Black – 13.2

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Our witness didn’t accompany us upstairs.

The building was narrow, joined to its neighbors, elegant but very freshly hewn, with interior brickwork that hadn’t yet had time to accumulate grime, floorboards that had been cut and lacquered less than two years ago, with no wear and tear to scratch or test that lacquer.  Above all, it was a relatively narrow, small space for a superhero headquarters.  Five stories tall, but it felt like it was half a floor wide.

Much of our group had gathered at the landing in the stairwell, halfway between floors.  Breakthrough minus our human element, Vista, and Weld.  Golem had gone on ahead to open the door.  Projected lines and rectangles were visible from the stairwell.

“Oh, Victoria, you should know most of the rest of my team is here,” Kenzie said, and her head turned so fast that the blur of altered facial features and details didn’t keep up.  “Chicken Little is here.  Candy’s gone, but Candy’s on another project with Chastity and Amias.”

“Is it really a ‘project’ if she’s having a puppy day with her Aunt Rachel?” Vista asked.

“Shhhh!” Kenzie shushed her.

“It sounds top priority to me,” Tristan said.  “We should all have puppy days.”

“Shhhh, stop.  I’m trying to be professional here!”

“Professional,” I said.  “Okay, you’re networked in?”

“I’ve been networked in by touch,” Kenzie said, responding very quickly and with a renewed effort, like she’d taken half of a breath and jumped straight to an explanation in her eagerness to play along.  “We decided it’s important that if any of us are alone we should be connected to the others.  Tinkers get kidnapped, especially valuable ones, and this is like a ‘find your lost phone’ thing, right?”

“Find your lost Lookout,” Tristan commented, smiling.

“Exactly,” Kenzie said, and I had the impression she was ignoring his amusement.  “But I just switched on cameras and audio too.  Cameras are working well but the audio’s not great.  Ugh.  Oh!  Chicken Little just waved hi.  I think he waved because the audio’s bad.”

“Hi Chicken,” Rain said, raising a hand.

“I figured I should let you know, you know, professionally.  Like when you want to let the other person in a phone call know they’re on speakerphone.”

“Got it,” Weld said.  “We’ll watch what we say and do.”

The headquarters wasn’t up and running, and part of the reason was that it needed facilities.  We made our way up the second set of stairs to the second floor.  Golem faced down a hallway of white lines and see-through floating two-dimensional squares, reached out, and touched a floating square, turning it ninety degrees.

As we stepped out of the hallway, a bunch of lines extended down the hallway, to targeting reticules that appeared around our heads and faces.  I saw a flash of the characters for ‘Antares’, not written out and floating in space, but constructed out of rectangles and slashes that were arranged down the length of the hallway so that they only lined up to form words from my specific perspective.

“Aughh, distractions,” Golem said.  He moved a floating panel.

The entire hallway flashed red, and every square and line received an outline of a larger, bolder red.

“Oops,” Vista said.  “Don’t panic.”

“Shut up,” Golem said.

“Nothing like a threat of dimensional collapse to wake you up in the morning,” Vista added.

“What?  The only dimensional collapse I’m at risk of is from you.”

“There’s a chance of one, I have to admit,” Kenzie said.  “But there are so many zeroes after the decimal point that I think we’re safe.  The chance of being struck by lightning and bitten by a shark and having a vending machine fall on you all at once is probably higher.”

“This is really distracting,” Golem said.

“I should take notes,” Kenzie muttered.  She made a writing motion with her hand, paused, then started writing in the air.  “Seeing people use my tech is a good thing to study.”

I noticed that her pupils were red.

“Red eyes?” I asked.

“I commented on that,” Ashley said.

“Yep,” Kenzie said, absently.  “Yeah.  We were thinking about a costume look, and red lenses and eyes were a part of it.”

“If not black, then monochrome,” Ashley said.  “And if not monochrome, red works.”

“I like red,” Tristan said.  “My costume, my power…”

“Green here,” Vista said.  “Red is associated with too many bad memories.  Green is like, ‘life here’.”

Sveta stuck out her arm.  Vista smiled, reaching out to move the arm to get a better look.

“For the recod, red is stressing me out,” Golem said.  He touched lines, moving them into a row.  “We can’t have a twelve-character password, with numbers, letters, and symbols?”

“Three dimensional space has so many more permutations, which makes it really hard to hack, even with your usual hacky tinker device,” Kenzie said.  “And I really wanted a hallway with lasers that you could duck and weave through.”

“You can laser-dance through this mess?” Weld asked.

“You have to be able to,” Vista said.  “If you screw up right at the end, then you have to get out of there before the space collapses in around you.”

“Stop saying that,” Golem said.  “I know you’re messing with my head to get me to screw up in front of everyone.”

“Theoretically you can laser-dance it,” Kenzie said, and her eyes glinted as she looked up at Weld, a mischievous look without a smile.  She lowered her voice to a whisper, “It looks possible, if you have the right powers.  But it’s not really.  You get to the end and you end up standing in just the right place for the security apparatus to gun you down.  Think you’re clever?  Bam, shrapnel to the knees.”

“You can’t tell people that,” I said.  “That’s the kind of thing that gets spread around.”

“But it’s fun,” Kenzie said.

“Not fun,” Golem muttered.  “Stressful.”

Golem advanced down the hallway, moving things with a bit more confidence as he got going.

He reached the end.  The lines fell away.  Ordinary hallway.  A portal ripped its way open at the end.

Kenzie moved her hands, bringing up a fresh panel, and shut down the portal.  We walked down the hallway.

“Vista makes fun, but she keeps scraping by,” Weld said.  “She tried to cheat too, last night.  Used her power.  Immediate fail-state.  We had people come from upstairs and downstairs, weapons ready.”

“Perfect,” Kenzie said.  “Drills and testing the security is useful, especially if it’s people we trust who are poking and prodding at the limits.  My investment is protected.”

Her ‘investment’ was a cube that stood taller than she did, nestled in a side room in the second floor, perched so it rested precariously on a corner.  It was onyx, with irregular panels of chrome metal that looked mirror-reflective, with edges that looked like they’d been torn rather than cut.

I hung out in the hallway with others while she did her routine maintenance, watching through the door.

Sveta settled in next to me.  I bumped her shoulder with mine, and saw her smile, though she didn’t look my way.

“We need something like this for our headquarters,” Tristan said.  “Something that makes it so that if someone tricky turns up, they’re faced with something so daunting the people who work there hate it, they pack up and go away.”

“If you’re paying I can try it,” Kenzie said.  “But I’ve got a lot on my plate.  At least it’d be easier the second time.  Less time needed to figure stuff out.”

“Not lasers,” Ashley said.

“Wrought iron spike portcullises and pendulum blades?” I asked.  “Can you make a dart trap sufficiently elegant?”

“Portcullises and pendulum blades would be tacky.  You’re better than that, Antares,” Ashley said.  “Pick one or the other, and yes, you can make a dart trap elegant.  You need to have a particular shape, so it looks attractive even when half of it is buried in the wall.”

“I’m curious.  What kind of shape?” Tristan asked.  He created a orange mote that floated just past her fingertip, and moved it as she moved her finger.

I looked around, to check they weren’t doing the equivalent of playing with a lighter around smoke detectors and sprinkler systems.  But the security system was disabled.

The hallway of projected images was a password that was unique to each individual, requiring a set arrangement of elements every few feet.  The apparatus was sensitive to dimensional fluctuations and energy levels, and using the wrong powers in the vicinity either triggered an alert or, if the intrusion was imminent enough, opened a tear between worlds beneath the cube, so it would drop through into another world.

“Dragon poked at this?” Kenzie asked.

“Defiant did,” Golem said.

“Okay.  Leaving him some notes.  And one of our, uh, what did we agree we’d call them…?”

Kenzie trailed off.

“Finish your sentences,” Ashley said.  “If you don’t focus you’ll spend more and more time zoning out.”

“Um.  Supervising agents!  Yes.  She says the payment came through, so, um, I’m releasing the last few locks.  Full access.  If they want to copy it then they can, though I think they know enough to do it anyway, they’re at least being polite.”

“I’ll let people know,” Golem said.

“Thank you.  We’re good.  Everything works.  One panel slightly misaligned where they took it off and put it back on, which is why we have the flaring at the edges and the noisiness of the portals,” Kenzie said, still fixated on what she was doing.  “I left them some notes about that.”

“All of this from a camera tinker,” Weld remarked.

“I’m a dual-field tinker.  I was almost starting fresh after we finished up the whole thing and I got started with my new team, after a week of disasters ruined most of my tech.  I had some startup money, and I thought I’d make something that people really want.  And what we all really want is security and access.  Two weeks of hard work, scans of multiple portal technologies and keys we got from the bad guys, scans of portals and some other related stuff, and we have a cube that opens up paths between worlds.”

“We’re happy to have it,” Weld said.

She said it like it was her idea, but Breakthrough had had some input, and we’d supplied the bulk of the cash for materials to get her started.  I only thought about it because Tattletale had hinted that her role had been more important somehow, saying she supplied the protection and transportation while Kenzie went to get her scans, but … I wasn’t going to play that game.  Like two sets of parents bickering over who paid for what for a wedding.

Just… enjoy the damn wedding.  Or in our case, our ominous black cube that tore open holes between realities.

By making something sought-after that served as a solution to a half-dozen major problems at once, she’d been able to multiply her start-up cash.

“Where are we going?” Kenzie asked.  “Do I check on the paired cube?”

“Proper HQ,” Tristan said.  “Yeah.”

“Does anyone else want to try the hallway?” Kenzie asked.

“Me,” Rain said, surprising me a bit.

“Got it, good, go for it.  Back to the stairs, try not stopping or slowing down if you can.  It’s okay if you fail.”

The hallway lit up again.

Rain strode down the hallway, hands moving, touching things without perfect confidence, then moving them more firmly once he figured out how to grasp or push them.

He made it to the end, when the thing immediately jumped to red oulines around the white projections, black around the red, and then the lights in the hallway shutting off.

“Oooooh,” Vista said.  “What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything!” Rain protested, in the dark.  “I did that right!”

“You wrote down your password,” Kenzie said.  She was briefly illuminated as lines and squares appeared around her.  The lights came back on and the portal opened, less rough at the edges and not as violent a sound.  There was daylight on the other side.

“I saved it as something I could pull up with my mask in an emergency,” he said.

“And if the cube can look at your mask’s memory and see the image files you have on there, then so can people who want to break in.  They’d have to be your exact height and frame, with the same fingerprints inside any gloves you’re wearing, if you’re wearing any, and the same retina scan, and-”

“It would have to be me,” Rain interrupted.

“Yeah.  The idea is they’d have to be you and they’d have to know what you know when it comes to the password and they’d have to meet some of the other context checks, which is complicated and messy to get into, but you know, don’t shake up your schedule too much on any day you’re paying a routine visit, or send messages to people you don’t normally talk to, or-”

“I get it,” Rain said.

“I’m changing your password.  Hang back and wait until everyone’s passed through, it’ll flash the images in front of you.  Everyone else, masks and helmets on, or flip your projections on.”

As she talked, red dots appeared around her face.  I would have thought Capricorn was using his power, except his dots were more orange-red, and these motes of light expanded into discs, while white and black crept around Kenzie’s face and head to form the helmet’s design.  She didn’t have her hair in buns, but the helmet projection seemed to assume she did, and covered up the lower ends of kinky hair that was parted and set in place with a combination of hairband and hairclip.  Her costume gradually covered her body too.  There were places the clothes extended beyond the projection, and those places were blurry, like bad artifacting from video compression, but it worked for the most part.

Sveta had a mask that curled at the edges, tendril-like.  Not much of a change, and kind of pointless, but we’d decided to focus a bit more on formality.  She’d liked designing it with me.  Rain had his old costume at least for today, with a slightly updated tech-style mask that encapsulated more of the sides of his head, a serrated kind of edge around the perimeter, almost like it was damaged, but in a sculpted way that wouldn’t look cheap.

Tristan’s armor was recently repaired and updated.  The changes were minor, with a focus more on the application of layered washes.  A dark wash had filled in the grooves and made the designs in the armor pop more, while a red wash gave the armor more of a tint.  It was the kind of thing that was easy to miss.

We passed through.

The building we were exiting was small and somewhat narrow, and as of right now it was largely understaffed.  This was the real headquarters.  A building still under construction that would be impressive when finished, despite the fact it wasn’t being made to impress in the same way the old Wardens headquarters had been.

The real impressiveness came from the two Dragon craft that were set in close proximity to the building, one on a hill off to our right, and another-

I floated a bit as I turned one-hundred-and-eighty degrees around.  It loomed over the portal, weapons bristling.

“Welcome to the bunker,” Weld said.

There were times when security or fortification suggested confidence, strength, or power.  That you had money to spend on the extra security.  That you were unassailable, untouchable.  I suspected it was the atmosphere the Wardens wanted to cultivate, by the time they were done.  I could even understand the logic, that a fault in security at the earliest juncture could be the flaw that they paid for later down the line.

But I didn’t feel like this was confidence.  I didn’t feel like that the logic drove this more than the feelings did.

The grass was dusted white, and the sky was gray, and the building was poured concrete, making for a fairly grim picture, prefab walls and the spikes of metal that the walls were being fit to, holes in the walls matched to the spikes and then lowered down, where they would click into place.  The expansive lower floor was already mostly done, with clear glass walls giving us a view of the interior and everything else was being built around it while people worked.  Yellow slashes of paint on the ground delineated construction zones where it was dangerous to be, and people navigated them.  For how much there was going on, it was fairly quiet.  Only the hum of idling engines, and the creaks of cranes, the periodic crunch as two pieces of building fit together.

Inside, there were a few scattered members of the four big hero teams amid Wardens and a fair few regular people who were covering jobs ranging from construction to doing paperwork while standing beside desks without chairs.

Kenzie saw Dragon and started sprinting forward.

“Lookout,” I said.

She stopped.

“Stay in sight.”

She looked between me and Swansong, and Swansong nodded.

“You don’t trust them?”

I would have made a face at how undiplomatic it was to ask that question when we had Wardens in our little group here.  I remained stoic.  “I think I’ll worry about you in any new situation.”

She groaned.  With the excited run forward and now this, she wasn’t really holding that firmly to the professionalism thing.

“Technically you’re contracted out, and we’re partnering with your team.  Part of our end of the deal is to guard you.”

“Got it,” she said.  “I know you have things to do.  Will someone be my escort?”

Sveta and Tristan agreed at the same time.

We decided to go over as a group, since it was more or less in the right direction.  Delaying the task at hand.  While we walked, Sveta and Tristan agreed they’d watch Kenzie together.  Sveta no doubt wanted to because it meant spending more time around Weld, and Tristan… Tristan was harder to say, but he seemed to fit in well amid this general level of hectic energy, hustle, bustle, and cape aesthetic.  I could imagine him working at a place like this for a full day, ongoing construction included, and not being any worse off.

There was a command center in one corner, with Dragon and Defiant standing by a wall of monitors.  Multiple consoles and desks were arranged in a haphazard quarter-circle around that wall of monitors.  Each person with a task.

Lookout went straight there, accompanied by Capricorn and Sveta.  Weld and Golem followed them.

Rain slowed in his pace as we passed the corner where stuff was piled up but still not organized for a branding or costume maintenance department, one I suspected would be relegated to an upper floor.  There were concept sketches, color swatches, textile swatches, and framed pictures of collected images I wouldn’t have been surprised to see at a tattoo shop- but they weren’t for tattoos.  Or at least I hoped nobody was tattooing on their costumes.

“Foresight did promise us help with updating costuming.  We never got a chance because we were so busy,” I told him.

Rain turned my way.

“For your mask, I sort of like that.  Second frame of images, middle top.  It’s hard to pull off in a lot of costumes, but if you’re doing the glowing mask symbol…”

He held up his phone.  I looked over his shoulder as he took a picture of it, confirming he had the right image.

“Isn’t that too busy?” Rain asked.

“What?” I asked him.

“With the circuit board look?” Rain asked.

“No.  Instead of.  The circuit board look is…” I tried to find a way to be diplomatic and struggled.

“Puerile,” Swansong said.

“Huh,” Rain said.  “I’ve been kicked in the ribs and it didn’t get to me as much as hearing that one word.  I don’t even know what that means, exactly.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s puerile,” I said.  “It’s… it’s like stripes.  You can make it work, but it’s most often going to be something you work with or build on.  Less what you want for a mask unless you want to play it up.”

“Huh.  This is going way over my head.  But it’s sure great to know I’ve had a stupid costume all this while.”

“Not stupid,” I said.

“Basic,” Vista volunteered.

Rain turned around, looking around until he spotted Capricorn, Lookout, and Sveta.  “I think, uh, I’m going to go over that way.  Leave you guys to it.”

“You’re fine,” I said.  “A lot of costumes are miserable.  You’re better than average.”

“I like how you weigh that.  There’s a lot of suck out there, so the average is lower than I’d think?”

“You’re better than average,” I stressed.  “And we can do better still.”

“Sure,” he said.  He held up the phone, the image there.  “This?  What color?”

“Silver.  And if you can do eyeholes or the general shape of eyes, that’d be great.”

The image was of a fissure or crack, like what one might see spiderwebbing across concrete.

He fiddled with his phone and the image.

“You don’t have to do it now,” I said.

“I have three people I respect telling me I’m not cutting it, and we have this talk coming… I’m going to be self conscious now.”

“Walk,” Swansong said, taking hold of his shoulder.  “Let’s go.  We’ll give you a look that matches what you have inside.”

“Why do I feel like I’m being insulted?” Rain asked.

“You’re not,” Swansong said.  “You’ve showed muster.  The mask may be puerile, but masks can be changed, but what can’t be changed is you’ll always know you had something sterner inside you when it counted.  Humiliation may be the worst thing-”

“This is the worst thing now?” Rain asked, looking to Vista, as if for help.  “Humiliation?”

“Even small humiliations,” Swansong amended.

“Okay, well, great.  I’ll walk.”

“Walk and change what you want to change,” Ashley said.  “Fiddle with your phone, upload to your mask, do what you’re going to do.  I’ll steer you.  I’ve done it enough times while walking with Lookout.  Not that I need to do it with her anymore.”

“No?” I asked.

“New mask features, when she’s wearing her mask.  She can watch what she’s working on while another set of lenses watch the road, another set watch behind her.  There’s no need for a guiding hand.”

Our path took us down the side of the hill the Dragon craft was perched on.  Its head followed us as we walked, which was ominous.

“How long until this kicks off?” I asked.

Ashley tossed a stone decorative dart into the air, catching it, then threw again, as we worked our way down the path and around the hill.  Her other hand remained on Rain’s shoulder, holding him steady as he set foot on a rocky spot.  He kept half of an eye on his phone.

The building had been built and set up a little faster than the ground floor of the ‘bunker’.  It was built with two hallways, each lined with cells that looked to be glass or plexiglass with steel framing and wire mesh laid into the transparent material.  There was room for maybe twenty prisoners, but walls had been folded back and things stowed to the side in compact form.  It meant the four prisoners on the side we could see had cells with no adjoining cells.  They were perpetually watched from two or three sides by capes and officers.

These would be people being held for processing or questioning.  To a degree, the restraints and watching wasn’t as necessary as they might otherwise be.  There were a lot of capes present on this world, and the only way out was both guarded and required the right means of getting the portal open.

Through the clear exterior wall at the front of the building, with only slight blurring because of the wiring, I could see Love Lost.  She was bound with arms in a modified black straightjacket with ‘Villain’ down the right arm and at the left thigh where the skirt of it hung down, a hoop of a collar very loose around her neck, to the point there were a good three inches separating it from contact at any point.  A simpler, stainless steel version of the molded mask that had covered her face, with no decoration except for a blinking light right around where the right corner of her mouth would be, and a hole where the left corner would be.  A plastic table sat to her right, with a few things on it, one of which was a plastic shake bottle with a straw built into it.

She leaned forward to find the straw and maneuvered her head to slide the straw into the hole in her mask.  Whatever she was drinking, it looked thick, and creamy-green.

Gundeck and Solarstare were sitting where they could monitor her.

“Did you talk to them last night?” I asked.

“No,” Rain said.  “No.  My night, and then we were all there.  Cradle, Love Lost, and Colt.  I tried to talk and nobody was really up for it.  Cradle didn’t move from where he woke up.  Love Lost paced and ignored me.  Colt made small talk but only if I pushed for it.  If I didn’t push there was silence, and I didn’t push.  The tokens dropped and nobody really bothered with them.”

“Has it been like this every night?”

“No.  There were times I talked more with Colt.  There was a time where she didn’t even seem to get it, like none of this mattered or she didn’t realize how much trouble she was in.  She talked to me until Love Lost got annoyed with her.  Then she seemed to clue in, about a week ago, did this silence thing.  When she talked to me again, it was to ask me to talk to her parents and see if they’d go to her trial.”

“I thought I saw them,” I remarked.

“Yeah,” Rain said.  “They went.  But what can they really do except go?  And Colt got a bad outcome yesterday and… I don’t know how things will be today.”

“And Love Lost?”

“Doesn’t talk.  But there was a time a bit ago when she looked at me.”

“Looked?” Vista asked.

“Looked.  Head to toe, like she finally saw me and not some nebulous enemy.”

“Want to give it a shot?” I asked.

“No,” he said.  He pointed.  “But first…”

He hit a button on his phone.

The mask he wore changed, replacing the inlaid image of the circuit with a fissure with a silver glow shining through from beneath.  His eyes were small and narrow.

“Bigger eyes,” I advised.  “Without eyelashes or anything else, just showing what you’d normally see with eyelids in the way, it looks too narrow.”

“Sinister,” Vista said.

“And not in the good way,” Swansong advised.

“You guys are harsh,” he said.

“Here,” Vista said.  She manipulated the dimensions of the eyes, glancing at Swansong and I as she adjusted, looking for input.

Swansong wanted more of a slant, but I opted for something more open and friendly.

Rain took a photo of his own face, then adjusted the settings.

From where we’d stood, we hadn’t had a good view.  Our target cell was a little further back.

Colt was in the other hallway, one of three junior prisoners, and she had been separated from Love Lost by a hard, opaque wall that divided the building in half.  She had a similar collar, as well as bracelets that were actually fit to her wrists.  No straightjacket, no mask, just a faded sweatshirt and sweatpants, both printed with ‘Villain’.

I only recognized one of the heroes.  Stonewall, with a fellow hero keeping him company.  Stonewall had stone armor, which he wore even while sitting and eating.  It was stylish and looked heavy as fuck.  The kind of protection that didn’t make him look insecure.  The kid had a skintight two-tone costume with a stylized leaf emblem on the front, and a jacket that didn’t match, that suggested he wasn’t suited up for the colder weather.  I hoped the Wardens would look after him.

“You should run along, Reed,” Stonewall said.  “Good talk.”

“I guess, and yeah, good talk.  Thank you, sir.”

“There’s no telling what’s going to be classified,” Stonewall said.

“Yeah,” was the response.

Rain walked over to the cell, and Colt rose to her feet to stand across from him.

Stonewall got up, chair creaking, and walked down the hallway a little ways.  He gave Vista a pat on the shoulder as he passed her.

“Was that Reed the Second?” I asked, before he was out of earshot.

“Third,” Stonewall said.  “I don’t think it’s a lucky name to take, but they hear he was one of the first Wards and they feel an attachment to the name.”

I nodded.

Stonewall walked on, footsteps heavy enough to make the building’s floor shake.  A pen on a desk spun slightly on its fulcrum point.

Rain drew in a deep breath and sighed.

“Yeah, invisible walls,” Colt said.  “I go from one cell to another.  You won, you’re free.”

“I- no,” Rain said.  “I don’t feel that free.”

“Enjoy it,” Colt said.  “It’s better.”

A bit of a non sequitur, like she wasn’t listening to anyone but herself.

“I need to do more.  Not to make up for what I did- I don’t think I could, but… there’s an obligation,” Rain said.

“I don’t think she has the slightest clue what you mean,” Swansong said, quiet.

“Hi Damsel.”

“Swansong now.”

“Pretty,” Colt said.  “I liked you, you know.  I thought you were cool.  You had good stories, and you were someone I kind of wanted to be like.”

“Thank you.  I liked you too.”

Rather than interject, I remained quiet.  I was very curious if the use of ‘past tense’ had anything to do with perceived betrayals or upsets.

Colt shrugged, glancing at Rain.  “I do get it, you know.  Obligations suck.”

“You’re proving my point, if that’s how you sum it up,” Swansong said.

“Maybe give me a chance to get through to her?” Rain asked.

“You’ve had twenty-one nights,” Swansong said.

“Less of those nights than you’d think.”

“You’re a little scary, you know,” Colt said, to Swansong.  “Unpredictable, but I was happy to stay in the background and listen in.”

“Thank you,” Ashley said.

Colt seemed satisfied with that exchange.  She looked at Rain.  “I lost my court case.  Guilty.  Sentence T.B.D.”

Was she drugged?  In shock?

“I was there.  Back row, with some of my teammates,” Rain said.

“They stuck us here, Cradle was here too, for a little while, but they wrapped up his court stuff faster.  They had him in a blindfold and a straightjacket, I think like they did with Love Lost.”

“Mask for the lower face, no blindfold,” Rain said.

“Why are we here?” Colt asked.  “Why here specifically?  The view is nicer than any prison… I can see the outdoors, the wind.  They treat me okay, but… I’m really confused.”

“Your lawyer should have explained it,” I said.  I hoped I wasn’t intruding.

“He did.  Three times.  But the first time I didn’t realize it was important, the second time there was a lot of stuff going on and he sounded exasperated.  The third time I had just heard the ‘guilty’ from the jurors, there was commotion, people were shouting, and then I got pulled away.  Even if it was quiet, I’m not sure I would have got it.  They showed the photos in the morning and it was all these body parts and all this blood.  They read this testimony and I could barely hear anything for most of the rest of the day… I felt so sick with stress and I could only hear the sound of my own heartbeat and blood in my ears.”

“They’re keeping you here while they decide what to do with you,” Rain said.  “You could go to a jail, if they find room, or we could look into alternative options.  If you want to get a good result, now would be a really good time to tell them something useful.”

“Anything about Love Lost or her henchpeople we didn’t catch.  Anything about a greater plan,” I said.

Colt shrugged.  She looked lost, miserable, and lost, in that order.

“Alternatives,” she said, nearly at the point of being inaudible, like she was just catching up.

“What?” Rain asked.

“Alternative options?  If I’m not useful and there’s no room in prison, what happens?  Is it like… a firing squad?  You wouldn’t actually.”

“No,” Rain said.  “Sending you away.”

“My parents wanted to send me away.  Either I helped the family business or I went away to a strict school.  They have some of those now.  And I talked to my cousin who got sent there, that’s where my parents got the idea from, and she said there aren’t any regulations, so they beat you, withhold food, make you run laps.  Cold water for showers only.”

“They were trying to scare you,” Swansong said.  “I’ve told you this.”

“I thought about it.  I’m not sure.  My cousin talked about menstrual products, said the girls were never given enough.  But they weren’t allowed to use too much toilet paper either.  That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you think of right away, but it makes sense, doesn’t it?”

“If anything, it might have been a real shortage,” I said.  “If she attended over winter.”

“None of this really feels real?” Colt said, very quickly, her voice keyed up  in an odd way, like she was trying to wake someone up.  “What happened yesterday with court doesn’t even feel like it was yesterday.  And the only answers I get from people are vague.”

She sounded half the age she was.

“Did the people here drug you?” Rain asked, going straight to the same possibility I’d guessed at.

Colt shook her head.  “I’m being sent away, and I don’t even know what that means.”

I cleared my throat, to let others know I was about to launch into an explanation.  “We send you through a portal.  We give you everything you need to survive, and the ability to use your powers.  At scheduled times, we check on you.  But those times may get more spaced out, if you settle in, if you’re healthy and safe.  That’s if they decide on that.  If we decide on it.  Then when your sentence is done, we pick you up again, assess you, figure out if you’re able or ready to rejoin society.  Hopefully by then we have the tools to handle it.”

“I think you’d still be in the dream room,” Rain said.  “I’d see you every night, and if you had an emergency, I could send help.”

“I’m getting kind of panicky,” Colt said.  “What can I do?”

“Talk,” Swansong said.

“I don’t have anything to say.  They didn’t fill me in.  They offered to let me go and I think now maybe they meant it, because I didn’t know all that much that was useful, and I wouldn’t talk.”

“Can you think back to what they said?  Did Nailbiter have a location she liked vacationing in or visiting?  Did anyone talk about family?”

Colt shook her head.  “I can’t go home?”

She didn’t even seem to get it.  Was the disconnect because of something more abstract?  Her power?

“You collaborated in chopping people up,” Swansong said.  “In chopping me up.  You broke a cardinal rule and spilled your guts to the arresting officers and capes, they used that in the trial.”

“Anything about the Kronos titan?”

“No.  I think that was a surprise.  But I wasn’t really paying attention when it came up.  Its hard to picture it as a real thing instead of some joke or story.  Did he kill many people?”

“He hasn’t budged,” Rain said.  “But the Simurgh is on a corner world right now and she flew to him.  She’s staying on his shoulder, in that world.”

“He’s a living portal,” I said.  “Except instead of passing things through doors into other versions of Earth or into distant places, it’s just… Dauntless energy coming through the portal, feeding into him.  We had to clear a good long distance around him because apparently portals act to broadcast, scramble, or act as a lens when it comes to power signals.  Possibly including hers.”

“You played a part in making a hell of a mess,” Vista said.  “Some friends and acquaintances of ours got killed and hurt.”

“Let me help then,” Colt said, and when she stared into my visor there was a clarity that hadn’t been there before, like she had focused on me for the first time.  Kind of like Rain had explained Love Lost doing, but without a year of being ignored or seen as a monster as lead-up.

Seeing someone as a monster.  I made note of that stray thought.  It was easier to relate to him if I put things in those terms.

“Information is the only help you can give.”

“Can I fight?  Because I don’t know anything.  I can- can I do volunteer service?  Join the heroes?”

“The Navigators were chopped up by people you helped and supported,” I said.  “They flew under the radar as a hero group before, but when we all heard what happened and realized there wasn’t a single bad thing we could say about the Navigators, that they’d only ever done good, that made it that much worse.  People are resentful.”

“I could join you?  You could give me a chance.”

I didn’t move.  I waited, while Rain remained very still.

Rain shook his head a small fraction, but he didn’t say anything.

“No,” I said, so he didn’t have to.  He had to see her every night, and if he was the one to refuse her, then her anger might find root and fester over nightly recurrences.

“But Damsel of Distress likes me, and I know you guys have committed crimes.”

“It’s Swansong, not Damsel,” Swansong said.

“Punishments pending,” Rain said.

“Pend mine!  I don’t know how to… I don’t know, build a house with a pile of wooden slats, or cook, or hunt or fish.  I’ll die.

“We’re more resilient than you think,” Swansong said.

“What if- I can talk to the doctors I talked to earlier?  They asked questions about my health, and questions about depression and anxiety, and… what if I give different answers?  They couldn’t send me away then.”

“I don’t think that’s going to work,” I said.  “You can’t change the answers you already gave.”

“But-”

There was clarity in her fear, because somehow things were finally setting in.  Her responses were a little bit quicker, more like she was actually listening to what others said.

“The judge gave sentencing guidelines,” I said.  “Three and a half years.  There’s a very real chance we don’t take the extreme measures, but it’s up to the capes to decide, because it’s the capes that are dealing with parahuman containment right now.  If we don’t send you out to this other world for three and a half years, we put you in juvenile prison for three and a half years, and you wear a kit like you’re wearing right now to keep you from turning Breaker.”

“I don’t want to go to prison either.”

Rain slammed a hand against the glass barrier.  Colt jumped like she’d been the one hit.  The other two prisoners in the hallway jeered.

“Careful,” Stonewall said, his voice carrying.

Colt stared at Rain, who stared at her, his fist still resting against the glass.  The glass was uncracked, but his mask had the stylized one running across it, through the one eye and up to the top corner.

“Let it go, Rain,” I said.

He pulled away, turned his back.

“I never really gave you a hard time about it,” Colt said.

He didn’t look at her.

“What you did.  I could’ve hated you like they did, but I didn’t.  I tried to be civil, I listened when you talked, mostly.  I know I did some bad stuff, but so did you.  If you get punishment pending, and you get to try to show you’re decent in the meantime, then why can’t I?  Because it’s fucking personal?”

She almost sounded like the girl I’d first seen over Kenzie’s surveillance video, yelling at her mom, siding with Nailbiter, running away to go join the villains.

“I have remorse,” Rain said, half-turning.  “I’ve tried to recognize what I did.  To show that with my actions every step of the way.”

“How long did it fucking take you to get there?  Because I’m not getting the chance.”

Rain turned away, and walked away.

About two steps.  He stopped.

“Are you trying?” Swansong asked.

“Was he, after three weeks?  Because I heard Cradle talk about some of it, when he was talking about the info he got on your team, and about Precipice specifically.  It didn’t sound like it.”

Rain clenched a fist in front of him, then put it in his other hand, cracking the knuckles audibly through his gloves.  He was stiff.

“Your choice,” Swansong said, as she walked up to Rain, their arms touching, her chin high.  She was quiet as she said it.  “Do you want to help her?”

“I thought we could be allies at first,” Rain said.  “But now I think I despise her.  She acts like we’re the same, but… she didn’t grow up like I did.  She had a life I would’ve loved to have.  I didn’t get a choice in how to think until it was almost too late, and I made the wrong choice, not to help those people.  She-”

“-didn’t take enough opportunities to think for herself, maybe,” I said.  “And this is how she ended up.”

Again, he cracked knuckles.

“I’m not advising you either way.”

“Not in the slightest?” he asked.

“I feel like helping her, because she’s vulnerable and lost  but that’s not- not a good basis to act on.  I don’t think she’d be easy to deal with.  I do think if we give her any kind of pass or help, we could have her as a pest or problem to deal with a month from now.  Given past history, keep that in mind.  You know her best.”

“I feel like I don’t know her at all.”

“You have more data points than us,” I said.

“Data points,” Swansong muttered.  “Geek.”

I elbowed her.

“How?” Rain asked, turning to look at Swansong.  “To help her?”

“Colt,” Swansong said, raising her voice to be heard, as we’d walked a short distance away.  “You have odd dreams.  Stranger than any of the others.”

“Yeah,” Colt said.  “Every time it’s my night, it’s a different slant of everyone else’s dreams, depending on my mood or how I push it.  Like Cradle pushes it.  Except I’m a bit better than him at it.”

“That’s a bargaining chip,” Swansong said, and she said it to Rain, but Colt immediately moved to the corner of her cell that was closest to us.  “You can sell or barter that knowledge.”

“Capes and dreams have unusual relationships,” I said.  “It’s worth looking into.”

“That’s because… dreams are something they don’t get,” Colt said.  “They don’t have enough data or reference points for them.  It’s why when they move on, they’ll want a lot of information about dreams and dreaming.  It’s why things slip through the cracks in dreams, or get weird, or are spaces where they can manipulate things more.”

“You study this?” I asked.

“I… get it,” Colt said.

Because Breakers and reality warpers were often closest to their agents, maybe.  Because this particular cluster was built around dreams and dreaming.  And because dreams brought things even closer still.

“Lookout mentioned Chicken Little seeing something in his dreams,” Swansong said.  She shrugged with one shoulder.

It wasn’t much to go on, but we were dealing with monolithic forces hidden away in inaccessible locations.  They gave us power and they ruined us.  And whatever structure was there or wasn’t there, whatever organization was missing in how they balanced against one another, that power and that ruin was being doled out in disastrous proportions.  In broken triggers and in Dauntlesses.

With what Colt was saying, it was possible there was an area where the barrier between power and person wasn’t just thin, but was something we could get past, and that area was the unconscious dream.  That was our door to the machinery we wanted to operate, fix, or even dismantle.

“Let’s go,” Rain said.

“Hey!” Colt shouted.

“Quiet,” Stonewall boomed.

“We’ll be in touch,” Rain told Colt, without turning around.

Still angry.

Vista caught up with us, after a few exchanged words with Stonewall.  Space warped to give her something of a catch-up.

“Hey Vic,” Vista said.  “You know powers, right?  You studied this stuff to death.”

“Some,” I said.  “Thinking about dreams?”

She shook her head.  “No.  Thinking about… altered mental states.  Is it possible that she’s not all there because of her power?”

I sighed.  “Crossed my mind.  Happens a lot with Breakers.”

“You could mention it, to help her.”

“Another possibility,” I said.  “But she said she had doctors check her over.  So the question is… was one of those doctors someone who was qualified to evaluate her mentally?  And if so, were they qualified to know about parahumans and all the messes they can bring to the table?”

There wasn’t an immediate answer to my question.

There was a pretty clear one, though.

Capricorn, Kenzie, and Sveta were gathered together.

Jessica Yamada.  Their therapist.

Swansong and Rain approached her.  I hung back.

The others had received emails, telling them she was safe and she would touch base shortly.  I hadn’t.  My number had, as I’d discovered the night I heard she was back, been blocked.  I’d been able to call her with Juliette’s number but not my own.

Dr. Darnall said he knew what the reason was, but had declined to share.  He’d told me to be patient.

I gave them their space, feeling hurt and a little bewildered.  I headed over to the corner with the concept art and the fashion, the various pieces in progress, to distract myself, at the very least.

The winter was going to get colder, and a double layer wouldn’t be enough.

The group was spaced out.  Some closer to Jessica than others.  Swansong hung back, and by her body language, stiff and regal, I knew she was anxious.

Sveta was as happy as I’d seen her in a few weeks.

I couldn’t intrude.

There was a stylized coat, heavy, with some built in protection- not a lot, but in dense material and slats of metal running between layers.  Not a cape, but long enough it could look like one.  I tried it on as much as I could without putting it over the spikes at my shoulder.  I’d have to move those.

Did I want it for what it gave me, or for what it kept away?

“-Victoria-”

Sveta’s voice.  Which was followed by Jessica’s.

“Victoria.”

I saw her meet my eyes- or she looked at my mask, which didn’t have eyes.

“I’m going to talk to the group,” Jessica said.  “Do you mind waiting?”

Which was telling me not me without telling me it directly.

She at least looked apologetic.

“Can we talk after?” I asked.

I didn’t miss the hesitation on her part.

I did something wrong.  I failed her.  She wants to see the damage before she talks to me.

“After,” she said.  “Alright.”

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174 thoughts on “Black – 13.2”

    1. > Stonewalk walked on, footsteps heavy enough to make the building’s floor shake.

      Stonewalk -> Stonewall

    2. > They had him in a blindfold and a straightjacket, I think like they did with Love Lost.

      Not sure about this one. I think it may be possible that there should be a comma after “I think”, depending on what Colt meant exactly.

      > Colt said, very quickly, her voice keyed up in an odd way,

      There are two spaces between ‘up’ and ‘in’ in the text.

      > Its hard to picture it as a real thing instead of some joke or story.

      Change ‘Its’ to ‘It’s’.

      > Dauntless energy coming through the portal, feeding into him.

      Maybe “Dauntless’ energy”?

      > “I feel like helping her, because she’s vulnerable and lost But that’s not- not a good basis to act on.

      Add dot after ‘lost’.

    3. recod > record
      they pack up > and they pack up
      at least being polite (should this be “just being polite”)
      shutting off > shut off
      like that the > like the
      rain approached > Rain approached

    4. > “I didn’t feel like that the logic drove this”

      Like, that, the — any one or two of those can probably be taken out. Having all three sounds weird, though.

  1. I think Colt deserves a second chance. She is only a stupid naive child manipulated by the adult villains around her to do their bidding, she reminds me so much of Riley when she was manipulated by Jack to become Bonesaw, only less sadistic and destructive.

    Cradle deserves to be exiled for his entire life in an area with the scarcest resources possible. Love Lost should be free after 10-20 years of exile, if she’s still alive.

    God, I missed Jessica so much. I don’t care what she’s going to tell Victoria, the best therapist is back in our lives.

    PUPPY THERAPY IS THE BEST THERAPY.

    1. I agree, on all counts. I really want Colt to be saved. I feel like she really can become a good person, given time. I don’t want her to be too harshly punished. Still punished, of course, but not exile. Is it just me?

      1. Not exile, 3 years in prison and a lot of therapy will be enough for her to become a better person. She’s not a psychopath neither a sociopath, she can still be saved. Just one more chance, the last chance for her to demonstrate that she can change if she wants.

    2. I don’t really agree. On one hand it isn’t fair that Rain got a chance for redemption and she didn’t. On the other hand he grew up trapped with the fallen while she choose Nailbiter and Love Lost. Despite being villains those two also gave her chances to get out, pretty much told her to her face that she wasn’t cut out for being a villain and she still stayed.

      I’m not sure how taking drugs and shooting children reflects on her either. She wasn’t in her right mind but she made her choices. Compared to Rain who indirectly trapped people and became so hysterical he triggered to Colt who triggered when Flor confronted her for the shooting.

      No, Colt might not be irredeemably awful as far as villains go but she’s dangerous and makes terrible life choices one after another. Definitely deserves that three and a half year prison sentence.

      1. I agree. In particular, she isn’t starting with how awful she feels about this or how sorry she is…she’s first and foremost concerned with herself and how this affects her. Not how to make it right, but how to get the best possible deal for herself.

        I also don’t see Bonesaw/Riley as a good comparison…how old was Riley when Jack triggered her, 6 or 7? She said she couldn’t even use scissors properly. Whereas Colt is a teenager; not an adult, but a lot more responsible for her own actions.

        1. They didn’t even manipulate Colt that much. They pretty much told her to just leave, and she wouldn’t budge because she’d convinced HERSELF that they were going to kill her.

        2. Colt raised a good point, though: Rain spent some amount of time after his heinous crime being shitty to his clustermates– people directly impacted by his actions– during the dreams, taunting/insulting/raging at them (I think; it’s hard to keep track of what was lies or skewed perspective, but I thought we saw at least one unaltered scene of Rain being an asshole in the dream soon after triggering). If Rain is forgiven for being actively vicious toward people he’d recently hurt, why condemn Colt for, in my mind, the lesser offense of being self-centered (but otherwise cordial) with the people she’d recently hurt?

          If anything, I think Rain’s example shows that a few weeks’ distance might not be sufficient to judge someone’s capacity for redemption, and that her actions are easily within the bounds he set on what behavior you can come back from. Like, jeering at a woman dealing with her daughter’s death– that he was responsible for– while she’s stuck in a room with him for 8 hours, that’s more than self-centered, that’s the kind of behavior that triggers my “unredeemable, no second chances” response. Colt seems less directly responsible for the pain the people she’s talking to experienced, plus they’re all recovered and fairly emotionally stable, and while she doesn’t seem to acknowledge or regret the pain she caused, at least she’s not actively twisting the knife.

          1. To that I’ll point out that Rain was locked up with people who hate him. He probably crossed a few lines with what he said at some point but his crime had a certain amount of duress to it and he did turn himself in to serve time.

            Colt isn’t showing remorse and is basically asking to be let off not because she’s cooperating, making some kind of commitment or penitent but because she didn’t treat Rain like crap over the last week.

          2. “If Rain is forgiven for being actively vicious toward people he’d recently hurt, why condemn Colt for, in my mind, the lesser offense of being self-centered (but otherwise cordial) with the people she’d recently hurt?”

            Colt shot someone. Rain just failed to act to save people. There is a world of difference in those two states.

            Also, Rain couldn’t just leave and was being mind-fucked by Mama Mathers. Colt was continually told to leave and refused because she was scared of what her parents would do (send her away).

            Colt was a willing and active participant and shot someone. Rain was a participant under duress and didn’t actually hurt anyone directly.

          3. Rain grew up in a cult where ‘god’ was in your head and always watching. It’s hard to say how much of it was acting like a turd just to keep up appearances for Mama Mathers, and how much was legit belief on his part- I’d be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until he starts doing though.

          4. I think Colt is a much better looking candidate than Rain if we place them at equivalent points after the crime. Rain was taunting someone about their murdered child. Colt was immediately talking to law enforcement and providing all useful information.

            Which brings me to another point, the murdered people. Cradle went out of his way to not kill anyone. Even when hunting someone (Rain) who was complicit in murder. This is something Breakthrough did not do.

            Then you have all the other complicit criminals that Breakthrough worked with and didn’t arrest. Also Breakthrough’s conspiracy to skip trials and disappear people. Also how Swansong and Damsel skipped out on their prison sentence. What ever happened to that?

            This is really looking like Colt is being treated poorly because of personal relationships. Ultimately, if everything was above board Breakthrough would be confessing their disappearing people scheme, while Rain and Colt would be getting similar treatment.

          5. after reading a lot of comments, I believe people are overlooking a few key factors about Colt’s situation vs Rain’s.

            Colt made most (though not all) of her choices without duress. she has made no statements of remorse about her actions or her aiding actions that lead to the tortuous suffering of many children and adults, and her conversation in this chapter make it clear that she only cares about how she can mitigate her own punishment. basically, she has the mentality of a child. she wanted to rebel, so she joined the villains. she wanted to be useful so she took the drugs and shot a child. she wanted to belong, so she refused to leave when offered. she made her bed and now when its time to lie in it, all she does is say “its not fair! how come he…why not I…etc.” she doesnt seem to care about what she did, only how to not pay for it.

            on the other hand, Rain spent most of his life indoctrinated into a particular system of belief that shaped how he saw the world. it, and the constant threat of mental attack/death by Mathers, ensured he had very little in the way of options that weren’t influenced by his personal survival. Rain still somehow came out a better person. he has made mistakes too, and as paid for many of them. some he still has to pay, others he likely can never pay enough for, but he was still willing to do so. it marks the fundamental outlook that influences their actions. Rain cares about others and regrets his poor choices, he’s willing to pay the price of his actions. Colt cares about herself and is willing to do whatever she has to in order to make her life easier.

            if colt got a second chance, she would act the petulant child at some point, and attempt to rebel like the child she is. it would mean her becoming a loose villain again in the end and that is the situation her punishment is attempting to avoid. at a certain point, “i didnt know!” and “but he did it!” are no longer acceptable defenses of action.

            also, keep in mind that this is a matter of paying for ones actions, not a matter of “who is the bigger dick”. yes, Rain insulted a bereaved mother and has probably said a ton of other worse stuff. however, it isnt illegal to do so. As for the matter of Colt’s victims, just because they have recovered does not mean it is a lesser crime. she shot a child in cold blood. she aided the active torture of children. they may be physically healthy now, but they were eviscerated for weeks in continuous agony that never got better or healed in the slightest and they could not die from. that kind of pain is not something you just get over.

            in the end, the decision to punish Colt and Rain is decided based on how they might act in the future. How likely is Rain to continue his old criminal ways? his recent history suggests he takes responsibility for his actions and is hard on himself for not doing enough good. He actively fights crime and has assisted in several events that saved millions. possibility for criminal action: small.

            How likely is Colt to return to her criminal behavior? her current and past behavior suggests that she will do whatever makes things easier for herself, and has a tendency toward rebellion, excuses, and allowing others to take responsibility for her actions (example: “he told me to do this” or “i didnt know”). possibility of criminal action: moderate

            i believe second chances are for people who have shown they are willing to change, not for people who just WANT them.

          6. > Also Breakthrough’s conspiracy to skip trials and disappear people.

            What conspiracy? They’re being secretive about what exactly they’re doing with the prisoners, but they’re not skipping trials. In fact, they had a whole discussion this chapter about how Colt just had a trial. Breakthrough aren’t curtailing the judicial process. They’re just providing an alternative prison in a secret, secure location for the City to send people to.

            > Also how Swansong and Damsel skipped out on their prison sentence. What ever happened to that?

            I don’t know about Damsel, but Swansong did not have a prison sentence. The old prison was serving double duty as a jail for capes awaiting trial — that’s what Swansong and Precipice were doing there, as were many of the other recent arrivals from the Fallen raid. They’d had a preliminary hearing to determine whether it was worth jailing them at all, but they had not yet been tried. Then Goddess and Teacher smashed the prison and the City had to become even more picky about who it took the effort to jail. Rain and the Ashleys were allowed to go free, though I don’t think it’s been said yet whether their charges have been dropped or reduced, or if they’re still awaiting trial. Given the help they provided during the prison fiasco and their hero activities both before and after, I wouldn’t be surprised if the city just said, “Fuck it.”

            > This is really looking like Colt is being treated poorly because of personal relationships.

            Not really. The difference between her and Rain isn’t that Rain got better treatment, but rather that Rain didn’t get caught in the first place. Nobody gave Rain that time to grow. It’s just an artifact of circumstances. If Seir had beaten Rain up after the fire and then the Wardens arrived while Rain was unconscious and took him into custody, he’d likely have been treated much the same as Colt is now. Worse, probably, since he used to be even more obnoxious than she is. But, as luck would have it, the Fallen turned out to be less backstaby than Cradle, so Rain got to go home and grow up. Colt didn’t. Tough cookies.

            Also, note that Rain’s opportunity for growth was not a free ride. It was fucking dangerous. Seir was actively looking for excuses to murder him, his clustermates were putting together an army to murder him, Mama Mathers was mindfucking and spying on him to enforce loyalty, and Valefor was threatening additional mindfuckery. Then after Cradle and Operator Red nearly killed him, Rain got to spend weeks with a bomb strapped to his leg imprisoned alongside a bunch of dangerous people who hated him, until Teacher and Goddess both attacked the place with the intent of mind controlling him and everyone else there and very nearly caused the detonation of said bomb.

            Rain didn’t get off with a slap on the wrist like Colt’s asking for. He may have had little legal consequence, but life has already punished him enough. Honestly, I would rather have the three and a half years of monitored wilderness exile — or just normal prison — than get the same “opportunity” Rain had over the last year. He has suffered.

            If Colt wants to be treated “fairly” compared to Rain instead of being imprisoned, how about a year on the front lines with the PRTCJ fighting off-world threats, with one of Lookout’s cameras phased into her eye so her parole officer can monitor her?

          7. @Pizzasgood

            “.., how about a year on the front lines with the PRTCJ fighting off-world threats, with one of Lookout’s cameras phased into her eye so her parole officer can monitor her?”

            Um… Seconded?

        3. A person who is willing and able to help, is just that.
          Willing and able to help.
          Arguably, that was what their last team member to vamoose was.
          For a while, at least.
          (He had other issues, including Being Revealed as a Liar).
          I don’t think he was exactly the most heroic person ever.

          THAT said, I think Colt might get a “I Didn’t Know” pass, the way Prancer and his gang machinated to get.

    3. I think that at this point it may be not about whether Colt deserves a second chance (though I think she does), but whether heroes can afford not to give her one. She seems to be a new expert on dreams. The sort of dreams that may lead to a better understanding of the shards and their connections with both the parahumans, and each other.

      This is HUGE.

      I thought that she may become the savior of Rain’s cluster, but she may be a key to solving plenty of current problems with the shards themselves. From broken triggers, to the situation with Dauntless, and beyond.

      She can’t be exiled, because she is a critical asset.

      1. As for her punishment… How about three and a half years of probation similar to the one Weaver or Shadow Stalker were under?

      2. her usefulness is only as high as the system’s ability to keep her contained and make use of her. her set of powers makes her very hard to contain and control, limiting her usefulness by quite a large amount. also, there are others who have powers linked to dreams that can be utilized in this manner.

      3. I strongly suspect her expertise on dreams comes from the bud of Love Lost’s shard. Cradle’s shard skewed the arrangement in it’s own favour for Cradle, knowing he had a strong understanding of dreams. I suspect Love Lost’s mature shard was not happy when it worked this out and budded to Colt with the intent of balancing things back in its favour. Make her a breaker and give her an imate understanding of dreams.

        1. This is not the only thing Love Lost managed to accomplish with that bud. It gave Love Lost a surrogate daughter for example, and in doing so – prevented Love Lost from just killing her remaining cluster members and retiring (and in doing so – distancing herself from conflict). Love Lost’s shard was probably waiting for quite a while for an opportunity like that.

          1. “She can’t be exiled, because she is a critical asset.”

            Actually, this sounds more reasonable than sending her to the frontlines. So, yeah…

    4. I don’t like Yamada right now. Blocking the phone number of a former patient that failed at a job she gave her and probably was never qualified for in the first place (wich is on Yamada) is damn irresponsible. Especially if she never told anyone what is wrong

      1. I don’t think that this was the reason why Yamada blocked Victoria’s phone. I think that Yamada did it because she was concerned about Victoria’s mental health, and wanted to make sure she fully understood the situation before she approached Victoria. I posted an entire theory about it below, and if I’m right, it may mean that it wasn’t Victoria who failed her group in Yamada’s eyes, but the other way around – the group didn’t manage to do what Yamada was hoping it would do for Victoria.

    5. btw is it just me or exile not a good idea for whatever this is? Like, especially knowing it’s not permanent. You can’t expect to just isolate a villain in another world for a few years then maybe reintroduce them to society, if anything, that isolation would probably make them worse.

      1. Honestly, putting a trio of tinkers together, specifically a trio of tinkers from the same cluster on the same world, just sounds like a recipe for Cradle to drain them again (if he even needs to do that) and promptly break out with absurd levels of tinker tech. He will probably be grabbing capes from other dimensions and stealing their powers or something.

        1. from what i understand, the world they are being sent to is uninhabited or rudimentary. tinkers will not have access to tech required for the machines they likely are used to building, and will be unlikely to reinvent the manufacturing processes necessary for their reproduction.

        2. It’s a whole uninhabited Earth. If they’re on the same world- which wouldn’t necessarily be a guarantee- they don’t have to be on the same continent. Even if they’re on the same continent, depending on which one it is, they can’t sense how far away from each other they are- they just have the dream room. They still might not find each other. And Colt’s only supposed to be there for three and a half years; finding one person on a prison-planet with no advanced materials to Tinker with would be tricky, even if you know for a fact they’re on the same continent as you are. And that’s not even likely to remain true; Colt can fly, she could decide to go somewhere and be a hermit and wind up really safe. If it’s North America, she could go live on Alcatraz, or Newfoundland, or fly to Hawaii, though given the dream room limiting how long she can be awake for, that’d probably be a bad idea.

      2. Or for them all to get kidnapped by Teacher and add a near demi-Goddess level Tinker to his collection. At this point it is starting to sound like this is just gonna turn into an all you can brainwash cape buffet.

        The point is, I wouldn’t be too worried about reintroducing them to society in a few years.

    6. Shouldn’t Love Lost and Colt be nearly powerless since Cradle drained them? Or is it something he needed to repeat for many nights in close proximity?

      If there wasn’t risk of more personality bleed through I would suggest they neutered the three’s power by simply giving it to Rain. But they probably don’t want Rain fully powered up with the risks it presents either.

      1. Since Love Lost and Colt are back in the room it stands to reason that the effects of draining weren’t permanent, at least for the most part. There is a reason why “Bill the Blood Priest” probably took much longer time to drain his cluster (long enough for the sedatives given to March and Tori to wear off multiple times apparently), and despite it didn’t manage to finish the job.

  2. 1) The extradimensional base built instead of a proper prison. Are they preparing for war or what?

    2) Colt doesn’t realize the shit she’s in, just like she didn’t realize that every juncture where she was given a choice to back out, she threw away. And Breakthrough *knows* that she threw them away.

    I’m afraid Victoria is right, she would be a pest if she’d be given that second chance.

    (But it also really really sounds like something in her processing is borked, because’s she’s borderline legally incompetent)

    3) Yamada done fucked up. She’s blaming Victoria for something she never properly explained, handling a situation Yamada herself admitted she made worse, and somehow that makes her exclude Victoria from the team effort?

    That’s gotta sting more than just a bit.

    To quote Victoria’s earlier statement on a separate occasion,

    FUCKING WHY?

    1. “She’s blaming Victoria for something she never properly explained, handling a situation Yamada herself admitted she made worse, and somehow that makes her exclude Victoria from the team effort?”

      The chances that Jessica is actually blaming Victoria for anything seem very low. This is V’s interpretation, but doesn’t really seem that plausible.

      1. The phone blocking is the odd gesture out if this is not blame. Darnall’s ‘know why, can’t/won’t tell you why’ really doesn’t help.

        I get ut that this is a way to show St Yamada making another mistake, but it feels forced, yanno?

        1. Actually no, I think it is quite the opposite. If Jessica blamed Victoria for something, I don’t think she would block her phone for three weeks. I think she would let Victoria know it in no uncertain terms as soon as possible. Even if Jessica wanted to say Victoria she blamed her in a private, face-to-face conversation, she would block Victoria’s number for only as long as it would take to find an opportunity for such meeting, and even considering how busy she probably is, I don’t think Jessica would take so much time to find that opportunity.

          1. Not to mention that Jessica would not hesitate when Victoria asked her for a talk after the meeting with the group if she was to blame Victoria for something. Victoria may have failed Jessica in some way, but I don’t think Jessica blames her for it.

      2. Best I can think is it’s because Victoria got Jessica’s records/notes on the group. Possibly she wants to complete the group’s therapy wrap up before possibly contaminating opinions, etc.

        Beyond that I suspect it might be something to do with Sveta.

    2. > 1) The extradimensional base built instead of a proper prison. Are they preparing for war or what?
      Why, yes.
      Machine Army, Earth Cheit, Teacher, Fallens – are all direct threats. Not to count possible ones: Nilbog’s creations, Earth Shin, Endbringers, Dauntless, anti-parahuman movement, The Biggest Threat and so on.

    3. This is what Victoria BELIEVES, that Jessica blames her for something. Until Jessica will have a talk to her, we only know Victoria’s POV, we don’t know Jessica’s personal thoughts and opinions.

      1. We know Jessica feels about it strongly enough to avoid Victoria to the point of blocking her phone.

        We know Darnall knows and felt it better to recuse himself from the situation.

        In Victoria’s place, I’d be hella worried too, because these are not the actions of the Yamada she’s used to.

        1. Maybe she had her good reasons for avoiding Victoria, we can’t judge Jessica without knowing her reasons for acting like this. I don’t think she blames Victoria for something but she might have her reasons for being so cold towards her.
          Probably she doesn’t like the exile justice and she isn’t happy that Victoria, as a leader of her team, allow her team to be accomplice at this extreme (in Jessica’s opinion) punishment. She doesn’t blame Vic for acting like this but she might be disappointed that her patient couldn’t find a more ethical method to punish the criminals.
          I won’t judge Jessica if she sees the situation like this, not everyone is a fan of harsh punishments. There are people against death penalty and exile is almost like death penalty.

        2. Yeah. Maybe she doesn’t blame Victoria for anything, specifically, but her behavior right now is very, very worrying. She was utterly unconcerned about Glaistig Uaine openly threatening to kill her, and now she’s unwilling to even talk to Victoria? Something bad is definitely up.

          1. > She was utterly unconcerned about Glaistig Uaine openly threatening to kill her

            I don’t think this statement is accurate. Jessica is just good at not showing her fear. You may want to re-read the sections in her interlude where she met Sveta and Eidolon if you want a proof of that.

            But yeah, something is up. I bet it is something that is either so huge that it may harm far more people than just Jessica herself, or (and I think this is more likely) something very personal to Jessica, like a failure to help a friend, which is in part why a suggested that Jessica may be just concerned about the fact that Victoria’s mental health hasn’t improved much since act 1 in some important ways (like her fear of Amy), and seems to have degraded in others (like her willingness to act more and more aggressively in fights) since then.

          2. And the real concern with Victoria’s aggressiveness is that it is becoming more and more destructive to everyone – from her enemies, through her allies, to Victoria herself. A far cry from being a warrior monk Victoria told Jessica she wanted to be.

          3. In fact I would even say that Victoria is behaving more and more like the Queen of Escalation, and I doubt that Jessica would miss that fact, considering that Taylor was one of her patients.

    4. Re. 3. Whatever it is Jessica is possibly blaming Victoria for, may be closely tied to Jessica’s own mistake mentioned near the beginning of Worm. Could it be that we will finally get explanations about what that mistake was?

      1. Here is an ugly idea – Jessica’s mistake was to scratch Victoria out of the list of her patients too soon. She made Victoria the “coach” of the therapy group not only to help them, but also so they could help Victoria. Now she’s worried that Victoria managed to change everyone within the group for the better, except hersef. After all, while Victoria seams to have dealt with some of her problems, not everything is necessary fine with her.

        Dr. Darnall may confirm, that Victoria tried to use therapy sessions with him not to deal with her own problems (and it would be obvious to him that she still has some), but only ask him how she can help her teammates. Then Victoria started harming or putting everyone (including herself) in danger with her decisions. For example:
        – demonizing her sister to the point where it started to cause her family to fall apart,
        – putting children on line of fire,
        – exposing her entire team to a known, powerful master,
        – getting herself seriously injured multiple times and refusing parahuman treatment afterwards,
        – wounding her mother because she failed to tell her parents a key thing about her forcefield,
        – actually killing someone,
        while at the same time refusing to admit to herself that maybe she has a problem that requires a therapy.

        If this is the case, then I wouldn’t be surprised if Yamada tried to talk to everyone from Darnall to Victoria’s teammates to make sure how Victoria is doing nowadays, before she admitted to Victoria that she used such underhanded method, because Victoria could interpret what Yamada did as a major breach of trust – both as Victoria’s therapist, and Victoria’s friend, even though everything she did, she did because she was a friend worried about Victoria’s mental health.

        1. Consider two things – during the therapy session, Victoria sat in circle with everyone, while Yamada sat outside, where she could have an eye on everyone, including Victoria. Looks like Victoria has been put together with the patients, not the doctors, doesn’t it?

          This exchange happened in chapter 2.5, when Weld brought Sveta to the therapy:

          “You’re such a sneak, Jessica,” Weld said. “Not telling us?”

          “I did tell you Victoria was recovered.”

          “I thought you meant she was mobile enough to get to the meeting place on her own. I didn’t think you meant a complete and total recovery,” Weld said.

          Notice that Yamada never confirmed that Victoria made “a complete and total recovery”. This is because Yamada knew Victoria hasn’t. Not mentally, which was the entire point of putting her in the therapy group. Remember that that group was supposed to be about mutual support. Victoria was meant to be supported by those people every bit as much, as she supported them.

          1. Two more observations about therapist, friends, and trust:
            – Jessica as a therapist absolutely could not breach her patient’s trust, but she called herself Victoria’s friend, not a therapist anymore, and friends can sometimes breach each other’s trust, if they think it is for the benefit of the party whose trust is breached,
            – Jessica was very tight-lipped during the parts of the session when Victoria spoke. Was it because she thought that whatever she would say then could be seen as giving Victoria an advice as a therapist – something that, as Victoria’s friend, she could no longer do? After all, if I’m right, her aim was not to give Victoria any advice, but to insert her in a group that would hopefully let Victoria progress to a point where she didn’t need a Yamada-level therapist anymore.

          2. Or maybe I should have said that a therapist can never deceive their patient, but a part of trust between friends should be that you can count on your friends to deceive you for your good at certain situations, even if it may mean endangering that friendship?

          3. And the best thing is that Victoria’s family knew about Yamada’s deception all along. After all Yamada appeared back in Victoria’s life in chapter 1.8, right after what happened at the failed family meet-up in chapter 1.7. They must have called Jessica and let her know that Victoria needs help. A lot of what they did later was also probably because of Jessica’s advice. Carol and Amy stayed away from Victoria to give her space (in Dot’s interlude Amy said she was supposed to stay away from Victoria! Doesn’t it sound like therapist orders?), while Crystal – a family member Victoria trusted most at that point, was asked to offer Victoria a place in her flat in part to be able to keep an eye on Victoria for Jessica.

          4. And if Crystal was the person Jessica asked to keep an eye on Victoria, it would explain her presence when Jessica an Victoria met in chapter 5.1. I imagine that Crystal and Jessica had a lot to share before and/or after Jessica and Victoria had their talk.

          5. And some members of the therapy group could have been in Yamada-New Wave little conspiracy too. At least Sveta would be, I think. After all both Victoria’s family and (especially) Jessica know well just how good friends Sveta and Victoria are. It could explain why Sveta was invited to that family meeting in chapter 10.1, and could have something to do with that Carol’s “I’m not impressed.” comment from chapter 12.6.

          6. If Sveta was involved in the “conspiracy” I described above, it would mean that she has been in regular contact with the Dallons when Victoria wasn’t around, and is now blaming herself a lot for keeping the secret of Victoria’s forcefield from her parents.

          7. Ashley could also be a member of the “conspiracy”, though possibly introduced to it quite recently. It would explain why she has been distracting Victoria with fashion talk and such whenever it looked like Victoria could be thinking about Amy during last couple of chapters.

          8. I’ve just re-read chapter 1.8, and it looks like I forgot a few things. It was Gilpatrick (another good friend concerned about Victoria’s well-being) who called Jessica then, and it was Victoria who explained Jessica what happened at the family meeting, and how she felt about Amy. This means that it had to be Jessica, who reached out to New Wave, not the other way around, and she could have even begin with Crystal, because Victoria told Jessica that she planned to stay at Crystal’s place, and Jessica indicated that she knew, and liked Crystal.

            The rest however could have happened more or less the way I described above, I think.

          9. Alf, I ain’t jumping up your rabbit-hole here with you, just crossing against this one thing here:

            “Or maybe I should have said that a therapist can never deceive their patient, but a part of trust between friends should be that you can count on your friends to deceive you for your good at certain situations, even if it may mean endangering that friendship?”

            Oh hell no. Maybe it’s just because I’m “on the spectrum”† but oh hell no. Lying to me for any reason other than your own benefit is a terrible thing. Just speak the facts/truth and let me decide what the best course forward is. If you can’t trust me to chose my own best path (even after hearing what you think), why are we ‘friends’?

            [rant]
            That sort of nonsense falls into ye olde “Drama For Drama’s Sake” shit that I hate in ‘poorly’ written works of fiction (see also “Carrying the Idiotball”). Where in order to secure the plot or future plot twists, someone is lied to “for their own good” which always, always, ends up creating tension and needless drama before the Character chooses to go and do what is necessary and would have been done far earlier (or headed off far earlier) if they’d just been informed to start with.

            Fucking sign of a weak author.‡
            [/rant]

            † I was diagnosed as “a socially-adapted sociopath” when I was 12. Whether this was an accurate (for the times then) diagnosis? Ehhh… it seems to fit. I’ve a lot of small ‘mental issues’ that do seem to pile up in particular shapes and forms suggestive of mild antisocial behavior/mild autism.

            ‡ Yes, i know this is an accurate portrayal of real life. However it happens with a degree of frequency in dramatic fiction that borders on the ludicrous and that I take as a personal affront to my sensibilities. Have a good day sir! 😉

          10. > I was diagnosed as “a socially-adapted sociopath” when I was 12.

            Please don’t take it personally, and definitely don’t feel like you need to respond if it makes you uncomfortable, but, assuming this diagnosis is correct, could it be that you are so harsh in your in your judgement of Cradle, because he didn’t stay socially-adapted after triggering, while you have been doing the effort to do it for your entire life?

          11. And at the same time was I so willing to take Ryan’s side, because I feel for him? Because I can only imagine how terrified he must be of getting Rain’s guilt, and appreciated any sign of effort on his part to return to being socially-adjusted without crossing certain lines (like actually murdering his clustermates) along the way?

          12. Now that I think about it, perhaps there is something else in our discussion about Ryan that hasn’t been properly discussed.

            It is why that old couple from the Mall felt happy in each other’s presence, assuming that they have regular empathy, and a big part of why I’m torn on whether Ryan should accept Rain’s tokens.

            You see, it is not just about the risk that Ryan could be crippled by guilt if he took too many of those tokens. It is that I’m not certain which aspects of empathy can those tokend give Ryan. Empathy isn’t just about guilt after all. It is about feeling emotional pain when you know someone else is in pain, especially, but not only, if you are the cause of this psin, but also about feeling other things, including positive ones – like joy just because you know someone else is feeling joy, especially if you are the cause of it.

            This is why people like those happy old couples are happy. Each of them is happy, not just because the presence of the other person means they are not alone, but because each of them knows they make the other person happy, and they can feel that happiness with them.

            If Rain’s tokens do would not give Ryan those positive aspects of empathy, then perhaps taking them isn’t worth it? Perhaps just feeling a little less lonely, because you can feel guilt like most people isn’t worth feeling that guilt? Is empathy worth it if it only gives you some negative feelings, and none of the positive ones?

          13. I’ve just thought of a comparison between empathy, and Darlene’s power. Darlene’s power makes you feel physical sensations experienced by people it connects you to. Empathy does something similar for emotions. Empathy crates obviously no supernatural connection to other people that transfers their emotions to your brain. Instead brains of animals (including humans) with empathy are wired to recognize emotions in others, and react to them with their own.

            Here is how this comparison works to explain my dilemma about whether Ryan should take Rains tokens – if those tokens would give him only guilt, it would be like he was attached to Darlene-like network which transmits not all physical sensations, but only pain.
            Who would want to join such network, even if (or maybe especially) it was the only way for them to experience pain? How horrible it would be to force someone else (like Cradle in this case) to join such network if it only meant sharing pain, and no other sensation?

          14. evileeyore,
            Well, I for one don’t always write things that way.
            Of course, I have characters that routinely carry around big signs saying “Do Not Trust Me” (figuratively) and “I know More than You Do.” (mostly figuratively).

          15. That recovery she is speaking of is physical recovery. Victoria had her old body back (and not aged). Weld didn’t know that and was surprised it could happen.

          16. The only person who spoke about full recovery was Weld. Unlike Yamada he didn’t realize that Victoria is still very far from mental recovery. This is why Yamada said nothing to correct him. She could hardly speak with him about mental health of her patient (even former one), could she? Especially since she knew that said patient is not well, and may have a strong negative reaction to this being revealed in front of all people in the room.

            If Yamada would correct Weld then, she would not only break a fundamental rule of her profession, she would also be harming and alienating Victoria for no good reason.

      2. We HAVE an explanation for the mistake: Lab Rat. Letting Chris be part of the group and his influences on Kenzie (and, unbeknownst to Jessica, his hand in appointing Amy as the Red Queen) makes it look like she was right to worry.

        1. It could look like a possible explanation at a first glance, but I don’t think this is what is going on here, mostly because I don’t think that Yamada would block Victoria for three weeks after returning, if her entire reason for it would be that she was upset about what happened with Chris.

          The only thing that could make it work would be something about current relationship between Amy and Chris Yamada wouldn’t want to talk to Victoria about, but I don’t think that she considers Victoria so fragile that she would be unable to handle a conversation about such topic, and even if she did, I think she would at least fairly quickly explain to Victoria why she doesn’t want to talk about it.

          1. Plus Chris may have a body of a child, but I think he is is an adult in enough ways to make his own decisions, even if those decisions are poor. It would not be fair to hold Victoria accountable for him making those decisions.

            So no, I don’t think it is about Chris, at least not for the most part. I think it is about Victoria herself.

          2. And remember that Yamada has already shown that she is willing to respect Chris’ decisions. In fact her professional code required her to do so. Why would she let Chris get away with his lie otherwise? Do you think that Yamada would be so hypocritical that she would try to manipulate the situation in such a way that Victoria would figure out Chris’ lie and stop him from doing what he did without telling Victoria about the lie outright? I don’t think it fits her.

      1. Nah, it is just not really Jessica, but Pretend who had an epiphany about using colored contacts lenses during his near-death experience when he was forced to attack Scion. He’s been hiding from Victoria as long as he could, because he was afraid that she would figure out that something is off with her favorite therapist.

        1. Or maybe Jessica spent last three weeks tearing Dragon a new one for giving Victoria her notes, and is now going to do the same to Victoria for taking them?

  3. I’m afraid that Valkyrie told Jessica something that precludes her interacting with Victoria somehow. Thinker-derived intelligence about Bad Things, maybe.

    Or… Maybe something to do with Lab Rat or Amy? A conflict of interest that Jessica feels means she can’t be Victoria’s therapist anymore?

    Until we know more Jessica remains Best Therapist, but I remain pretty impressed with Darnall.

    1. “I’m afraid that Valkyrie told Jessica something that precludes her interacting with Victoria somehow. Thinker-derived intelligence about Bad Things, maybe.”

      ^ This.

      “Cut ties” anyone? Dinah’s insistence on staying the hell away from Taylor?

    2. > Or… Maybe something to do with Lab Rat or Amy?

      It would probably explain a lot if we knew if Valkyrie and Yamada stopped on Earth Shin on the way from the old Warden HQ building to the City, wouldn’t it?

  4. Huh. So Kenzie did end up building a teleporter, like she was going to do for Breakthrough at the start of the story. Or close enough. And it works. That’s damn impressive. Tinkers are OP as fuck.

    That thing going on with Yamada is incredibly ominous. By the way, she was found together with Bonesaw and Nilbog, but I think someone mentioned those two weren’t coming back? Did Valk just leave them where they were, to build a new goblin nation or something?

    1. I kind of miss the old days, when the protagonist wore an unintentionally scary costume that made her look like a villain even before she was one, but could literally stop a bullet. And then the tattered, burnt remains of that costume.

  5. “I didn’t miss the hesitation on her part.

    I did something wrong. I failed her. She wants to see the damage before she talks to me.”

    Rain! Turn your god damn Aura off and stopping messing with Vicky.

    Also, the comment about Cradle just sort of… not moving in the dream room.
    Citrine and co did something. Citrine and co did something HARD.

    1. Citrine is the type not to just execute someone when she can instead brainwash them and use them as disposable cape fodder, yeah. And considering that nobody is going to care what happens to Cradle…

  6. If “Kronos titan” is a portal, and portals are power batteries (and it is specifically told that there is energy “feeding into him”), does it mean that he is potentially not only a hub for shards, but also a bomb much bigger than the one that caused Dauntless and Alabaster to second-trigger? A bomb to destroy all worlds?

    Either that, or we may not have seen his final form yet. He may gather enough energy to drastically change again and/or change everything around him. And let’s not forget that “around him” may even mean “in radius larger than Earth’s diameter”.

    1. I’m thinking you’re right about the hub for the shards. Hubs have been brought up a couple of times now, I think the Warrior hub. What I’m terrified of is once the shards start reconnecting, what if they try to rejoin or regroup themselves into the Big Bois, and continue their cycle of drifting through dimensions doing….whatever it was they were doing?

      Also, looking at some of the things you and a few others have said, I’m starting to wonder if maybe Victoria’s shard is The Biggest Threat, in combination with The Being Formerly Known As Dauntless. The shards were saying that since they’re each fragmented, their individual powers are nothing but Dauntless is a never ending buffet of energy it seems (also what the fuck! is the simurgh doing!), so it would make a lot of sense for things to start there? And maybe Vickie’s shard reaching out and talking to the other shards and stuff, they maybe start trying harder to communicate to their hosts, through dreams. Which would make Colt’s understanding of dreams even more valuable.

      Or, the shards stop trying to hint through dreams and start influencing things much more directly. Maybe they already are. The Wretch hitting Victoria’s mom, for example. Most likely an accident, yeah. But it’d be way more sinister if her shard knew she didn’t like Carol and moved her away.

      1. Oh whoops, I forgot to keep going on one thing. If Victoria’s shard succeeded in its goal of getting others to cooperate, and the shards started independently forming mega clusters and experimenting with powers without the hosts’ knowledge that could really create some widespread confusion

      2. Now this is an interesting way of thinking about the possible link between situation with Victoria’s shard, and Dauntless. Haven’t thought about it myself.

        One thing that I enjoy more than coming up with a theory I like, is seeing that I inspired someone else to create their own theory. Another thing I enjoy a lot is seeing a theory the contents of which I find interesting or inspiring.

        You just gave me both of those things. Thank you.

  7. I am sad that there still has been no mention of Moose. I was hopeful for him to somehow become a hero but alas. I honestly don’t think Colt should be spared. She played a major role and as others have mentioned everything was entirely self inflicted. Plus shes just childish, even below her age. She isn’t an asset right now but a liability. She lives her life based on fear which is always a bad idea. I didnt like her before she got powers and i like her less now.

    1. She isn’t an asset *right now*.
      But she IS hella powerful… and easily influenced by others, and probably if you stuck her on a hero team she would do the job she was asked to do.
      Also, weirdly enough, her breaker state is actually pretty non-lethal, so as long as you don’t give her combat drugs and a gun, she probably won’t screw up again.

      1. If a hero team wants her, sure, but I don’t think many will. Victoria sure doesn’t. Her group sliced up the Navigators, and unleashed the Kronos Titan. Colt didn’t do it personally, which is why she’s looking at three years in the time-out dimension instead of the rest of her natural life, but she was complicit. Capes tend to get some leeway when it comes to ordinary crimes, even serious ones, but Cradle’s shit crossed several lines.

        1. Yeah, I get that March crossed the godzilla threshold, and Cradle did bad things… but Colt, got roped in by LL, who got roped in by cradle, who was related to March.

          Colt’s actual connection to the bad things is… indirect at best.

          In terms of “Future prospects”, I rate her well about where Chris, Tristan or Rain really deserved to be at the start of the story.

          1. @ Axl Curtis

            I ain’t saying the stuff she did wasn’t wrong. I was replying to Soadreqm’s comment of
            “Her group sliced up the Navigators, and unleashed the Kronos Titan”
            “Capes tend to get some leeway when it comes to ordinary crimes, even serious ones, but Cradle’s shit crossed several lines”
            These are two things that got called out as getting her in special degrees of trouble, and neither of them is directly related to her. My comment on indirectness was specificlly with regard to these things.

            Yeah, shooting at a child is bad. So is burning people to death in a mall, extradimensional kidnapping, and vaporizing your boyfriend out of paranoia.
            And UNLIKE all of those cases, where the people being hurt were like…not actually a threat to the person commiting the crime, Colt was in ACTIVE COMBAT, and dealing with the likes of Flor, who is utterly terrifying.

            I’m not saying that what Colt did is okay, I’m saying that “helped out March” is pretty tenuous as an aggravating factor, and I do not expect her to shoot at more children in the future if set free.

        2. honestly, i think she deserves to rot.

          she wasnt an innocent bystander, she was enthusiastically HURLING herself into villainy the entire time, and spurting a constant stream of excuses/self-justifications the entire time- and she hasn’t shown, as far as ive seen, any signs of regret aside from “i regret i got arrested!”

          if she’s given an easy out, chances are she’ll find another excuse to start slipping again sooner or later….

          1. I don’t think that she should be left completely unpunished, but remember that:
            – she was running away from a rather ugly situation at home,
            – she hasn’t shown signs of regret in part because her power probably kept her from fully realizing seriousness of what she has done, and from actually showing how she feels; her mind is simply never fully “in the here and now” anymore, and until she manages to compensate for that, she should be treated as a mental case not fully able to defend herself at court and not fully responsible for any actions she took after her trigger (and remember that part of her charges is that she did nothing to stop people from being chopped up, which happened only after she triggered).

          2. Exactly!

            I used to know a Colt. Head always in the clouds, fucked up in the stupidest ways because of it, then came up with absurd reasons why it was perfectly reasonable that she wasn’t paying attention and shouldn’t be punished for fucking up. Not saying she had no good reason for being that way, but a stint in the wilderness would probably do her a world of good in getting her head on straight (for both Colt and the RL girl).

            Let other more reliable people investigate shards and dreams. Colt is way overdue for rehab.

  8. This is really nothing more than a hunch, but considering how much presence Dragon and Defiat have at the bunker, could it be close to Dracheheim?

  9. Geez, i wonder what’s gonna happen to Cradle now. I get the feeling he’s not gonna vanish into another dimension so quietly. It’s weird, but I almost feel a little bad for Cradle. It was like he was trying to be better than the fucked up person he was, but triggering sent him back to square one and he just gave up hope.

    Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

    P.S. big money on getting a Sleeper arc before Arc 25

  10. My comments are apparently getting rate-limited, and I have no idea why– tried to post one and got a “whoa slow down!” message (now when I try to post it again, I get a message saying it’s a duplicate– but the original isn’t showing up).

    @Alfaryn, have you hit this before? I know you’re a prolific commenter, and on this entry you were able to post 8 in under 2 hours; not sure why I got the message when posting my 4th comment in 6 hours.

    1. I believe the general concensus last time this was brought up was it was a kind of wordpress-wide thing, not user specific. So if you and 6 other people comment in the same minute it bugs out and tells everyone to chill out.

        1. Because you called me by name, I will confirm that yes – I have run into the issue, yes – it doesn’t seem to be connected to how often I post, yes – we have discussed it, and yes – what Jkyoulost said was suggested like a likely explanation, though as far as I can say it is ultimately just our speculation – we have no proof beyond the fact that sometimes we can comment dozen of times in half an hour or less without seeing the message, and sometimes it is displayed after posting a couple comments within hours, if not days.

          1. Personally, I’ve never seen it except when replying to something posted recently or shortly after a chapter has dropped (if I catch it on time; this one I didn’t).

  11. I hadn’t considered that The Simurgh might just be using Dauntless as an antenna.

    I hope she’s not sending distress calls to other entities.

  12. Waiting for the other Yamada shoe to drop. Either this isn’t’ the real Yamada, or Yamada has been messed with in ways that Vitoria is more likely to be able to pick up on.

    Or that she’s been told to stay away from Victoria for some “stupidity to advance the plot” reason. Not that Wildbow does those very often… but he does it occasionally.

    1. When has Wildbow used “stupidity to advance the plot?”

      I haven’t seen it in Worm or Ward.

      1. Dinah actively staying away from Taylor after giving her the “Cut ties” note.

        In universe it isn’t stupidity (because predictions)…. but it sure LOOKS like stupidity, and it does advance that plot. There’s no real in character reason for Dinah to avoid Taylor, but she does because magical plot ball powers say so… and we’re never really told WHY that’s a thing her power says.

        It works. It isn’t bad for the story. But it does feel a tad contrived/”stupidity to advance plot”.

        1. When Taylor’s held by the PRT and Dinah makes a prediction about the PRT Head Guy with the name I’ve forgotten, I seem to recall Dinah mentioning that speaking to Taylor would change the numbers. And since Taylor was one of the largest factors in averting the end of the world- or at least responsible for the least-horrific death toll- changing those numbers too much would not have been a good thing.

          1. Well, Victoria being a pawn of Dinah’s prophecy certainly seems like plausible alternative to my theory about Victoria being the member of therapy group, whom the group did not manage to help, though if you think about it, maybe even both theories could be true at the same time?

          2. For example, maybe the prophecy demands that Yamada and the group fail to keep Victoria sane, so that she could become another Khepri or something along those lines?

          3. Let me rephrase that middle part to make it even more creepy:
            “…so that she would have Amy turn her into another Khepri…”

          4. Of course it could also be another way around – it could be that Victoria’s irrational fear of Amy is the only thing that may guarantee that Victoria won’t become “another Khepri” one day. And it is not even clear which outcome is the good one – not every “Khepri” needs to be a savior, after all.

          5. Remember what Victoria said about Amy at the end of chapter 1.8:

            “She’s the scariest damn person in the world, Jessica,” I said. “And I don’t think that’s bias. There’s a chance she’s going to do something bad, and she’s so damn powerful, that when and if it happens, it’s going to be so much worse than what happened to me, and it’s going to affect an awful lot more people.”

            What if Victoria, or rather her Shard no longer correctly controlled via Victoria’s Corona Pollentia is that something “much worse” that may “affect an awful lot more people”?

      2. There have been moments in every story so far where I’ve noticed characters carrying the stupidball. Whether it was for the sake of plot… in Worm I can’t remember. In Twig and Pact I could go back and find them. They weren’t egregious, but I noticed them. And I’m usually pretty forgiving as long as it’s something the character would do anyway, but in these cases… it didn’t quite fit well so it stood out to me.

        In this case there have been little things compounding with Yamada that keep making me feel like there is something large going on in the background and she’s just not telling people things they need to know*.

        Take Chris/Labrat. He was arguably a danger and lying to everyone, and she not only allowed it, but was complicit in his fabrications by keeping her mouth shut. Sure, Patient-Doctor Confidentiality… but she had a patient self-harming and that could be a significant danger to the rest of the group and did nothing. For the sake of later plot and twists.

        So either there is something very large in the background giving Yamada a good reason to ignore her duty and now her patient… or she’s carrying the idiotball. And I have a feeling it’s the ball… (not that there isn’t something looming large in the background, just that Yamada has no good reason to keep these secrets).

        * And that’s usually what triggers my sense of it. Characters suddenly going all Daytime Soap with the secrets they are holding back, just so there can be drama/plot twists later…

    2. So, back when Jessica was presumed dead, Dragon gave Victoria a bunch of Jessica’s files. Perhaps the real issue here isn’t anything Victoria actually did, but rather that Dragon “accidentally” gave her a few extra files. A few sensitive files. A few sensitive files that have nothing to do with therapy…

      Yes, that’s right. I’m suggesting that Dragon sent Victoria the Chevalier/Legend slash-fic Jessica had been working on. Oops. Victoria obviously hasn’t perused the files closely enough to notice it yet, but Jessica doesn’t know that, and she is just mortified.

  13. Does anyone else find the beginning of this chapter so confusing, especially this moment (“Dragon poked at this?” Kenzie asked) what prompted her to ask this?

  14. Colt’s a tricky one. She was a minion to people who did superbad things, kept out of the loop and not told of said superbad things, but when she got powers, she helped the group that did superbad things willingly. I thought she deserved a second chance, but now she’s not showing any remorse? Asking about herself, not the people hurt by those she helped? I’m not so sure. But she’s good at the dream-wrangling, too, and can give some help on that to the capeologists trying to figure that out. That the Shards were so invested in dreams because they ‘don’t get dreams’- and not just, like, can’t dream themselves, but can’t even comprehend why we do- was something I’d not even considered.

    She’s useful; I hope she doesn’t get the exile for 3.5 years, on that basis, but… I kinda want to see her use her powers more. She’s a breaker, and those are always interesting. Also curious if she’s got her own dream-pod now, or if she’s still sharing with Love Lost. If the latter, and Love Lost dies, would she inherit the room, or leave the dreamspace? I’m leaning towards ‘inheriting the room’, personally, but still interesting.

  15. Ok, I think I may have figured out what “the biggest threat” could be. Apparently “a threat of dimensional collapse” because of portal box malfunction is a thing. Does it mean that when it was said that “Earth Gimel’s enemies are paying richly to see this city gone and this reality collapsed in on itself.” it meant that Gimel’s enemies were considering using Gimel portals to make entire Gimel universe collapse on itself rather than letting it stay a source of broken triggers and such? Does it mean that there is a risk that Kronos titan may cause all universes to collapse?

    Looks like March may have unleashed the ultimate form of mutually assured destruction – if Gimel will collapse, all other realities may do so as well.

  16. I think it’s interesting how many people are immediately assuming Dr. Yamada blocking Victoria is some sort of punishment, conspiracy, or information firewalling. I’m more inclined to suspect this being related to professional ethics: Victoria does technically have a different therapist now and is a de-facto authority figure over Yamada’s other patients on top of that. Add that to the potential that she’s developed any sort of relationship (professional or otherwise) with Amy and you’ve got a number of reasons that might obligate her to cut ties.

    1. That seems like a plausible explanation too, but I don’t think it is just that. I believe that Jessica is too good friend to allow her professional ethics to limit help she gives to Victoria just to organizing another therapist for her, and maybe taking Amy as a patient, because Victoria asked her to. I think she has been doing more, and that leads me to suspecting that she did not let Victoria know she did things she did for Victoria’s own good (like putting her in that therapy group for example).

      In other words I still believe that Yamada did not arrange for Victoria to end up in that group not only for the benefit of the other group members, but also to help Victoria herself, and not just because being that group’s “coach” satisfied Victoria’s desire to help in a way that would get closer Victoria to her chosen ideal of warrior monk. I believe Jessica was so concerned about how hurt Victoria because of what Amy did to her, and because what Victoria feared Amy could do, that she wouldn’t plan for some way to help Victoria get over that fear, and just letting Victoria help as a warrior monk is just not enough to conquer that fear in my opinion.

      In other words I suspect a “conspiracy” because it could be another way for Jessica to help, and I choose to believe that Jessica is good enough friend to bend some rules of professional ethics a bit if she believed that it would let her help Victoria better; that for Jessica friendship comes before professionalism.

      1. I just think that a good, professional therapist is good, but a good, understanding friend, willing to sacrifice their professional pride for you is better, and I want to believe (maybe naively) that Jessica is the best person she can be in this situation.

        1. And if Jessica developed a relationship with Amy, that is more than strictly professional (which would fit characters of both of them, I think), then it is just one more reason for Jessica to do everything she can to bring the sisters back together, and just letting Victoria be a helpful hero and a warrior monk is not enough to do it in my opinion.

    1. I had the same thought.

      It’s pretty clear to me that Colt post-trigger is effectively in a permanent high. She’s just not completely there, and horrifyingly she never will be.

      I feel bad for so many different characters in this story.

      1. I don’t think the situation may be that bad for Colt. She did have a moment of relative clarity when she finally understood just how severe her sentence may be, so maybe she can learn to function with that “permanent high”, as you describe it (though I suspect “detached from her immediate surroundings” may be a more accurate term). She may never be able to be completely “back here” from “there”, but there are more characters who are in a somewhat similar situation (like Dinah and Ciara, Rinke just to name a few), who managed to get better with time and other people’s help. And sure, a part of what Dinah went through were actual drugs, but I highly suspect that part of it were the visions.

        There are even two characters – Miss Militia and Chevalier – who I think by all rights should be just as lost as those as the ones mentioned above, yet managed to stay surprisingly grounded. It has yet to be determined whether it is because their powers don’t affect their minds in a way that would make them feel detached from reality as it is perceived by most people, or because they managed to avoid that tram thanks to their own self-discipline. I suspect a mixture of both in Miss Militia’s case – she never sleeps, and it probably helps, but she also makes a point to spend as little time as possible remembering her visions, and I think she would be far more detached if she allowed herself to spend more time doing that.

  17. one thing ive been thinking about is about dauntless. if i remember correctly, it was said that his shard was not specifically drawing power, but making “connections” and drawing power. is it possible that his shard is drawing the various reserves of power from other shards and consolidating them? it was stated that most of the shards are “dead” and will eventually run out of power. is dauntless expediting this process by accident?

    also, i wonder at the nature of Simurgh. she, if it can be said to be a she, is a vastly powerful being with a connection to eidolin, but only loosely confirmed. if she is some kind of stray shard entity, what is her purpose? it seems to me that the she, of all of the endbringers, tend to serve the function of creating conflict. is it possible that she is the living embodiment of the Entity’s desire/need to create conflict to grow their shard abilities?

    as well, abaddon is still alive, and presumably some of its shards are still in circulation. what happens when parahumans start losing their powers but others dont? how will that effect humanity? also, keep in mind, there was such a concept of critical mass that the planet would reach before the shards were collected. do all of the shards have to mature for that? could dauntless be an artificial form of this critical mass happening as a result of his shard not having an entity to draw upon?

    i know, lots of questions, no answers. i dont have answers, only questions. i think they are important ones though, and i will keep them in mind as this plays out.

  18. I just thought of another reason why Dragon may not be working on rebuilding the Birdcage, other than the obvious “there may be not enough resources available to build something this elaborate again”, and “there is a risk that Teacher and/or Saint will manage to hack Dragon again”. In Dragon’s interlude in Worm it has been mentioned that, at least most of the time, monitoring the Birdcage has been done not by Dragon directly, but by a repurposed house-keeping AI created by Andrew Richer.

    What if that AI did not survive Gold Morning? Originally Dragon was under restriction which prevented her from creating AIs. Defiant managed to create a workaround which let Dragon create some simple AIs (like the ones she used to control multiple suits at once), but it was not perfect. She still kept into roadblocks while making AIs, and there were still limits of how complex those AIs could be.

    In Pandora’s chapter of the epilogue arc it was briefly suggested that D&D could work on a true AI “child”, presumably similar to Dragon herself in how close it was to a human mind, but they may have never gone that way to the point that even creating something capable of running Birdcage 2.0 would be possible.

    1. Another possibility could be that copies of Richter’s house-keeping AI survived Gold Morning, but there is a worry that that AI could be even easier to hack using means in Saint and Teacher’s disposal than Dragon is, and that any defense measures D&D could employ wouldn’t be able to prevent it.

      1. Finally there is that “glitch” that prevented Dragon from learning what Amy said when she was alone. I suspect it served Defiant in figuring out how to break Dragon’s inability to perceive anything related to Ascalon, and possibly other restrictions and backdoors Andrew Richter put into Dragon, which may be a big part of what made Pandora’s existence possible, and of why Dragon has been able to resist Teacher’s hacking attempts since then, but it still leaves a worry if the “glitch” was truly random, or something created by some external agent, who or what that agent was (from Saint’s interlude we know that it almost certainly wasn’t him), and if they know about and can exploit any other weakness Richter’s AIs may have.

          1. Even more reason to be worried about security of any Dragon’s, and Dragon-made systems then. Not that there is any guarantee that anyone’s mind or any computer system is safe at this point, considering that Simurgh had access to plenty people during GM, and is now sitting on what seems to be a gigantic transmitter among other things.

  19. Ahhhh Vic-hypocite and Hypocritethrough in their element. Colt is dead on. Did anyone actually even die because of her? Rain straight up got away with mass murder and Ashley got away with murder too.
    “Pending” :^)
    Pay no attention to the fact that many other crimes that happened afterwards have been fully processed.

    1. I think it may be not so simple.

      First, I’d like to remind you that unlike Colt both Rain and Ashley turned themselves in and fully cooperated with authorities from that point on. Colt had to be captured, and her cooperation with the authorities was somewhat lacking so far. This is not a small thing if you ask me.

      On top of it Rain killed those people in the Mall under “soft compulsion” from Mama Mathers (who could mess his brain up), and the entirety of the cult (who could turn his life into hell). He was also rised, and fairly thoroughly brainwashed, by that same cult. On top of it without Rain’s informations the raid on Fallen camp would likely never succeed. Information gathered by Ashley in Cedar Point was also very important in both weakening villains hold on that place, and discovering their plans about the raid. They have also proven themselves before and during the battle with Goddess and Teacher (both as sources of information and as combatants), and on multiple occasions later.

      Rain ended up killing Snag too, but it was not through intent, but through combination of an attempt of self-defense and misjudgment of how Snag would react while exposed to Rain’s power. After all Snag knew what Rain’s power would do, and reacted completely irrationally, just like Victoria did in a similar situation when her leg was hit by Rain’s power during her fight with Lord of Loss and Nursery’s “child”.

      Ashley also has a parial excuse of a mental health problem which contributed to her killing Beast of Burden, so at least some of the blame for that death should fall on Victoria who sent her out as an undercover agent while knowing perfectly well that Ashley may react poorly to the stress of being put in such situation.

      Colt does have some arguments to defend herself (like the one that she was afraid that Love Lost and Nailbiter could kill her if she chose to leave, or that she has been facing some pretty scary opponents), but she did shoot to kill (even if she didn’t end up killing anybody), and the fact that she willingly took drugs before combat could also be considered an aggravating, not attenuating, circumstance.

      I also think that Colt should be allowed a second chance, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that she should be treated better than, or even as good as Rain and Ashley were, at least early on until she proves herself the way those two already did.

      1. Oh, and besides shooting to kill, which could be partially explained as self-defense and by panic (though I still think she went too far by actually shooting) she did take part in chopping people up to pieces later, when she had no such excuse, and no argument that it was to her knowledge necessary for any reason – something Love Lost and Cradle could probably argue, and, depending on what they knew and what else they tried to do before they moved to chopping up people, may even be considered a valid attenuating circumstance or (in extreme case) even a full justification.

        1. The only justification I can maybe see for Colt taking part in chopping up those people could be the fact that her power kept her emotionally detached from reality, and unlike with drugs, she can’t be blamed for that aspect of her power. The only problem is that it is probably very difficult to accurately evaluate just how much effect it had on her, and the evaluation she was given wasn’t favorable for her.

          Victoria’s concern about whether any of those doctors who examined Colt was qualified to evaluate her mental state is actually very much on point.

          1. The trap here is that the court may not understand that someone who is a good specialist when it comes to evaluating mental health of a regular human may be completely unfit to do so with a parahuman whose mind seems to be as affected by their shard as Colt’s.

          2. And to “close the loop” so to speak, the fact that that Colt didn’t turn herself in, and didn’t cooperate with the authorities as well as she perhaps should (which I said is no small thing) could also possibly be explained by how her power affected her mind, so it is critical to know if those doctors were qualified to evaluate capes like Colt.

            Looks like Colt’s case may be a perfect argument supporting the idea that maybe non-powered civilians aren’t equipped to judge capes. And it is in no small part a fault of the system Cauldron created back on Bet in which civilians were simply not properly informed about some uglier nuances of being a cape.

            The fact that Victoria was one of the first people who actually brought this problem to public attention entire two years after Gold Morning (on that TV show) only shows that the capes themselves as a social group are partly to blame too – they should have done it sooner, and after GM they had no excuse of Cauldron and PRT propaganda holding them back.

          3. So yeah, the root of the problem is people’s inability to communicate – like it so often is, both in life and in Wildbow’s stories.

    2. > Rain straight up got away with mass murder

      No he didn’t. Rain’s an accomplice to mass murder, but not himself a mass murderer. These kinds of distinctions do matter, as responsibility is a continuum, not a binary. (Fortunately for Colt, or she’d be looking at a lot more than three and a half years.)

        1. In a world where people can literally control other peoples minds the question of guilt becomes a lot more complicated as in our world.
          Mama Mathers did control him Ser coerced him. He was raised in that society. So his guilt is VERY relative.

          1. Not to mention that every cape is to some extent mind-controlled by their shard. It is especially important with capes like Colt, who seems to be very strongly affected, and probably doesn’t even fully realize this fact.

    3. Ive seen you randomly drop in and shit out negativity often enough that I have to question why you’re even reading this story still?

    4. Rain had no way out but death. Mama Mathers and Ser had him controlled, if he had said no he would have faced a sorrowful fate for sure. Plus, some other Fallen would have held the doors anyway, so it’s hard to blame Rain too much for what he did, and it seems clear he won’t do anything similar again. Killing those people was awful, but again, the alternative is certain death, and if he’d opened the door the other Fallen would have killed anyone who came out.

      Colt, unlike Rain, had a partial choice. She might be allowed to leave freely, they might kill her if she decides to leave, but if she stays she certainly must shoot people. She decides that certainly becoming a murderer is better than maybe leaving, maybe dying.
      Then she takes the drug to dissociate from her actions. She knows she’ll do bad things, and she still takes the drug. She takes the drug to avoid FEELING like a killer, but does nothing to avoid BEING a killer. Really, she’s just weak, and drugs + murder was the easiest option.

      As for Tristan… Tristan is the simplest in that he did a bad thing with no coercion, but the most complicated to punish since anything he experiences, Byron experiences. I’m willing to leave any punishment up to the quiet brother, and he seems chill about it (and everything really)

      If we’re trying to take vengeance, Rain and Colt did bad things and should be punished. Byron is the only victim left alive, so it’s up to him to press charges or seek vengeance against Tristan, but By doesn’t seem worried about it.

      If we seek to rehabilitate, then we should leave Rain and Tristan alone, since they told their stories freely and showed willingness to change. Colt still thinks only of herself and takes the path of least resistance, so she needs work.

      If we look at usefulness, Rain and Tristan should stay free since they’re both fairly strong and using their power for good. Colt is weak, so she’s unreliable as a hero, and her knowledge of dream states is suspect (I could see her just telling people what she thinks they want to hear) so I don’t see her being too useful. Throw her on the jail world and make her work herself out or die trying.

      (Strong and weak are used in terms of mental fortitude and moral grounding, not the power of their superpowers)

      Ashley is a whole different story. I haven’t thought her situation through as well, so I won’t offer my opinion.

    5. It’s funny how you seem to be saying Colt, who shot one person and stabbed another through the chest, is more worthy of redemption than Rain who just didn’t unlock a door he was told he’d be punished (killed? I don’t recall) for unlocking.
      I think it’s obvious they had different intentions.
      Which, to me, makes it seem obvious that they should be treated differently.

      1. No, Rain didn’t ‘unlock’ the door. He locked it. Seir put the chain through the gates, and added the padlock to hold it closed, but didn’t squeeze the lock shut to actually fasten the gates securely. Rain did that; he’s the one who walked up to the gate and locked it, because he’d been told ‘not to let them out’. So he did what he was told, and shut the gate in such a way that they couldn’t then get out.

        1. You’re a bit wrong, Earl. First, these were doors, not gates. The distinction being that in a context like this, gates would usually be made of bars with gaps between them that people could see and reach through, whereas doors are solid. This will be relevant in a moment.

          Second, you’re correct that Seir didn’t close the lock, but you’re wrong in the assertion that the doors were not secured.

          The man took a chain from around his arm and wound it through and around the door handles, squares of sheet metal, and hauled the chains tight. He rummaged, and a moment later, came up with a padlock. He put it through several of the chains to keep it tight, but left it unlocked.

          So, somebody on the outside would have been able to remove the lock, yes, but not somebody from the inside. Since these were doors, not gates, they had no way to reach through and unhook the lock from the chains. And so long as the lock was hooked through the chains, the doors were not going to open, even though the lock itself was not secured.

          Third, the story neither says nor implies that Rain closed the lock. It only says that he “gripped the lock.” I can see how you could interpret that as meaning that he squeezed it closed, but that is not at all the impression I got from that scene.

          He could make out the words, the pleas.

          His hands went to the chain, traveling along it to the lock. He could feel each push from the people on the other side, until the pushing stopped outright.

          Not because the people had stopped, but because there was so much pressure that it wasn’t possible to pull the door back.

          He looked up, for Seir, then to the side, and he gripped the lock.

          His hand fell to his side.

          He could hear people screaming and shouting, and he closed his eyes. There were still thuds on the door, pounding fists. Those, too, came to a stop.

          Note that as this was one of the dreams rather than a proper flashback, it skips inner monologue and emotions, focusing instead on physical sensations. So we don’t get to see what Rain was thinking when he gripped the lock. We do get to see what he was sensing, however, and suspiciously absent is the sensation of the lock clicking shut in his hand. Instead, we just get him looking around, gripping the lock, then letting his hand fall to his side. That’s an extremely weak way to describe somebody choosing to lock hundreds of people in a burning building, but it’s a great way to describe somebody considering freeing those people but chickening out.

          1. I still think Rain locked it, because when Seir came back he had to cut the chains to open the door. If it wasn’t locked, he could have tugged on the chain and opened them that way. Might be Seir cut the chains to let them out quicker, but… That doesn’t really seem like Seir.

            I discussed this at the time with somebody, I seem to recall.

          2. It doesn’t sound like you have much experience with chains if you think they could be removed with a simple tug. They don’t behave like rope when they’re wound around each other. They’re made of clunky links that tend to bind and catch against each other as well as whatever they’re wound around, so they don’t slide well, and it’s also a lot harder to visually sort them out to unravel the mess. And that’s before accounting for the possibility that they deformed due to all the pressure on the doors (they had to be thin enough to fit through the door’s handles, so that limits how strong they could be). Given Seir’s general attitude, it seems within character that he’d be too impatient to bother. This also fits with the fact that he didn’t only tear apart the chains — he progressed to ripping out the middle of the door frame as well.

          3. I don’t, I’ll admit that. I do remember discussing this at the time, but unfortunately I don’t have an avatar and by skimming through Interlude 5d, I can’t find it. It might have been shortly after that chapter, actually… But I don’t know where and I don’t have the time to find it.

            I am, however, not convinced- I think Rain locked it.

          4. Found it. Doesn’t change my opinion, though. Besides, those people had already pushed and banged on the doors as hard as they could with no success prior to Rain touching the lock, so it’s clear that those doors were not going to open either way. Closing the padlock wouldn’t have resulted in any additional harm, just more guilt.

            Regarding avatars, if you want one you just have to go to https://gravatar.com/ and set up a free account with whatever email address you use when commenting. A lot of websites will then automatically (and maybe retroactively) apply that avatar to your posts. It’s pretty convenient.

        2. There is no real reason to think Rain locked it, and it definitely seems like something that would have been brought up by the rest of his cluster at some point.

  20. Can’t help but feel bad for Colt, she’s just really bad at figuring out her own place. I’m really hoping she just joins the Major Malfunctions since they’re probably the only ones who can work well with her headspace.

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