Black – 13.1

For those who didn’t scroll down, you may wish to revisit Heavens 12.x.  There’s more content after the ‘Previous chapter —- Next Chapter’ part.

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My preliminary stretches wrapped up with a plank.  It was hard not to flip that mental switch that would see me floating, because it was so automatic and so easy to do, especially when my feet weren’t so flat on the ground.

I made it thirty seconds, which was abysmal, but I could already feel the stabs of pain, and this wasn’t supposed to be the part where I tested my limits.  It was supposed to be where I prepared myself to test my limits.

This wasn’t even the hard part, and I was already sweating.  Not from effort, but the way my body responded to the sudden pain.  I toweled off, careful of my headphone cords.  The music that didn’t match my patient progress and slow, measured stretches was some ‘Goodbye Rock’ that Weld had picked up while touring worlds with Sveta.

I sat on the edge of my bed, and I worked my way through the stretches.  Fingers laced together, the fingers of my left hand feeling where the skin at my right hand had a faintly different texture where it had been burned.  I stretched my arms out, leaning forward until my abdomen muscles were as tight as they could be.  I gently extended the stretch right, because that was easier, and I felt the knot of the bullet wound in my left arm.  I extended the stretch even more gingerly to the left, until I could feel the stabbing pain again.  I pushed through it, paying very careful attention to the pain and the shape it took.  This was where the acid centipedes had sliced into me, and a tearing pain was worse than a ‘nervous system doesn’t know what to report’ kind of pain.

Five repetitions of that, straight forward, right, then left.  Then I stopped.  I wrapped the towel around my bare shoulders for warmth while I took notes in the notebook I’d laid on the other corner of the bed.

The notes accounted for one minute of rest.

I had another centipede gouge in my leg, and a scar on the bottom of the foot on that same leg.  I shifted to squats, five reps of regular squats, testing what my leg could handle, then five reps of one-legged squats, leaning forward so I rested in a tiptoe position.  Again, I had to remind myself not to fly to assist myself.

Notes while resting.  Wrist flexes and arm rotations that involved shoulder and bicep movements.

More notes.  My physiotherapist didn’t care about them, but filling out the book was something of a satisfaction thing.  Like filing, or collecting all of my now gasoline-scented case files.

As nice as the apartment was, the cold had a way of leaking in.  It had a way of leaking in everywhere.  I was sweating from head to toe now, more from hitting limits set by the old injuries than from the limits of muscles, and it made me clammy.  With my less injured arm, I toweled off again, more roughly than necessary for the sake of warming up and trying to jar my system from the ‘cold sweat’ response.

I picked up my weighted bar, cane-length, my hands at either end.  I worked through the motions for that, bar from chest to straight out in front of me, down to my thighs, curled up to chest, then back out to straight out in front of me.  I felt the stabs of pain at specific points during each movement, with the curl-ups in particular making my arm twitch like I’d been jabbed with an electric prod, but I was used enough to this to know it wasn’t a tearing, unhealthy sort of pain.

Three weeks of this.  Three weeks of the physio, at the health building once a week and at home another thirteen times a week.  Things were improving in some areas, but in cases like that curl-up arm jitter, I wasn’t getting that much stronger.  Sometimes injuries happened where the physio wasn’t so much about getting better or getting over the injury, and it was more about keeping it from getting worse.

If I lived that long, I would potentially be doing exercises like these until I was old.  For the rest of my life, when I got sick, I’d potentially backslide, and lose that five percent of progress I’d made over months of work.  When the weather was bad, I’d feel the pangs and the tightness in the scars.

I penned in notes.  Usual pain, fifteen sets.

After the bar was what I’d penned in as ‘fucking dips’.  The second most colorful name I’d used for the exercises.

I put my hands on the bedframe, my back to the bed, feet out in front with my weight resting on the backs of my heels.  It made my leg hurt, and holding my weight up made everything, even the bullet wound, hurt.

Again, not about strength, but what my injured muscles allowed me to do.

I was in the middle of the toughest part of lowering my butt toward the floor when my bedroom door opened.  My hand slipped, my arm jarred, and I used my flight to catch myself before I crashed to the floor.

Ashley was talking to me.  I only heard the melancholy rock music, and the notes of her voice.  She was angry or annoyed.  The two sounded very similar.

I took my time standing, grabbing my towel and holding it to my front, because I was only wearing a sports bra and pyjama pants.  I took my time removing my headphones.

Her hair was damp, and she wore a black silk bathrobe.

“…What?” I asked her.

“Towels.”

“What about the towels?”

“Are you using the black towels?”

“Yes,” I said.  “You had the white, your sister had the black, and she’s gone now, so I started using the black.”

“It fundamentally stands to reason I’d default to black.”

“Does it?” I asked.  I debated if I wanted to argue the point.  “I’ll use white from now on, then.”

“Good,” she said.  She paused.  “You’re sweating.  More nightmares?”

“Physio routine.”

“Ah,” she said.  She moved her hands, and the way she moved them was reminiscent of my wrist flexes.  “We have about an hour before we go.  Do you want tea?”

“Showering after this, then tea would be great.  I’ll make breakfast.”

“If you’ll eat bacon, egg, and scones, I’m already working on it.  I’ll keep it warm and put the kettle on when I hear you shut off the water.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “Excellent.”

She stalked over- there wasn’t really a better way to put it with how motivated the movements were, and took the black towel I was holding.  I let her, and she stalked her way back out of the room.

I rolled my eyes, returning to the damned dips.

Ashley returned, throwing a white towel so it landed on my bed.

“Thank you,” I said, grimacing as pain shot through my arm.

“Thank you for seeing reason,” she said.

After dips were leg lifts, lying on the bed with legs and feet out off the edge, touching floor, then extending straight up until I couldn’t anymore, then bringing knees to chest.  Rinse, repeat.  I did something similar with sideways leg-lifts, and then the pike pushups, which were worse than the dips.

I felt shaky and shitty enough at the end of it all that I wasn’t even sure I’d have the appetite to eat.  I showered, used Ashley’s charcoal shampoo because mine was running out, and dried off, white towel.

I didn’t use a bathrobe, but instead stepped into my room and got dressed right away.  A loose-fitting light gray sweater, dark blue jeans, and black leather boots.

I carefully packed my costume in a bag to minimize wrinkles, breastplate and recently redone decorations sliding into a sheath, with buckles and straps to keep it tidy and relatively inconspicuous.  I slung it over my left shoulder, and headed to the kitchen.  Swansong was at the table, a laptop sitting across from her, and she was tapping a cup of tea to the webcam.

A toast, it seemed.  Kenzie was on the other end, doing something similar with her own cup.  They were eating breakfast together.

The bacon and eggs were very simple, the scone was the bakery-made sort that Ashley liked to buy frozen and reheat in the oven, and she’d buttered it for me.  The plate sat on a wire rack amid other blueberry scones, over an oven burner she’d set to ‘low’.

A little too warm to touch.  I put my sleeves over my hands to move the plate to the table.

Ninety-nine percent of the conversation was Kenzie talking about her new team, that she was updating her costume, Amias went to her school and she’d talked to him, and Aiden might, might, might be attending since the Undersiders weren’t in New Brockton anymore and he had to go somewhere and, and and…

“Don’t let Chicken Little name the team,” I said.

“He’s got good taste, Victoria!” Lookout protested.  I couldn’t see her.

“He thinks you’re neat,” Ashley said.   “Proof enough.”

“Aww, but it’s not just me.  He likes a lot of us.  Especially Rain, he really looks up to Rain-”

I met Ashley’s eyes, and she met mine at that same moment.

“I saw that!  The ‘knowing mom’ look.  I’m disappointed in you.  Rain is badass!”

“He is badass,” I conceded.

Which led to Kenzie going off on another ramble, just happy to talk to Ashley.  Ashley nursed her tea, elbows on the table, both hands around the cup, smiling slightly at the screen.

“-and my costume leggings, I was thinking something fancier, I have a hundred questions for you guys about what I should do, I- let me check.  Two hundred and three questions, whoops.  I was thinking something patterned, and I wanted to add more decoration.  Something skintight, but more over it, and more room to carry stuff, and, oh!  I can project some of my favorite ideas and show you, but I have to set that up, and we’re meeting in-”

“Eat,” Ashley said.  “No skipping sleeping, eating, or hygiene to work on your things.”

“But-”

“Eat.”

There was something of a merciful silence on the other end.  I saw Ashley put her cup down, flexing her wrist while her eyebrows drew slightly together.

“Problem?”

She twisted her wrist and pulled her hand free.  The socket was black with oil and simultaneously red with blood, a rod sticking out of her arm.  “Bad connection.  Feels numb.”

“Have Rain look at it.”

“He’s with Erin this morning,” she said.  “Then we’re busy.”

“After?”

“Maybe.”

“Oh!” Kenzie piped up.  “Victoria!  I did the mask thing you wanted!  You’ll have to remind me, and we can see how it looks.”

What I’d had was purely utilitarian.  I was due an update.

“Thank you,” I said.  “I hope it wasn’t any trouble.”

“Nope.  Took ten minutes.  And another twenty because I looked up the images you gave me to reference and I made a few variations so you could try them all on and see what you liked best, in case you didn’t like the first one.  But you’ll have to pay me, since I’m not officially on Breakthrough anymore.”

“Will do,” I said.

“And for me coming today.”

“Of course,” I said.

We were drawing a stipend from the local government now, through Citrine’s husband.  The money we were using to commission Lookout for her ‘low, low price’ was the same money we were giving every member of the team.

The chatter continued for another ten minutes.  I cleaned up from the cooking, and then got everything together while Ashley extricated herself from the video call.

“Got your gear?” I asked.

“By the door,” she said, as she stepped into her boots.

Hauling my bag up onto the shoulder of my good arm, I got the front door.  Swansong followed me, wearing a black leather messenger bag with her costume particulars packed inside.

We headed to our rendezvous.  And to the grim business that would follow.

The destination was the new Wardens Office.  Natalie and Kenzie were at the foot of the stairs as we walked up, Kenzie talking to Erin and Rain.  Further away, Moonsong and Byron were perched on a bench, sitting on the back of the bench with their feet on the snow-covered seat.

Kenzie saw us coming, and ran up to Ashley.  Kenzie wore an electric blue peacoat, navy blue pleated skirt, gray leggings, and navy blue boots.  The pin in her hair was more abstract than I’d seen her wear before, something between a slanted eye and a fish, with a comma shaped pupil or fin in the center..  The clothes looked new, and something in the look told me she was trying to change her look.

Which, as with many things Kenzie, left me simultaneously hopeful and worried.

I left them to it.  I passed Natalie, murmuring my hello, and I approached Rain and Erin.  Rain wore a heavy jacket and ripped up jeans that he’d rolled up at the bottoms to keep from treading on with his heavier boots.  Erin had an overelaborate shawl-coat that wrapped around and draped over her more than it seemed to be zipped up.  It left some openings and gaps in coverage, which was probably why she wore the heavier sweater with it.  They were very different in style, rustic and hypermodern.

“We arrived early,” Rain said.  “And By was here already, talking to her.  We didn’t want to interrupt.”

“There’s a lot to talk about,” Erin said.

I studied Moonsong’s civilian self.  Pretty, with a beauty mark by her eye, lined up enough with where her eyelashes ended that it looked like it had been drawn or tattooed on.  Wavy black hair, earmuffs, and a nice coat with a velvety look, a straight black skirt to the knees below it, and higher boots.  Classy aesthetic.

Byron seemed like someone with a good sense, things matched, everything fit nicely, his jacket was a simple woolen one that came down to the belt, jeans slim, and while he wasn’t athletic in build like Tristan, he was trim enough that he cut a fine line.  But good sense aside, he wasn’t the kind of guy who paid attention to fashion.  I didn’t imagine he looked at magazines, researched, or visited different stores.  He probably had one or two stores he liked and picked a suitable, muted color, Victoria-couldn’t-find-much-fault-in-it kind of wardrobe from the selection there.

He was resting a hand on Moonsong’s shoulder, and he took her hand.  She let him, but when he let go of it to shift how he sat on the backrest of the bench, she didn’t reach out.  There wasn’t any point that I saw where she touched him.  No hand on his leg, no leaning toward him so their arms touched.  And she looked down.

“Poor Byron,” I thought, accidentally saying the thought aloud.

“What?” Rain asked.  “Why poor Byron?”

“She’s breaking up with him,” Erin said.

“They’re not together,” he protested, voice insistent but hushed so it wouldn’t carry.  “They haven’t been together for years.  And how do you even know?”

“The way I understand it, from how they’ve acted in the past, and from what I’ve heard,” I said.  “They’re not together, but for a while now there’s been… an enduring connection.  The two of them waiting for each other.  That’s what’s ending.”

“Yes,” Erin said.  “Exactly.”

“That,” I told Rain, “Is a goodbye.  Carefully negotiated, because they expect to run into each other a lot, they want to make sure there are no hard feelings.”

“No resentments,” Erin said.  “Everything on the table.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, Rain,” I said.  “Pretty sure.”

“I was standing here satisfied because one of the two guys that’ve been most decent to me over the last little while was getting to finally spend some time with the girl he liked, and it’s been this awful thing all along?”

“Yes,” Erin said.

“No,” I said, almost at the same time.  “I don’t think it’s awful.”

“He likes her a lot,” Rain said.

“Obviously it would be great if they could make it work,” I said.

“Ideally without her being shitty to Tristan,” Rain said.  “But it was what I was hoping for.”

“You’re not wrong.”  I leaned against the railing by the front steps of the temporary headquarters.  “At least this way they get some closure.  Not getting closure sucks.”

“Just watch,” Rain said.  “He’ll finish up, come join us, and it won’t be a break-up.”

I raised my eyebrows, but I didn’t say anything.

Erin dusted off some of the snow that had accumulated on her.  “I won’t get to find out.  You’ll have to fill me in, Rain.”

“You’re going?”

“I should,” she said.  To me, she said, “Had breakfast with Rain, ran some errands, and was keeping him company until everyone arrived.  But I’ve got a thing with Lachlan.”

“How is he?”

“He’s not doing so well.  He’s going through treatments to deprogram.  It’s scary how easily some of these things can hit you, there’s no enduring it through willpower, there’s no taking cover, there’s no delay or chance to fight back.  Just… there it is.  Your mind is changed forever.  And then fixing that takes years, if it’s even fixable.”

“Easy there,” Rain said.

“Easy?  Oh.  The Goddess thing, I didn’t even think.  I’m sorry.”

“It’s not even that,” I said.  “Something else.”

“I really put my foot in my mouth, then,” Erin replied, cringing.

“Nah,” I said.  Hands in my coat pockets, I glanced back at Kenzie, Natalie and Ashley.  Kenzie had her leg out, phone in hand, and every few seconds the pattern and colors on her tights would change.  Natalie said something I couldn’t hear, commenting on the projected stocking design, apparently, and both Ashley and Kenzie began aggressively disagreeing with her.  I cleared my throat, returning my focus to Erin.  “Reality is, we thought there was no way around what was done to my head and my feelings.  And we thought I’d be like that for the rest of my life.  But things did get patched up in the end.  I’m a little worse for wear, but I’m me again.”

“So don’t lose hope?” Rain asked, or stated.

I shrugged, looking at Erin.  “There are options.”

“Good to know,” she said.  “That cheers me up.  I really like Lachlan.  He’s sweet.  He doesn’t deserve this.”

“He really doesn’t,” Rain said.

“Movie night, tomorrow or the day after,” Erin told Rain.

“Perfect.  Great, yes,” he said.

“Good luck doing whatever you’re doing,” she said.  “Bye Vic.”

“Bye.”

I watched Rain watch Erin go.

“Hating Lachlan a bit right now?”

“It’s supposedly not romantic,” he said.  “And I can’t hate him.  He was good to me when very few people were.  Brainwashed, though.  That makes it count a little less.  But… he’s a really good guy and Erin was supposed to marry him after I turned her down.  They lined it up, and it never happened.  But now his family and the therapists are trying to get him out of that brainwashed mode, and Erin’s someone he listens to, because she’s kind of but not really his fiancee.”

“Yeah.”

“Besides.  Forget Lachlan, Erin’s still dealing with a lot.  Testimony from some of the Fallen came out through the courts, they were pretty open about stuff they pulled.  Manipulation, covering up crimes within the compound, some of the stuff they were up to were things that I would have thought even more extreme people like my aunt and uncle wouldn’t be happy with.  Her parents are…”

He trailed off, floundering.

“Taking it hard?”

“No,” Rain said, quiet.  “Not taking it at all.  Refusing to listen, shrugging it off.  Saying there’s a greater meaning.  Doesn’t feel like the right time, even if I had the balls to say anything on the perfect opportunity.”

“Seems to me like she’s spending all her time taking care of others.  Managing her parents, helping Lachlan-”

“Helping me,” Rain said.  “Great.  Now I feel guilty.”

“But she gets the movie nights, right?”

“That’s for me too.  Catching me up on everything I missed by being the little boy who was raised off the grid.  The classics according to Erin.”

I considered for a moment.

“Which?”

“Uhh, Sixteen Candles, Oil and Vinegar, Not So Sweet Seventeen, The Lovecats, Metropolitan Girl, Ring Finger, uh, the live action Peanuts with the actress from Sixteen Candles as the red haired girl, ummm…”

“I’m sensing a trend.  I’m pretty sure that the movie selection is partially for her own benefit.”

“I hope so,” Rain said.

“Those seem like comfort films to me,” I said.  “The kind of thing you watch over and over again.”

He nodded.

“We should get you up to date on films of other genres, sometime.”

“I’m up for anything.  I want to get caught up in everything, and get to where I know movies well enough I can recommend something Erin will like, or… just have a conversation without feeling like I’m a step behind.  I’m tired of always being the one who needs help.”

“We’ll see what we can do.  If you want to help, I know Ashley needs you to look at her hand.  Don’t let her forget or pretend she’s fine.”

“Oh, for sure,” he said, distracted because he was glancing Ashley’s way and simultaneously paying attention to Byron and Moonsong getting up off the bench.

The pair hugged, and I saw Rain make a little fist, as if hopeful.

No, Rain, I thought.  No.

The pair approached, and as they did, Byron flipped his hood up.  He became Tristan, and the distinction between details like jacket, jeans, and frame were subtle enough that only someone looking head-on at their face and the hair beneath that jacket hood would notice.

“Thanks for coming,” Moonsong addressed our group.  Her smile looked a mite forced, and she looked very much like someone who had had a long, hard conversation with someone else.  “Did you let them know you’re all here?”

“Do we have Sveta?” I asked.

“She’s inside,” Rain answered.  “I don’t know if she saw you show up and told people, but she’d probably say hi if she did, right?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll let them know,” Moonsong said.  She paused.  “Thanks for your patience, Tristan.”

“Yeah.  No problem.”

She headed up the stairs.  Tristan turned to Rain, eyebrows going up.

“Damn it,” Rain said.

“Yeah.”

“Sorry By,” Rain added.

“She’s pretty shaken up by what happened to her and her team,” Tristan said.  “Re-evaluating.  I won’t say anything more.  Byron signaled he wanted to think for a bit.”

“But she’ll be here today?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Tristan said.

Sveta stepped out of the doors, though step was the wrong word.  I was used to her moving with a bit of a stumble, rarely smooth or fluid, her mechanical body a constant balancing act, where every correction to reassert balance was a half-second to a second later than it might otherwise be.  Not here.  When she moved, it was more fluid than walking, with no bob of the head, only a natural flow forward.   She wore her long gray patchwork coat, and a layered dress that just barely traced the ground.  Her hands were ones that had been made by Rain, painted, and her hair was as styled as I’d seen it, with two thin braids looped around to the back of her head.

She beckoned for everyone to go inside.

I elbowed Rain, as everyone started forward.

“What?” he asked

“That’s you.  You were being down on yourself, about how you always need help but never give it.  But that’s the product of your and her efforts.”

“Yeah, maybe.  More her than me,” he said.

“Punch him in the arm, will you, Tristan?” I asked.

I didn’t wait to see if he obeyed.  I quickened my pace in heading over in Sveta’s direction.  I floated and flew the last few steps, and gave her a hug.

“You look better rested than yesterday,” she said.

“A bit.  I think Ashley felt bad for me, she made me breakfast.”

“Jealous.  Weld tries, but I hate asking things of him, especially lately, when I don’t even have my body.”

Beneath her dress and coat, her body was unrestrained, not bound within a doll-like shell, and not bound by rings or loops.  She was keeping it under control enough that the tendrils didn’t reach out, snap, or strike at the inside of the coat.

“You’re comfortable like this?  Around people?” I asked.

“No,” she said.  “No, I’m terrified.  But that doesn’t have anything to do with ‘like this’.  I could have a normal flesh and blood body, two arms, two legs, and be my old self again, and I’d be terrified every other minute that I’d accidentally kill someone.”

“I get that.”

“I know you do,” she said.  She leaped forward and gave me a peck on the cheek.  “I’m okay.  Weirdly calm.  Focused.”

“Are you keeping a journal?  Like I suggested?”

“Yeah.  You should see it though,” she said.  “I have actual handwriting by the end.”

I reached to the back of her head, and leaned forward, gently bringing my forehead to rest against hers.  Like we’d done at the Asylum.  The only comfortable way of establishing contact with two people who weren’t freely able to move, one of whom was primarily made up of a face.

“I’m really happy I have that, at least,” she said.  “I have arms, courtesy of Rain.  They’re… not as good.”

“I know,” I said.

“But I have arms.  And they feel like mine.  And he’s trying to figure out how to emulate the skin that Ashley has over her hands.”

“That’s amazing.”

“Isn’t it?”

She smiled.  “Come on.  I feel better about this job than the last one.”

I made a face, but nodded.  I followed her through the doors.

Inside, Moonsong talked to Anelace and Signal Fire.  Behind them, Weld, Golem, and Vista were standing on the other side of a desk.  Members of a Patrol I didn’t know stood by.

The floors were maple, lacquered, the walls stone and wood.  the building was narrow, joined to the buildings on either side.  Six paces cleared the width of the lobby, and maybe twelve covered the length.  There were desks and booths for employees, rich wood and pretty, computers dark and phones silent, the employees absent.  A stairwell at the back led to the upper floors, where business and meetings would be conducted, and a large semicircular window above that stairwell illuminated ninety-five percent of the space.

Three parahumans were bound, on their knees.  A fourth was sedated.

I’d read the files.  I’d seen the mugshot photos.  They’d been given their masks back, and I was left to determine who was who by what they wore.

Two men, two women.

The larger and older of the men would be Drillbit.  There were heroes who aspired to climb the ranks and achieve notoriety, and Drillbit was the inverse of that.  Reputation didn’t matter and was something to be avoided and discouraged.  He was street level and fought to stay street level, moving around to strike out and take down villains of the lowest rung.  Somewhere along the line, he had developed a substance abuse problem.  He’d targeted dealers to get a supply.

There was a woman who looked like she’d received plastic surgery enough times that things hadn’t held up.  Her nose was too sharp and wasn’t straight anymore, her skin sagged by one eye.  It was painful to see.  That had all been pre-trigger.  Her eyes locked on each of us in turn, pausing on me.  She went by Sightly in the files.

Another woman was Copse.  Woodlands huntress aesthetic, with an emphasis on fur and leather.  She’d been a right hand woman for a powerful and obscenely wealthy animal parts trafficker and collector of trophies of endangered species once.

Happyland was the unconscious one.  Young, by the looks of it, dressed in bright colors.

“We extricated the last of his victims?”

“Yes, we were careful.  Called in a few thinkers and a breaker that could go in and out of that pocket,” Anelace said.  “Hi Antares.”

“Hi ‘lace,” I said.

Happyland could push people into a pocket dimension where he was effectively god.  Each person was allocated a small twelve-by-twelve-by-twelve foot square space, but whatever he desired, short of expanding the space, could appear or happen.

Kenzie was talking to a tinker.  Ashley, standing by, raised a finger.  Rain and Capricorn were still making their way in, filling each other in on their respective girl troubles, apparently.

“How are you holding up, little V?” I asked.

“Marveling at how well Sveta’s doing.  I have a few other things to say, but they’re not for gentlemanly company.”

“Oh?” I asked.  “Now I’m curious.”

“Too bad,” she said, grumping.  Her heavy black eyeliner was visible through the green visor she wore, which let me see her eyes narrow.  “Salacious details when we next hang out.”

“That’s doable,” I said.  “But I hate unanswered questions.”

“Boys,” Vista said.  “Weld, Golem, Anelace, Signal, cover your ears.”

“I’m going to walk away,” Signal Fire said.

Weld, Golem, and Anelace did oblige.  Vista stepped closer, so it was her, me, and Sveta talking.

“The batshit bunny stabbed me, right?  I telescope her sword, so it barely punches past my breastplate, she doesn’t realize.  But it does punch through.  I concentrate the point that’s supposed to explode into a smaller area and pull it away from me- screws up my breastplate.  But that part that did stab me… can’t do anything about that.”

“I know this already,” I said.

“Filling in Sveta.”

“Thank you,” Sveta said.  “Don’t feel you have to.”

“It’s fine.  I’ve had three weeks of hospital visits and bandage changes, I’m grumpy, and grumping it out is cathartic, you’re giving me an excuse.  So anyway, I did get stabbed, and with the angle, it scratches my tit.  And that scratch blows up.  Blew up pretty good, too.”

Sveta winced.

“It’s taken three weeks to mend, I got a good look today, and it’s another scar, and it’s going to be way worse than the scar I have on my other tit, from when Hookwolf pushed me away with a chainsaw hand.   Fuck.  Oh!  I hope I’m not being insensitive-”

“No,” Sveta said, making a face.  “No, that sounds ow.”

“For the record, it’s really, really jarring to hear you refer to your tits,” I said.  “That tiny, small part of me still thinks about you as Vista the youngest Ward.”

“Fuck that.  I earned my war wound, I get to bitch about it.  I survived this long, I earned my right to swear and talk about tits and dicks, and how I just want to get my hands beneath one cute, unattainable guy’s heavy armor before I lose it.”

“Who?  Golem?” Sveta asked, glancing to the side.  Golem still had his hands to his ears.

“Once, kind of,” Vista said  “But he’s been with his girlfriend since before he joined the Wardens.  It’s a trend Victoria pointed out.  Gallant, Golem, there was an old teammate who didn’t stick around.  Your teammate, I met them…”

“Byron?” Sveta asked.

“Byron?” Vista asked.

“Capricorn,” I said.

“Is he the-” Vista made a gesture, inarticulate and random, distorting the air around her finger.

“I have no idea what that means,” I said.  “But if you’re thinking of what I think you’re thinking of, you’re thinking of Tristan.”

“Then Byron is…”

“He has a girlfriend,” Sveta said.  “But it’s a Romeo, Juliette thing, except situational, so they’re-”

“They’re not,” I cut in.

“What?” Sveta asked.

“Outside, just now,” I murmured.  “They just broke off that undefined, waiting-for-each-other thing, I think.  But we’re being mean to Weld and Anelace.”

“What’s he like?” Vista asked, while I motioned that Weld, Golem, and Anelace could put their hands down.

“Quiet,” Sveta said.  “Thoughtful.  He needs more people in his corner.  Taking the high road, a lot of the time, it means you don’t have a corner.”

“And recently broken up,” I commented, under my breath.

Vista groaned.

“I overheard you talking high roads and no corner, and you’re reminding me of arguments I’ve had with Ava,” Golem commented.

“Don’t, no,” Vista pleaded.  Her hand went to her breastplate.  “You and her are so good together.  Don’t spoil this.”

“We’re really good together,” Golem said, smiling.  “Don’t worry.  Arguments happen.”

Signal fire cleared his throat.

Impatient.  He was from Advance Guard, and Advance Guard seemed to hold to this pattern of wanting to go.  He was also, if I remembered right, one of Lookout’s trainers when she’d had a summer of Ward training camps.  There had been issues.

We had business to conduct.

Everyone was here; for all our differences, and the schism between the two groups of heroes, we were able to cooperate like this.

We’d started out wanting at least one witness, but it had felt weird, and there hadn’t been enough to it.

By their files, I knew their deeds.

Drillbit had harmed himself enough with his addictions that he could no longer be trusted.  The loop had repeated too many times.  He wouldn’t get better and didn’t want to get better, and he would either engage in a cape fight while inebriated or drive inebriated on his way to or from a cape fight, and he couldn’t drive while brimming with enough chemicals to kill another man.  He would get arrested, even cooperate sometimes, get pulled into jail, enter withdrawals, and break out, sometimes letting other prisoners free.

Without a place like the offworld prison Goddess’s attack had torn up, there was nowhere and no way to keep him.  He was the one I felt worst about here.

Sightly’s power scarred people for life to make herself beautiful on a temporary basis.  At her peak, she danced through combats, all grace and poise.  At her valleys, when she was at her lowest point and more than a week without a victim, she manifested attack mutations.  Raw strength, claws, and teeth in hidden places.  Her track record of victims was almost enough on its own.  Her recalcitrance when it came to getting help or seeking alternatives sealed the deal.

Copse’s master had no last-of-the-endangered-species to collect on this world, now that she was set up again.  There were no rare animals, and so she had taken to sending Copse after people.  Two of the three victims had had rare conditions, vitiligo and keratinous horns, and both had featured in a modeling shoot that portrayed the beauty in those conditions.  The third had been a Case Fifty-three.

Copse’s master had collected them and kept them naked and contained in an open-to-the-sky garden prison, surrounded on four sides by manor, with windows looking in, so the master could always watch, treating them like zoo animals.

In the process of investigating and solving that whole situation, Foresight had found out that Copse’s master had ordered Copse to kidnap a son for her to ‘adopt’, five years ago.

The old woman had killed herself when the law caught up to her.  Copse had been brought in.  She was processed, taken before the courts for preliminary hearings, and given bond, which she paid.  Less than twenty-four hours after release, she had been reaching out, pitching her resume, so to speak.  Clear intent to recommit.  Bond revoked, and… here she was.

And Happyland… simple enough.  In our world he was a nobody, but he was a nobody who could snatch people up and disappear with them.  They’d go to a pocket world of his where he had absolute power, and if and when they died, he left the bodies there, in a cell he never visited.

“We just going to do it in the lobby?  I thought the box was upstairs,” Signal Fire said.

“It is,” Lookout said.  “We can operate it by remote.”

“It’s weird to do it in the lobby,” Signal Fire said.

“Nobody around,” Ashley said.

“That’s just it.  No judge, no magistrate, no court appointee.  We have her, and I don’t even know who she is-”

He indicated Natalie.

“I’m nobody,” Natalie said.  “I don’t matter here.”

Signal Fire looked dissatisfied.

“Right,” he finally said.

There was a tense silence.  Gagged and bound, guns to their backs, the four prisoners knelt on the hardwood floor.

“Then… any objections?” Moonsong asked.

I’d already considered.

“Drillbit,” I said.  “Doesn’t feel right.”

“He’s had five last chances,” Anelace said.  “I get the feeling, but… what do we do?”

Signal Fire reached down, and he undid Drillbit’s gag.

“Death sentence?” Drillbit asked, his voice tight.  He worked his mouth where it was sore from the gag.

“We’re sending you away.  A world with nobody.  You’ll be at least ten miles from the next person… but you should know anyone else that’s there… they were sent there because they were a problem.”

He looked so miserable, as he digested that.  Face lined with hardship.

“It’s winter,’ he said.

“You go with a kit.  Tent, food for a month, heating stove, supplies, tools.”

“You can make a promise,” Anelace said.  “Convince us.”

“Can I?” Drillbit asked.  “I can’t even convince myself.”

Silence followed.

“Or if you want to articulate it better, Antares,” Anelace said.

I wasn’t sure what to say.  I couldn’t even articulate just why this didn’t feel like it was the right move.

But I couldn’t think of an alternative move.

“Send me,” Drillbit said.  “Don’t send any strong medications with me.  It might be the only way I live out the rest of my life.  I’ve hurt too many people.”

Kenzie nudged me, as a back-and-forth followed.

She had my new mask.

“You don’t have to stay,” I whispered to her.  In case she was distracting herself from proceedings.

She shook her head.

I took my mask, and I tried it on.  It covered my upper face, nose, cheekbones, eyes, brow.  The projection clicked as it set into place.  Lookout provided the hand-mirror.

“Antares?” Anelace asked.  “Rule is, if any one of us objects to a prisoner being removed, we rescind it.  And we have a pretty diverse set of people here.  If this feels wrong, it feels wrong.  But we need a decision.”

It was black, and faint lines and spires of gold traced a pattern across it.  They would be faint beneath the shadow of my hood.  The part over my lower face was some limited protection, but projected to be see-through.  More projection was devoted to the image that covered the rather large eyeholes, that maximized peripheral vision.

They said justice was blind, but…

“Okay,” I said. “No objection.”

I saw Drillbit nod.  He wasn’t gagged anymore, but there was no sound from him.  No protest.  If anything, he looked more at ease.

Not so, for the others.  The two women grunted protests.  Happyland slept, unaware.

No more objections.

Rain had the controller, and Rain was the one to hit the button, with Kenzie pulling his arm down to check settings before nodding.

The portal opened.  A narrow, distorted doorway, in the lobby of the Wardens’ temporary headquarters.

“Happyland.  Drug given, he should wake up in five with a hangover,” Anelace said.  “Sent to spot H, for future reference.”

“Noted,” Signal Fire said, writing it down on a pad of paper that he’d laid on the unoccupied secretary’s desk.

Happyland was rolled through, and the portal closed.  A moment later, it opened again.

“Copse.  We are placing a tool in your hands.  It should take you a few minutes to free yourself of your bindings.”

Copse fought every inch of the way.  She ended up dropping her tool, and so the others kicked it through, where it disappeared into the grass.

“It’s three feet to your left,” the Patrol officer said.

Copse screamed through her gag.

The portal closed.

Sveta nodded, seemingly satisfied with it.  Copse had kidnapped a Case-Fifty-Three.  Let her master dehumanize him.

“Sent to spot I.  Coordinates are in the logbooks.”

“Noted.”

The next portal ripped open.

“Sightly.  Are you going to cooperate?  If you lose this tool, your life over there gets a hundred times harder.”

Sightly didn’t scream or fight.  Officers seized her by the armpits.  Her head hung, and tears streaked down.

“I’m putting the tool into your hand.  Cut the wrist-bindings that way.”

She nodded.  She was helped through, and turned around to stare at us with one eye slanted by the skin that didn’t sit right around it.

The portal ripped its way closed.

“Site J.”

“Noted.”

Drillbit lurched to his feet without help.  His head hung like Sightly’s had.  He didn’t cry.  His gag was off, and he didn’t speak.

When the portal appeared, he walked through it.  Someone had to stop him from going too far, passing him the tool because he’d been so quick to leave.  The officer stood on the far side of the portal with Drillbit, by the little four-foot cube of packed up supplies we’d already deposited there.

Drillbit didn’t look back or do anything except nod to himself, tool clasped in his hand, as the portal roared shut.

“Site K.”

“Wrote it in.”

“Patrol vans will leave as if they’re carrying the prisoners.  Standard evasion, cover, shuffling the seashells approach.  If there’s an attack, surrender immediately.  This batch should be fine, I don’t think they had many friends.”

“Yessir.”

I exhaled, a heavy feeling in my stomach.

We’d chattered and chatted and talked drama and war wounds earlier, and now… now nothing.

Well, not quite.  Kenzie was naturally the first to break silence, nudging me.

“You like it?”

It took me a second to process what she meant.  I touched the mask and nodded.  It worked.

“We should talk about pickup plans.  Imp and Tattletale might be dropping me off sometimes- will that be okay?  They want to coordinate.”

She was so casual.  Her face was disguised, but it wasn’t smiling.  Did she even get it?  This?

“Okay,” I said.  “I guess I’ve got that to look forward to.”

“We’ll talk about it after,” Swansong said.  “Natalie will help broker any deals.  Let’s go outside.”

Everyone filed out.  Sveta went to Weld, Capricorn and Rain paired up.  Moonsong hung back with Anelace.  The Wardens murmured to one another.

It felt better, everyone being involved, making sure everyone agreed.  The first few goes had been more rushed.  A through G.

Natalie gave me a pat on the arm as she passed by.

“You okay with this?” I asked her.  “Legally?”

“Legality doesn’t come anywhere near this,” she said.  “It is what it is.”

“Is it?” I asked, quiet.

“A last resort, I think.”

“You didn’t have to come, you know.  I think if… if I’d had a real choice, if I hadn’t helped set this in motion, I wouldn’t have.  It would be easier.”

Almost everyone had filed out of the space, going upstairs or leaving by the front doors.  Those that hadn’t that weren’t Natalie or me were by the doors.

“Would be,” Natalie agreed.  “But I thought it was important that they have a witness.”

Previous Chapter                                                                                       Next Chapter

275 thoughts on “Black – 13.1”

    1. We just need 39 more votes for that #1 spot. Let’s go, folks, before even more of last week’s votes expire!

      (Seriously, it was 37 votes less than ten minutes ago, and the difference is because Ward has fewer votes now than it did then.)

      1. And we’re back in the #1 spot, if only by a margin of 6 votes.

        This calls for a celebration!

        (By which I mean it’s as good an excuse as I’ll get to get out the party food.)

        1. i am voting from three different ip addresses, my phone, home broadband and work place computer. does this make me the new cradle?

          1. Tbh, I also had the urge to do that but… come on… Ward is good enough to stand on its own legs. 🙂 656 now, we are in the lead with almost a 100 to PGTE’s 579 votes.

          2. 734 to 599, now.

            I’d say we’re doing very well for the time being. If we can keep this up, we may even stay in the #1 spot long-term, like we did in the Worm, Pact, and Twig days.

  1. Typo/errata thread:
    “Previous Chapter” / “Next Chapter” links are missing at both the top and bottom of the post.

    1. > The pin in her hair was more abstract than I’d seen her wear before, something between a slanted eye and a fish, with a comma shaped pupil or fin in the center..

      Change ‘..’ to either ‘.’ or ‘…’.

      > “It’s winter,’ he said.

      Quotation mark after ‘winter’.

      SIDEBAR: the link to chapter 11.9 is missing, and the link to chapter 12.1 is broken (change “https” to “https:”).

      TABLE OF CONTENTS: links to chapters past 12.9 are missing, links to 11.12 and 12.all lead to 11.11 and 12.5 respectively.

    2. > For those who didn’t scroll down, you may wish to revisit Heavens 12.x. There’s more content after the ‘Previous chapter —- Next Chapter’ part.

      Technically not an error, but I must say that as a reader I find these sort of messages in the chapter text very immersion-breaking. I think that since now April Fools are over it would be better to move the Previous chapter/Next Chapter links to the actual bottom of the chapter, so that people who read that chapter for the first time are less likely to be fooled by the empty lines, maybe delete some of the empty lines (though not necessarily all of them – that joke about “warped space” was good), and change the message at the top of this chapter to reflect it.

      This way after about two to four weeks it should be safe to remove the message entirely.

      1. By the way, there is still a similar message at the top of chapter 9.8, which I think has absolutely no reason to be there anymore, and a sun symbol at the beginning of chapter 7.5, which I suspect may be a leftover from removing a similar author’s message.

        1. I just realized that the sun symbol at the beginning of chapter 7.5 is a counterpart of the sun symbol at the end of chapter 7.4. The Eclipse arc sits between those two chapters. The sun symbol at the bottom of chapter 7.4 acts as a link to the first chapter of Eclipse, the sun symbol at the top of chapter 7.5 is not a link.

          Considering that Eclipse uses a moon crescent instead of the sun symbol, maybe the sun symbol at the end of chapter 7.5 was supposed to be a link to chapter 7.4, and the sun symbol at the bottom of chapter 7.4 was supposed to link to chapter 7.5? Either way it looks like something needs to be done with those two symbols.

        1. I think the joke should stay, but not in a form that requires an author’s message in the following chapter. Some people (including myself) may find the joke not worth the break of immersion caused by the message.

          1. Making jokes in a way that requires an immediate explanation (and it will be immediate from the point of view of a new reader binging through the already published chapters) is rarely a good idea anyway.

          2. It’s definitely not a “joke”, or at least not exclusively. It’s an intentional choice by the author that makes sense within the context of the story.

          3. It seems to me that the people who might feel mildly annoyed at the presence of the notice are likely to be significantly fewer than the people who benefit from the notice, who in turn are likely to be massively fewer than the people who were amused by the joke. If these assumptions are true, then it makes no sense to change anything.

          4. > It seems to me that the people who might feel mildly annoyed at the presence of the notice are likely to be significantly fewer than the people who benefit from the notice, who in turn are likely to be massively fewer than the people who were amused by the joke.

            I can see this being the case now. Not so much in a few weeks, when most readers will either be familiar with both the joke and the notice (and as such won’t need the notice no matter if there any changes will be made to 12.x or not), or will be reading both 12.x and 13.1 in quick succession as part of a multi-chapter binge-reading, which is, I think, the usual way of catching up with a story that long, and at the same time – much more about constant, unbroken immersion than jokes they will rush over in their hurry to catch up with the story.

            Which is why I argue not to remove the notice now, but to set up things so the notice can be safely removed later, in a few weeks.

            Even if you absolutely want to keep 12.x exactly the way it is now, I would still argue that removing the notice after a few weeks would do more good than harm. After all it is not like that many people are likely to miss that something unusual is going on underneath the “previous chapter/next chapter” buttons in 12.x after reading well over a hundred chapter of the story already.

          5. Not to mention that I expect that if someone in a few weeks even if someone does miss the final section of 12.x because of lack of author’s message in 13.1, the story text itself will serve as a clue that they missed something about the outcome of Foil-March confrontation, and may want to carefully re-read it, at which point they are bound to find that last section.

            Imagine it going like this – “What? Imp and Foil are alive, and March is dead/captured? That is not how I remember what happened. I better refresh my memory of that interlude…”

          6. I think that if one new or catching up reader in a hundred will have to go through the confusion I described above, it causes less harm then if all hundred of them will have to read the author’s message. Especially since sometimes Wildbow simply completely omitted explanations about someone’s survival completely as it happened to turn them into surprise later on. Vista’s survival in Brockton Bay is just the most recent example.

            Similar thing with that message in chapter 9.8. It served a purpose when that chapter was published, but what is the chance it will actually help anyone with anything now?

      2. I’d say it’s safe to remove the immersion-breaking notice entirely at any time, and the links in the previous chapter should stay as they are. And people who could be fooled by it should be awarded a Thinker -1 rating (-2 if they don’t find it even after reading further and seeing Imp and Foil alive).

      3. I partially agree with @Alfaryn.

        If the author’s message at the top of this chapter is immersion breaking for some readers, then it is. For those readers. However few they may be.

        And just taking the message out, as Alfaryn said (if I don’t misunderstand them), will cause more harm than good.

        So.

        I will DARE to make a suggestion.

        What if the text for “Next Chapter” after the faux ending in 12.x is left just as blue colored text. A fake link.

        Then the Binge Reader will stumble on a roadblock and scroll down and run into Ex-Miss-Fatalist’s warped space and the real ending.

        And the real “Next Chapter” link.

      4. Having the story affect the medium is a staple of a certain WoolBarn – the links are relocated just as a certain chapter will remain erased forever, and another skipped altogether.
        There is no need to change those.

        1. Heh, fair enough.

          If anything “Scroll down” will become an inside joke.

          That said, I realize which chapter was erased forever, though I was no “witness” back then. But “skipped altogether”?

          … was Mr. Calvert involved?

          1. But “skipped altogether”?

            I invite you to re-read Subordination 6.11. Pay attention this time !

          2. @grinvader

            Oh! Heheh, I thought it was here too.

            I just started reading “Pact” around a week ago. I’m in “Damages 2.2”.

            Thanks!

    3. >“We just going to do it in the lobby?  I thought the box was upstairs,””… but you should know anyone else that’s there… “< either “,” or “.” or “:” or “that” between “know” and “anyone”. Maybe?

      I like the "Typo/errata" denomination.

      1. >“We just going to do it in the lobby? I thought the box was upstairs,” < either “We are” or “We're”.

        And this is an “errata” of my Typo-spotting comment…

    4. “If you’ll eat bacon, egg, and scones[…]”
      “Thank you,” I said. “Excellent.” -> Eggcellent

      (Sorry. I just want to see Ashley react to that).

    5. ““What?” he asked”
      Missing punctuation.

      “Rain had the controller, and Rain was the one”
      Could use a pronoun there.

  2. > It was black, and faint lines and spires of gold traced a pattern across it. They would be faint beneath the shadow of my hood. The part over my lower face was some limited protection, but projected to be see-through. More projection was devoted to the image that covered the rather large eyeholes, that maximized peripheral vision.

    > They said justice was blind, but…

    I’m confused, did the projection make it look like Antares mask was one solid piece of metal?

    > After the bar was what I’d penned in as ‘fucking dips’. The second most colorful name I’d used for the exercises.

    Amen

    > I took my time standing, grabbing my towel and holding it to my front, because I was only wearing a bra.

    Maybe it’s just me, but that sound very uncomfortable to work out in.

    Anyways, damn, what a hell of a chapter. 3 week time passage, Kenzie is part of a *new* team, Undersiders are looking to work together with Breakthrough, Ashley’s apartment is repaired, Anelace returns!

    Good day today that’s for sure

    1. I think the part about justice being blind was an ironic nod to the representation of justice having a blindfold, while the new mask seems to have better field of view than the previous

      1. And it’s got a projection over the top of the mask, so from outside it looks like it’s opaque and has no eye holes.

    2. The new mask is pretty standard in reality, but the bottom half is invisible and the eye holes are covered by the hologram, making it look like a blindfold over the top half of her face.

  3. Everyone agree with the most CANON truth in this story: Rain is BADASS.

    I’m starting to ship Vista and Byron. They’d make a pretty interesting couple, despite the obvious restrictions.

    Vista is one of the BEST characters.

    What they’re doing to these criminals is not very legal but is very useful in order to protect the society from them and keep it clean of dangerous elements. In the absence of Birdcage, this is the only solution available, without being necessary to kill them.

    Natalie is the best non-parahuman, I just love her.

    Kenzie is the second member leaving the team. I’m not sure how efficient they’ll be in terms of surveillance and collecting information without Kenzie, she helped them quite a lot. But, if she’s ok with her new team then…I agree with everything will be good for our good little heroine.

    Alfaryn, my favorite commentator here, looks like Wildbow wasn’t an asshole to delete March’s defeat and Vista being alive. Told you that you didn’t had any reason to be so suspicious. Wildbow is a troll but also a sweetheart with his readers.

    1. Well now I’m feeling even worse about how badly I reacted to Vista’s seeming death. Sorry again Wildbow.

      Still think Combat Thinkers tend to be OP though.

      1. Combat thinkers are ok, it’s just March that doesn’t make sense. Contessa has a straight-up Plot Device power with a power level of “just run”, she’s allowed to be OP by definition. Number Man got to kinda like Contessa’s levels with many years of experience, but I think his affiliation with Contessa is adding much to our impression of him too; two Harbingers contributed to Breaksiders’ success about as much as other teammates, despite being young Number Men. And Operator Red got his ass handed to him by Darlene.

    2. > Alfaryn, my favorite commentator here, looks like Wildbow wasn’t an asshole to delete March’s defeat and Vista being alive. Told you that you didn’t had any reason to be so suspicious. Wildbow is a troll but also a sweetheart with his readers.

      So you have. Not that I was very worried about the possibility of Vista being dead. I did predict her survival a long time ago, after all. I was more worried that she and Imp would be too badly to assist Foil in her confrontation with March.

  4. Haha capes don’t count as witnesses since they aren’t really human. Of course, why would capes need a human witness to their punishments?

    I’m hearing the first few bars of an old Stones song… if the arc name is any indication, it just gets blacker from here on out. This kind of sub rosa substitute for official justice is right up the Mayor’s alley. She’ll be happy to pay for tawdry proceedings like this one, so long as these fallen heroes can stomach them. After that she’ll just pick some seemingly reliable rogues, like Moose maybe. Villains and other capes with political opinions are about to miss the good old days of Alexandria…

    1. Forgot to mention, I love WB’s little narrative touches like the towel argument. Swansong is BT’s purist, and eventually she might be their conscience. At that point it might be just her and Antares, as every BT team MVP seems eventually to realize that BT is just not a good fit for him or her. Rain is next, I expect. He’s not quite so into serving authority as his teammates.

      I’m not sure if the readership is ready for a complete face-heel turn, but I’m down for it! Antares will reunite with Red Queen, who will help her manifest her now-hidden Eden nature. The multiverse of Earths will be threatened, but Valkyrie will win her mental battle with GU and will then summon the Administrator from the great beyond. In the end, Undersiders will finally beat New Wave (the name the worms have always called themselves), and the multitudes of humanity will celebrate.

      1. About the towel argument. I seems that with Damsel gone, Victoria has become the primary target of Swansong’s verbal jabs. Unlike Damsel, who had pushed back, Victoria tried to avoid an argument before it started. I’m not sure if it is a good or bad way to handle the situation. Swansong seems to like those little arguments, they probably are her way of venting her emotions, and I don’t know how she will react if she will be deprived of them much longer.

          1. Remember that at least three weeks have passed since the previous arc (this is how long Victoria has been doing her current physiotherapy routine). It is obvious that Swansong is slowly becoming desperate for a good argument. Why else mention the colors of the towels in a way that suggests that it is some sort of a fashion statement? Ashley did it because she knows that fashion is one of the few topics Victoria is likely to argue about without the argument ending up with some sort of lasting bad feelings between them.

          2. Another thing to mention is that for both Ashleys the arguments are an important coping mechanism. As toxic as the relationship between the “sisters” is because of them, they help them cope with their emotions in a way that is safe to their surroundings.

            If you want a reminder about how serious those emotions are, just read what Ashley told Victoria near the end of chapter 7.4. If you want to understand why Ashleys think that arguing with each other is safe, just remember this fragment from the last chapter of Eclipse:

            “What did you do to your hair?” the other Ashley asked.

            “I felt the need for a change,” Ashley responded.

            Her counterpart reached up.

            “Hands down,” the Patrol guard said.

            “It’s fine,” Ashley said. “She won’t hurt me.”

            I’m sure that when Swansong said that Damsel won’t hurt her, she didn’t mean just with her claws or power. She meant with words too.

            I’m very worried that those sisters are not together anymore. It may be what they need in a long term, but I think that things will get worse for at least one of them (likely both of them) before they get better, because they no longer have this easy way of coping available to them.

      2. ” At that point it might be just her and Antares, as every BT team MVP seems eventually to realize that BT is just not a good fit for him or her. ”

        Kenzie didn’t leave of her own accord, she was removed for her own good. Rain won’t go anywhere. Neither will Swansong. Sveta might, for complicated 9or really simple) reasons. As soon as they figure out how to split Byron and Tristan, I see them both leaving. By first, then Tristan when he realizes he’s the bad fit. I see Kenzie never quite really leaving, and she might even come back if the story lasts long enough for her to become emancipated.

        1. For now Kenzie at least serves as a link between Breakthrough and the Undersiders. Precisely what she wanted to achieve with Chicken Little long term, I think.

    2. It’s… Definitly not heartening to see this happening.

      But compared to how “Justice” been done by some real life societies it’s still downright civilized and merciful. Transportation to Australia, Cutting the hands off thiefs, stoning adulterers, execution for any crime…

      I’m not comfortable with this secretive group doing it in a lobby, out of sight of the public. Granted the public right now has a chance of just going for “Kill Them!” with people like Gary Nieves but… Well it’s the sort of thing that can lead to bad places.

      1. I think that’s what’s being examined here. It is, in all ways I can tell, effectively identical to the Birdcage. The difference is in seeing it first-hand, through the eyes of a character who could’ve chosen not to, and did anyways, because that’s how far they’d been pushed.

        Was definitely a good moment. Not good in the “there’s nothing wrong with this” sense, but good in the “it’s something that needed to be seen” sense.

        That last line was a solid whammer, too.

        I think my favorite part was actually the beginning, though. Seeing everything Victoria went through accounted for, and that she’s working through it, and then the story continues? That was nice. Felt like something unwinding.

        1. I would consider it extremely different from the Birdcage. Little to no chance of social interaction, but significantly reduced cape violence risk.

    3. No, not that kind of witness. If it was simply because she’s not a parahuman, the patrol would do just as well. It’s because she’s a lawyer. She’s witnessing on behalf of the law-that-will-be, to know who, when and where, so that maybe they can be retrieved.

      And these guys? Possibly except Drillbit (who’d probably go to the Asylum, at least the first time) would all be sent to the Birdcage, before. Happyland’s a straight-up murderer, possibly worse too, with a personal dungeon dimension that also works for corpse removal. Sightly’s not necessarily a murderer, but she’s mutilated hundreds of people, and has likely killed whilst ‘scarring someone for life’. Copse is a kidnapper and people trafficker.

      1. >No, not that kind of witness. If it was simply because she’s not a parahuman, the patrol would do just as well. It’s because she’s a lawyer. She’s witnessing on behalf of the law-that-will-be, to know who, when and where, so that maybe they can be retrieved.

        as I said bellow, she is not there as a lawyer, but as a person who wasn’t in any way involved in organizing the exile process, executing it, or deciding who gets exiled. Consider this:

        “I’m nobody,” Natalie said. “I don’t matter here.”

        If she was there as a lawyer, she wouldn’t be a “nobody”.

        1. I would even go as far as to say that she was there for humane, not legal reasons. I think it fits her character.

    4. > Haha capes don’t count as witnesses since they aren’t really human. Of course, why would capes need a human witness to their punishments?

      I think the point here isn’t that Natalie doesn’t have powers, but that she is no way involved in the exile process other than just being there. Otherwise wouldn’t Patrol Block members who were present count as witnesses?

  5. The disclaimer at the start made me chuckle.

    The last line is an interesting call-back. Not wrong though. Honestly, even in the original context it had a sort of sense to it, a way for the *master* to benefit from master/stranger protocols.

  6. I know this disappearing thing got started during the Goddess arc but how did they get their hands on portal tech? And how are they keeping people(Teacher) from going to those worlds and just snapping up all the trouble capes?

    1. I think Kenzie reappropriated Teacher’s portal tech, and it sounds like control of that tech is being shared with the Wardens now.

      As for how they’re going to stop Teacher from snapping everyone up…well, if they put their condemned at essentially random spots in that empty Earth, you would need some kind of large-scale clairvoyance in order to actually find any specific person. Teacher might be able to put together something to do that, but is it really worth the effort for him? He has other ways of recruiting.

      1. Kenzie’s demonstrated the ability to “jam” portal-opening devices after she got good reads on Teacher’s tech. They probably have that whole Earth locked down when they’re not sending people through.

        1. Her jamming consisted of using some kind of signal to convince other portal-making devices to try opening ten feet below the ground. It worked as a quick emergency measure, but I bet Teacher’s figured out ways around it by now.

          1. There are some pretty obvious ways to make that much harder to beat, though: you could have the off-shift thing shift randomly every second, for example.

          2. You could also have the shift be dramatically more effective, like opening outside the atmosphere or into the sun. No trying to guess and fixing the coordinates if you miss the first time.

          3. Parahuman powers get weaker the further away from Earth you get. It’s where the shards are, after all, even if they’re in a version of Earth they’ve locked off from everyone else. Portals probably have the same limitation- and besides, if you’re entering coordinates into a device, the jammer would have to change all of them, not just the one signifying ‘depth’.

          4. @Earl: Sundancer could basically teleport solar plasma between her hands (alongside the required secondaries of heat resistance/dissipation and plasma containment/control) – if her power can do that, the other way is definitely possible.

            (As to why I think she grabs stuff from the sun, that’s just how I envision Marissa’s power from how it was described. The temperature also fits the local star. An alternate Earth made of plasma wouldn’t be several thousand degrees hot – it wouldn’t stick around to begin with as it’s too light to keep it together through gravity.)

    2. Relatedly, anyone think it was a bit of a mistake to send Happyland there? One Scrub-type cape in there and they might have a portal maker of their very own on the other side.

      1. No. Labyrinth manifests her personal dimension into the shared reality of Earth Whichever-one-she’s-standing-on. Happyland sends someone and himself to his dimension- there’s no gating or teleporting or manifesting reality there.

        Happyland’s dangerous enough on his own he’s either going to be a king or a corpse. Besides, there’s so many different powers and different possibly interactions, it might be Drillbit and Copse that work together to make the portal. Particularly since we don’t know what either of them can do.

      2. My very first thought when his power was mentioned was that he’d immediately escape and somehow bump into Teacher.

        Fuck Scrub, pretty sure we’re gonna find out he can just leave.

        1. No, he can’t escape. He can enter and leave a private reality and take others with him, but from the sounds, when he leaves he returns to where he was before he entered it. Good for last-minute defences against, say, an avalanche or flooding, not great at escaping the cops- since now they know where you were last and can have guns pointed at you when you come back.

  7. Very nice opening to a new arc. A bit of, I guess, melancholy? I think this is about as good as we can expect things to get.
    Notably no reference to Dauntless. I guess he’s behaving himself for the time being.
    Victoria’s wearing a mask now? I feel like that’s…significant. Especially in light of the whole identity issues brought up in her shard interlude. If adding a mask to her costume is the beginning of forming a new identity, and that identity is something her shard can feel a part of…

    1. I also agree that it was a great way to start the arc. We needed this change of pace. Constant mixture of high powered action, horror and big revelations was getting old, I think.

      Mentioning Dauntless would just break the mood and put us right back in that mindset it was supposed to be a break from. Also not mentioning Dauntless stressed that enough time has passed for people to get somewhat used to his presence, at least to the point where he is no longer on everybody’s minds all the time.

      A little more disturbing is the fact that Victoria didn’t mention what ultimately happened with Carol, but maybe it is just because she is still subconsciously avoiding thinking about Amy. Plus she had the gravity of what she had to do with those four people to occupy her mind.

        1. I meant that she didn’t mention how that visit to Shin went. Has Carol been healed? Are both elder Dallons back? Did they anything to say to Victoria about what they saw there? Did they contact Victoria at all since they left? Who did they meet there besides Amy? These sorts of questions.

          1. I wouldn’t expect all of those questions to be answered in this chapter of course, but the fact that there was absolutely no mention of Shin, Victoria’s parents or Amy left me somewhat worried.

  8. Holy shit that was equal parts disturbing and satisfying. I feel even worse for Drillbit especially since he agreed. Also, what was that look from Ashley when kenz said rain is badass? Did he get stronger?

    1. The look was about Chicken Little looking up to Rain, rather than Rain being badass. (that comment came after the look) Despite his commendable progress in the field of being a better person, Rain still has way too much baggage to be a good role model.

  9. Exiling Drillbit doesn’t sit quite right with me… Couldn’t they have given him drugs to keep him from escaping prison, like a parahuman methadone program?

    I hope all this talk about injuries and scars is foreshadowing that we’re going to see a certain healer and bio-tinker again this arc, I kinda miss Chris.

    1. Combining those two thoughts… Both Amy and Chris could have probably helped Drillbit get rid of his addictions. I wonder if the government has tried reaching out to those two for cases like this. One more reason why Vicky can’t keep pretending those two don’t exist forever.

      1. It’s made clear that Drillbit has been through rehab a bunch of times, but he keeps falling off the wagon, and his addiction is bad. The most dangerous thing is that he breaks out, and enables other prisoners to escape. And Drillbit clearly knows he has this problem. He’s made the decision to accept exile as penance for this, and in the hopes that maybe he’ll be able to go pure cold turkey and live out the rest of his life. Sightly is the other one I feel might be deserving of some sympathy. Her case sounds like there could be shardnannigans involved.

        Copse is a monster who had zero empathy for others, no respect for endangered species, and was dumb enough to go right back at it after being caught the first time. Happyland sounds like one of the real monsters, the sort that Jack would have thought about recruiting if they’d ever crossed paths.

        Funny thing is Happyland’s power would have worked perfectly for a prison, you know if he didn’t seem to be a monster.

        1. “It’s made clear that Drillbit has been through rehab a bunch of times, but he keeps falling off the wagon, and his addiction is bad.”
          If only there was someone who could just rewire his brain so he was no longer addicted. But sadly, there isn’t a power like that.

          Except for Panacea. She could have booped him on the head and cured him of his addiction. But Victoria doesn’t like thinking about Panacea.

          “Sightly is the other one I feel might be deserving of some sympathy. Her case sounds like there could be shardnannigans involved.”
          She sounds like she refused possible fixes though? I mean, the shards are always jerks, but she could have tried some fixes, if they were on offer.

          1. Panacea doesn’t do brains. It’s one of her big things, like she doesn’t kill. Bonesaw forcing her to break those laws resulted in Vicky’s trauma, and so I think she’s going to try sticking to them much harder this time. Or maybe just install some escape clauses into the rules, I guess, but that seems far too sensible for any parahuman.

          2. “Panacea doesn’t do brains.”

            Aside from those times she did. She doesn’t do brains because she doesn’t understand them as intuitively to have faith that she won’t fuck them up completely.

            Or she didn’t. Except for Victoria’s Dad who she fixed perfectly and Khepri who she screwed down so hard a God died.

          3. She also fixed Chris’ “alignment” done by Goddess in his interlude, and was most likely trying to do the same to Victoria in chapter 9.8 so maybe she is not that skittish about working with brains anymore?

          4. @evileeyore “She doesn’t do brains because she doesn’t understand them as intuitively to have faith that she won’t fuck them up completely.”

            That’s just a lie that she told so that people wouldn’t ask her to do it. It was ridiculously easy for her to alter brains. The real reason she woudln’t do it is because she didn’t trust herself with that power. Originally, she was afraid she’d give in to her desire to make Victoria love her if she ever broke that rule…and she was right.

            Later on, she just didn’t trust herself in a general sense. She broke that rule again in an attempt to save the world, and she almost turned all realities into an extension of an unhinged Khepri.

            So she went back On The Wagon until she decided to pull up stakes and conquer Earth Shin. She made it clear that she’s planning on altering people’s brains there, but we don’t know what it looks like in practice when she’s no longer stopping herself. I predict it won’t be pretty.

      2. The paradox here is that Drillbit didn’t sit right with Victoria precisely because he reminded her of the time when Amy asked to be sent to the Birdcage, because she feared that she would hurt more people. Maybe this is the next step Victoria needed to take to make up with her sister, or at least reach some sort of inner peace when it comes to her thoughts about her?

        1. Aside from the paradox of Amy being a possible solution to Drillbit’s problem, when Amy was in a very similar situation when she went to Birdcage, I think that there is another reason for Victoria’s unease. One I mentioned not long ago:

          I don’t envy criminal judges.

          Victoria has been put in a situation of such judge, and doesn’t even have the law to back her up.

          1. Of course I only meant the honest ones. The ones who want to do what is good, what is right and what is necessary, and actually try hard to decide where the compromise between those three should be, instead of just drawing a good salary. But I think that Victoria is honest enough for the situation to be uncomfortable to her.

    2. Addicts can still choose to take other opiates, and contrary to what many believe medications like methadone/suboxone do not fully block other opiates (you just have to take a higher dose).

      That being said, just providing someone with a supply of opiates is preferable to permanent exile (and I really fail to see how “exiling someone to live completely alone forever” isn’t arguably a fate worse than death; particularly in the case of the addict, you could just limit the term of the sentence and pick them up again after a couple years). Though it’s possible that in this post-end of the world scenario production of opiates is limited and there isn’t enough supply for other medical uses.

      1. Drillbit himself considered this the best option to stop hurting people, which is pretty much the only reason I disagree. He had an out, any attempt at a rational argument probably could’ve kept him free given how unhappy Antares was with it, and he chose to go through.

        1. Some people, when you supply the with Opiates don’t sit their quitly and content, and let people wean them off. They just get higher and higher until they OD, and then if they survive, repeat, or they get cut off the save them, then go out looking for that fix. If Drug Addiction were something that was easy to treat and move on from, it wouldn’t such a problem for society and the addicts.

          1. They’re not talking about treating the drug problem, but FUELING it. Give him all the drugs he wants, so he stops hurting people to get drugs. Sure, it might kill him, but it’s not like his chances of survival in the Negative Zone are all that great either. Besides, overdose is a much better way to go than exposure, starvation or getting rape-murdered by Happyland.

      2. Apart from picking them up (which is a decision that can always be made later, in theory), with the spacing only at 10 miles, it’s reasonably likely that he’ll end up bumping into some of the neighbouring people at some point.

        1. We don’t know that they’re ten miles from each other. Just that they’re ten miles from the nearest other person. It might be someone else dropped there earlier; it’s been three weeks, might be they’ve sent someone else through already. For all we know, the group we’ve seen has been dropped on different continents.

          I kinda hope they turn up again, somehow. At least, I hope Drillbit does, maybe Sightly too. Her power’s interesting, and there’s not been too many Changers in the Worm or Ward, not pure Changers anyway.

          1. She’s not really a “pure Changer”, since the damage to others implies some sort of Striker or Blaster?

          2. She’s still far more ‘pure Changer’ than the other Changers we’ve seen. Lord of Loss is primarily a Breaker, whose altered state can change shape. Lung’s transformation is a result of activating his Brute power, and Weld’s changer is also a direct result of his Brute-ness. Cryptid wasn’t even a real Changer, just a Tinker whose concoctions altered his biology and anatomy.

            Besides, for all we know the ‘permanent scarring’ is caused by using totally mundane means to do it, and the link between her temporary beauty and her mutilations is entirely subconscious.

          3. Changers are like tinkers, the subratings are equally as important and what really define the threat.

      3. > I really fail to see how “exiling someone to live completely alone forever” isn’t arguably a fate worse than death;

        It is objectively not a fate worse than death, because if any of these people decide that they’d rather be dead than continue living in exile, they can just commit suicide. Unless you’re some kind of weirdo who believes that being made to choose between suicide and exile is worse than being executed?

      4. Drillbit’s problem isn’t the addiction, the problem is that he takes drugs and then goes out to beat people up, likely resulting in him accidentally maiming or killing people, even civilians. It’s the combo of superpowers, violent vigilante, and drug addict that makes him unsolvable-if he was able to drop even one of those I don’t think it would be nearly as bad.

    3. I definitely miss Chris. He is hilarious with a fascinating backstory and will hopefully come back into focus soon.

      I refuse to believe that the Red Queen/Lab Rat arc will go nowhere.

    4. i agree. even if Amy is in Shin and Riley incommunicado, they do have Candy Vasil right there. Candy s power works as a sort of infallible rehab. Drillbit gets and appointment with Candy. Heck, Candy should be on warden pay role to simply help out addicts and such.

      1. Except Candy’s power works not on addictions, but on what people enjoy most. If Drillbit’s really into silent movies, it could target that instead. It’s something I brought up at the time, as it happens. Just because you’re addicted to a substance doesn’t mean you enjoy using it or being addicted to it- you just can’t stop yourself from seeking more of it. Drillbit here didn’t enjoy his addiction- he saw this as a chance to finally get clean. A man who enjoyed being high and was happy with his drug use probably wouldn’t be so willing.

  10. Really Antares, you rushed through seven of them? Rushed. Sending people to an uninhabited world with bare minimum supplies.

    I like the addition of Happyland. He has a really cool power, and it’s also a nice parallel to what the heroes are doing. The irony of being imprisoned in another dimension for imprisoning too many people in another dimension.

    1. I believe the text says they gave each enough supplies to survive for a month. Also you’re forgetting that these are people who’ve harmed or killed others. Short of there being another Birdcage or prison, this is the next best option.

  11. This is really the next best option to stopping them from hurting others, and it’s not like they aren’t given equipment to help them survive for a month, as I believe the text states. A fate better than execution is exile.

  12. I see why Happyland was unconscious for that- if he wasn’t, he’d have put pretty much everyone else in his prison dimension. Where he’d probably torture them, since he’s God there. Wonder if he’s a Shaker, a Stranger or something else- it’s an interesting power.

    I wonder if he can create food in there. It’d be interesting if so, since it gives him an advantage the others don’t. Especially Sightly. Copse is a hunter, and Drillbit’s an ex-hero and, I’d guess, a striker or brute. He can probably survive, but Sightly’s a Changer by the sounds- Chris said they’re the lowest priority to those PRT-trained. Maybe she can adapt her biology to eat grass and weeds, but that doesn’t quite fit with the rest of her power.

    1. It’s a good opportunity for her shard to work out new ways to transfer biologic details.
      Adapt power to work on plants and steal their photosynthesis, learn to hunt in a month or die.

  13. The fashion police is on fine form today I see.

    I feel like I will look back on this chapter as a key point in Victorias character development, the same way I look back on the chapter of Taylor getting her base. The “Justice is blind” moment seems particularly significant. Theres something very vigilante-ish about the Australia planet senario. Natalie admitting its not legal, the “court” of heros, and Victoria in a mask. Im intrigued.

    Also I like to see the effects of Victoria’s injuries. One minor gripe ive had with WB is how physically indestructible his heros come off as (to be fair, they usually have access to healing powers/magic/mad science). In real life, people who do dangerous activities (in my experience adventure sports so I suppose definitely combat) often end up physically wrecked after a few years from injuries stacking up. And it seems especially aprops in Ward, where mental scars are a huge theme that physical scarring and damge could play a role.

    1. The thing with old wounds and scars also shows that as much as Victoria doesn’t want to have anything to do with Amy, she still hasn’t adjusted to the thought that she needs to avoid taking even relatively small injuries, because she doesn’t have an access (or rather refuses to use the access she has) to a healer who could make all of those “go away” the way Panacea did in her Glory Girl days.

  14. 1. “Goodbye Rock”, “Not So Sweet Seventeen”, “Metropolitan Girl”
    Any references?
    Sixteen Candles, The Lovecats and Ring Finger are real, Oil and Vinegar is not filmed screenplay.

    2. “snatch people up and disappear with them. They’d go to a pocket world of his where he had absolute power”
    Weird, doesn’t sound like power for fighting and learning. What could possible shard learn this way? Fact that Happyland sedated means he can do “sending” pretty easy. Make sense only if he is post-GM trigger.

    1. 2. My guess is that its main purpose was probably conducting small-scale experiments and simulations in isolation and controlled conditions- practical testing of the thinker and tinker shards’ new ideas, deciding how to restrict a shard’s destructive powers before handing it over to the lab monkeys, figuring out how the mollusc-world’s nanogel worked, etc.

      1. “Sandbox” universe for tests on powers and other stuff?
        Also he can get any kind of bomb there. probably. Good idea, thank you.

  15. I must say that Victoria’s mask seems more menacing than her previous mask, not to mention something that, unlike her old mask, she may want to wear most of the time, when she is in costume. Has becoming a killer brought her closer to becoming a tyrant? Will we see her leverage tools she has to go in that direction (like her aura, which seems perfectly suited for the job)? Both the mask, and her ultimate decision about those four capes, especially Drillbit, seems to indicate that it may be possible.

  16. There’s this ever present theme of endings with Breakthrough so far. Byron and Moonsong ending their relationship, Weld’s on the rocks with Sveta even though Sveta is oblivious to it all, Chris abandoned Breakthrough for Shin, there’s just so much ending though.

    It’s giving this whole story a melancholic feel that the end of the world should be. Hell, we are even getting hints that the power well will dry out and it’ll be the end of parahumans. Nothing left but for humanity to pick up the pieces after all’s said and done.

    Though, I am happy that we do get some sources of happiness. Vista getting to talk about her slit tits and Rain watching Rom-Coms with Erin. There’s grains of hope when everything else was miserable.

    1. I would argue that even Vista’s talk about her new scar isn’t as happy as it may appear to some at first. Unlike in early Worm, now she is at an age when a scar at such place probably really bugs her. That talk was probably a way for her to share the emotional pain without appearing like crybaby. And she chose an audience carefully. It is not just that they were all young women. It is that those particular women are both her friends, and understand this sort of pain better than most.

  17. Well… Black, indeed.

    And after taking out March in March, this is the 13th arc and it’s called “Black”.

    .

    .

    What can go wrong?

    1. Poor maligned black. It’s really one of the best colors. But nooo, everyone has to give it negative associations.

      1. @negadarkwing & @everyonewhoreadmyfuckup

        You are absolutely right.

        I am sorry.

        I even thought about the implications of giving the color “black” a negative connotation and implying that it and “13” were a bad omen.

        And then went and wrote the “joke” anyway.

        It was not a lack of reflection on my part, but a lack of judgment.

        I started reading Worm the 2nd of April last year. Of course I had to do something like that for the anniversary…

        I should have done something else like:

        “So, Black… Is this the Arc where Grue comes back?”

        Maybe it’s overdone, but again:

        I am genuinely sorry.

  18. Signal Fire is right. It’s really weird to do that in a lobby. Sending people into a dimensional prison should have a lot more pomp and circumstance surrounding it. If they’re gonna keep exiling people like this, they should at least build some kind of decorative Stargate ring somewhere. Buy a cheap ceremonial robe for Natalie, even if she is just there to watch. Maybe stop gagging the prisoners (except when necessary), so that that they can scream and swear revenge as they’re shoved through. Show a bit of flair. Being this casual about it feels wrong on several levels.

    1. I dunno… I feel like playing up the drama would make it feel less real, which to me feels wrong. Something about being in a crowd makes all the responsibility dissolve away.

    2. It’s supposed to be secret, complete with sending multiple vans away to hide the fact they were spirited away (so that MadCap-like capes would follow the red herrings instead of busting the doors).
      Doing anything ceremonial about it is asking for interlopers.

  19. – Vicky is *really* working that pink elephant hard
    – I’m intrigued by the fact that we don’t know Drillbit’s power. I have a feeling that is somehow related/similar to Scrub’s
    – I super-dig Copse, her concept and her aesthetic (in particular) and her backstory. Did the evil old lady collector adopt Copse as a child or is she simply a mercenary who only ever had one employer?
    – would reeeeeaaally like to know her power. Night Hag with forests? Teleport?Grab-bag with enhanced everything?
    – Black clearly means the face-heel turn happens this arc
    – until then, we will always have Fashion-Police!Vicky
    – regarding Happyland, we put a prison dimension in your prison dimension so you can prison dimension while you prison dimension LOL
    – reeeeeaaally working the pink elephant, Vicky. “*There are options*”, indeed 😄
    – Sveta has assumed direct control
    – but her ‘weird calm’ better not be a final FU from Cradle
    – where’s Colt? I assume she’s still alive?
    – I keep asking this, where is Faultline?

    There’s something about that final line from Natalie that makes me think she’s with the anti-cape faction now.

    1. > where’s Colt? I assume she’s still alive?

      In the previous interlude Victoria mentioned that “Precipice’s cluster members are in custody”. I assume that included Colt, and considering she shot kids, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was still the case.

      As for Faultline, I think she may still be somewhere in the area, considering that we saw one of her people with the mayor in chapter 12.9, though of course it could have changed in those weeks that passed between the previous and the current arcs.

    2. The last time we saw them, Colt and Love Lost were both on the brink of death after getting drained by Cradle. Could be they’re in jail, could be they died of blood loss.

      1. They wouldn’t have been on the brink of death, necessarily. Goddess’ method of draining her cluster for their powers required those capes to remain alive, so killing them would have been detrimental to her long-term plans. Cradle might have kept them alive for the same reason.

        1. People keep saying that the Goddess method requires that the victims stay alive and I still see absolutely no proof. I admit that we only know about five of Goddess’ powers, but I’m not even ready to call that suggestive. Normal Cluster members don’t lose powers when a member dies. Once you’ve convinced the shard that YOU’RE the real main member, the other person dying shouldn’t matter. I expect that Colt and Love Lost would have been quickly killed off if Cradle hadn’t sensed enemies watching him the moment he stepped out of his contraption.

          1. Reread March’s interlude- the bloke who also used Bianca’s method wanted his clustermates alive. When he realised he couldn’t drain March’s power, he abandoned her to die of blood loss, but carefully left the others alive. Plus Bianca kept her clustermates alive, and when one escaped her control after Gold Morning her power in that area weakened. If killing them would allow her to keep herself powered up, why’d she not just drain their blood, kill them and dump their bodies in a shallow grave?

          2. @EoP

            I’ll look at the March thing again at some point. I figured that Mr. Blood was keeping them alive to make sure it worked. As to Bianca, when I know how she figured out how to do it and how well she understood the process, I’ll entertain arguments for why she kept them alive. I had assumed that Contessa showed up very shortly after she managed it and kicked her into Shin before she became confidant enough in the success of the process to murder them all.

          3. @David: The very fact that Goddess lost the contagious aspect of her Master power when one of her clustermates ran off suggests that she needs them close to use her full abilities. If they’re dead, they’re trickier to move, but also it needs DNA to be moved around, presumably regularly. In which case keeping them alive is far more practical, because then the DNA will naturally replenish itself.

            Bianca was kicked into Earth Shin before the others. They only joined her because of the other guy who caused trouble in trying to copy her. That’s why Contessa kicked them out, and it was after that that she was able to conquer that Earth.

    3. Here is an idea about Faultline. Considering that Faultline’s crew may be working with Dinah, and that she has every reason to hate Cauldron (especially Contessa – remember what she did to Faultline’s crew in Worm), maybe Dinah worked with them to capture Contessa? I think Dinah may be one of the few capes capable of beating Path to Victory with proper preparation.

      It would fit the fact that both Dinah and Contessa were mentioned in a crowd one of Faultline’s capes was a part of.

      1. As to how Dinah could beat Contessa, consider that Contessa has to not only ask the right questions, but also see every step along the way. She may get lost if her question is too specific, or if it is about something that needs to happen in distant future.

        By contrast Dinah can see some things in the future even without asking questions, and when asked a question doesn’t need to see all steps along the way. She can focus on finding just one step which makes the biggest impact. This way Dinah can probably be better in the long game than Contessa, and possibly figure out what to do so that Contessa would have no valid PtV available to her anymore even before Contessa realizes that she is a target.

        It could even be the reason why Faultline and Dinah started cooperating after Contessa beat up Faultline’s crew. After all – if you need to beat a precog, the first logical step would be to get yourself a better precog, and Dinah seems to be better at least when it comes to the long term – something quite a few people could figure out based on the fact that it was Dinah, not Contessa, who predicted when the world will end.

        1. Alternatively Contessa could be not so much “defeated”, as convinced to stand down. All it would take is for Dinah to go to Contessa and tell her something like “96.8268876378772 percent chance that the world will end in next two years if you don’t surrender to us now, 24.7846788972399 percent chance if you do.”

          Considering that Dinah can’t lie about numbers given by her power without giving herself a serious headache, she may be even telling the truth, and because Contessa may know about this particular limitation of Dinah’s power, she may even believe Dinah and give up.

          1. And considering the current situation with Dauntless, Dinah could be talking about not one world, but ALL of them. After all she would predict YggdraDauntless, wouldn’t she? And he looks like he may become an existential threat to all Earths on which he is present.

  20. My first time ever really commenting down here…

    … but this one was a tough ending. It didn’t sit right with me, not that I don’t agree with what they did, but more Drillbit. He was a terrible person who knew he was terrible, and he couldn’t even justify to himself why he shouldn’t be exiled. An addict punished for their addiction because there are no therapy services in this world that can adequately cater to everyone needing help.

    And it is just dishearteningly terrifying.

    1. they have a Breakthrough allied cape who specialises in rehabilitating addicts through her power. Candy Vasil. I am a bit sad that it was not a option.

      agreed with everything. it is a black feeling.

      1. Candy “rehabilitates” by forcing the person to overindulge until they can’t stand the thought of enjoying something anymore.

        Reeeaally not a tactic you want to apply to drugs.

        1. Not to actually overindulge, but to hallucinate their favorite thing all around them. Pretty sure it would be ok if applied to drugs, but on the other hand – what if drugs aren’t really the favorite thing of an addict, for the purpose of Candy’s power.

          1. I agree. Addicts don’t really see their drug of choice as a hobby or favorite pasttime, but more like a need like eating and drinking.

            Nobody really like to eat just to satiate hunger or drink to just quench thirst, so Candy’s power probably won’t affect Drillbit who is way to far gone.

    2. He’s been through therapy. And rehab. Several times. That’s not the problem. The problem is he has a history of falling off the wagon. So long as drugs exist in the world he’s in, he’s going to slide down the snake and find himself back at square one. This time, he’s in a world with no drugs, probably a temperate climate and very few people. That’s a fresh start, and if not the best fresh start available, the one he’s got- and the best one for staying clean. He knew all this, and he volunteered. He knows he can’t be trusted with drugs, and this world has none. He’ll… Probably be happier than if he stayed.

      1. It’s more a reflection of the state of the world than anything else. I have had my concerns that, even pre-GM, this wasn’t a universe equipped to deal with mental health issues. The fact that they could miss Taylor’s very obvious traumatic incident, and not even realise she had triggered, that they weren’t as on the ball as I think they pretended to be. So, yeah, Drillbit kept falling off the wagon, but I think part of that is because Earth Bet just was a sucky place for people with issues, doubly so if you were a parahuman, who probably needed the most help.

        Like, I almost think that the pre-GM solution would have been just to throw him into the Birdcage once they got sick of him, rather than developing and maintaining a support network for him so that he didn’t fall off the wagon. It’s almost as if this wasn’t a place where they were inclined to actually help people who were struggling.

        The thing that seals it for me is that he knows he is a monster, he knows he will relapse, he makes no excuses for himself (these aren’t signs of an actual monster though), and he is so self-defeated that even he thinks that isolating him in on an alternate universe is the best option. I know that they don’t have the resources currently to monitor him and provide the long term therapy that he needs, but I almost doubt it would have been there before the end of the world either.

        1. One in five people can trigger. That means four out of five people can’t, and of that one in five people, they can trigger in eleven different ways (not counting Trumps, which usually pops up with another rating). Also, don’t forget that Taylor’s power was notably not flashy and quite subtle- it took her a while to figure out what it was, how’s a busy hospital supposed to notice the teenage girl who came in after being pulled out of a locker can now move bugs around? Hospitals aren’t really supposed to have many of those, either.

          And this Earth isn’t great at catching everyone with issues, regardless of what those issues are. Schools, hospitals and the police are supposed to be safety nets, but sometimes people land in such a way they miss all of them. It happens here, it happened in Bet. I got the impression Drillbit was not Protectorate, and possibly not even PRT-affiliated, and a nomad- he was street-level who fought to remain there, moving on when his reputation got too big. That’s an independent lifestyle that doesn’t work well with support networks; he might have been offered them and turned them down, or just left suddenly without warning. He probably felt, at that point, that he was ‘clean’ and ready to go back to work, only to fall off the wagon again in the next city.

          I also disagree with the Birdcage. He wouldn’t have been sent to the Birdcage, only if there was literally nowhere else for him- and there *was* somewhere else for him. He’d have been sent to the Asylum, which was a facility designed to keep parahumans sane and safe. It didn’t always work at that very well- Labyrinth got saner after she left- but that’s what it was supposed to do, and for Drillbit it might have worked. Might not have, just as easily, but we don’t know, and we can’t know now. It would have had the facilities to keep him from breaking out, it would have had doctors, therapists (including Dr. Yamada), support groups- other heroes with drug problems, or maybe even villains who made a deal to get out of the Birdcage and need to get clean, and all that good stuff.

          1. Burnscar is a perfect example of someone who got worse after leaving the asylum. You can’t help everyone. And sometimes it’s too risky to help those who really want it, as with most parahumans. It’s a sad scenario all around.

          2. Taylor’s power didn’t need to be flashy to be noticed. No one’s power needs to be flashy to notice. You can do a CT scan and see the Corona Pollentia. It doesn’t need to be active, but for a world where they know about it, it should be standard procedure for someone who has gone through a traumatic event to have a CT scan to see if they have a Corona Pollentia and, if they do, to keep them under observation longer. And it should be standard procedure based upon how they know powers occur: physical trauma leads to more physical powers, mental trauma leads to mental powers.

            But also, that is my point, this is a world where the authorities KNOW that trauma leads to powers, and they still are not good at implementing things to prevent people going through trauma, or providing safety nets. Sure, people can fall through the cracks, that still happens even in our world, but in our world, people aren’t likely to develop superpowers after falling through the cracks.

            He would have only been sent to the Asylum if his behaviour didn’t escalate. But he would have, because we have seen what happens in the Wormverse. Unless capes are actively avoiding it, they are likely to escalate. Also, because of what you said above, that independent lifestyle he lived, probably goes against the idea that he would have ended up in the Asylum. All those things you mention only really work when the government and society at large are invested in ensuring that those things work. Dr. Yamada is a saint, to be sure, but she is just one person who is severely underequipped by the institutions she works for.

          3. CT is not exactly a cheap procedure, nor is it without its negative effects to patient’s health. There is a good chance that even with all of this tinkertech floating around there would be no way to scan everyone who has ever suffered a trauma.

            Considering how innocently some trigger events looked like to many observers, you would probably be better off just scanning every child for the presence of Corona Pollentia before they reach an age when they are likely to trigger, and just put the result of this scan in their permanent records. The problem is that for the reasons mentioned above it would probably not be doable even in rich, stable first world countries on Bet, much less in the much poorer (not to mention more disorganized) City.

          4. And it is not like there have been no attempts to observe people who are in situations where they have been likely to trigger, or to support them, so it is less likely to happen to them. What do you think “crisis points” explained in chapter 2.2 are about? It is that there have never been enough people competent enough to do the job well, so people like Taylor “fell through the cracks” all the time.

          5. Come to think of it, maybe part of the reason that there were never enough people to do proper work on crisis points was Cauldron’s influence on the world governments. Remember that part of the job was to prevent triggers from happening, not just to identify them early, and Cauldron wanted people to trigger. They were building an army to deal with the Endbringers and Scion after all.

            Training too many unpowered people at recognizing trigger conditions would also carry the risk that PRT’s propaganda about people being able to trigger in their “best” moments being exported as a lie.

            Similar thing with the CT idea. As I said you couldn’t expect everyone to be screened this way, but if someone had a bright idea that maybe it should be done with people in some key positions, then I think that there would be at least two PRT directors who would be unhappy with it. Remember that post-trigger Corona Pollentia looks differently from a pre-trigger one.

            Not to mention that if someone who had been confirmed to have no Corona Pollentia would later gain powers, it could lead to exposing Cauldron’s little dirty secret about powers in vials. Another thing that not only Cauldron, but a lot of wealthy people would like to stay under wraps.

          6. Regarding the whole CT scan thing, I’m pretty sure Cauldron did their very best to keep any routine parahuman detection procedure out of government hands.

      2. They really could have given him a much better option though. Like sending him to a technologically backwards planet with enough precious metal coinage to be accepted and get by at the very start. And of course they would have to negotiate with and maybe pay the local village elder or whatever and give him a full explanation of what is going on, for ethical reasons.

        1. Sending him somewhere without drugs wouldn’t eliminate the withdrawal symptoms and apparent madness he succumbs to as the cravings get too intense. They would just be foisting their problem off on a society that is even less equipped to deal with it. That might be an option if he becomes stable once he’s through the withdrawal, but until then it’s best to put him where there are no people worth caring about.

          Also, note that just because a place is low-tech doesn’t mean they have no drugs he could get himself in trouble with. Alcohol alone can be pretty damned problematic even before you factor in superpowers.

  21. Mmmm. Not sure how I feel about the roommate dynamic between Vicky and Ashley. It feels too unstable. Really missing the old dynamic with Damsel. I also really appreciate the exercise routine scene, and the attention Vicky puts to understanding how her body is working, and how it is aching.

    I wonder if BT did follow through on their promise to Bluestocking.

    “Raw strength, claws, and teeth in hidden places.” Why :<

    So… not only do they control whether the portals are open or closed, they can now, at will, anywhere (in a neighbourhood of the "box", presumably), open a portal to any destination in this new Earth???

    1. Someone has been trying to make teleporters for her team, and then got her hands on Teacher’s portal tech and Dragon’s help?

        1. I think that the use of word “box” by Signal Fire immediately followed by Kenzie’s explanation about a remote is a dead giveaway (remember that big boxes are just as much Kenzie’s speciality as cameras are), plus we saw her say multiple times she worked on “teleporters” for her team early on, and actually successfully mess with portal tech after Breakthrough captured Teacher’s devices from the Fallen and their allies on the day portals exploded.

          Not everything needs to be explicitly stated all the time if you ask me.

          1. I didn’t say it wasn’t understandable, but still it’s kind of a jump from “Kenzie can mess with Teacher’s tech” to “Kenzie can fully replicate Teacher’s tech”, especially considering that Teacher’s tech must be complex enough that we didn’t see it replicated by any other tinker. I can imagine it being within Kenzie’s abilities, but it’s by no means an ordinary, routine task not worth mentioning for her. And the bit about Dragon’s help, if she indeed helped, could use some elaboration, if only to show how cool they will be when working together.

          2. They undoubtedly did something together when Victoria was talking to Defiant in chapter 8.1. Probably not enough to actually do much (if any) tinkering, but likely enough to establish some sort of working relationship. Maybe Dragon also put Kenzie in contact with some other tinkers.

            For now I see no reason to more clearly explain if the tech actually comes from Kenzie. I’m sure Wildbow will do it if and when it becomes relevant to the story that Kenzie can open portals with her own tech. Treat what happened in this chapter as a relatively obvious clue and foreshadowing if some obviously Kenzie-made portals happen later.

          3. Well. Let me reiterate: I’m not saying that it’s not understandable where the tech is coming from. I’m saying that the story would benefit from more attention paid to that. The ultimate goal of a story isn’t “let the readers understand what’s happening” – it’s “let the readers live through important moments of its characters’ lives”. I’d say that understanding Teacher’s tech enough to be able to replicate it – i.e. doing something that no one else had done before, except for Teacher himself – would be quite a significant achievement for Kenzie, even more so if she did it all by herself; and if she worked on it together with other tinkers, especially Dragon, then this cooperation would be a significant event for her. Significant enough that it’s weird not to see it even mentioned, let alone highlighted.

          4. I’m not sure, but I think Kenzie’s cooperation with other tinkers on porta-related tech has been mentioned at some point. I would have to check to be sure. I’m also not entirely sure if Teacher still had monopoly on portal-related tinkertech even before Goddess’ arc. See my post below about the quote I found in chapter 9.3 for details.

          5. > it’s kind of a jump from “Kenzie can mess with Teacher’s tech” to “Kenzie can fully replicate Teacher’s tech”, especially considering that Teacher’s tech must be complex enough that we didn’t see it replicated by any other tinker.

            It’s probably less that it’s especially complex and more that nobody had managed to get their hands on a copy of it before Victoria stole one for Kenzie. And of course, Kenzie was the right Tinker for the job, since so much of her tech already involved space manipulation techniques.

            Also, we don’t know that she actually has replicated it yet. She may have just modified the stolen device.

    2. “Mmmm. Not sure how I feel about the roommate dynamic between Vicky and Ashley. It feels too unstable. Really missing the old dynamic with Damsel.”

      I personally think that Vic and Ashley are a more stable situation than the two Ashleys. They have made some dramatically different choices about what they want and neither of them agrees with or really respects the other’s choice. That’s a recipe for a major blowup. They’re actually lucky it happened last Arc when Damsel attacked Swansong. The massive danger of the situation meant that they couldn’t really allow it to escalate like it might have if they were alone, but they still both knew that That Was It.

      Victoria and Ashley respect each other. Also, important, Ashley can tolerate differences of opinion from Victoria. Her sister disagreeing with her is a source of major cognitive dissonance.

  22. I’ve gotta say I’m a mite disappointed in these people. All those brains and the best they can come up with is indefinite incarceration and forced isolation on an alternate earth with no real hope of survival for most. Why not just lop off their heads an be done with it. It would be more merciful.

    Also, why can’t they just build another prison? Or rebuild the old one? Why do they have to resort to this? Bound and gagged and kicked off earth to die alone of either cold or starvation. It’s just inhumane. These are the ‘heroes’. They’re supposed to be better. And this seems a slippery slope. How long until they start exiling peoplefor a first offense? Or Because their power might just be too dangerous even if they haven’t done anything yet. How long until we get another Canary?

    1. Well they’ve already had to deal with “Why are we wasting resources on keeping these people in prison, when good hard working, law abiding citizens are cold and hungry?” A prison population that’s largely idle and has it’s needs provided for it by the government is a fairly recent thing.

      1. So the solution is to put aside an entire planet presumably full of resources just to put prisoners on? If there aren’t enough resources to go around for the non prisoner population, then why not use that planets resources instead of just throwing them away.

        1. Resources mean little if you’re unable to harvest them. They currently aren’t in a position to fully utilize even Gimel’s resources, let alone other worlds. And by the time society establishes itself enough to use those resources, it will be able to rebuild Birdcage.

        2. Gimel is full of resources. It was a virgin planet until two years ago.

          And while both technology and foreknowledge of good resource locations are far more advanced, the population is still only a small fraction of pre Gold Morning Bet, which in turn was already smaller than our own.

        3. The resources they’re short on are electronic parts, refined fuel, electricity, food and shelter. This world has lots of wood, wildlife, and mineral resources; but so does Gimel, and humanity is not designed for a purely carnivorous diet. They need farms, mines, power plants and refineries and factories. In short, they’ve got all the resources they need except the infrastructure to actually exploit them.

    2. They have a full month to build better shelter and find food, and they all have combat capable superpowers. They are going to be fine. This isn’t a death sentence for any of these people. Building another prison would run into the same issues as the first, you are essentially creating a buffet for people with master powers.

      Is this a perfect solution? Heck no, but its honestly the best and most humane option they have at the moment. And I don’t think its a slippery slope with the “one person’s objection is enough that we don’t go through with it” rule, since presumably the entire alliance isn’t going to fall off that slippery slope at the same time.

    3. > Why not just lop off their heads an be done with it. It would be more merciful.

      How is that more merciful? If you are ever in a position where you need to choose whether to execute me or to exile me to an uninhabited wilderness, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE choose the latter. I would far rather have the opportunity to try to survive than to have some chucklefuck kill me out of hand because they’re too much of a smothered, imbecilic child to fathom the idea that somebody might be able to perform basic human functions like building a shelter, making fire, and fishing up some food. If I failed to thrive and decided I’d rather die immediately than starve, freeze, or what-have-you, I could still always take the easy out and hang myself or slit my throat. And fuck, that’s not even considering the fact that these guys are being sent off with supplies.

      1. In addition to Pizzasgood, there is a very slippery slope from “let’s kill the worst of the parahumans” to “we don’t have to hold back against parahumans, because they are just going to die anyways.” This takes care of problem parahumans while also protecting themselves from being killed in retaliation for execution.

        This is still a horrible situation either way.

      2. Okay, first of all, no need for name calling. Honestly that’s just rude.
        Secondly, this is effectively a death sentence for 99% of people. The only difference between this and a straight up execution is that this early the heroes don’t get their hands dirty and they can say “We have them a chance to survive. Idle they didn’t that’s their own fault.”
        Most people do not have the skills needed to survive long term in a situation like this. Building a shelter sounds great, but how many people know how to build a proper shelter to fully protect them from the elements and wildlife? They’ll burn through their food, they’ll waste their stoves fuel and their tent won’t protect them from Jack all. They’ll die slowly of starvation or the cold and they’ll die all alone without another human being for miles around.How is that better then dying quickly and cleanly? For me at least, if the choice is between starving to death and being executed, I’m going to pick execution.
        Oh, and if they DO meet another person, that person will probably try to kill them for whatever they might have because that person will be in the same situation.

        1. Damnable phone. Should be way instead of early and if instead of idle. Probably others too. I blame my giant thumbs.

        2. Some of them are parahumans with applicable powers. They are also a completely unknown type of predator to their local wildlife. And al it takes to form some kind of community there is for a few fliers or trackers to get exiled there.

          Also, one of the capes exiled literally specialized in tracking and capturing rare wildlife.

          It won’t be easy, but for much of history many humans had it arguably worse and did fine enough.

          1. Throughout all of Human history we had groups. Communities, tribes, clans, whatever. That’s the reason we’ve survived as long as we have. We could share resources and trade and rely on each other.
            But I have my doubts as to whether any viable community could really get going in this situation. These are the worst of the worst remember? They’re not exactly the sharing type.
            It worked out okay with the Birdcage because they got supplies coming in on a regular basis. They had food for everyone and they got new clothes and stuff come in regularly enough that they didn’t NEED to kill for it. These guys get whatever they were given and then whatever they are able to scrounge up themselves. Given that, I’m willing to bet people are going to be more interested in killing any newcomers they find and taking their stuff then allying with them and helping them out.
            I’m not saying it’s impossible. If they get enough people in there who are smart enough to realize they can’t survive alone and powerful enough to keep others in line, then there could be a livable community there. But I don’t think it’s likely.

      3. “… somebody might be able to perform basic human functions like building a shelter, making fire, and fishing up some food.”
        Pizza, somebody might be able to survive if cast out alone in the wilds. Somebody might even rise tot he occasion and survive in the winter.

        But most city dwellers do not possess these skills and will die. Even with a month’s worth of supplies to tide them over so they can desperately try to crash learn the skills needed.

        Personally I think they should be giving them a choice, Death Now or Banishment Forever, but then I also see the banishment as a death sentence and waste of resources for most of their criminals.

        1. Exactly. Most people won’t know how to survive that and so they’ll end up dead anyway. Dark knight rises had a scene covering this sort of thing.
          Gordon was given then choice between death and exile, and knowing that exilenwas a death sentence anyway chose death. Scarecrow then sentenced him to death… By exile!

        2. > Personally I think they should be giving them a choice, Death Now or Banishment Forever

          Sure, but what people keep ignoring is that exile includes that option automatically. The exiles are not being locked in a padded cell and forced to keep living. If they don’t think they can thrive and would rather have a quick death, they are free to kill themselves at any time. So from a humanitarian standpoint, offering them execution is redundant. Denying execution is slightly less efficient from a logistical standpoint in the case of people who will immediately commit suicide and thus waste their supplies (presuming other inmates don’t find the cache before it degrades), but the total amount of resources involved is actually pretty negligible compared to a city of 50 million, so it’s not a huge concern. Ethically, it is probably better not to make the offer, because making it opens a door for their captors to try manipulating them into choosing execution, or even just murdering them and claiming they asked for it. Leaving it fully up to the prisoner keeps things simple, and it also avoids creating the illusion that they have to choose right now rather than trying survival out for a few weeks and only opting out of life if it becomes clear they’re not going to be happy.

          @Campbellsoup93: Yes, I realize that many people would not survive, and I may even be one of them. So what? Many people — whether they have the needed skills or not — would rather try than just give up and die, even if they’ll suffer along the way. I mean, look at Worm. They didn’t just say, “I guess Scion’s gonna kill us now. Bummer, but there’s no way we can beat him. Might as well line up and get it over with.” Some did give up, but many fought. They raged against the dying of the light, and they fucking won. Yes, most people died, and the survivors are still struggling, but would it have been more humane for Cauldron to manipulate String Theory or Eidolon into destroying the entire planet to avoid all this suffering? I think not!

          It’s perfectly fine if you would rather die gracefully than fight tooth and nail against horrible odds; I can even respect that, and there are scenarios where I’d make that choice myself. But to make that choice for other people without consent and then claim the moral high ground for doing it? No. That is not okay, and it is not something I will respect. Forcing people to die is no more humane than forcing them to live. The humane thing to do — if they have the capacity — is to let them make their own fucking choices. If they feel that their life isn’t worth living, they will solve that problem themselves. If an able-bodied mentally competent person isn’t suffering enough to take their own life, then they certainly aren’t suffering enough to warrant some self righteous asshole taking their life for them without consulting them first.

          1. “But to make that choice for other people without consent and then claim the moral high ground for doing it?”
            But that’s exactly what they’re doing dude. They’re sending these people off to an almost certain death and claiming that it’s morally right. The only difference between this and execution is that this way they keep their hands clean and the people they’re killing die slowly and painfully.
            It’s all good and well to talk about “giving them a chance” but in this case the chances of most everyone surviving is seemingly so low that there is the line between “a chance” and “no chance” is so small it’s almost invisible. Like I said, it’s between killing them slowly and painfully, or quickly and painlessly.
            I think what it comes down to here, is that I’ve lived on the streets through winter in Canada (thankfully just the one). I’ve BEEN hungry and I’ve BEEN cold. Really, truly hungry and so cold that I was checked into a hospital after getting stuck outside and nearly freezing to death. I know what that’s like. I would not wish that on anyone. Not on my worst enemy, not on the scum of the Earth. Subjecting someone to that sort of thing on purpose? It’s not humane. It’s not morally right. It’s not even morally grey.
            And again, stop with the name-calling dude. It makes you look immature and it gives your arguments less weight when you need to resort to it.

          2. The choice I’m talking about is between exile and suicide. If you execute them, they have no choices — they just die quickly. If you instead exile them, then they do have a choice — they can commit suicide and die quickly if they don’t like their odds, or they can try to survive and only commit suicide if things do go wrong, or they can fight to the bitter end even if it means dying slowly.

            As for winter, we can’t assume they’re being deposited in strictly northern latitudes. The tech in use allows arbitrary portals (otherwise they’d have to move to new locations for each exile rather than staying in the lobby). So for all we know, they’re being sent somewhere nearer the equator with mild or non-existent winters. It would be the sensible thing to do; why bother giving them supplies at all if they’re just going to freeze to death a few hours after the portal closes?

    4. Why would anyone rebuild the prison as long as there is no way to ensure that it won’t share the fate of the previous one, and become a source of recruits to some powerful villain? Goddess may be dead, but Teacher is still out there.

      In fact I’m afraid that it may be possible that exiling people may just lead to the same problem if Teacher is able to detect portals used by the heroes to do it. I think it is quite possible, especially if the heroes use his student’s tech to do it. The current solution may be even worse than the prison, because it is possible that Teacher may be able grab every exiled person without the heroes realizing what’s going on for a long time.

      Even if the heroes are periodically checking if the people they exiled are still where they are supposed to be, they may not realize that every one of those people has been for example “teachered” within an hour of their exile.

      The only way to make sure that something like this won’t happen would be to put exiled people under constant surveillance. Maybe Kenzie could do it? Maybe the heroes had enough foresight to have her do it? Who knows at this point?

      1. You have a point, but isn’t that a risk with every prison they make? I mean, they have to have some facility for people who don’t meet their “too dangerous to leave on Gimel” threshold. What if someone takes all of those people? It’s always a risk. And yeah, the thought that someone might grab them from the other side occured to me as well. Maybe we’ll see an army of angry exiles in the future? That could be cool. Especially if teacher used scapegoat to give them an upgrade.
        I’m not sure I’d like Kenzie keeping an eye on them. Maybe if she set up surveillance and had others keep watch instead of her. Dragon is definitely out. She spent enough time as a warden she deserves to move on and have a life.
        Is the clairvoyant even still alive? If so, they’re still not a great option. Whomever they partner with would get brain damage right? Bad idea.

        1. The thing is – building and maintaining prisons is probably much more expensive than the exile setup, and since it is no more effective due to threat of infiltration by someone like Teacher, why spend money on the expensive solution? Especially when there is a chance that Teacher may be unable to trace the points the portals have been opened to, so there is a chance that the exiled people won’t be intercepted?

          1. Again though, they have to have some kind of prison for normal, non-powered humans right? And for parahumans who don’t meet the criteria for exile. Unless they’re seriously just letting criminals go because they can’t hold them. Good lord, there’s a thought eh? “We know you used your powers to rob a bunch of people and you hurt quite a few, but you didn’t do anything serious enough for us to exile you, so you’re free to go. Have a good day sir!”
            So if they have prisons already, why not put these guys in THAT prison and just up the security? Hire more guards? Maybe put some heroes on guard duty. Get some pro-bono tinker defenses. Get some round the clock thinkers working there to watch out. They know what to look for now with Teacher, and they know TO look for it. If he tries something, they can be ready for it.

          2. @Campbellsoup: Judging by the fact they let Disjoint and Sidepiece go before the Navigator attack, the ‘release them because we have no room’ is already happening. And that pair was linked to some of the murders committed by Beast of Burden.

          3. @Campbellsoup93

            Don’t tell me you believe that the sort of capes who are getting exiled could be kept in a regular prison. There is a reason Birdcage existed, and that this sorry excuse of a prison that Goddess and Teacher trashed was set up two worlds away from Gimel.

          4. @Alfaryn I can’t reply to your comment below, so I shall respond to it here. Sorry.
            That “sorry excuse for a prison” was working pretty well until it got attacked by crazed super villains with too much power. Even the Birdcage got ripped open and all of its inmates broken out. Or did you forget that part? NO prison is 100% safe. Not even in real life. People manage to break out of prison. It happens. When it does, you don’t just say “screw it, this prison didn’t work. No point in even having a prison anymore.”
            No. When that happens, you find out why it happened and how it happened and you shore up security to ensure it doesn’t happen again. You can’t just give up on the whole system because something went awry. I’m not saying you’re wrong. Obviously a regular prison for unpowered humans wouldn’t be too effective at keeping most parahumans locked up, but they COULD take one of those prisons and outfit it for parahumans. Better security systems, better trained guards. Capes on guard duty. There ARE options. It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s better then the alternative of “just let them go”.
            @Earl of Purple … I actually forgot all about that. That sucked. I mean I like DJ and SP, but they’re bad people and they really shouldn’t have been let back on the streets. Shit.

  23. Well, this showed what we already knew was going on.
    With no working jails for Paras this is probably the most humane thing to do. In some ways it is less bad then the Birdcage. There are people who like to be on their own, alone in the wilderness.

    What puzzles me is: they deport some unknowns. WHERE is Cradle? Love Lost? Colt? March (if still alive)?

    Also: Vista talking about her tit problems was hilarious. That was a real highlight 🙂

    1. I think that considering the dream-room situation, “deporting” members of Rain’s cluster may be not the best idea. If March is alive, I would expect that she is in Undesider’s custody, with Foil being free to inflict any Kiss/Kill on her she considers necessary.

    2. “March (if still alive)? ”

      Until I see it explicitly stated in the story, I maintain that there is no way short of unthinkably powerful mind control that Foil would decide to let March survive that fight.

      1. Well.. if that talk about Shard Hell got to her… she might leave her alive to get her identity “Erased”.
        But in that case she certainly wouldnt leave her behind.

  24. I know Victoria is pretty good at compartmentalizing, but completely ignoring the Carol situation even in her own mind (even if I strongly suspect it will come up later with Amy) feels a less ‘natural’ story flow, and moreso purposefully dangling a plot point in front of me and then yanking it back.

    It may be meant to tantalize, but instead (for me, at least) just kind of sours things – as it’s happened repeatedly already in this story, on a much more seemingly frequent scale than Worm did.

    At least we’ll hopefully see more of Tattletale and Victoria at some point, I suppose

  25. Do you remember that discussion about who sealed off Aleph after Gold Morning. This is what I found in chapter 9.3 when looking for something else:

    Cryptid explained, “They put the prison behind two portals. They have the means to close ways between universes- they used it to seal off Aleph entirely. That’s the trap. If you go there, they abandon ship and lock you in, or they’ll just blow up the prisoners that might end up compromised.”

    Doesn’t explain who sealed Aleph off exactly, but could it be not Teacher, but people who built the prison? At least Cryptid’s words seem to suggest it could be the case.

    1. Of course “they” in the last sentence of the quote could refer to Teacher’s people within prison personnel, in which case Cryptid could still mean the Teacher, not any people working for the city.

    2. There is another hero who probably could perform constant surveillance on the exiled capes. The problem is last time we saw him, he had some communication difficulties, not to mention that everyone (including himself) was probably somewhat worried that he has been mastered by an Endbringer.

      1. And then there is Dragon, but don’t you think she may be a little sick of working as a warden by this time?

        1. Another problem with using Dragon as a warden could be that there may be no guarantee that she will never be hacked again by Teacher and/or Saint.

          1. And sorry everyone (Glassware in particular) for posting multiple comments as responses to my previous comments again. I’m trying to get better. Turns out it is not that easy for me.

  26. 3. “The first few goes had been more rushed. A through G.”
    OK, who it can be? Most probably Mama Mathers, also probably Cradle. Who else?

    4. On deciding four capes fate Victoria’s almost-veto was distracted by the mask up to Anlance wake her (reminds me of Walter White thinking about sauce spot on oncologist’s gown), but later she forgot about mask thinking about condemned capes.

    5. “If I lived that long, I would potentially be doing exercises like these until I was old.”
    Unless you visit Amy or Riley 🙂

    1. I don’t think Cradle would be exiled either. Doesn’t fit the pattern. It was stressed that of the exiled capes have effectively been given at least one second chance, and proven that they have no intention or ability to change. As bad as what he did was, Cradle is effectively on his first strike.

      1. I have to disagree. Is chopping up a dozen of people at once somehow better than doing it to one person, then getting caught and chopping up another one after having been let out? Besides, there’s no indication that Happyland was caught and let out before, I’d think his case is the same kind of “first strike” with numerous victims either.
        P.S. Curious, but I can’t even see the name “Happyland” being used by someone other than a perverted maniac.

        1. The thing about Cradle is that it has never been disproven that he can’t change for the better. Remember that Ward, both with it’s post-GM amnesty, and with the way criminals like Rain and Ashley have been treated later is a story about second chances, and that people (especially the heroes, a lot of whom are reformed villains at this point) are inclined to give them to many people.

          The four people we saw exiled in this chapter have proven (repeatedly in case of Drillbit), that they can’t or won’t change their ways. Cradle has not been tested in this way yet. Remember that Rain’s actions led to deaths of far more people then Cradle’s, remember that Ashley was technically on probation (or on a short leash, and warned about consequences of any misbehavior as she described it) when she killed Beast of Burden. For now both of them have proven that giving them their second chances wasn’t a bad idea.

          Sure, Rain has been under Mama Mathers’ influence, and an unwilling member of a cult, and he did a lot to bring the Fallen down later, and he (like Ashley) turned himself in. This certainly played a role in relatively light treatment by the law (not to mention the fact that the prison was destroyed before he could be properly sentenced).

          But Rain still killed far more people than Cradle did, and it is not like there are absolutely no extenuating circumstances in Cradle’s case. A lot of what Cradle did was, in his words, to prevent a bigger disaster, and no one has yet proven that Cradle was lying then.

          1. And the kids, plus some other people he chopped up (I think that at least Tattletale is a good example)? Those, according to Cradle, were to mitigate consequences of the disaster if it happened by ensuring that the weakest (the kids), and the strongest (who could maybe do something to help if the disaster struck – like Tattletale) would survive.

            You may not believe what Cradle said to defend his actions, but you can’t disprove it either, and in this situation I see no reason not to give Cradle his second chance if most other villains, some arguably worse than him – like certain Birdcage inmates, got one.

          2. > A lot of what Cradle did was, in his words, to prevent a bigger disaster, and no one has yet proven that Cradle was lying then.

            You know, it doesn’t work that way. If I’ll go and start chopping people to pieces, claiming that it will somehow mysteriously save the Earth from being invaded by aliens, I’ll be treated by police like a maniac and not like a savior (and that wouldn’t change in the slightest even if existence of aliens were a well-known fact in our world). Despite that, strictly saying, they wouldn’t be able to prove that I’m lying. “Just believe me this horrible thing is necessary, because I say so” doesn’t amount to anything and isn’t subject to any benefits of a doubt.

            > Those, according to Cradle, were to mitigate consequences of the disaster if it happened by ensuring that the weakest (the kids), and the strongest (who could maybe do something to help if the disaster struck – like Tattletale) would survive.

            And if this were sincere, it would be literally weapons-grade stupidity. Cradle should be then awarded with at least a Thinker -6 rating, by being so dangerously stupid that it warrants an immediate PRT response. Of course, with this being just Cradle’s BS which probably even he himself didn’t expect to be believed but just didn’t think of anything better to try to throw his opposition off, at least his thinking abilities are in order.

          3. > And if this were sincere, it would be literally weapons-grade stupidity. Cradle should be then awarded with at least a Thinker -6 rating,

            It all depends on how much Cradle knew, and what options were realistically available to him, I think. By your logic the old Cauldron should be awarded a Thinker -7 rating at least. That organization seems to have a lot in common with Cradle anyway. No wonder some people in the Cradle-Love Lost-March alliance were supposed to be defectors from Teacher.

            As for chopping up kids – Cauldron has done worse, yet somehow last time we saw Number Man for example, he was a Mayor’s husband, and very much a free man. No matter what the law (which seems to be powerless at the moment, at least when it comes to capes) has to say about Cradle, I suspect there will be plenty of powerful and influential people who will want to ensure that Cradle won’t be punished too badly. Especially not in a way that would make it too difficult to turn him into an asset in the future.

          4. Well considering that Cradle was incidently part of March’s plans that caused hopefully not going to be Smurfed in a bad way Dauntless Titan… Remember just because someone has some information others don’t, doesn’t mean they aren’t either full of shit or just plain WRONG.

            Also Cradle… Well Citrine, Numbers Man, and several others were waiting there for him, and it’s pretty clear the only reason they didn’t kill him right there was Victoria saying she wanted to keep him just in case. It’s clear that they consider his involvement and actions to have caused a big enough threat and headache.

            The next thing is making sure the Cluster don’t all fuck with each other via Tokens. We don’t need angry sociopathic Rain.

          5. > As for chopping up kids – Cauldron has done worse, yet somehow last time we saw Number Man for example, he was a Mayor’s husband, and very much a free man.

            First of all, Cauldron didn’t do worse. Second, you forget about one kinda big reason for the amnesty – namely, the end of the world. During which all the capes had helped, and got the amnesty because of it. If another end of the world happened now, and Cradle had helped – surely he would get a second chance. But he’d have to help. If he would instead go and chop up heroes defending from whatever threat there is, he would get shot on sight rather than amnestied. Same applies here, when the only apparent threat is coming from Cradle and his allies, with only him saying otherwise and not backing his words with anything.

            > It all depends on how much Cradle knew, and what options were realistically available to him, I think. By your logic the old Cauldron should be awarded a Thinker -7 rating at least.

            And again, Cauldron and what they did has nothing to do with it. They did some cruel things, but these things obviously benefit their goal of creating an army of capes to fight Scion eventually. Cradle’s cruelty also makes perfect sense if we assume that his goal is to increase his power, to get Rain and to avoid punishment for all he did, no matter the costs for all the others. But if we assume that he himself meant his actions to benefit his victims, then it would require really parahuman levels of stupidity from him. It’s like killing someone to save them from being killed by someone else. Or torturing them to save them from being mugged, or whatever.

          6. > If another end of the world happened now, and Cradle had helped

            …forgot to mention another important detail: if heroes didn’t learn that he himself helped to bring this end of the world about (as seems to be his intention, according to his own thoughts).

          7. I think the main point at which we differ is that you, like Love Lost, assume that Cradle lied about everything he said to Rain at the end of Love Lost’s interlude, after he learned about the fact that March didn’t stop after popping one time effect.

            I on the other hand think that most of what he said was true, and that Cradle’s only intention other than preventing the time-effect-and-portal related disaster was to get out of the dream room one way or another, so he could return to his old life as a well adjusted psychopath.

            Remember that he is a psychopath who wants to return to his pre-trigger life, not a power hungry sadist. The reason that he chopped all of these people is not that he felt any pleasure doing it, but because doing it didn’t make him feel anything at all. Similarly I don’t think he didn’t drain his cluster members to gain power (he actually spent a lot of his accumulated power in form money and favors he was owed to execute his plan), but in an attempt to make them not have their spaces in the dream-room, possibly without having to kill them.

            It is even possible that he believed that if he was the only cluster member left with a space in the dream-room, he wouldn’t be forced to visit it every night anymore, and even if he was, he would just experience his own memories every night followed by a visit to the room where there would only be him, and whatever is in the fifth space. Probably a big enough improvement for him to return to his previous life, at least for the most part.

            I think he had no reason to lie about anything that wasn’t directly related to what he was trying to do with his clustermates.

          8. And, funny enough, if you want a member of Rain’s cluster who wanted to kill the other members, look no further than Love Lost. Rain and Cradle were her two enemies who needed to die, she wrote about to Lord of Loss.

            And it is not surprising – unlike Cradle, Love Lost had no life to return to after husband left her, and her daughter died. On top of it thanks to both the emotions she brought with hersef, and the tokens she got from Cradle, she was an angry “almost psychopath”, who did not have a lifetime of experience adjusting to her lack of empathy, nor did she have anyone who could keep her from doing the worst the way Cradle’s friends did (he told them about his psychopathy in large part so they would do it for him after all).

            Love Lost probably won’t try to kill her cluster members anymore, in part because she finally realized what Cradle’s tokens did to her, in part because she would have to kill Colt along with Cradle and Rain now, and that is the one thing she won’t allow herself to do. Like I said some time before, Colt may yet become the person who will save this cluster.

          9. Alfaryn: “I think the main point at which we differ is that you, like Love Lost, assume that Cradle lied…”

            Of course he lied. Not only is Love Lost the proof in this pudding (if he had good reasons to chop up kids, he’d have told her), but chopping them up doesn’t protect them from End Of the World scenarios. It actually makes it harder to protect them as they cannot flee on their own if necessary.

            This is Guerilla Tactics 101: Always shoot to wound, never to kill. This reduces an enemy force by two every time you wound one, the person wounded and the person who has to care for them. If you can shoot to cripple, even better. Most combatants fear crippling far more than they fear death.

            And if you can them surround yourself with hostages, it reduces your enemy’s ability to operate against further. That was all the ‘chopping up kids’ was meant to do. I suspect that this was a side effect of him coming up with a way to remove pieces of his cluster mates so he could power up ‘March Style’ and the chopping up other heroes was just icing on the ‘psychopathic’ cake.

            Alfaryn: “And, funny enough, if you want a member of Rain’s cluster who wanted to kill the other members, look no further than Love Lost. ”

            She didn’t want to kill Snag. In fact… I bet she didn’t want to kill Cradle until after he sold her on the ‘chop up kids’ plan as being the only way to get to Rain. I’m willing to bet that was her line, the line she allowed him (and her) to cross that was her moral event horizon. After that point it was all about “kill Rain, kill Cradle, and then I can die”. Considering she still kept Nailbiter around as a “At least I’m not that far gone yet” compass point.

          10. > chopping them up doesn’t protect them from End Of the World scenarios. It actually makes it harder to protect them as they cannot flee on their own if necessary.

            The problem with this line of reasoning is that all people Cradle chopped up were capes. Quite heroic ones when push comes to shove too. They would not try to help Rain and Foil otherwise. If they could move, they would not flee from danger, but charge straight at it.

            > She didn’t want to kill Snag. In fact… I bet she didn’t want to kill Cradle until after he sold her on the ‘chop up kids’ plan as being the only way to get to Rain.

            She was a great detective, who probably knew more often than not if the suspects were monsters even before their guilt was proven. This is probably why she employed the tactic she did against Jen. She knew Jen was a monster before she did what she did so that Jen admitted her guilt. She probably realized that, unlike Snag, Cradle was a psychopath, which in her eyes probably also made him a monster. She probably thought exactly the same about Rain based on his memories she saw in the dreams, and to a certain degree she was right. What she did not realize is that Rain has changed since then.

            Remember that in those mails to Lord of Loss in which she called Rain and Cradle her enemies, she called Snag her friend. It is entirely possible that she only decided to kill Rain and Cradle only after Snag died, in part because she thought that her only clustermate who wasn’t a monster was already dead, so she wouldn’t have to kill a fundamentally decent person to get out of the room, and in part because a steady stream of tokens from Cradle made her less empathetic, and as such more prone to killing people to achieve her goals than she was on the day Snag died.

            Maybe she kept rationalizing that she was “just going to arrange deaths of two monsters” when she planned Rain’s and Cradle’s deaths. She might have even believed it to the point where she would actually do it. It is a horrible rationalization of course, but remember that she fully realized just how far she has gone herself (and how much Rain has changed for the better since their trigger) only on the first night Colt joined the cluster in their shared dream.

          11. > I think he had no reason to lie about anything that wasn’t directly related to what he was trying to do with his clustermates.

            Huh? If his goals are monstrous, he has every reason to lie about them and try to sell them as non-monstrous somehow. Except that he didn’t even try that hard to make a convincing argument – probably because he could not think of one, as his actions speak for themselves far too much. Imagine if you see someone besides several bodies of mutilated victims, with bloody hands, and he says that it was absolutely necessary for…errr…something…oh right, for saving Poland from being invaded by Russia. What would you think of him – that he’s a nice guy with no reasons to lie, totally deserving a second chance?

            > Cradle’s only intention other than preventing the time-effect-and-portal related disaster […]

            Except that none of his actions could possibly help to prevent the disaster, and many of them helped to make it happen or to make it worse when it happens. Along with making him the priority target of each and every hero and even some villains, thus ensuring that no cooperation with them will be possible, and they will try hard to foil any his plan whatever it might be. So he’s either so unimaginably dumb that he fails to see all his actions causing great harm to his own noble goals, or he is exactly the monster he appears to be.

            > The problem with this line of reasoning is that all people Cradle chopped up were capes. Quite heroic ones when push comes to shove too. They would not try to help Rain and Foil otherwise. If they could move, they would not flee from danger, but charge straight at it.

            So his method of protecting people from some great danger is dismembering the capes who most likely would be willing to do something about it, so that they can’t charge into battle (or do anything at all on their own, for that matter)? That’s not even Thinker -6, it’s straight-up -10. One would be extremely hard-pressed to think of something more dumb and harmful for that goal.

          12. > Huh? If his goals are monstrous, he has every reason to lie about them and try to sell them as non-monstrous somehow.

            I would argue, that his goals were not quite as monstrous as you may think. He probably wanted two things:
            – to get out of the dream-room for good (or at least from having to meet his clustermates there), so he could return to his old life,
            – make the heroes actually do something about “the biggest threat” (assuming that what he was working against is what Valkyrie was worried about, which seems quite possible to me – remember that freeing Dauntless from his bubble is likely only the beginning of the problems – there are plenty more time effects left to pop, plus we don’t yet know how bad news the presence of YggdraDauntless really is).

            His methods could be called monstrous, but to be fair, he probably wanted to achieve his first goal using non-lethal methods if possible (otherwise he would just have Love Lost and Colt killed, not try to drain them). As for the second goal – remember that he designed his method of cutting people up in such a way that it was reversible, and which ensured that his victims would all survive long enough to be completely restored. Why would he do it if he didn’t intend to put everyone back? It makes sense to think that he wanted to use it only as a temporary measure, which in my opinion makes it bad, but nowhere near as bad as the real life example about mutilated people you gave.

            Considering likely scale the scale of “the biggest threat” (which terrifies Valkyrie, so it may even be the biggest threat humanity has faced since Gold Morning), and that he was probably among the authors of the petitions that were denied by both the mayor and the Wardens, he could think his methods were justified. And I would argue that his methods were much less extreme than the ones employed by the old Cauldron. After all, what is worse? Chopping up a dozen or so people to pieces and then putting them back together after a few days, or experimenting on thousands of people by giving them powers that killed them, or turned them into C53s or destroyed them in even worse ways?

            I think we may see which one of us is right later. I’m certain we haven’t seen the end of Cradle’s story yet, and we definitely don’t know the full consequences of what March did in BB, or what else may still happen if other time effects are popped.

          13. “The problem with this line of reasoning is that all people Cradle chopped up were capes. Quite heroic ones when push comes to shove too.”

            The Heartbroken aren’t heroic. They were only involved because Cradle involved himself with March to gain the knowledge to take out his cluster and thus they were taken out because they were enemies of March, not to protect them. No other rationale passes the sniff test.

            “She probably realized that, unlike Snag, Cradle was a psychopath, which in her eyes probably also made him a monster. She probably thought exactly the same about Rain based on his memories she saw in the dreams, and to a certain degree she was right. What she did not realize is that Rain has changed since then.”

            She was completely wrong. Grief and anger had blinded her. She saw in Rain’s own memories him trying to undo the damage, to open the doors. ‘Too little, too late’ per Cardle.

            He had changed that night, before triggering. He’d had his epiphany and done his face-turn. Everything since has been his building upon that. His guilt from his inability to effect any change that night.

            “It is entirely possible that she only decided to kill Rain and Cradle only after Snag died, in part because she thought that her only clustermate who wasn’t a monster was already dead, so she wouldn’t have to kill a fundamentally decent person to get out of the room, and in part because a steady stream of tokens from Cradle made her less empathetic, and as such more prone to killing people to achieve her goals than she was on the day Snag died.”

            I have no doubt that without Snag, Cradle was more easily able to focus in on her, but she’d already decided to kill Rain long before then. Just not Cradle, as despite being a ‘heartless sociopath’, he wasn’t displaying any proclivities to harm others. Yet.

            But that the problem with sociopaths. They tend to only really become problems for society when they become powerful enough or ‘smart enough to get away with it’ (or deluded enough to believe themselves so) that they can do as they wish without negative repercussions. Remember, that was the only reason Cradle ‘changed’ in his youth, he realized that following society’s rules and pretending he had a conscience made it easier to get what he wanted and would stop the punishments.

            “It is a horrible rationalization of course, but remember that she fully realized just how far she has gone herself (and how much Rain has changed for the better since their trigger) only on the first night Colt joined the cluster in their shared dream.”

            Two points: 1, it’s really not ‘horrible’. It’s a perfectly fine rationalization. And if it stopped there, even a decent one. And we know it would have stopped there as without Cradle’s negative influence she’d have eventually returned to normal, murderously angry at Rain and grief stricken over her daughter’s death.

            2, she actually came somewhat to her senses when Colt decided to go full force into it. She realized that things weren’t right but rationalized to herself that ‘it past the point of no return, and ‘that she was still a better person than Nailbiter’. That was a horrible rationalization.

          14. “I would argue, that his goals were not quite as monstrous as you may think.”

            Eh…. I argue you aren’t considering his actual goals. Only one of them…

            “He probably wanted two things:
            – to get out of the dream-room for good (or at least from having to meet his clustermates there), so he could return to his old life,”

            Sure, being free of them is a non-monstrous goal. His methods a re demonstrably monstrous. Keeping people captive and bleeding them repeatedly (as he’d have to do every night) is a monstrous act.

            “– make the heroes actually do something about “the biggest threat” (assuming that what he was working against is what Valkyrie was worried about, which seems quite possible to me – remember that freeing Dauntless from his bubble is likely only the beginning of the problems – there are plenty more time effects left to pop, plus we don’t yet know how bad news the presence of YggdraDauntless really is).”

            There is no possible manner in which he had any knowledge of this event. Likewise if his goal were “Stop March from doing whatever f-ed up thing she going to do” were his goal (which I doubt very strongly) then chopping up kids and making himself a bigger target for several groups is demonstrably a terrible method of going about it. No, clearly he expected March to be a great distraction to keep the heat on himself lower and thus reduce the amount of immediate backlash he’d receive. He had found himself in a position of power and believed he could now act in any manner of his choosing nigh consequence free.

            “His methods could be called monstrous…”

            They are monstrous. No ‘could be’, no ‘to be fair’. He chose the monster route and sold it to others as means of expediency.

            “As for the second goal – remember that he designed his method of cutting people up in such a way that it was reversible, and which ensured that his victims would all survive long enough to be completely restored. Why would he do it if he didn’t intend to put everyone back?

            Guerilla Tactics 101: Dead People Are Terrible Hostages.

            “Chopping up a dozen or so people to pieces and then putting them back together after a few days, or experimenting on thousands of people by giving them powers that killed them, or turned them into C53s or destroyed them in even worse ways?”

            Ah good. Ye olde “But we’re not as bad as the Nazis” defense. That’s always a beautiful logical fallacy. Ignoring that he never put anyone back together, nor did he ever act in a manner consistent with the notion that he would, nor did his allies ever suspect he would…

          15. I am clearly too sick and tired today to pay attention to spelling, grammer, and proper tag-closing on my formatting. Also I suspect this fever* is why I’m actually diving down Alfaryn’s OverThinker rabbit-holes… rather than skimming over them and muttering to myself about not having the time to debate this endlessly.

            * Fever and boredom. Probably more the later than the former… through the former might be putting on edge on my responses.

          16. > The Heartbroken aren’t heroic. They were only involved because Cradle involved himself with March

            Really, why didn’t they simply hide when March was getting Foil then? Why did they fight to protect Rain from Love Lost and Cradle? Heroism takes many forms and sometimes even dresses in the guise of so-called villainy in parahumanverse, and people like the Undersiders are perfect examples of that. Why would you say the Heartbroken aren’t if they do practically the same for practically the same reasons?

            > She was completely wrong. Grief and anger had blinded her. She saw in Rain’s own memories him trying to undo the damage, to open the doors. ‘Too little, too late’ per Cardle.

            Of course she was wrong, but it doesn’t mean that she saw things that were never there. You could say that she considered Rain and Cradle “monsters”, because she saw only the ugliest parts of who they were. Rain was a much worse person than he is now – he ultimately chose his own well-being (though not survival – he wouldn’t die, he would just be “turned into a bitch”) over lives of all of those people he trapped. I don’t think he would do the same thing now. Also remember that in her dreams Love Lost only saw Rain’s actions at and before the Mall. She never knew his exact motives or thoughts before Colt-modified dreams explained them. Same thing with Cradle – if Love Lost saw him as a psychopath (and while I’m not sure about it, I think she might have), she wasn’t wrong, but it is not everything there is to Cradle, and as I argued multiple times – some of what she probably didn’t see did shed some positive light on him, like the fact that he struggled for many years to be as normal and safe member of the society as he could despite it.

            > Remember, that was the only reason Cradle ‘changed’ in his youth, he realized that following society’s rules and pretending he had a conscience made it easier to get what he wanted and would stop the punishments.

            I would argue that there more reasons for his change than that. Part of it was probably just his loneliness, I think. Either way he did make the effort to not only change, but also to make sure that he won’t be tempted to return to his old ways. That has to be worth something.

            > it’s really not ‘horrible’. It’s a perfectly fine rationalization. And if it stopped there, even a decent one.

            Since when is “those people are monsters” a good rationalization for purposefully arranging someone’s death? Who made her a judge, jury and executioner in one? It is not like Rain and Cradle are S-class threats with kill orders on them. She doesn’t even have excuses like the ones Taylor had for killing Coil for example (protecting Dinah from the lifetime of slavery and forced drug abuse, and later protecting her own life too). The fact that she thinks they are “monsters” doesn’t automatically justify what basically amounts murdering them. Her reasons for killing Rain basically boiled down to vengeance, while her reasons for killing Coil would be what, “It is better to kill a psychopath who may kill someone someday and be free of the dream-room than to be trapped there and feel all this anger for the rest of my life.”?

          17. > There is no possible manner in which he had any knowledge of this event.

            Between his possible connections to Teacher’s cauldron (remember that some capes left Teacher because he vetoed messing with time effects, so they had to at least have some idea what doing to time effects may do), and March’s knowledge of the fact that portals may act as “power batteries” it may be entirely possible that he knew what could happen. Remember this quote from Love Lost’s interlude about what March was supposed to do if a time bubble would be broken:

            If she found the one she needed then she would mercy kill before it became a real problem.

            Even Love Lost knew that people freed from the time effect may need to be killed to prevent “a real problem”. Cradle would have to know it too, because by Love Lost’s own admission she discussed this contingency with him.

            > Guerilla Tactics 101: Dead People Are Terrible Hostages.

            Permanently disabled people (for example with a few limbs amputated the “traditional way”) still do make good hostages though. Why go into trouble to invent a technology which could be used to put them back together if you wanted to use them only as hostages, and didn’t worry about what would happen to them after they were released or otherwise were no longer needed as hostages?

            “We took them out of the picture! The plan was to take the best and most vulnerable-”

            Cradle wanted for them to be intact later. This means that he did not want to maim them for life, and/or saw them as potential assets in dealing with “the threat” once he forced everyone to actually seriously listen to what he had to say about it, and do what he wanted them to do. Once again – remember that Cradle probably was one of the people behind the petition to the mayor and the Wardens. In other words he asked for help, and was denied it. We know that he asked Tattletale for some sort of cooperation during the villain meeting, and she probably also refused to do it. His choice was to either do nothing or force the city and the Wardens, and Tattletale to help, and “the threat” sounds big enough that doing nothing could look like a much worse option.

          18. Forgot to add what Cradle said about why he wanted “the best and most vulnerable” “out of the picture:

            “No! To disable them. To force them onto the bench so that if something did happen, they wouldn’t get hurt in the time it took us to step in.”

            I think it fits the reasoning behind Cradle’s actions I explained above perfectly. Whether he was telling the truth is a different story, but for now there is no proof that he wasn’t.

          19. “Really, why didn’t they simply hide when March was getting Foil then?”

            When March went after their teammates you mean? The people they feel something for? Those people? Why indeed.

            “Why did they fight to protect Rain from Love Lost and Cradle?”

            By this point they were drug into it. If March and Cradle had operated separately the Heartless never would have crossed Cradle’s path. But… (plot demanded it) Cradle and March were working together, thus bringing Breakthrough and The Undersiders together, those leading up to Cradle taking pieces of kids (and adults) as hostages. Which I suspect was his plan from the moment he found out what March wanted in exchange for what she was trading. She wanted diversions and a shot at Foil sans back-up, Cradle provided.

            “Heroism takes many forms and sometimes even dresses in the guise of so-called villainy in parahumanverse, and people like the Undersiders are perfect examples of that.”

            Heroism is stepping up for those that can’t. The Heartbroken only step up for their own. That they began to bond with (and thus treat as their own) the hero team is not outside this explanation.

            Riddle me this: If March and Cradle had instead focused on Breakthrough and left the Undersiders alone*, do you think the Heartbroken would have lifted a finger for these strangers, these heroes, if opportunity had presented itself?

            No? Then they are not heroes themselves. They are sympathetic villains, but they are no heroes.

            “Of course she was wrong, but it doesn’t mean that she saw things that were never there.”

            You’re right. I went back and reread that, Rain’s dream-memory. It was Sier that broke the chain. Rain was hysterical. Also with what we now know of Cradle’s ability to manipulate the dreams and that before the emotions didn’t come through, Snag and LL probably thought he was laughing at the thought of the mall people dying.

            It was till his face-turn, it just didn’t manifest to anyone that couldn’t read his mind at that moment.

            “… I argued multiple times…”

            Just because you argue something doesn’t make it accurate. Cradle is a sociopath. His only filters to his behavior are the ones he instills personally, and those are mutable as water. He decides to be a law-abiding person, then he is. Until he decides not to be. He doesn’t have an inbuilt guidance system, it’s all generated by his own will and whims as he goes.

            “… he struggled for many years to be as normal and safe member of the society as he could despite it.”

            Soemthing to think about: He struggled because being a ‘normal’ person wasn’t his primary desire. Trust me. It was mine, I didn’t struggle. I struggled to learn to identify how other people thought and why they thought those ways, to better emulate that behavoir, not because mimicking it was hard. But knowing why meant I could better identify when illogical people (and face it everyone who acts based on emotional dictates is by degrees “illogical”) would break those rules of polite society. When is it “okay” to break the rules and when it wasn’t. That was my struggle. Following the rules was easy (because being a part of the crowd was my goal), navigating the grey areas, the personal spaces, was hard.

            “I would argue that there more reasons for his change than that.”

            Except that is literally not only what he’s told others, but reflected in his behavior.

            “Part of it was probably just his loneliness, I think.”

            Granted. Being ostracized is punishment of the herd when you don’t conform to the herd.

            “Either way he did make the effort to not only change, but also to make sure that he won’t be tempted to return to his old ways.”

            Eh…. I disagree that he made any (real) effort on the “not returning to his old ways” line. I believe he drowned the cat and then lied about it to the very people he was claiming he was being completely truthful to. That’s not leaving the “old self” behind, that’s just covering his tracks better.

            “Since when is “those people are monsters” a good rationalization for purposefully arranging someone’s death?”

            When they are in fact monsters. I’ll grant you it wasn’t completely fact in this case, but it’s a fine rationalization.

            “Who made her a judge, jury and executioner in one?”

            Clearly she did. I’m not saying she was right, just that her reasoning was fine (if not perfectly sound). Absent evidence to the contrary she might even be acquitted of murder charges should hse have succeeded in killing them and then were to turn herself in rather than commit suicide.

            “Her reasons for killing Rain basically boiled down to vengeance…”

            To a large degree with complete 3rd person insight, yes. However from her view he was not only complicite in killing lots of people, he rejoiced in it. And then spent months lying about himself to avoid her completely justified wrath…

            “…while her reasons for killing [Cradle] would be what, “It is better to kill a psychopath who may kill someone someday and be free of the dream-room than to be trapped there and feel all this anger for the rest of my life.”?”

            Cradle chopped up kids and convinced her that chopping up kids was a necessary evil (though I’m not sure she ever actually did that herself). Her hatred of that alone would be enough to justify to herself that he had to go, because she knew that he’d eventually cross even worse lines. She is the Detective afterall.

            “Remember this quote from Love Lost’s interlude about what March was supposed to do if a time bubble would be broken:”

            Yeah, I don’t think Cradle had any real clue about what would happen. Also I strongly suspect he hoped it would go as pear-shaped as possible to buy him even more cover.

            “Even Love Lost knew that people freed from the time effect may need to be killed to prevent “a real problem”. Cradle would have to know it too, because by Love Lost’s own admission she discussed this contingency with him.”

            But not “why they’d be a problem” only that they believed they might be and that this implies that LL thought March could or would handle it. Also see in a previous post “moral event horizon”. LL had already crossed hers, I suspect this contributed to all her slippery slope slide down into true “I no longer care” villainy.

            “Permanently disabled people (for example with a few limbs amputated the “traditional way”) still do make good hostages though.”

            Much less than if you believe they can be put back together again or that destroying those stolen pieces will cause more harm to the hostage. I mean your friend has been well and truly humptyed, why bother trying to avoid burning his eye up when you lock Cradle into the warehouse and set it on fire?

            “Why go into trouble to invent a technology which could be used to put them back together if you wanted to use them only as hostages, and didn’t worry about what would happen to them after they were released or otherwise were no longer needed as hostages?”

            We have no proof he deliberately invented it in this fashion and that it wasn’t a happy accident.

            “Cradle wanted for them to be intact later.”

            If you presume Cradle was doing anything other than lying. I hold no such assumptions.

            “Once again – remember that Cradle probably was one of the people behind the petition to the mayor and the Wardens.”

            A presumption with no evidence.

            “Whether he was telling the truth is a different story, but for now there is no proof that he wasn’t.”

            Except that he’s a known to have lied to and betrayed his own ‘team’. Thus, why should anything he says ever be treated with anything other than skepticism?

          20. > I would argue, that his goals were not quite as monstrous as you may think.

            That’s a circular argument. You believe that his goals are not monstrous because he said so and he had no reason to lie, and you believe that he had no reason to lie because his goals are not monstrous.

            > It makes sense to think that he wanted to use it only as a temporary measure, which in my opinion makes it bad, but nowhere near as bad as the real life example about mutilated people you gave.

            You missed my point. Whether it is as bad or not, is irrelevant in this case; what’s important is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and none at all was present here. Let’s modify my real life example, e.g. by saying that guy is an excellent plastic surgeon who is able to fix all his damage (that doesn’t make it any better though, just like with Cradle). Or replace mutilations with theft, with the perpetrator claiming the same ultimate goal and also saying that his act of stealing will benefit people who he was stealing from. This crime would be definitely not as bad, but still by any reasonable standards our protagonist is just a thief making a poor excuse.

            P.S. evileeyore, welcome to the rabbit hole! Thanks for joining me:))

          21. Ok, evileeyore. Let me begin by fixing what I think was the biggest mistake in my my previous couple of post – you mentioned you were sick and tired, and I completely ignored it then, so let me wish you quick recovery now. Take care of yourself. It is more important than any discussions about any web serials, even as good as Ward.

            As for our argument, you say that the Heartbroken were not heroic, because Foil was their teammate, and that they were “drug into” helping Rain, and that true heroism is supposed to be entirely selfless. The thing is, people aren’t born as heroes or Good Samaritans. They need to become those over course of their lives, and they often start by choosing to do the good thing while strongly incentivized to do so.

            Look at Lisa. At the beginning of Worm she wanted to do little more than to get some allies and then use them to get rid of Coil when in her opinion it was safe to do so. Her first “mistake” that set her on her path was that she allowed herself to become friends with those allies. Then one of those friends, Taylor, argued that taking down Coil can’t wait, because there is that poor, abused, drugged girl called Dinah, who needed help right then, and told that she is willing to go on a suicide mission against Coil to try to achieve it, if she was left without support.

            It was such a small thing for Lisa – changing her time table in return for keeping an extra ally and a friend alive, but I think it was significant, because by doing so Lisa put herself at more risk by executing her plan earlier for not entirely selfish reasons. Taylor kept making Lisa expose herself to more and more danger, and care for more and more people over time this way, until Lisa no longer needed such prodding. Now look at her – more or less directly taking care of a bunch of orphans, trying to make life better for everyone (especially for the people of New Brockton), keeping an eye on the S-class threats even while she is on the run from March. How is it not heroic?

            I think we can see beginnings of the same trend with the Heartbroken. First it was about protecting “aunt Lily”, then it was essentially because Aiden asked them to do the same for Rain, effectively arguing that while it would earn them more enemies (Love Lost and Cradle), it would also give them new allies in Breakthrough. Every time the Heartbroken had a choice and, as much they were incentivized to choose to help, the fact remains that they did it of their own free will. I think it is not a small thing if you consider what their father’s life choices were.

            As for Ryan, remember that he intentionally put in a position where he couldn’t easily go back to breaking all rules by letting Amanda and Lloyd learn about his psychopathy. If he broke the rules or otherwise behaved in a way a person with regular empathy couldn’t accept after that it would have consequences in not only increased risk of him getting caught but also (maybe even <especially), because he would likely loose their friendship at that point. There was no going back from this for him – he turned his fear of loneliness into a permanent leash for himself. It has to count for something, and this is the better side of Cradle Love Lost probably never saw.

            As for Cradle’s desires, I also don’t think, and never said, being a ‘normal’ member of the society was his only desire. Remember that in the mall he wondered if he could ever have what an old couple had in “Any way that’s fair to whoever I end up with?” That is obviously another one of his desires – a desire to have something more than he had with his friends, and the fact that he even considers if it would be “fair” to the other person is one more reason to think that he was doing his best to be as good person as he could with his lack of empathy, and another thing Love Lost probably missed about his character.

            As for Love Lost’s rationalization, I think that you may have misunderstood why I meant to convey by saying that it is ‘horrible’. I didin’t mean that its internal logic is not sound, but that only a horrible person would use such logic. And Love Lost was such person – an angry, non-adjusted, borderline psychopath rationalizing murder. Her only saving grace is that she probably didn’t dully realize what she has become until that night when Colt joined the cluster.

            As for the rest – I think that for now we will have just to disagree in that I think that the presented evidence indicates that Cradle believed that what he did with anyone else than his cluster members was a necessary evil, and you don’t, just like we’ll have to disagree on whether that belief was justified if he held it. I’m sure that sooner or later Wildbow will let us know through the story. I have little doubt that neither the story of Rain’s cluster nor the story of whatever threats were unleashed by March, or could be unleashed from the remaining time effects are over yet, so there will be opportunities for that.

          22. @T.T.O.

            My post above was obviously a response to the one evileeyore made above yours, but I think its ending addresses your response too, because I believe they ultimately come from the fact that you, like evileeyore, won’t believe that Cradle considered what he did a necessary evil without more evidence, and we will probably just have to wait and see if it will be presented in the story.

          23. T.T.O.: “P.S. evileeyore, welcome to the rabbit hole! Thanks for joining me:))”

            My sickness eroded my ability resist jumping into an argument online. I love these things… I just usually avoid them here as they (tend to) require far more deep knowledge of the Worm lore than I posses anymore… but understanding sociopaths? Why that’s first nature to me.

            Alfaryn: “Take care of yourself.”

            Thanks I am. I was mentioning it incase I was coming across more harshly than I’m trying to be. I’m resting (arguing online is like, not even a thing, I actually enjoy it) and working (paychecks, can’t live without ’em, can’t just steal ’em), and taking the good meds (that’s why my brain feels like it’s floating three feet behind me).

            “As for our argument, you say that the Heartbroken were not heroic, because Foil was their teammate, and that they were “drug into” helping Rain, and that true heroism is supposed to be entirely selfless.”

            They are not heroic. They are not acting to reduce suffering int eh world. they are acting to protect their own and protect/interfere with those that their boss tells them too.

            They are coming to enjoy the heros, to see Breakthrough as a group they can work with, in a limited fashion. I suspect much of this is done to Kenzie and Rachel. Bitch has grown up, I don’t peg her as ‘villain’ anymore. Granted neither is TT, but Lisa is still operating outside the law and against it… where I get the feeling that where Bithc is, she is the law and the law is fair.

            “The thing is, people aren’t born as heroes or Good Samaritans.”

            The thing is we’re talking about how they are now, how they were at the start, now how they may be 12 chapters from now.

            Flor and Aora are still a sadistic little demons and Juliette is supposedly a murderer. The Heartbroken are not heroes.

            Just because Chastity is becoming a sympathetic figure, does not change the dynamic of the entire crew.

            “As for Ryan, remember that he intentionally put in a position where he couldn’t easily go back to breaking all rules by letting Amanda and Lloyd learn about his psychopathy. If he broke the rules or otherwise behaved in a way a person with regular empathy couldn’t accept after that it would have consequences in not only increased risk of him getting caught but also (maybe even <especially), because he would likely loose their friendship at that point. There was no going back from this for him – he turned his fear of loneliness into a permanent leash for himself."

            A leash he tossed as soon as it became too difficult to bear. Not, he let his family think he may have died, and then let this impression get passed on to those 'friends'. No, getting powers, being forced intot eh cluster? It was the tipping point, that was when he decided he was better than those around him and could go on to start doing exactly as he wanted to (within cautious reason, build up a powerbase, build up an army, rise to true power… all things he began doing).

            "Remember that in the mall he wondered if he could ever have what an old couple had in “Any way that’s fair to whoever I end up with?” "

            And had ne never gotten power, had he remained a 'normal' person, he'd have likely continued towing the line. Because he wasn't 'better' than everyone else. He wasn't a egomaniac.

            "I didin’t mean that its internal logic is not sound, but that only a horrible person would use such logic."

            I understood. I just disagree. 'Killing/protecting people from' monsters is what Good People do. It's what cops do. Judges do. It's what Parents are supposed to do for their children. Protect them from the monsters.

            Once she decided that Rain, Cradle, and she were monsters… well, there was little left for her but to deal with those problems.

            "Her only saving grace is that she probably didn’t dully realize what she has become until that night when Colt joined the cluster."

            She had semi-self aware moments. The reason she kept Nailbiter around "There but for the grace of God go I". It was a weak rationalization, a weak standard to judge herself by. But she was still pretending she could live up to a standard.

            "I’m sure that sooner or later Wildbow will let us know through the story."

            Yup. Or not. Not all mysteries need to be solved. I'm fine with Cradle falling into a well and disappearing forever. But that's not really Wildbow's style.

      2. @Alfaryn

        In regards to the Second Chance and Cradle: He doesn’t get one. The Second Chance is an amnesty for anything that happened before Gold Morning. Cradle and the Mall Cluster are all Post-GM triggers. If Cradle really drowned his former teacher’s cat, the Second Chance covers that. Chopping up people into immortal torture bits? No Second Chance for that.

        1. Rain got one, Ashley got one. Both post-GM. Why wouldn’t Cradle get one? There definitely is a will among the heroes to give people second chances beyond that amnesty. Not surprising, considering that it worked well with lots of the villans-turned-heroes once they got their amnesty.

          1. In other words the current answer to the question “how many second chances one should get?” seems to be “as many as it takes for that person to either change their ways, or to prove with their behavior that they can’t or won’t do it.”

            The ones who were exiled in this chapter have all proven just that after all.

          2. Of course such rule would work only in a world ruled not by law, but by a cape, but now that I think about it, it may be exactly where the story is going. Consider the following:

            1. Victoria has put a lot of thought on the topic of how many second chances one should get at the very beginning of the story, and has been returning to this question from time to time,

            2. There has been a lot of foreshadowing that a word ruled by a cape could happen – from people’s general fear that capes will overthrow the rule of law manifested in the anti-parahuman movement, through presence of two such absolute rulers (first Goddess, then Amy), to the fact that Victoria’s shard wanted her to become a “tyrant”, and for them to “lay waste to all who stand before us”,

            3. Goddess failed in large part because she had no experience fighting well organized capes, because everything came to her too easily when she took over Shin, and because she saw people more as tools, than allies, friends or partners. Victoria seems to be a polar opposite of that, so she may succeed where Goddess failed.

            Is it possible that at the end of the story Victoria will become an benevolent, but absolute ruler of Gimel enforcing unwritten rules like the one above?

          3. After all the Red Queen needs her White Queen counterpart, and I think Victoria seems to fit (unless we focus more on the ‘white’ part more than on the ‘counterpart’ one – in which job will go to Ashley).

            Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Victoria compared to Alice from Through the Looking-glass, and wasn’t the point of the whole journey Alice went through in that story to go to the eight rank so she could turn from a pawn to a queen?

          4. Victoria’s shard said “If she finds a label for herself that I can also wear, then we may lay waste to all who stand before us.”

            You get guess at what I think that label is going to be…

          5. And here is a pointer at who the current White Queen may be. From the article about Through the Looking-Glass on Wikipedia:

            Alice next meets the White Queen, who is very absent-minded but boasts of (and demonstrates) her ability to remember future events before they have happened.

            I don’t think I need to explain who a person able to “remember events before they have happened” might be in Ward.

            The White Queen described above appeared in chapter five of Through the Looking-Glass, and if you look at the same article, wouldn’t the “Red King-loudly snoring away under a nearby tree” in chapter four be Dauntless? He looks like a tree (or someone inside of a tree), probably has enough power to be called a King at this point, and seems to be in no hurry to go anywhere…

            Maybe we are around chapter four to early chapter five of Through the Looking-Glass at this point?

          6. Considering that in Through the Looking-Glass March Hare appeared as Haigha in chapter seven, and we may still be around chapter four, maybe May will return in May… 2020?

          7. “Rain got one, Ashley got one. Both post-GM.”

            Rain and Ashley’s crimes (pre and her one crime post) were never on the level of generating a kill order. And both of them went to prison over those crimes, not much of a “second chance” there. The only reason they aren’t still in prison… well that’s pretty damn self-explanatory.

            Cradle’s crimes? Oh hell yes, that’s kill order level. The only reason not to, is if you can’t undo his damage and must negotiate with him to get the damage undone. This ended up not being required, however he still didn’t get KoSed because… well, Victoria is squicky about doing ‘what must be done’* and Cradle never actually killed anyone. Though he clearly deserves to go before he figures out how to all this again.

            * To be fair a lot of people are shy about making a final judgement, and most of Wildbow’s protags cleanly fall into this category (outside of Twig).

          8. Remember that:
            – Rain was never properly sentenced. It was only decided that his case will be presented to the criminal court at a later date, and because of severity of the crimes he was accused of, he would be kept in prison by that time. In other words from legal point of view he wasn’t actually imprisoned, but arrested and detained until the criminal process. In normal situation he wouldn’t be placed with convicts, but the City had only one place suited to keep parahumans locked up for any substantial length of time.
            – I would have to check, but I think Ashley was in the same situation.
            – Now that the prison is gone nobody argues that they need to be locked up anywhere else. It is obviously in no small part because law enforcement just can’t keep every cape accused of a crime locked up, but they can keep some arrested or imprisoned. The fact that nobody is trying it to do with Rain and Ashley is their second chance – they are effectively in a situation similar to probation, and I fully expect their future sentences (if and when they will be properly judged by a proper court and hear their verdicts) to be in no small part determined by their current behavior.
            – We simply don’t know full magnitude of the disaster Cradle was trying to prevent yet (and I think it is very likely that he was trying to do just that), though I expect it to be the worst threat since Scion. In that light I would think very carefully before putting a kill order on him or sentencing him to death for what he did.

          9. Rain was never properly sentenced.

            Because the foreign power at war with the city, a foreign enemy allied with Cradle, created too much chaos (with the aid of Cradle’s other allies). We know he was in touch with the city’s enemies because we get his perspective:

            The city’s already gone and everyone who matters knows it. As bargaining chips go… it’s acceptable. I feel like I could die, I’m drowning in pain, but I don’t feel like dying when I think about that reality. If the city needs to be sacrificed, then that’s fine…

            If you want to save this city, we’ll volunteer our considerable resources and power to help. Just as with the Endbringer treaties of yesteryear. We have resources, manpower, and we have knowledge. There’s a chance we can solve this problem outright. Especially if it’s a broken trigger. Create a problem and then solve it, and let the heroes save face by pointing the finger at March.

            And if you don’t want to, if we’ve set a disaster in motion that this fragile, already lost city can’t handle, or if March has initiated something we can’t stop? Then Earth Gimel’s enemies are paying richly to see this city gone and this reality collapsed in on itself. You all die, Fallen boy included.

            It would even be deserved.

            *You can see that he planned to create the problem he’s talking about, and blame it on March.
            *You can see he wants to play the city and its enemies against one another (likely treason, as well as terrorism, and punishable by death).
            *You can see he thinks destroying the city is justified because of what the Fallen did to him (since the shard is distorting his reasoning, most likely).
            *You can see that even when forced to feel guilt, he doesn’t think at all about the people he’s torturing at the time, much less assuage his guilt by telling himself it’s for their own good.

            Cradle also got his second chance after the assault on the compound. He tried to torture Rain to death. This was certainly a crime not covered by the amnesty, nor by the authorities’ willingness to ignore minor peccadilloes (and note that in principle the cluster could have taken Rain to the authorities and asked for the death penalty). More to the point, it was contrary to the old cape rules. Yet they basically let Cradle go. He responded by creating Hell as part of a terrorist campaign.

            I would think very carefully before putting a kill order on him

            Practically speaking, a kill order was in effect for Unknown Culprit as soon as enough heroes heard about the Navigators. (I’m not even sure that’s meaningfully different from the old, democratically-approved system.)

          10. Thanks for reminding me about that bit in the longer quote. I think it is a direction we need to explore. At the moment I can name at least one foreign power Cradle has likely been working with – Chiet. Remember that he has been working with at least two capes from the Order of Four, who are from there.

            This means that it is probably high time for me to at least re-read the Crystalclear’s interlude where we saw ambassador from Chiet and all mentions about the Order and capes associated with them to put more pieces together.

            For now if I remember correctly Chiet’s ambassador said that leadership of Chiet is fragmented about what to do with Gimel, but more and more are leaning towards war despite the fact that Gimel may threaten “nightmares” in the form of everything a large number of very powerful capes can do. I also remember that he mentioned that at least some people on Chiet blamed Gimel’s government for handling the situation with broken triggers inappropriately, mostly by allowing crime, strife, and everythin else that could lead to triggers. He suggested that Chiet has been supporting Gimel with resources to generate goodwill, and to make sure that City’s government was equipped to deal with these sorts of trouble in the future, before they affect Chiet. Considering the situation with Dauntless, I think it is safe to say that the trouble indeed has affected Chiet.

            The way a read it the City has failed to prevent what they were supposed to prevent by allowing the villain-hero war to happen. It looks like the Order, and the capes working with them (including Cradle) work for a faction on Chiet that believes that the solution to “the biggest threat” is not to let the current authorities of the City to continue doing what they do, but instead to force them to solve the problem in a more decisive way, or, if the City will refuse to do what those radicals demand – just let it be destroyed in a way that will not allow “the biggest threat” to destroy Chiet, and possibly all other Earths.

            In other words the radicals behind the Order want the City to either do something drastic to solve the portals-time effects problem for good (something so bad that the City doesn’t want to do it, possibly because it is against the principles shared by the Mayor-Number Man’s branch of Cauldron, and the Wardens – quite possible, considering that Chiet is a theocracy) and even promise their help and a convenient scapegoat in form of March, if the City does what they demand.

            This would mean that yes, Cradle is a traitor, and an agent of a radical faction on Chiet, but at the same time – he may be working for the greater good. Given choice between forcing the City to do something drastic, having the City destroyed or risking a disaster that could affect at least Chiet with it’s multi-billion population, probably multiple Earths, and possibly even the entire humanity it may be the smallest evil to make the City do whatever they refuse to do, and if that failed – the second smallest evil would be to just destroy the City. With Dauntless out of his bubble it may even be too late for that. It may be that even a destruction of the City couldn’t prevent the threat to other Earths anymore.

            This is just another thing that makes me think that Cradle was telling the truth, when he said that March didn’t do what she agreed to do with Cradle. It is possible that she consciously caused an event that may kill all of the humanity, because for her death is not the end, but just the beginning of aeons of existence she wants in her shard.

            Two things to note:
            – the petitions to the government of the city and the Wardens could come from the Order or whatever Chiet radicals they are connected to. This means that it was probably supported by Cradle, but not necessarily by Love Lost, and especially not by March,
            – I think (though I would have to check) that the Teacher had some connections to the Order or other capes associated with them, and they probably were the ones who left him after their disagreement about the time-effects. This would mean that the Teacher used to work with the radicals, but predicted that what March unleashed could happen, and wanted to have nothing to do with it, because he considered it too risky. This would mean that the Teacher also understood what “the biggest threat” is, and possibly tried to prevent it using some extreme methods, though he ultimately refused to go as far as the Order did either because he considered the idea of an attack like the one Cradle and the Order had in mind either too risky or too drastic.

          11. One more thing – in political terms I think the “moderates” in Chiet wanted to let Gimel.US remain for the most part independent, and equipped to deal with “the biggest threat” on its own, with just material help from Chiet. On the other hand Chiet’s “radicals” probably think that Gimel.US is not going to do enough if it is left independent, and prefer give Gimel.US a choice between becoming Chiet’s satellite state with limited autonomy or being destroyed.

            As a Polish person I must admit that I absolutely hate what the radicals seem to be trying to do on emotional level. It simply sounds like Gimel.US has found itself in situation Poland has been at way too many times throughout its history.

            On the other hand with Dauntless present on multiple Earths, and the fact that he may be a threat to all of them, I can see that those radicals may have a point on more rational level. What they do may not be just an attempt to subjugate Gimel just for their gain, but an honest attempt to prevent a threat not only to Chiet, but possibly to entire humanity.

          12. Oh, and I think that when Cradle said about mutually assured destruction, he could have meant not the balance of power between the heroes and the villains, but the thing that prevented an open war between Gimel and Chiet. Chiet’s armies would have no problem destroying the City, but they would be unable to prevent some of the most powerful capes in Gimel from unleashing the ‘nightmares’ scenario on Chiet in return.

  27. Considering that it has been some time both in real life and in the story, I think it may ba a good moment to ask this question – has anyone figured out the meaning of Tattletale’s cryptic message from chapter 11.12?

    1. Grocery list. She was worried that during all the excitement, she’d forget that she needed to pick up more bagels on the way home. The code was just to make sure Victoria thought it was important enough to record; Tattletale was in no mood for an argument about priorities.

    2. Possibly the most irate expletives that Tt could think of due to being a lonely head floating around in a basin full of body parts, blood and (the last few hours) assorted unconscious capes.

      Hypothesis 1: assume plaintext is “Fucking Tinkers.
      Deduce the encryption from there.

  28. Another thing that has been bugging me for a while that may or may not be important with Megacluster in the area. Did we ever learn who was this Luis, we saw with Goddess in chapters 9.2 and 9.3?

  29. I’m curious. The bureaucracy being in the state that it is, who are the officers of state that simultaneously do care that Kenzie is removed from Breakthrough but also don’t care enough to prevent the “private contractor” setup she is in now.

    1. Remember that currently Kenzie has ties to the Heartboken and the Undersiders. She even goes to the school with the former, and is dropped off there by the latter. Do you think that there would be many bureaucrats out there stupid enough poke this particular bear?

    2. Working with Breakthrough wasn’t the problem. Breakthrough allowing a pre-teen to join them on the battlefield was the problem. She was removed from the team to avoid repeats, but it doesn’t hurt anything to allow her to continue selling them technology. In fact, forbidding her from working with Breakthrough at all would do more harm than leaving her on the team. Probably would have resulted in her running away.

      1. Also, it is generally a bad idea to forbid people with powers to stop using said powers. Dragon knew that and allowed Lab Rat to continue tinkering.

  30. I just realized something. We had a discussion a few months ago about whether the Undersiders knew that Taylor was on Aleph. I, as well as some other people if I remember correctly, assumed that maybe Tattletale could figure it out. But, if the Undersiders know Taylor’s location, maybe it isn’t thanks to Tattletale? Maybe it could be thanks to Imp?

    Imp appeared to be following Taylor near the end of arc 30 and protecting her from attacks, even trying to prevent Techer’s attempt to master Taylor. As long as Imp was hiding herself with her power, she could safely move within range of Taylor’s power, because Taylor had to be aware of her presence to master her. Could it be that Imp snuck through the portal to Cauldron’s base near the end of chapter 30.7 of Worm, and was present when Contessa had her little talk with Taylor?

    Imp could risk revealing herself to Contessa and convince her to spare Taylor’s life and to leave Taylor in a soon to be sealed Aleph, or… she could remain hidden, wait for Contessa to do her surgery and then steal:
    – Taylor, before Teacher could master her,
    – a device to open portal to Aleph,
    – another device to open a portal to Gimel,
    – yet another device to seal Aleph.
    All of those devices could be available to Imp, either because at that point Teacher had been working with Contessa and probably moved most of his students there soon after Gold Morning into Cauldron’s base, or because Taylor took such devices from Teacher in chapter 30.3, and probably had them on her until the end of arc 30.

    At that point Imp could leave Taylor with the sealing device on Aleph, and use her last device to travel to Gimel before Taylor activated hers to seal Aleph.

    While Imp was off to save Taylor someone like Tattletale or Rachel could ensure that Danny would end up in the same area as Taylor using other means (like one of the portals used be refugees and people taken from Aleph to return home for example). It is even possible that the portal-sealing device was taken by the remaining Undersiders (and/or other Weaver’s friends who wished to hide Taylor) not from Cauldron but from C.U.I., and sent to Aleph with Danny.

    Why didn’t Imp use that opportunity to kill Teacher for example? Saving Taylor from Cauldron probably more important to Imp, and revealing herself even for a moment (which always seems to happen when Imp attacks) around people like Contessa and Teacher probably seemed too risky even for Imp. There is also a possibility that Teacher himself was never around Imp between the moment when Imp crossed the portal to Cauldron’s base, and the moment she left with Taylor to Aleph.

    If this is what happened, it would also explain how Imp managed to find Teacher’s underling in Teneral e.2 (she could have gathered some intel on his operations while rescuing Taylor), and this quote from Teneral e.x:

    “And Taylor?” Imp asked.

    “I’ll keep looking after things in that department,” Tattletale said. “If that’s cool?”

    “That’s cool,” Imp said.

    Doesn’t it sound as if Tattletale took over caring for Taylor from Imp, with Imp’s premission? It would make sense if Imp did the most important part of the job up to that point (namely – pulling Taylor out of Cauldron).

    So it is entirely possible that Contessa never planned to let Taylor go to Earth Aleph, and it was Imp who saved Taylor from Cauldron’s clutches and hid her beyond Cauldron’s reach. Then Tattletale took over as a person primarily responsible for ensuring that Taylor will remain safe from anyone who would try to reach her on Aleph (like maybe Teacher?).

    All Tattletale needs to do now is to ensure that nobody who can get the tech to break Aleph’s seal (Teacher could probably do it, because his students constructed both the portal-sealing device, and the “skeleton key”) will also get the means to reasonably quickly figure out where on Aleph Taylor is exactly. The most important step would be to make sure that Teacher can never get his hands on Clairvoyant (remember that Teacher has a couple of capes who can make using Clairvoyant safe – just like Doctor Mother did in her interlude). Maybe this is why we didn’t see Clairvoyant yet? Maybe the Undersiders made sure he disappeared, so Teacher won’t find him?

    1. I think that there might have been one more cape involved in saving Taylor, though not necessarily in pulling her out of Cauldron. After Contessa shot Taylor someone probably still had to ensure that Taylor won’t die of that wound. Considering that Taylor has soft spots on her skull, I don’t think that person was Panacea. That leaves Bonesaw, especially since at the end of arc 29 Taylor trusted Bonesaw with her brain every bit as much as she trusted Panacea. Panacea broke Taylor’s brain unleashing Khepri. It would be fitting if Boneasw ended up fixing the same brain.

      Maybe Taylor’s prosthetic arm we saw at the epilogue of Worm was also Bonesaw’s job? Or maybe Taylor used Bonesaw-provided arm before the epilogue, and had to switch to an inferior model before her epilogue when Bonesaw’s work inevitably broke down? It would explain this bit from that epilogue:

      Annette reached down, taking hold of Taylor’s wrists, where she’d jammed her hands in her pockets. She stopped short as one hand came free and clunked against the side of the chair, limp and dangling.

      “Hav- haven’t gotten used to it. Had a better one,” Taylor mumbled. “Before. Embarrassed ‘self on the train. Nearly dropping my bag on some lady’s foot because I used the wrong arm, hurt.”

      1. Of course if Contessa wanted to let Taylor go, then Imp’s intervention could be not needed. Contessa could just shoot Taylor when Bonesaw was still with Tattletale, take Taylor to Bonesaw, and just leave her there. Then Bonesaw could patch Taylor’s brain back together, and leave it to the Undersiders (and, as stated before, possibly other Taylor’s friends) to pick up Danny, portal-sealing device (possibly from C.U.I.), smuggle them to Aleph through a refugee portal and just tell Danny to seal the portal after they leave.

        But even assuming that Taylor would be unconscious through all of this, wouldn’t Bonesaw make sure that Danny knew what exactly has been done to Taylor’s brain if that was the case? Doesn’t fit Taylor’s lack of knowledge about what exactly happened to her that we saw near the end of Taylor’s epilogue.

        1. One thing that still bugs me is that if Teacher’s tech was used to seal Aleph, how Taylor’s friends could make sure that he couldn’t use his skeleton key to unseal Aleph and have someone look for Taylor for him. Maybe the portal-sealing device was modified by someone like Defiant and/or Tecton to prevent the possibility? Looks like if Taylor being mastered by Teacher is a concern lot of people had to work together to prevent this from happening.

          Isn’t it just what both Taylor and QA want as their legacy?

          To make it even more funny, all of those people I’ve mentioned as involved in setting up Taylor’s retirement had reasons to help, because they were Taylor’s friends and/or because they understood her, felt more indebted to her then afraid of her, and had something to prove.

          I think Panacea, Bonesaw and maybe Contessa are perfect examples of people who were not necessarily Taylor’s friends, but would still want to help. For most other people I’ve mentioned it was also friendship if not more.

          1. If I’m right, and so many capes helped with setting up Taylor’s retirement, it could mean that the conspiracy of silence about Taylor, Madison had so much problems penetrating was not just about trauma of being controlled by Khepri, but possibly even more about the fact that a lot of capes are actively working to keep Taylor’s ultimate fate a secret. A secret they won’t share with just anybody, especially not with some random person on Internet claiming to be one of Taylor’s bullies.

  31. One more thing about Taylor. Posted here not as a response to my previous posts about the possibility of Undersiders (and possibly other capes) knowing that Taylor is on Aleph, because while the issue is connected, I think it may be considered without anything I wrote in that discussion, and may be much important, because it is about what Taylor has become by the end of arc 30 of Worm, and how it determined her fate.

    A while ago I told that the greatest victory Taylor managed to win was against Queen Administrator. I’m not so sure anymore. My interpretation of Taylor’s last conversation with Contessa has changed since then. Maybe Taylor has lost, or at least Contessa thought she did?

    Letting Clairvoyant go, releasing all other capes she captured should have been a proof of Taylor’s victory over Queen Administrator. Taylor basically surrendered control over people she held to regain a measure of control over QA, to regain some of her humanity back. But maybe it was only an indication that there could be a chance of Taylor’s victory over QA in the future? Taylor was pretty far gone, after all…

    The difference between Queen Administrator and Taylor should have been that QA wanted to make “everyone work together” by taking control over them, while Taylor the human should have wanted to make “everyone work together” because of positive human connections between them – like love, friendship, trust. This concept, this belief in those better human relationships which would be so alien to something like QA should have been Taylor’s bigger, more fundamental anchor Contessa told her about in their last conversation. Other Taylor’s anchors were just about particular connections Taylor made with particular people based on that more fundamental belief.

    Question is – did Contessa think that Taylor managed to keep to this fundamental belief and helped her to win the battle against QA by cutting Taylor’s connection to QA (possibly temporarily), so Taylor’s psyche could heal to the point where she could “win the fight, to take control and keep the administrator from claiming everything [Taylor had]”. Possibly heal to the point where she could be trusted with her powers again?

    Or did Contessa “stop [Taylor] from troubling anyone ever again” by permanently destroying Taylor’s ability to ever access her powers?

    I think the answer to this question may dictate whether there is a chance we will see Taylor with her powers again.

      1. Thank you?

        Seriously though, yes – the ending of Worm (especially that last scene of chapter 30.7, and more or less the entire Teneral) still doesn’t let me go. Just another mark of a good story, I think.

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