackled over the walkie-talkie.  “Can we get a confirm?  When are we good to proceed?  Hello?

Couldn’t let them proceed.

I left the rear group to handle the doors and the people we’d scattered.  My goal- the portal itself.  I flew down and through, knocking down metal gates that should have been open.

There were people making a break for it, and I dealt with them.  I helped them down the stairs, in the most debilitating way possible.

I heard the slap of Sveta behind me.  I heard the bang at the door.  Ashley’s power.  I spun in the air, caught only a glimse of a door with a silver line on it, Ashley with her good foot out, arms behind her.  As part of that scene, I saw  a massive collection of tendrils, with Sveta’s face at the center of them all, her expression focused, her face not as traced or marred by the tendrils reaching across it.  Nothing at eyelids or nostril, nothing at the corner of her mouth, pulling because it acted instinctually.

The cape geek in me wanted to rattle through all of the ways that could have happened.  The Sechen Ranges, or the fact she was pissed, that anxiety fed into itself and she was so distracted by reality that the cycle had been interrupted.

But she was with me.  No suit, no middle ground.  I had the Wretch and I felt the tentacles touch it, leveraging it.

How confident was she, to transition from ‘I don’t want anyone near me’ to ‘I can be this close to a variable scenario’?

“Can you grab the Brandish-ball?” I asked.

“Yes,” was the whisper.

Hearing the whisper, knowing my friend, I got it.  Sveta turned away, head down low while tendrils reached up.

I felt a pang of sympathy, but I couldn’t afford to act on it.

And at the station platform itself, was the irregular shape of the portal, a three-dimensional hole in reality.  A few dozen people were gathered.  Stuff had been unloaded, including food and munitions.  Intending a longer stay.

The deeper recesses of the station.  They were talking, unaware of the commotion above.  Trying to figure out what they were doing.  They had a boss and that boss wasn’t on site.  Love Lost had been brought in, and Cradle wouldn’t be here.  Not so close to the deadline.

They’re just obstacles and an early warning system.

As I arrived, Sveta delivered the Brandish-Ball, whipping it down hard.   Water flowed down from upstairs, as a distant offshoot of the water gun that had deposited Brandish here.  The ball ricocheted off the ground, hit the ceiling, then, in the center of the room, expanded into Brandish, who was loaded with pre-prepared Flashbang grenades.   While she was in her ball-state, she was in total stasis.  The grenades had a timer, but the timer didn’t count down while she was frozen and not of this world.  She scattered them, throwing them wide.

In a half-circle around her, grenades exploded with light and concussive force.  Some of that force caught one or two people badly enough that there might be long-term injuries.  For the rest, it took the fight out of them for the moment.  Everyone who had been standing in or near the portal was laid low.

The dominoes engagement – named by Amy.  Which sucked, because that ruined it a little.  Me, Brandish and Flashbang all hitting like dominoes toppling.  A series of devastating blows.  Brandish wasn’t bothered by light, and in the midst of the chaos, knowing which she’d thrown were duds by experience, she could weave through while her targets were just trying to get out of the way.

The explosions cleared out half of a roomful of forty people, many of them armed.  Sveta and I picked through the remainder.  Women with guns.  Men with masks covering their lower faces.  Tossed aside.  Sveta couldn’t really be shot, and the Wretch protected me from being shot, even though it was mostly pandemonium and people reeling.

And Sveta’s movements only continued to make sense to me again, now that I could parse why she was so reluctant and reserved.  I’d known her at one point in time when this was all she had.  She’d been hesitant to get to know me, but she’d settled in.

But she was a teenage girl.  And for a brief time, she’d had a body.  A covering she loved for a shape she hated.

Back then this body had been her in entirety.  Now?  After a body and paint to decorate that body, after clothes and clothes we’d shopped for?  To lose her suit was to be stripped down, naked before the world.  Vulnerable on multiple levels.

She wrestled with that even as I saw the visible triumph in how each extension of a tendril moved just a bit more accurately, just a bit less self defeating.  And just a bit was a hell of a lot when there were so many tendrils.

“You’re doing great!” I cheered, because words were all I could offer and what I really wanted was to hug her and have her hug me back with those arms she’d built.

I wanted revenge, here, and I wasn’t ashamed to admit it.  For her, for the others.  For Kenzie who had lost her hands and who hadn’t been able to smile enough to compensate for the pain and sadness, whose cheeks had been wet with tears.  For Ashley, for Darlene, for Tristan…

Fuck.

Infiltrating, finding our stride.  Getting a sense of where strange teammates were, so I could identify the big guy who looked like he might take a little more effort to take down, someone I didn’t necessarily want to pulverize, and I could hit him so he stumbled in the direction of the group coming down the stairs.

Chastity caught him, and I saw the stunned surprise at the pretty girl before him.

She backhand-slapped him, and he hit the ground like a wet towel.

No smile, no triumph at the act.  Even with Lord of Loss and Nursery’s people, there had been that.

Rachel’s dogs came down the stairs three astride, with Cassie on the hound’s back and Rachel following behind.  Each dog had multiple people in their mouths.  Two for the chihuahua, three for the wolf, and three and a half for the hound.

No- not a half.  Someone’s jacket had come off.

They were deposited on the floor and the people writhed, unwilling to get up.

“Let’s get through and scramble.  We have everyone?”

A quick head count confirmed we did.

Past a small army, a little bloody, a little too unkind, in a way that would be remembered, but we were as intact as when we’d arrived.

Blue lights appeared down the center of the room.  Water appeared, and that water was like the inverse of the parting of the red sea.  A crest of water appeared in the center of the long platform, and as it sloshed down, it swept the unconscious, injured, and dazed bodies on the platform to either side of the platform floor.

We fell into formation as we stepped across and through the portal, some of us limping or giving evidence to injuries minor and moderate.  I chose to float rather than limp.  Sveta slipped through, found a rack of books, and clung to it, hiding on the far side and peering over at us as we made our way into the platform, earth-N side.  The dogs sniffed and snorted at the ground.

“They were here.  And there’s blood,” Rachel said.

Rain twisted around.  “The dogs told you-”

“On the ground,” she said, pointing.

“Ah.  Fuck.”

Fuck indeed, I thought.  Rain.  There was no good place to stow Rain.  No place that an assassin like Operator Red wouldn’t be able to find him or kill him.

Not that Operator Red was with us anymore.  Juliette had taken credit, which was chilling to think about.  More chilling that she and her brother competed over kills.

The blood was a good reminder that we were in enemy territory now.  The settlement that extended from this station was a place where villains rented out places.  From our past visit, I knew that there were distant cabins that were intentionally out of the way and hard to find.  Without cooperating authority, finding the right place would be hard or impossible.

This was Lord of Loss’s turf.  We’d arrested the authority.  On principle, I was fairly sure, he wouldn’t tell us what he knew or guide us in the right direction.

“Scrambler,” Swansong said, holding up a device.  It looked like a taser, but meaner.  “And our key out of here.”

“Do we?” Byron asked.

The station on this side was empty.  No people, no staff.  Computers were on, as were the monitors for tracking the state of the portal.  Unmonitored monitors.

I walked around the desk.  Camera footage showed that the place was empty except for one girl in a staff uniform out back, smoking.

“Don’t hit that button just yet,” I said.  “Could this be a trap?”

“I can scan,” Rain said.  “Not well, but I can scan the area.”

“Be ready to run,” my mother said to my father.  To all of us.  The two of them were standing close together, his hand on the small of her back.  Because they were dorks.

While Rain waved his thingy around, and the rest of the group settled so they could watch out windows and peek at the settlement beyond,  I stayed by the computer.  Periodically I hit the spacebar, to cycle through the surveillance images.

On a second go, I realized there was also television.  Fed through from Earth Bet.

A distant, shaky camera shot of Brockton Bay.  Mechanical suits were flying around, unleashing barrages.

And slowly, glacially slowly, the city unfolded, returning to its old, shaky, ruined configuration.

I shivered, seeing it.  I saw Byron clench his fist, heard a ‘no’.

Rachel, supposedly Vista’s friend, only glowered.

I got my phone out.  I flew to the portal.  “Don’t seal it!”

Ashley raised her intact hand, thumb clearly nowhere near the button.

Through the portal.  Back to a roomful of people who were still recovering from a soak and concussive shocks to the sensory faculties.  My aura kept all but ten or so from getting back up, as they slumped over defeated or frustrated.

My phone call went through.

“What the hell just happened in Brockton Bay?” I asked.

The explanation took a minute to get through.

By the time it was done, my fingers were knotted around the headphone cord, which was so tight it threatened to cut off circulation.

“They want Foil.  But even if they get her, they aren’t saying for sure they’re willing or guaranteeing they’re able to walk it back.”

And these guys want Rain, I thought.

Worse than we’d anticipated, in a lot of ways.

One bargain or the other might even be a consideration.

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197 thoughts on “Heavens – 12.1”

  1. “Another time,” Rain told Chastity.

    I think this was supposed to be Cassie? Not sure it makes much sense otherwise?

    But man, my heart was racing in this chapter, and especially during the covert takedown scenes.

    Well-done Bow. Time to reread it another dozen times

    1. Yeah, I was confused about Cassie suddenly coming into things with Rain. Like, it’s looking like Chastity is hitting it off with him then out of nowhere he’s revealing his face to Cassie and they’re chatting, Antares is reading something into it and even Chastity seems to interject… Maybe Cassie is a former “Fallen” herself or is everyone suddenly feeling a weird attraction to Rain?

      1. It’s Rain’s new breaker-state: Stud. Only visible to those who are looking for action, so Victoria is immune for now and doesn’t realize what’s happening.

        1. CAssie, The henchgirl for Bitch is’Wags The Dog.”

          OT. My first ever dog was called Cassy. Her mother was a golden retriever and Case was small whippet shaped and had border colly makings.

          1. Do you thinks she “Wags the Bitch”? Is this how she managed to stay so close to Rachel for so long? Is it something she planned to do back when she chose her PHO handle?

          2. We’ve seen Cassie in other scenes, but no indication she and Rachel are involved that way. Tats also mentioned back in Worm that all the Undersiders ladies (herself, Taylor, Rachel, Aisha) were straight. And Rachel’s has an occasional liaison with Biter.

          3. This is not what I meant. More like – she steers Bitch in such a subtle way, that Rachel thinks that she is making all decisions herself, while a lot of those decisions were in fact suggested by Cassie.

          4. Ah, my (very large) misunderstanding. Sorry!

            Same answer, though; Cassie’s presentation has IMO always been that of someone who hero-worships Rachel and is super-eager to follow her lead, not give direction.

          5. Well, there are certainly some areas in which Rachel could use someone’s direction – like social interactions with people, who don’t understand how her power affects her mind. What I wonder is if Cassie is or could be a person to do it.

  2. Well, it’s 12.1 so at least the whole arc isn’t backwards. Mechanical suits = Dragon got involved, I’m guessing, and they still lost?? Sounds like March made it to the bubbles and is in a position to negotiate for Foil… I hope Vista is okay!

    1. I hope Vista is okay, March doesn’t get Foil, and her last words are something like “No wait… This isn’t… This isn’t what I thought it’d be! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” But I’m a greedy and cruel sort I suppose.

      1. From Victoria’s reaction to what she’s been told over the phone at the end of the chapter, it sounds more like she’s been taken hostage. Possibly chopped to pieces, but not dead.

        1. So, any chance Dragon uses a drone to drop an armored Charity-box on March? Probably not a good idea, but it’d be tough to counter…

          And, I doubt the city slowly unfolding is because Vista died, I don’t think that’s quite how it works. If Dragon’s still fighting, it’s not just a straight cape-for-cape hostage situation. Especially since it sounds like Victoria’s considering accepting.

  3. Just a couple of quick observations after reading the chapter’s title.

    Looks like Wildbow defied my expectations. Not a chapter 12.N where N is the number of chapters in the arc, and the arc’s title is not “Reflection”, “Mirror” or anything of the sort. Maybe we won’t be traveling to the past after all? Maybe Wildbow is trolling us or made a mistake and the last interlude was supposed to be 11.x after all?

    On topic of possible clues (possibly related to Lisa’s message), mistakes or trolling – I’ve noticed that my browser tab for the last interlude just says ‘2’ instead of the interlude title. Has anyone else notice that? Is it just my browser’s glitch?

  4. “My dad caught my mom out of the air. Those days in the gym hadn’t been for nothing. When she changed back, she was in his arms, her face close to his.

    Dorky, lame, embarrassing.

    And I resented it, for reasons I couldn’t put my finger on. Dorky, lame, embarrassing, and I couldn’t have gotten more of this? Or it couldn’t have extended into things that weren’t shock-and-aweing a bunch of desperate assholes who were willing to work for a villain for a chance at the good life?”

    Is it just me or is Victoria being kinda bitchy here? I dunno, it kinda strikes me like she’s upset her parents are happy.

    1. I think it’s more that they can be lovey-dovey with each other, but didn’t with her (instead being very strict, pushing her, etc).

      It probably ties into Carol’s trust/intimacy issues.

      1. I think you’re referring to her internal comment from the BBQ in Arc 1 where she seemed to be embarrassed by his dressing in clothing the emphasized how in shape he was. I think that’s just the discomfort most people feel when they’re forced to think of their parents as sexual beings. I think there’s some of that in her comments about how close the two are in this chapter and some of it is wishing that she’d had more time as a Daughter rather than Junior New Wave Member.

          1. That, but probably even more the fact that she is not comfortable with her body enough to consider anything physical with boys.

        1. I’m not so sure that she “fixed” his depression. From interlude 11h of Worm:

          She restored his motor skills, penmanship, driving a car, even the little things, the little sequences of movements he used to turn the lock on the bathroom door as he closed it or turn a pencil around in one hand to use the eraser on the end. Everything he’d lost, she returned to him.

          Nothing that looks even remotely like fixing a depression to me. She could do it after coming out of the Birdcage, but it could also be that he has been just getting proper non-power-related medical help. My guess would be that after what she did to Victoria before going to Birdcage, and what she did to Taylor during Gold Morning, she knows how much can go wrong, and she would be rather unwilling to work with brains unless she really needed to (as was in Victoria’s and Chris’ cases).

          I may be wrong, but I don’t think she would risk it with Mark, since there are safer alternatives like simply making sure he takes his medication (mentioned in interlude 11h of Worm), and maybe also works with a good therapist. I would imagine Carol would make sure he did after what happened to their daughters.

          And yes, I know that the Wiki does say that Amy did cure his depression, but so far I can’t say that I remember seeing any source that would confirm it. It seems that everyone just assumed that Amy cured his depression, because he seems doing relatively well these days. It could be, but I don’t think there is any hard evidence for it.

    2. She’s upset that they’re happy now she and Amy are out of the picture. She’s unhappy she can’t really get to cape as a family any more. She’s upset because their dorky, embarrassing interactions remind her of better times, which remind her of Amy and all she’s lost. ‘Couldn’t have gotten more of this’ might mean she’s missed it, too, because of the memories of all she’s lost.

      Possibly most, she resents it because it’s a facade of happiness over what was a very dysfunctional family dynamic with a lot of pressure on being better without ever acknowledging how good things were already.

      1. Also, is literally everyone forgetting Dean? She has no one in her life the way her Mom and Dad have each other.

        It isn’t resentfulness over her upbringing, it’s resentfulness that she’s /alone/.

        Warrior Monk is a solitary mental creation, as is the Scholar. She isn’t building personas that require others to be around because she doesn’t believe she’ll ever have a need for such a persona…

        1. Oh, we all remember Dean, and it is obvious that that heartbreak plays a role in Victoria’s reaction. Good point about linking Scholar and Warrior Monk with solitude! It certainly is an important factor in Victoria’s current frame of mind, especially as far as romantic relationships are concerned.

          1. Hey I remember Dean! But sadly Wildbow doesn’t seem to be in any rush to revive him as an amnesiac cyborg Victoria must awaken with her love!

            Wonder how Vicky would react if her parents tell her at some point she’s going to have another sibling?

          2. I imagine that Victoria would feel rather… conflicted about the idea. Candy would probably feel less conflicted, considering her “They had you” statement. That joke aside it would indicate an interesting change of heart in Carol, who said she originally didn’t want to have kids at all, and even after she had Victoria she felt reluctant to take Amy in.

    3. It seemed like she was being kind of mean, yeah, but what I got from it was that she’s trying to be aware of her mental state towards certain stimuli. Notice how it the scene you quoted was followed by a reference to her psychologist.

      So in that light I took it as less her criticizing her parents’ behavior and more her recognizing how them acting made her feeling, and maybe noticing she was being unfair or irrational towards them.

  5. This is an interesting narrative choice because it’s a big disaster happening as the team is in the middle of raiding the enemy to get their friends and body parts back. I don’t see Victoria stopping here to consider making a deal for narrative reasons-I think she’s gonna go back through the portal, close it and they’re going to go after their targets, possibly with more lethal force than before-they spared Lord of Loss’ troops even though they were part of whatever March’s scheme was, whether they knew might not be a consideration at this point.

    Then, after that, there’s still March and whatever she’s unleashed to deal with.

    It looks like Dragon showed up to fight March-hopefully she got at least a few of them; she and Vista have names so they’re harder to walk away from unscathed.

    1. Actually, considering the time pressure, I think that Victoria could send Damsel, and those two people who Citrine sent as support (Number Man clones, I think) to Brockton Bay, while Victoria’s own group (or at least a part of it, if Victoria decides that Damsel needs additional support) will continue moving to Earth-N.

      This way there would be someone handling BB situation, while the group going to Earth-N would be able to continue moving immediately instead of waiting for Damsel’s reinforcements, which makes it more likely that they would be able to reach Cradle in time to take advantage of the time when Rain’s cluster will be “asleep”.

      1. It would make sense to send Swansong with Damsel and suppesed Number Man’s clones to Brockton Bay, because Swansong is probably one of the best people to keep Damsel from doing something stupid, and Number Man’s clones are probably a decent counter to March.

        Plus it would let us see the biggest clone army since the defeat of S9000 in action.

          1. I don’t think so, from Victoria’s reaction to what she was told over the phone it feels like a hostage situation, with March making demands.

          2. The situation with Kenzie, TT, and all of them are hostage situations as well, but the situation at the school and Love Lost’s hideout are /over/.

            That’s what I mean about Brockton Bay. Either March escaped with bits of Vista (or Vista is dead) and other capes and it’s a hostage situation, or March has her finger on the “destabilize all the time bubbles” button and thus it’s a hostage situation. Either way the even where sending people into Brockton Bay to help is past.

            If it’s the former, March (or whichever villain survived) is gone, so it’s best to stay the course and recover everyone’s bits that you can. If it’s the later, by the time anyone could get to Borkton Bay to help the immediate situation will be resolved.

            From the line of “able to walk it back” I’m taking it that time bubbles have been destabilised, and the /heroes/ aren’t sure they can be reset (there is no way a villain would ever say “I’m not sure I can fix this if you give me what I want”).

          3. As long as there is at least a chance to save Vista or the portals (and I think, since tke possibly of “walking it back” has been mentioned), I think that there is a good chance that whatever is going on in Brockton Bay could be described as a hostage situation. And Victoria needs to at least consider the possibility that a forceful resolution of the situation may be necessary, especially if she is not ready to accept March’s demands.

          4. “Victoria needs to at least consider the possibility
            Sure. But she’s in the middle of an unfolding conflict right now with momentum on her side.
            You never drop those to go hying off to involve yourself into something that’s mostly over that you do not even fully understand. If she does (and I don’t believe she will) then she forfeits all headway she’s made, loses this opportunity and jeopardizes any future attempts.

            I don’t think she’s that reckless. And there is no way she does so with any back up from Bitch or the Heartbroken. I’m not sure she’d have anyone behind her aside from maybe her parents.

          5. Considering one of March’s demands is “I get Foil to mutilate and try to torture into loving me” I don’t think that’s Vicky’s choice to make.

          6. Considering that right at this moment Victoria is the only one with information? It totally is Victoria’s and only Victoria’s decision to make.

            Once she spills what she knows? Then all bets are off.

          7. When it comes to decisions made by other people, I think that considering that Vista is involved, Rachel may volunteer to go to Brockton Bay too, and I don’t think that Victoria is in a position to tell her “No” without severely straining their relationship.

          8. Considering that Vista is involved Rachel will probably also volunteer to go to Brockton Bay if Victoria decides to send a team there, and Victoria is probably not in a position to tell her “No” without severely straining their relationship.

            (Sorry if it turns into a double post – I made a typo in my e-mail adress, when I tried to post it for the first time.)

          9. I mean – sure, Rachel cares for all of those people whose body parts Cradle took, but she also knows that everyone else in “Breaksiders” does too. Vista on the other hand may not have that many people in this group who care for her as much as Rachel does.

  6. I presume this means Vista is held hostage by March now? Fuckity fuck, even Dragon getting involved wasn’t enough?

    But also, can’t let up, gotta finish with Love Lost or this whole chase was for nothing.

    A trolley problem for capes.

      1. Yeah, March was really talking about killing Vista to break her power… I hope that Rachel has her dogs maul March to death. I’d say that dying and being part of a Shard eternally is something March might be okay with, but I’m fairly sure she’s pretty wrong on what will happen.

        I mean I’m hoping Vista’s okay, but I can’t help but feel any win here’s going to see something worse set up because of these idiots.

        1. I’m going to just go ahead and pretend that Vista is playing possum after using her power to make a decoy that March blew up, and now she’s biding her time, waiting for the opportune moment to shove March into one of the time bubbles.

    1. “And slowly, glacially slowly, the city unfolded, returning to its old, shaky, ruined configuration.”

      Good news, she probably isn’t a hostage.

      1. She probably is, otherwise March probably wouldn’t be in position to demands, and from the conversation between Victoria and whoever she called in BB, I feel like she just did.

        Unless she is holding a time bubble hostage.

        Of course it is also possible that March just threw Vista into the bubble, so in a way she holds both of them hostage.

  7. I’ve been thinking about the arguments that March and Love Lost have been throwing out about “How if you only knew what I knew”. And I’ve realized something. We may not know what they know, but we do know a bunch of stuff they don’t. And that means they don’t have nearly as much of the picture as they think they do.

    It’s like the Blind Men and the Elephant. Blind men and an elephant – Wikipedia They’ve become convinced they know what it is from the small piece they’ve exprienced, but they are wrong. And if you go in thinking you’ve got a rope or a snake, you really aren’t prepared for the Elephant. And Shards aren’t anywhere near as nice as Elephants.

  8. Burst out laughing at Victoria basically getting to drop kick her mother.

    The Heavens makes me think of some little old lady. As in, “Oh Heavans!” Not that ive ever heard someone say that, but..

    This was really satisfying.

    1. Remember that Victoria mentioned soccer football as one of team sports she used to play. And that entire “channeling about seven years of active frustration with the maternal unit into the kick” perfectly sums up the way Victoria sees Carol the Mother (as opposed to Carol the Cape or Carol the Wife) at the moment.

      It is also interesting to see how Carol is trying to do better as a mother, and Victoria interprets her every word and every action in the least charitable way possible. At least Mark is around to defuse the worst situations, even though I feel like he could sometimes try a less subtle approach, and just openly call Victoria and especially Carol on some of their worst actions, but let’s face it – he is not ready to do it, at least not just yet. And who knows, maybe his approach, as much as it makes him look like a man completely whipped by his wife and daughter sometimes, will turn to be effective in the end.

      1. While I’m at it I feel like I must point out how unlike Dallons-the-people, Dallons-the-capes work perfectly together. I really liked that “Dominoes” engagement pattern, and how little they needed to say to implement it. It really shows how much they trained together. It is also nice to see that Victoria doesn’t dwell too much on the fact that the pattern was named by Amy. It is also funny how that Mark’s game turned out to be a foreshadowing of this tactic?

        Also isn’t it funny how Victoria managed to apply skills she learned by playing soccer football to cape combat? New Wave continue to show how great they are when it comes to merging powers with mundane life…

        1. I believe the precise flavor of ball-fondling you’re searching for is basketball, actually. That’s what she was playing when she triggered, anyway. She may have been on other teams as well, but I don’t recall anything but basketball being mentioned.

          1. She actually mentioned playing many sports when she was younger, not just basketball. The sport which proper English name is and will always be “football”, despite what Victoria and her compatriots say, was on that list.

          2. Ok, I may have miss-remembered this one. I’ve just for any mentions of word ‘soccer’ in Ward, and the only people I found mentioned having played the game are Kenzie (in chapter 8.12), Presley (that fan of Glory Girl we saw on a train in chapter 4.4), and Casey Forks (that C53 we saw in chapter 0.8 of Glow-worm). Unless there is something in Worm, it looks like we have no conformation of Vicoria ever playing it.

            Still, the way she handled her mom in this chapter makes me think that she probably played you-know-what too.

          3. And by “the way she handled her mom in this chapter” I mean that those seemed to be very both very precise and strong kicks – not an easy combination without a fair amount of practice, so maybe she didn’t play any proper games with twenty one other people, but she obviously trained it.

            Of course it is possible that she trained only with Brandish, and not with a proper football. It could be even better in some ways, since kicking an unyielding sphere is a bit different than kicking an elastic ball, not to mention that size and mass of the ball are important too, but as far as Brandish is a great cape instructor, I find it hard to believe that busy Mrs. Carol Dallon (working as both a lawyer and a hero after all) would find the time to do all of this training with Victoria, if her daughter could do a lot of it with a regular ball and some friends or even her dad during some of his better days.

        2. So… a quick question: Is Mark Dallon still suffering from (or vulnerable to) depression?

          This may seem a dumb question, but it is canonically mentioned as a pretty heavy thing in V and Amy’s childhood, and in Carol’s decision making…. but hasn’t really cropped up ever since Amy operated on his brain (under coercion from Bonesaw).

          She had to fix his brain after some sort of Leviathan damage, so I gotta wonder if she changed other things as well while she was in there.

          Or Mark’s just been having a better year- that could happen too, but I guess I’m just curious.

  9. It’s a dark day. Several of her friends are chopped up alive. Thinkers say that time bombs are a huge threat to the natural order and a bunch of psychos are after it. She’s about to team up in an attempt to save her friends from unnatural torture.

    The first thing on her mind? “Man, Rain, Chastity and Cassie’s clothes all clash with each other.”

    Victoria Dallon. FBI. Fashion Bureau of Investigation.

    1. Ah, don’t forget she is tired after a fight with LoL.
      Also it could be focusing on something small to be self-distracted from big issues. Like Walter White in Breaking Bad was focused on spec of sauce on doctor’s coat when doctor speak about cancer and remaining time.

  10. Oddly the stand out thing for me in this part was that Jessica has apparently blocked Victoria… does she blame her for what’s happened. She’s never seemed so petty.

    1. I doubt that’s the reason; I can’t see Dr. Yamada being that petty.

      I think it likely has something to do with what Valkyrie told her when she rescued her.

      1. Or maybe Jessica is being kept on reserve for Valkyrie because making sure that cape is okay frankly has to be more of a priority than anything else. If Valkyrie went off the deep end, that would just add another factor to the multiverse being well and truly fucked.

        1. It’s canon that they don’t do that. In 10.10, we learn that Victoria begged Jessica to get Amy into therapy. The powers that be were just… “eh.”

          Amy, was just given an apartment, told to check Riley’s work, and then ignored.

          Mandatory therapy for S-Class assets seems like a smart idea, but Wildbow got rid of it for plot reasons.

          1. Well, Chris did get it, and look how it turned out. Not that I think that he necessary is S-class, but he is probably close enough.

    2. Speculation: This (in)convenient quarantine is about contaminated information or some kind of prophecy prequisite and Jessica cannot talk to the big players right now

      1. That seems by far the most likely explanation, possibly with something tying in with the time bubbles’ Thinker disruption.

        It’s also worth noting that the Simurgh was most recently seen on Bet.

  11. 1. “They got enough blood on them that my dogs can follow.”
    Strange to relate on dogs, as even short-range teleport could break smell-trail. On the other hand it is superpower-altered-dogs.
    2. “The members of this cluster pass out at a set time every night to rearrange their powers”
    But our team took Rain, who will also pass out and became non-combatant and very vulnerable.
    3. “My phone call went through.”
    Whom she call? Vista? Or Dragon?

    1. 1) Cradle et al haven’t got any teleporters in their employ, so far as we’ve seen, except Disjoint who can’t teleport all of himself, let alone other people. Besides, they’ve got a lot of people to move around, and most teleporters are limited in who and how much they can carry.
      b) Rain’s useful right up until they pass out, and then lets the team know *exactly* when the best time to strike is.
      iii) I’d guess the mayor or Dragon. If Vista’s a hostage, she’s in no position to answer her phone. Vista should have holed herself up in the middle of Brockton Bay, so the only way to her was through her effect. Safest place for a shaker is in the middle of their effect, and I’m not sure Vista was.

      1. Cradle did have a teleporter among the mercenaries hired to attack the heroes at the Navigator crime scene, but last we heard Foresight had him in custody.

        1. Actually based on what Tattletale’s power said during her interlude, I think those were March’s mercenaries. We don’t even have a way to be 100% sure that Cradle worked with her at that point. Considering that Cradle was interested in buying Tattletale’s services a few hours later (during the villains meeting), I think it is entirely possible that he joined March only after Tattletale refused to work with him then.

    2. 1) Dogs can track right across fairly larger moving streams with no problem because of how scent spreads through the air, I don’t think short-range teleports would break a scent trail anymore than a stream would.

    3. 1. Still, considering that the villains almost certainly used cards, and had a decent head start, what Rachel’s dogs did there feels like Rachel’s power gives her effective pseudo-thinker rating when it comes to tracking using her dogs, just like we know her ability to interpret body language seems to be borderline thinker-ish.

      At least I find it difficult to believe that any regular dog could track anyone down in such circumstances, especially not so quickly, and without any problems, pauses, and backtracking alog the way. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. It’s not like I know that much about dogs’ abilities to track down cars full of chunks of people.

      1. Dogs can also track… wait for it… cars.
        So if your scent trail leads to a vehicle, a well trained dog could switch to the new scent. I suspect Rachel’s dogs have that training, or just her capacity to communicate with them is enough to bridge this gap.
        But really, blood is a /strong/ scent, not easily contained by a vehicle, especially not if someone covered in blood happened to bump up against it, or touch it while opening a door.

        I mean, think about a drug dog’s ability to sniff out drugs from outside a vehicle, across masking attempts by smugglers.

        1. I believe that a dog can track a car they know (or at least which smell they know) in a place where cars rarely pass, but how would they track an unknown car on a public road?

          As for the blood inside of the car (not to mention an odor of a particular person’s body part) – I could believe it when we were talking about a car with a body part in question inside, if that car had something like an hour or more of head start (as villains probably do). I understand the dogs can follow the smell of human blood easily even after much longer time, but to do it so easily on public roads inside or close to a city? Sounds doubtful to me – there would be plenty of similar smells around to distract them, so I would expect them to became confused, stop from time to time, maybe lose or follow a wrong trail from time to time.

          In short – it is not even that they managed to track a particular car with particular body parts that I find difficult to believe. It is that they managed to do it so easily in this particular environment. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they managed to do the same in a forest for example.

          1. Unless of course the villains managed to leave not only the smell, but a source of the smell behind them – for example if the actual blood was dripping on the road, or was smeared on one of tires of their cars. I imagine that in such case the smell would persist at least until the next heavy rain.

          2. Someone has blood on their hand. They open the car door. Now there is blood on the car door handle, outside the car. Doesn’t even have to be much blood, for that matter.

            Also, it’s winter, which means cold. Cold has an effect on scent/taste- ice cream has so much sugar in it because the cold makes it harder to taste sweet, for example- and any snow would provide a pretty effective block for dog’s noses. And how common do you think large amounts of human blood are in a city?

          3. Yeah, but if the blood is on the door handle, then any scent of blood after the passage of the car will linger only as long as the wind won’t dissipate it (unless the blood is dripping from the handle to the ground). If the blood is on the part of the tire however, then this tire may leave traces of blood on the road for quite some distance, and those traces will be the source of the smell for a while – no wind will completely remove the smell as long as this blood lingers (that is – probably until the next rain).

          4. “Yeah, but if the blood is on the door handle, then any scent of blood after the passage of the car will linger only as long as the wind won’t dissipate it…”
            Bloodhounds can track a person based only on their sweat /days/ later. Blood is a lot stronger of a scent than sweat. Blood scents are also individual, not as much as sweat, but enough for bloodhounds (granted in this case it’s a mish-mash of blood scent, but that might also play into their favor).

            Also, scents don’t “hang around in the air”. They cling to nearby objects, the blood scent dispersed from the cars (yes, even the interior) will cling to the road, the plants and dirt near the road, etc. The only things that really gets rid of deposited scents are rain, time, and stronger smells overlaying them.

            And it’s been at most a few hours.

            (Also, I do suspect that the dogs are upgraded, and this would include increasing their capacity to smell)

          5. > (Also, I do suspect that the dogs are upgraded, and this would include increasing their capacity to smell)

            Precisely what I said about Rachel’s pseudo-thinker rating when using her dogs to track. It allows her to get an information that nobody would be able to get without powers or possibly some very advanced equipment – just like Victoria’s flight gives her effective thinker power, because it allows her to observe things from an angle normally unavailable to unpowered humans.

    4. Mythbusters did all the things you see escaped prisoners try in movies to throw off bloodhounds. Turns out they don’t work. Even if the dog loses the trail from a river or something, they pick it back up on the other side. The only thing that really worked was going into a big city with lots of people and unfamiler scents.

      1. Yeah, bloodhounds are freakin amazing at scent detection. The only part of what happened in this chapter (the tracking bit) that would require superpowers was the breakneck speed at which the bloodhound was running.

  12. Interesting how Juliette took credit for killing Operator Red, isn’t it? We saw Darlene stab him until her arms were tired, did Juliette come along after and finish him off, or is Darlene ashamed or embarrassed or bullied into not speaking up? Is she not speaking up because she’s siding with Juliet in her kill count competition with Roman, or because she doesn’t want Chicken Little or the heroes to see her as a killer? Is she doing it because people are supposed to play nice with kids, and she most certainly didn’t- even though he threatened her with death first?

    1. It makes sense that Darlene wouldn’t want to own this just yet. OR was a highly skilled killer. Lots of horrible people would pay special attention to the young girl who put him on ice. Maybe in other situations she could handle the attention, but lots of things have gone wrong for Heartbroken recently and she’d like to concentrate on other things.

    2. I’d wager that because Darlene is really trying to be living a good life, full of love. She comes from a very dark past. So dark that she is this skilled in feral combat. Juliette took the credit to keep from scaring the non Heartbroken individuals as to Darlene’s potential.

    3. Juliette could also take credit to make Darlene look better in eyes of the heroes, especially Kenzie. And it is technically not impossible that she did finish Operator Red off. Not that Victoria would call it “taking credit for a kill”, if Juliette just told her she killed an already dying opponent.

      1. Do you think that maybe this wasn’t the only time when one of the other Heartboken took credit for something that Darlene did that would otherwise make her look bad in Aiden’s eyes?

        1. Not just Aiden’s… by keeping her “kill count” at zero they keep her seeming ‘weak’ in the eyes of her foes.

          Gotta wonder what her actual kill count is up to by now.

  13. Typo thread:

    A few things figured out. (should this be “I had a few things figured out.”)
    bouncing up excited > bouncing up excitedly
    “I’d rather not roll it down,” > “I’d rather not have it rolled down,”
    a position head > position at the head
    things of nightmare. > things of nightmares.
    heroes finally be > heroes finally were
    Not that here was > Not that there was
    around behind > around behind (extra space)

    1. “So we’re all on the same page: the go-ahead to kill,” I said it into the phone.
      -First word after colon should be capitalized, and I’m not sure it’s a full sentence.

      The wolf and Cassie took up a position head, clearing the path.
      -a position ahead

      rebelling hard against the idea that heroes finally be asserting proper authority again.
      -would be, were

      tracts of land.”I have to be there to hit stuff. If you’re in there and you run into trouble-”
      -land. “I

    2. > Rain was holding the destroyed whip segments, while Chastity held her arm out for him to poke at.

      > Precipice was in costume, his mask and the mechanical right arm bearing the circuit board pattern in a glowing blue, his costume modified from a winter coat with a hood.

      > Cassie in a bomber jacket with patches and badges on the sleeves, some looking like they were there to mend rips or tears.

      > An Earth of a dozen corners, where the settlements were spread out and hard to reach, so a bunch of the ‘corner worlds’ were on the same Earth.

      > ”I have to be there to hit stuff. If you’re in there and you run into trouble-”

      > They were armed.

      > While she was in her ball-state, she was in total stasis.

      > Water flowed down from upstairs, as a distant offshoot of the water gun that had deposited Brandish here.

      The number of spaces between each of those sentences and the ones preceding them is different from two.

      > Anticipate that he’ll have guards, mercenaries, hirelings, traps, deceptions… Love Lost had some nasty traps at her hideout.”

      Should there be one or two spaces before “Love Lost”? Does the ellipsis stand in for a comma or a dot here, and does it matter for the spaces?

      Does it even make sense to count those spaces anymore? Does it help Wildbow in any way?

      > Earth N. Lord of Loss’s Earth. It had been Marquis, before Marquis had vacated.

      First “Marquis” > “Marquis'”?

      > We’d been once before, when looking for the culprits of the portal attacks.

      We’d been there once before, […]?

      > There were more than fifteen people in or on the building itself, and that was just the ones I could see in plain sight through windows and on the roof.

      was > were?

      > Water appeared, and that water was like the inverse of the parting of the red sea.

      Capital letters in Red Sea.

      > Sveta slipped through, found a rack of books, and clung to it, hiding on the far side and peering over at us as we made our way into the platform, earth-N side.

      Capital ‘E’ in Earth-N.

    3. Not-quite-a-typo:
      “No, not a husky. Damn, that was spooky to see.”
      I inferred it was a wolf from the first bit, but maybe it was supposed to be more explicit ?

      1. It probably isn’t an error, especially considering that he’s called a wolf multiple times later in this chapter. For example:

        The teams split up between vehicles. Rachel mounted the hound, while henchwoman Cassie found a seat on the wolf’s back.

  14. Another great chapter! A few imppressions and thoughts about some details that caught my eye which I haven’t seen discussed above yet:

    1. I expect that one of the meanings of the title of this arc will have something to do with those otherworldly skies that can be seen through the portals, but I also expect another meaning closer to “paradises”.

    2. “Bulging eyes and a spine malformation”? Poor Yips! At least, in a way, he can be free from his health problems when Rachel uses her power on him. Probably why she took him in. By the way, did you notice that Victoria still keeps calling Yips ‘it’ in her mind, even after Rachel told Yips is a ‘he’? Probably not something Victoria should say out loud around Rachel.

    3.

    A mismatched set. Precipice was in costume, his mask and the mechanical right arm bearing the circuit board pattern in a glowing blue, his costume modified from a winter coat with a hood. Chastity was wearing nice clothes and a coat that looked like she’d had to go to Paris or New York to find a store upscale enough. Cassie in a bomber jacket with patches and badges on the sleeves, some looking like they were there to mend rips or tears. The hair that stuck out beneath the hat with earflaps was longer in the front than in the back, in a way that made me think her hair had gotten too long and she had just gathered it all up into a single ponytail and then cut it off.

    It put Rachel’s comments to Candy about the long hair in another light. What was it like to even be Rachel’s henchperson?

    Is it just Victoria the fashionista striking again, or is it also a remark about diminishing gap between costumed capes, un-costumed capes, and the un-powered; between hero, villain and a (nominal) civilian?

    It also seems like Rachel is still just as strict (if not more) when it comes to handling her henchmen, as she is with her dogs.

    4.

    My parents might’ve arrived before Ashley did, but they hung back a touch as Ashley caught up with us,

    I can’t believe it! I understand Mark, but Carol not being pushy, knowing when to back off?! The world is indeed ending today.

    Or maybe it is just Mark discreetly holding her back? I must say that the more I see him lately, the more I like him. Definitely seems like a good husband for Carol to have.

    5.

    “My sister wants to know where we’re going. She’s with the two Citrine recommended.[…]

    Did you notice how Ashley calls the other Ashley her sister, not her clone, when she is not needling her? Also who could these two people recommend by Citrine be? Her husband’s clones? Victoria did ask for Number Man’s support after all…

    6.

    “Hello again, Rachel,” my mother said.

    “We’ve met?”

    “You’ve met,” Chastity said. “We’ve met.”

    “Briefly, before I took a break from things,” my mom said.

    Just like I suspected during last chapter, when Mark started playing ball with the kids – it is not the first time when the elder Dallons met the Heartboken. It also looks like they met Rachel then too. Just another thing Victoria seems to have missed when she was in the asylum.

    7.

    “Do you want to ride with me?” Cassie asked Chastity.

    “Shouldn’t. As much as I want to, after the last crash, I’m not dressed for a ride.”

    “Precipice?” Cassie asked. Very casual, pointed.

    Looks like even Cassie figured out what’s going on already. I guess she and Chastity really know each other quite well.

    8.

    “So we’re all on the same page: the go-ahead to kill,” I said it into the phone.
    […]
    Lawyer-”
    […]
    “-Talked to me,” my mother said. “She won’t tell you yes, but today she isn’t telling you no, either. I think that’s as close as you’re going to get.”

    So that was Natalie’s decision? I can’t possibly imagine it not going back to haunt her…

    9. Rachel’s pseudo-thinker power continues to surprise me. I know that there are plenty of blood and severed body parts involved, but still… her dogs managed to easily track down and follow cars on a road, and not just right after those cars have gone along that road too!

    10.

    “Rachel? Hold the flanks. There might be people coming from down the road. Once we signal, bring everyone that’s not inside back in.”

    I saw the frown on her face.

    “We’ve got a team going right for the heart of this place. Number one thing, we stop them from reaching the people on the far side. Then we clean up from the inside out. You guys handle the outside in. Yes?”

    “Mm,” she grunted.

    Great. Great communication.

    I absolutely loved how Victoria had to let Rachel know that no, she isn’t keeping her out of the fight and just using her dogs as convenient transport, but is actually thinking how to use Rachel’s talents in combat as well as possible. Typical Rachel and typical Victoria… and it seems that this combination may just work. That’s just another show of some excellent leadership talent on Victoria’s part, and also shows how much Rachel has changed. Remember how long it took Taylor and Rachel to get to even this degree of mutual trust and understanding?

    11. There is something that bothered me for a while, we see again in this chapter. Did you notice how differently the Wretch works with Victoria’s flight than with any other movement? Not only does the Wretch let pass enough air when Victoria is flying for her to feel the wind on her body, the air seems to offer the resistance to Victoria’s flight when she uses her forcefield. Completely unlike her using her body to push something through the Wretch for example.

    Another weird behavior is how she doesn’t sink through what she considers her footing while her forcefield is active, but if I remember correctly this was stated (in Worm?) to be a common thing with similar powers.

    12.

    And a tendril grabbed him.

    Seizing him, then depositing him firmly in a snowbank.

    “Good one!” I shouted. No time or breath to waste. But that had saved me the time it would have taken to deposit him down there.
    […]
    I heard the slap of Sveta behind me. I heard the bang at the door. Ashley’s power. I spun in the air, caught only a glimse of a door with a silver line on it, Ashley with her good foot out, arms behind her, and a massive collection of Tendrils, with Sveta’s face at the center of it, focused, not even tormented as much as usual by her own tendrils. Nothing at eyelids or nostril, nothing at the corner of her mouth, pulling because it acted instinctually.
    […]
    “Can you grab the Brandish-ball?” I asked.

    “Yes,” was the whisper.

    Hearing the whisper, knowing my friend, I got it. Sveta turned away, head down low while tendrils reached up.

    Looks like therapy by Rain was successful! Ladies and gentlemen, I think this one calls for a toast!

    13.

    Sveta couldn’t really be shot, and the Wretch protected me from being shot, even though it was mostly pandemonium and people reeling.

    I think it answers that question we discussed many chapters ago about Sveta being bulletproof or not. She apparently is.

    14. Remember how Victoria thought how important to her was to control her “outer layers”, like clothes and makeup? With that frame of mind I think she gets what this moment means to Sveta like nobody else could:

    But she was a teenage girl. And for a brief time, she’d had a body. A covering she loved for a shape she hated.

    Back then this body had been her in entirety. Now? After a body and paint to decorate that body, after clothes and clothes we’d shopped for? To lose her suit was to be stripped down, naked before the world. Vulnerable on multiple levels.

    15.

    I wanted revenge, here, and I wasn’t ashamed to admit it. For her, for the others. For Kenzie who had lost her hands and who hadn’t been able to smile enough to compensate for the pain and sadness, whose cheeks had been wet with tears. For Ashley, for Darlene, for Tristan…

    Finally! The ‘r’ word. Not that this line of thinking will end up well. It probably won’t, but at least it is a healthier frame of mind that we usually saw with Victoria. She really is getting much more honest with herself lately. Let’s hope this is a sign of progress towards her peace of mind that will not end up with Victoria doing something she will regret too much along the way.

    16. Ok, what’s with the blood on the other side of the portal to Earth-N? Who was wounded or died there? I don’t think that this was the blood from wounds the villains suffered during earlier engagements, or from the stolen body parts – if that was the case we would see a trail of blood throughout the entire building. Does that lonely girl in a staff uniform have something to do with it?

    17. What is this “scrambler” Ashley has? Something like Teacher’s portal key? Maybe something they got from the Undersiders, or taken from those people who tried to explode the portals (or derived from that tech) – which would probably point again at Teacher’s tinkers?

    18. Looks what we learned about the events in Brockton Bay at the end of the chapter lets us know that at least the end of this chapter happened after the end of the previous interlude, so there is no reverse sequence of events in this arc, at least not yet.

    1. Re. 17:
      During the prison attack, Kenzie developed a countermeasure to Teachers portal devices. I think they also used it to block the main portal for a while. So this is probably an enhanced version of that. It doesn’t close the portal permanently, but it can block anyone from passing through.

      1. If this is the case, then I suppose that it is something derived from a “portal exploding device” seized from the Fallen in Fenway station, or one of the other stations that were saved thanks to Victoria’s and Tattletale’s early warning.

        By the way I wonder if this tech is something that Kenzie managed to come up with only because she was trying to develop teleporters for the team earlier, and/or because she had a chance to privately talk shop with Dragon for a few moments in chapter 8.1.

        1. “And the regular portal that lets them walk in?” I asked.

          “Well, that’s sort of the thing. Because it’s not light, it’s dimensions, so it would still skew with the signal and block it off. So that might tip people off if they try to use it.”

          From 9.7. It seems that this was originally a side effect she discovered after getting her hands on a Teacher Teleporter.

    2. 16. If it’s from the hostage-pieces, they might just stopped awhile. Regroup, a fight, change transportation methods, hand off the hostages to another party, etc.

        1. I think the only possible situation would be if they for some reason had or decided to stop the car(s) with the pieces on one end of the station, and move them to a car on the other end of the station. If they could just drive a car through the portal, they would probably not stop just after crossing the portal, but just continue driving, and if they had to or decided to move the pieces through the station without using the car, they would probably leave a trail of blood through the entire building.

  15. Re: 3- “It also seems like Rachel is still just as strict (if not more) when it comes to handling her henchmen, as she is with her dogs.”
    We already know she treats everyone the same regardless species. Probably only keeps humans around because they can organise and care for the dogs in a way dogs can’t.

    1. > We already know she treats everyone the same regardless species.

      I don’t remember her treating any of Skitter’s insects this way. Not even Atlas. And seriously, I wouldn’t say that she treats humans exactly like dogs. She is fully aware of the difference, just has problem processing human social ques, is very sensitive on the topic of dogs, and wants to establish a dog-like relationship of dominance and subordination with most people. She seems to cut more slack to people who managed to gain her sympathy and respect.

      1. Regardless species as in human/dog… let’s not reach that far up the nitpick tree.
        I’d argue all you said confirms my take on it – we’ll agree to disagree on that.

        1. > Regardless species as in human/dog… let’s not reach that far up the nitpick tree.

          Let’s not. I was obviously joking anyway.

          As for my comment about Rachel cutting some slack to people she likes and respects – I would say that, to a greater extent than a dog, she understands that her ability to process human behavior is skewed by her power (not to mention her upbringing), and it takes her some real effort to understand other people, and even with all that effort she still falls short.

          I think that for certain people she is willing to make this effort – especially for those who have shown that they are willing to make the effort to understand her, and meet her on the middle ground so to speak. Taylor was probably the first person who did this for her, and possibly the one who did it best.

  16. Not a bad chapter but predictable. Especially the ending.

    So now March gets Foil and the misery continues.

    What I dont get is how there are powerhouses like Valkyrie and Legend and Dragon and Defiant and, and, and……. they were even prepared for them attacking there. Yet those B list villains win again and again. Well.. I guess nothing beats Plot Armor 🙂

    1. Well, March’s timing power has been compared to Contessa’s. Do you think any of those “powerhouses” could defeat her? If not – is it so difficult to believe that they would have a problem with March?

      Not to mention that Valkyrie might have arrived a bit late to be deployed in an optimal way, and it is also likely that she knows something about what March doing than we don’t at this point, something related to “the biggest threat”, and may have a good reason to stay away from that fight.

      It is also possible that Legend and Defiant have similar reasons to stay away. In fact I’m surprised to see Dragon on the scene (if those suits are indeed her’s).

      1. Well you can compare everything with everything else. No harm in that. Doesnt mean it is comparable. March was described as “possessing enhanced timing on tactical level”. Which is what she shows here. So she has a good grasp at who to put where for good effect in the current situation. A good power no doubt but nothing all that extraordinary.

        Contessa has “Path to Victory”. She sets herself a goal. And if the possibility of that event ever occurring is > 0 she knows all the steps and gets the ability to complete them without fail.
        As one of the Travellers said (if I remember correctly) “how is that even a power. Thats cheating”
        So yeah, thats orders of magnitude more powerful.

        At least I hope thats the case. Because I am getting bored of one overpowered villain after another sweeping the floor with the protagonist. Gets old and unimaginative.

        1. I’m not saying that they are on the same power level. I’m saying that their powers let them to defeat opponents with theoretically overwhelming firepower by exploiting small errors of those opponents, by doing the right thing at the right moment. It can be used both offensively (to exploit momentary openings) and defensively (to avoid any attacks that may be dodged). It only fails if an opponent has an unavoidable attack which cannot be prevented (for example some sort of aura which hits everything around them, or a stranger power which lets them take out their opponents before they even realize that they are targeted – like Imp or Nice Guy or prevents counterattacks – like maybeAugust Prince, and to some extent Blindside) in which case Contessa’s power would probably be superior, as it would probably allow her to avoid the confrontation altogether.

          It doesn’t matter how strong your opponent can hit if your power let’s you avoid all their attacks. And this is what Dragon and Legend are in this matchup – opponents who can defeat March if they hit just once, but with March’s timing power (which I would say is borderline precognitive in tactical situations – somewhere between Number Man’s and Contessa’s, even if probably closer to the former than the latter) they may find it difficult to do it. I will admit that Valkyrie may be a little more complicated though. We really don’t know what powers she has access to – she could have something that no amount of zigzagging attacks (which March seems to be doing both herself and with the capes she commands) could protect against.

          Another advantage Contessa has over March is that Contessa doesn’t need to know the capabilities of her opponents, but March probably knows fairly well what Dragon and Legend are capable of. Finally if Contessa is careful, she can probably avoid unseen traps and ambushes that leave you no chance to dodge one you walk int them, but March just assumed (and it looks like she was correct) that Vista wouldn’t prepare any.

    2. March is not a B-list villain. She’s not necessarily top-tier like Lord of Loss, but she is not a B-lister. In addition, she’s got enhanced timing as a primary power, backed up with enhanced accuracy and some explodey doom fun as a secondary, and she’s organising a group of other cluster-capes including several members of Goddess’ cluster.

      Prancer and crew were B-list villains. Nobody since has been, really. And even the ones who are B-list are only B-list because they’re working their way up to an A-list, or are too stupid to use their powers at full effectiveness… And the B-lists who were proper B-lists, like Sidepiece and Disjoint, have been B-list for long enough to know how their powers work and figure out counters.

      1. I’d really put her smack dab at the limit between A and S. For plot reasons she kept a low enough profile during her entire cape career to only attract mild attention, but her current self-serving murderous attitude would have called for a kill order or a one-way trip to the birdcage at the very least during the PRT’s golden years.

        If only because they’d need a coordinated team of elite heroes and enough riot foam to fill a couple stadiums to apprehend her.

        1. S-class threats are really big deals, and far above an A-list villain. Echidna was an… E-class threat? There’s different scales, and the one I’m using has B-listers, for the common run of villain with more failures than successes, or whose successes are low-level and petty. Damsel of Distress was a B-lister, and Circus, and Uber and Leet, and the Archer’s Bridge Merchants. A-listers are villains with as many or more high-end successes as failures- the Undersiders, Coil, Faultline’s Crew, the Ambassadors, etc. Then there’s top-tier capes, who- hero or villain- are powerful enough they’re near guaranteed a win, who it’s worth running away from rather than continuing the fight. Lord of Loss, Lung, Alexandria, Eidolon and Legend, plus maybe Purity.

          Top-tier capes need all the stops pulled to fight them; the various threats call for a truce between hero and villain, bringing in outsiders and calling in top-tier capes from elsewhere. Echidna, the Endbringers, Valkyrie, the Slaughterhouse Nine, Nilbog, Ash Beast, the Sleeper- basically, anyone whose mere presence on the battlefield guarantees- or near-guarantees- widespread destruction, loss of life and chaos.

          March isn’t that level yet, but she’s certainly at least an A-list cape, if not a top-tier one. But you’d also notice that the difference between B and A lists is basically down to how well the shard and the person interact. There’s B-listers who are incredibly powerful on paper; Uber, who can build anything, Damsel of Distress, with a hyper-lethal power, etc, but they can’t get things off the ground.

          1. Not instantly. Tattletale claimed she was S-class from the start, and she was, but the PRT initially gave her an E-class rating, meaning that arrival and fighting was opt-in, not opt-out like an S-class threat. By the time they realised their mistake, it was a tad too late and Cloneandria and Pseudolon had revealed Cauldron and bringing in more people was a bad idea.

            But I did actually make a mistake with my recollections, Echidna was S-class… Eventually. She started as E-class, which proves there’s multiple classes we don’t know on the threat scale.

          2. Her initial threat rating was A-class; that was almost certainly a deliberate effort to keep attention away from a Cauldron rogue creation:

            Tattletale didn’t wait for him to get an answer, “That’s threat level S. S-class.”

            “The Chief Director of the PRT determined it was an A-class threat.”

            “Bullshit,” Tattletale said. “S-class. I know Appraiser offered a purple-velvet diagnosis for his previous ratings on Endbringer attacks, so that’s not the reason it’s so low. Eleven’s score of eight has to be above the seventy-five percent mark, and an answer as vague as Hunch’s is going to be a seventy-five percent exact, as per section nine-seven-six, article seventy-one. That’s three values that have to be above the threshold for declaring a threat level S situation.”

            “How the hell do you know all that?” Weld asked.

            Tattletale waved him off.

            “The Chief Director made the call. We’re standing by it,” Miss Militia said.

  17. Wait a second, are those both descriptions of Cassie?
    Worm chapter 21.6

    “I will!” a darker-skinned teenage girl declared. She looked to be of mixed race, with brilliant blue eyes that didn’t match up with her brown, coarse hair and skin.

    Ward chapter 11.9

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

    If so, then what do you think happened with her eyes?

    I checked, and wiki user Gryphonus already made note of this fact in Cassie’s entry on Worm Wiki.

    Do you think it is something as simple as contact lenses, or something more complicated. A health problem (like eye cancer for example)? An artificial eye, or Kenzie-like eye attachment? A side effect of a power (maybe she triggered)? Pretender coming coming back from the dead (we know that Alexandria’s body was destroyed by Scion, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Pretender himself is dead)? Some other stranger pretending to be Cassie?

      1. Another explanation of someone taken over by Pretender having heterochromatic eyes could be that Pretender himself lost his eye. It could happen when Alexandria’s body was destroyed (assuming he survived it of course).

    1. Heterochromia is a human affection with many causes, several of which benign. With a ~0.5% incidence rate, having only one over all the people Worm & Ward introduced feels about par.
      I don’t think there’s much more to read into.

      1. Sure, but most people with heterochromia are born that way. It is rarely acquired later in life. Not only that, but possible causes of it developing after birth are often connected to various medical problems – from inflammation and eye injury through glaucoma all the way to eye cancer.

        I’m just worried that Cassie’s previously blue eyes suddenly become heterochromatic now – it could mean either health problems (potentially very serious), or something power-related.

        1. If this wasn’t a cape story, then I would probably suspect something like eye injury or inflammation – someone living in relative isolation, and spending a lot of time outdoors hunting etc., like Cassie probably does, could easily end up with those, and relative distance from professional medical help would probably increase probability of any lasting effects, possibly including one of their eyes changing its color permanently. Something like benign eye tumor could be another relatively non-threatening cause.

          This is a cape story, and we already know quite a few power related causes of eye color changes, so I think there is a good chance it’s one of those.

          1. Also, let’s not forget that Cassie’s eyes were originally blue. This probably eliminates some mundane reasons for suddenly getting heterochromia – those that cause you to lose pigment (unless one of her eyes suddenly turned pink or red), because blue eyes mean you already don’t have much pigment to lose.

            On the other hand it gives me an idea for a simple power-related reason for her to have differently colored eyes now. If Cassie happens to be a chimera (meaning she has two different sets of genes spread around her body) who just happened to have genes for blue eyes in both irises, then Scapegoat could have given her an eye from a version of her which had eye color encoded by her other set of genes, and thus could have another color.

          2. And if this is the case, then it tells us something about Scapegoat’s power – namely that he can give you a body part of a version of you from a timeline that split away from yours when you were simply a very young embryo (before your cells differentiated enough to determine which ones of them will end up in your irises).

            (That is, if his power indeed works by grabbing body parts from other timelines as we suspect.)

          3. Of course with “proper” many-worlds interpretation there could be some other possible moments for time-split to happen, even before fertilization , but let’s not complicate things that much for now, shall we?

  18. Now I got lost…

    “They want Foil. But even if they get her, they aren’t saying for sure they’re willing or guaranteeing they’re able to walk it back.”
    And these guys want Rain, I thought.
    Worse than we’d anticipated, in a lot of ways.
    One bargain or the other might even be a consideration.

    1) Maybe my English is not so good, but what does “walk it back” mean here? They aren’t saying they’re willing to bring Foil back after they get her (with “it” being Foil, apparently)? Or did they do something unspecified (opened a time bubble? killed Vista? summoned Cthulhu?), which they may or may not be able to reverse? Or does it relate to the dismembered victims?
    2) How does it lead to a thought about bargaining? Especially when villains don’t even promise they can do anything at all on their part. Or does Victoria consider bargaining with someone other than March/Cradle/Love Lost (and again, unspecified)?
    3) From the previous chapter:

    She would crack open this particular cereal box, find her treat, and please the people who were going to try to corner Foil. Even if they succeeded, they’d weaken her or wear her down, and March would be free to act.

    Apparently, there’s some other group going after Foil. *Even if they succeeded*, they’d weaken her… Err, what does this group exactly want from Foil? Because if they have just usual hostile intentions, they could weaken her *even if* they failed, and their success means that they kill/capture/do whatever they want to Foil (or was “succeeded” just a typo?). And what does March want from them – to succeed or, conversely, to back down and leave Foil to her?

    1. 1) I took it to mean they’ve got hostages, but aren’t willing to guarantee the hostages will be able to walk back to their lines, under their own power, in the event of a hostage-swap. Which is a really bad negotiating tactic, in all honesty.
      2) They’ve got hostages, and want Foil. They want to swap hostages for Foil, hence bargaining.
      3) Reply hazy, ask again later.

      1. 1) They’re not talking about literal walking. “Walk it back” is a phrase meaning “undo it” or “reverse course.” They’re saying that some of the things they’ve done might not be able to be undone, or that they might not be able or willing to halt some of their plans even if Foil is turned over.

        1. I wonder if they were talking about undoing what they did with the body parts, or something we haven’t seen yet – like messing with time bubbles. I think there is a chance they already did just that. In fact as I said in one of the comments above, I think they could have thrown Vista into a time bubble (or maybe otherwise forced her to interact with it). My guess would be that space-bending powers and time bubbles may not mix well, and it would be an interesting twist on March’s comment on “time against space” we saw in her interlude.

          1. As for how they could force Vista to do something like using her power on a bubble, it probably doesn’t even need to be something like threatening her or someone she cares about, which would probably be a risky and unreliable method considering that she is aware that doing anything with the bubble is a bad thing. They could simply use some master power. Remember that goddess cluster has access to those, and while those powers aren’t supposed to be strong most of the time, they could probably make one of those powers much stronger temporarily by using a combination of power carousel and Megan’s boost.

      1. Whatever it is they did it will probably end with everything becoming “crimson”. This word seems significant for the story, because it was used by two different people in very similar circumstances, both times at the end of penultimate scenes the chapter/interlude when those words appeared.

        Let me remind you. Interlude 12.z:

        Vista was in play. Vista was getting in her way. They’d had a few run-ins already, when March had paid visits to Foil and had run afoul of the city’s heroes. This city’s heroes, she had to remind herself.

        She smiled, and she moved her hand, signaling her team. Heroes were mobilizing, moving across every plane, like a topsy-turvy funhouse, but each facet was a different hero and a different power. Each moved in slow motion. She had time to remind herself of what each of them did. The ones she wasn’t sure of, she sicced her people on. A hundred cans of paint in the midst of being tossed onto surfaces.

        When this was done, all would be crimson.

        Chapter 10.13

        As I took flight, turning my body so I caught the wind and the eleven year old in my arms didn’t, I had a view of the bloodstained field. I shifted my orientation and my grip, and set my eyes on the wound in the sky where the portal in Brockton Bay had been ripped open wide.

        That would be the direction we were going.

        Things had changed. From a city of gold to a city of crimson.

        Feels like too much of a foreshadowing not to happen. Looks like whatever is going to happen in Brockton Bay will affect the entire city of good (Megalopolis), and may turn into a great massacre (if “crimson” stands for “blood”, though I would suspect that there may be also some other meaning behind the word at play).

        What people or things associated with color “red” or “crimson” may also something to do with portals and/or Brockton bay? One group that comes to my mind is The Red Hand. I think we haven’t since Worm, and it makes me worried. Operator Red also fits. Maybe he even had some connection to that group?

          1. And on the topic of The Teeth, Butcher XV presumably still somewhere out there on Bet, probably not too far from Brockton bay, and may be one of those capes who can be dangerous to Valkyrie, mostly because of the risk of Valkyrie becoming Butcher XVI.

          2. And Cherish/Butcher XV would also fit two other cryptic hints we swa lately.

            Chapter 11.3

            “Are they after Jack?” I asked. “Worst case scenario.”

            Tattletale shook her head. “They’re not that reckless. No. One of the names raised was closer to home than Jack.

            Not “in home”, but “closer to home than Jack”, so possibly outside Brockton Bay, but not far from it.

            Chapter 11.4

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

            “Nothing specific? No details?”

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

            “Concentrations of power,” I said.

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

            Butcher’s power is nothing if not complex at this point. Is it complex enough to cause problems with thinker powers?

            I don’t know how Butcher XV fits to what March is doing right now exactly, but a lot of hints seem to point at Cherish. Maybe March is planning to use the bubbles, or someone or something in them to release the Butcher?

            And on the topic of “red”, let’s not forget the Red Queen. She probably isn’t relevant at this exact moment, but I suspect that she may become very soon – possibly as soon as March finishes what she’s doing.

          3. Maybe March even wants to become Butcher XVI? It would fit the plans she’s got for Foil. All of this chopping Foil to pieces, and wearing her sounds very Butcher-like to me, at least on a somewhat abstract level.

          4. I think that March is probably one of the few capes insane enough to consider becoming a new Butcher, or using Butcher’s power in some other fashion.

            On top of it a possible return of Cherish – either as Butcher XV, or as a persona inside Butcher XVI seems to mesh well plot-wise with the active role the Heartboken are playing in the story right now.

          5. Let’s just hope that with this “crimson/red/bloody” theme going around the Red Queen won’t be forced to become Butcher XVII…

          6. Or maybe Amy risks becoming Butcher XVI? Butcher XV may be one of the worst matchups for Amy because of this shell Cherish is trapped in isolating her from both direct, and certain indirect (like modified pathogens) offensive uses of Amy’s power, and because this matchup is so bad for her, I feel like it could happen.

          7. Note that unlike what we saw in Worm soon after Undersiders took over Brockton Bay, no villains tried to challenge Undersiders in New Brockton before March did that. It is probably not because Undersiders are so strong themselves, but because most villains either owed Tattletale a favor, or did not dismiss a possibility of making business with her in the future. If one villain group decided to attack New Brockton or Undersiders, all of those other villain groups would have a good reason to help Undersiders to defend it. Even the villains whom Tattletale owed a favor herself would have a reason to defend her.

            All of it would be ruined if Tattletale lost her credibility as a neutral broker. And I expect that either she will, or New Brockton will be destroyed, and there will be no more territory and unpowered civilians there for her to defend with her reputation and ties to other villains. It could be a good moment for Undersiders to officially “join the hero side”.

            There would still be complications with doing that, like their connection to people like Heartboken, whom most civilians outside New Brockton would probably want to see locked away for everyone’s safety – between ther powers, apparent emotional immaturity or instability of some of them, and the fact that they are Heartbreaker’s kids, they are probably seen as walking nightmares by most people who know of them, but don’t know them. Another complication could be the fact that whatever crimes Undersiders and Heartboken committed after Gold Morning would not fall under amnesty, though with legal and law enforcement systems falling apart it is probably less of an issue than it was before destruction of the prison.

        1. O.M.G., you really draw a whole lot of conclusions out of a word appearing once again 1.5 arcs later 🙂 But speaking of Butcher, she might indeed be significant in some way due to how well it fits with March’s thoughts about being together in shard-heaven (one might think that after years of her mother never leaving her alone, she might want to finally get some time for herself, but noooo…), and because the original Butcher 0’s power is Abaddon-influenced. However, if Butcher becomes significant, it will probably be some time later – no one even mentioned her yet, and the topic of the day still is time bubbles.

          1. Also, I suspect someone is forgetting that TT moved the Butcher from her resting place in Brockton Bay to someplace under water. Or at least TT hinted heavily that it was underwater.

          2. Oh, I do remember that Butcher was moved, but this is what even makes her fit Tattletale’s comment in chapter 11.3 better than if she was left where she was originally. She is not “home” – in Brockton Bay, but probably still “closer to home than Jack”.

            Now the only problem left to figure out is how messing with time bubbles can bring Butcher out of her current resting place – presumably still on the bottom of Atlantic somewhere within a few hours (a few days at most, I think) of travel by boat from Brockton Bay. It doesn’t even need to be something that March is doing intentionally, but something that may be a side effect she hasn’t forseen – remember that one of our clues are based not on guessing her intentions, but on thinkers having a problem getting a clear picture of the situation. It is possible that March, who is also a thinker, doesn’t get the full picture precisely because of “complexity of powers” the Butcher, the BB portal, the Scar, time bubbles, other time and space based powers (for example March’s and Vista’s), and the presence of members of not one, but two clusters in BB create.

            Just one more reason for people like Valkyrie to stay far away from the situation – she would only add to the complexity.

          3. In other words with all of those unclear omens and premonitions, I think that the Butcher may have or may not have anything to do with the goal March is trying to accomplish in Brockton Bay, but I expect that the Butcher will be the big result of March’s actions – whether she wants/predicts it ot not.

          4. As for how far the Butcher could be from Brockton Bay at the moment – remember that no big ships arrived to that city since long before the beginning of Worm, so it must be somewhere within the distance people would normally travel in a small boat. Notice “normally”. I know that it is entirely possible to travel in one-man boat around the globe (in fact it has been done a few times), but I doubt that whoever Lisa payed to move Cherish, would do it. She’s still probably within a distance a small fishing boat would normally travel from BB, and that almost certainly puts her much closer to BB than Jack is.

          5. And remember that Jack is in Los Angles right now. Do you really think that Cherish could be farther from Brockton Bay than that?

          6. Oh, and let’s not forget the fact that from a certain point of view current Butcher could be seen as a cluster of fifteen capes, with potential for more members. How could March not be interested in Butcher?

          7. My point being, Butcher was moved and dropped in a location that only TT knows. It’s extremely unlikely that March somehow found out and has uncovered the Butcher.

            March might have been after the Butcher, but I doubt that she found her.

          8. My point was: TT moved Butcher. Only TT knows where the Butcher is. Ergo, March isn’t going to find the Butcher.
            Not that March can’t be after the Butcher (but I strongly suspect that narrative conservation* has influenced this), just that she won’t be finding her.

            * In other words, since March wouldn’t be able to find the Butcher within the city, she couldn’t be actually going after her, or she’d have never gone into the city. Thus, March’s target isn’t the Butcher. If you follow the logic of narrative conservation.

          9. Maybe March has a way to find Butcher, or expects to find it in Brockton Bay? Is there a cape for example trapped in the bubble who could help her with that? Or maybe a way to force Tattletale to tell March where Butcher is? It could be exactly what the villains took enough of Tattletale with them that she can talk to them. Maybe this is even the information Cradle tried to buy from Tattletale during the villains meeting? Of course he would ask about other people too then, just to hide from Lisa what he’s really after – it would explain Lisa’s “one of the names raised” comment. Maybe Cradle even was interested in more people then Butcher? Could Lisa’s message contain a warning that the villains are after Butcher’s location, now that Cradle probably started asking her those questions again?

          10. It would also explain why Tattletale did not offer any input when everyone else was discussing the plans of attack in Breakthrough’s HQ, and why she insisted that she was there only to “look after the children”, not to lead the team she ended up with. Since Cradle approached her as a client she, even though she denied to do business with him, had to do everything to avoid breaking the confidentiality of her talk with Cradle during that meeting. Otherwise she would lose her credibility as a neutral information broker, and that credibility is not only what makes other villains make business with her, but also what protected her team from being attacked by the villains, and what made New Brockton a neutral ground which all villains left alone for the Undersiders to control.

  19. March is a vore queen. I only just realized this horrible and gruesome detail. Should have been obvious from the “wear her skin and eat her” mentality. Just makes me like her less.

  20. I’ve just got another silly, simple idea about how portals and time effects could be combined in a potentially catastrophic way. Remember that Victoria noted how portal explosion caused the winds in the city to become stronger due to differences in air pressure in connected worlds? Remember the tower from Valkyrie’s interlude capable of lunching entire planets’ atmospheres into space? What would happen if we made time flow on one side of a portal at a different pace than on the other side of the portal (for example by expanding radius of a time bubble in Brockton Bay to the point when it reaches the Brockton Bay – New Brockton portal)? Could it result in a constant hurricane strength (or stronger) wind blowing in the vicinity of the portal in question?

    I’m not saying that it will happen, it probably won’t, but isn’t it a simple idea on how March could potentially screw things up for everyone at the moment?

    1. If time pace will be much slower beyond portal, then the portal will work as a vacuum – air molecules will fly, time-froze there and not come back in same amount. Portal could suck a lot of air, but hurricane winds will be only close to it.
      If time pace will be much higher beyond portal, then vice versa – portal will push a lot of air (probably even very hot air) into Earth Gimmel. It could be even nuke-like explosion. But even in case of several-times time-pace difference air-income from portal could produce hurricane if directed.
      And portal into time bubble could produce near infinite amount of air, like Phir Sē power amplified light by time-loop (some limit should exist, otherwise Entity would be in possession of infinite source of matter/energy), but it is unclear will it provide significant additional pressure or heat.

      1. That is more or less my own understanding of physics in this case. The only thing I would add is that the length of time the effect would last would depend on the volume of the bubble (as long as the time would flow at all around the edges of it (and from what we saw when Taylor visited Brockton Bay after time-skip it does). After all one enough particles get into the bubble the number of air particles getting in would become equal to the number of air particles getting out.

        Which leads to another possible way of turning a time bubble into a bomb – there are probably enough air stored inside of them, that suddenly ending the time-stop effect would result in an explosive decompression – no portal into the bubble would be necessary.

  21. Ok, maybe not a constant hurricane – at some point pressures would equalize on both sides (though how long it would last probably depends greatly on the final size of the bubble, and on how “effective” it would be at slowing down time – from what I remember from Taylor visit in BB post time-skip the bubble only slows down, not stops, time around its edges), but I imagine that even short-lived hurricane could seriously damage New Brockton and possibly other places depending on how strong the wind would be.

  22. It took me 1 year, 10 months, and 4 days, but I finally caught up after reading worm, pact and twig.
    And just in case you didn’t know it yet, you have a lot of fans in Brazil.
    I’m part of a small “cluster” of 3 brazilian admirers of your work, but I’m aware there are plenty more!
    Wildbow, you’re an amazing writer, keep up the good work!

  23. A quick question for everyone here.

    Do you think that there is nothing “wrong” with Victoria’s body right now? That it is still “inhuman” in any way?

    The way I see it, Amy might have warned Victoria about transplants and such not because there’s still anything for her to “fix”, but simply because Amy is just as affraid and unsure of her own power, as Victoria is. It would perfectly fit Amy’s general problem which determined exactly what sort of power she got. Her problem is the conflict between two thoughts:
    – “If I have the power to help people, I have a moral obligation to do so”,
    – “There may be some fundamental problem with me, which may make me to do something so bad, that there will be no way for me to fix it”.

    This conflict, coupled with her sensitivity, her empathy that made her cry when she saw a mere picture of a cartoonish cow sliced to pieces determined what power she got, and how it worked for her. Her power lets her save a lot of people, but never enough – as there are always more people she could heal, and it never let’s her be certain that she won’t or hasn’t harmed people she’s been trying to help instead. The fact that merely learning that she is a daughter of a dangerous villain only strengthened this fear to the point where Bonesaw managed to turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy with Victoria. The fact that her power broke Taylor in a way that Amy couldn’t “fix” her right away (because she couldn’t touch Taylor again) reinforced this fear even further.

    So it is no surprise that she is unsure that she restored Victoria’s body correctly, and I think the best way for her power to exploit this uncertainty is for Amy to be never able to be certain if she succeeded or not. And what better way is there to do it than to restore Victoria’s body correctly? If something was wrong, then it could be found, it could give some symptoms, and it could be corrected – either by Amy, or someone else. But if there is nothing to be found? Then both Amy and Victoria are left perpetually waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    1. We have evidence that power is translated to clone (Ashley and others in S9000), to near-clone (Chris), that it could be snatched inside cluster (Goddess) and probably across clusters (March’s megacluster). And power could be obtained by AI (Dragon) or an animal (dog).
      So I think it does not matter if Victoria’s body is 100% correct or not, transplant-compatible or not – her power should work anyway, which is the case in everything but force-field shape.
      On the other hand – we have evidence that power could be adjusted by cape mental state – Capricorn’s changes from suffocation gas to steam and water and from metal to stone and so on.
      So it looks like mental issue, not body-related.

    2. “Do you think that there is nothing “wrong” with Victoria’s body right now? That it is still “inhuman” in any way?”

      Oh yes. Good question, I had a thought myself and forgot to mention it… but part of Victoria’s problem might be dysphoria. Her body might be signalling to her that whole parts of it are wrong, not the correct genetic codes. Despite Amy “putting her back together”, Victoria might metaphorically only be holding together because Amy’s power told her body to do so. It’s overriding it’s natural rejection signals, but the “signals” are still bleeding through to Victoria’s unconscious making her uncomfortable in her own skin.

    3. I think you’re right that there is nothing wrong with Vicky’s body. She hasn’t had any internal health issues since Gold Morning (I say internal to exclude cuts and gunshot wounds), and human-affecting powers seem to affect her normally.
      Technically, incorporating proteins and other matter from plants and animals into our bodies is something our bodies do all the time – we eat food (made of plant/animal matter) and then this matter is used as building blocks for the next generation of cells that grow in our bodies. Amy just used a more direct method of turning animal cells into human cells.
      I really hope Amy can develop more self confidence somehow, her using her ability only had bad or unintended consequences twice, once while she was in the middle of a mental breakdown and once when she messed directly with the corona polentia. Her abilities seem far more reliable than she gives them credit for.
      I don’t think having Vicky be healthy increases the conflict between them though, why would she be less angry at Amy if Amy screwed up fixing her after GM? Wouldn’t that make their relationship worse, if anything, and also be worse for Amy’s self confidence?
      Speaking of which, her shard should want Amy to gain self confidence too, shards want to be used creatively, and Amy’s not going to do that as long as she views it as a dangerous curse.

      1. > I don’t think having Vicky be healthy increases the conflict between them though, why would she be less angry at Amy if Amy screwed up fixing her after GM?

        If you are talking about my comment about “waiting for the other shoe to drop”, then I didn’t want to suggest that the conflict between them increases because of it. At least it’s not the main thing that this situation does. What it causes is for both of them to have their trigger related phobias permanently reinforced. It is especially true for Amy who is afraid of breaking someone with her power, and since the fear of unknown tends to be stronger then fear of known, never knowing if the person she loves is somehow broken by her may be an even worse torture than knowing that she is (as was the case when Victoria was in the asylum).

        There could be an argument made that the situation also feeds Victoria’s trigger related fear (the fear of being alone and unloved to be precise), but since we are talking about Amy’s fears here, I will just leave you with a link to an excellent comment by evileeyore about both the Warrior Monk and the Scholar being solitary mental creations – both because having made up personas can indicate feeling alone, and because stereotypical Warrior Monks and Scholars are often seen as people living a big part of their lives if not in solitude, then at least concentrated on themselves and their work instead of their relationships with other people: https://www.parahumans.net/2019/02/12/heavens-12-1/#comment-73764

        1. By now her body should be completely human, since the majority of her cells must have been renewed and are now human. Sure, there will be some lingering elements (central nervous system, her gamets and her fat cells) but she should be able to be a donor without any issues since blood and plasma are updated in a few months, bone marrow… well, it depends, but two years have passed at least, this should be a sufficient time too.
          A somewhat detailed list of the renewal of cells can be found here: http://book.bionumbers.org/how-quickly-do-different-cells-in-the-body-replace-themselves/

          1. I know that most cells she has should be completely human, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that all details of her organ layouts for example has to be the same.

          2. In fact on cellular level she was probably completely human even when she was in the asylum. She had to have a human DNA then, because she had her powers then, and those are tied to person’s DNA. The basic assumption here (probably entirely correct from scientific point of view) can get something that doesn’t look even remotely human by arranging human cells in unusual configurations.

          3. “The basic assumption here (probably entirely correct from scientific point of view) seems to be that you can get something that doesn’t look even remotely human by arranging human cells in unusual configurations.”

            Sorry for that.

          4. “By now her body should be completely human…”
            Except for the small rat nuggies that Amy buried deep within her core… /joking

            But still, having non-human neurons would be… ehhhhhhhh. Not sure how that’d work out with normal rejection syndrome.

          5. It probably would depend on which pieces of Victoria’s cells were altered. Not every change to a cell provokes an immune response. There should be little to no 100% animal cells in Victoria’s body though – her immune system would get rid of those, unless Amy seriously messed with it too.

          6. By the way, what do you think will be Amy’s reaction if she gets her hands on Victoria again? “Oh my God! Victoria why haven’t you came to me sooner?” Remember that Amy will be aware of every scar, every bit of missing tissue Victoria has, and Victoria have been collecting a lot of those throughout Ward.

          7. “Oh my God! Victoria why haven’t you came to me sooner?”

            Only if Amy is either really stupid or completely selfish. She knows Victoria reacts violently to even the threat of her touch and //why//.
            And I don’t think Amy is either.

          8. Of course she’s not stupid, and as much as her love for Victoria could make her want to be selfish, she’s already proven that she is able to put Victoria’s freedom and emotional wellbeing over her own desire to be with her sister. She proved it when she declined Chris’ offer to “give” her Victoria. I do however expect that it could be Amy’s first response for two reasons – because Victoria’s state would painfully show Amy once again just how much Victoria is afraid of her (or was, depending on circumstances of the situation when Amy would touch Victoria again), and because this reminder will cause Amy to blame herself once again – subconsciously it could be tempting for her to push some blame on Victoria first, if even for just a moment it would take Amy to realize what her outburst would mean to Victoria.

          9. Not to mention that such outburst would in a way also contain both Amy’s declaration of love and a plea for forgiveness – both of which, I imagine, Amy would very much like to express.

  24. Do you remember that Madison told Victoria in chapter 0.9, that she’s training to be a teacher? Sounds like she may be a university student right now. Considering that there are only three universities in the city right now, do you think there is a chance that she either saw the aftermath of the recent battle in the university or will soon hear or see enough detail to know that Victoria was involved? Could it prompt to contact Victoria again in the near future?

    1. I think that if Madison was to talk more with Victoria, it could lead to Victoria questioning one of her core beliefs she may both need and be ready to question at the moment. In fact she’s probably been doing it for a while now at some level, but hasn’t fully consciously challenged yet.

      The belief I’m talking about is that the heroes and legal authorities they are working with are at always better for regular people than the villains are.

      This is probably what keeps driving a wedge between Victoria and Tattletale, what makes her want to so aggressively confront the unpowered people who seek villains protection, or to seek permission from whatever authorities are left when she’s considering to use lethal force for example.

      To challenge this belief she needs to hear from someone who is not on one side or the other that maybe certain villains can be sometimes better, and I think what Madison could both ask and tell Victoria about life in Brockton Bay after Undersiders took over may be the way to do it. Victoria still fails to understand that in a few short months Undersiders did something for the people of Brockton Bay that the heroes failed to do for many years – they brought back safety and prosperity that the city needed, and they managed to do it when the city was by far at its lowest point!

      The single most important point that Victoria needs to understand is what prompted all of those students in Arcadia High to side with Skitter against Defiant and Dragon. That moment basically summed up the entire problem – people don’t need the heroes and legal authorities to try and utterly fail to keep them safe and prosecutors. They just need to be successfully kept safe and prosperous. It is less important who does it and using what methods than the fact that it is done. It is no surprise that the Undersiders kept control of Brockton Bay after all other villainous groups were defeated – people simply didn’t want official authorities and heroes who failed them to try and take control of the city from the Undersiders. Heroes were tolerated in Brockton Bay of course, but many people (probably most) wanted the Undersisers to be in charge rather than legal, but ineffective authorities run the place. It is also the big reason why Undersiders so easily took over New Brockton, which had a population largely composed of citizens of Brockton Bay.

      It is an important belief for Victoria to challenge right now (though not necessarily abandon), both because the rule of law is failing completely, and because certain Villains (like the Undersiders, but also Citrine and Number Man, and possibly Faultline’s crew) may become much more important allies than most hero teams or law enforcement for example. I’m not saying that it will always remain the case, but at the moment the situation seems to be going in that direction, and at this point Victoria should probably start to consider giving certain villain groups access to her “hero network” and forming a greater hero-villain alliance. If she makes this step now, then maybe later she will be ready to accept help from some really scary villains like Contessa, and she will probably need to do it at some point.

      Perspective of someone like Madison, who is not affiliated with either side, may be needed for Victoria to think about all of this, because no hero or someone on the side of law (like Natalie or Gilpatrick for example) will take villains side of course, and if some villain or villain’s henchman for example will tell her that maybe what some villains are doing is better than what heroes are doing, then Victoria will not treat such opinion seriously, simply because it would be coming from villains.

      1. And of course Madison will not give Victoria all answers on a silver platter. She is just as confused about what happened in Brockton Bay after the Leviathan attack, what life in Brockton Bay looked like then. This is also why neither Victoria nor Madison fully understand the meaning of what happened on that day when Dragon and Defiant tried to arrest Skitter in Arcadia High. But Madison doesn’t need to give Victoria all of those answers. All she needs to do is to tell Victoria enough that our protagonist will finally ask herself the right questions.

      2. All of this is interesting but at the same time it is a brilliant slippery slope. When you sacrifice ethics for feeling safe, the end result is… you are not going to be really safe. Yes, sure, ‘Bay had Skitter who had its best interest at her heart but she is the exception, not the rule. The imperfection of heroes does not mean that the imperfection of villains is better. In may cases, it may be worse in completely new ways than the way it is worse in the case of the heroes. A working system can not afford cutting corners. Sure, a villain organisation has more money to burn… but the reason is because it is usually based on misery in either long term or short term since the funds are getting through unethical methods such as extortion, pushing drugs, prostitution and other abuse that is not acceptable price. It was not the price paid by ‘bay’s residents but a price nonetheless paid by people.

        We, as a society have the same conundrum… because it is so cheap to shop and have cheap goods, we, as a society, turn a largely blind eye the way those goods are created at the expense through exploitation of the people working in sweatshops somewhere far away. In the case of the US, the fact that you have great social mobility, it is at the expense of the people falling in the cracks. In some European countries, is the blind eye turned towards similar issues (though not to the extent and the extremeness in the US).

        The same way we excuse shit for the reason “because it works”, we are stalling and keeping a broken system, since it works and we do not ask too may questions how and why it works.

        Bit of a rambling spell here and a ton of mistakes, for which I do apologise.

        1. Of course it is a “slippery slope”, as you put it. This is exactly why I said that Victoria needs to challenge her belifs, not necessarily abandon them. What is important is to be prepared to accept that sometimes the legal and democratic ways may not be the best to do things which need to be done, not to blindly assume that the more effective way (which will often be the illegal, immoral or despotic) is always better.

          What is important to understand here, is that sometimes things are so bad that you do need to turn to those effective ways, but at the same time that you probably should avoid them as much as possible when things are better or could be better without using those seemingly “effective” ways. The problem is further complicated by the fact that if the society allows a despot, a bunch of criminals or a corrupt system to take control, they may make sure that the society can’t take that control back later. On the other hand a seemingly fine, legal and democratic system may be in fact very corrupt without anyone realizing it (as was with Cauldron-controlled PRT and the Protectorate for example). Sometimes it is evil versus evil – if a bunch of guerillas are fighting against a dictator for example, it is often difficult to say who the “good guys” are. In fact often it is neither side, but not choosing a side in such conflict solves nothing, so a good p, well meaning person may just need to choose the lesser evil in hopes that things will get better with time and his or her influence.

          At the time of crisis or strife it is actually a non-trivial question which of those way to choose, and the situation in the city can soon became bad enough that Victoria may need to seriously consider which side to work with instead of always automatically defaulting to “the hero side”. Some of the villains may prove to just be the lesser evil or to be the only people who can do things that just need to be done.

  25. @Alfaryn:

    would you consider adopting some reasonable limits when posting, maybe a maximal number of words per day, or no multiple posts in a row? I’m finding it a bit discouraging to read the comment section when 75% of the text is written by one person, and I doubt I’m alone. Your tempo is counterproductive for the web serial itself if it reduces the number of people willing to engage in commenting…

    1. It has been discussed in this comment section before. People here have apparently mixed opinions about how much should I post and where. There was a suggestion I took at least some of my posts to reddit, I’ve tried it, but wasn’t very satisfied with the results. I know throwing all of those comments here can be a problem for many people (I’m also unhappy with how much text I end up producing, and would be very glad if I could remove or edit plenty of my own posts), but I also think I could name quite a few regulars here, who, judging by their posts, seem to enjoy at least a large part of what I post – including those crazy theories I often can’t figure out how to explain without some big walls of text that I later add to with my subsequent comments as I often come up with new ideas which expand on those theories after I post them, or with things I feel I need to correct in my earlier posts.

      For now I’ve decided to keep posting mostly here, and try to limit the amount of text I produce gradually, though I will admit that I have a long way to go out n this department. I don’t want to set myself any hard limits, like the ones you suggested however. I prefer to try to get to a point where I have more reasonable posting habits without such restrictions, and I think I’m slowly getting there. What you see in this comment section is still, I think, an improvement over my “worst” couple of days, which happened around the fight with Lord of Loss.

      If I saw no such improvement I would have stopped posting completely already because I realize that there are people like you, who don’t enjoy such volume of text coming from one person, but since I do see some progress, and because there are people here who let me know they enjoyed my posts, I prefer to try to work my way towards the point when I’m posting less, with a high concentration of the sort content people around here seem to enjoy. It will take time, as I have a lot to learn – as a non-native speaker who never wrote these sorts of comments before last October, I need to learn how to use written English better, I need how to better frame my thoughts in a way that takes less space (a problem I admittedly have to some extent no matter what language I use), and I need to think more about contents of my posts before hitting the “post comment” button. It is a lot to learn for me, but as long as I see progress, I’m inclined to keep trying.

  26. Thing is undersiders are exceptions. Most villains would be terrible leaders. Hell thats why Taylor joined the wards; she realized they were needed

    1. Sure, but as rare as exceptions like this are, Victoria needs to understand that they happen, and she can’t automatically assume that every ‘hero’ is always somehow inherently better than every ‘villain’. Remember that she is currently working for another likely exception for example.

  27. I wonder if Victoria’s “warrior monk” / “scholar” duality thing is a sign of her shard’s influence, hinting at Zion and Eden in the cycle.

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