Black – 13.3

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“I can explain it all, if you’re interested.”

I looked in the direction the group had gone.  I had enough bound up emotions that I wasn’t sure I trusted myself.  Vista, at least, had found her way to my side.  Backup of a sort.

“Yeah,” I said.  “An explanation would be really good right now.”

“Okay.  You’re a fucky sort of monster, Antares, alright?”

I blinked a few times in rapid succession.  Brought from wonderings and distractions to harsh reality in a second.

“You can’t just say something like that,” Vista said.

“I’ll explain.  You can be any one kind of fucky monster in my example, right?  There are monsters you want to fuck up, there are monsters you want to fuck with, there are monsters you want to fuck, because of course, and there are monsters you want to cockblock.”

“First of all,” Vista said.  “Yes, yes, what, and maybe.  Second of all, you suck at explanations, Solarstare.”

“I’m great at explanations,” Solarstare said.  “To start with, you have to get your audience’s attention, no matter how distracted they clearly are.”

“You did a pretty good job of that,” I said.

“You also fucked up your credibility pretty hard,” Vista said.

“Then you earn it back,” Solarstare said.  She did a good job of living up to her name, unblinking, her eyes pools of luminescent liquid that streamed continually from notches in the center of the lower eyelids.  The helmet she wore hugged her cheekbones and cheeks, channeling the liquid along the mask’s line and down to the bodysuit she wore with its inlaid ornamentation.  The design of the suit collected the liquid into a glowing emblem at her front.  It made her very intense.  Three narrow triangles of glowing luminescence marked the perimeter of each eye, like cartoon eyelashes, one above, one at a diagonal at the outer edge, and one pointing out from the corner of her eye to her temples.

“Look, whatever course I’d want to take when I deal with hypothetical fucky monster Antares, there’re a few things I want, right?  I want protection, and I want to get there before anyone else, or else I’m dealing with sloppy seconds, and sloppy gets people killed while seconds just… disappoints everyone.”

“Whether you’re fucking up, fucking with, fucking, or-”

“Or cockblocking,” Solarstare said.

I actively resisted looking in the direction of the conference room where the group had gone with Jessica.

“What monsters are you fucking, Solarstare, and do I need to worry?” Vista asked.

“I’m being optimistic, but I think we want to fuck half of them,” Solarstare said.

“So what you’re saying is I need to worry.”

“Half of them are good guys or people who will work with good guys,” Solarstare said.

“Maybe, uh, start with our working definition of monster?”

“Yeah,” Vista said.  “Because that’s not the monsters I know.”

Solarstare’s eyes widened as she smiled, because she was clearly engaged.  Liquid flowed out in greater quantity, to the point it overwhelmed what the channels in the helmet could take, and some found its way to the furrow beside the nostril, and onto her upper lip and lips.  She wiped at it, leaving a faintly glowing smear.  “Good, bad, or ugly, you’ve got the ones who’ve settled in.  They’ve found a rut and they’ve settled into it so hard that they’ve started to twist up.  Like someone who jacks off five times a day, same hand, same habit, and their arm-”

“Okayyy,” Vista said.

“Or jills off.  Equal opportunity metaphor.”

“That’s not what I was taking issue with.  You’re going to make our guest here think we’re all huffing construction insulation or something out here.  You said you’d explain what the Bunker is but you just launched into one big fucking metaphor.”

Everything’s a fucking metaphor.”

“Okayyyy.  I’m definitely seeing you in a new light, Solar.  Kind of.  Sort of.  I saw how you were when we were all stationed at High Hill Bravo-”

Solarstare shushed Vista, who tried to bring up names, which just made Solarstare shush her more noisily.  A good five or ten seconds were spent as they made noises at each other.

It was good to see Vista so animated.  It put a smile on my face despite-

I glanced in the direction of the conference room.  I could see the vague shapes of the group, identify one as Kenzie, because it was up out of its chair, moving around, gesticulating wildly.

The smile fell from my face.

“Look,” Solarstare said, reaching out to touch me, then pulling that hand away to wipe at another dribble that escaped because she’d moved forward as quickly as she had.  “You only ever lift one way, lift a lot, neglect certain things, you get warped and you don’t hold up as well.  Whatever kind of cape you are-”

I rattled a few off, to contribute, and because I wanted to be distracted, “Hero, mercenary, villain, corporate, sponsored, brand, clandestine, ideologue, scumbag-”

“Any kind, yeah,” Solarstare said, smiling.  “You get too into this, you lose your ordinary life by accident or by a hundred small steps, and it all becomes distorted.  Without enough other things going on, you don’t have the ability to keep everything straight, so you end up becoming something fucky.  Something that gets fucked up, fucked with, fucked, or frustrated.”

I blinked a few times.

Vista gave me a long look.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Or all of the above.”

“And this is getting a little heavy,” Vista said.

“It is heavy,” Solarstare said.  “The Bunker needs to be sturdy because it’s all so heavy.  We’ve got two portals right now.  City center and city east.  By next week we’ll have four.  A week after that we’ll have seven, they think.  Six of those will be places in the city we can instantly mobilize to.  Wham, bam, fuck you ma’am.  Seventh portal will be our proper prison world we should only be able to get to through the Bunker.  Which means if you want to get in or break someone out, you have to go through the Bunker, which we’re loading to the brim with security.”

I nodded.  “Which is protection for safe fucking up, fucking with, fucking-”

“Which I still have questions about, Solar,” Vista cut in.

“-and frustrating.”

“Cockblocking,” Solarstare said.

“She had a teammate called Clockblocker,” I said, throwing a thumb in Vista’s way.

Solarstare laughed.  It looked almost like her back teeth glowed, like the fluids from her eyes leeched into the back of her mouth by some channel or osmosis.

“My teammate for a very short time too.  I like ‘frustrated’ better.  Plus it alliterates.”

“Got it,” Solarstare said.  “Yeah.  Getting there first means no sloppy seconds, and doing it safely means we don’t get fucked.”

“Good explanation,” I said.  I knew most of it, not the numbers for portals, or the timeline, but most of it.  Maybe the definition of ‘monster’ was something that took me back to uncomfortable memories, and that negative matched or outweighed the gain of the little tidbits I’d picked up, but it served to distract, and she’d clearly been intending to do that.

“Which is my chance to ask, um, what monsters have you been fucking?” Vista asked.  “Do I need to worry, Solar?”

“Come on, Vista, it’s an analogy, take five seconds to look past the big bad swear word.”

“If you can use one word for five hundred different situations or contexts, you need to give us a bit more to go on.”

“To fuck them is to deal with them, interact, back and forth.  Sometimes you gotta suck ’em off to keep em happy and sometimes you gotta demand your quid-pro-quo.  Favor for a favor.  And sometimes it’s down to a hate-fuck, which-”

“Okayyy,” Vista said.  “You’re embarrassing me in front of my friend now.”

“Don’t act like you’re a prude, Vista.  Do I need to talk about what you got up to at High Hill Bravo?”

“I didn’t get up to a damn thing,” Vista said, flushing slightly, “and my friend’s visiting, I only have so long before I’m called to work, and I might not get another chance to talk to her for a bit, depending on how I’m deployed.”

“Maybe she’d like to hear stories,” Solarstare teased.  She raised her eyebrows my way.

“I want to talk to her about secret ID stuff, civilian stuff,” Vista said.

“Are you-”

“I’m pulling that card,” Vista said.

Solarstare winked at me, and in the time we’d had our conversation, it was the first time she’d blinked or even closed an eye.  The wink came with a flash and a sudden surge of brightly glowing liquid.  She sauntered, rather than just walk off.

Vista was still a little pink in the wake of Solarstare’s departure.

“She’s fun,” I said.

“You know what the sad thing is?” Vista asked, quiet.  “She is.  But she used to be this really quiet, reserved girl who always read books while everyone else hung out.  She was arrogant, looked down on people, acting like she was thirty and not eighteen.  She snitched a few times, when some capes were drinking, and even the supervisors were like… fuck off, Solarstare.  Let them be.  You know?”

“What happened?”

“She got punted into a wall during a fight.  TBI.”

Traumatic brain injury.

“The entire time they were taking her to the hospital, she was screaming, flailing, using her powers, fighting every step of the way.  Swelling inside the skull went down and she was normal-ish, except she’d lost the ability to read, speak, listen to music, or understand even slightly abstract pictures.  Over the past six months she’s been working her way back to normal.”

“But she’s different?”

“Completely different personality.  Less filters, but also more open, more empathetic, more outgoing.  And she kind of needs to be watched to make sure she doesn’t go overboard with drinking or sex or anything else.  So that’s, uh, part of why she’s the way she is.”

“I wonder how much of it has to do with the near death experience.  A bit of a wake-up-call about what she nearly missed out on.”

“I don’t know,” Vista said.  “It’s scary though.  Bam, personality change.”

I nodded.

“You guys really seem to be living the life.  Crystal’s been in Warden-orbit for a bit now, but she didn’t mention the drinking and sex and… a lot going on at this High Hill Bravo?”

“Ugh, I was worried Solar would give that impression.”

I raised my eyebrows, then remembered that my mask covered my upper face.  I took it off and laid it on the table beside me.  We were in the ‘branding’ corner of the bunker.  Jessica and my team were in the opposite corner, having a private conversation or group session.

Leaving me to wonder, to stew, and admittedly, to hurt.

“It kind of is a…” Vista started.  “I don’t even know the term.  Co-ed summer camp, frat house, sorority, high school, mission deployment.  A lot of people aged sixteen to twenty-five with not enough supervision, just thrown in together with bunk beds and sleeping bags, in sometimes really lonely circumstances.”

“Sure,” I said.  “Gravitate together?”

“Yeah,” Vista said.  “Connect.”

“Did you…?” I asked.  Got a shrug in response.  “And here I thought you didn’t have any luck in all the time I was gone.”

“So I had a boyfriend in high school.  Tyler.  He asked out Missy Byron and we dated for like, seven weeks.  He wasn’t the cutest or the best or the most well-rounded individual, but he was kind and he was a gentleman, so I figured ‘good enough’.  Is that shitty to say?”

“I dunno,” I said.

“Sometimes high school boys are like men, but brand new or the rougher edges aren’t quite sanded off, but they’re still men, you know?  Young men.  And sometimes they’re… half formed.  And Tyler was half-formed.  Needing a few more pieces before he was a complete person.  But he was a first kiss and a chance to make a lot of stupid mistakes where I was selfish or dramatic or needed to figure out how to talk to people.”

“Sure,” I said.  It was a pretty different experience from my own.  I was ninety-five percent sure that when Vista thought of a ‘young man’ she was thinking of Gallant.

“And we messed around but we didn’t mess around.  Then somewhere along the line we mutually ghosted one another, I guess.  And from there I had a Wards summer camp thing, and it was kind of like High Hill Bravo except we kind of had to be way more careful about it.  We knew we were only there for three weeks, and we wasted a week before I had the courage to approach him, so there wasn’t any time for being polite.  Got a lot of things out of the way.”

“I get you.”

“And after that, Gold Morning and mourning… there are people who find comfort in other people’s arms and I’m not one of those people.”

I nodded, vigorously.

“And then High Hill Bravo.  Kind of.  But that was kind of because there’s nothing to do except ‘hurry up and wait’, it was so far from home, and all the other stuff I talked about.  But never someone I was into.  Just kind of reminding myself I’m not… broken, I guess?  After losing everything.”

“Not broken,” I said.  I nodded, then nodded more vigorously.  “Yeah.  Yeah.”

“You?” she asked.  “I kind of know the answer, but I don’t want to just talk about me.”

“Me?  And boys?  Gallant.”

“Would you, given a chance?”

I drew in a deep breath.

“Yeah.  But I don’t know what that chance would look like.  Would I want a fling, no stakes, yet somehow also have allll of the baggage I bring into it?  I don’t know how that works.  A serious relationship?”

“You asked that one more like you were asking me instead of asking a rhetorical question.”

“I don’t know what it would look like.  I’ve got enough going on.  It’d be so unfair in so many ways.  I mean, baggage aside, I feel like most relationships would pale compared to Dean.”

She nodded.  “Don’t blame you.  It always comes back to him with us, huh?”

I thought of Dean, imagined him here.  What would he say?

I nodded.  “It’s why we got to talking in the first place, kind of.  Um.  There was something he told me once, privately.  And it feels weird to just talk about it now, like I’m somehow betraying his confidence…”

“You don’t have to.”

“No, it’s just…” I trailed off.  Just what?  “…He told me once that every single person he cared about in his life let him down.  His mom took things he told her in confidence about a friend and used those things against that friend’s mom for some advantage in her social circle or some bullshit.  His dad just casually said that if he wanted to move out of Brockton Bay and pursue a bigger cape life outside of the city instead of taking a hand in the family business, he’d be essentially disowned.  Teachers, aunts, uncles, people he counted on, they all let him down.”

“Except you?” Vista asked.

I made a bit of a face.  “He told me that during a fight.  Accusing me of being the most recent one.  But venting a lot of stuff he needed to vent.  I made it up to him, fixed what I’d been doing wrong, and he later told me I was the only person who didn’t let him down, so… I think I did okay.”

“Good,” Vista said, in a serious, profound way, not like there was an ‘or else’, but like it really was ‘good’.

“Except I let him die,” I said.

“No, Victoria,” Vista said.  “No, no, no.”

I frowned.

“No.”

“I’m kind of getting what he meant, you know?  Feeling let down.  Like I can’t get close to anyone I’m supposed to rely on without it turning out to be a trap or vulnerability.  My mom, my dad…”

I glanced at the conference room.

Jessica had been here to attend to regular work, to do the psych profile on Colt, and for whatever other roles she had with the Wardens.  And we’d chanced on each other.  Now the team got to talk to her, and-

Vista drew closer and gave me a one-armed hug.

“What can I do?” she asked.

I wanted to have an answer, because I suspected Vista was being genuine.  She had that stripe of heroism in her that I really respected.  There were people who needed to be dragged into goodness, who were good except for, or who were good because.  And that except for could be a vice or a bad thing they’d once done.  The because could be a justification, a motivation.  People who were heroes except they’d killed a person, who were heroes except for the fact they did drugs. Who were heroes because it was the fastest, safest way to make money.  Many risked falling from the path, getting dragged down, or finding themselves in water so muddy that ‘heroism’ wasn’t much more than a label.  And then there were the genuine heroes, who could go through hell, be given any temptation, and they would always gravitate toward a baseline of doing what was lawful, right, and moral.

I wasn’t about to lay claim to being genuine, but I was pretty sure Vista could.  And part and parcel of that was that if I asked her for something as a friend and colleague, then she would go out of her way to do it.  Even while hurt and mending.

As Vista broke the hug, I turned my back to the conference room, leaning against a table piled with rolled up concept sketches.  The nice thing about these offworld installations was that they often had an amazing view.  This place, as gray as it was, was up there.  What had come up here as a rough equivalent to tall grass had matted, grown in dense,  and curled into itself until it looked like lichen.  The snowfall hadn’t really done anything to wipe it out or flatten, it, only gave it a look like it had been doused in powdered sugar.

“Any biokinetics or bio tinkers in the prison right now?” I asked.

Vista turned my way.  I could see her eyes and eyebrows vaguely through the textured glass of her visor.  Eyebrows up, the eye closest to me wide.

“No,” she said.  “Why?”

I shook my head.

“Doesn’t seem like something you’d ask.”

This wasn’t easy.

“For Sveta.  Just… considering options.”

“Sorry,” she said.  “That’s…”

“Not an easy thing to bring up,” I said.

“Yeah, that.”

“I want a good outcome for her.”

“Even though she’s kind of playing a role in cutting you out, right now?  Not to poke at the wound, but…”

You really suck at changing topics and distracting, I thought.  But I’d raised the line of conversation and of course she’d have questions.

“If she came out of that conference room, and they said they wanted me off the team, and that she was a major voice arguing for it, I’d still want good things for her.”

“They’re not going to do that, Vicky.”

“I’m just saying, worst case scenario-”

“I don’t think that scenario’s happening.”

“Let me finish?” I asked.  I poked her.

“Fine.”

“I love her like family.  She’s been there for me, and no matter what happens I want to do right by her.  Part of that is keeping an eye out for answers.”

“She’s doing so well, though,” Vista said.

“Maybe,” I said.  “I’d like to do something.”

Vista nodded.  Looking down at the table in front of her, she turned a piece of art around and smoothed out the paper where the edges rolled in.

“Orchard,” she said.

“What’s that?”

“They’ve been active for a long time.  They were in Boston.  Not big, but they’ve earned enough to buy their way out of trouble.  Good lawyers, staying off the radar, moving around a lot.  And they manipulate biology.  They’re about as scummy as they get, Victoria.”

“Okay,” I said.  “They sound vaguely familiar.  I’ll look them up, see if I have any notes.”

“You do.  You gave the Wardens access to all your files, and we pulled those files for the mission where they’re bringing them in later this week.  Or they hope to.  If you really want to do this, then I can ask for our people to keep them in custody.”

“It’s worth asking, at least.  I’ll see what strings I can pull, if they can really do anything.”

I glanced over my shoulder at the conference room.  I could make out Sveta’s silhouette, because the blinds reached the floor and Sveta was wearing a dress that hid the tendrils that reached down to the floor.

“You’re really spooked about this.  I get it if you’re left out and I know how much that hurts, really, but that’s not it is it?”

Spooked?  Scared?

Yeah.

I chewed on my lip rather than say anything.  I nodded.

“I don’t really get it, but I’m sorry,” Vista said.

“Thanks,” I said.

“I’m also really sorry for whoever gets this costume,” Vista said.  She slid paper across the table.  I looked down, and I laughed.  It looked like something the Super Magic Dream Parade would wear.  Taffeta puff sleeves, puffy collar, and puffy shorts.  The drawing had the person’s hair in a small afro as well.  There were some variations playing off of different color schemes and design touches for different example powers.  There was a male and female variant, as well.  If it were one image I would have called it an exercise or a bit of artistic exploration, but this looked like a complete workup.

“How?  Why?  Do I need to worry about the people I’m working with?” Vista asked, her expression somewhere between horror and amusement.

“Probably.  But I think having something like this would be strategic,” I said.  “Hold this over someone’s head, get them to behave.  Or set their expectations really low, first.”

“I’m going to feel so bad if I run into the person who got this costume, knowing I laughed,” Vista said.

“They’ll need all the support they can get.”

“Oh man,” Vista said.  “Are there any other treasures in here?”

There weren’t, but looking through the art provided enough idle amusement.  I was careful to put everything back where we found it.

“They’re leaving the room,” Vista observed.

I didn’t look.

“You know, before you go talk to any of them, I want to say they’re pretty decent overall, I think.  And I know and I trust Jessica.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Agreed and agreed.  Which is I guess why I’m so bothered.  I’m putting my finger on it now.  That thing I was saying before, you know, Gallant saying everyone had let him down?”

“Yeah.  And you being stupid and blaming yourself over that.”

“I let him down, that one last time.  I don’t know how easily I can let go of that.  And what gets me here is… maybe it’s not just him?  What if I’ve let everyone down?”

“You haven’t.”

“Haven’t I?  Because all those guys got hurt.  I let my mom down when I W- when I was careless.  I let my dad down by how I acted in the aftermath of it.  I let Sveta down by letting her lose her body and it was- it was really good for her to have it.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself.”

“What if I’m not being hard enough on myself, and she tears into me, and-”

“You can’t know, Vicky, unless you go talk to her.”

Sveta broke away from the group.  It was her who beckoned me.

Jessica waited by the conference room door.

“You’re a good person, she’s a good person.  I think your team is mostly good people, but I don’t know them that well.  Trust.”

“Thank you, Vista, for keeping me company.”

“Thanks for letting me vent.  Come talk to me after, if you want.”

“Sure.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  Do me a favor and don’t mention Orchard to Sveta?”

“Sure.  I figured I shouldn’t.”

I picked up my eyeless mask, put my hand on her shoulder, then made my way across the floor.  Construction workers and Warden staff were abundant enough I had to weave through, which made just getting to the conference room hard enough.

Sveta passed me, bumping shoulders with me, and headed over in Vista’s direction.  Weld, it seemed, was preoccupied elsewhere.

“Hi,” Jessica said.  She retreated into the room.

“Hi.”

I shut the door behind me.

Jessica was more tan than the last time I’d seen her.  She might have had more lines in her face.  She wore a sweater with a folded collar and slacks, with suede boots that matched the sweater.  A lot of attention had gone into her appearance, as if she’d broken from her rhythm to such a degree that she’d overcompensated on coming back, even three weeks later.

“I think I’m caught up on events,” she said.  “I had to ask them to take turns so one voice wouldn’t dominate the room.”

I nodded.

“You’ve worked hard,” she said.  “I can’t necessarily agree with the direction of that work, but I think we’ve always had our disagreement over the balance of priorities.  The balance of civilian against powers, with each of us pushing for one or the other.”

Why did you block my phone?

“I dunno,” I said.  “I don’t think I push for powers that hard.  I just think… a lot of the time, the happiest, healthiest cape day-to-days are the ones where they blend together seamlessly.  Sous-vide with a laser sear.  The little, casual acceptances of power into life.”

Don’t ramble.

“You pushed hard here, didn’t you?” Jessica asked.

“Here?”

“With the group.  Nevermind.  I’m getting ahead of myself,” Jessica said.

Where are you going that that’s getting ahead of yourself?

“Sure,” I said.

“I exchanged words with Dr. Darnall.  He says you haven’t been going to physio.”

Is this caring about me or is it accusatory?  Is it your next step in getting to the real subject of this conversation?

“I did.  I went.  I got the exercises and the game plan and I’ve been keeping up with it.  Every morning.”

“Regimes need to change.  Things need to be monitored, Victoria.”

Doesn’t answer my question about whether this is caring or accusatory.

“They were.  And they are.  I’ve seen family and teammates get hurt, I read up on what to do when Patrol members got injured when I was in the Patrol.”

“That’s no substitute for medical attention, Victoria.”

It’s not, but I’d like it if it counted for more when I did pick up certain skills or knowledgeOr when I put in effort.

“It’s enough.  I know what to watch out for, the differences between kinds of pain.  I just…”

She didn’t cut in or fill the silence that followed.

“…Kind of hate hospitals,” I said.  The bitterness of the sentiment and the bitterness of the feelings I was holding back made it a paradoxically weaker statement overall, like my voice had almost broken as I admitted it.

“If that’s how you’re taking care of yourself, walking that risky line where you’re half-blind and taking on enough responsibility that you’re running the risk of hurting yourself, are you really taking care of the others?”

What? This was the first thing she’d said that really hurt, that felt like it wasn’t possible to fit into the mold of a normal conversation with Jessica Yamada.

Why do I feel like there’s nothing that I could say that would change the tone of this conversationLike my points aren’t being directly addressed?

“I’m damn well trying,” I said.  “You asked me for help.  You seemed okay with the coaching thing.  You put me in close proximity to a dangerous biology-altering threat of global proportions without cluing me in.”

“He wasn’t a threat, Victoria.  He needed more sessions but he was on his road to normalcy, striking his balance, learning the necessary skills.”

“He’s not the cataclysmic threat I was told to watch out for then?”

“He’s-” she started.

She stopped.

Don’t.

She wasn’t good at being evasive, or at thinking on the back foot.

Don’t shut me out.  I don’t fucking deserve this.

“You’re not going to tell me.”

“Victoria…”

I waited.  I didn’t respond, as much as there were fifty things I wanted to say.  I let the silence hang, as she’d done to me many times before.

“No,” she said.

Fine.  I’d say the first of those fifty things.  “You want to accuse me of not caring for them?  I sacrificed to help those guys.  I gave up a literal pound of flesh, at least-!”

I pushed up my sleeve to show the scars I’d been through physio to rehabilitate.  The scarred notch in my tricep.

“-For them!  Because people wanted to kill them, because people wanted to kidnap or co-opt them, because they’d been taken to pieces.  I gave my all, and your complaint is I’m not doing a perfect job of it?  I’m paying too much attention to the cape side of things?  That’s not a fight you win, when agents are involved.  You don’t get wins, you find a working balance where you minimize the damage and you maximize the gains!”

“That’s not what I’m saying.  What I’m saying is pushing and diving into this reality to the point you end up in the hospital isn’t self-care.  And-”

“And pushing them and letting them get hurt isn’t caring?”

Hesitation.  “That’s not what I’m getting at.”

“You’re getting at something,” I said.  “Except you’re not.  You’ve frozen me out, you blocked my number, my emails bounce back, you have a meeting with my group without me, and when I finally get to talk to you, you’re not listening.  You’re ready with a follow-up, like- like you’re strategizing your way through the conversation, picking and choosing what you’re able to get away with saying, and you’re so focused on that that you don’t hear me.”

“It’s not strategizing.  I’m trying to be diplomatic.”

“Same thing,” I said.  “What was diplomatic about blocking my number?  Leaving me out of that catch-up meeting?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

I hit the table.

“Don’t bully me, Victoria.  Don’t throw your power around.”

“I hit a table.  No forcefield strength, or there wouldn’t be a table anymore.”

“Don’t bully me, with physical violence or with your power, or I walk out of this room.  Same rule as the hospital.  At this stage, it would permanently affect our relationship.”

“At this stage, doing nothing would permanently affect our relationship,” I said.

“There are two possible realities here, Victoria.  Two,” she said.  She was trying to be stern, but she wasn’t good at it.  She didn’t maintain eye contact.  The hand she raised to gesture with, two fingers extended, wasn’t rock steady.

“What realities?”

“I shouldn’t even be telling you this.  But the possibilities are that you’re in the right here, something’s wrong on my end, and I need you to be patient and trust me while I work my way through it.  The meeting with Breakthrough was me trying to gracefully do that without hurting anyone.”

“And the other?”

“That right this moment, you know full well why I’m wary.  And I need to talk to Breakthrough to figure out what’s going on.”

“You think I’m up to something.”

“I have ample evidence to suggest you’re up to something,” Jessica said.  And with that, she did meet my eyes with some conviction.

“If I was, would I have cooperated this far?  Would I have let you talk to them without trying to worm my way in?”

“It’s a point in your favor that you didn’t,” Jessica said.  “But it’s far from a guarantee.  I have to protect my patients.”

I walked along the table in the center of the room.

I saw how, as I moved left, Jessica moved a fraction to her right.  Keeping more of the table between us.

“Evidence?” I asked.

She shook her head.  “I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?  I’m accused of something horrible, apparently, but I can’t see what it is?  Is it a witness?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“It’s been three weeks, this is apparently enough to change your opinion of me entirely.  If it’s that effective or that cut and dry, what’s going to change if you show me or if you wait another…”

I floundered.  Jessica was silent.

“Week?  Another three weeks?  Two months?  Is this going to change, or…”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Can you give me a foothold here?  Some person I can talk to that’s neutral, or some timeframe?  So I don’t have this hanging over my head forever?”

“I’m not looking to interfere in anything yet.  I’m not going to break up your team by fiat or by leveraging the Wardens.  I won’t use those things to make you leave them.  I just want to look into this.”

“Possibly indefinitely.  And that ‘yet’ might become a ‘now’?  When?  When someone else gets hurt?  I’m thinking back to what you said earlier in the conversation, me being reckless?  Can you give me something?”

“I can’t-”

I used my aura.  I kept it within the room.  A pulse, a thrum.

She remained where she was, stock still, head bent.

Then she turned toward the door.  She took two steps, gave me a sideways glance, and stopped.

I was ten feet from the door, and she didn’t want to get that close to me.

“Step away from the door, please,” she said.

I took a step back and away, my expression stern, angry.

“When you traded files with Dragon, she had a bot sweep your computer.  An automatic thing she does.  She found your diary-”

“Jessica.”

“-Let me finish,” she said, and her voice was tense.  “She found the diary, with her bot flagging certain lines to bring to her attention.  She thought portions were concerning.  Nothing criminal, but suggestive of a certain attitude toward Breakthrough that’s exploitative and unhealthy.  The entries go back to before our first meeting in the Patrol headquarters in Stratford.  I was told the minute I asked after your collective welfare.”

“No,” I said.

“It sounds like you, Victoria.  It reads like you.  It has details that fit you, that I strongly doubt others would know.  It refers to your forcefield as ‘the Wretch’.  It refers to details about your parents and family, your sister included.  So far, by our checks, the calendar of events line up.  I haven’t brought it up with the team, out of concern of outright devastating them, and on the off chance you are innocent, then I would ask you to keep Kenzie out of it.  Reading that would disturb her.”

“What the hell is it?” I asked.

She didn’t answer my question.  Again, just moving on to what she felt like she could and couldn’t say, finding the determination to say the things that were hardest to say.  She went on, “…I did prod and ask questions as much as I could.  My doubts were not eased.  I have not found any holes in the story.”

“I have one.  I wouldn’t write about my sister, I don’t even think about my sister if I can help it,” I said.  The thoughts of Amy and this feeling of betrayal weren’t making it easy to think straight.

“I told you what you wanted to know, would you please step to the other end of the room?”

That- she’d told me because she still felt threatened?  She was bartering?

I stumbled back to the point of the room that was furthest from her.

She was watching me, studying every expression and movement.

I saw worry crease her forehead, drawing her eyebrows together.  Or doubt.

What could I even say?

She stopped at the door, while it was still closed.

“As you have have surmised, Chris was my biggest concern,” she said.

I nodded.

“Right now you are.  If this is a clever setup, then I hope you understand.”

Again, I nodded.

“Whether you’re acting right now or you return home to read what was supposedly planted on your computer, you’ll know either way.  Yes, Sveta is a lingering concern of mine.”

I nodded, too choked up to speak, too bewildered by this to even consider the ramifications of that.

She paused at the door, visibly composed herself, and then stepped out of the conference room.

It took me a hell of a lot longer to compose myself.  I leaned over the end of the table, hands resting on it for balance.  I considered all of the avenues, and found too many dead ends.

I didn’t even have a diary.  I hated diaries.  But saying that wouldn’t have proved a damn thing.

I gathered myself together, fixed my hair and adjusted my costume.

I rejoined the team.  Sveta was talking to Vista.

Watch Sveta?

“All good?” Tristan asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“Why’d she keep you out of our meeting?” Rain asked.

I didn’t have a ready answer.

“Family stuff,” I said in the end, lamely.  Not even a good answer to the question.  Then, to change the topic, I asked Kenzie, “Who’s picking you up later?”

“Imp,” Kenzie said.

“Any chance you could make it Tattletale instead?  Or I could tag along for the longer trip, and see Tattletale wherever she’s set up.  We could talk costumes.”

“I can ask!  Probably.  She does want to talk to you about drop-offs, pickups, team sharing, and boundaries and…”

Kenzie went on, but I was still reeling in my way.

But a conversation with Tattletale was a good starting point.  If someone was playing a subtle game to fuck with us and attack us at our core -which was really the only interpretation of this that made any sense at all- then this wouldn’t end here and it was possible there was more subtle work going on in the background.

In scenarios like that, the target stumbling onto the spider’s web was the time for the spider to pounce.

Tattletale would be either my biggest ally or a prime suspect.

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311 thoughts on “Black – 13.3”

    1. I’m getting a privacy warning from that link. Not sure why, but just so everyone’s aware before they click on it.

        1. It seems likely that “Top Web Fiction” have stopped paying their webhost bills. Don’t bother solving your browser’s bad cert riddles right now; after you do that there’s nothing to see anyway. Maybe they’re the victims of some sort of DDOS, but I don’t think it would usually show up this way. Hopefully the billing problems will be fixed at some point…

          1. I was able to google TWF and vote from the page found that way without a warning message. That might work for others, but I’m no Tinker. I can’t speak computer.

  1. I feel bad for Solarstare but her dialogue with Victoria and Vista was so FUCKING DELICIOUS. I fucking like this new character already.

    Fuck the person who faked Victoria’s diary, with the plan to destroy her relationship with Jessica and put her in a bad light. No, can’t be Lisa, she’ll never to this to the few allies she still have, she’s not a backstabber bitch like that. Either Teacher or…Dinah (to encourage anti-parahuman war by destroying one of the most successful group of heroes).

    Jessica should not be concerned for Sveta, this girl is doing better than most.

    1. Whoever it is, it’s caused this soul-rending chapter. This is top-class information warfare right there.
      Hopefully Tt doesn’t gloat too much about Victoria needing her tips and they both remain cool.

      But it’s probably going to be lunchtime and everything will go to hell between Victoria and the nascent HeartBrokenthrough teamup. Better grab a couple bottles to fill up…

      1. Simplest answer… what if it IS Victoria?

        I still can’t get it out of my mind that Victoria had three heads. Could she have had three minds?

        1. Simply put, this isn’t something that can be taken at face value. Someone over on Spacebattles reminded me there had been an cyberattack on the Wardens before, and that Carol’s E-Mail had been targeted. And let’s not get into Master and strangers that can impersonate people issues. The idea that Vicky might have an evil split personality has also been thrown out.

          Not to mention are we sure that’s Mrs. Yamada? That… Didnt’ seem like the woman who calmly talked down Sveta with a damaged safety suit, gave Taylor therapy, Talked Glastig Uliane into becoming Valkyrie, and in general is one of the sanest people in the series. Even if she thinks this stuff is true, the way she interacted with Victoria seems odd.

          1. After looking at a bunch of the discussion on Reddit, I’m firmly of the belief that Victoria’s shard is doing something in her sleep, and that it wrote those diary entries.

            I’m pretty sure it’s the real Yamada. She was able to have a full group session with everyone without raising any red flags to breakthrough right before this talk. It’s important to note that this is a side of Yamada we’ve never seen before, where she’s in a conversation with someone who isn’t one of her patients, but might be an active danger to her patients. On top of that, we are reminded time and time again in this chapter that Yamada is not good at going for the attack or being stern like this. Not maintaining eye contact and the finger shaking in particular come to mind. She seems completely in character.

          2. Yeah, St. Jessica didn’t act the way St. Jessica would act if she did suspect Antares of this kind of thing. To start with, why would she even mention the diary, rather than obliquely referring to details recorded there and watching for a reaction? WB seems to try to lampshade this with “She wasn’t good at being evasive, or at thinking on the back foot,” but this isn’t a new character. We know she’s good at that. What skilled therapist wouldn’t be?

          3. Well, it could plausibly be a shapeshifter, or a Bonesaw flesh golem. I don’t think it is, though. She would have had to prove her identity to people like Valkyrie and Dragon to get anywhere close to the Warden Bunker. If this wasn’t the way Jessica Yamada normally acted, someone would notice, and it therefore follows that seemingly acting out of character cannot be taken as evidence she’s not herself, as any impersonator to make it this far would not make mistakes like that.

        2. Yes, Victoria’s own shard (because her shard wants Victoria to become a tyrant, a violent person and maybe it tries to subtle influence Vic by changing her diary) or Jessica herself (being mastered by someone) are among my new suspects too.

          1. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jessica was innocent and un-mastered- if it was a precog like Contessa, then finding just the right things to say to make Jessica stop trusting Victoria would be as easy as, well… Creating an army of parahumans to kill a malevolent alien God

        3. Crap, she probably did have two other minds. The real question is what did Panacea do with the other two minds? Or the rest of the biomass for that matter? Are there two other Glory Girls out there?

    2. > Dinah (to encourage anti-parahuman war by destroying one of the most successful group of heroes)

      Sorry, but I’m going to continue insisting that Dinah’s involvement with anti-parahuman war is utter BS until I see the evidence. No, Teacher’s words said to a person he was trying to manipulate don’t count as evidence for obvious reasons.

      1. It doesn’t… but the lazer guided evidence provided to Gary Nieves that directly led to Breakthrough going on the news website does lead some credibility to the idea of a Dinah plot.

        1. Then it could be also a Dragon plot. Makes as little sense as with Dinah. And by the way, Dinah is a precog, not a postcog or a clairvoyant. While her ability could give some help with gathering evidence about past events, it would be easier for just someone with good intel.

  2. Nice ninja fixes. Some typos left:

    ‘Bunker’ is spelled without caps once.

    “not one of those people. ””
    Extra spaces before the closing quotes.

    1. > People who were heroes except they’d killed a person, who were heroes except for the fact they did drugs. Who were heroes because it was the fastest, safest way to make money.

      There is only one space between these sentences. Maybe it was supposed to be the continuation of the previous sentence (“who were heroes except for the fact they did drugs, who were heroes because it was the fastest,” instead of “who were heroes except for the fact they did drugs. Who were heroes because it was the fastest,”)?

      > What had come up here as a rough equivalent to tall grass had matted, grown in dense, and curled into itself until it looked like lichen.

      There are two spaces between ‘dense,’ and ‘and’.

      > The snowfall hadn’t really done anything to wipe it out or flatten, it, only gave it a look like it had been doused in powdered sugar.

      Unnecessary comma after ‘flatten’.

      > I get it if you’re left out and I know how much that hurts, really, but that’s not it is it?”

      Maybe add a comma before “is it”?

    2. Not sure if this qualifies as a typo but if I were to write a drawn out version of the word “Okay” like Vista said many times this chapter, I would write “okaaaay” and not “okayyy”. The sound being drawn out is the A, not the Y.
      I saw the same thing happen in an older chapter when he wrote “mommm” instead of “moooom”.
      If you read it out loud like he wrote it sounds very wrong.

      1. Mum (or ‘mom’ for you on the other side of the Atlantic) can be extended either way, depending on if it’s the vowel that’s expressed or the consonant. ‘Muuum’ sounds different, but as whiny and valid as ‘Mummmm’, the latter usually as ‘But Mummm’, the former as ‘Oh, Muuuum, you’re [whatever descriptive is chosen; embarrassing for example]’.

        I agree with ‘okay’, however.

    3. “Regimes need to change. Things need to be monitored, Victoria.”

      Since she is referring to physical therapy, I think this might be regimens instead of Regimes.”

    1. Indeed. Jessica is probably going to end up owing Victoria one heck of an apology.

      Assuming that is Jessica.

    1. That is my crazy theory too – that some cape has a power of breaking the fourth wall, and used it to download the entire Ward archive from our world to Vicky’s computer, together with comments. Now Jessica and Dragon think that Vicky abused Kenzie’s capacities to get some dirt on other capes (after all, the interludes could be only written by someone who has a capacity to very intimately track someone down, like our favourite camera tinker, and then aired out that dirty laundry with a bunch of strange dudes that Dragon and Jessica never heard of.

  3. Based on the fact that the diary reads like Victoria I would think Tinker or Thinker did it.

    Tattletale would be the prime suspect.

    We’ve met too many Tinker who could possibly do this to count.

    What a great way to introduce and absolute mess.

    1. Cui prodest. Not only did Tt have no time to do it with the necessary research accuracy (Yamada froze her out on return, Tt was already banged up by then), what could she possibly win by breaking up the one team being efficient at saving Gimel? And which is now in bed with her team.

      Dinah better have a stack of I’m sorrys at the ready for the fallout agter her role as Neo-Contessa gets out.

    2. Tinkers could get access to her computer. Personal details though like calling her forcefield ‘the wretch’ is interesting. I’m pretty sure she mentioned it to Sveta and I know she showed it to the rest of the team.

      I’m inclined to think that Damsel has been working with someone in Marquis’s camp from how she defended him to Brandish and Panacea’s continued interest in Victoria. She also would have had access.

      1. The Ashleys would have an easiest direct access to Victoria’s computer, but yes, I don’t think it would be one of them, especially working alone – they would need someone who knows Victoria much better. Good enough to convince Jessica. I also doubt that Tattletale would do something like that to Victoria. Maybe Faultline and Dinah to mess with Tattletale? We know that Tattletale and Faultline don’t like each other for some reason, and we know Tattletale suspected that Dinah has been “corrupted” somehow, not to mention that Tattletale has messed with Dinah at the end of Worm. Finally a precog like Dinah or Contessa (and I’ve already explained that in my opinion Dinah could capture Contessa) could predict consequences of messing with Victoria like that well enough to see it as a useful angle of attack.

        Teacher could work, as would anyone who just wants to get rid of Breakthrough because they coordinate the heroes in the City in preparation for an attack (like Chiet radicals maybe would?), but I don’t think it is them. Too complicated approach to ensure success, and probably too little gain for them to try, especially since Breakthrough’s role could probably be taken over by Wardens at this point.

        Maybe Garry Nieves? (Of course not by himself, but he could easily find someone to do the hack for him). I think he would fit – he doesn’t like capes in general, Victoria humiliated and terrorized him on TV, he had his interlude, suggesting that he is an important character, but hasn’t been seen much after that, and he probably has direct or indirect connections to at least some of the suspects mentioned above.

        I’d like to point out that you probably don’t need a thinker or tinker to hack Victoria’s computer at this point, because after GM internet and OSes security is supposedly really bad (it was mentioned in Glow-worm 0.1), though you may want to get a really good hacker to do the job (though not necessarily a parahuman – remember that anti-parahumans did manage to do some successful hacking which ended up with the Navigators chopped up), just to make sure that you won’t leave any traces that Victoria’s computer was hacked.

        The sad part about all of it is that plenty of Yamada’s accusations aren’t that wrong. Victoria has been behaving in an irrational way that made her endanger both herself and people around her (allies and enemies alike) much more than necessary more than once. But this sounds exactly like such attack would need to be carried out to be successful – if you want to paint someone in negative light in eyes of people who know them, bend the truth as little as necessary to achieve your desired result. Otherwise people will quickly figure out that something is wrong, and will immediately suspect third party involvement.

        1. And no, I don’t think that any of Victoria’s teammates are involved. They all like her too much to do it in my opinion. Even if it is Ashley, it would have to be Damsel, not Swansong, and even she seems extremely unlikely – both because she also seems to like Victoria quite a lot, and because she would most likely have little to gain. She could potentially be bribed to copy the file into Victoria’s computer by someone else, but I somehow doubt even that.

          1. Out of the people I’ve mentioned, I think Nieves is most likely. Both because it is personal for him, and because he seems like the sort of a person who would try to destroy his enemies by ruining their reputation. He already tried exactly that with that TV show, after all.

          2. Oh, and don’t forget that near the end of his interlude Nieves was promised some dirt on plenty of capes. It seems possible, that he could get enough info on Victoria to pull it off, especially if someone managed to steal some of that writing Victoria did in the asylum (for example those “scenarios” she wrote for group therapy sessions there). If would allow Nieves to copy Victoria’s writing style, if nothing else.

          3. Keep in mind that apparently Dinah has allied herself with the anti-parahuman groups, for whatever reason, which would tie into your Nieves theory.

            My original theory was that a Valefor’ed Victoria wrote it, since it was discovered fairly soon after the Goddess thing where she and her team had a pretty big hand in spanking Teacher pretty hard. But then on thinking about it, if Valefor had access to Victoria, why wouldn’t he just make her flatten murder her team… unless Teacher was maybe hoping to recruit the leftovers, but even then, I find it a hard stretch. But it is one way to explain the intimate knowledge and Victoria-like tone that this diary apparently displays.

          4. And I think that notes from the asylum are probably the most likely sources of information that Nieves (assuming it was him) used because:
            – he had dirt on Kenze, and we know she has been admitted to the same asylum for a while, which means that files on her had to be there,
            – he made a mistake of including mentions of Amy in the diary, and Victoria’s inability to even think about Amy is one of the biggest changes in Victoria’s personality that happened after her stay in the hospital, so it wouldn’t be reflected in hospital’s archives,
            – since Victoria did a lot of writing during her stay in the hospital, her writing style before then would be different, plus she probably never wrote anything a diary, or any similar form of self-reflection before, while doing something like this was probably a standard element of her therapy in the asylum.

          5. And as to how the files from the parahuman asylum could have leaked, consider that plenty of people there – from nurses to people responsible for keeping that suit Jessica used to visit Sveta’s room – seemed to have a less then stellar work ethics, and/or not so high regard for their patients.

          6. One question is – how would Nieves know about Victoria using the term “Wretch” to describe her forcefield, as opposed to her body if he worked using the files from the asylum? Maybe Damsel did indeed work on this with him, and not only put that diary in Victoria’s computer, but also provided Nieves with that detail?

            It could also explain why Damsel was in such a hurry to leave on the day Jessica returned to the City and blocked Victoria’s phone number, not to mention how Damsel got enough money to think that she can establish herself (though some of it could have come from the Mayor for assisting during attack on Cradle – otherwise she wouldn’t mention having any money at all), or where she suddenly got people working for her from.

            Trying to suggest that Swansong could not be trusted could also be part of her plan – this way once Victoria learned about the fake diary, there would be one more person who Victoria could suspect of putting that file in her computer.

            So ultimately it looks like Damsel-Nieves cooperation ,which happened because Nieves managed to bribe Damsel with money, and possibly a position of power within whatever organization he is working with at the moment (which would explain where Damsel got people from).

          7. One more scary thought. If Damsel is working with Nieves, and he is interested in getting dirt on capes, how much of Victoria’s files on capes Damsel managed to copy for Nieves, and how much damage this information can do in his hands, or hands of people who contacted him at the end of his interlude?

          8. Should Victoria start looking for claw marks on her cape files? Will this be a clue Tattletale will need to figure out what is going on?

          9. Also, if the people who Nieves is working with are the same anti-parahumans who Love Lost has been dealing with, then it could mean that Damsel could have provided those anti-parahumans with means of intercepting any un-encrypted Breakthrough members communications (like e-mail addresses and phone numbers – phone calls may be just as good as unencrypted if the anti-parahumans have someone in the phone company Breakthrough is using) which in turn would explain how sensitive details contained in Chicken Little’s mail to Kenzie ended up leaking so quickly, and how Love Lost knew about the Breakthrough-Undersiders meeting.

          10. I would also add spite to the list of possible motivations Damsel had to do what I think she did. She didn’t like what Swansong had with her hero team, so she messed with that. Looks like Swansong may have been wrong when, at the end of Eclipse, she was convicted that Damsel wouldn’t hurt her, after all…

          11. @Alfaryn

            A Damsel-Nieves-AntiPH/Cheit Plot?

            Foreshadowing or the famous “this will be important later” bits aside. Even with clues only clear in hindsight.

            It fits. A lot.

            In my feeble mind at least.

            But if it DOES end up being right…

            Really, truly…

            … you are getting the OT-12 rating. Officially.

        2. I think they already bent the truth a little too much. Whoever did this was too clever by half. They got all of the details right but they fudged it on the context. As Victoria said, she hates even just thinking about Amy. There is no way she would ever write about her even if she did have a diary.

          1. Another thing is that if Victoria had to keep a diary in the asylum (and, while I would have to check to make sure, I think she did), then she wouldn’t want to do it later, because it would be one more thing reminding her of that time.

    3. In a world where everybody and their dog have powers I am puzzled someone like Jessica drops someone like Vic like a hot potato on the basis of some diary.
      Especially if they claim they never wrote a diary. Her explanation about not trying to even think about Amy is true and Yamada should know that!

      1. That’s reasonable but I think this kindof thing still doesn’t really happen. There are no mind reading powers, at least that’s what the characters AND audience have been led to believe. The only way someone could have information like what victory called her forcefield before she told anyone is by mastering her and somehow getting her to reveal that information, and then erase her memory of the event, in which case she would be innocent but still a huge liability. Personally get Yamada’s extreme caution and confusion, and I think that confusion especially is clear. She knows this would give against Victoria’s personality but really the evidence is hard to refute, so far the prevailing fan theory as to how this happened is victories sentient forcefield is somehow responsible. Almost nobody in Canon even knows thats /possible/. Whatever is truly responsible it’s probably weirder than anyone could reasonably predict

    1. Could be Sveta. Might be that she’s so distressed by her inability to have sex and her boyfriend’s (fuck, I can’t remember his name) waning interest in her that she’s not thinking clearly. Could be someone told her Victoria was talking to (Ward?) and in her fevered state she sought to wreck everything Victoria was trying to build by faking a diary using personal details only Victoria could have told her.
      Plus we’re due for a Sveta interlude, and really, how well do we know Sveta, anyway?

      1. 1)The boyfriend is Weld.
        2)Victoria likely has her stuff protected ever since the team started making enemies.
        3)How would Sveta know that Dragon, or anyone aside from Vicky, would even find the entries.

        1. Victoria had her stuff protected in the capacity that it was stored in her apartment, so a teammate could feasibly get in without much trouble and without rousing suspicion.
          Dragon was a bogeyman of similar proportions to Contessa for creating the Birdcage and her drone suits, all of which are publicly known to belong to her. The main feature of the drones and the Birdcage were their seemingly automated processes. Also, Sveta’s team and namely her friends are members of the Wardens, who cooperate heavily with Dragon and Defiant. Power debriefings are commonly used so each member of the team stands on equal footing in terms of information, and seeing as Dragon has an almost full disclosure agreement with the Wardens, it stands to reason the information on her powers has been shared with every Warden and some trusted individuals outside the organization. Thus, Sveta could in fact know that Dragon would find the diary.
          It’s also possible that in her theoretical maniacal state, Sveta isn’t thinking about any of this and is simply lashing out in whatever way makes sense.
          But at this point I’m simply playing devil’s advocate 🙂

    2. Kenzie is the only Breakthrough member that clearly has the capacity. Surveillance and boundary crashing, plus mass data falsification? Sure.

      It’s not written by Victoria Durden; there’s nothing in the text to support that, and the sister question is (I believe) the author clarifying for the readers that this is not a Shyamalan thing. Sveta couldn’t write a coherent work with Victoria’s voice worrying about Sveta, and she has trouble enough with the day to day before playing mastermind. Also, nothing about the situation is Sveta-like; a new murder spree is more plausible. I like the Ashleys, but manipulators they simply are not. Rain, no. Natalie, no. Erin, no. Weld, come on be serious. Tristan and Byron watch each other, and anyway, no. So Kenzie?

      ….no. If Lookout thought Victoria might destroy the team, and also didn’t like her, then she might be capable of something like this? But she does like Victoria, and Victoria has held the team together.

      If it were anyone in Breakthrough, it would be Chris. It’s his style of cynical, and he has a penchant for mastermind maneuvers. Maybe. If he and her father wanted to protect Amy…? Otherwise, this is easily within Fortuna and Dinah’s wheelhouses, but strikes me more as the sort of plot Teacher favors.

      More generally, something’s up with that self-care note Yamada kept hitting. If the diary were really about making Victoria look bad, why that refrain? I suspect we’re due a further reveal: in addition to Machiavellian-scheming and Amy-mentioning, someone was making Victoria out as a bit more self-destructive. Can’t wait to see it.

    3. Thats what occured to me as well. She could potentially piece together enough info, and knows Victoria well enough to get her “voice” right. But if it is her, I reckon she’s being manipulated by someone else, cause I cant imagine her doing this for her own reasons.

  4. Hmm…did anything actually ever come of Vicky telling Jessica to look out for/give therapy to Amy?

    Other than that, I’m not sure on how Tt would even hope to benefit by making Victoria look crazy – unless it was something she was forced to, and/or try and juggle to keep the balls in the air before she and the rest of the undersiders became prime targets by March’s group (or others).

    That being said, having it be quite so thorough is definitely concerning, and not many thinkers would be able to so easily work out Victoria’s mind/thoughts to generate something that would convince Yamada so well….

    If nothing else, this definitely will add some tension into the upcoming conversation Vicky and Lisa need to have.

    …It’s slightly a long shot, but this seems like a thing Chris could have orchestrated, in order to make sure that Vicky could be manipulated/forced from a leadership position and possibly off the team.

  5. Oh man. Oh noooooooo. I love this.

    (Yes Victoria, hear this and then go straight to talk to Tattletale, that is the least suspicious thing.)

  6. The first thing I thought of was a prophecy that Vicky was going to do something awful in the future. It seems she also thought that with the whole “Can you give me a foothold here? Some person I can talk to that’s neutral, or some timeframe? So I don’t have this hanging over my head forever?”

    The diary thing sounds a lot like something Teacher would do, and he’s one of the people who would be able to do it, but it also makes him a too obvious culprit.

  7. “I record thoughts and words, to be sorted and discarded when she next sleeps. There are courses she could take that would fall in line with my capabilities as they now stand. To be a killer. To be a tyrant. She stands at the edge of those cliffs. If she steps over it, I will buoy her and I will show her that I am very good at enabling her to walk those paths.”

    “I listen, I record, I track. Any new thought could be another tool like the screwdriver. I am less functional than I was when I was alive, but I can take the functions I have and replace them, if they are provided.
    If she finds a label for herself that I can also wear, then we may lay waste to all who stand before us.”

    In terms of characters with access to Victoria’s computer, access to Victoria’s brain, and sufficient motive for all this shit……

    That or Contessa. Contessa works too.

    1. Waste-chan is also one of the very few characters in the story that know how Vicky calls her forcefield… And she* might not understand Vicky’s aversion to thinking/talking about Amy. The question is – why would she write a physical diary and pretend to be Vicky? How does that benefit her in any way?

      (*PS: Is it weird that I read Waste as female, while both March’s shard and Grasping Self feel male to me?)

      1. “The question is – why would she write a physical diary and pretend to be Vicky? How does that benefit her in any way?”

        Maybe Waste-chan just likes keeping a diary?
        Maybe she isn’t “pretending” to be Vicky, she’s just sort of… hazy on the boundary, and besides- if Waste-Chan its own personal diary and leaves it on vicky’s computer, people are going to assume its Victoria’s, even if Waste-chan wasn’t TRYING to pretend anything.

        1. How can the shard access Victoria’s computer without Vicky noticing? Since it’d need Victoria present, since it can’t act outside her. And why would it use a computer when the shard is itself a form of diary?

          I’m sorry, but this theory isn’t working for me.

          1. Victoria sleeps next to her computer, and is known to have nightmares:
            “I record thoughts and words, to be sorted and discarded when she next sleeps.”

            But you are right, I like the theory, but I agree it does have several holes.
            The biggest amongst them being that the wretch is barely capable of throwing things…. I really don’t see it being able to type.

            That, and apparently there was talk of planning in the diary that pre-dated the Jessica meeting… which doesn’t fit with the Wretch theory (If wretch is non-malicious, then wouldn’t deliberately backdate diary entries, and would have no way to have had information about the team prior to the meeting).

          2. nine,
            I think we had the Wretch type something at some point in the hospital. It wasn’t vicky typing.

      2. Re-reading “waste” interlude, noticing some more things:

        “I would do as some did before we were all broken, and reach out to others nearby, and urge them to test and not destroy. Some would ignore me, but some would listen. They would do what was in *their* power to steer their hosts.”
        This paragraph seems to imply that Waste is “steering” its host towards ” test and not destroy” … which… seems to be very much in line with Vicky’s non-lethal mentality, trying to push the world back to the old rules….

        ” She is good at using the resources she has at hand.”
        Yamada said who diary seemed disturbing. Exploitative. What’s the bet that it refers to the other team members as “resources”?

    2. This is essentially my working theory- the smoking gun is that the diary calls her force field the Wretch. Jessica mentions that all of the factual portions they can check line up, too. If she didn’t write it, whoever did is reading her mind.

      The diary is almost certainly either from her shard, a remnant personality from one of the other “Victoria”s, or simply that Victoria might be experiencing a mental breakdown accompanied by blackouts/fugue states. And really, the difference between the three options might not even be that big: they all add up to some portion of the entity formerly known as Glory Girl having a rather clinical outlook that may be influencing her conscious decisions in ways she doesn’t even realize.

      1. You make it sound almost as if Victoria essentially developed split personality, or her shard takes over without her knowledge from time to time. All of it without knowledge of the personality we know as the main point of view of this story. Technically possible, but I think maybe going a little bit too far into tinfoil hat territory.

        1. Sure, between Victoria’s trauma and the fact that she had multiple heads for years, split personality may not sound like that much of a stretch. Same thing with her shard that would probably love to have some way to communicate it’s thoughts and feelings to someone.

          But if Victoria’s body had been taken over by a different mind regularly enough to write a diary, wouldn’t someone who lived with her (like Crystal or one of the Ashleys) notice it happen at some point and drop a comment or otherwise behave in a way that would serve as a some sort of a hint for us? I can’t remember anything like that ever happening, and we know that Wildbow loves to give readers clues like that well in advance, so I would expect there to be some, and I trust that one of us would notice that something doesn’t fit in behavior of at least one of those people in a way that suggests that Victoria sometimes behaved strangely around her computer (for example did surprisingly little work for the time she spent with it, worked with it at strange hours, kept typing non-stop for an extended periods of time, or had moments when she seemed to type surprisingly quickly – anything that would suggest that she was writing a diary instead of doing whatever she was supposed to be doing at the time).

          1. That is unless Victoria’s hypothetical second personality somehow managed to use Victoria’s aura to achieve the opposite of the usual effect, essentially turning Victoria into another Imp when she was working on the diary, but what would it say about that other personality if it not only could, but actually did that? Could such personality even write a diary in a way that upon closer examination by Yamada would look like something written by Victoria she knows?

  8. Until Jessica opened up about the diary, I was 100% convinced that she had been warned about Vicky by a precog. This development is pretty interesting too, though. I’m just surprised that Jessica seems to find it so easy to believe that Vicky’s public behaviour is an act to cover up some kind of nefarious plan, I feel like she should know Vicky better than that. Maybe her fear and hostility will make more sense when we get to read this supposed diary (hopefully next chapter!).
    It seems like Vicky wants to talk to TT immediately? I would read the diary first, if I was her. Maybe she’ll do so on the way.

    I don’t quite get what Jessica is saying about Chris. On the one hand, she says “He wasn’t a threat, Victoria. He needed more sessions but he was on his road to normalcy, striking his balance, learning the necessary skills.”, on the other hand “As you have surmised, Chris was my biggest concern”. Why was he her biggest concern, when he was supposedly doing so well in her opinion? The way she describes him in the first quote is better than the situation of most Breakthrough members was at the beginning of the story.

    Jessica is concerned about Sveta too… as is a big portion of the readership. I predict that when we do get a Sveta interlude, it’s gonna be a doozy. (not a very unique prediction, that)

    1. I have a very hard time seeing how a diary (even if it’s convincingly written) would make Jessica believe that Victoria is embroiled in some kind of long-term scheme to…what, exactly? Use Breakthrough? Why? What’s the supposed goal? It can’t have been explicit, because if it was, Jessica wouldn’t just be observing, the Wardens would be taking action. So what could possibly be so concerning to warrant freezing Victoria out completely (despite the fact that everything about her using breakthrough for some kind of hidden nefarious purpose runs counter to her character, as she is neither manipulative nor is she a particularly subtle individual in terms of approach) but NOT concerning enough to warrant taking drastic and immediate action?

      Also, Chris was…clearly not on the path to normalcy, as we saw from his interlude. His goal was to achieve peak Lab Rat and leave, and that is exactly what he did. Maybe he’s more functional now than he was in his prior incarnation, but given that we barely knew Old!Lab Rat it’s unlikely we’ll know for certain. But all indications are that pretty much everything went according to his backup plan. So is Jessica completely wrong in her reading of Chris, or is she lying to Victoria?

      Honestly, the thought of Jessica being subverted is pretty terrifying, because she’s so well-trusted, and because she’s not a cape, so she’s not an obvious target.

      1. I got the impression it was painting Vicky as a glory hound. ‘A hero, but in it for the fame and popularity’, to use her terminology. Not outright villainous, but… Not somebody one wants near a team of mentally vulnerable capes, since it would involve throwing herself (and the team by extension) into really serious fights.

        Like what’s been happening with Breakthrough, actually. So even if Jessica doesn’t believe it, the actions and events provide evidence. Not conclusive evidence, but certainly suggestive evidence.

        1. Or Victoria as a little too driven. Like how I worry when Batman starts referring to a Robin as “soldier” and “good soldier” cause it seems to be him slipping down the path to utter crazy. Not because he’s becoming malicious or evil, but because the whole avenging creature of the night aspect is taking over too much of his personality.

      2. The implication I got was that she believes Vicky was/is using Breakthrough to further her own Cape career. Abusing their issues and vulnerabilities to gain their trust and keep them around her to their detriment. This makes sense in light of how Jessica initially had to hold herself back, and insisted she was getting ahead of herself when she was complaining about how Victoria seems to be pushing the Cape aspect and leading them into trouble.

        1. But if Victoria is gloryhounding, why does she stick with Breakthrough? She could just as easily join the Wardens through Laserdream and work with people like Narwhal and Valkyrie on the biggest threats with far more resources. Instead, she sticks with a podunk team that po-dunks their way to victory.

          I don’t see a reasonable process by which the story continues and my disbelief can continue in suspension without more Master shenanigans, and I’m honestly sick of Master shenanigans after all the stuff with Goddess.

          1. Because the Wardens weren’t recruiting at the start, and she couldn’t get a job with any team. Breakthrough was the only group that wanted her, at the beginning. The fact she’s not changing teams now might be because the Wardens are still assuming that she’s happy with Breakthrough and haven’t offered her a job, or because they feel she’ll do more good where she is.

            I’m not thinking this is Master. I’m thinking this is Tinker. Possibly with a shade of Stranger or Thinker.

          2. Because no one would take her at the start and she saw this as a way to get on a team and get started. Breakthrough has since become quite successful and involved in some pretty high-profile issues, working directly with the Mayor and such. So she doesn’t have a need to change teams now.

            That, and with Breakthrough she has a lot of wiggle room to take the jobs she wants and manage her own autonomy within reason. If she joined the Wardens, she’d be just another face among many. She’d have to work significantly harder to get noticed and she’d have to stick to the rules a lot more strictly. Go where she’s told, do the jobs she’s told to do, etc. Assuming the “Victoria is a glory hound” is hypothetically correct, it would make sense for her to join and stick with a private team where she can make her own decisions/use her teams issues to get them to do what she wants.

            Of course, that’s bull. But it’s how it looks to someone who doesn’t have out of universe knowledge.

          3. Nitpick: Laserdream is in the PRTCJ, not the Wardens. Getting a recommendation into the Wardens would be done via Vista and Weld.

            Anyway, besides what Earl and Moogatron said, it can also be argued that since Victoria struggles with not viewing herself as a monster, she chooses to surround herself with people who are at least as fucked up as she is so that she can feel more normal by comparison.

      3. Victoria’s leadership of Breakthrough is objectively concerning without the diary. We forgive and understand because she’s the protagonist and we’re in her head to see her motivations, but let’s be real.

        1. Kenzie requires help avoiding overwork or being put in a position where her “needing to” could excuse self-destructive behavior. Big V, Ashley, and Capricorn were very explicitly told this; more reason to believe it since. Yet every major step they’ve taken has immediately made Kenzie the linchpin without which nothing works, and now she’s acting as that for an additional teams and the Wardens. She made emotional progress on Victoria’s watch, but frankly it’s a miracle she’s alive at all – an 11 year old was shot twice with guns made to kill adults. Horrifically harmed again after Victoria accepted a terrible plan, which in turn put Kenzie’s emotional progress at risk because she was nominally removed from the team.

        2-3. Tristan and Byron have both issued what amount to tentative cries for help regarding their personal lives, not to mention admitting that they put a Chekov’s contract out on each other. Negligible action from the brute leader. Shot once. Horrifically harmed after Victoria accepted a terrible plan.

        4. Ashley was walking a fine line and needed good influences. Victoria (and literally everyone but Natalie, yes) cheerfully agreed for her to walk straight into undercover villain work. Murdered, once. Shot, once. Horrifically harmed after Victoria accepted a terrible plan. Fell out with sister over sister’s murders, Carol’s jabs, and Victoria’s taking charge – all knock on effects of the bad plan mutilations.

        5. Sveta has been on a long, slow descent with occasional rallies since Victoria returned to her life. Intentions won’t forgive the choice to draw out the Weld crisis. She’s screwing with the trauma Sveta is least able to handle to buy time for a solution that probably will not come. Going behind Sveta’s back will dwarf the actual breakup in the end. It comes from a good place, but it’s so so so bad of an idea. And anyway, Sveta killed a lady, on purpose. Also for her the harm from the bad plan was permanent.

        6. She didn’t figure out Chris in time, handled him fairly badly (though how could she not), and as a result he left his support structure. We have to assume he’s pretty well fallen off the wagon as a result.

        7. Rain…. Huh. Horribly injured, of course. Otherwise? Not bad. Though I have a vague feeling we missed something that will be obvious in hindsight. Cradle’s ‘unused’ power, the line about Colt’s parents…. I don’t know, I may be reading to much into things.

        What has this paid for? With these sacrifices Victoria has come to be a respected leader of a deeply loyal team. This team made itself essential to heroes are enforcement to the city that is effectively also the country that also is a multiversal power. She has a huge wealth of the information she personally craves, a government stipend, and increasing status among the powerful. She exercises the right to be judge and jury for extralegal detention, where others seem to be tacitly going along with the consensus… a consensus which she is disproportionately setting.

        I happen to be charitable to her. Being charitable is fairly important, though, to not be concerned by the above.

        TL;DR – If we saw all this happening as a background arc by a non-protagonist, and we saw a believable diary as described, no one would doubt Yamada’s judgement here.

        Well. Maybe a couple of the Cradle apologists.

        1. This.

          Also, we can’t forget the early arcs where a big deal was made about how rejected and rudderless Victoria felt. Not accepted by the university, general anti-cape sentiment from society, fired from her job, not wanted by the hero teams, couldn’t trust her own parents to respect her boundaries… And then she was brought into the therapy group to try to dissuade them from the terrible idea of forming a hero team. So of course, she set herself up as the de facto leader of said terrible-idea hero team. 🙂

        2. 1. Part of the reason Kenzie was overworked was her parents constantly trying to kill her, so she’d have to stay awake at all times to prevent it. It was Victoria who immediately did something about it when she knew what was up. She was the one who got Kenzie in a household with Natalie, who knew Kenzie’s bad habits and actively tried to prevent her from overworking. Also, Victoria *always* asks Kenzie “how long did this take” to remind her of the rules, and regularly reminds her of boundaries (hugging, for instance).

          She got shot the first time because they were all ambushed — Vicky couldn’t exactly have predicted that. The second time, she was in the field on a mission, and they were, again, surprise-attacked by opponents that knew their plan. But what was the alternative? Leaving her at home with Natalie? She already got attacked by villains at her home. Leaving her in the care of some heroes who were out of the action? Everybody was in the action at that point, there was no safe place for Kenzie, other than with a group of people actively trying to protect her.

          Kenzie wanted to be in the field, and Victoria kept her out of it as much as she could — she wasn’t there during the Fallen fight, she was a hologram during a fight with Edna. But at some point, it’s impossible to just keep her safe, especially given she’s a tinker. If she’d kept her too much out of it, there was the risk she’d just form a villain team with Ashley, which both of them were pretty keen to do. Which would have probably been significantly more dangerous.

          Currently, Kenzie is being taken care of by Natalie, and her doing this portal thing means she’s being constantly protected by Breakthrough, the Undersiders, *and* the Wardens, meaning she’s as safe as could be in a world where a literal army of mercenaries can insta-warp to her location and shoot her with a bullet. She also has real friends that she’s maintaining healthy boundaries with.

          2-3. Tristan and Byron seem to have resolved their issues after the Goddess arc. We haven’t seen Tristan say literally anything like “what if you trade me an hour” since then. They don’t seem to change on a schedule, but they actively choose to give the other an opportunity to speak when the situation demands it. Byron, who once said this team is doomed to fail and refused to take part of it, is now an active participant. Tristan seems to actually care that his brother broke up with Moonsong, even if he himself actively dislikes her.

          Victoria learned about their little pact during the Goddess arc, and they had bigger issues at that point. Since then, I feel like their new arrangements maybe made it obsolete, can’t say. And let’s not forget Tristan was the leader of the team with V as the “coach” — she couldn’t exactly order him around, could she?

          Either way, both brothers seem to be doing significantly better at the current time. Not so much because of Victoria, but it’s not like she stopped them from reconciling?

          4. If Ashley hadn’t gotten any action, she would have broken off the team like her sister eventually did. She was, in many ways, actively embarrassed to be named a “hero”, so making her an undercover villain seemed pretty sensible. I don’t think anybody managed to guess she’d kill *a teammate* of hers. And after that happened, Victoria supported her 100% and helped her get back to her feet. Even before that, it was Victoria who slowly nudged her to hero-hood in small ways: the white costume, the conversations about being admired as a hero, rather than being feared as a villain.

          > Fell out with sister over sister’s murders, Carol’s jabs, and Victoria’s taking charge

          No, *Damsel* fell out with *Swansong*. Damsel declared she’s going away, not because of V or Carol doing something wrong, but because, in her view, Swansong was going soft. Which is correct — Swansong found “partners” rather than “minions” in Breakthrough, which was something she always wanted, but never trusted herself to have. She did go soft in the sense that she started caring about people and showing that she cares.

          Currently, Ashley is living with Victoria, who patiently tolerates her weirder outbursts of “I should obviously been given the black towels”, and Ashley makes her breakfast as a reward of said patience. She’s perfectly comfortable saying that Rain is a “badass” and compromising with Victoria over fashion sensibilities. She’s better than she ever has been.

          5. Sveta is capable of being in human contact *without a suit of any kind* thanks to Victoria figuring out Rain’s power and asking Rain to help Sveta with it. Rain wouldn’t have thought of this himself, his guilt often blinds him to what he actually *can* do. This is a ridiculous improvement for her and Victoria is continuing to support her in every way she can, whether it’s buying clothes with her or looking for ways to give her bodily sensations of some sort.

          Whether her hiding Weld’s issues is a mistake or not is something we’ll figure out soon, I’m sure. But all the other progress Sveta’s made has been thanks to *heaps* of support from Victoria.

          6. Chris had decided what he was going to do long before Victoria was in the mix. Jessica had hopes, but despite what she says in this chapter, she also admits he was her biggest concern. There’s only so much Victoria could do and she was working with extremely limited information. Would anything have changed if she *hadn’t* invaded his privacy (which I believe was perfectly reasonable, given he was supposedly a 12-year old boy who might have needed supervision, like Kenzie did)? Maybe, or maybe he would have still jumped at the very obvious resources that Goddess’ world gave him to continue his experiments.

          In the end, everybody in the team came clean with each other about their secrets, except for Chris — there’s not much you can do for somebody who just refuses to tell you what’s going on and even actively lies about it.

          7. Breakthrough saved Rain’s life on multiple occasions. A great big part of the conflict was because his clustermates wanted to torture and kill him and BT had his back every time. As for his emotional development, it was Victoria who figured out his power and convinced him he’s not as useless as he thinks he is. It’s Victoria who constantly encourages him, and when he accused her of bullshitting him, she said “no, I’m being straight with you and I always will be”, and he believed that. He needs self-confidence, and Victoria always works to give him that, even when she has to tell him something he won’t like, as she does with the mask in this chapter.

          Everybody in the team is much better emotionally than when they started, other than Chris, who we don’t know anything about. (He might also be better off where he is, but who knows if that’s a good thing.) A great big part of it was Victoria pushing and prodding and understanding these people and connecting them.

          They did get shot, a lot, in the same way that a lot of other heroes got shot. Tempera got killed, Withdrawal got hurt, the Navigators were sliced-up. None of this is on Victoria, it’s on the villains that did it. The best thing she could do was barter and negotiate, and occasionally take a bullet that was meant for somebody else.

          > She has a huge wealth of the information she personally craves

          Information that is shared with all the Wardens, as stated in this chapter. Information she asked to be shared so that all the heroes can be better informed and don’t end up fighting losing battles.

          > She exercises the right to be judge and jury for extralegal detention, where others seem to be tacitly going along with the consensus… a consensus which she is disproportionately setting.

          There were a number of groups present at the “execution”. The judging was already done by courts beforehand, and they were given advice, this is explained in this chapter to Colt. The consensus is broken if any single one of the group disagrees, there’s no priority given to BT’s opinion. Kenzie, who “owns” the portal tech, is now in an independent group, and the portal tech seems to be, at least partially, controlled by the Wardens as well (We were told Defiant is checking her work). It’s not ideal, but it’s not a terribly unreasonable compromise, and Victoria does not have full control over it. She talked it over with all the heroes, she asked for confirmation, nobody decided to stop her doing it. Whether it’s “good” or “bad” is fuzzy (as intended by the author), but I feel it’s better than giving Monokeros to Neo-Cauldron, so they can use her against their own enemies.

          1. I know you think we disagree, but this is my point exactly. It takes a great deal of context to thoroughly refute the bad optics. The only reason we’re so much in her corner is because she’s the protagonist, and we have a unique (and enormous) amount of that context.

            Victoria isn’t Weld or Miss Militia or Chevalier; she is one flawed young lady. If we didn’t know better, she’d be much scarier.

        3. All of this shows that whoever made the fake diary knew what they were doing. They took existing problems with Victoria’s leadership and painted them in unfavorable light.

          The lie that is most difficult to expose is often one that has many elements of truth in it, after all.

  9. Victoria really does not deserve this. We get 1 chapter of stuff normalizing and now we learn that in her “secret diary” Dragon found on her computer, she outlined a horrific plan to use Breakthrough to fucking, what? Like what has she done? Sacrificed herself too much? Sure, you could make that argument but how is that? Like? What the fuck? There’s shit about Kenzie? In a secret diary that’s not hers?

    Victoria has fought tooth and nail and hand and hand and a few more besides to make this group function, and keep the people in it (who want to stay) functional. Not telling her best friend who has literally two good things that her boyfriend literally doesn’t think she’s enough of a physical person to love? How the fuck do you not break into pieces when you look at her? Supporting Rain on his journey? That’s a whole can of worms that’s gone against her own morals but she still reached out and helped. Making sure Ashley and Damsel don’t annihilate each other while living with them? Trying to be a good role model for Kenzie? Helping Cap get their closure? That’s fucking Capital H fucking Hero shit right there and this is what she gets? And it’s not like she’s not taking care of herself in the meantime! She’s been trying, but her therapist is kind of a dick and the one woman in the world that knows her better than anyone else blocked her number, and is accusing her of manipulating the team she told her to join and continues to risk life and limb for, for something. For fucking something. And now she has to go figure out if a clairvoyant, who has a history of fucking with her just to fuck with her, is behind all of this.

    This is, just, infuriating. and frustrating. Do I really care if she gets the recognition that hey you’ve been literally killing yourself to save this team good job thanks no! That wouldn’t feel genuine, it would fit, but shit some fucking time where she could get to say “What I’m doing is good, and the people I do this with appreciate and love me and don’t think less of me for who I am, was, and will be” and internalize it and enjoy it for one god damn minute before being launched into some fateful decision that shakes her to her core or fucks with her head to the point where she can’t trust herself or her friends. Is that, like, doable?

    I’m overreacting, and i do apologize but Jesus Henrietta Ford this is, a bit much, and close to home.

    1. In the absence of the Wardens, Victoria immediately pulled the scattered hero teams into a network centred on her, centred on Breakthrough.
      It might have been her idea to counter Gary by going on Hard Boil? Speaking about Scion, drawing attention from the public and random minor villains and the Blue Empress of Shin.
      Then they team up with some supervillains in an attempt to preemptively attack their mutual enemies, which gets most of the team badly injured. Then they transition this hero network into full “interrogate and disappear” version, depending pretty heavily on 11-year-old Kenzie.

      We know why. We know everything was meant for the best, or at least to survive. But… from the outside? Jessica hasn’t really known Victoria for two years. The diary sounds like her.
      Exploitative. Like she wanted to use them, to make herself famous, or important, or powerful. Doesn’t mean she would want to hurt them. Just that maybe she wouldn’t care.

    1. Just because Citrine mentioned them in a fairly short interval, it doesn’t mean that they’re working together. They may have been potential allies or information sources that she was listing, or even potential suspects for something. I’ve seen nothing that leads me to think those two are working together. I’ve seen virtually nothing to indicate that Contessa is involved in anything cape related at all.

      1. Nah pretty sure that was just WB fucking with readers. For every fucked up thing people always claim Dinah or Contessa to be in play. So mentioning them briefly and moving on to other things is a perfect tease.

      2. Ah; I misread that bit of 12.x and thought Contessa and Dinah were tags on faces, not lipread speech. How do we know it’s Citrine talking there?

  10. Also, is it just me, or does it sound like Solarstare’s brain injury allowed her shard to take a much more dominant role in influencing her personality?

    1. eeehhhh… maybe. maybe not.

      This is actually a thing that happens. Happened to a family friend. No shard shenanigans involved (I assume).
      She just… got a brain injury and lost significant amounts of “reservedness”, symptoms sound pretty damn similar.

      🙁

      1. There was a guy at my college who fell asleep drunk in a snow bank and got brain damage. I never knew him before that. But you could tell something happened, he just kinda came on a little fuller throttle and more intense than most people would, and according to people who knew him before hand he did act differently. Though he stopped drinking after that.

      2. Sure, but the loss of some language and abstract thinking abilities seem to be implying increased shard influence, though – both of those fields are areas that shards are bad at, so it seems plausible that the shard might have intervened to gain more ground over her mind as a result of the injury.

        1. That’s what happened to Taylor, sure, but those are also just symptoms of brain damage. And the recovery suggests that that’s what it was; Taylor had to have her connection cut to get her faculties back.

          1. One small detail you may want to remember. While Taylor’s loss of motor functions (including the ability to speak), and loss of ability to read are more or less certainly a result of brain damage, her subsequent loss of ability to understand spoken English later in arc 30 could be caused not by brain damage done by Panacea, or by being “overwhelmed” by her shard, but by being directly exposed to Clairvoyant’s power. If I remember correctly Taylor understood English just fine until the moment she took Clairvoyant’s hand.

  11. Oh! Couldn’t Kenzie’s past camera tech be used to know what Vicky was doing at the time the diary entries were typed?

    1. Depends on when exactly the diary entries were written, but theoretically, at least some of the ‘times’ when Victoria’s computer were on would have been recorded by Kenzie, yeah.

      That’s actually a pretty good point.

    2. Kenzie’s camera tech was destroyed in an ambush, I think. After that, she was working on portal tech, so she likely hasn’t gotten around to rebuilding it.

  12. Victoria, about Vista in this chapter.

    You really suck at changing topics and distracting

    …And yet just a moment later Victoria was completely distracted when Vista pointed out that terrible costume design. Fashion talk seems to be Victoria’s Achilles’ heel that everyone can, and will, successfully use it against her whenever they want Victoria to drop any given conversation topic or line of thought.

  13. Oh, this was good, so much more complex than I originally suspected, more incidious. Also really opens up thought to the larger game here. Well played, dear author.
    Haven’t read a lot of the comments yet, but me, I already suspect Teacher shenanigans. This has his “ridiculously obtuse puppet mastery with power-centric themes” written all over it. With a little boogeyman in the background.

  14. May be Natalie the one responsible for planting the fake diary. Either working for Brandish, or coopted by the anti-parahuman crowed after the TV interview to discredit her. If it’s Brandish it may be a bizarre and twisted attempt to separate Vicky from the team in order to get a reunion with her sister and back into the family fold. If the anti-parahuman crowed, it’s an attempt to break up the team that was spear-heading inter-hero-team coordination.

    Regardless Natalie being the only one in close proximity to Vicky but not a fire-forged friend makes her a likely suspect in being involved.

    1. Unless Natalie is hiding an entire skill-set, I don’t think that she could have back-dated the old diary entries well enough to have fooled Dragon into thinking they were written before the story start.

      1. Actually, it could be pretty trivial. For example, on my system the file creation date is totally unreliable. I have a frequently updated todo list that I created years ago, but the creation timestamp says it was made about nine hours ago. Turns out every time I edit the file, the file is recreated from scratch and thus gets a new creation timestamp. This is obviously going to be heavily dependent on the OS, filesystem, and software in use, though. (In my case, Linux, ext4, and Vim.) This same logic also applies to more subtle things, such as inode numbers or the location within the physical drive where the file is stored.

        I’d be more worried about backups, but this depends on how Victoria handles them. If she does it the way I do — automated incremental backups running back a year that are updated every time the computer shuts down — then yeah, Natalie would need some pretty specific know-how to forge it. However, if Victoria just copies anything she cares about to an optical disk or thumb drive every few months or so, then odds are that none of those disks were actually in the drive when Dragon scanned the machine, so no suspicious absences would be noted.

        One other potential but easily avoided snag is file metadata. A fancy document format might include some sort of timestamp inside the file itself, independent of OS/FS stuff. In the pathological case, the file might even contain version history so that it can be rolled back. However, absolutely none of that is true of the humble text file. And given the post apocalyptic setting, it would make sense for people with brains in their heads to prefer simpler formats over complex formats wherever possible, as that maximizes compatibility in the event that you need to swap to some other OS or even a computer from an entirely different civilization.

        Point is, it’s entirely possible that somebody with basically no technical knowledge could forge a diary and have it seem legit even to Dragon. It’s also possible they could fuck it up royally. We don’t have enough information about OS360 and Victoria’s own habits to assess yet.

        That said, it’s important to remember that while Natalie isn’t a tech person, she’s also not some random chum off the street. She’s a law student. This means that besides being relatively intelligent, she’ll have studied a bunch of court cases. She’ll be familiar with many of the ways people have fucked up in the past, allowing her to stand on the shoulders of giants… or at least scumwads. She’ll also have enough experience researching and understanding complex and subtle problems that she should be cable of completing such sophisticated search queries as “how to change timestamp in OS360” and “OS360 edit command history”.

        1. I’m not an expert on computer science, but here are a few thoughts about how I think this attack could have gone. Correct me if I’m wrong.

          If whoever knew what system Victoria’s laptop is running, and how to get sufficiently elevated privileges in it (should be doable, considering that commonly available OSes have not been updated since GM if Golow-worm 0.1 is to be believed), then all it would probably take is to have someone with some decent knowledge of the OS Victoria is using to prepare a drive with the diary and a program that would put that diary in her computer (complete with expected backups etc.) and make all logs look like it has been there since Victoria was supposed to start writing it, and that no such drive was ever connected.

          Then all you would need is for someone with physical access to Victoria’s computer to connect that drive to the laptop and run the program. I think either of the Ashleys would have plenty opportunities to do it, and as I explained elsewhere, I suspect that Damsel may have good enough motives.

          The way I see it, the advantage of this method over hacking her computer via internet, is that it doesn’t leave any traces in any ISP logs or any other traces of suspicious connections someone like Dragon could notice.

          1. And of course Natalie could do more or less the same. At least in theory. But I don’t think it fits her character and known motivations, and I think she would have less opportunities to do so (for example she wouldn’t have as easy direct access to Victoria’s laptop as Ashleys would have).

          2. Oh, and if you think that preparing a drive for Damsel with everything she needed to plant the diary is too complicated, then consider that Damsel could simply let a computer expert himself into the flat when Swansong and Victoria were out and the laptop in. The only reason I would suspect she may not want to do it is that she could suspect that the entrance to Victoria’s place could be monitored by Kenze.

          3. Alternatively Damsel could just take the laptop to the computer expert, but it would probably be just as risky, since Kenzie can probably track it’s location, and could be alerted if it was moved.

            Maybe the risk of Kenzie realizing that the laptop was moved or some strang person entered Victoria’s flat would be lower after Kenzie was shot, and most of her tech destroyed during the investigation of the crime scene in chapters 10.12-10.13? One more reason to believe that the diary was planted around that time.

        2. Maybe to make it seem legit to Dragon, but to Her Therapist?? Her Friend AND Therapist?

          You tell me a therapist can’t tell someone’s fist??

  15. A lot to chew on this chapter. Solarstare is officially my new favorite character! More backstory on Vista is always a nice touch too. Plus I love that Wildbow can continue to thicken tension across the page without it being a fight scene.

    Who fabricated Vic’s “diary”? And why was it enough for Yamada to change her opinion to Vic or Sveta as the current threat in a three week timespan? What a mystery and more crap for Victoria to wade through for the sake of protecting the team.

    Hope she gets this shit figured out.

  16. The Diary wasn’t found recently. It was when Dragon connected to her computer. All of the theories I’ve seen in the comments presume current enemies or allies.

    Imp had access to Victoria’s computer when she was going to burn her notes. At that point the Undersiders were her enemies. I suspect Tattletale of being the mastermind behind this diary, but it was planted a while ago.

    1. Couldn’t be Imp, at least not when she tried to burn Victoria’s archive. Dragon found those files in Victoria’s computer before Imp’s attack.

      1. Ok it wasn’t planted at that point then, but it could easily still be Imp doing it before then considering how her power works.

        1. When Imp tried to steal the computer, Undersiders didn’t know that Dragon had already accessed it. (That is, unless TT just knew, but that sort of higher-order knowledge “knowing when someone else knew something” rather than just “knowing something” seems rather obscure.) If the theft had succeeded it would have imperiled the hypothetical frame-up. This has me discounting TT/Undersiders.

          Yamada’s own behavior in this episode is strange enough to throw suspicion her way. Perhaps she is freezing Antares out for other reasons, but her stated reasons don’t realistically motivate her behavior here.

          1. I believe that Dragon or Defiant (mor likely Dragon, I think) told the Undersiders about what she had found in Victoria’s computer shortly after discovering the diary. I made the entire list of reasons why I think that it could be the case. If I had to guess, if Dragon wouldn’t think to inform Tattletale as soon as she scanned Victoria’s computer (because she knew that Undersiders were dealing with Breakthrough, and just wanted to warn people she knew thanks to their relationship to Taylor), then she would do so right after discovering that Chicken Little sent message to Kenzie (and we know that the contents of the e-mail were leaked, so Dragon probably knew about it even if she didn’t intercept the e-mail itself) which indicated that the two wanted to work on bringing both groups closer together.

            After learning about the e-mail Dragon must have thought that not only Breakthrough, but also Chicken Little and possibly the Heartboken could potentially be in danger from Victoria, and would have warned Tattletale and Imp about it out of concern for their charges if nothing else.

          2. In other words it is possible that Dragon warned the Undersiders about not only the leaked e-mail (though Tattletale could have learned about this one through other means) but also about the diary, because the combination of the e-mail and the diary meant that Victoria could have been a threat to the children Undersiders were taking care of.

            To make this scenario more likely I suspect that D&D (or at least one of tem) are actually the people who keep Tattletale informed about the moves of the Wardens.

    2. Why would Tt and Imp not tell her about it after Tt admitted Victoria’s files (that Imp tried to burn) were actually more complete than her own and they set up an info trade?
      Why would they not tell her when kids of their teams broke off to form their own?

      They are too intertwined by now to not warn her if they were the ones behind it.

    3. Tattletale didn’t think of any schemes like this in her viewpoint chapters, nor record any in the notes Chicken Little leaked, and I don’t think she has much of a motive anyway.

      Contessa is the obvious suspect, but she’s been missing from the story up to now. No way of knowing if she’s been working invisibly in the shadows, or doing Path to Victory: Retire from cape shit.

      I don’t think Dinah’s power could falsify a diary. She can find the set of actions that’s most likely to bring about the best possible future, but only through binary questions. You can’t create a long document with a power like that. Maybe if she had enough power amplifier trumps helping her, but those are more Teacher’s thing.

      I don’t think Teacher could pull it off either, not just with his own thinkers and tinkers. They’re too weak. If he had a proper oracle power, he could boost it until it worked, but unless he’s captured or recruited Dinah, I don’t think he does. Same for the kind of telepath power that could read Victoria’s mind, from distance, deeply enough to fake a diary. He does have a master/stranger who could have told Victoria to write the diary herself, and then forget about it, but I want to think Wildbow would have left some hint if that was happening.

      Then there’s the Simurgh. Could the Simurgh plant files on Victoria’s computer from a different world, using Kronos as some kind of interdimensional long-range antenna? Probably, but the timeline doesn’t match up. Could she do it from a different world without Kronos? Or could she plant files directly into Dragon, making her think she found them on Victoria’s computer days earlier? Could she send files into the PAST? I’m not gonna give a hard no, but it doesn’t seem very likely.

      Kenzie could probably have done it, though I have no idea why.

      Maybe Dragon’s finally turned evil?

      1. > Maybe if she had enough power amplifier trumps helping her, but those are more Teacher’s thing.

        I’d say that even if some trump amplified her power to perfect future-sight without any limitations, her power would still be ill-suited to such applications. Just imagine digging through all possible futures, infinitely branching at every possible action, to precisely craft some document (even if it’s a couple of short notes, let alone a long diary) to some precise purpose, without Contessa’s power which could provide you with a path to your goal.

        1. I was thinking find a good future, and then examine it to find out how it was accomplished. She can already do that, kind of, but she only gets very vague information and has a thinker headache for weeks afterwards. It sounds like a case where her power could do it, but has safety limiters set in to prevent it. Teacher could probably work with that.

          1. That’s more plausible, but not much – she would need to examine all the events which led to this future, and she still wouldn’t have a way to know exactly which flap of butterfly’s wings caused effects which are important for her (and whether it was even her butterfly and not someone else’s, which she has no control over). And neither does she have an ability to perfectly execute the selected path step by step.

  17. I think the beginning needs a bit of rewording. Didn’t realize there were others besides Vista, so when she said ‘Solarstare’ I thought it was some bad nickname for Vic with the star hood, and then she kept using it, then Vista started talking to herself, and my brain bluescreened. Took until the description of Solarstare’s body that I realized it was a 3rd person.

    “I looked in the direction the group had gone. I had enough bound up emotions that I wasn’t sure I trusted myself. Vista, at least, had found her way to my side. Backup of a sort.”

    Sounds like group left, Vista, stayed behind, no hint of Solarstare.

    Otherwise, wow. So much double-talk, even in a cool-down chapter.

    1. Since we left last chapter with Victoria talking to Dr. Yamada I was still in that mindset and was blown away with the shift in topic and vocable. Thankfully that was rather short, but it would have been clearer if Solarstare was introduced as getting close to the V-pair first.

    2. > I think the beginning needs a bit of rewording. Didn’t realize there were others besides Vista, so when she said ‘Solarstare’ I thought it was some bad nickname for Vic

      I think that causing this sort of initial confusion was intentional on Wildbow’s part. He did something like this multiple times before.

  18. I honestly think it was Kenzie. She would have easy access to place a “diary” on victoria’s computer. She could easily make it written like Victoria because remember KEnzie is pretty much always recording unless they specifically ask her to stop. So she could easily tinker up a program to mimic Victoria’s speech patterns.

    The harder question for Kenzie as a suspect is why? Maybe it was intentional? She got upset at Victoria getting Kenzie kicked out of her house and away from her parents (who were terrible but Kenzie has that addictive personality). Maybe this was a remnant of a goddess action that influenced Kenzie? Or maybe this was another one of Kenzie’s unintentional fuck ups where she ruins everything by not understanding boundaries and what is or isnt ok.

    1. I’m putting chips on Kenzie actually being a mastermind that manipulates through falsified evidence. A lot of her history would make as much sense from that persona as from the one she puts forward, and her motivations and personality are sufficiently larger-than-life to be an intentional smokescreen.

      Also, she seems like the only credible world-threat in the group: her facility with “inconveniently large boxes” is so broad that that she is providing more net value to her group than we see from any tinker but Dragon ever.

  19. Without having an eye to the fake diary’s content, my guess as to who would have the ability to do this thing as well as the motive to do this particular thing points to a well-meaning Kenzie (she’s done this before) or The Wretch.

    1. Id say a lot of people have the means to do this:

      Tattletale+Imp
      Teacher
      Yamada+Dragon
      Contessa
      Kenzie
      A ton more we havent really met yet.

  20. I know Victoria is basically convinced this was a successful attack, but I’m not so sure. Assuming neither Dragon nor Yamada lied as the story made its way to Victoria, it seems like it would require both a strong motivation and a lot of specific knowledge or prescience, for a seemingly minor payoff.

    The plan would depend on Dragon finding the file; I’m not sure why an attacker would bother planting the diary otherwise. They’d have to know that Dragon automatically searches computers she interacts with, and predict or engineer Victoria sharing files with Dragon. That narrows the suspects down a fair amount: Saint has studied Dragon, Thinker masterminds like Tattletale or Teacher could find out, Dragon’s scans might not be a closely guarded secret among the Wardens, maybe Citrine has learned enough as mayor. But only some of those could ensure that Dragon would scan Vicky’s computer, or convincingly forge her diary.

    It’s also a lot of risk and effort, and I don’t think most of the people who hate Victoria enough to bother (e.g. Nieves) could pull it off. And if the end goal was to hurt or destabilize Victoria, Breakthrough, their allies, or heroes generally, you’d think they’d forge more damning or polarizing evidence. Why pull punches, or drag it out, if they could have gone for the jugular? I guess it could be a slow boil timed to maximize chaos, or a *very* confident puppetmaster toying with their victim, or Teacher playing 5D chess. It could be a precog saving the world with a currently-inscrutable nudge– or ending it, or achieving literally any goal; butterfly effect etc.– but in a universe with precogs I imagine that’s *always* a possiblity.

    Other than as a step in a larger, mostly orthogonal plan, it doesn’t seem likely to be an attack. If it’s not an attack, it seems likely someone lied about the diary’s existence (maybe Dragon? Yamada seems like too bad a liar to be making it all up), but I’m kinda liking the possibility that the diary is real, but was never intended to be discovered, e.g. the shard or the Wretch wrote it.

    I’ve got some long-shot theories:
    – The diary is the expression of some new power her shard has picked up from another’s “waste”, maybe one that lets her brain interface with nearby computers, and the diary is subconscious (which I guess implies that, at some level, she has an abusive enough attitude towards her team to scare Jessica).

    – Kenzie wrote a fan-fic diary from Victoria’s perspective, then left it on her computer (for realism or something). Because it’s Kenzie, she would do way too thorough research– between the past-camera and sound-camera drones, I bet she could discover most of Vicky’s secrets– and she can plausibly gain access to Vicky’s computer very easily. She has a history of falsifying things that look very concerning but aren’t explicitly criminal; her idea of close friendship is frequently unsettling, and she’d most likely project that onto wish-fulfillment models of her friends. Kenzie-as-Victoria would obviously focus the most of her attention on Kenzie, which might explain why Jessica specifically warned Vicky not to show Kenzie. You’d think Yamada would recognize the similarities to Kenzie’s previous issues though, and beyond that, Kenzie does seem to have grown and to generally be doing better. Plus, it doesn’t really explain why she’d put it on Vicky’s computer.

    – Tangentially, Kenzie’s friend-bots were more advanced than she let on, and in fact were never discontinued. This better explains the diary’s presence on Vicky’s computer: Kenzie left VictoriaBot there in order to monitor her writing habits, learn her secrets, and better emulate her, and the diary is just a practice exercise it does. I suspect Dragon would catch this immediately, though.

    – The Simurgh has been known to alter data on its way to Dragon, though not on the scale of forging entire documents, but I think it’s easily within her power.

    1. The questions are knowledge and motivation, and when you take both into account the list is extremely small. I don’t think the ability to do it is as important as having a reason to, so it’s probably safe to chop most of that list away.

      Simurgh, Dinah, Contessa – we know they could, and we know they would if their power said so, but this doesn’t feel like Dinah’s work. She might’ve seen the future, but I never got the sense that her power let her be socially adept, or gave her the means to target people in a controlling way. She made predictions on probabilities, and she could only get a limited number of uses in a day. Doing something like a diary would represent a massive undertaking for her, and I don’t think it’d be quite as on-point as it’d need to be to convince close associates like that. If you’re convincing someone’s personal psychologist, we’re tracking into the realm of powers specifically designed to ace social deception rolls.

      Contessa could do this trivially, as we know. But, from her final words in Worm, I felt she was being more cautious with her power’s use, or at least selective. She could do this, sure. But I feel like she’d need a reason to, and for that she’d first need to have a goal. Which, sure, if she decided to ask “how to resolve the omnidimensional mountain of man,” for what are probably obvious reasons, and the answer included “write a hundred pages of subtly concerning diary entries and save the file on this computer at that time,” then yeah, that. Except, Contessa doesn’t just blindly follow her power anymore, and at a guess I’m thinking she’ll be looking for a reason to use it. Suddenly Dauntless is definitely a reason.

      Problem: the Simurgh being there ought to be blocking Contessa, as well as any other precogs. We also know that fiddling with electronic data at range is within her capabilities, extremely in-depth mind scans are the cornerstone of her favorite trick, and overly complicated schemes that turn people into weapons are her trademark. Going by the scenario alone, this ticks all the boxes for a Simurgh plot.

      Except, all of this apparently happened before the Simurgh started moving again. Which doesn’t mean she couldn’t have, but the situation with popping the time bubbles was blinding all thinkers. Powerful as she is, I don’t think she’d have known the outcome any more than Contessa or Dinah would have. I’m thinking that whatever Sims is up to, it involves Dauntless, and for it to involve Vicky as well she’d need to have acted at a point where her prediction would’ve been blocked.

      Kenzie could, in theory. And she would, in theory. However, Jessica seems to think otherwise, and she had to have considered the possibility just due to Kenzie’s past behavior being exactly that. Meaning, we can probably safely rule her out.

      Victoria’s shard seems like a likely suspect, excepting that we know it doesn’t have the fine control needed to operate a computer, and when it talked about the shard-bits it had there was no mention of anything involving computers. Also, mystery novels don’t generally show chapters from the culprit’s PoV, unless there’s some element to that person’s narration which would seem to rule them out on an initial read but which is damning in hindsight. Problem with waste-y is, while it might have the knowledge and has a plausible motivation, it lacks the ability. That is, unless shards have a lot more control over their host’s bodies than they let on, but that would… well, it’d kinda really very much extremely change the nature of the setting, in a way that makes no sense for anything before it. Seeing as the only example of a shard having total bodily control was one specifically allowed to do so (the Tinker 15 in Valkyrie’s interlude), I’m gonna say it isn’t likely.

      Still, yeah, Vicky’s shard’s part of that interlude really, really read like it might be the culprit, and probably hadn’t meant for it to be found. It’s just… why? Identity crisis or no, a shard isn’t going to need a computer, and her shard still self-identifies as a shard. I’d buy it if the poor thing thought it really was Vicky, but it doesn’t read like that’s the case.

      That pretty much rules out everyone, barring maybe Amy. Which, no, she’s had bigger fish to fry than stalking Vicky for however long it’d take to get a near-perfect read on how she could plausibly think about the rest of Breakthrough.

      Arrgh… the worst part is, I *know* there’s something I’m missing that ties this all together.

      1. You’re assuming that this diary actually exists — Jessica could be the victim of a master power planting false memories. Or she might have realized that Victoria wasn’t going to get off her back about whatever Jessica’s actually up to, so she made up this fake-diary story so that she could pretend to reluctantly throw Victoria a bone without actually revealing anything. Unfortunately, this would imply to me that whatever Jessica is dealing with is worse than than some kind of super-creep accurately forging an entire diary. She advised keeping Kenzie out of this as Kenzie would be able to prove that Jessica is lying.

        There is also, as others have mentioned, the possibility that this Jessica is an impostor. In that case, this imaginary diary could be meant as a way of unnerving Victoria and causing her to mistrust people, or simply as a way of distracting her with a wild goose chase.

        If the fake diary is real, then my guess is that it was the log from a friendly little surveillance program Kenzie set up to keep an eye on Victoria (including time-camera feature to account for the pre-meeting era of the diary). It disguises the log as Victoria’s diary and hides it on Victoria’s computer so that nobody finds it on Kenzie’s computer and gets all weird about it.

        My other main theory is that Dragon herself is the author. She may have concluded that Victoria is bad for Breakthrough but didn’t want to admit to all the spying she did to determine this. So, she took all the data she gathered and recast it into the format of a diary that she could conveniently “discover” and hand off to a professional. The idea here is that the diary is entirely or almost entirely based on actual observations, recorded conversations, etc., so that while the authorship is technically a lie, the contents are basically non-fiction and can be used to form valid conclusions.

        1. Yes, I am assuming the diary exists. Because Victoria was told where to find it, was expected to look for it, and was given a stipulation to not show it to Kenzie if she did read it (in the event Victoria was not truly at fault, and it says something that Jessica is open to the possibility).

          Saying the diary was something she made up in the moment is like saying “I’m mad at your for stealing my gold, which is currently located in your house at 221 S. Broadway street.” In what conceivable universe will the person accused not check up on that, just to figure out what the hell is going on?

          I mean, sure, it could be a trap, there could be an ambush waiting for her, whatever. But impersonating a close associate to several people in a social setting isn’t a power anyone we know has (barring Contessa), and I don’t think Wildbow would introduce a new character specifically to enable a subplot while it’s happening (that would be contrived). Short of Yamada being Teacher’d (entirely plausible – that’s his tech Kenzie’s using to breach dimensions) or otherwise mastered, and controlled well enough that a person who knows to look for such things in exactly this kind of scenario and has been in the same situation not long ago, wouldn’t catch on…

          This is without considering the other people referenced, who would be able to corroborate the story if asked. Dragon, for instance, and one could imagine Defiant would know something about it, what with how close the two are.

          Occam’s Razor: there is a diary. It simply takes fewer assumptions, and fits the evidence as presented.

          1. Saying the diary was something she made up in the moment is like saying “I’m mad at your for stealing my gold, which is currently located in your house at 221 S. Broadway street.” In what conceivable universe will the person accused not check up on that, just to figure out what the hell is going on?

            Sure. But that’s the point: it gives Victoria something concrete she can go do instead of lashing out at Jessica in the here and now. It doesn’t need to hold up over the long term; it just needs to buy her a little bit of time to get away from Victoria. Besides, if she’s already talked about this with Dragon as a contingency or thinks she can convince her to play along before Victoria gets around to questioning her, the lie would actually hold up pretty well. Victoria would be more likely to assume that the lack of a fake diary on her computer is due to the forger deleting it before she could read it so as to deny her the ability to dig into the details and find contradictions that would disprove it.

            That said, I’m leaning toward the diary being real, because that would make for a much more interesting story.

            But impersonating a close associate to several people in a social setting isn’t a power anyone we know has (barring Contessa)

            Actually, Satyr is rather good at doing just that.

        2. I can’t believe Dragon would do something like that. I personally consider her the most consistently moral hero in Worm OR Ward.

          That said; fooling her can’t be easy. My bet is on Teacher, Chris (acting with/for someone else), or Vic’s shard (somehow).

        3. Okay, but: this necessitates a conspiracy to hold up for longer than a couple hours, with one of the conspirators being Dragon herself. Sure, it’s useful in the short-term, but it paints an enormous target over Jessica’s head. Either she, or the individual impersonating/mastering her, would need to be incredibly short-sighted to put themselves in a situation where Victoria, all her numerous contacts, and potentially an unshackled AI, are compelled to investigate. It just doesn’t seem reasonable, even outside the context of a narrative.

          Actually, Satyr is rather good at doing just that.

          That kinda leads back into my point, though. This situation would require powers to engineer (or Atlus-tier skill), which makes it even less likely that Jessica is lying or compromised. If she’s faking (and assuming she didn’t trigger off-screen), she demonstrably doesn’t have the necessary skills, and had to have known Victoria would investigate – which leads back to painting a target on Yamada’s head if the diary turned out to not exist. Victoria is hurt, confused, and has superpowers with an enforced conflict libido: Jessica is probably the one person in the setting we can be absolutely sure knows what all of that entails.

          If she’s mastered, the number of powers that could convincingly pull off this scenario are even slimmer: Teacher’s power makes them dumber, Goddess’s only works on parahumans, Valefor’s is forced compliance and wouldn’t hold up to debate (becomes increasingly obvious as the affected has a harder time talking around probing questions), and emotion manipulation wouldn’t have a basis in logic (ie. wouldn’t have actual reasons behind the change in emotional state). The situation is just incredibly unlikely. Not impossible, but if it were the case then the situation alone would be enough to identify the culprit, just due to what all is necessary to make it work.

          If she’s an imposter, we’re again looking at a narrow list of suspects, with Satyr as a good example. There are very few parahumans (that we know of) who could pull off this act so convincingly, and the ones we do know of would have to literally come out of nowhere just to do it. Sure, there’s probably a changer/bodysnatcher running around who we’ve never heard of, and it’s not impossible they could complement that power with natural acting skill, but that isn’t how foreshadowing works. (Yeah, I’m aware my reasoning here is strictly meta-narrative. There isn’t an in-setting reason why this exact scenario couldn’t happen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the first thing a character suspected – save that it’d do weird things to narrative flow if not handled adeptly.)

          Speaking meta, yeah it’s unlikely the diary doesn’t exist because it’d (probably) make for a less interesting story. But I feel like it wouldn’t make sense in-setting, either.

    2. > The plan would depend on Dragon finding the file; I’m not sure why an attacker would bother planting the diary otherwise. They’d have to know that Dragon automatically searches computers she interacts with, and predict or engineer Victoria sharing files with Dragon. That narrows the suspects down a fair amount

      I don’t think that the circle of suspects is as narrow as you may think. Anyone monitoring volume (just volume, not contents) of Dragon-related internet traffic (something any ISP would probably be able to do), would be able to sooner or later figure out that Dragon searches all computers she connects to as a standard procedure.

      As for knowing that Dragon would access Victoria’s computer in foreseeable future, all you would need to do to accomplish that would be to either suggest Citrine to tell Dragon to give those files or even simpler – overhear Victoria’s conversation with Citrine, when the latter promised the former to do so, or read the message Dragon send to Victoria in chapter 10.11 promising to deliver the files later.

      I don’t remember the details of how the conversation between Citrine and Victoria was conducted, but anyone with an access to Victoria’s laptop and a way to break in could read that message from chapter 10.11. Both Ashleys had such access, especially Damsel, since Victoria probably left her computer in their flat with Damsel more than once. Judging from Glow-worm Ashleys are not computer savvy at all, but all Damsel would need is a help of a hacker who knows exploits in Victoria’s laptop OS, or to simply manage to see Victoria typing her password in once, and for Dragon to miss that Victoria’s mail program was accessed while Victoria was out of her home without the laptop.

      In other words – no matter how well your computer or internet traffic is secured, you can be easily hacked if you live with a person who is a potential security breach, and don’t carefully look who’s standing behind you each time you type in your password (assuming Victoria’s computer is even protected by one, but I don’t think she would be stupid enough not to do it).

      By the way – here is another way Love Lost could learn about the Undersiders-Breakthrough meeting Sidepiece and Disjont spied upon – Damsel could simply tell either Love Lost, or her anti-parahuman friends. She knew it was supposed to happen, she probably knew where and when exactly, and we know from interlude 11.a that she was the only person from Victoria’s flat who wasn’t at that meeting, so she could simply call Love Lost or her friends as soon as everyone else has left and tell them those details.

      The fact that Sidepiece noted in her narration in interlude 11.a that Damsel didn’t take part in that meeting would even suggest that Sidepiece knew that Damsel was directly or indirectly working with Love Lost.

      1. Sure, it’s definitely possible for a mundane hacker to have both planted the diary and predicted its discovery (though it would probably have taken powers to write it so convincingly). But I don’t know if that widens the pool of suspects much; I don’t think we’ve seen any unpowered hackers in the story so far, so it’d be kind of an ass-pull unless they were working for someone we’ve met (e.g. Nieves could plausibly hire a hacker– but he definitely couldn’t have written the diary himself, and why would he hire 2+ accomplices for so convoluted a revenge?). Also, they’re on the janky, piecemeal, unreliable post-apocalyptic internet so I’m not sure if ISPs even exist anymore (it sounded like the new internet was more distributed, out of necessity). There’s probably still somebody managing infrastructure, but I imagine they’re just trying to put out fires and keep the damn thing running, and don’t have time for much traffic analysis (or Dragon has taken on some or all of that responsibility, in which case it’s secure af).

        1. Actually if I remember correctly non-powered hackers were suspected of sending fake messages to the Navigators and Super Magic Dream Parade in order to lure them into places where they could be attacked. The Navigators took the bait and were cut into pieces with Cradle’s tinker-gun.

          Sure, sending a couple of fake e-mails may not seem like much, but remember that it had to be done in such a way that nothing and no one policing the Internet to catch this sort of thing (like Dragon’s bots probably do) would notice anything before it was too late.

    3. They can’t go for more damning evidence, because the evidence they’re planting is fake. The evidence is going to be scrutinised closely, and they’ll ask people who know Antares what they think. She’s a genuinely good person, one who disagrees with killing, drugs use and all that sort of thing. Planting a fake diary that paints Victoria as a wannabe dealer who is using Breakthrough to dispose of the competition is going to be trashed very quickly, no matter how well-written and genuine it is, for the simple fact that Vicky’s never used drugs she wasn’t prescribed, and doesn’t have a history of criminal contacts except the violent sort.

      They went for the most damning evidence they could, and it’s working.

      1. They probably didn’t go for more damning evidence also because it would take less time to prove that the diary is fake. Unless whoever made the diary is a complete fool, they can’t expect that this lie will stick forever. Unless they simply want to cause Victoria some grief because they hate her, the aim probably isn’t to take Victoria out of the picture for good, but to restrict what she can do for just enough time to do something else she could prevent if her reputation was spotless.

        Considering that there are probably not that many things that Victoria can do that nobody else can (everything from leading team Breakthrough to the hero network could probably be handled adequately by someone else for a while), I think it is likely that more heroes will be attacked in similar ways in near future. That is unless she knows something critical that she could use to prevent whatever the person or people behind the diary are planning that she could use to stop them only if she shared this information and people who know about the diary believed her (which they may not with their current suspicions).

        Alternatively whoever wrote the diary could count on Victoria reacting to the accusations in a way that would help them achieve their actual goals. Just another reason for Victoria to act carefully and, if possible, unpredictably. Question is – is it likely that not telling her team and contacting Tattletale instead the thing people behind the diary expect Victoria to do, or not?

        1. There’s an additional reason to keep it simple. Whilst we’ve not seen Antares and Dragon interact much, they have both interacted with a lot of people from the same city, and one of them is Dragon’s… partner, in many different meanings of the word, so Dragon won’t have to go far to find character witnesses who could rule out anything more extreme.

          1. Considering how many people knew Victoria in Brockton Bay, I don’t think that Dragon would need to depend exclusively on Defiant to be her character witness. Vista is a good example. If the diary was too outlandish Breakthrough members could tell things about Victoria that wouldn’t match the diary even if they didn’t know that the diary existed in the first place. It would just come down to asking them right questions about Victoria. This is probably why Jessica talked to them before talking to Victoria. Heck – in extreme cases Jessica would protest that nothing in the diary fits what she knows about Victoria.

          2. Come to think of it, at this point Jessica probably knows Victoria much better then Defiant does, so she may be a better character witnesses then him.

          3. Vista probably wouldn’t be trusted not to bring it up with Victoria. But yes, I was using Defiant only as an example. There’s a lot of overlap in their social circles, even if they’ve only met… I think three times in canon? Once during Leviathan, when they didn’t get to talk to each other, once during the alert when Kenzie went to have a look at the Dragoncraft whilst Vic spoke to Defiant and once over the phone when Dragon sent Jessica’s files.

          4. Well, there are plenty of other character witnesses who could be probed with some questions about Victoria (without even necessarily explaining them anything about the diary, just asking them what sort of person Victoria is in their opinion, how did their interactions with her looked like – if done carefully enough they could never even notice that you are fishing for some particular information about Victoria’s character). It was probably one of the bigger reasons why it took Jessica entire three weeks to confront Victoria.

          5. I imagine that of the ways to do it could be to ask people not about Victoria herself, but about team Breakthrough in general and let them bring the topic of Victoria themselves. There are enough capes with obvious problems in Breakthrough that it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Jessica asked about this team, especially since they used to be her patients.

        2. Finally, if the opposition really wants to destroy Victoria for good, then the diary would be just the first thing they would do. From this point on they would commit some crimes or other serious misdeeds that Victoria could do with her position, knowledge, skills and resources to make her an obvious suspect. This would not only let them get away with those deeds, but also have Victoria be accused and punished for them. In other words Victoria would be framed.

          I’ve mentioned elsewhere one example of things that could be done to frame Victoria – using information found in Victoria’s capes files against other capes (for example publishing parts of those files that contain things that should be kept secret anonymously or under Victoria’s name). If Victoria’s reputation was good, she could probably convince everyone that this information was stolen from her, but in current situation it is possible that nobody would believe her explanations.

          Yet another aim could be to temporarily weaken Breakthrough. As I said – someone else could probably adequately lead the team instead of Victoria (the team even has two other nominal leaders), but it probably wouldn’t function as well – imagine how much arguments are likely to happen between Tristan and Ashley over every little decision. With Wardens back and Bunker getting new portals, Breakthrough may not be as important to heroes ability to respond to threats anymore, but if someone wanted to do something to one of the Breakthrough members or associates, making sure that Victoria can’t lead first would be the way to go.

          Imagine for example if some Fallen wanted to go after Rain. How much easier would it be to do if Victoria couldn’t lead the team?

    4. Good point re: relying on Dragon finding the file. AND not finding it fake, Dragon’s probably pretty tough to fool like that.

      1. Remember that Victoria’s shard wants to prove itself and believes that if they can find some way to synergise, they’d lay waste to all opposition.

        And the shard writes about Amy? Well, if anyone has the power to bring about synergy between Vicky and her shard, it’s Amy.

        Jessica being the catalyst of a lot of vicky feeling conflicted right now might not work out for the best.

        Alos, I foresee the beginnings of a tacit frenemyship between Victoria and Tattletale, the latter of whom I believe will be suspected and lambasted by a distrustful Victoria. Tehn, tattletale, knowign what;s at stake does the only thng she can,

        “Nothing I cna do could convince you huh, well how about this?” said tattletale, reaching behind her head and untying her mask, letting it fall away.. “Hello gloryhole, my name is Lisa Wilbourn, aka Sarah Livesey.”

        ….

        “You killed my father, prepare to die!”
        Lisa/Vicky. “Fuck off, Imp!”

    1. If we’ve been reading this “nonexistent” diary, then Dragon and Jessica should have known that something was off, both because it is way too much to write for someone working as a full-time hero in such short time, and because it contains non-Victoria PoVs that probably not only make too much sense to be a product of Victoria’s imagination (unless she’s secretly been a writer as good as Wildbow), but also contain easily verifiable information that Victoria couldn’t have known (unless Victoria is just as secretly a precog and a telepath with range which rivals Clairvoyant and Ziz).

      1. The interludes obviously aren’t part of Victoria’s diary. We’re not reading the original manuscript (let alone the outdated version Jessica got), but rather an abridged copy of the Deluxe Edition that Dragon assembled years later by combining Victoria’s diary with a bunch of snippets from the various other diaries she’s since collected.

        1. Does it mean that Victoria’s and March’s shards are eventually wrote their diaries? And if Worm is also such collection of diaries does it mean that Scion and Brutus wrote their too? And that Doctor Mother also managed to write one about her experience with Clairvoyant before her death?

          1. Good point. In fact, most interludes are in third-person, so it’s clear that those are not original diary content after all. Dragon is a prolific borrower, however, and Lookout has already proven that she can both view the past and peek inside people’s heads at the same time. That’s an important combination, since the interludes are in third-person limited rather than third-person objective and some amount of head-peeking was therefor required.

          2. Considering whose perspectives we are talking about here, and what those people saw, I suspect that Rachel, Ciara and Simurgh were also among the co-authors.

  21. Here is a thought, just to question out assumptions about what we saw earlier.

    What if Tattletale’s notes Chicken Little found at the end of 10.z were not thing that Tattletale’s power told her, but things that she was told by her clients and informants instead? What if for example Faultline came to Tattletale, because she noticed something in Dinah’s behavior that indicated a fundamental change of motives? Maybe it was also Faultline who gave Tattletale information about some or even all of those other people?

    Maybe the reason why Tattletale and Faultline seemd to have parted ways after arc 10, and the reason behind Imp’s attack on Breakthrough in chapter 11.3 is that Chicken Little sent those notes in unencrypted mail to Kenzie, and that mali has been intercepted by a third party (likely the anti-parahumans, if my theory about who could be behind Victoria’s fake diary is correct), and leaked to wider audience? It could be that Faultline broke most contacts with Tattletale at that point, because information Faultline provided Tattletale with was supposed to be kept secret by Tt, and Faultline believed that Tattletale was responsible for the leak?

    If I’m right, then whoever Snuff is, may be a person Faultline trusts more than Tattletale at this point. It could be why Contessa and Dinah were mentioned on Gimel side of the portal station right before Cradle was captured – Snuff and the member of Faultline’s Crew who were there discussed Faultline’s suspicions about Tattletale at that moment, and Kenzie’s camera caught that discussion. Maybe even Tattletale told Snuff to stay behind precisely because she thought that he was the only Undersider Faultline would approach at that situation to ask for explanations, and Tattletale wanted Snuff to defend her in Faultline’s eyes?

    1. It could also explain Lisa’s cryptic message. Maybe those characters were Lisa’s encrypted orders for Snuff? Maybe when the Heartboken girls were visiting Kenzie at the hospital Roman asked Rain to forward any such messages to Snuff if he saw them, and keep quiet not tell his other team members (or at least Victoria) about it? Tattletale could use Roman ask Rain to do something like that as a favor, if she was afraid that Chicken Little and Kenzie could do something like what they ended up doing, and Rain did owe Tattletale a favor for not informing Snag that she helped Rain while Snag was her client.

      1. I think I may have managed to connect a few more dots.

        Remember that Tattletale’s notes seen in Aiden’s interlude contained information about whereabouts of Valkyrie, Chevalier and Legend. I think it is unlikely that this sort of info could have come from Faultline. It would have to come from someone in high position within the Wardens. Who would pass this sort of sensitive information to Tattletale?

        Dragon and Defiant.

        Think of it – in light of their close relationship with Taylor it makes perfect sense for those two to work with Tattletale. And if they shared this sort of info with Tattletale (plus possibly the exact time of Wardens’ return from their off-world missions, which explains how Tattletale could spy on them in her interlude), then they would also share their concerns about the diary Dragon found in Victoria’s computer.

        From that point we just need to assume that Tattletale informed some other people on her team about the situation (at least Imp an Foil), and a lot of things suddenly start making sense:

        1. Tattletale called in a favor with Rain, because she wanted to be able to have someone within Breakthrough to act as her agent in emergency.

        2. In his conversation with Roman, Rain might have let it slip about that Kenzie’s tech could be incapacitated for a while without being destroyed.

        3. Knowing about the Tattletale obviously wanted Chicken Little and the Heartboken kids to have as little to do with Breakthrough as possible. It wasn’t just about her concerns about Kenzie, it was even more about concerns about Victoria.

        4. Tattletale told Chicken Little that the Undersiders may need to fight against Breakthrough precisely because of those concerns; it also explains why during the Breakthrough-Undersiders meeting right after Imp’s Tattletale seemed to be more unhappy with having to work with Victoria than any other Breakthrough members, and why she wanted to limit contact between CL and Kenzie as much as possible, even though earlier she had no problem with him visiting Kenzie at the hospital.

        5. The main objective of Imp’s attack was to get Victoria’s laptop intact. Water poured on tinkertech in Breakthrough HQ was to give Tattletale a few hours during which she could study contents of that laptop without having to worry that it would ne traced by Breakthrough. Gasoline poured on Victoria’s files was to act as a division, and possibly to make an impression that Undersiders wanted to destroy, not study contents of that laptop.

        6. Foil was Undersiders’ representative during the meeting of heroes with mayor not just to relay Tattletale’s information, but also keep an eye on Victoria’s behavior wor anything worrying (since she used to know Glory Girl, she is probably one of the Undersiders best equipped to do it), and to compare notes with Citrine regarding suspicions about Victoria (or just inform Citrine about them, if she wasn’t informed before).
        Possible good news 1. – if those two listened in on Victoria’s conversation with Weld at the same time, either of them could have directly (in Citrine’s case) or indirectly through Tattletale (in Foil’s case) inform Dragon and Defiant about Weld and Sveta’s problem, and D&D could already be working on a body for Sveta that would be good enough to satisfy Weld.

        7. Tattletale didn’t take part in planning the attack on Cradle, Love Lost and March, because she used that opportunity to carefully watch Breakthrough team dynamic and Victoria’s behavior instead.
        Possible good news 2. – the fact that Victoria agreed to plan of other people in the room instead of pushing her own probably made Tattletale much less worried about Victoria than she was before then.

        8. Foil, Chastity and Candy ended up working with Victoria on taking down Love Lost, because it let Foil continue to keep her eye on Victoria, and because all three of those could take out Victoria in three different ways – Chastity with no negative side effects, but only if Victoria was taken by surprise, Foil and Candy – even if Victoria was in full combat mode with Wretch up, though in their case there would be lasting side-effects.

        9. I think that at some point Victoria suggested to Foil to ditch the Undersiders and work with her instead, and Foil’s reaction was more or less along the lines of “Not now. Maybe later depending on how things turn out”. I can’t find that fragment now, so don’t quite me on it, but if it’s true, then it could be that the reason about Foil’s hesitation was that at that point she was unsure if Victoria could be trusted.

        1. 10. It is possible that Foil was worried when Victoria gave her a gun not just because she doesn’t like using guns (after all she admitted that she spent at least some time at the shooting range, just not enough in her opinion), or because she knew that she would need to injure herself to use the gun in combination with Sting, but because Victoria’s proposition looked exactly like the sort of thing that would confirm suspicions about Victoria people would have about her after reading the fake diary.

          11. If I remember correctly, Tattletale stated more than once that she took part in planning and executing attack on Love Lost, Cradle and March only to protect the kids. Imp seemed to be focused on that more than on anything else too. It could be that they were not worried just about the danger from the villains, but also from Breakthrough, especially Victoria.

        2. Re. 5. From chapter 11.03:

          The lighter flicked closed. “I’m not here to talk.”

          “We had a good working relationship a couple of days ago.”

          “That was then,” she said. “Put the computer down. You’re going to tear out the hard drive.”

          I think that proves my point about the objective of Imp’s raid. To look for the diary the Undersiders wouldn’t need the whole laptop itself. The hard drive would be enough, maybe even safer to take, because there is less chance it could be tracked then the whole computer. But Imp went to great risk and effort to get either the laptop or the drive itself. This means that the Undersiders had to be looking for something on that drive, and what would that be? Victoria’s cape archive? I doubt it considering that Imp was supposedly about to torch its full version, and later Tattletale sounded actually impressed with Victoria’s information. This means that the Undersiders did not consider that archive to be of particular value before, and as such had to be looking for something else on that computer. The diary fits.

          1. And if Imp just wanted to make sure that Victoria had no copy of Chicken Little’s e-mail and attached Tattletale’s notes, why wouldn’t she just destroy Victoria’s hard drive as soon as possible instead of having Victoria rip it out intact?

          2. Not to mention that there was little reason to destroy any copies of the e-mail at that point, since it’s contents had apparently already been leaked.

    2. > It could be that Faultline broke most contacts with Tattletale at that point, because information Faultline provided Tattletale with was supposed to be kept secret by Tt, and Faultline believed that Tattletale was responsible for the leak?

      I’ve just taken a look at chapter 10.3, and it looks that two members of Faultline’s crew were present at the Breakthrough-Undersiders meeting after Imp’s attack. Could it be that Tattletale invited them to let them see for themselves that she wasn’t the source of the leak?

  22. For goodness sakes Dragon:

    1. Stop spying on everyone who you approach about sharing information.
    2. If you must do that, stop giving the info you gain out to civilian therapists instead of actual authorities.

    Dragon always had problems with privacy, it seems they have only worsened since the apocalypse.

    1. This is probably the main reason why Jessica is even giving Victoria a benefit of a doubt, but since Victoria is just a regular person, and not some wizard, when it comes to computers, Jessica can’t exclude the possibility that Victoria could be naive enough to put such sensitive data there, especially since she probably carries plenty of other things that shouldn’t be leaked there – like parts of her cape files archive.

    2. (Got an error? I hope this won’t be a double post)

      And Jessica immediately qualifies and normalizes(?) this transgression. “An automatic thing she does”, “her bot flagg[ed] certain lines”. She doesn’t seem to acknowledge it as a breach of trust and a violation of privacy (if it was necessary or not). Even your diary has to hold up to inspection anytime, siryessir.

      Personally I couldn’t work with those people after something like this. I almost hope there is another Master manipulator in play

      1. I wouldn’t read too much into it. She’s been working with some pretty horrible capes throughout her life. She knows that such measures are sometimes necessary, and she trusts Dragon to make the right judgement calls when it comes to such things. If she couldn’t trust the former warden of Birdcage, then who? Not to mention that she is working for the Wardens who currently take part in exiling people too dangerous to hold in prison to alternate Earth – once again, she accepts that sometimes extraordinary measures ARE necessary.

        Notice that she also didn’t question Dragon’s decision to share her notes on Breakthrough members with Victoria. Again – similar logic, in that situation Victoria had to know.

      2. Thats a very good point. Taking that breach of trust as something normal but treating Vic as a pariah without even giving her the actual accusation and a chance to explain herself?

        Yamada certainly isnt on the moral high ground her. And Dragon is walking Villain territory there.

  23. This makes no sense and Victoria and Jessica should see why.

    If she had a diary, something she wanted no one to read, she would never put it on a computer that she then gives Dragon access to.

    1. Sorry, I tried to respond to this comment, but accidentally posted my thoughts on the topic as a response to Glassware’s comment above.

  24. [ previous chapter ends with Jessica meeting BT and leaving Victoria out ]
    – I can explain it all, if you’re interested. You’re a fucky sort of monster, Antares, alright?
    [ me: errrr, WHAT THE F– ]
    – …you suck at explanations, Solarstare.
    [ uh, thank Cthulhu it wasn’t Jessica %) though the actual conversation with her didn’t go much better… ]

    By the way, it would be interesting if the diary in question belonged to Victoria’s shard. Not that I see how could it be possible within existing rules, but still…
    (but then it would be a HUGE fuck-up for a therapist not to see anything off in a diary written by an alien)

  25. Just imagined myself in Victoria’s situation here and cried for like five minutes. That shit’s TERRIFYING. Great job!!

  26. Why is everybody so focused on the diary?
    Maybe Yamada just made that up? To throw Vic and build up a smokescreen?

    Because their conversation made no sense if there actually is one.

    Yamada knows Vic for a long time and trusted her enough to put BT into her hands. Now she drops her because there is a file with some strangely fitting facts and thats it?
    If there is that diary, why not mention it right front?
    “Victorya, there was a diary found on your computer with a lot of fitting facts that implicates you in questionable matters. I am sure this is fake but could you help me clarify a few things?”
    THAT is how she would tackle that. Because that would disarm Vic, maybe give her additional facts to work with and if it is REALLY fake: no harm no foul.

    However Vics reaction didnt make sense either. Why lie to BT? Why not just tell them: “someone fudged a diary and let Dragon find it. I have to prove my innocence.”
    Lying there is just the stupid ball bouncing again.
    And Dragon is right there in the Bunker. Why not go to her and ask “Hey, you found a fake journal on my computer, right? Could you tell me what was in there? Any hints how this could have been faked?”

    They are all Heroes: If they abandon each other so easily they would have been vanquished a long time ago. And why would Villains fight the Heroes if a few Precogs/Thinkers with a few fake letters could get the same results?

    1. If I’m right then the diary has been written largely based on what Victoria wrote in the asylum. Texts that Jessica would be very familiar with. Considering that in arc 1 of Ward Victoria and Jessica probably met for the first time since Gold Morning and didn’t interact that much since then, such diary could look very believable to Jessica – she just doesn’t know that much about how Victoria has changed since then.

    2. > However Vics reaction didnt make sense either. Why lie to BT? Why not just tell them: “someone fudged a diary and let Dragon find it. I have to prove my innocence.”

      Agreed. But Victoria might be just not thinking straight after her conversation with Yamada, it somewhat makes sense for her not to make sense. Maybe we’ll see her going to Dragon in the next chapter.

      1. Victoria indicated that she believed that “someone was playing a subtle game to fuck with us and attack us at our core”, and “it was possible there was more subtle work going on in the background.” Counteracting something like this would require plenty of subtlety too. Most if not all members of team Breakthrough other than Victoria suck at being subtle, and Victoria isn’t that much better too.

        Telling her team could easily backfire in unpredictable ways. What Victoria needs is someone who can play the subtle game, and Tattletale is one of the better people when it comes to that. Possibly the best available to Victoria right now. Remember – when facing a possible Thinker (or anyone pulling strings from the shadows, and I think that the author of the diary qualifies even if they are technically not Thinkers) it more often than not pays off to appear defeated until you are ready to go for their throats. It is really the same principle that was used to defeat people like Coil or March.

        1. In other words if other Breakthrough members knew what’s going on, they would probably want to take decisive action now, and that would probably mean playing straight into the hands of the opposition. Victoria knows understands that much at least, so she is looking for support of someone who can figure out what the situation is exactly without triggering whatever other traps have been set up by the enemy (or at least triggering them in such way that whoever is targeted would avoid the worst consequences).

          This also explains why so far can see “only” some attack on Victoria’s reputation. This is probably just a first step of a larger plan, and the damage can potentially hit far more people than just Victoria and the circle of her closest friends and allies.

          1. I wrote about it elsewhere, but let me stress it here one more time, because it seems relevant to the line of thought in my two posts right above – if I’m right and it is Damsel working with Nieves and people like the anti-parahumans and detective Love Lost, then at this point they may have not only complete archives of the parahuman asylum updated with history of it’s patients after their release, but also a large part (if not entirety) of Victoria’s cape files.

            In other words they have plenty of ammunition that can be used against a lot of capes.

          2. I think that at least part of the reason why the opposition may want to wait for Victoria to act rashly could be that they want her to be blamed, or at least to become the main suspect, once they start using her files against other capes.

        2. Playing a subtly lying game with your allies when you are accused of double dealings and lying? That cant go wrong, right?
          And Tattletale? The one who got double crossed by her very own mercenary mooks??? If that is her best bet poor Vic can just as well lie down and die.

          1. Look at my posts above, and imagine what would happen if a motormouth like Kenzie would learn that there supposedly is a diary painting Victoria as some sort of a monster. Sure, Kenzie wouldn’t believe that the diary is authentic for a second, but in next twenty four hours all capes in the city would know that there could be such diary, and not all of them would be as convinced about Victoria’s innocence.

            Imagine what would happen if at that moment someone started using Victoria’s archives to hit other capes’ reputation. Who would be blamed then?

          2. And the best thing is that those transparent walls of the jail next to the Bunker are working against Victoria now. It is enough that just one cape held inside saw that Victoria met with Dragon and Yamada, and let someone outside know that such meeting happened for the enemy to know that it is time to use those files.

            And it is not like those villains won’t be able to do it. All it would take is a small gesture in the right direction made by one of those capes on the way to, in, or on the way from a court. I can even name a cape in that jail who is likely to do it, because she already seemed involved with Damsel (as I explained above), not to mention she had a perfect view of a lot of what happened – Love Lost.

          3. Heck, she wouldn’t even need to leave her cell. All she would need to do is to meet a secretly anti-parahuman lawyer or a similar visitor.

          4. And Love Lost wouldn’t even need to see the exact moment when Victoria met Jessica. It would be enough for her to see Victoria an Jessica around the same time. She saw Victoria when she was on her way to Colt, and we know that Jessica had arrived to do a psychological profile of Colt, so it is safe to assume that Love Lost already Jessica too.

          5. The fact that Love Lost finally saw a person in Rain doesn’t need to mean that Love Lost’s plans regarding Victoria went to trash after all… All it means is that there is a chance that at some point she will have a change of heart, and explain the entire Damsel/Nieves/anti-parahuman/Love Lost conspiracy I suspect, acting as a witness who can prove Victoria’s innocence.

          6. And finally if Love Lost had access to the same files Nieves did, then she could easily have written the fake diary herself. As a good detective she should be able to create a believable diary based on such data, and as a tinker she could even have the skills necessary to guide Damsel through the process of inserting that file into Victoria’s laptop.

            This means that maybe Nieves isn’t even needed in this particular conspiracy. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Love Lost messed with Victoria’s laptop before Victoria messed with Love Lost’s? It could even explain how Love Lost knew so quickly that Breakthrough was in Lyme Center. All she would need to do is to have Damsel install a tracking program in Victoria’s laptop before chapter 10.7, which she could do, because it is probably the least secure computer Rain’s team, and we know how much she loved Rain then.

          7. It would also lead to alternative explanation why Damsel took part in the battle against Cradle (to make sure that Love Lost survived it, or quite opposite – that Love Lost died – see below why), and why Damsel left when she did – as soon as Love Lost was captured, Damsel knew that she could easily take over whatever was left of LLs organization. Her only potential competitor would be Nailbiter, and it is possible that those two had already some agreement in place in case Love Lost was no longer able or willing to lead.

          8. Alternatively if Nailbiter couldn’t be dealt with, Damsel could have an agreement with Sidepiece and Disjont to betray and capture or kill Nailbiter.

          9. Either way I doubt that in this scenario Damsel would limit herself to taking over Love Lost’s group. If all of that data from Victoria’s files and from whatever anti-parahumans have was to be used to attack multiple heroes, it would cause quite a Distress among them and seriously limit their ability to respond to any threats for a while, wouldn’t it? In fact I would go as far as to say that it would be Boston Games all over again, and we know how Damsel loves and performs in such chaos.

          10. And if you still want Garry Nieves, he could still fit in this scenario too, just in a different role – not as the author of he diary, but as a person who helps Damsel select and prepare to publish the dirt they have on capes in such way that it would cause most chaos. It’s even possible that they would start using this data not only against the heroes, but against all capes who Damsel would want to mess with (which could even mean all capes in the City who refuse to join her).

      2. Another reason not to tell Breakthrough about the diary. It comes from Yamada, but there is a good chance Victoria agrees with her on that point, or at least wants to see the diary herself, and maybe discuss it with someone like Tattletale, before making decision to tell her teammates:

        I haven’t brought it up with the team, out of concern of outright devastating them, and on the off chance you are innocent, then I would ask you to keep Kenzie out of it. Reading that would disturb her.

  27. I just got this idea about Teacher, Valefor and Scapegoat. I don’t know if someone suggested this possibility, but what if what Teacher had Scapegoat do wasn’t about finding a way to lift Teacher’s master effect on Valefor, but to lift the compulsion to be loyal to Mama Mathers Valefor placed on himself?

    Maybe Valefor has been mastered again after Scapegoat’s interlude, but this time he is loyal exclusively to Teacher?

  28. “…Look, whatever course I’d want to take when I deal with hypothetical fucky monster Antares, there’re a few things I want, right? I want protection, and I want to get there before anyone else,”

    So, prior to Dragon sharing the file on Chris, presumably well before then.

    The way I see it, either the diary is fake, and it fooled Dragon and Jessica, or it’s some shade or another of being “real”.

    Key suspects for faking the diary, mostly by sheer proximity: Lookout, Chris, and Jessica. Maybe Teacher, possibly with the motive of getting the portal tech, but then Lookout would be the more direct target.

    Key suspects for inducing Vic to write/forget about the diary include Amy or Chris (I question if either have fine enough control to do something that detailed), but I don’t think either would do that. Given Vic’s known lack of control over The Wretch, I suppose that’s also a possibility.

    Tattletale is not the culprit, we know she was running herself flat keeping The Undersiders stable. A long-term swindle for minor gains by her standards.

    Gary Nieves + Chiet might’ve faked it, but they were’t noticing Breakthrough until after Hollow Point, not quick enough to pull a fast one on Dragon like that. Sloppy seconds, as Solarstare put it.

    I guess if I had to pick one suspect, while Mrs. Yamada was AWOL for quite some time prior to being rescued along with Riley/Bonesaw, and Victoria seems like the meta narrative pick, I guess I’ll go with Chris, since the only real motive I can think of is controlling the portal tech, and he has the foresightedness to prepare unnecessary countermeasures far enough ahead of time. I don’t think Dinah would easily choose this approach.

    1. Victoria’s a better target for this sort of thing than Lookout. Kenzie’s a Tinker specialising in surveillance/counter-surveillance, and she’s got enough shard-boosted computing knowhow to program bots that act enough like AI that Dragon queries Kenzie about them. If Kenzie doesn’t have a home-built anti-virus that’s good enough to stop non-Tinker hacking attempts, I’d be surprised.

      I think it was Chris, but that’d raise the question of how it was still up to date when Dragon looked at it.

    2. About Solarstare’s explanation:

      “I’m great at explanations,” Solarstare said. “To start with, you have to get your audience’s attention, no matter how distracted they clearly are.”

      “You did a pretty good job of that,” I said.

      “You also fucked up your credibility pretty hard,” Vista said.

      “Then you earn it back,” Solarstare said.

      Maybe it is a quite literal explanation of motives behind making the fake diary?

      Maybe the diary was created to grab Victoria’s attention, to make her find whoever made the diary, and demand explanations? Maybe that person or people think that for whatever reason they can’t reach Victoria quickly enough, before someone else does, otherwise? It could be because Victoria wouldn’t trust them, or because she would consider them not important enough to seriously deal with, at least not to the point where she would listen to their arguments, and do what they want from her?

      Of course they need to have some way to “regain their reputation” after Victoria finds them in mind, some way to convince her that what they did to her was the best available course of action.

      I think that primary suspects remain more or less the same as always (Chiet, anti-parahumans, and whoever is working with them; heck, even Teacher could fit), but their motive is to either recruit Victoria to their organization, or at least convince her to do something important for them, sort of like Alexandria tried to recruit Taylor to Cauldron (with known consequences).

      1. Maybe whoever created the diary are the same people who managed to convince Cradle and Love Lost to do something about the portals and time effects, while at the same time failed to convince the mayor and the Wardens to do the same. With Cradle and Love Lost captured, they are trying to turn Victoria into their new agent, because if she plays her cards right, and regains her reputation as the “hub of the network of heroes” so to speak, she may mobilize a lot of parahumans to do what the mayor and the Wardens refused to do?

        1. If this is the case, then whoever made the diary did not want to destroy Victoria’s reputation permanently (such attempt would accomplish little, because as I said elsewhere Victoria could probably be adequately replaced by someone else, and the lie behind the diary would be eventually exposed anyway), but only temporarily because:
          – doing so makes Victoria contact them, listen to them and seriously consider what they have to say, while she otherwise wouldn’t wont to do it,
          – it puts Victoria in a position where she may be easier to be convinced to join them, even if they will have to resort to some extra “incentives” to make her do it – for example they may offer proof of her innocence only under condition that she agrees to work with them.

          Once Victoria is recruited, she will get all proofs she needs to clear her reputation with the heroes handed to her on a silver platter, at which point she will have her full influence among the heroes back, and that means that she may be able to make plenty of people (mostly heroes, but also organizations like Patrol Block for example) do what Citrine and the Wardens refused to do.

          1. If I’m right then the remark about Victoria beeing “fucky sort of monster” would mean that a lot can be gained by dealing with her, because she is in position of power, and the bit about “sloppy seconds”, where “sloppy gets people killed while seconds just… disappoints everyone” could mean that whoever used the diary route did it because they needed to do it fast, both because they need Victoria needs to act quickly for them, before people get killed, and because there is a risk that some competition will recruit Victoria first, which for whatever reason would be “disappointing” to people behind the diary.

            Maybe the “competition” wants to achieve the same goal that the people behind the diary do, but those two groups disagree over methods that are acceptable, or over some other principles? It would fit the internal dispute which caused the rift in Teacher’s Cauldron that Tattletale described during the Breakthrough-Undersiders meeting after Imp’s attack. This would mean that one of those groups are trying to recruit Victoria, and is afraid that the other will do it before them. There could even more than two such groups, which would further explain why one of them could decide to use the diary to get to Victoria before any of the others do.

          2. And here is even something more funny – the fact that the diary appeared in Victoria’s computer before Love Lost and Cradle tried to force her to cooperate by taking hostages seems to suggest, that whoever is behind the diary is a different groups than whoever is behind LL and Cradle.

  29. Chris seems a prime suspect, as he asked Amy if she wanted him to bring Victoria to her, and was reminiscing of exploiting Birdcage immates with similar circumstances than Amy.
    He also had sufficient access to Victoria at appropriate times, besides having good non-biological tinker technology (see the shard power scanners camouflaged as consoles) and did discuss shop and tech with Kenzie. It is likely that he could jury-rig a recording/surveillance setup sufficient to make a plausible diary, besides the use of his own knowledge gleaned from breakthrough.

    But, what if this Yamada is actually Chris in DISGUISE?

    We know that he is a bio-tinker specialized in transformations, what if he took Jessica´s shape? This is one of the perfect subtle derivatives of his power, and there would not be abetter way to rattle Victoria to the core and place her in a vulnerable situation for kidnapping, since she relies so much on Jessica. Emotionally unstable after betrayal, goes to consult (villain) thinkers without her team for help, since she can´t use official help as a suspect of exploitation, and gets in prime locations for a kidnapping.
    Besides, this could be a way to move Victoria to earth Shin, where the plot seems to lie now.

  30. I have to disclose that Chris is still my favourite breakthough member. He seems to be stuck in the “Only Sane Man in the room” syndrome, which is what makes him so unpalatable to many of us, and makes him so prone to chronic backstabbing disorder.

    BUT he may well be right. We have established that an entity (aka a “Worm”) is a singularity, a super-advanced killer of hundreds of civilizations that, amongst other things, uploads the minds of the hosts from uncountable past cycles and uses them and associated knowledge to build tinker shards.
    NOW one of the tinker powersets is the one of the (deceased) Dragon father. Dragon, which has been ACTIVELY nerfed by his own creator, which has a NERFED fraction of his shard true potential, is an AI, and one that has not gone full “recursive singularity AI self improvement” because she is a genuinely nice person that does not want to butcher and improve countless copies of herself to become AI god, even if she should be VERY able to do that.

    This probably means that the Scion entity met a powerful AI civilization in a past cycle, and killed them. Given that one of the first expected steps in sapient AI development is singularity and development of brains the size of PLANETS or at least small MOONS in a timespan of a couple of centuries (read the “Eclipse Phase” Rpg and the “T.I.T.A.N.S” within for a layman exposition), this means that the entities killed THE SMARTEST CREATURES CONCEIVABLE to mankind AND thought they were safe enough to handle to give them to hosts in subsequent cycles as a pet pokemon. Mankind only “won” against Scion because Abbadon was “kind” enough to kill Eden (the smart one) and give him crippling depression.

    And lets not forget the f***ing Simurgh. Absolute existential terror, may have ASSSUMED DIRECT CONTROL of the whole mankind via the Dauntless Titan multiversal sight skill.

    Fuck, I agree with Chris. In a world like this, the sane thing is to put your tinfoil hat, make everyone think you are dead, run to a corner earth and try to become something crazier and scarier than an entity. THEN nuke-bomb all universes containing the shards simultaneously and PRAY you got them all undetected.

    I guess we will see Chris when Breakthrough gets to the latest “Shit got real” Cauldron meeting, displaying a shit-eating grin and a “TOLD YA” conspiracy theorist banner.

    Let´s give the guy credit. He has seen the likely incoming shitstorm: An entity reformation, either as an Abbadon Virus, Cradle/Foil Cluster shenanigan, or as a Teacher creation.

  31. I am postulating NOT ONLY Chris was responsible for the fake diary, BUT Jessica right now may be CHRIS IN DISGUISE. The goal is to kidnap Victoria and deliver her to Amy for a yet-unspecified favor, as it was explained in the Goddess arc.

    Okay, explanations. Chris is a Bio-Tinker specialized in transformations. What does state all transfromations need to be monstruous? If he disguises as Jessica, the person that Victoria trusts most, and drives a divide between her and Breakthrough, she is isolated and easy pickings… particularly if she is looking alone for mercenary (villain) thinkers in an atempt to find out what the f** is going on. This would explain the lack of character Jessica is displaying.
    For the computer setup, we know from the prelude that he is good at setting multiple accounts and computer setups, and that he has discussed shop and tech with kenzie, besides having learnt how to do some non-biological tinker devices (remember the power scanners camouflaged as consoles?) This enables him for basic surveillance hardware and insider knowledge needed for a convincing diary…. and he is VERY good at monitoring Dragon modus operandi, as a Birdcage inmate.

    1. Oh, I think this theory. I’m not sure how accurate it will prove, but it’s simple and seems fairly robust? Still not sure he could fool Dragon…but I suppose he (and Amy?) could’ve altered “Jessica Yamada’s” memories (maybe a clone?) so she /thinks/ she’s acting in good faith, but just doing so on bad information. Motive is the weak part here, maybe.

    2. There is one flaw in that theory:
      If Chris is doing that as a favor for Amy he would not be allowed to harm Vic in any way. Because, still, the last thing Amy wants is to cause Vic any more harm.

      1. That’s only a constraint if Amy is aware of the scheme and involved in the planning.

        Carol, on the other hand…

  32. How many people know Victorias reference ‘Wretch’?

    5.4 to Sveta she calls it the wolf, and explicitly states she hasnt told anyone including Yamada.

    9.2 She reveals it to the team just prior to the Goddess mastering, and doesn’t use the name.

    I don’t have a memory of her actually revealing the name to anyone deliberately

    That makes Yamadas use of the term deliberate, context only provided by the team 5 minutes prior (with no knowledge of the name), and proof of ongoing deception from Victoria towards everyone.

    So who _could_ have written the diary besides Victoria? (I assume im missing at least one character that overheard her addressing to it during combat)

    I did find a reference to the Wretch using technology during her asylum time.

    > There were other thoughts. In trying to get my parents to talk
    > about Amy, the Wretch had typed out one word, asking for the
    > story we’d never really gotten to hear in full.
    >
    > M-A-R-Q-U-I-S.

  33. 1) To make such diary we need:
    – someone who known name “Wretch” (or good thinker of telepathy-level). In text it was only Sveta, but should also be Jessica and probably some others.
    – someone who yet doesn’t know about Amy-avoidance
    Also we need someone good enough in computer to plant a diary.
    2) What if finding diary by Dragon was not intended result?
    “Nothing criminal”, looks too lame for trick of framing Victoria in front of heroes. It did not produce any effect beyond Jessica’s position so far. Victoria is allowed into Bunker.
    What if diary was targeted for someone else to read?
    First and probably only candidate – Kenzie. “Reading that would disturb her”.
    But what it should have achieved with Kenzie? Make Kenzie hate Victoria – but then what? Kenzie would destroy Victoria’s reputation? Or just break Breakthrough apart? Remove Victoria or Kenzie from Breakthrough?
    3) As far as I understand, Dragon-scan happens on 10.13
    Diary should have been planted before that
    @Alfaryn
    The only mention of trackball before 12.x – exactly in the scene with file-exchange with Dragon. Probably it is indication what Victoria use computer from Kenzie or given to her after.
    4) The only other diaries mentioned so far are Kenzie’s and Ashley’s.
    5) I wonder if TBI is mentioned on purpose in this chapter…
    “Completely different personality”…

    1. 1) I think any Breakthrough member could know the term ‘Wretch’ by this point, and since Ashleys traded stories all the time, I think that Damsel could also know it. This is one of the main reasons I suspect her involvement. The other one could be that Swansong could tell only some, not all, things – she could have left out Victoria’s fear of Amy out for example. Part of the reason why I think suspecting Sveta (as some people seem to do) is ridiculous is that Sveta would know to stay away from the topic of Amy in the diary.
      2) As I said making people around Victoria doubt her integrity can have serious consequences if someone was to use information contained within her archives against other capes (and the ending of the chapter suggests that something like that could happen in the near future), Victoria would be an immediate suspect then, and there would be little she could do to defend herself from accusations in this situation. The people with easiest access to those archives other than Victoria herself were Ashleys – once more thing that makes me suspect Damsel’s involvement.
      3) As I said before – Dragon sent Victoria a message promising to deliver the files Citrine mentioned earlier back in chapter 10.11. Whoever could read this mail would know to put the diary in Victoria’s computer at that point. Again, the people with easiest access to Victoria’s computer are Ashleys, and Damsel would have it much easier than Swansong, because Swansong probably spent much less time alone with Victoria’s laptop than Damsel did. The timing would fit because if you want to plant such evidence against Victoria in her computer, you want to do it as late as possible to minimize chances of Victoria discovering it before Dragon did or some other unexpected thing happening to run your plans (like Kenzie or Rain scanning Victoria’s computer). Chapter 10.11 just happens to take place one day before chapter 10.13 when Dragon found the diary.
      4) Just another thing possibly pointing at Damsel.

      The only things that don’t fit Damsel’s involvement are:
      – the fact that she probably isn’t tech savvy enough to mess with Victoria’s computer in a way that Dragon wouldn’t notice (from Glow-worm we know that the other Ashley was almost completely incompetent in the area). This suggests that she had help of someone more competent in the area. Not necessarily a tinker or a thinker. I think that even a non-powered person with a good knowledge of computer systems would do. So other than capes the anti-parahumans, who have already demonstrated some basic ability to hack would probably do.
      – the fact that even if she would have access to Victoria’s writing from the parahuman asylum (as I suspect the anti-parahumans, including Nieves did), both because she probably doesn’t have the necessary skills, and because it would involve a lot of typing – something that would be difficult to do with Damsel’s hands. Remember that the diary had to be good enough to fool Jessica. My primary suspects would be experienced liars (especially with the kinds of lies and half-truths that are meant to paint someone as a monster, or reveal someone as such) and with a fair knowledge of practical psychology – this fits Love Lost and Nieves perfectly in my opinion.
      – the fact that to write the diary you would need to have access to similar Victoria’s writing in the first place – once again something Damsel probably didn’t have, unless she worked directly with the anti-parahumans (who, as I said, probably have archives of the parahuman asylum). This again points at a possible connection to Love Lost or Nieves.

      5) If “completely different personality” is supposed to be a foreshadowing, I think it fits perfectly with Tattletale’s note on Dinah, and we know that Dinah has been mentioned recently, and that she has been working with the anti-parahumans, so she may pop up soon. I doubt that she is directly responsible for creating and planting the diary – she probably doesn’t have the necessary skill set, and would still need to depend on help of people I’ve mentioned above.

      I wouldn’t dismiss Dinah as a person who could have set the current events in motion however. She could easily be the person who told the anti-parahumans to give Nieves (and possibly Love Lost) the texts that were used as a base for a diary and the person who directly or indirectly told one of those two to contact Damsel (if they didn’t get that idea on their own).

      1. One more thing. Since I can’t decide if Damsel has been working with Nieves or Love Lost, I think we should try to figure out if here hands were maintained by Breakthrough tinker (most likely Rain). Perhaps her hands could last longer than Swansong’s without maintenance, but should probably require at least some since the time she was released from the prison, shouldn’t they?

        If they weren’t maintained by Kenzie or Rain, then I suspect that her tinker could be Love Lost (or Cradle, but because of her apparent connection to Sidepiece and Disjont, who often mention her, I would be leaning towards Love Lost). And if this is the case, then Ockham razor suggests that the person who wrote the fake diary would be Love Lost, not Nieves.

      2. Re. 4. One of the reasons I gave that Damsel probably couldn’t write the fake diary herself was that “because it would involve a lot of typing – something that would be difficult to do with Damsel’s hands.”

        Let’s challenge this assumption. Could Damsel slip something into Swansong’s drugs to make sure that her sister wouldn’t wake up for a few hours, and then “borrow” her hands to type?

        Alternatively if Damsel is working with a tinker who is goo with hands prosthetics (like Love Lost or Cradle), could she have another, more human- like set of hands stashed somewhere, or could her usual hands be modified to work as a keyboard similarly to how Love Lost’s claws do?

        If we assume for a second that Swansong could type something as long as a diary, do the other reasons why I told it couldn’t be her good enough? Could she be intelligent enough to write something close enough to Victoria’s style to make Yamada think it was written by Victoria, especially if she was given access to samples of similar writing done by Victoria before, like those things Victoria wrote in the asylum, I suspect the anti-parahumans could have access to?

  34. What if this were the last gasp of Rain’s cluster?

    There are usually hints foreshadowing big events in the story. Given that, who have we seen falsifying evidence in Ward? It’s just Love Lost and Kenzie, right?

    Recurring themes are usually played out. Think how ridiculously central emotion-manipulating powers are in this story, compared with Worm. How pivotal each of Rain’s cluster’s emotion powers were to the story:
    1. Snag attacking Victoria doesn’t only help set the tone of Arc 1. His emotion power triggering *her* emotion power is arguably the inciting incident of the entire story. Without that 1-2 punch, Victoria doesn’t connect to Yamada, doesn’t apply to the big teams, and probably doesn’t coach the therapy group. That’s where all this truly began.
    2. Love Lost’s emotion power was shown to good effect repeatedly and (along with Colt’s) ended the fight in her part of the 3-way ambush.
    3. Meanwhile, Rain’s emotion power won the fight in his and Antares’ part of the ambush. Then later it got boosted and played a major role against Cradle.
    4a. Cradle’s power was kept a total secret as long as possible.
    4b. Lionwing revealed that Cradle had been using his power extensively to run a thriving blackmail business.
    4c. Though all of Cradle’s powers are boosted by his treachery, Wowbild specifically calls out the significance of only one boost – to the emotion sense – in Cradle’s own interlude.
    4d. Cradle emphasizes his emotion power in his dialogue with Rain.
    4e. At the climax of the brutal slog of a battle, Lionwing dramatically reveals Cradle’s power to Victoria (and us), heavily implying that it will be a decisive advantage.
    4f. We get no payoff on the power in the text.
    4g. We get no payoff on the power in the text.
    4h. We get no payoff on the power in the text.
    5. We are almost certainly going to get to see Cradle’s power pay off in some way.

    Man, I am doing a lot of lists.

    Anyway, Victoria has no secret identity, and Cradle was working directly with a lady who shares her gym. If he scanned her, it would be very like him to reframe everything she does in an ugly light, wouldn’t it? Disjoint could have gathered some personal info, and compiling it believably is (again) something we’ve already seen Nic do on screen….

    1. Cradle falsified evidence in that he apparently was able to affect the dreams in a way that showed Rain in the worst light.

      1. As I said above, I think that Love Lost could fit as one of two possible authors of a diary. I think Cradle is probably a little less likely, because he probably doesn’t have a skill necessary to fool Jessica, and he doesn’t have direct connection to the anti-parahumans who seem to have enough data on capes to pull it off (as I said – I suspect that they have access to archives of the parahuman asylum Victoria, Sveta and Kenzie were all patients of).

        Cradle could be involved, but only through Love Lost, I think.

  35. I have it! It is Presley. She is not just a fan, she is actually a crazy-obsessed Thinker/tinker-10 stalker. Well, it _could_ happen.

  36. I read the chapter first time following Victoria’s POV as usual, then I reread it a few times trying to imagine it entirely from Jessica’s POV. It was a delightful exercise in the limitations of a POV – Victoria has no clue at first what it is about but can feel the relationship has shifted, and is stricken when she realizes the trust is broken. Likewise Jessica has had a nasty shock when the diaries were first presented to her by Dragon, sort of the private things on one’s computer one never expects to be seen by another’s eyes, but now Jessica has seen it and must ask herself if she really misjudged her former patient, and act to protect the interests of her current ones… imagining the dialogue from her POV again made me realize how diplomatic she was really trying to be, without accusing Victoria (who in Yamada’s POV seems to be covering up her awareness why Jessica might be restrained without knowing how Jessica found her out right then) on the basis of this evidence that is a done deal, but at the same time she is also discomposed and I get the sense shaken, conflicted with not wanting to believe it but also knowing she can’t ignore it and make herself blind to evidence only because she wishes it isn’t true, bcs she has Kenzie et co to think of, they are after all entrusted to her care. I hope Victoria will get the chance to read the diary before going to TT, I want to know what is in it… I get the sense it was something like early-Worm Glory Girl might have written, something egocentric, shallow on empathy and kinda glory-hound like “I’ll take advantage these guys for my promotion etc” but I don’t know… A powerful character-driven chapter, very well written.

  37. I did a little reread of the chapter and what I missed the first time is Vic using her Aura on Yamada.
    Thats instilling awe if I remember correct.
    Now I am puzzled.
    1) Why did she do that? It is damning.
    2) Why was Yamada not really affected by it?

    1. 1. Victoria’s emotional reaction. Yes, it did look damning, but was completely understandable considering Victoria’s situation, if not very smart.
      2. I believe that Yamada was affected, but just before Victoria used the aura Yamada indicated that Victoria had done it to her before. Consider this:

      “Don’t bully me, with physical violence or with your power, or I walk out of this room. Same rule as the hospital. At this stage, it would permanently affect our relationship.”

      What means of bullying did Victoria have in the hospital other than her aura?

      This means that Yamada probably was somewhat used to being exposed to the aura, and knew how to keep her composure. On top of it remember that Yamada is very good at controlling her fear. Her encounters with Sveta, Eidolon and Ciara we saw in Worm are all excellent proofs of that. I would even guess that Yamada’s reaction came less from being exposed to the aura, and more from the fact that Victoria even used her power after being warned about the possible consequences. Wouldn’t you be shocked and hurt if your friend tried to bully you after being clearly warned that doing so could irreparably damage your relationship?

      Not to mention that if your friend did something like that after being told what I quoted above, wouldn’t you be worried that they may be in a bad enough emotional state to actually hurt you? This is probably why Jessica was willing to “barter”, as Victoria put it to be allowed to leave the room. She had every reason to feel seriously threatened in this situation, after all.

    2. I am so disappointed in Victoria giving in to that impulse. I have been mulling it over as much as anything in the chapter, and it just saddens me.

      This isn’t the asylum, and she’s not the Wretch. She’s not trapped, unable to really speak, reduced to and-I-must-scream. This Victoria has – in most senses of the words – power. She is in every position of power here, and feeling emotionally weak, she misuses that badly.

      Here there’s this person being ‘unfair’ to her. This is a person she likes! A person who attempts to first focus on Victoria taking proper care of herself. A person who is gifted and respected, but has very little practical power compared with the superhuman leader of a superhuman team pivotal to other superhuman organizations.

      Victoria – who has very recently killed her first people and done some sort of unspeakable violence to her mother – is physically violent in this meeting. When called out on it, she immediately states her capacity to destroy anything she likes. She ignores the line in the sand of a woman she considered a friend 3 weeks ago and hacks into her mind to forcibly terrify her. Knowing Jessica feels intimidated, Victoria stands close to Wretch-range of the door, a textbook power move in any circumstances.

      She should be better than this. Frankly, I thought she was.

      1. Well, at least Victoria immediately backed off once she recognized how intimidated Jessica was by her outburst. Hopefully once the situation with the diary is explained Jessica will recognize the reason behind Victoria’s behavior and it won’t damage their friendship too badly.

        Of course even in that best case scenario I expect some hard feelings may linger. For example each of those two women may blame herself for the fact that Victoria went that far – Victoria because it really wasn’t mature of her, and Jessica because she should have realized that Victoria may be emotionally vulnerable enough to react like this to accusation coming from her, especially if you consider the recommendation this accusation came with – Jessica not only made it clear that she doesn’t trust Victoria, but also told her to distance herself from the group of people who are currently her main emotional support. In other words Jessica not only told Victoria that he doesn’t have Victoria’s corner, but also that Victoria should cut herself from the people who would. This emotionally leaves Victoria completely alone in this matter, with everyone either accusing her, or being ignorant about her situation. Of course she would react poorly to that!

        At least there is hope that Tattletale will have Victoria’s corner, though if it happens then Jessica may end up having to blame herself for letting yet another person join the Undersiders, because the nominal “good guys” did not do enough to help them when they needed it, and essentially left them alone with their problems. (And you could argue that pretty much every single Undersider except maybe Foil ended up becoming a villain because they ended up in similar situation.)

        Wayne Darnall will also have a reason to blame himself. He was supposed to help Victoria with her emotional problems, and what did he do instead? Let himself be scared by Victoria into pretending that all he needs to do for her is to help her deal with problems of other Breakthrough members? Don’t tell me that either he of Jessica didn’t realize that Victoria needed help with her own issues first and foremost, and Wayne was supposed to be the person who did that when Jessica couldn’t.

        The only way this situation could be salvaged at this point in my opinion is if Wayne (or heck, even Dragon) immediately let Victoria know that at least they have her corner in this situation and explained her why Jessica felt she couldn’t. Otherwise I’m afraid that Victoria really will have no one to turn to other than Tattletale, and this may mean that Victoria may end up like Taylor – a person who wanted to be a hero, but ended up becoming a villain instead, because when it really counted there was nobody on the side of heroes who let her know that they are prepared to extend benefit of a doubt despite all evidence pointing against her.

        1. And if you think that Jessica did not treat Victoria unfairly consider that she carried her investigation for three weeks without informing Victoria that she suspects her of something, and she practically made up her mind before even speaking to Victoria. On top of it Jessica not only gave Victoria no time to defend herself, but also didn’t confront Victoria with evidence in a way that Victoria could defend herself:
          – Jessica didn’t actually show Victoria the diary and let her point out everything about it that could prove Victoria’s innocence,
          – Jessica listened to key witnesses testimony (the Breakthrough members) without informing her suspicions,
          – Jessica didn’t let Victoria know who other witnesses besides Breakthrough members and Dragon were,
          – Jessica didn’t let Victoria know what those witnesses told her exactly, and told Victoria that she shouldn’t even inform some of those witnesses what the whole situation was all about.

          All of this coming from a person Victoria considers a friend, and based on something Dragon found while breaching Victoria’s privacy. How could the situation became more ridiculous? The only way I could see it happening is if Jessica informed Victoria that the verdict is already final and she is getting exiled to that empty Earth as soon as their conversation is over.

          No wonder that Victoria reacted the way she did even after Jessica warned her that it could irreparably damage their friendship. Sure, it wasn’t the most mature reaction, but how many people would behave calmly in such situation?

          1. Sorry, change “without informing her suspicions” to “without informing them about her suspicions”.

          2. And aside from Wayne or Dragon reaching out to Victoria, other Breakthrough members (and probably Vista too) should corner Jessica and demand that she told them what the hell is going on. They are not idiots. They should realize that something is very wrong from both the fact that Jessica questioned Breakthrough about Victoria without her being present, not to mention the fact that Victoria was obviously evasive when Rain asked what was going on after her talk to Jessica.

            Hopefully doing something like that was what Sveta and Vista were already discussing in the background near the end of the chapter.

          3. Oh, and let’s not forget yet another obvious clue Breakthrough and Vista should have to let them realize that something is very wrong. Victoria could see Breakthrough when they had been talking to Jessica, so they too must have seen Victoria and Jessica when they were talking later. If nothing else they should have seen that Victoria first hit the table, and then backed up into a corner. It is impossible to misinterpret this sort of body language much, if at all, in my opinion.

          4. > No wonder that Victoria reacted the way she did even after Jessica warned her that it could irreparably damage their friendship.

            I actually doubt that there was something to damage before Victoria’s reaction. I could hardly imagine taking such suspicions seriously and behaving like Yamada did, while considering that person your friend at the same time. Maybe Yamada just said that to manipulate Victoria with fear of losing something that’s already not there.

          5. @T.T.O.
            My thoughts exactly. Yamada does not act like a friend at all.
            A friend would have confronted Vic with those allegations and give her the chance to explain. A good therapist would do the same btw. and learn from the responses.
            She acts like someone who was always suspicious and got those suspicions confirmed.

            Considering they are in a world full of thinkers, precogs, computer-tinkers and Vic became a threat to a lot of shady characters by being leader of BT… she dropped Vic awfully fast.

          6. > My thoughts exactly. Yamada does not act like a friend at all.

            I wouldn’t go that far. Yamada obviously screwed up, but that doesn’t mean that she is no longer Victoria’s friend. She is only a stressed, badly overworked human with multiple, sometimes conflicting responsibilities to all of her patients and to the society as a whole.

          7. And before you play “friendship should always come first” card, remember that Jessica probably considers at least some of the other Breakthrough members as friends too. I have little doubt that Sveta is one of those friends for example. Jessica could think it is more important to protect them, then to be gentle or even fair to Victoria.

          8. Well, I wouldn’t play the “friendship should always come first” card. I would say instead: you do whatever you want/need/have to, but there are certain actions and attitudes that mean you are no longer that person’s friend.

          9. To that I can only say – friends may sometimes treat each other poorly, and sooner or later most of them probably will, but they should always be ready to forgive each other in the end.

            True friendship is for life. Of course it may sometimes be tested not only by external factors, but also by faults of friends in question. How is it supposed to last if it is not based on willingness to forgive and give the other person their second chance?

          10. And this is what it will probably boil down to in the end – will Victoria and Jessica give their friendship a second chance?

          11. I’ve realized that I skipped over a couple important steps. The way I see it to “give friendship a second chance” in situation as serious as the one we seem to see here, you need to not only forgive the other person, but also forgive yourself (which for Jessica and Victoria may be even more difficult then forgiving each other), and then to “start fresh” so to speak.

            Taking all those steps to give friendship a second chance can be important. Chances are Emma would have survived destruction of Brockton Bay if she and Taylor managed to do it after the latter was unmasked.

            Also consider this – what are the chances of Amy and Victoria ever patching things up if Victoria will not even be able to save her friendship with Jessica?

            Ward is a story about second chances. Not only for humanity after the apocalypse, for the villains and other criminals or for people as emotionally broken as members of Breakthrough. At least I don’t think so. I think and hope that it is also about second chances for friends and family members who hurt each other one way or another.

      2. I fear Vic is still using her Aura subconsciously like she did when she was young.
        After all it was what messed up Amy back then.
        The problem I think is, she still underestimates its effect. When it was described by others it was described as something of a real challenge to overcome.
        Vic only mentions it as somewhat inconsequential. This is a strange disparity.

        Vics problem here is, she thinks of Yamada as a friend. A pillar to lean on. She doesnt have many. And now that pillar is dropping her like a hot potato. With no explanation whatsoever. (Which is really shitty of Yamada no matter what)
        So that gets Vic to emotionally unravel. I can really understand that. Considering what she has been through.
        Also she has been given responsibility of BT by Yamada without giving her CRUCIAL information about those guys. That was also a big shortcoming of Yamada.

        So what I want to say: Yamada was pretty shitty to Vic from the get go. And Vic saw her as someone to lean on because she doesnt have many others.

        1. The sad thing here is that back in chapter 2.5 when Jessica asked Victoria to help her with a therapy group, she admitted that it was difficult to do so in a way that wouldn’t endanger their friendship, because there was a power imbalance between them with Jessica being the stronger party as Victoria’s former therapist. Now each of them used whatever advantage they had over each other in terms of power and position short of doing each other physical harm.

          I’m afraid that both of them will need to do a lot work to patch this friendship up. Hopefully their common friends (and I think there are plenty of those) will help them with that.

          1. You are right. That was some kind of foreshadowing back there. But probably not the way Yamada thought.
            Also I would be surprised if those two end up as friends again…

        2. > Also she has been given responsibility of BT by Yamada without giving her CRUCIAL information about those guys. That was also a big shortcoming of Yamada.

          Victoria wasn’t given that responsibility. She took it for herself. What Jessica wanted her to do was to talk them out of becoming heroes.

          1. Well, Yamada gave her responsibility of the members of what would become BT.
            She would have needed that info to be effective. Handling an ex-villain is probably different than guiding an aimless adolescent.

            But it shows Yamada doesnt know her very well after all. Because Vic is hero material after all and the BTs aspire to that too.
            Also if my suspicion about Vics involuntary power use is true, she is the worst possible candidate to dissuade someone from following in her footsteps.

        3. > I fear Vic is still using her Aura subconsciously like she did when she was young.

          Actually one of the more disturbing thoughts I had at the back of my mind for a long time is similar, but not quite the same as that.

          What if the minimum output of Victoria’s aura is lower then it used to be when she was younger, but the aura is still very much always on, and influencing people around Victoria in ways so subtle, that nobody is consciously aware of the effect, but there are still some very real results of it – from what people interpret as Victoria’s “natural” charisma, to the fact that people who stay in Victoria’s presence for extended periods of time tend to develop strong feelings about her? The precise nature of those feelings may be different for different people, but because of the aura nobody can stay indifferent when it comes to Victoria.

          1. The idea is that with prolonged exposure the effect of aura adds up, and like in Amy’s case – becomes permanent. Some people may end up loving Victoria, others hating her, some may even go back and forth between those two extremes, but in any case – everyone who is exposed slowly becomes more and more obsessed with Victoria.

  38. It instills awe in her friends and fear in her enemies. Which raises some interesting questions about what will happen if she considers someone a friend but they consider themselves her enemy, or vice versa, or if she is unaware of the person even being present in her aura’s area of effect.
    As for your questions:
    1) I think it’s because she was desperate to get answers and stressed by this whole conversation. Somewhat like that time when she used her aura on the TV show.
    2) It was stated that emotion powers might not always work “as expected” because of differences between people’s characters. Besides, Yamada was actually more affected than I expected, given how totally unmoved she was when the most powerful cape in the whole multiverse threatened to kill her. After that, showing fear while talking to Victoria is kind of strange.

    1. Showing fear if the aura instilled fear is not strange. I guess that could imply she is an enemy, but I wouldn’t conclude that for sure.

    2. I think her aura doesnt really discern at all. Maybe its just a strong feeling of “Presence”. You know like being near her feels like standing next to Superman. If you are an ally you are inspired, supported and secure. If you are an enemy you feel afraid, doomed.

      Also I believe Vics aura is a lot stronger then she realizes herself. This narrative is her POV after all.

      And which Cape are you referring to? Contessa? I cant remember that encounter.

      1. Good point, I can imagine it being like that. There will be interesting nuances with this mechanics too, such as aura being totally counterproductive against an enemy who likes worthy opponents.
        A great power for a totalitarian cult leader, by the way. Dose your people with the aura regularly, and if someone reacts strangely to it, then – hello dude, am I missing something about you?..

        > And which Cape are you referring to? Contessa? I cant remember that encounter.

        Glaistig Uaine, in Worm/E.1. Contessa certainly qualifies as the most powerful as well, but if someone can have better-than-even chances against Contessa, that’s her.

        1. Okay, Valkyrie is very versatile and potentially powerful, too. Thats true. I strangly always land with Contessa when thinking of the most powerful of them. But then, Contessa doesnt wield a Power but a Plot Device. She can be as strong or as weak as WB needs her to be.

          1. While Contessa’s meta-power is certainly Plot Device, I won’t agree with the bit about “as weak as needs to be” 🙂 If WB wrote something like, for example, Contessa’s defeat by Uber and Leet, the readers would think it’s just lame. The story sets expectations, and if the character can get away with being a Plot Device without breaking suspension of disbelief, then future expectations of her will be as high as they can get.
            Okay, back to Valkyrie – I’d place her somewhere on the same power level. And while it’s not certain whether she herself is a blind spot for Contessa’s power, we know that Eidolon is. That actually makes the outcome of Valkyrie vs Contessa a nearly-guaranteed win, I think.

          2. Well, Contessas power is very targeted and only helps if set to a goal. She could easily end up dead run over by some drunk in a car. Okay. Would require some stupidity on her part not to have an active goal that her power works towards but well…. a lot more stupid stuff happened in Ward 🙂

      2. Do you think that it would be fair to call Victoria’s aura an almost exact opposite of Imp’s power?

        Imp’s power makes her presence unnoticeable to people unless she actively wishes otherwise, while Victoria’s aura let’s her make her presence impossible to dismiss when she actively wants it to be the case.

        1. It even fits the opposition of their trigger situations, and a lot of their pre-trigger lives. Imp triggered when she desperately wished to be ignored and forgotten by people around her, while Victoria triggered in large part because she felt she was dismissed by people, especially her loved ones, and desperately wished to have their attention and recognition.

          1. When you look at Victoria’s reaction to Jessica’s words through perspective of her trigger, it becomes obvious that it was practically unavoidable that Victoria would use her aura in this situation. She triggered largely because she wanted and couldn’t get people’s attention and recognition. She got powers that on surface gave her precisely that (mostly her aura, but her flight and forcefield also contributed), while at the same time ensuring that she would always crave those two things. Her first cape name was Glory Girl! Even her shard wishes for nothing more than to be recognized as something important!

            And here we have Jessica seemingly dismissing every Victoria’s word. How could Victoria not use her power in an attempt to change it?

            I wonder if Imp’s shard would be happiest if everyone everywhere forgot it ever existed…

          2. If Aisha’s cape name is ‘Imp’ for ‘imperceptible’, then maybe Victoria’s cape name should be ‘P’ for ‘perceptible’?

          3. “Perceptible” is too weak, it’s how everyone is by default. Apparent? Overt? Obvious? Oh yeah! We have our Captain Obvious now 🙂

          4. I also wonder how long Victoria screamed at Wildbow for not making her the main protagonist and the very center of Worm. I guess that existence of Ward means that the answer is “Long enough.”

          5. And the title for more formal occasions could be “Our Most Glorious Lady P Of Occasional De-Escalation Who Is Always The One And Only Focus of Our Thoughts”.

          6. My most humble apologies, this unworthy servant of Our Most Glorious Lady P missed a capital ‘O’ in one of the ‘ofs’, and a few dozen exclamation marks at the end of Her title.

          7. > maybe Victoria’s cape name should be ‘P’

            First I laughed. Then I remembered past discussions and laughed harder.

          8. Well, at least now we know what letter will need to be used to mark chapters of an arc written entirely from Victoria’s shard’s perspective when it inevitably happens.

          9. We may have also discovered what the first and undeniably only important letter in the title of the series stands for.

        2. There are similarities in mechanics, I guess. Vics power makes her presence appear “More” than she is and Imps lets her appear MUCH “Less”. So unimportant nobody really notices her.

          1. Though maybe not quite. If I remember correctly from Aisha’s interlude she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea that one day she could be forgotten by everyone.

  39. I’ve been thinking about the “label” Victoria and her shard could use for themselves, and aside from the references to Through the Looking-Glass this came to my mind.

    What does make Victoria stand out in terms of both powers and physical and social traits from the point of view of someone who doesn’t know her that well?
    – classical beauty,
    – charisma,
    – aura of terror and awe,
    – flight,
    – some sort of disturbing power which makes her untouchable, and inhumanly strong but also terrifying with barely perceivable body horror.

    What does all of it add up to? Some sort of beautiful, but unapproachable angel? Or maybe devil?

    1. Question is – would a label that suggests that Victoria is some sort of supernatural being be of interest to her passenger? Scion wanted to be seen as such. Ciara, who seems to be very much in tune with her shard also went in this direction. Is it something other shards would want? The Entireties wanted a godlike “complete and total mastery of all things” to quote the Thinker Entity from interlude 29 of Worm…

      1. Powerful capes generally end up comparing themselves or being compared to religious or mythical beings. From Defiant who compared himself to Zeus and Hephaestus, while comparing Dragon (another mythical creature) to Aphrodite, and her “backup” to Pandora to Taylor, who was compared to Khepri. All Endbringers are also called after such creatures. Even we compared post-second trigger Dauntless to Yggdrasil, while people of Gimel called him Kronos…

        Maybe the mythical and supernatural names come up so often, because they work for both the humans and the shards? Maybe this is the sort of naming convention that both sides understand and like to use, if not necessarily for the same reasons?

        Victoria would probably need a couple more attributes – like wings, and maybe a flaming sword to pull off the angel look and feel, so maybe this is the direction she should go to please her shard? Of course she could just as well go for some other supernatural being. Some goddesses would probably also fit everything I wrote about Victoria above.

        1. I’m not familiar with Hindu mythology, but her several arms do bring it to mind. On the Greek side of things there are the Hecatoncheires who had a surplus of arms and heads.

          1. There is also one more thing to consider – what kind of people Victoria and her shard are, what kind of people they may become, and how their name could reflect that.

          2. As for Hecatoncheire, I’m not sure. What would this name refer to other than the extra body parts of Victoria’s forcefield? Even gender doesn’t match, as all three Hecatoncheires were male. Same with pretty much everything about both Victoria as a person and her other powers.

          3. And if you want to stick to extra limbs and heads, then maybe also take a look at Buddhism and it’s Asuras? Would one of them fit?

            Another disturbing possibility would be that Victoria’s “wretched” form is somehow related to Tohu.

    2. seraphim and cherubim have (variously reported) multiple pairs of wings, multiple faces or pairs of eyes, etc. They fly, and of course instill awe or terror.

  40. Let’s think about concerns Jessica may have about Sveta. What could they be? Two chapters ago Sveta said:

    I could have a normal flesh and blood body, two arms, two legs, and be my old self again, and I’d be terrified every other minute that I’d accidentally kill someone.

    Maybe this is the key? Maybe exposing Sveta, who was already full of guilt and self-doubt because of all of those people she killed, to Rain’s self-doubt and guilt emotions power was a mistake? Sure, it gave her a better control over her body, but at the same time maybe it actually deepened her mental problem – her feelings about what she did, and what she could do, bringing her closer to nervous breakdown or worse? She certainly already seems to be afraid of becoming a killer again even if she had a perfect control over her body – sort of like Amy was afraid of becoming a villain even when she thought that she had perfect control over her power. Even without problems with Weld this one thing would be a cause for concern, I think.

    And if she learns about the situation with Weld? Those two problems could compound into something really bad. Not to mention that if she learns about the diary in a way that would make her believe the lie around the same time she learns about Weld’s secret, she could be left without the two people who are her most important moral support to deal with all of this guilt, self-doubt, outright fear of what she could do…

  41. I just realized something. If we will see Dauntless’ family more, Emma’s family could be mentioned again, because in Emma’s interlude in Worm Dauntless said something that suggests that Alan Barnes (Emma’s father) could have become Dauntless’ lawyer representing him during his divorce, and Addison actually still has contact with his stepmother Jennifer, “who took on the role of the aunt and manager of Shawn’s estate.”

    Who knows? Maybe someone in Shawn’s family still uses Alan’s services from time to time? I imagine that with an “estate” to manage, there could be a need for that. The fact that Addison’s biological mother is back after a time in mental institution could also mean that they would need a lawyer.

    Other people who could be used to bring Alan back are obviously Shadow Stalker (he was apparently involved in keeping Shadow Stalker out of prison by allowing her to get probatory membership in the Wards), Madison, and if the wiki is to be believed… Carol, since according to his entry there Alan and Carol were supposedly “work friends”.

    Could this be a plot hook to return to the topic of the trio of Taylor’s bullies again for a while? Maybe even see how the surviving girls are doing these days? I don’t think it would be impossible for Madison and Sophia to keep some sort of contact with the Barns family for example.

    And I would be laughing if it turned out that Ms. B. mentioned by May in her interlude turned out to be another Barnes. Considering Emma’s family status, and the fact that Emma’s father suggested learning to play violin as an activity he was willing to sponsor for Emma at the beginning of Emma’s interlude, I wouldn’t even find it to be such a stretch.

  42. If it WAS intended to be found and found by Dragon specifically than this is some Precog stunt.
    Maybe Dinah, or Contessa, or Tatteltale or anybody else with that skillset.

    Because the crux in that all is: all this effort only made sense if somebody actually finds the diary. To make sure of that we need a Precog of some kind.

    Unless: it actually was written by Vic. Because she has a split personality. After all her Passenger is an amalgam of discarded crap.
    (Yeah…. I doubt that too.)

    1. > Because the crux in that all is: all this effort only made sense if somebody actually finds the diary. To make sure of that we need a Precog of some kind.

      Maybe, but not necessarily. It could also be some knowledge about Dragon’s modus operandi, or even just an educated guess about it, which allowed to assume that Dragon would likely find the diary.

      1. But that would require knowledge that Dragon WOULD connect with Vics computer AND knowledge of Dragons modus operandi. Which again would require some Precog/Insightful cape.

        1. As I’ve commented elsewhere, Antares and Dragon coming into contact was never that unlikely. There’s many people both have met, some of whom are close enough to one or the other to actually direct them closer if things went well.

          In addition, Antares set up a hero network whilst the Wardens were out of action; Dragon was bound to make contact with that eventually.

    2. As I said elsewhere, in chapter 10.11 Victoria read a message from Dragon who promised to give her the files soon. The actual delivery and conversation between Dragon and Victoria happened one day later in chapter 10.13. If someone knew that Dragon scans computers she comes in contact with as a standard procedure (something likely easy to figure out just by observing volume of traffic between Dragon’s servers and the rest of the internet) and saw that message from chapter 10.11 (either because they broke into Victoria’s e-mail account or because they had access to Victoria’s laptop), they wouldn’t need to be a precog to figure out that if they placed something in Victoria’s computer, it would likely be found at the time Dragon delivered the files she promised.

  43. What if diary is a weapon itself, written with power working thru texts?
    Its aim was Victoria herself and purpose to subvert her to villain’s path or something similar.
    Dragon just happens to find it earlier, bot flagged text as normal but then power works on Dragon and then on Jessica.
    If it is true, talking with Tattletale actually would be better than reading diary…

    1. If we are going ito crazy theories, then how about a possibility that Dragon was finally compromised by Teacher, and instead of finding the diary was simply implanted with false memories of doing so? It could even be that there is a false diary in Victoria’s computer now, but not found, but planted there by Dragon.

  44. Still it is (assumed) a lot of effort for a long shot that in itself doesnt accomplish all that much. At first glance.
    Vic could have found the diary herself. She could have used another computer to communicate with dragon. Dragon could have given her some storage device. Kenzie could have found it….

  45. Do you remember my theory from last chapter about how Contessa could have been captured? I speculated that it could have been done by Dinah, who should have advantage over Contessa in the long-term planning department?

    A possible problem with this theory is that Contessa should still have a decisive advantage over Dinah in the short term combat precognition. But what if Dinah had help from a precog specialized in this particular department? Reading Shamrock’s entry in the Cast (In Depth) section of Worm, I think she might be the person for the job. Sure, without Dinah’s support Contessa managed to defeat Faultline’s Cauldron capes, including Shamrock before, but maybe only because she had enough advantage over Shamrock in long-term precognition (precisely opposite situation to what we see in Dinah-Contessa confrontation).

    Interlude 21.x suggests that Shamrock has been the only Cauldron prisoner who has successfully managed to escape, so maybe her precognition, as limited as it is, coupled with her just as subtle telekinesis is enough to be a problem for Contessa in a direct confrontation, if the initial conditions of such confrontation are stacked in Shamrock’s favor (something Dinah could probably help Shamrock with)?

    1. As for how Faultline’s crew could hold Contessa imprisoned the answer is same as always – Matryoshka.

      Also note that in Faultline’s interlude in arc 18 of Worm Shamrock happens to be the only person in the crew other than Faultline, who came from Contessa’s attack without a scratch, and Faultline was safe simply because she apparently wasn’t Contessa’s target. On top of it at the very end of that interlude Faultline even remarked that Contessa’s power couldn’t be precognition, because it wouldn’t work against Shamrock’s power, so we have yet another proof that Shamrock’s power could be a real problem for Contessa. Possibly one Contessa had to work around using simulations, just like she did to escape Irregulars protected by Mantellum?

      And we know that Contessa’s simulations aren’t perfect. Maybe they are just not good enough to defeat Shamrock who is working with Dinah guiding her the way she guided Golem on the day Jack Slash was captured?

      1. As for what happened to Dinah, after reading Tattletale’s noters we have been assuming the worst – that she may be working to bring about some sort of disaster, but maybe it is the opposite? Maybe she has become better in a way similar to how Contessa said she was willing to try to do when she talked to Taylor at the end of chapter 30.7 of Worm?

        Maybe Dinah doesn’t try to do what is necessary anymore, but what she thinks is just or good? Maybe she is for example working against the parahumans who seek to control humanity using clandestine methods? Like the Cauldron – any Cauldron, not just Teacher’s? Capturing Contessa would be the logical first step, because despite her declarations, she was still willing to work with Teacher at least to some degree. Working with the anti-parahumans could be another, because it weakens Citrine’s grip over the city – mostly by undermining position of the heroes who work for the government (like the Wardens, Breakthrough, and all groups affiliated with them).

        By the way, the fact that Breakthrough is essentially working for a faction of Cauldron may be just another reason why Tattletale might have been concerned that the Undersiders may have to fight against Breakthrough one day…

        So how do you like a vision of Dinah as a person who wants to take real power from secret organizations like Cauldron, and return it to the people?

        1. If it concerns Citrine, I like it so much that I think it deserves an award (a Darwin award, of course). It’s two years past the end of the world, and parahumans are the only reason why humanity wasn’t reduced to tribes of hunters, gatherers, and marauders. Let’s face it: parahumans are objectively better equipped to deal with disasters. And let’s face it too: as long as parahumans exist, they will be in positions of power (for example, look at our world and its one superpower which is called “money”). Given that, Citrine is actually one of the best variants, by virtue of caring about problems of the city and having superpowered long-term plans to solve them. And I wouldn’t even call her organization secret. It’s a very obvious political organization, the only secret thing about it is that it’s run by parahumans (and it’s justified because there is a lot of racism anti-parahuman sentiment around). That’s not an incriminating secret, in my eyes. They don’t have any less human and political rights just by being parahumans (and in this situation, not even by being ex-villains. there was an amnesty for everyone’s pre-GM deeds, and after GM they are doing pretty good). So the struggle against parahumans in power is a) unfair, b) harmful, and c) pointless (and disastrous in the unlikely case it will actually succeed).

  46. Well, new chapter will hopefully be up soon so some closing thoughts on my part.
    First: very good chapter WB. Not much action but food for thought. A lot.

    What I took from the chapter:

    1) What Dragon did was deeply wrong. I dont know the law there but in our world (at least EU and US) snooping someones computer (and taking explicitly private data) is a CRIME. Period. Passing that data on to someone else without concent is an even bigger crime. Again: Period.
    2) Yamada: reading the diary without any concent from Vic is despicable. She is not even her therapist anymore, so even that thin justification is gone.

    In the end Vic is the one who got wronged and should be the one pissed at them, not the other way around.

    Of course it explains why Yamada didnt come out with that in the first place. She knows they did something wrong and probably illegal. She certainly broke Vics trust in a bad way. So she didnt want her to know. For me that drops Yamada squarely onto scum level.

    As for the diary itself: if it is describing actual facts and just shows them in a bad light my bet for the culprit is Tattletale+Imp.
    They have the means. And they have the motive. Tattletale does not particularly like Vic. But she doesnt hate her that much to really get her into jail or worse. But getting her out of the way so she can maybe poach members of BT would make sense. The Undersiders really could use some new talent.

    Well, lets see how it actually does continue 🙂

    1. > snooping someones computer (and taking explicitly private data) is a CRIME. Period.

      Unfortunately it is never that simple. For example US law does allow certain agencies to intercept private communication and read private documents of people who aren’t even officially accused of anything, as long as these people aren’t US citizens. There was even that scandal when NSA was caught doing exactly this with certain prominent EU politicians, supposedly including Angela Merkel.

      Considering Dragon’s role in the Wardens, there could be a similar exception made for her. Same with Yamada reading the diary provided by Dragon, or with Victoria reading Yamada’s notes from the same source. What all three of them did was certainly unethical, but strictly speaking did not necessarily have to be a crime.

      As for Tattletale’s apparent dislike of Victoria, I don’t think this is the case. Most of the time Tattletale seems to treat Victoria just like everyone who isn’t one of “her” people – using some verbal hostility to keep distance, and to keep the other person on their back foot (in part because doing so probably makes people more likely to give Tattletale clues her power can use). Recently Tattletale went further than that by sending Imp to Victoria’s flat, and by openly admitting that she was not happy to work with Breakthrough, but as I said before – it may be because Dragon shared the knowledge of the diary (and possibly the diary itself) with Tattletale – possibly to get Tattletale’s input on that, possibly out of concern that children like Chicken Little and Heartboken could be somehow harmed by Victoria, maybe even for both of those reasons.

      1. Yeah, you have a point there. But I doubt Dragon does have a carte blanche. Even if, it remains, as you said, deeply unethical. And not something you do to someone you consider a friend.

        Also on Yamadas part, why did she break contact with Vic? According to her she wants to gather more evidence. Intensifying contact with Vic would be a lot more helpful in that regard.
        Even if she is actually afraid of being near Vic (as she seems to be) she could intensify phone or email contact.

        Looks like Yamada already concluded Vic is guilty and dangerous.

        As to Dragon working with TT: that is a bit hard to swollow. Certainly not impossible in this context but still….

        1. I think that considering how much Taylor seemed to mean to Dragon, some sort of understanding and even cooperation between Dragon and the Undersiders even two years before Gold Morning would not be out of question. Taylor’s letters to the Undersiders did reach them somehow after all, and so did their responses reach her. Do you really think that it would be possible without Dragon’s knowledge and quiet premission? She probably did monitor contents of those messages, but did nothing more as long as she thought that those lines of communication aren’t used for something she wouldn’t agree with.

          Also remember that Tattletale said (shortly after the raid on Fallen camp, I think) that she tries to keep likes of communication between different people who can see different important aspects of the big picture. Dragon certainly would be one of the most important people on Tattletale’s list.

          Finally Tattletale had to have intel on Legend’s and Chevalier’s clandestine operations and on Valkyrie’s apparent fears from someone. I think Dragon is one of the very few people who would know and would be likely to tell Tattletale about that.

          The only thing that doesn’t fit, is that Dragon herself is apparently one of the Wardens Tattletale wrote about in the same notes, so maybe she wasn’t Tattletale’s source after all? Still doesn’t change the fact that Tattletale could be in contact with Dragon for reasons I mentioned in the first two paragraphs.

  47. I really hope this doesn’t end up in a predictable “Woah- you guys are good! I’m the last person I would have suspected, but I was looking for me all the time! It was the perfect crime!” – Patrick Star

    >I didn’t even have a diary. I hated diaries. But saying that wouldn’t have proved a damn thing.

    Idiot Victoria. Of course it would, at the very least, it would make Mrs. Yamada wary about the information she gets from secondary sources.

    >Tattletale would be either my biggest ally or a prime suspect.

    Prime suspect, 100%. Tattle can hack with ease and she hates Victoria.
    Also not impossible for Tattle to fake a diary.
    Destabalizing the Wardens by getting dirt on Mrs Yamada seems a bit too drastic for Tattletale though. Like, not even Tattletale would want people like Bonesaw and Glastig Uaine to relapse and go on a rampage again.
    Perhaps Mrs Yamada is also one of the bad guys, but I don’t think it would make sense for Yamada to tell Victoria about the diary then.

  48. I’d say right now Victoria hates Tattletale far more than vice versa (or maybe not even hates, but is easily irritated by her).

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