Heavens – 12.6

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“Focus on the inside of the bubble,” I murmured.  It had been almost ten minutes since I’d felt the need to stress it and felt reasonably confident we could whisper without being overheard.  “Not the bubble itself.”

“I can feel them,” Rain responded.

I nodded, holding my finger to my lips.

It was hard to converse, because a patrol walked a route around the rooftop.  The group that had been out prior had liked holding the high ground, there was a box-shaped section on the roof that was higher than the rest, encompassing the top of the stairs and the door that led from the building interior to the roof itself.  The old group had liked to camp out up there for the view it gave of the surrounding fields and the road that our team was on.

The new squad was more prone to walking the perimeter of the roof.  The tension of it had me feeling nauseous, because some of them liked to shine their flashlights down.  I had to maintain a state of combat readiness.  Anticipating the next person, then making a mental note of any habits or things to look out for.  By the time I was done that, the next person was on the approach.

The squad that was up on the roof now had ten people, but only seven walked the rooftop.  Two more smoked up a storm, and a third fiddled with a boom box or something, the volume barely audible.  When they had everything balanced right, it played a sports match, which didn’t seem to make a lot of sense given where we were, or when the teams were listed as Brazil or South Africa.  A recording of a game from years ago, possibly. I halfways suspected the interest was in fixing the machine and the recorded match was just to be a constant source of sound that told them if it was working or not.

From the snippets of conversation I caught, one of the smokers was the squad leader, the other his friend.  The guy who fiddled with the machine had been injured in a combat a while back, so he didn’t patrol.

Much of the conversation came from two soldiers who walked as a pair.  Constant complaining.  Eins and Zwei, as I thought of them.  Their chatter was usually a good advance warning.

Then there was Drei, a woman who smoked, who scared the shit out of me every time she shone her flashlight around.  The smoke and the light of the constant beam flicking around the corner of the building and onto the ground at the base were the closest things I had to a warning to get Rain and I down and into a position by the base of the wall where empty cans of fuel for the generator were stacked.  Sometimes the wind didn’t let me smell the cigarette, or she wasn’t smoking, I couldn’t be sure which.  Sometimes she didn’t aim the flashlight down until she was at our section of roof.  Usually one of the two things was true.  Still spooky, because the flashlight was mounted on her gun, and there would be a mere instant between the second we were illuminated and when she pulled the trigger.  Would I manage?  Maybe.  Would Rain?  Probably not.

Four and five – I’d wracked my brain for Chinese numerals, to change it up and serve as a mnemonic, then settled on the English ones instead.  They were a pair who were mostly engaged in a back and forth, the English speaker was an ex-gang member, based on things he’d said, and half the time he’d be rattling off words in one language, while his Chinese buddy answered in another, or vice versa.

Sechs was a guy who had urinated off the edge of the roof twice in the last twenty minutes.  His heavy footfalls were tell enough that he was coming, but sounds were unreliable, because the radio static or louder voices of others would drown things out.  He was also most likely to change up the schedule or approach from another direction.

Sieben was the one to watch out for.  Alone, so nobody to chat with.  Not even a whiff of cigarette smoke or alcohol.  She -I’d had enough of a glimpse of her to know she was an apparent she, tall, skinny, black, with only nose, eyes, and precariously high cheekbones visible behind her scarf and hat, a gas mask pulled off and set aside- was prone to walk on the lip of the roof rather than on the actual shingle-like pads.  She didn’t make a sound, as a consequence, and she didn’t give her location away with a flashlight like Drei did.

We’d been on our way back from hiding from Drei’s flashlight when I’d first seen Sieben crouched at the edge of the roof, looking down.  If she’d been three or four paces further down the roof, she would have seen us.

No exact patrol order.  I could only feel out the gaps in between appearances and imagine that Sieben was filling in those gaps, I could pay attention to the details, and try to visualize the routes they preferred.

“Er bi.”

“Double vagina.”

“Sha bi.”

“Stupid vagina.”

“Ta ma de.”

“Yo mama?”

“Close.”

Four and Five weren’t even that close to the roof’s edge as they passed by.  I allowed myself to relax.  If I could’ve heard the intonations or accents on certain sounds, I would’ve been getting an education.  Distance played with it, and I didn’t have the ear for it.

I leaned back.  The heat that radiated away from us was affecting the frost on the window.  The effect was small, but I worried what would be apparent if people inside or outside noticed a pair of blotches on the glass that were shaped like a pair of heads and shoulders, where we were close to the glass.

I tugged on Rain’s arm, having him shift his weight over to me, and we adjusted our location.  A little closer to our hiding spot by the cans.  Further from the spot where the three who weren’t patrolling were, so the intermittent buzz and blare of the radio wouldn’t put my nerves on edge or obscure other sounds.

“Can you see what you need to see?” I asked, my voice a whisper.

Rain nodded.  The space under his hood was dark.  He’d turned off the illuminated lines on his mask.

He motioned, a tiny and mostly broken mechanical hand indicating from his mouth to the roof.  I nodded.

“Ninety-five percent,” I whispered.  “Keep it to essentials.”

“What I was saying before,” he whispered.  “I can feel who’s inside, I think.  I push out and I feel the resistance.  Lets me see silhouettes.  Tattletale is in the bubble, along with three people.”

I felt my heart sink.  The moment he’d said he could feel who was inside, I’d kind of hoped Cradle was inside the mech itself.  If he was, there was a chance we could get him.  Take him away, then do what we’d done to Rain, using Chastity’s power.

“I have to be careful with the soldiers,” Rain whispered.  He pointed at the glass.  “They get restless when I hit ’em, and when they get restless they head out toward the door.  Then I have to hit them harder.  It makes them rethink it.”

“Any effect?”

“Some.  Have to find the right people.”

I heard a scuff.  Immediately, my hand went to Rain’s face, sliding between mask and mouth.  I heard more noise, and in the next instant, was dropping out of the air, Rain’s sudden, silent exhalation filtering through my fingers as we went from stationary to a twenty foot drop.  I pushed him into the corner between cans and a part of the wall that jutted out.

Drei.  Flashlight not aimed down or at any angle I could see, no cigarette.

The gun moved, light shining down around us.  It stopped a short distance away.  It moved to the cans, a few feet from us.

She moved on.

“That-” Rain started.  My hand went back to his mouth.

After the blinding, focused light, it was hard to make out details.  Sieben walked at the roof’s edge, a matter of ten feet behind Drei.  She had company.  A figure loomed tall enough that it was five feet taller than Sieben.  A human shape topped it, and about ten feet of tail followed after, lumpy and faintly sour smelling.  Like rancid garbage.  The height was simply the parahuman raising themselves up.  I could see the shape of him move as he dropped down, almost falling.  His upper body traced the wall as he flowed down it at a diagonal, a caterpillar body of trash bags and cardboard boxes following after him.

He gathered the body under them, all coiled up, reshuffled, then launched off the wall.  His upper body stuck out at the top, while legs and hips were lost in an amorphous blob of detritus.  The bags and boxes contained gas, and hoses trailed beneath, each hose producing puffs of that same gas.  He took a course that put him some distance from the building and his squad.

Chugalug.  Trash changer.  He gathered garbage and sewage as a body he could configure into a few different forms.  That trash was slowly consumed and turned into a material that would be, as required, solid, gas, or liquid, typically in quantities far greater than what was reasonable for what he’d absorbed.  His namesake technique was from how he ‘gathered’ raw sewage to fill out his body.  Moose had covered that.

Guy didn’t really associate with his squad, or his squad didn’t want to associate with him.

I withdrew my hand from Precipice’s face.  He made a face as he inhaled.

It smelled bad.  Like shit that had been eaten, puked out, eaten again, and laced with sour garbage smells and other general human smells.  There was something perfumey in it, too.  Like air freshener or a shampoo, but cloying, seemingly designed to trick the nose and tastebuds into thinking that there was no need to shut down or ignore things anymore, just so they involuntarily opened up to the greater odor.

A trace of something minty or fruity followed by a punch of a smell like old man diaper soaked in month-old tuna water.  And we weren’t even close to the source.  He had passed thirty feet over us in a form that apparently wasn’t about the gas or the stench, and that was it.

“A lot of activity,” Rain managed, his own hand over his lower face now.

“Last patrol before shift change.  We stay here.”

He nodded.

Next part is going to be hard.  Adapting to new schedules and patterns.

“It’s worth it?”

“I think so,” Rain said.  He ran his hand between hood and head, over his shorn head.  “I’m getting Love Lost and Cradle, at least.  I feel it hitting home, when I push to full strength.  I feel it if I touch Tattletale by mistake.  I don’t feel it with others.  Tristan, kind of.  I think it’s Tristan.  Except they only took his midsection.”

“Emotions are rooted in all kinds of places,” I said.  I thought of how many times I’d felt bad feelings start in my gut, or end up there.

Rain clenched his fists, tiny mechanical hand squeaking.  “Damn it.  I’m going to lose track of people, moving away like this.  There are a lot who don’t react.  But some do.  I try to find them, gradually increase the pressure.”

“I did say to go easy on the soldiers.”

“I don’t have the patience to go that easy,” he said.  “If we get caught we’re going to have to fight, or you’re going to have to fight.  If I haven’t gotten anything done by then, then this is all for nothing.”

“Let me worry about us getting caught.  You focus on what’s indoors.  Be patient.”

“Turning the screws is getting to some people.  One keeps talking to their superior, pointing at the orb.  They might up and leave.”

“Okay.  But I know emotion powers.  People react in different ways.  This isn’t us hitting one billiard ball with another and calculating the trajectory.  They’re people.  Every person is built differently.”

“There’s a guy who sits apart from the rest of his squad.  Brought a hunk of wood with him.”

“The lumberjack.  I saw him.”

“Whittles this round of wood with branches sticking out.  Gets more agitated the more I work on him.  Like you said.  Different reactions to the same things.”

“Go easy,” I murmured.

“Imagine if he got pissed off enough to pick a fight,” Rain said.  “There are people who are ready to leave.”

“What happens if they do?” I whispered back.  “They leave, they run into our guys.”

The door opened upstairs.  We fell silent by mutual understanding.

I heard Five say something in Chinese.  He got a response from someone else.  More fluent than Four.

“Our guys can handle it.”

I shushed him.  I wished I didn’t have to.

There was more mingled conversation.  There hadn’t been many squads that were outright mingling like this.  I had a bad feeling.  The squad on the roof right now was Chugalug’s- they’d gone on a patrol of the general area a while ago, spent a shift inside, then went to the roof.  I had to imagine it was because Chug stank and people didn’t want him indoors.

Chugalug’s friend was…

I saw Barfbat take flight.  Tumor-ridden wings and a head with pustules and fluid-filled sacs ringing his neck.  They had to insulate him, because it was chilly and they made for a lot of exposed skin.

He flew straight in the direction of Chugalug.

Because they were friends.  Fuck. 

A solid minute passed as Rain and I remained silent, crammed into a corner with metal barrels around us.

Chugalug’s squad wasn’t leaving.  They were staying where they were, and Barfbat’s squad was joining them.  Complicating factors that made the pain in the ass people into even bigger issues.  Schedules in disarray…

“Moose-” Rain started, barely audible.  I tensed at his voice, looking up.  I motioned for him to continue.  “Moose said Barfbat has enhanced hearing and smell.”

I nodded.  I was aware.

“What do we do?”

“You stay.  I’m putting Foil and Sveta on it.  I think this is the final leg of the journey.  We won’t have long to do our thing.”

Fuck.”

“Shh.  It’s fine.  Try to focus on the rooftop, stay quiet and still.”

“I’ve been keeping my head down for all my life, why stop now?” Rain asked.

I wasn’t sure how to answer that, so I nodded.

Foil first.  I made my way around the building, and saw light from above.  Drei and her flashlight again.  She walked with the end of the gun resting against the lip of the roof, the flashlight beam extending down, but not flush to the wall.  She had company, now, going by the murmurs I heard.

Two squads patrolling the fields and woods around us, twenty in total with two capes.  Two squads above us, another twenty.  Two capes who are flying around, due back any minute.

I let the beam pass me by, then rounded the corner.  Two guys sat on the roof’s edge, feet dangling.  Sieben was with them, her back to the space below.

Tense, to pass so close by, to see a flick of white dart through my peripheral vision- a loogie, bit of spit, or a fleck of ice that had been knocked free of the roof.

But they seemed to be looking out, not down.

Foil was up the wall, having used spikes to ascend.  She spotted me, and made her way down, stepping on inch-long protrusions.

I approached her, and with secrecy in mind, we put personal space aside, our toes almost touching, my mouth by her ear.  “Barfbat and Chugalug.  They can’t come back.”

“You sure?  When they don’t return-”

“I’m sure.  Be careful, Bat has enhanced hearing and smell.”

“I’m short on darts.”

I winced.  I drew the extra decorations from my costume out of my pocket, and held it between us as I used a bit of strength to pull one free.  I didn’t want a telltale glint to give us away.

“Give me the entire thing?  I can cut the rest off if you give me one.”

I didn’t want to give her the entire thing.  I liked my costume and Weld had gone to some effort to make the decorations.

But need won out.  Others needed this.  I pressed the decorations into her hand.

She jogged off, keeping low to the ground, not running along the base of the building as I’d been doing, but a distance away, because that distance gave her the ability to see which way heads were turned and a better idea of where people were.  I watched the soldiers above, nervous, but I didn’t hear any cries of alarm.

She made a break for it, quick and quiet, across a dark field dusted faintly with snow.

We had a time limit.

Sveta.

I circled the building, floating instead of walking, and slowed as I heard whispering.  I peered around the corner, and heard the whispering stop.

Something slapped my hip.  A tendril.  I approached, and I saw the general shape that was my mom.  Wrapped in a dark blanket, the blanket held tight by tendrils.  Sveta’s face was tucked between ball and wall.

“Fight might start soon.  They just sent out the guy with enhanced senses.  I sent Foil after him.  If there’s trouble, I’ll pulse with my aura.  There’s a group-”

I drew a rough outline of the roof on the ground, then an ‘x’.

“Right there.  Should I go over the pineapple seven-ten?”

“I remember the great pineapple debate,” Sveta said.  “No need.”

“You’re awesome,” I said.  “Hit ’em, and if there’s any gunfire after, feel free to do what you need to do.”

“They hurt Tristan,” Sveta murmured.  “Kenzie.  Ashley.”

“Yeah.”

“I might have to throw them off the building.  I just don’t want to.”

“I know.  I don’t want to hurt them either.  Gonna go check on Rain.”

I made my way back, wary of the periodic flashlight, or people leaning over the edge of the roof.  Mr. Sechs was taking another leak.

When I got to where I’d left Rain, I found him gone.

I looked for him, and I found him halfway up the building.  He’d scaled the darts Foil had embedded in the wall, and he’d returned to his former spot.

The hell?

I flew to him, shooting him a furious look.  Because, for one thing, that was pretty precarious footing for anyone who wasn’t Foil, and a fall would have outed all of us.  For another, what the hell was he thinking?

He touched the window with his right hand and the tiny mechanical right hand, and I could see the strain in those extremities.  He wasn’t about to bust through the glass, but he was pressing hard.

The Lumberjack was shouting loudly enough that I could hear the lowest sounds through the window, from the other side of the building.

‘The Lumberjack’, as I’d termed the guy, was a burly guy with a big red beard, wearing the standard mercenary outfit, part of Red’s squad, and Red was a woman I’d named as such because she had the same mercenary uniform on, but instead of black and gray camo or just plain black, she had red and black and black, with a metal mask.  She had broad shoulders and broad hips, black hair in a lick of a ponytail I could have gripped in one hand.

She was one to watch out for, but it was the little cues that made me think that.  People paid attention to her, and she seemed to have at least three of the people other mercenaries were avoiding inside her orbit.  The Lumberjack, a scrawny guy who I hadn’t seen without a knife in his hand, and another big guy that had gotten up to go to the bathroom ten minutes ago, with people actively getting out of his way.

If she had the fear or respect of a bunch of guys who demanded fear and respect, that was worth paying attention to.

She’d stood, and she held a gear in her hand.  It flipped over and rolled across the back of her hand before she caught it.  The thing probably weighed three pounds.

It fell, after a purposeful movement, like she was aiming to bounce a ball.  It plunged into the floor, and there was a ‘splash’ of pistons, larger gears, sheet metal and metal springs thicker than my leg, rising out of the concrete floor and sinking back in to leave the floor unblemished.  A piston knocked a smaller, narrower gear into the air, which she caught.

It served to get the attention of the others.  Shouting and conversation had stopped.

Rain pressed another hand to the window.  People were getting restless now.  They actively stood, shuffling feet, looking uncomfortable.

“There’s time to roll this out slower,” I whispered.  “Until Barfbat and Chugalug’s squads notice they haven’t come back.  You don’t have to finish this in five seconds.  Go easy.”

“I am,” Rain hissed, and I could hear the tension in his voice.  “There’s only so long I can look at that ball they’ve made and not think about how people we care about are in there.  Tristan backed me up when it counted.  Kenzie!

“Shh!”

I saw him twist his head to one side, like he had to wrench himself away to avoid ranting.

End of his rope?  We all had our limits, but those limits depended heavily on what we were talking about.  Rain, I had to imagine, had an intolerance for institutionalized evil.  For the cult mentalities and gatherings of people who overlooked serious wrongs, like these soldiers and villains were doing.

And this was after days of stress, and months, a year of seeing his cluster every night.  What we’d done to force him out of the room was screwing with the way his power had been distributed.

The Lumberjack threw the piece of wood he had been whittling, straight for Red.  Red made a movement of her hand, and there was a small splash of gears and pistons, of cranks and pipes, some red hot, barely larger across than a dinner plate.  It was followed by another splash, hotter and larger, like a stone was being skipped, and a third, even larger, massive, with a piece of machinery taller than Red was lunging out of the ground.  A mechanical claw seized the piece of wood, destroying it, before disappearing into the ground with another ‘splash’.

People backed away from the droplets of molten metal that had been thrown out.

“Remember your power educates them,” I said.

“I remember,” Rain said.  “I disabled it just as he did the stupid thing.”

He’d been loud as he said it.

Worrying we’d been heard, I was mindful of the group on the roof, and flew up, leaving Rain where he was.  None were close enough to hear Rain.  They’d heard the commotion and headed to the door, where they now gathered.

Still fifteen or so on the roof.  The captains were at one spot where boxes had been set out for sitting on.  I saw the player, and guns set against walls, in easy arm’s reach.  Nobody had abandoned their weapon.

I watched and waited, trying to get a sense of them.  As they started to turn back around, situation assessed, I dropped back down.

Sveta was there, at the corner of the building.  Her tendril reached out to its maximum range, slapping my shoulder.  Scared the hell out of Rain, who almost lost his perch.

I motioned for him to stay, then followed.  Sveta was careful to pull back, to move away as I moved forward, keeping a healthy distance.

Sieben.  The woman who’d been the biggest pain, and Drei, the woman with the flashlight and bad smoking habit.  My mother stood over both, a blanket over her and them, shielding the glow of the blades she held to their throats.

“They saw us,” Sveta murmured. “There was a noise, and that one did a weird thing where she didn’t look toward the noise, she focused down on us.  She called the one with the flashlight.”

“Power?” I asked.  “Answer.  Quiet.”

“No,” Sieben said.  “Good habits.”

“I have bandages, belt, back pouch” my mom said.  “Use them for a gag.  Left pouch for-”

“For wrist-ties,” I guessed.

“Cuffs.”

I got the bandages and cuffs.  Gags around the mouth.  We set them back to back, wrists behind them around around the stomach of the other.

“If you make a commotion, we can reach you before they do,” I said.  “No fumbling around, no shuffling, kicking, or banging.”

“I’ll watch them,” Sveta said.  “Kill them if I have to.”

“You,” my mom said.  She pointed at Sveta.  “I’m not impressed.”

“What the hell?”

“It’s fine,” Sveta said.

“What the hell?” I whispered.

“It’s fine.  Go.  Rain needs you.  We’ll do what we have to.  They’ll notice two of theirs are missing as soon as they do a head count.”

I looked between her and my mom, and I saw something weird and dark in my mom’s expression.  Like she was bothered.

She went ball form before I could study it any further.

My cue to go back to Rain.  Before I was even there, I heard more of a commotion inside.

I reached the window, supporting Rain’s balance, and peered past the frost.

The Lumberjack had been mangled.  Red stood over his body.  The other two members of her group that I’d deemed scary, plus one more, had all risen to their feet, standing spread out.  Nobody was stopping them, helping them, or intervening.

“I have to wonder, and this feels shitty and scary to articulate-,” Rain said the words through grit teeth, emotional.

“Shh,” I urged him.  Did he have zero volume control?  That had almost been speaking level.

The skinny guy with the knife pointed it at Red.  The one guy I hadn’t expected to be in that mix, because he’d been so quiet, said something.

Red acted.  A movement, which immediately saw two members of the group drawing their weapons.  Too late.  The splashes occurred around them.  Small splash, medium splash, giant drill spearing out of the ground, catching a guy in one butt cheek and shredding everything from there to cranium.  One had backed out of the way of a tightly arranged set of metal rollers, but missed the piston that struck a roller and, accelerated, speared the ceiling.  The piston splashed, and it became a hydraulic hammer, slamming from the high ceiling to the floor.  Pulp.

The last guy, the quiet guy, hadn’t drawn a gun.  He was thrust into the air by an uneven set of pistons, so he flipped head over heel.  He landed on one shoulder, and collapsed in a way that didn’t let him fall flat- his feet were left above him for two or so seconds, before he twisted and flopped into a more or less relaxed position.

The machinery around him receded.  As it did, metal machinery splashed up and out, with white hot metal in the midst of it.  About a half-full bathtub’s worth of hot metal landed on or in the immediate vicinity of the third guy.

He thrashed and screamed, his clothes igniting from the heat alone, while Red sat back down.  She said something, and a lot of heads shook, in her squad in particular.

“Jesus Christ,” Rain muttered.

He’d been using a lot more religious swears since waking up.

“Yeah,” I said.  I was caught between saying ‘that’s not on you’, and ‘I did fucking tell you to go easy’.

I left it at ‘yeah’.

“That bad feeling I had?  I’m identifying the buttons to press.  Not just in one person, but in a group, so the group acts like you want it to,” Rain was barely audible.  “Like cult leaders do.”

“It’s different,” I said, though I was a little spooked at just how that had unfolded.

“It’s like how they say bullies feel,” Rain whispered.  “Powerful, big, better.  Not better as in like I’m a better person, because I’m definitely not, but better like I’ve unloaded something I’ve been carrying for a long time.  I feel all those things, and I feel worse, I feel sick.”

“The danger, I think, isn’t in feeling powerful, big, or venting,” I whispered, my eyes locked on the scene.  “That’s reality.  Trust me.  I’ve been there.  We face off against shitty people and it feels good to see them get what they deserve, whether they’re racists, people who deal to kids, fanatics, or monsters.  If we didn’t feel satisfaction then we wouldn’t be able to do this.”

Rain grunted in the affirmative.  Someone approached Red, indicating the man who was being put out with stomps and a shiny blanket thrown over him.  Red waved them off, and they went to the burned man.  Medical care, it looked like.

“What you watch out for is if it stops feeling shitty, or if you get used to it,” I said.

Rain’s hand shook as he pulled it away from the glass.

“I feel pretty damn shitty, having played a part in three people dying and a fourth getting burned half to death, so we’re good there,” he murmured.  “We’re good.”

His finger touched glass, then drew out a line, indicating someone specific.  One of the younger mercenaries.  The one who had spoken up a few times.

“But I’d feel worse if I didn’t do anything,” he said, hand moving from fingertip on glass to being flat against it.

“That’s the way it goes,” I whispered.

The young mercenary raised his voice, and he was close enough I could hear.  “Are you going to off me if I try to leave?”

Red said something.  Too far away, not loud enough.

The young mercenary’s squad leader said something as well.  The guy was a cape called Mukade, his squad had a centipede motif stenciled on their body armor.

I knew Mukade.  Moose had known him too.  The guy who had wanted a group or organization to stick to.

With the word from their squad leader, the young cape strode toward the door.

Rain moved his hand.

And Mukade said something else.

“That you?” I asked, a murmur.  “Puppeteering?”

“Creepy to put it that way.”

“Creepy’s good,” I murmured.

“I don’t know what he said,” Rain replied, matching my volume for once.  “I just thought if he was giving the merc a pass to leave, wasn’t that too goddamn easy?  None of them should feel okay about this.  Not puppeteering.  Nudging.”

“If you don’t let the ones who hate this go, we either have to-”

I fell silent as I heard heavy footsteps.  I’d kind of hoped the people had headed downstairs to investigate.  I’d really hoped that with people crowding to one end of the roof, they weren’t noticing the absence of two of their members.  Some of their people had gone downstairs, some were up, and discrepancies were easy to miss.

But Sechs, the pisser, the clomper, the one with the most unreliable and careless patrol route, was still patrolling the roof’s edge.

If we don’t let the ones with consciences go, we either have to take them all out, or we let some of the worst ones slip through our fingers.

Sechs stood on the roof’s edge.

He looked down.  I wasted no time in going up.

“Oh!” he raised his voice, guttural.

My hand hit his gun, pushing it to one side.  My knee hit his chin.  Others were reacting and I used my aura.  The range I measured out, so it caught those on the roof, and it caught Rain.  With luck, it caught Sveta.

Multiple people with guns.  The door was shut, and I had to stop them before they opened it and shouted the alarm.

There was barely a need.  Sveta was reacting.  The ball came free of cloth, and it was hurled across the roof.  Sveta’s face appeared and the same tendrils that had thrown the ball now caught three soldiers, snatching them from where they stood.

The ball rolled, people scrambled to move.

My dad and my adolescent self had maintained some very different opinions on what we called some maneuvers.  The pineapple had been my terminology.  I wasn’t sure why I’d chosen that in retrospect, especially considering I’d since learned that grenades could be termed ‘pineapples’ in jargon, and my dad didn’t have a role in this one.  But I had and I still maintained the opinion that ‘bowling seven-ten’ was a mouthful and an artifact of my dork of a dad really liking bowling.  A name that didn’t fit was better than a name that wasn’t practical, as I argued it.

People got out of the way of the ball.  They didn’t anticipate it becoming a woman, armed with two blades.  As fast as the ball had been moving, she was utterly still, blades extended -to the seven and ten o’clock positions, as my dad would protest-  Two people held hostage.  Both were the squad leaders.  Not captains- the capes were the captains.  But squad leaders.

Bowling for hostages.

One leader moved his hand, motioning for others to put guns down.  Everyone stood down.  Silence reigned, but for shouting from in the building below us.

Foil had returned, and had ascended to the rooftop in a flash.  I hadn’t even seen her making the approach.  She held darts -my spikes- in one hand, all bunched together.

“I had to back off.  I pinned them, but then a squad headed my way,” Foil said.

“Got it.  We should be expecting them?”

“Maybe.”

Ushering them one way with her energy blades, my mom had the two squad leaders stand with arms raised over their heads, backs to the door that led down.

Foil and I relieved the other nine soldiers of their weapons.  Foil touched the excess weapons and inserted them so they intersected boots and rooftop, embedding them there.

Below, the commotion hadn’t stopped.  Upset, dissent, doubts.

Then, all at once, something approximating silence.

“Vic,” I heard Rain.

I flew to his side.

“Cradle’s awake early.”

The egg was opening, the configuration shifting.  Cradle was pulling tubes away from him.  He was wet with blood.  Love Lost and Colt were lying on the floor of the orb, more tubes in them.

He moved slowly, as if in pain.  He wiped at his face, to get the blood out of his eyes.  There was enough of it that his features were obscured.  Even with the frost at the window, he was raised up high enough that I could see the tears in his eyes, the wet tracks.  His hand clutched at his chest, then reached for a pocket.  Eyeglass case.

He stopped, not putting them on.

Mask, instead, at his hip.  He started pulling that on, and stopped partway once again.

He screamed, a roar.

There it was.  That satisfaction, that didn’t feel as awful as it needed to.

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133 thoughts on “Heavens – 12.6”

      1. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. I almost did exactly the same thing, but stopped when I saw there weren’t any comments.

        This chapter is a bit confusing.

      2. No, no it’s a perfectly valid question. As best I can tell something’s gone wrong with Cradle’s plan to evolve to his ultimate form, possibly from Rain Guilt tripping him.

        1. I suspect that:

          a) Love Lost fucked him over by passing her tokens to Rain. Cradle is thus either missing her entire powerset OR at the very least, her emotion power

          AND

          b) he has performed horrific acts. Killed. Betrayed. Literally ripped children to literally still-screaming shreds.

          Now Rain has “boiled” him alive in a turbo-charged version of his regret-aura (possibly with added RAGE!!! from Love Lost’s contribution) It is very possible that he is now experiencing an avalanche of guilt and misery and loathing (self/otherwise) for all the atrocities he has committed)

          Not too many nicer guys it could have happened to.

          1. My banana split theory:

            Two scoops of “Colt having budded from Love Lost kept Cradle from being able to drain her” ice cream with…

            The side bananas of being bombarded with ‘regret/impotent rage’ cranked up to 11, topped by the…

            “Rain didn’t fall into my trapped powers” chocolate fudge drizzle.

    1. Remember when Cradle was complaining about Rain taking ‘himself’ from him? When Rain gave him his tokens way back when?

      Cradle has a huge thing about not liking his thoughts messed with, and guess what rain just spent the better part of an hour doing? At least, I think that’s what you were asking about…

      ~Teian.

      1. Yeah, but Cradle was lying about that. He had known for a while that the way to influence another’s mental state was to pass tokens to them, which he did as much as possible.

    2. My guess is, Rain is not the only person under an influence of Love Lost’s power right now. His power is apparently leaking out her anger and influencing friend and foe alike. Everyone seems to be edgy, restless and angry at everyone else (and possibly also themselves, as a result of mixing Love Lost’s anger with Rain’s guilt and self-doubt). In particular I can’t explain any other way:
      – Victoria’s irritation with Rain and even Foil (over the elements of costume Foil borrowed),
      – Sveta’s unusual willingness to kill if necessary,
      – Brandish’s immediate harsh reaction to Sveta’s declaration about killing the captured mercs,
      – the supposedly professional mercenaries starting to actually kill each other.
      What’s worse, none of the heroes are aware of this fact.

      Also does it look like Cradle got Rain’s tokens somehow? Did Rain give them to Cradle, or did Cradle ended up with them somehow after Rain left the room early?

      1. Ooo, nice catch. Yeah someone’s emotion altering power could be leaking out.

        As for Cradle good question. I don’t know since he would have had to have taken the tokens through the invisible wall. Unless whatever it is that regulates that decided to give them to him to make it more interesting after Rain got out early.

        1. It could also be that there is no Rain’s space in the room when he isn’t asleep, and all of it was (together with Rain’s and possibly also Love Lost’s tokens left there) was assigned to his neighbor – Cradle.

        2. I think Vic said last chapter that all of Rains hits might be cumulative when Cradle woke. If Rain has some heavy LL then Cradle just woke up in an emotional stew.

          1. That’s another possible explanation. We’ll need to see what emotional shape other people released from the egg will be to know for sure. I expect Colt’s reaction to be particularly telling, since Tattletale supposedly wasn’t exposed to full dose, Love Lost may behave in a very unusual way both because she got rid of all of her tokens, and because of everything she released in her last dream, and everyone else could be unaffected, because their heads were not there. That is assuming that Colt will wake up and be strong enough to show any reaction before whatever Rain’s power did to her stops working.

    3. It looks like Rain’s emotional power has become much more targeted in affect. He can push and prod people in a more nuanced way to get a desired reaction. Which would be how he goaded the soldiers into picking a fight with Red and getting themselves killed.

      Vicky was mostly moving the two of them about to stay out of sight of the patrols while also coordinating the rest of her team to keep things going as smoothly as possible.

      And at the very end Cradle woke up early after draining the blood from Colt and Love Lost. I think his scream is the accumulated affect of Rain’s emotional power on him.

    4. Wow! This chapter was so well done. You could just feel the tension ramping up. You could feel the screws tighten. I felt like while I read this tension oozed our the headphone jack from my phone, ran down my arms, and dripped onto the floor. And now there is a huge puddle of tension on the floor.

    5. We don’t know what happened in the rest of the dream-sequence before Rain got pulled out by Charity, so that’s a bummer. Cradle was in the process of passing his psycho personality + tinker power to him, which he had done with Snag and Love Lost.
      However Rain said he didn’t get the tinker power and also lost his own power, so I guess Cradle didn’t manage to mess with Rain.
      Colt and Love Lost lying with Cradle inside the egg with tubes in them, probably means that Cradle was doing a blood transfusion to get their end of the power.
      Then again, Lost Lost noticed that Cradle was evil and trying to drain them, so she probably did something to help Rain – maybe the emotion power.

      Now Victoria’s team was sneaking close to the egg, hiding from soldiers until their cover got blown, letting Rain use (Lost Lost’s?) emotion power on Cradle and his minions, which is why Cradle woke up super mad.

      Biggest questions now:
      – Are Colt and Love Lost alive?
      – How will Cradle handle the emotions?
      – How will Team Victoria handle Cradle’s army, now that they got discovered?

  1. Fuck. LL and Colt aren’t moving. We get some more prospective allies, even if they likely have lost or greatly weakened powers and are still kinda assholes, and they’re down for the count. At least Cradle’s losing his shit. That’s always nice to see. Considering what Rain’s been doing, maybe we’ll get lucky and the in fighting will continue.

    Speaking of Rain, yet another level of irony on his power. He lived in a cult and hated it, and now his power makes him a perfect cult leader? Usually they aren’t as overt in how the power fucks with your head. Being Rain really is suffering, even when he gets a power boost.

    1. Looks like shards do have a sense of humor…or irony. Either way poor Rain. When will his suffering end?!

    2. Nicole is coming out of an almost year-long headwhammy that neutered her empathy. Colt is a teenager looking up to the former.
      I’ll give them some slack in the assholish dept. Maybe a stern talking-to.

      Not sure if Cradle’s hating his self being tampered with again, or if he’s using something akin to LL’s emotion shout to get the mercenaries into full throttle. From Prancer’s description Cradle used to touch his targets to affect them, but that was before he drained LL’s share of alien juice… and also when he was being subtle. Hard to be sure.

        1. Prancer’s explanation is separate from what happened to Love Lost.

          Prancer claims he was injected. Love Lost is a victim of personality bleed-through as a result of token sharing.

          1. Prancers story about the splinter from Cradle was plausible deniability so they didn’t have to follow the deal they made with Cradle. There was no splinter.

        1. I think she was pissed off at Sveta offering to kill people.

          As in a “No, that’s not how we do things, that’s not how YOU do things.”

          1. Thing is it really isn’t how Sveta does things if she can help it. So it does seem like something may be up.

    1. I took it as Carol not catching on that Sveta was lying about her willfullness to kill in order to scare the hostages, Sveta and Carol not as mentally aligned as Sveta and Victoria.

  2. So… completely unrelated to this chapter, but horrifying shower thoughts about Contessa: she change her mind while on PtV?

    As in, suppose she thinks person X did a crime, and goes “Path to convicting X for Y”.
    If there is information that WOULD change her mind (X is innocent), would her path steer her around it?

    If she goes “Path to making an army of Parahumans (to defeat Scion)”, will her path ACTIVELY AVOID information that would normally convince her that this is a suboptimal plan?

    Because… if this was the case, it might explain some of Cauldren’s mistakes.

    1. She didn’t ask for an army. She asked PtV how to kill Scion, exactly like she asked it how to kill Eden. The Thinker was simply too damaged, too close. “Take knife, walk there, apply stabs to this point” ended up sufficient. For the other one the optimal path took decades and billions of deaths.

      1. She didn’t even have that much. Scion blocked powers, and Eden’s last act was crippling Contessa’s shard so it couldn’t do what it did to Eden again. She didn’t know how to defeat Scion, that’s why Cauldron made the mistakes it did- it was trying to come up with something, anything, to stop the world’s greatest hero. That’s also why they made the Case 53s, they noticed Scion didn’t like looking at them. So they used concentrations of them to stop him from looking at certain places, such as their base, in the hopes it’d give them the element of surprise.

        1. Okay, yes, I am aware that PtV was crippled so that it could not be aimed directly at Scion, but my question is seperate.

          My question is, does PtV actively avoid information that would cause you to change your mind about your current course of action?

          1. I think the answer there is “we don’t know”. It’s plausible, though, since we know that even actual future-sight powers can have major flaws. (Eden’s got her killed, after all)

      2. No, she asked for an army specifically, in interlude 29:

        “Fortuna frowned. She couldn’t be paralyzed like this. “How- how would we stop any powerful monster?”

        “Weapons? An army?” the woman suggested.

        One hundred and forty-three thousand, two hundred and twenty steps.

        It was doable.”

        1. I think the point is that PTV couldn’t come up with a way to beat Scion when asked directly.

          It needed the initial suggestion of an army by DM (although, in the end the army method didn’t actually work), but there were many other possible ways to defeat Scion. If DM had suggested something else then PTV would have come up with a different plan.

          I assume that once this plan appeared in Contessa’s mind it never occurred to anyone in Cauldron to ask whether there was a better (or different) way.

    2. PtV doesn’t stop you changing your mind. Scion was defeated when he changed his mind about dodging Foil projectiles.

      Which is surely a deliberate safety feature that took a lot of work to implement.

      1. It may not actively stop you from changing your mind, but it does make you avoid things that are a danger to your goals. And I don’t think it limits itself to physical obstacles like walls and bullets. Making you evade capes with mental effects, or mundane things that could ruin your will to go on makes sense. And what is evidence that you’re wrong if not a type of mundane info that is a hazard to your will to continue on the Path towards your goal? An infohazard, if you will.

    3. I don’t think it would necessarily go out of its way to make her avoid evidence (though it might go out of its way to get her to make *other* people avoid evidence, which could indirectly make her avoid it as well if she was in a group with them).

      That said I think a lot of that only happens if she asks stupid questions though. Like rather than asking “Path to convict X of Y’s murder” she could first think “Path to learning the identity of Y’s murder”->“Step 1: Think Z”->“Path to convict Z of Y’s murder”.

      Worst case scenario even just asking more open ended questions “Path to convict Y’s murderer” and letting the power fill in the blanks also sidesteps everything (and it seemed like in a lot of cases the shard went out of its way to make her happy with her choices anyways). I think that, barring a power-blocking trump or Contessa purposely asking questions more specific than she needs to she won’t even run into the issue that often:

    4. Tricky question. At a guess, I’d say her power assumes anything that doesn’t lead to the stated goal is a failure condition.

      Let’s use your example: “Path to convict X of Y.” Let’s say that during the steps to convict X of Y, Contessa happens across information that would prove the conviction is wrong, however it isn’t included in the path. At that point, she should be able to interrupt the path on her own.

      This is just a guess, though.

    1. Just a few sentences with dashes that may need spaces in fron of them:

      > The squad on the roof right now was Chugalug’s- they’d gone on a patrol of the general area a while ago, spent a shift inside, then went to the roof.

      > Tense, to pass so close by, to see a flick of white dart through my peripheral vision- a loogie, bit of spit, or a fleck of ice that had been knocked free of the roof.

      > He landed on one shoulder, and collapsed in a way that didn’t let him fall flat- his feet were left above him for two or so seconds, before he twisted and flopped into a more or less relaxed position.

      > Not captains- the capes were the captains.

    2. @grinvader

      > “she had red and black and black,”

      This one is probably intentional, considering the context:
      > but instead of black and gray camo or just plain black, she had red and black and black,

      The way I look at it red has a red and black camo where everyone else in her squad has gray and black camo, while their plain black corresponds to her plain black.

        1. I think it would be worse than the current text. The first ‘and’ serves to indicate that the ‘red’ and the first ‘black’ are linked together closer together than they are to the second ‘black’. Think of it as “(red and black) and (black)” – not that those brackets should end up in the text (they definitely shouldn’t!), but I hope they explain how this bit of text is supposed to be read. Getting rid of the first ‘and’ would, in my opinion, only make understanding this bit of description this way less obvious to the reader.

          1. To be fair putting that first ‘and’ in place where you would normally expect a coma to indicate closer connection between the first two colors, is not something that would normally be done in writing, but Victoria’s international narration is supposed to emulate speech, not writing, and when people speak, they can use intonation to get away with sentences like this in a way that makes it clear what they mean.

            The fact that “red and black and black” can make reader stop for a second to decipher the meaning is in my opinion an excellent way of making the reader feel that Victoria’s narration is spoken in her inner voice. I would be against using this method often, since it would unnecessarily tire the reader, but used sparingly it does more good than bad in my opinion.

    3. I don’t know enough Mandarin to be a reliable source, but I /think/ the “èr” in èrbī has more to do with the slang for “stupid”* rather than the number, just as the “shǎ” in shǎbī stands for stupid. I get that Four is learning from Five, and is expected to make mistakes, but I’d also expect Five to point out the misunderstanding like he did with tā mā de.

      * https://www.mdbg.net/chinese/dictionary?page=worddict&wdrst=0&wdqb=%E4%BA%8C

      1. (By “I think”, I mean it makes more sense for me. My Mandarin education didn’t go through any swears and almost no idioms sowhatdoIknow).

    4. high ground, there > high ground. There
      I was done that > I was done with that
      in a combat > in combat
      forth, the > forth. The
      gaps, I > gaps. I
      They had to insulate him (the two ‘they’s in the sentence make it a bit confusing.)
      Red was lunging > Red lunging
      Mukade, his > Mukade; his
      from in the > from within the

  3. 1. “Ninety-five percent,” I whispered. “Keep it to essentials.”
    95% of what? Didn’t get it.
    2. He’d been using a lot more religious swears since waking up.
    I wonder what could it mean… nobody from his cluster seems religious to make an influence.
    3. Looks like Cradle made blood transfusion, so literal “Drop of blood by drop of blood” as Love Lost put it.
    4. Cradle manipulations with glasses and mask – any ideas? Did he discovered zero on some powers, like Rain did?
    5. Cradle screamed – so he gets Love Lost’s token after all? Or it is effect of Rain’s power?

    1. 1: Victoria is saying she’s 95% sure the roof sentries won’t hear them; best avoid speaking too much, so ‘keep it to essentials’.

      4: I read it as Cradle not being his usual self – going for the glasses ‘felt’ wrong. So he went for the mask, and realised midway through that wouldn’t be how he usually acted. Then the shout either because he’s angry at being different, at being manipulated by Rain, or maybe he’s using it as LL’s power worked.
      5: He drained her share by bathing in her blood, so technically he doesn’t need her tokens to have the emotion stuff at higher proficiency than (his) usual.

    2. Re. 2. I think it is one of the effects of Love Lost’s anger on Rain.

      Re. 5. My guess is that it is more likely the effect of Rain’s tokens, because Cradle had tears in his eyes as soon as he got out of the egg. Those could be the tears of anger, but somehow I feel like in his situation tears and a scream of guilt seem to fit better.

      Of course if Love Lost’s tokens stayed in the room after Rain left, Cradle could have gotten both Love Lost’s and Rain’s tokens. Who said that LL’s tokens couldn’t end up with both Rain and Cradle? It is not like we know what happens when different people leave the room at different times. If that’s the case Cradle is more or less both as emotionally unstable and as powerful as he is could get in this situation. Not a safe combination for anyone involved, if you ask me…

      1. Maybe Love Lost didn’t throw her tokens at Rain, but at fifth space, and whatever is there represents the entire cluster? In this case all members of the cluster got her power and anger.

        Or maybe Cradle just leeched whatever anger Love Lost had, after giving her tokens to Rain, together with her power?

    3. Re: 2- Rain’s angrier than normal from token-bleed. He was raised in a religious cult; blasphemy’s a big deal to cults, so it feels bigger to him than vulgarity.

      Re: 5- If Cradle has Love Lost’s token, his copy of that power works through the same medium as always. That’s not an anger-scream, in the same way Love Lost’s were; it’s just a regular scream, probably caused by emotional stress. And maybe literal bleed-through, now he’s transfusing Love Lost’s blood into his body. Wonder if that power up’s permanent, or if he needs to keep LL alive to keep it topped up.

      1. > it’s just a regular scream, probably caused by emotional stress.

        This is my understanding too, especially since what he did with glasses and the mask also seemed like indicators of stress on a verge emotional breakdown.

          1. Sorry, but I think the correct way to phrase that is “on the verge of an emotional breakdown”. 😉

          2. You are probably correct. As a native speaker of a language which has no definite or indefinite articles, I constantly struggle with them in English. I’m happy I at least realized I missed an ‘of’ in that sentence.

    4. 1. Pretty sure this was related to whatever Rain’s doing. She’s telling him to not go all-out.

      2. Rain is brimming with angry LL feelings right now. As he says, his emotion power is “maxed out”, and as she says, she was going to toss all her tokens – and all her rage – at somebody. Rain’s emotion power is maxed, Rain is making angry Rain noises.

      3. I would hope not, that’s a good way to give yourself a stroke and/or heart attack. Or a cluster stroke. Blood transfusions with the wrong blood type sets your body’s immune defenses off, and it makes the blood clot while still inside your veins.

      4. Cradle was being indecisive, which is what Rain’s power does to people.

      5. Cradle really does not like having his “self” screwed with, and Rain just spent the last who-knows-how-long doing that at maximum volume. I’d imagine Cradle is enjoying feeling what it’s like to be Rain 24/7, except unlike Rain he isn’t used to it – just like Rain is presently enjoying feeling like LL 24/7, except he isn’t used to that. It’s the same thing Cradle was doing to the others, just at lower, less detectable amounts.

  4. I’m really glad we got to see Vic’s strategic squad leader side in this chapter. Normally everything is so belly up that she spends all her time mitigating and reacting. Nice to see her in a position to be tactical and manage assets.

    I’m so worried about Rain. This new side to his emotional power combined with his new angry state is just going to grind at him. It’s very interesting to see him messing with people in such a targeted way, though. It makes me wonder what his tinker and mover powers would look like at full charge.

    The fact that Cradle drained LL and Colt makes me really nervous. He’s going to be going into this fight as a pissed off quasi-goddess. Maybe it’ll make him reckless?

    Also, I need to see more of Red in action. Such a cool power set!

  5. A few observations about dual second triggers we saw at the end of interlude 12.all. Sorry if they seem obvious to everyone:
    – Dauntless was thought to be able to get to the point where he would be dangerous to Endbringers over time,
    – Alabaster was effectively sort of a strong regenerator,
    – Combination of second triggers with merging two people sound like a recipe for a completely insane person (if the term “person” even applies here).

    Do we have a potential Endbringer-like situation in Brockton Bay? All those thinkers could be even more right when they protested against popping the time bubbles than we originally suspected.

    1. In that case March and Co are beyond Kill Order and “They are in this area, and there won’t be too much collatoral? Send the biggest bomb we’ve got.” is the starting response. I’m kinda reminded of how Breed was supposed to have died. They called in an airstrike on the building he was in.

      1. Except shouldn’t an Endbringer truce protect March and her people in such situation? They may be the key to dealing with Daunt-ster after all…

        1. No, I’m pretty sure you are the one’s considered in violation of the Endbringer truce (Which was an automatic kill order, IIRC) if you’re the ones who caused the new endbringer class threat to exist.

          1. I doubt that such rule ever existed. I doubt that anyone even considered the possibility that a human could cause Endbringer threat to happen, especially inadvertently. A shock of realization that it could be the case could probably one of the main reasons that contributed to Eidolon’s death. The question that everyone (both the readers and the heroes in BB) is probably asking themselves is – to what extent did March know that her actions could cause something like this?

          2. @alfaryn

            The whole idea of S class threats is that they are equivalent to endbringers.

            Everyone knows about people creating potential S class threats.

          3. Sure, but are there clear rules about what to do with people who created such threats inadvertently?

          4. Depends on what happened to the guy (or gal) who created the Machine Army.

            But March has just caused three broken super-triggers, two of which have combined into a Class S threat, and there’s no evidence to suggest she’ll stop there. She was after Jotun for Ixnay, but do the heroes know that? All they know is she’s after time effects, and there’s still plenty of those around for her to break and cause more havoc.

          5. The way I see it what March did with the bubble, probably qualified as recklessness (and a good lawyer would probably even try to sell it as carelessness) from legal point of view, so she could be held responsible for causing an S-class threat to manifest, but so far there is no proof of wicked behavior, so the heroes may be at a loss on what to do, especially since Carol isn’t with them.

          6. The problem is further complicated by the fact that March’s behavior suggested diminished capacity, so aside from Carol they would probably also need an expert closer to Yamada’s field.

          7. Because of those problems, and lack of a formal kill order on March I would probably go for capturing March instead of shooting to kill at this point.

  6. This Chapter- Breaksiders go all Metal Gear on Cradle’s operation. Much like me, Rain doesn’t have the temperment for stealth missions. Let’s hope that if it’s not his default, he eventually reverts back.

  7. Something occurred to me this chapter. Cradle has a live chunk of Tristan, a chunk that didn’t poof out when he switched to Byron. Perhaps when this is all over, Rain can examine the whip and find a way to expand that effect to sever the rest of Tristan from Byron rather than severing Tristan from Tristan.

    1. I don’t think that simply analyzing the whip will be enough, but it definitely is a hint that Capricorn’s shard may be fooled into letting both C70s coexist in the same universe. I wonder if the way to “fix” C53s bodies could be similar. I guess it depends on whether their original bodies still exist stashed somewhere in a universe normally inaccessible to humans.

      1. On the other hand the fact that Darlene’s power did not let anyone feel Sveta’s “human” body may mean that the method to separate the twins may not work for her. It is even possible that there is no Sveta’s body other than the one we can see.

        1. And if this is the case, then Victoria can’t figure out how to fix Sveta and Weld’s problem, because the only way to do it would be connected to term “ten by ten”, and Victoria has no way of knowing that either this term or this way exist.

          1. She may figure it out if she sees Defiant react (with pain or discomfort for example) to something that happens to one of his more obviously artificial body parts.

          2. Pleasure instead of pain or discomfort could also serve as a clue, especially if D&D show some physical signs of affection for each other in front of Victoria, though this clue would probably be easier to miss in some ways, even if it was closer to what Victoria wants to achieve in others.

          3. Of course if Victoria know what Dragon really was, she could figure the solution for her favorite C53s instantly, but it is not like Victoria is likely to learn this secret, barring some extraordinary circumstances.

  8. I was reading and suddenly…

    —“Er bi.”

    “Double vagina.”

    “Sha bi.”

    “Stupid vagina.”

    “Ta ma de.”

    “Yo mama?”

    “Close.”—

    Hehe…

    Later:

    —It smelled bad.  Like shit that had been eaten, puked out, eaten again, and laced with sour garbage smells and other general human smells.  There was something perfumey in it, too.  Like air freshener or a shampoo, but cloying, seemingly designed [ to trick the nose and tastebuds into thinking that there was no need to shut down or ignore things anymore, just so they involuntarily opened up to the greater odor].

    A trace of something minty or fruity followed by a punch of a smell like old man diaper soaked in month-old tuna water…—

    Chugalug’s… “perfume”.

    Then…

    —Barfbat and Chugalug.  They can’t come back.”—

    Was Victoria asking Foil to kill them?

    Just Excellent. “Catharsis” chapter indeed.

  9. Another thought on the interaction between Sveta and Vic’s mom… what if adverts was talking to herself? She might not have known or thought Vic’s mom could still hear her.

    1. Also spotted this comment again about Vic hearing whispers on her approach to Sveta, so either they were talking on and off or Sveta was talking to herself.

      —-
      Sveta.

      I circled the building, floating instead of walking, and slowed as I heard whispering. I peered around the corner, and heard the whispering stop.

      Something slapped my hip. A tendril

        1. Maybe this, and not the threat to the mercs, is why “preciousss” was not amused?

          “You,” my mom said. She pointed at Sveta. “I’m not impressed.”

          1. It would also explain why Sveta basically told Victoria to drop the topic. The last thing Sveta would want in this situation is for Victoria to hear what she just said to Brandish.

          2. And the situation, as embarrassing as it must be to Sveta right now, may even work in Sveta’s favor in the long term. If Carol is to adopt Sveta as hr third daughter (even just in her mind, not legally), then it probably helps to let Victoria’s mom know that Sveta is not completely mature yet.

          3. In fact it may be working already. Brandish’s reaction I quoted above felt to me like she was a mother giving a talking to a kid.

          4. If it goes on like this, I wonder how Victoria’s assessment of Taylor will change, once she learns about the orphanage Skitter run in her base. New Wave and the Undersiders generally seem to have a lot in common in this regard.

        2. That’s the thing. Generally Brandish has been very supportive and positive about Sveta. I guess Sveta did go somewhat to Vic’s defence against her earlier, but something must have been said between them that neither wants to share with Vic… actually it’s probably something to do with Amy. Brandish has had a turn around on Amy and is trying to correct her wrongs as a mother to her. It makes the most sense as something that neither would want to bring up.

          1. They could also keep arguing about the way Carol has been treating Victoria these days. It would also be something they wouldn’t want to discuss in front of Victoria. What I find puzzling is what exactly Sveta could tell Carol about either of her daughters that would make Carol not just disagree, but also say she’s “not impressed”. To me those two words don’t sound like something Carol would say if she thought that Sveta is trying to have a serious discussion. I could see Carol say them if Sveta made some tactless joke, however. Especially if it was a joke at expense of Carol or someone close to Carol.

  10. Okay, continuing the “Would March have a kill order”… Hell yes at this point she would. She’s unleashed two of these time bubble effects at this point, and is going for a third, with her ammount of remorse being “Well on to the next one”. You can no longer argue that she is ignorant of the effects of her actions, she clearly knows and does not care. It’s like someone causing a chain of nuclear power plants to melt down. the first time you can say you didn’t know what that button did. The second and third, you can’t. Whats more March has killed multiple law enforcement officials and soldiers in the process. She’s doing a mass act of terrorism for the lulz. In all honestly they aren’t even going to bother with a trial, because unless she surrenders, they aren’t taking her alive.

    1. One thing you need to remember is that if the heroes will do anything that looks like “Wild West justice” at this point, while in such high-profile fight, they will probably lose any chance of ending the war with the villains anytime soon. It is not like they have resources of PRT PR teams, and a backing of a government of Bet’s US. They need to assume that if they do anything wrong, it will cause a PR disaster, which will not only prompt the villains to continue the war, but also reinforce already strong anti-parahuman sentiments among the civilian population.

      Sure, there are probably no civilian witnesses of the battle in BB, but it is enough for one or two villains to escape, or one of the heroes to talk tell the media just how the fight against March exactly to cause problems. The only hope the heroes have to stay in good graces of the unpowered or to convince at least some of the villains to return to following the rules of the game, is to follow the letter of law as much as possible, and when in doubt – use less force rather than more, and generally be on their best behavior. If they fail to do it now “Wild West justice” may become status quo for foreseeable future, and that would be disastrous for the city whether they manage to deal with March or not.

      Of course if the Dauntless and Alabaster really become an S-class threat, dealing with them will become highest priority, and what happens to March will no longer be decided by law, but by whether she is an obstacle to dealing with this threat or not. If she just runs away, the heroes will probably let her go for now, if she interferes with them in such situation – they will take any available measures to stop her as quickly as possible, quite possibly including lethal force, because any second the heroes will need to spend fighting March’s group will be a second they won’t be able to devote to dealing with the S-class threat (and not only fighting the heroes directly, but also going after any more time effects would probably be seen as interference at this point).

      There are obviously moral and ethical reasons for killing or not killing anyone in March’s group, but I intentionally avoided them, and stuck to more practical arguments, because those should be more or less the same for all heroes, while they are probably divided when it comes to what their moral principles say in this situation. The situation is bad enough that practical reasons may need to triumph over personal moral codes of individual heroes anyway. It is the only way to stay united (and they very much need to be united right now) and avoid worst possible scenarios.

      The time for moral choices will come when March will either be captured (in which case the judges, not the heroes should probably be the ones who make a call), or escapes and the situation caused by popping time effects will be under control (in which case the heroes may start to argue how/if they need to pursue March, and what they should do once they catch up with her).

      1. In short – the stakes in Brockton Bay may be high enough at this point that the heroes in Brockton Bay may need to start acting not based on their morality, ethnics or respect for law, but out of sheer necessity of avoiding the worst outcome likely at the moment – either S-class threat rampaging through the city, or, if it is confirmed that there is no risk of that, villains and the unpowered losing whatever faith they have left that the heroes are willing to stick to the rules (both written and unwritten ones).

      2. Ordinarily, I would be in agreement on killing villains setting a bad precedent. However, March knowingly unleashed an effect that literally every consulted thinker told everyone involved not to mess with, killed at least one, most likely multiple heroes in the process, and is happily prancing off to do who-knows-what. Additionally, if Dauntless and Alabaster really do become a class S threat, well, they’re just as big threats to the villains as they are to the heroes, aren’t they? At that point, killing March as quickly as possible isn’t “Wild West Justice,” and more “This maniac is going to kill us all unless we kill her first.” Heck, if the heroes make it clear what’s going on, I would think they might actually get some backup from the more sensible villains.

        1. The thing is, March is probably o longer a direct threat at this moment. She likely has no plans to pop any other time effects, but use the commotion she created with Dauntless and Alabaster to slip away, so killing her without a kill order can’t be justified as necessary defense or something along those lines.

          1. So what on what legal ground would you justify killing her, or how is it not a “Wild West justice” if you have none?

  11. Good stuff. Love the stealth mission feel, everyone does seem angrier, but Rains power usually requires a choice on Rains part to target someone and sight of them, so is stress getting to them or is it something else? Victoria’s inner dialogue mentions she just thinks it’s stress, but she could be wrong. Maybe his emotion power being maxed out makes it leak out? Great catch on Tristan’s midsection @pizzasgood, they might not even need to analyse the whip, just cut each part of Tristan off and then use whatever magic cure to heal him they’ll use on everyone else (I say whole clicking my heels and wishing). Though that makes me wonder what piece the shard would consider the origin point that other parts are separated from and if that piece will still swap out when they switch? Probably the corona pollentia, but it’d be amusing if it was something else maybe subconsciously decided by the host?

  12. Wait.

    Could it be that Sveta and Brandish had been talking before, and Sveta ended up talking about how unhappy she was that her mechanical body was broken, and maybe Amy could fix her real body?

    1. I don’t think that’s the case. Brandish is not nearly so cold or cruel to tell Sveta that she’s “not impressed”, if this is what Sveta was talking about.

      1. Well, maybe it could happen if Brandish thought that Sveta had been wallowing in self-pity over losing her prosthetic body, but in this case it would mean that Sveta is a better actress then I thought. During that brief exchange Victoria saw nothing in Sveta’s behavior that would indicate this level of self-pity so close to the surface after all…

  13. I just had this thought… A lot of PRT Case File numbers were assigned to new capes who appeared or were perceived to be different from others. For example Case 53 for capes who appeared to not be human, Case 70 for pairs of capes of whom only one could be perceived at a time…

    But how do you designate a capes who doesn’t appear to be there at all unless she makes a conscious decision to be perceived? I propose Case ?? or Case NaN, because someone in PRT obviously forgot to assign her a Case number.

    1. I’m having this sense of deja vu that what I posted above isn’t my original idea, but something I read about some time ago, and I can’t remember where… Sigh, I think this is getting too meta for me.

  14. Okay , continuing the ethics of killing March discussion from above, cause we ran out of responses again…

    @ Alfaryn
    “So what on what legal ground would you justify killing her, or how is it not a “Wild West justice” if you have none?”
    I would justify killing her on the grounds of “She’s a lunatic who’s unleashing massive ammounts of death and destruction, and lethal force is authorized to stop her.” Like how if you have a spree shooter, police will shoot them, and if they survive, well swell, now we can put them on trial. But the important thing is to keep them from killing more people. This isn’t wild west justice, this is duly deputized officials ending an immediate threat.

    And in the long term, well their is a thing called tried in absentania, and remember what happened with Osama Bin Ladin? Same thing here. March’s actions should be signing a death warrent. As for the villains being upset, well first off it’s not like anything currently has been doing much to be a detterent. They’ve been abusing the shit out of the goodwill the heroes have been extending. Secondly, why on Earth would they regard what March is doing as favorable? She’s making S-Class threats, and a gigantic ruckus. The same thing should apply to Cradle. You can’t do buisness if a lunatic is running around making things harder. Do you remember when Taylor talked about how much villains have to fight other villians? We basically have the S9 running around making Endbringers now with March.

    Again, why on earth would March and her group not be getting a kill order now? They’ve proven themselves far too dangerous to everyone else with the time bubble popping. Practical reasons for killer her? To stop her from getting other people killed. Their is no practical reason for anyone outside her group to think her being alive anymore is beneficial to them. She’s a threat to pretty much everyone’s lives now, and she’s killed multiple duputized law enforcement officials.

    1. I can see a few problems with what you propose here. One is that the way I see it a formal kill order needs can’t be “automatic”, at least not in this case. It needs to be signed by a proper authority (I guess a judge or judges after a formal process, even if such process involved a trial in abstentia). So far no process like this has happened as far as we know.

      The second problem is that March probably isn’t an immediate threat anymore, unless she is actively going after another time effect.

      The third problem is that the heroes really shouldn’t go as far as to kill anyone at this moment without a legal basis that can’t be challenged, and with those two problems I mentioned above – they really don’t have it. Remember that the everyone’s trust in legal system (at least as far as dealing with the capes is concerned) is almost non-existent at the moment. If the heroes do anything that makes people think they aren’t doing their best to uphold not only the spirit, but also the letter of the law, they risk an open civil war not only with the villains, but also with the anti-parahuman inclined civilians.

      The only disasters than that that could strike the city at the moment would be an active S-class threat, or maybe an outright invasion by outside military. This is why I said that if Dauntless and Alabaster prove to be an S-class threat, the heroes should focus all their efforts on that, and forget March if she doesn’t directly attack them or otherwise disrupt their efforts, or does something that looks like she may try to unleash another S-class threat.

      If it looks like D&A are no S-class threat, then the heroes should concentrate on capturing March, but (because of the reasons stated above) not killing her unless she gives them absolutely no other choice. In my opinion it really is better to let her go now and wait for a formal kill order (if she gets one) than to kill her now and face the possibility of the city really plunging into Wild West standards of law or even an outright civil war.

      One more thing – if you don’t mind, I would prefer if you didn’t start new threads like this just because there is no “Reply” button at the bottom of the last post of an existing thread. You can always reply to the last post that has this button, and your reply will be added at the bottom of the thread. I guess it may mess with e-mail notifications about replies if someone uses those, but considering that most people here do what I just described above, I think that it is better to continue an existing thread than start a new one. It just makes easier for everyone to follow the entire discussion, and I think this is more important than the notifications. It is not like we don’t periodically check if there are no new posts in particularly long threads in comments sections of current chapters, after all… I don’t know other people do it, but I personally try to keep an eye not only on the comments section of the current chapter, but also one or two previous ones.

      1. One situation in which I could agree that starting a new thread is justified would be when you need to fork an existing discussion into two threads at a point where there are no more “Reply” buttons to do it with, and you expect both forks to be more than a couple post long, but this is obviously not the case with our current discussion.

        1. Wasn’t sure what the Ettiquete is when you run out of replies. I figured it was less confusing to not have older responses end up under newer ones. Thanks for letting me know.

          1. Note that it isn’t anything official, just something that I noticed people here do, and I thought is a good idea. It’s not like we have any official guidelines or active moderators to decide such things for us. We need to moderate ourselves, so if you think your take on the topic is different than mine for some reason, just tell us why, and we can discuss it.

            And don’t worry too much about breaching rules of etiquette from time to time. We all do it sometimes. You could even argue that I’m one of the biggest offenders here with my tendency to post a lot more than most people, often responding to my own comments, hitting “post” button without tripple-checking and re-thinking contents of my posts etc.

            Back on topic – I am aware that a big part of the reason why the Undersiders were successful in restoring order in Brockton Bay is that they never worried too much about such formalities like written kill orders before they used lethal force, etc. I don’t think however that this is something that the heroes should do with March for a couple of reasons. One is that their entire position in the society is based on the fact that unlike the villains they, at least for the most part, follow the law. The other one is that I don’t think they could let the rule of law fail, and establish themselves as some sort of warlords in the city without either allowing numerous civilian casualties to occur or using some really unethical or immortal methods (like massive scale terror or mastering everyone in the city). It would be the end of democracy (or even any illusion of democracy) and basic human and citizen rights in the city, and I don’t think that the situation in the city is so bad, at least not yet, that it would justify going to such extremes.

          2. > It’s not like we have any official guidelines or active moderators[…]

            I mean I have no doubt that in extreme cases Wildbow will step in, but I don’t think that he does or should do anything about something so minor as people starting new threads when continuing the old ones would probably be a better idea. It would be a waste of his time to do so, and it would unnecessarily restrict freedom of discussion here to a point where plenty of people would probably no longer feel comfortable commenting here.

          3. One more observation about legal system in the city. As far as I understand it Gimel.US may have no proper legal system at all. It may have no constitution (because as far as I remember Bet’s US never officially claimed any territory on Gimel, and even if it did, it is basically a defunct state, which exists only on paper now) or elected representatives who could pass it or any other law. For now people, including the judges, default to law of Bet’s US, some directives from the de facto authorities (like the Mayor and the Wardens), opinions of legal experts from Bet, precedents from previous trials (both pre- and post-GM) and judgement calls. The entire thing is especially an emergency measure, and it’s legality is dubious at best.

            All the more reason for the heroes to uphold what semblance of law there is in place. Otherwise people may (rightfully!) claim that they can comit any deed they want, and no “authorities” would have any right to arrest or prosecute them for it, because there are no legal authorities. If that happened the city would fall not to “Wild West justice” level, but straight into complete anarchy.

          4. Heck, with portals to another Earths even the international law needs to be modified. For example – would any claims of Bet’s US to any territory on Gimel be legal under international law, or does Gimel count as outer space from Bet’s perspective, and as such can’t be an object of such claims?

          5. Though maybe I’m wrong about this one point. Maybe Bet’s international law was amended to determine the status of other Earths to make claims of Bet’s states to territories there possible. They had a couple of years to do it, and long enough contact with Aleph to consider the possibility even before Scrub an Labyrinth started making their permanent, publicly known and accessible portals.

            We would probably ask an ex-Bet lawyer (like Carol), or at least someone trained by them (like Natalie) about it. They would probably know, or at least know where to check.

          6. Or maybe it was already written somewhere in Worm or Ward and I simply forgot about it? Anyway it is pretty much a moot point now, because as I said Bet’s US exists only on paper at this point, so any claims it made to territory on Gimel (or even Bet!) would be difficult to defend from legal standpoint, at least as far as something that could be used as a basis to apply Bet’s US law to Gimel.US without at least reviewing and re-adopting (is that a proper term?) it, preferably by a newly created parliament.

          7. I guess that the whole thing boils down not to law, but to whether people of the Megalopolis should and will continue to accept the “law” that is de facto in place. Considering that most of them are from a democratic country, I don’t expect them to do it for much longer. In fact plenty of them are refusing this social contract already by working for people like Lord of Loss for example.

      2. If D&A are not S-class, then I agree that March should be captured and put on trial. Now, the trial should ideally have a pretty harsh result, since she did kill at least one hero in her assault on Brockton, but that doesn’t have to be execution; dropping her through a portal into that abandoned world with Monokeros would be a pretty severe punishment as well.

        On the other hand, if she did create an S-class threat, I feel like setting a precedent of “If you create an S-class threat you get an automatic kill order” is not particularly problematic. The only people who would take issue, I would think, are the anti-parahuman types who would criticize the heroes’ approach no matter what it was, and doing so in that particular instance would only hurt their cause as long as the heroes made sure to get the actual version of the story out before the anti-para version

        1. Interestingly I don’t think she killed any heroes in Brockton Bay. I wrote a lengthy argument about why it is the case in comments section of interlude 12.all if you want details, but here are the main points:
          – the entire fight from the very beginning (the way Vista “folded” the the area) to the moment when Vista’s chest exploded and Brockton Bay “unfolded” felt more like an epic finale of some fantasy or children’s tale than a realistic fight against an army of experienced capes,
          – during March’s interlude even Tori sounded doubtful when March argued that folding an entire city instead of doing something more subtle and practical was a “teenage girl thing”, meaning that Vista probably knew exactly what she was doing when she chose this strategy,
          – when Breakthrough and the Undersiders with the Heartboken discussed plans to attack bases of Love Lost, Cradle and March Tattletale was very busy with something else,
          – Tattletale defeated Coil – a powerful thinker, by letting him make a mistake of thinking he has already won,
          – Tattletale must have a contact and probably is on speaking terms with plenty of old Brockton Bay capes, including Vista (especially Vista if you consider her relationship with Bitch),
          – there are plenty of powers that could make a person practically immortal for a while, like Lab Rat’s boxes we saw used on the oil rig in Worm, or Cradle’s tech tech used to chop the Navigators up, and the heroes do have means of copying those,
          – March’s shard confirmed no parahuman deaths during the interlude 12.all, and since it apparently can still perceive other shards around it, it would probably detect and comment on the moment when those shards disconnected from their dead parahumans.

          1. The conclusion is simple – Tattletale told Vista to let her think and feel she has just won an epic victory she always wanted to win in hopes that March will make a mistake at that moment, just like Coil (a powerful thinker, just like March) did in the moment of his triumph.

  15. I wonder just how guilty will Rain feel after he cools down and realizes that it was his power that lead to the argument between “Red” and her men that ended up with her killing and wounding them.

    1. Of course all of this “cooling down” may happen only next night, once the tokens get re-distributed again. I just hope Rain won’t do something even worse until then. The worst thing is that he probably will unless someone realizes what is going on, and stops him. The ironic thing is that at this moment Cradle may be the only person in a position to do so.

      1. After all the only other people who are present, and either know what is exactly going on with Rain’s power and emotions right now, or have superpowered intuition that could let them figure it out were in the egg with Cradle, and may be unable to act for some time (though I wouldn’t be sure of that, especially in Tattletale’s case – there is a good chance she is conscious, and able to shout a warning).

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