Black – 13.4

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I hadn’t wanted my mother to get hurt, being careless with my power and with not trusting her about it, but I’d been willing on a level to leave the door open for it to happen, and that willingness went hand in hand with my relief about Amy being on Earth Shin now.  The realization had taken me some time, the process of rationalization comparatively quick to begin.  Life was genuinely easier if I let the slate be wiped -or perhaps struck- clean.

I had even related that philosophy to Kenzie.  To her parents.  Another slate that had been struck relatively clean.  After they’d dropped the tidbits they had on Hard Boil, and after the two hundred messes that had followed in succession from that, Kenzie had eventually found her equilibrium.  Her being in a kind of limbo right now with her disconnected and distant institutionalized care wasn’t the worst thing in the world, much like how people could use sensory deprivation tanks to center themselves.  Kenzie struggled because she hyper-connected, and a disconnected civilian life meant she wouldn’t hyper-connect or get distracted.

She’d even forged a family in a way that didn’t take away from her ordinary life.  Regular ‘meals’ with Ashley.  A small circle of peers her age that she could connect to, that honed her and refined her.  People like Aiden who I was happy to take on a general, arms-length coaching role for.

It was important to strike a balance with powers, to find a niche where their use could be casual, not overbearing, not solely a thing where we went out at night three times a week to be reckless and violent with them.  It was important to have the casual little acceptances of power in our lives.  For Kenzie, leaving the door open for her to tinker regularly was good for her on that casual acceptance level, and really good for the rest of us on a strategic level.

This was an equilibrium I had effectively trained my whole life to manage.  The absorption of one aspect of identity into the whole.  I’d had to learn that.

Ashley wasn’t.  Ashley was new ground, something I was having to figure out on the fly.  Damsel had been… not struck from the slate, because I’d only come up with that terminology recently, but I’d left the door open for her to go.  I likened Ashley to a cat, as much as she might be annoyed with the comparison, and a cat couldn’t be approached without caution.  Go straight for the vulnerable belly or throat and the claws came out.  Metaphorical, in Ashley’s case.

No, for her, every step was about strategy and positioning.  Dropping the right hints, as she was imprisoned, the right compliments, getting the invitation to watch her place, moving in, then getting her and Rain out of jail.  She’d invited me to stay and she wouldn’t ask me to leave if there wasn’t a graceful way to do it.  It wasn’t hard, once she was figured out, to block off her options by making certain actions out to be undignified.  Minimize the damage and maximize the gains.

Once I was close, positioning became that much easier.  She was just as hungry for someone close as Kenzie was, but the difference was that Ashley had spent years on her own.  I talked about leaving doors open, and hers had nearly closed.

This was good, as things stood.  Being close to her meant I could impart lessons about morality, encourage heroism.  Her being close to me, to us, meant we had a constant, omnipresent reminder that violence was a consideration and an option.

The natural blending of civilian and cape identities had to account for violence, for conflict, and for a careful pruning of external forces and influences.  Ashley was very good at pruning, and very easy to prune now that I was close enough.

That was without getting into the various degrees of non-platonic subtext.

On the topic of the non-platonic, I had cheated earlier when I’d commented about Byron to Rain.  Byron had talked vaguely about Moonsong over the last few weeks, and I’d seen this coming.  I’d considered the value of encouraging the relationship and working to reinforce it solely because a ‘political marriage’ between Breakthrough and the Shepherds could be useful, to use a way overblown term for what their relationship would be, but I’d seen the way Byron had looked at me on that day in group therapy and my vision for the team saw a Capricorn that had both halves working in harmony.  Getting to the point where that happened required drawing Byron out of his shell, and I could do that so long as we had a bond or connection.  They were two opposites in that.  Byron needed to feel like his civilian self wasn’t being ignored or left without options.  Tristan needed to feel like his goals as a cape weren’t being stifled.

Once that was done, well, there was a running theme through all of this.  With any cape, the civilian side naturally degraded.  We were parahuman, not human, and once Byron and Tristan reached the point they were okay, motivated, and roughly on the same page, that natural degradation would leave only those portions of each brother that worked well together.  I’d wanted to be a coach and sometimes being a coach meant tearing down, then building back up.

Rain wasn’t someone I’d had to tear down.  Life and past experience had done that.  He’d needed pushes.  A regular nudge.  In many places, his natural hesitation and the gravity that pulled at him were at the point where doing nothing was as good as pushing him away.  With his low self confidence, a simple reprimand or jab could do a lot to shape the direction he was going.  In a way, the things that guided the others all applied to Rain.  Maneuvering to get him out of jail and keeping him close enough, keeping an eye on his relationships, managing a balance of civilian and cape with the assumption the former will crumble… and as with Sveta, knowing that he saw himself as a monster, with a deeply regrettable past and a potentially, maybe inevitably regrettable future.

Sveta’s impending breakup.  Rain’s doomed cluster.  It was a question of managing the damage.

I closed my laptop.

Even Weld breaking up with Sveta was in the fucking diary.

Detailed, deep thoughts in intermittent diary entries, stored in a folder on my computer.  The times the entries were made, at a glance, seemed to line up with times I’d been free and active online.

Nothing so actionable that it would be grounds to arrest me.  But enough to hurt the team, if they were to read it.  I had a thought, on finishing it, and the irony was that the thought had come from a line in group therapy back at the hospital.  We judged our own actions based on our intentions, and we judged the actions of others on their actions.

Except this ‘diary’ fucked me at both ends.

Where my actions were damning, the diary portrayed my intentions as questionable, poor, or outright bad.  Where my intentions were ambiguous, or even when it came to ideas I’d alluded to or mentioned, they were connected to actions.  Desperate, rushed decisions I’d made in reality were rationalized out afterward or hinted at or led into beforehand.

It was self-involved and mission-focused, with passing mention of the others’ injuries, those mentions so fleeting that it suggested I didn’t care, or I cared for the wrong reasons.

And I couldn’t find any holes.  A paralysis had crept over my upper chest as I realized I couldn’t find dates that didn’t line up, any actions I had an alibi for.

I couldn’t blame Dragon for looking over my computer.  I’d told her to take everything.  On a level, having already dealt with Kenzie, I had expected the sweep.  I hadn’t expected a trap to be laid.

I couldn’t blame Jessica for doubting me.  Reading this, I was starting to doubt my own reality.  Because it was close.  There were thoughts in there that mirrored thoughts I’d actually had, and lines in there that paralleled things I’d said in reality, if they weren’t those exact same things.

My hands remained on the laptop, even after it was closed, while a sick feeling crept over me.  There wasn’t a way to deal with this that didn’t dig me in deeper.  My outburst and the use of my aura on Jessica hadn’t helped, but I wasn’t upset I’d done it, because I was pretty sure she wouldn’t have told me what I needed to know without it.

But I’d forced her hand and if she was going to take any action, it was going to happen soon.  If this was a trap or a master effect, then I’d forced the enemy’s hand.  If there was anything intended to follow up on this, then it might happen soon.

Why?  How?

I didn’t know.

We were at our HQ, and Kenzie was sorting through the things she’d left here.  Technically she was renting the space from us.  Less technically, she was moving regularly between here, her new workshop with her team, and her ‘home’ workshop, which was a space in the building where she lived with the orphans and institutionalized kids, provided by the staff.

I’d asked them to provide the space, because staff members had clued in that Kenzie had powers and there was a danger that the kids at the facility would too.  By the diary, I’d done it for reasons of strategy and cape-centric bias.

To Jessica, every conversation and friendly debate I’d had with her over things like cape names and what a healthy life for a parahuman looked like had to have taken on a darker tone, after all of this.  The diary struck close to the real, but with a consistent tone throughout that had to be anathema to someone like Jessica, who wanted to heal, find a more human balance, and who had trusted me to help.

Tristan was taking a break from lifting stuff and carting it around for Kenzie to take to her other workshop, making lunch with Rain.  He was talking cooking, while Sveta hovered, quite literally, clinging to the nearby door and looming over, looking over their heads.

“This… or this?” Kenzie asked.  Her outfit changed.  An update of her costume, a little more fashion-focused.  It looked like she was hitting the randomize button, for textures and color schemes.

“The second one,” Ashley said.

“Then…” Kenzie tapped on her phone.  “This… or this?”

From a vaguely Vista-ish costume with a skirt built into it over textured leggings to a costume with more of a bodysuit look, overalls over a skintight top.

Ashley’s going to pick the first, because it’s got a skirt.

“The first one.”

“Then… this or this?”

The first outfit had an abbreviated jacket, the skirt, and textured leggings, the second was more of a combination bodysuit and dress, skintight up until the fabric formed the dress at the lower body, the shoulders built up with techy paraphernalia.

“The second one.”

“The first one looks really good,” I said.  I felt so disheartened that the words felt hollow.

“Ooh, mixed opinions.  Those are good.”

“If you let Ashley have too much of a say, then you’re going to end up with an all black costume,” I said.

“Maybe,” Ashley said.  “Some white or red details are good.”

“Ashley’s my favorite person, so I don’t mind if that happens,” Kenzie said.  “You’re maybe my second or third favorite person, Victoria, so your opinion counts for a lot too.  And I want to do good things but I’m working sometimes with villains, we’re being discriminatory with what we do, so something a little darker is okay, I think.”

“Black is striking in bright light, and if you’re out in the light you want to make that statement.  At night and in night missions, black will keep you from being seen.”

I rolled my eyes a bit.

“Ooh, I should take notes.  I packed up the stuff that would take them for me…”

I couldn’t show her or ask her to take a hand in it, even if she was uniquely qualified to track down where it came from.  Because Dragon was also qualified, Dragon was qualified in everything.  The apparent Bluestocking of tinkers.

The danger wasn’t that Kenzie’s feelings would be hurt.  They would, but that wasn’t the danger as I saw it.

The danger here was that this diary was close enough to home to be seductive.  That she was impressionable and some of the worst thinking in the diary would stick if she were to read it.

Was there a good chance of it?  I didn’t know.  Was it possible to tell her not to read it?  Yes.  But I worried.

I worried on so many levels.

“Boys, Sveta, tiebreak me!  This… or this?”

“I am not the person to ask,” Rain said.

“Please?  Gut feeling.”

“I like the first one,” Sveta said.

The one I’d liked.  Solidarity.

It all felt so empty, so fragile.  The usual fondness wasn’t there.  What the hell?

“I like the first one too,” Tristan said.

“Yeah,” Byron said, a moment later.  “Yeah.  How are you coming up with all of these?”

“I fed my computer a ton of high fashion and costume stuff and put it in a blender, and now I’m extrapolating with human-guided machine learning.  It takes its best guesses about what’s working along six different protocols and each time I keep one and discard another it adjusts its guesses and narrows in on something workable.”

“You realize that in another time or climate, you could make a bit of money using that?” Tristan asked.

“Really?” Kenzie asked, eyes wide.  She turned to me to confirm.

It meant a lot that she turned to me, except that only rubbed in that horrible, trapped feeling.

“Yeah.  Really,” I told her.

“Man, for all the pain in the butt parts of this power, there’s some upsides.”

“Versatility, problem solving, marketability, monetization, but those things make you a desirable and high-priority target.”

“Oh yeah.  People showing up at my house to kidnap me or kill me.”

“Yeah.”

“Be careful,” Sveta said.

“I will,” Kenzie said.  “That smells amazing, by the way.  Is it going to be done in time?  They’re almost here.”

“You can take yours now,” Tristan said.  He had the sandwiches grilling in a frying pan, melts inside toasted bread.  “Careful, it’s hot.”

Kenzie collected a sandwich with her eyehook, the prehensile tail with the camera and claw on the end.

“Victoria?” he asked.  “You’re going with her?”

I grabbed a sandwich, testing first before picking it up.  “Gotta ask Tattletale about something, and it’d be good to check out what they’re up to.”

“I have so, so, so much to show you.  You can vet Chicken’s costume and Candy’s costume, and I’ve been working on Hookup’s costume, which I know Ashley will really like-”

“Hold up,” I said.

“-Because it’s a dress, and it’s really pretty, and it goes with her mask, which Imp ordered.”

“Reel it back there,” I said.  “Go back.”

“Which part?  Because once a word leaves my mouth I mostly forget what I was saying.”

“Hookup?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“No,” I said.  “I don’t recommend it.”

“But-” Kenzie turned around.  It was Ashley she turned to for verification this time.

“Nah,” Ashley said.

“But… ugh.  All the names like Kindred and Liaison and Network and Cosanguine are taken.”

“Not hookup,” I said.  “Connotations.  There’s a reason it isn’t taken.”

“Except I think she or her brothers and sisters liked the connotations.”

“It’s bad for the team,” I said.

“Ugghh.  Why is this stuff so hard?  Okay.  They’re finding the street.  We should make sure everything’s down there and ready to be loaded in.  Tristan, can you lift it, or are you busy?”

“Take over?” Tristan asked.

“I don’t-” Rain started.  “Oh, you were asking Sveta.”

“I’ve got it,” Sveta said.

“Don’t add anything.  You always add a lot,” Tristan said.

With sandwich in one hand and my laptop packed into my backpack, I helped carry one bag of random components.  Tristan didn’t put on his jacket, just boots, as he stepped outside, carrying the heavier things.

Kenzie nearly fell down the fire escape stairs in her enthusiasm to wave at the vehicle that was making its way into the parking lot adjacent to our building.

Darlene hopped out, crossing to where Kenzie was, doing the same thing Chastity had done with Cassie, with the kiss on each cheek.  Kenzie was better at rolling with it than Rachel’s henchman had been.

I didn’t get quite why they were suddenly chattering at high speed from the moment they were reunited when they were connected with Darlene’s body-interlinking power and Kenzie’s cameras and microphones for good portions of the day.  Kenzie had fixed her microphones first thing as we’d returned from the Wardens HQ.

“Not Hookup?” Darlene asked, her expression and tone somewhere between tragedy and disappointment.

“No,” I said.

The driver was a mercenary, burly with a shaggy beard, with a cold stare.  Black outfit with black gloves, a gun at his hip.  He didn’t look much like someone I could have a conversation with for the drive.  I debated my policy of riding along with team members whenever possible.

“Tattletale says she’ll be at our base for a bit when you get there.  Whatever you need to talk about,” Darlene said.

“Thank you.  I did get a message from her.”

Darlene nodded.  “I can’t believe I can’t use Hookup.”

“You can,” I said.  “But it’s a bad idea.”

“Uugh,” Kenzie said.  Darlene mimicked the sound, then tackle-hugged Kenzie before the two of them climbed back into the back of the vehicle.

They were getting along in a way that would have been next to impossible if either one of them were unpowered or from different backgrounds.  I felt like this was a good thing, pending sufficient supervision, but I could also see how it lined up almost perfectly with the mentality in the diary.  By taking this course of action, was I reinforcing the diary, giving Dragon and Jessica more fuel to doubt me?

I settled in the passenger seat, with a nod from the driver.

The pair in the backseat talked nonstop, with seventy-five percent of the talking being Kenzie’s.

Was my input on the name wrong?  Was my condoning Tattletale’s part in this fucked up?

Our driver didn’t try to make conversation.  I finished my sandwich, being careful with crumbs, then set my head against the window, staring out at the city beyond, and I got lost in my thoughts.

As we entered the yet-unnamed junior team’s headquarters, a chair slowly swiveled one-hundred-and-eighty degrees.  Chicken Little sat in it, stroking the pet in his lap.  That pet clucked, right on cue.  “Welcome back.”

The maneuver prompted an overflow of excitement and praise from the two girls, who charged into the room.

“Stop!  You’re going to scare my birds!” he protested, as the girls chattered at him.  I had the impression he was the one who was a little overwhelmed at the response, rather than the sedate white chicken he was holding.

All around his ‘office’ were cages with birds, some dangling, others set against the wall.  They looked to be categorized roughly by size, scale, and type.  No doubt so the big birds wouldn’t eat the little ones.

As the trio each raised their yet-immature voices to higher volumes, each to be overheard by the other two, Tattletale rolled her head back, hands to her temples.  She was sitting in a cozy chair off to one side.  The headquarters had one central room, with the exit to the south, a space that seemed to be half-lounge, half Candy’s to the west, where Tattletale was, Aiden’s office to the north, and Lookout’s workshop and space to the east.

I walked over to Lookout’s workshop, and dropped off the bag and box I’d brought in.  I rubbed at my arm as I walked away from it.

The energy level of the ten and eleven year olds was dialed up to ten, easily.

“I’m going to get a headache, and I haven’t even overdone it with my power yet,” Tattletale said.  “Hey, midgets!  Volume down.”

They started talking at normal volume, but at the same general velocity, even overlapping one another.

Tattletale was set up with her laptop in front of her.  She watched me, wary, as I approached.  The lounge half of the space had a few nice chairs, a short table, and a collection of snacks, some of which were the same ones we had back at the Breakthrough headquarters.

There was an adjoining room, connected to both Aiden’s office and Candy’s section of the lounge, that looked like it might be a barracks or medical corner, but I might have been overthinking it.  A few beds and some decorations and things that made me think they were Darlene’s.

Tattletale closed her laptop and set it aside, leaning back as she looked up at me.

“Kenzie,” I said.

The chatter stopped.  I turned my head and saw the four kids looking my way.  A projection of Candy stood by the desk.

“Don’t listen in?”

“Okay,” Kenzie said.

Tattletale’s penetrating stare was a weight.  Even opening my mouth to speak and say it was hard.  Fuck all of this.

“Help,” I said.  Non-sequitur.  She wouldn’t know what I meant.  “I need help.”

I was going to operate on the assumption that someone as busy as Tattletale couldn’t do something as comprehensive as what I’d read over at the hideout.  I was operating on the assumption she wasn’t that subtle.

“Why should I?” she asked.

“Favors, payment, information.  Whatever it takes.”

“I could tell you I’m busy.  Schedule’s full.  Undersiders are trying to get back onto the map, but those of us who are left and sticking around are mostly background players.  The status we earn is through deeds, not show, which means I have to deed.”

I couldn’t say I was exceptionally surprised.

“I’d promise to help promote the Undersiders, involve you more in big decisions, but I know it’s pretty shitty to promise visibility.  Too many junior heroes get lured onto teams with promises of exposure and next to no pay.”

“I’m not a hero,” Tattletale said.  “But yeah, I don’t think we get much if we sell our services to you.  You already know what we’re capable of, and you draw a pretty hard moral line in the sand-”

“Not so hard lately,” I told her.

“Fine.  But you draw a line.  There are very specific circumstances where you’re talking to other teams and you’ll say ‘I have an idea, my fellow white-hats!  We’ll call the Undersiders!'”

“You came,” I observed.

“Imp has been hassling me to take on more duties with the junior team, and when you called she was happy for the excuse.  She says we need to talk ground rules for the Chicken Tenders.”

Please tell me we aren’t calling them that.”

Tattletale smiled, her mouth turning up at the corners.  “Come up with a better name.”

“There isn’t an iota of curiosity in there?” I asked.  “This is a puzzle only you can unravel.”

“I’ve got enough of those.”

Less fun than pulling teeth.

“If this gets out, or if it’s a long-term play, the end result is going to be bad.  It affects Lookout, among others, and that affects your kids.”

“I’m getting the gist of it.  But maybe that’s a good thing,” Tattletale said.  “Because I worry about your kid in that room more than I worry about any of the Heartbroken.  I’d be happier if she wasn’t here.  If things are that fragile, it could be better if we rip off that overly attached bandage now.”

“I’ve given your kids a benefit of a doubt.”

“Good!  They kind of deserve one.  When I say Lookout scares me, that’s not me taking a side or being wary because she’s unfamiliar.  That’s me saying she’s kinda messed up, and as neat as it would be to have access to her stuff, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

I put my hand on the back of the armchair she was sitting on, and I tilted it back a bit as I leaned in closer.  “Don’t.”

“It’s the truth,” Tattletale said, sitting back with her feet no longer touching the ground.  If I let go of the armchair, it would crash to the floor.

“You’re talking about her that way in her place.  Her territory, when she’s a few rooms away.  That’s shitty.  You’ve got to be a better person than that.”

Tattletale brought her feet up even higher, than reached up to chop at my arm where my scar was.  As I let go, she swung her feet down and her center of gravity forward, so the armchair would thunk to a proper sitting position instead of falling back.

“Huh?” Darlene asked, peering around the corner.  “What was that?”

“Antares is bullying me,” Tattletale said.

Darlene stared, looking at each of us in turn, studying posture and context.

“Keep at it,” Darlene said.  “She needs someone to remind her to act nice once in a while.”

“Traitor,” Tattletale said.

“Darlene, Darlene, Darleeeeene,” Kenzie’s voice piped.

“Volume!” Tattletale called out.

“Look, look.  Are you looking?  Bam!”

Darlene, still leaning around the corner, turned to look, and reacted so strongly that she nearly lost her position on the wall and fell over.  Aiden and projection-Candy were laughing, and Darlene joined in, almost scrambling to her feet in rejoining the group in the other room, around the corner.

I walked over a few steps, to get a view of what they were doing.

Candy’s projection was in ‘costume’, but it was possibly the most horrific thing I’d ever seen.  Vertical, horizontal, and diagonal stripes, dots, and clashing color combinations every step of the way.  But even if it had been wiped clear of pattern, the 80’s shoulders, tucked-in top that produced a belly, and puffy pants tucked into high socks were bad.

“It’s what we’d get if we took all the opposite options from my ‘this one or that one’ machine learnings,” Kenzie said, looking far too pleased with herself, eyes glinting.

I mock-shielded my eyes, then retreated back around the corner, to Tattletale.

“I’m nice,” Tattletale said, even though the comment seemed to be a response to Darlene, who was long gone.  “But you know as well as anyone, Vic, that trying to help everyone leads to an inevitable disaster.  You need rules about who you help, how, and when.”

She’s not talking about me.  She’s talking about Amy.

“Yeah.  You’re a super nice person.”

She shrugged.  “I’m here.  I’m backing them up.  I’m arranging the protection and ferrying them to the people and the places they need to be, and that includes ensuring your kid has the materials for her workshop.  But if you’re telling me I have to fight to keep this little girl that actually kind of scares me around?  Maybe I’m not that interested.”

“If you want to talk about helping people, and the who, why, and when, I want to point out that I helped you.  That scar you just hit?  I got it while helping Sveta to get you away from Cradle.”

“We’re going there?”

“You said,” I told her.  “Quid pro quo.  You bring up my shit, I can bring up that.”

She arched an eyebrow, still wearing that smirk that she had to know annoyed me.

It was… interesting that Tattletale had apologized by that roundabout way, but that she’d prodded at my wounds like she had, in this past conversation.  Was there something else in play?  A degree of insecurity?  Or, with my discussion regarding Colt so fresh in my mind, I might even consider an element of it to be the wiring of her particular brain.

She didn’t apologize or hold back from poking at weak points because she couldn’t.  In which case… this was wholly, entirely fair to do, on my part.  She’d told me.

“I said that at a time I was in pain, delirious.”

I didn’t back down.  “Any currency I earned there?  I want to spend it.  On this.”

“You even resorted to physical violence.  You really want this.  Some financial payment, some favors, and you can play that card,” she said.  “You get five minutes of my time.”

“That wasn’t physical violence.  Intimidation, maybe.”

But I didn’t waste the time she’d offered me.  I got my laptop out of my bag, handing it over.  She powered it on.

“The password is-”

She had it typed before I got that far in the sentence.

“You don’t have internet.  I can see why you needed my help.  That’s a horrific situation to be in.”

“I took out the networking card before I did anything,” I said.  “I moved it to a folder on the desktop.”

“A… diary.  How cute.”

“Read it.”

“This is how you want me to spend the time?  Stroke your ego?  Am I supposed to start empathizing with you?”

“Read,” I said.

“The brute side of you really comes out when you’re stressed.  Where do I start?”

“Wherever.”

“Huh.  Okay, important dates…”

She’d allotted me five minutes.

When ten minutes had passed, I got tired of standing around, and went to check in on the others.  The hollow feeling hadn’t left me.  I still felt betrayed, and weirdly violated even though it wasn’t my diary being used to judge me.

“Are you leaving?” Kenzie asked.  “I didn’t get to show you anything.”

“Not leaving yet.  Waiting for Tattletale to read.  I might be a little distracted until she’s done.  After?”

“After’s good.  Aren’t these birds cool?”

Every single bird in Aiden’s ‘office’ stared me down, silent.  Not a chirp or tweet.

“Really cool.  Intimidating.”

“Aren’t they!?” Kenzie asked, delighted.

“Can I grab one of your snacks from the other room?”

“Yes,” Kenzie said, looking at the others.  “Yes?  That’s okay?  We’re okay with that?”

I got confirmation.

“There was hot chocolate.  Want me to make you guys something?  It would be microwave hot chocolate, but you-”

I didn’t even need to finish the sentence.

Hot chocolate and snacks.  Tattletale made some annoyed sounds with every beep of the microwave, but didn’t otherwise comment.

It made the kids happy, as they all sat around Aiden’s desk, enjoying what looked to be the best aspects of being kid capes with their own hideout.  With how nervous I was, the joy wasn’t contagious, but it did make the day less bad.

Tattletale had promised me five minutes and she gave me twenty before she finally closed the laptop, setting it aside, resting atop her own.

I waited another minute to give her room to think before my patience ran out.

“Do I need to explain why I’m concerned?” I asked.

“You wrote a diary before?”

“Very little, while I was in the hospital.”

“But that’s not yours.”

I shook my head.

I did my best not to show just how relieved I was to hear those words, after doubting my own sanity.

“Who did they send it to?”

“Dragon found it, when I was sending her case files.  She passed it on to someone important to our group.”

“Weird.”

“More than weird,” I told her, quiet.

“No need for money, no need for favors.  I wanted cred for the Undersiders, and this will do.”

“This?”

“It runs deeper, Victoria.  I know you think very highly of yourself, but this isn’t about you.  Not exactly.  Either they chose people they thought would make good targets, they chose randomly, or, they had a methodology like targeting the newest person to join each team.”

“‘They’, you say.”

“They.  This isn’t just you, and it took a team.  If we’re tackling this, we should start at the fringes.  Small groups and groups with very new or tenuous memberships.  I don’t know if Dragon found it by an accident that’s lucky for you, or if she found it by design, but… it’s interesting and concerning either way.  I’m halfway to wondering if one of the other Undersider contingents has something like this planted on their systems.”

“Yeah.  I was wondering about the rest of my team, but I don’t know what that would look like, or how I would look.”

“Come on,” she said.  She got to her feet and stretched.  “We.  Us.  Investigate.”

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237 thoughts on “Black – 13.4”

  1. Yes, Sveta can’t be the author because she doesn’t know that Weld want to break up with her. She’s innocent. Good news.

    Tattletale can’t be the author because she’s willing to help Victoria to discover the author who framed her.

    Victoria’s shard is another removed suspect.

    Either Victoria have multiple personality and she wrote it using her second personality or the author is Teacher/Dinah, my main suspects.

    Time to see miss Sherlock Holmes+ miss Hulk investigation team in action. This arc is so fine so far.

      1. I’m just imagining him threatening to send someone up an elevator to his Aviary. OF DOOM!

        Maybe when he’s older Aiden should change his cape name to Chick Magnet.

      2. He’s basically styling his place after Skitter’s Boardwalk hideout.
        I wonder if it’s on purpose. He lived in Skitter’s Boardwalk hideout for a while, he might actually remember it.

    1. “Tattletale can’t be the author because she’s willing to help Victoria to discover the author who framed her.”

      I don’t think that follows. The scenario would be, Tattletale did the job and is now taking the role of helper to further obfuscate matters.

      However, I don’t really go for that as a scenario. I’d bet TT took the opportunity to hack V’s computer, except if V has any sense she’s going to regard that thing as completely contaminated already.

    2. “Tattletale can’t be the author because she’s willing to help Victoria to discover the author who framed her.”
      If Tattletale is the author, she might not actually be helping.

      1. Well this chapter is triggering my inner detective a bit. I find it interesting that tattletale is doing it for free. Also the part about the costume designing was sooo cute and lighthearted I think we needed a moment like that to keep it balanced with the horror of the diary. Anyway that’s my first reaction to this chapter without reading comments.

    3. I mean, I’m sure this is going to turn out to be a return to the “poke at the strain between humans and parahumans to make their society collapse” plot Cheit has been running, but all the same…

      > Yes, Sveta can’t be the author because she doesn’t know that Weld want to break up with her. She’s innocent. Good news.

      We haven’t seen Sveta’s POV yet, so we don’t actually know that she doesn’t know about Weld. She could be playing dumb in order to string him along until she can track down XxVoid_CowboyxX, since she doesn’t want to be lonely in the meanwhile. The fake diary is just a way to keep Victoria distracted from her search. She made similar distractions for Weld, Kenzie, and Chris (though the Chris one ended up being unnecessary since he left).

      > Tattletale can’t be the author because she’s willing to help Victoria to discover the author who framed her.

      Yes, it is definitely true that nobody ever lies and pretends to be their victim’s ally while carefully steering them directly into the traps they’ve laid. That never happens, especially in fiction.

      > Victoria’s shard is another removed suspect.

      Shard not removed! Shard right here! Host too busy to write own diary, so Shard halps. Why you look at shard funny? Shard knows it not good Englisher. That why shard found handy editor for diary. Grasping Self is good editor!

      1. How could Grasping Self “halp” with editing when those two shards were disconnected? Remember that Dragon had found the diary and informed Jessica about it before Kronos titan presumably became a new hub.

        1. By the way I wonder what the situation with Kronos titan is exactly. Does he actually route any communication between the shards, and if so is he a hub (meaning he rebroadcasts what he gets to all shards at once) or a switch (meaning he routes messages only between a transmitting shard, and the shard or shards which are meant to receive that transmission).

        2. Silly human. If shard can write diary, shard can write email. Is inferior method; shard not grow like this. But what else shard supposed to do? Diary not write itself.

    4. Well this chapter is triggering my inner detective a bit. I find it interesting that tattletale is doing it for free. Also the part about the costume designing was sooo cute and lighthearted I think we needed a moment like that to keep it balanced with the horror of the diary. Anyway that’s my first reaction to this chapter without reading comments.

      1. Sorry about the double post. Not sure why it did that. Didn’t show up immediately so I posted again? In a different spot. I’m new to commenting.

  2. Wow, that diary was so, so close to convincing. I was sorta expecting the chapter to start with a snippet from it, so wasn’t caught off guard, but I can see why yamada freaked.

    Can we talk about how it painted vic as a bit off a femme fatal? Romantic pushing on Ashley and Byron? It really IS slash fic!

    And thank you, thank you tattletale, for reading it and taking it seriously. That was… cathartic.

    1. It really does sound like her, but if you know what to look for, you can see the points where it’s off. My first clue was when she was talking about the “Political Marriage” for Bryon and Moonsong. Then I realized we were already in the dairy.

      1. Vicky was livid that Carol wanted Amy in her life, their life.
        She doesnt think of Amy without collapsing into the sunken place. She would never directly type out A m y and still be that lucid. Maybe she would write “her” or just mention Shin. i knew it wasnt her on the fourth line.

        1. Early on in Ward, maybe, but over the last few arcs she’s learned to think Amy’s name without flinching.

      2. Reading this I can’t shake the feeling that somehow, in some sense, Victoria actually did write the diary.

        She calls out the end of Sveld especially, for good reason, but that’s not the half of it. Get a load of this fricking thing: “I’d seen the way Byron had looked at me on that day in group therapy.” The former? The original exchange could’ve been spied on; we know outside observers noticed Weld’s eye wandering; Victoria’s been asking around for urgent Sveta solutions…. It wouldn’t take rocket science to reconstruct that much.

        Byron’s one-time side-eye ogling from the end of group therapy though? Noooo. Nope. THAT is another tier entirely. That graduates things from ‘impressive power-enabled forgery’ all the way up to ‘weirdly-specific Fortuna gambit.’ It’s *too* accurate. Any one piece could have been real; could have fit the book we’re reading just fine. Some she might only ‘think out loud’ under strange conditions (emotion power, head injury, heat of the moment, new trauma, meeting Amy…), but it all reads like a version of her. Even the woman herself says as much:

        “I couldn’t blame Jessica for doubting me. Reading this, I was starting to doubt my own reality. Because it was close. ***There were thoughts in there that mirrored thoughts I’d actually had, and lines in there that paralleled things I’d said in reality***, if they weren’t those exact same things.”

        Calling it now. It can sound like a version of her would and it can know things only Victoria could, because it *is* from a version of her. This will turn out to be Scapegoat playing with power synergies, or a very similar power combination.

        This makes me think of Furcate’s versions, Ignis Fatuus’ outfit, and Scapegoat’s Lens: the “nearby” timelines with other versions of the same parahumans. The shards use them for precognition and simulation, apparently, and William Giles sees/accesses them by touch. In pure pragmatic plot terms, we have plenty of alternatives. But our protagonist is changing into a different version of herself, the black-masked killer learning to live with wounding her parents and marooning-probably-dooming her enemies.

        What could be more thematic than being confronted by her own worst self?

        1. So the author is a Scapegoat-made (or brought to Teacher’s base to be more precise), teachered version of Victoria hooked up to Clairvoyant via Scanner and Screen? Interesting theory, but how would that alternate Victoria know about how Byron looked at Victoria after the group therapy session if Teacher got his hands on Scapegoat later than that? Do you suggest that she experienced the same thing in her own reality?

          1. I suspect Ashley’s memory-bleed thing is a hint to the current mess. Shards used to send data to each other all the time through Scion’s hub, without their host knowing about it.
            It looks like someone developped a way to mimic this process and copy shard knowledge and POV experiences any cape has.

          2. Yeah, I thought about it too. What if someone for example created Victoria’s clone Bonaesaw-style, but managed to do it in a way that the clone had access to all Victoria’s memories, while actual Victoria gets nothing, instead of passing small snippets back and forth.

            On that note I wonder if original Number Man gets any memories from his clones, and if they keep getting things from him.

          3. Oh I don’t think there’s necessarily a literal other Victoria now on… whichever Earth Teacher is using. I just think that Teacher’s obsession with power synergies met Scapegoat’s direct access to alternate versions of capes, and they found a way to mine the alternates for dirt plausible enough to stick to the capes they interact with conventionally.

            As someone who used to keep a diary, it’s safe to assume many alternate-Victorias would have kept them and others, at any given time, would have recently restarted the habit. Sort through their computers for V’s who are with Breakthrough, and ones that had fights with the same opponents with similar outcomes, and ones who make her sound like a horrible person. That’s on par with the complexity of what Scapegoat has always done with his power. Of course he’s Manton-limited, as far as I can tell, but maybe Teacher or power synergy or *mumbles*.

          4. How about a simulation of Victoria then? An AI based on Dragon’s code, but set up to emulate Victoria’s mind, while at the same time able to spy on her the way Dragon could probably spy on everyone and everything if she wanted to?

        2. If it’s Teacher behind the plot, it’d be easier to just use Valefor.

          Write a diary, where you imply you are only manipulating your team for your own selfish purposes. Make sure that your motives seem plausible, and that the text is clearly identifiable as being yours by people who know you well. Then forget this order, forget that we met, and forget the diary.

          Bam, done. Strike Victoria off the list of capes to fuck with and move on to the next dupe. No need to pull in alternate-universe doppelgangers.

          1. Sure, but the diary seems to have appeared in Victoria’s computer even before the start of Ward, when Valefor wasn’t working for Teacher yet, and Victoria probably wouldn’t know how to change all dates of modification of the diary well enough to fool Dragon.

            Plus some entries into the diary would probably be made when Victoria wasn’t active online (it would make the deception even more believable), and it looks like this never happened.

          2. Plus, even if Valefor was trying to corrupt the heroes in time between Gold Morning, and the beginning of Ward without working eyes he probably wouldn’t be able to not only get to those heroes without anyone noticing him and rising alarm, but also issue a command as complicated as that. Remember how simple commands he gave during the raid on the Fallen camp, and how easy it was for the people who were affected to resist them to some extent by twisting the meaning of his words in their minds.

          3. The only way I can see it working is if Teacher gave Valefor a thinker power which would let Valefor make people he mastered do things they would otherwise not know how to do – like making Victoria know how to fake the time stamps marking when she worked on her diary, and at the sime time remember or be able to otherwise find out when she went online for those time stamps to match those times of her online activity, but once again – why would she make all time stamps match those times, if having some of them not match those would make it easier to believe that she was the author of the diary?

          4. Well, Valefor could have Victoria write the diary, and then hand the computer over to Teacher’s tinkers. Or just a normal computer forensics expert. Dragon may be a tinker genius, but she’s still relying mostly on filesystem logging information, which can be falsified by anyone with the know-how.

            Still, I don’t really think it’s him. If Victoria had spent any significant amount of time in a hypnotic fugue writing false diary entries, I think there would have been something in the text to hint at it, and I can’t think of anything like that.

          5. Regarding whether Victoria could forge the file well enough to trick Dragon, this is something we really cannot make assumptions about as it’s all heavily dependent on what combination of hardware, filesystem, OS, and applications Victoria uses, how full her drive is, and whether she’s changed drives since the diary was started. There are perfectly reasonable combinations of these factors that would make it impossible for Dragon to accurately determine the age of the diary, without requiring any knowledge or effort on Victoria’s part. There are other equally reasonable combinations that would require a lot of expertise to make a forgery that holds up to scrutiny. Anywhere along that difficulty continuum would feel believable to me.

            Worst case scenario, if Valefor wanted to give Victoria a totally fool-proof way to fake the diary’s age without getting experts involved, all he’d have to do is order her to start the diary on her current laptop, then upgrade to a new laptop and copy over her files without relying on disk-imaging software. This is like money laundering, but with file dates. The diary would end up looking even younger, but for a legitimate and obvious reason. Since the old filesystem is left behind, this also avoids any subtle bullshit like scanning the unallocated space on the drive for residual copies of old versions of the file from when it outgrew it’s allotted space and had to be relocated. Such copies will be missing, but this will be true for all files since the drive is new. Perfectly normal.

          6. Not to mention that Bet diverged from Aleph decades ago, and it’s development of computer software and hardware was probably influenced by all of those tinkers and thinkers around (both as possible inventors and as people the systems had to be proofed against). We probably can’t directly apply our world’s knowledge of computers to determine details what is and isn’t possible on Gimel as far as what can be determined by “computer system scans”, even if the scan is done by a regular person, not to mention someone like Dragon.

          7. @Soadreqm

            Fine for What-a-TWIST!!!!111! purposes. Dumb for plot purposes. Plain awful for narrative purposes.

            Send Valefor against a cape that overcame his compulsions twice and immediately wrought terrible violence. Right.

            It was established when Dr. Darnall asked her to track her feelings that Victoria has trouble remembering her own mental state, thoughts, and non-critical activities even a couple days after the fact. If she attempted to follow that order, she’d screw up details and leave herself inadvertent alibis; this is not her strong suit. If she sought to avoid leaving alibis, it would take an enormous amount of time and energy requiring extended management by Valefor. There’s no place where that could be hidden from the characters within the story.

            The diary existed when Dragon accessed the computer, and there’s an update from the same day. Valefor theory would require he basically be a 4th roommate for half the story.

            Finally, and this is the most important: That would be the work of a hack writer. Victoria’s character has huge issues with mind control. To throw in after-the-fact seamless mind control that she didn’t notice and which had no lasting emotional impact on her is ridiculous.

            Come on now.

          8. Wouldn’t it be easier for Teacher to use Mama Mathers with Scapegoat and Valefor and his Contessa (aka. Dinah Alcott) to pull off something this simple. It wouldn’t even be that hard. He even mentioned attacking “The heroes are banding together.”

            He could use a Valefor with eyes to give commands to Scapegoat that are transferred to a person and then forgotten about. Also scapegoat could transfer Mama Mathers effect on himself to others and have them pre commanded to think about her and forget they did after so she can spy on them unnoticed. With all this scapegoat could even transfer the effects to variations of himself in other timelines to have them forced to transfer the effects to other variations of people they want to gain info from. With Dinah they could even predicted what timeline would be the best to pull from or send commands to. Gaining all the information needed to create a fake file that looks like it was made by someone and then command that person to put it on there computer and make them forget. I think Scapegoats power would get around resistances of emotional power users. Just seems like an overkill amount of power to put down a very minor effect. Killing flies with an elephant gun. But it would be very subtle. And teachers might be getting them back for messing with his plan last time. He is petty like that.

          9. @Soadreqm

            I mean… also, if you were teacher, and had a leashed Valafour with access to heros… the best scheme to come up with is a creepy diary?

            I mean yes, its super creepy, but IF you can control people there are way more damaging schemes avaliable:
            “Chill out for a few months, but murder Chevy Valkyrie as soon as they are within arms reach and distracted. Forget I gave you this order.”
            And that’s just thirty seconds of thought.

        3. I just got creeped out the whole time reading that first part because of this. It fits in so well with that has happened but at the same time comes out of the left field for what we’ve seen of Victoria so far.
          The fact that she actually uses the “I” makes it all the worse and it probably didn’t help that I had more time in between chapters than usual…

  3. Also, I can so picture tt and vickey as competitive school gate mams, getting political at the PTA, snide comments to other parents, “my kid can’t play with your kid” ect ect…

  4. I know other commenters have mentioned it before, but can I just say again how impressive it is that WB finds ways to set up conflicts that Victoria can’t just punch her way through? Whether it’s in a fight where she can’t use her powers directly or it’s in this kind of intrigue, I find it fascinating that she has to think through puzzles like this despite being a brute.

    1. After all of this action in last few arcs I’m hoping that Black will be an arc without even a single physical cape fight. Even just a couple more chapters without anyone blasting anyone else with their powers would be nice.

        1. Yes, but I was talking about physical fight, not using emotional power to intimidate a person who couldn’t and wouldn’t fight back, at least not in ways that would lead to something you could call a “fight”.

  5. Okay…I was going for the “Chris did it as a favor to Amy” as implicted in the Goddess arc, but the fact that it is a widespread series of attacks against multiple hero groups, and probably took somebody like bluestocking or mind readers to work sounds more Teacher´s or Dinah work.

    Or the blasted Simurgh. That would do it, too. Or Earth Cheit´s secret services with a good helping of mercenary thinker contractors……

    I give up. We are going to get Tattletale & Antares joint work, and that´s awesome enough for me.
    This sounds like the real explanation is going to be better than anything I can come up with now.
    Still, they look like they need thinkers of Tattletale caliber, even mindreaders… and the only “mind reader” grade precog known is the Simurgh. Mayyybe Bluestocking (which I suspect to be a Tattletale´s shard budding) could do it.

    How is Tattletale so scared about Kenzie? I mean, “Little Sister” would be an amazing villain, and the fact she has branched her portfolio to portals has amazing potential for a “multiversal unblinking police state”, but there must be something else going on. Tattletale has stared in the face of the Simurgh and walked away, it is strange Kenzie can scare her so much at this point.
    Although I have to say that for the brief snippet of Kenzie´s mind inner workings that we got from when victoria discovered the problem with her parents, her shard seems to massively boost her intelligence to a machiavellan mess of branched thoughts…If she lost her to her shard imperatives, she could be a big problem to deal with. I swear that her potential is getting close to the “Bonesaw” or “Dragon” treshold, and she is VERY young and with plenty of room for growth.

    1. Lisa might just not want to deal with everything that comes with Kenzie being around, as Victoria mentions earlier – plenty of the wrong kind of attention from the wrong kind of people.
      Heroes will dislike such a powerful intel cape being in cahoots with known Villains. Other Villain groups will assume Lookout helps Tt gather more or better intel on the cheap. They will all work against Lookout working with the Undersiders, and many will stop hiring Tt for her intel.

      Extra headaches and lack of funds are never something to look forward to.

    2. The way I see it, Lisa’s personality is more an avoidant type while Kenzie’s is abusive. Lisa’s parents were likely to be of an abusive personality as well since she’s avoidant, and she blames her brother’s suicide on them. So it’s probably just a transferential affect.

      1. “How is Tattletale so scared about Kenzie? I mean, “Little Sister” would be an amazing villain, and the fact she has branched her portfolio to portals has amazing potential for a “multiversal unblinking police state”, but there must be something else going on. Tattletale has stared in the face of the Simurgh and walked away, it is strange Kenzie can scare her so much at this point.”
        Clearly Kenzie actually has a secondary Stranger effect that makes some people frightened of her.

        Or TT ships Aiden and Darlene.

        1. Kenzie fabricates evidence. Kenzie can very easily manipulate past data and insert things that never happened. With how Lisa s shard works, false information is kryptonite to her power. She risks being literally blinded and her power tells her this. no wonder she is freaking.

    3. Lisa isn’t scared of the power, she’s starred down eidolon. She’s more likely scared of the girl with the power.

  6. Gawd those first paragraphs were scary to read.

    Yeah, okay, all thems that be giving crap to Yamada- taking into account that Yamada had just read THAT twisted horrorbox… yeah… No wonder Yamada be freaking out.

    Honestly, I was reading that for a bit and thinking “wait, is this V’s other half narrating? Have we switched to Dark!victoria as narrator halfway through the story?”

    1. What if the Wretch is developing a personality? A scheming conniving manipulative personality.

      Although if that’s true then Tattletail must be deliberately deceiving her by introducing this big conspiracy for Hero!Victoria to follow.

    1. “Tattletale and Victoria” sounds clunky. Victortletale is half the syllables and twice the fun. You’re welcome.

          1. You have to mash the two names into one, new name. If it is a pun or sounds cool/fun, bonus points. Your suggestion, even though not a bad one, does not fill the requirements. 🙂

  7. That opening, where I wasn’t sure if this was a new perspective of Vicky…

    “It’s bit an interlude! But this would be Vicky in a way? Gahhhh!”

  8. .. anyone else hoping they manage to get Dragon/one of her subroutines one-side with preliminary evidence corroborating TT’s analysis?
    if there IS a systemic sabotage campaign going on, this is the sorta thing that could escalate VERY quickly- the last time they left something like this to the middle-tiers without passing them extra resources, it ramped up to a massive disabling strike on the cities command structure- my money’s on Teacher- if there’s anyone stupid enough (now that saint’s out of the picture) to start fucking around with mind games against whats left of the established structure for minimal gains when there’s another rival power arguably deserving more attention……

  9. Plot thickening typo thread:

    ““Not hookup,””
    Capitalisation.

    “even higher, than reached”
    >then

    1. “We judged our own actions based on our intentions, and we judged the actions of others on their actions.”

      I think the second actions should be intentions, as otherwise it’s rather tautological.

      1. It’s supposed to be this way, since you can never be sure about other people’s intentions (well, unless you’re a decent Thinker).

  10. Aiden is starting to get the gist for his own creepy skillsets. More than a dozen birds staring at the same target brings a very Hitchcockian fear, probably some reptilian instinct that lunchtime’s about to hit.
    Kenzie finds a way to weaponise her stuff again. Anti-fashion bomb, activate !
    Works only once, but pulled at the right time…

    And if Darlene remains as Hookup, might as well pick “Lovebirds” as team name.

  11. I am now eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see what a buddy-cop comedy looks liek when filtered through the lens of post-GM parahumans.

    Tattletale and Antares working together! One’s wacky! One’s spikey!.

    Seriously, I do really want to see the two of them working together.

        1. Wait, you mean you didn’t consider this one so obvious we weren’t supposed to comment on it?

          1. Don’t tell me you are also waiting for someone to also point out that all capes are wacky almost by definition.

  12. Yes! This is so awesome. I wanted to see the diary read like Victoria and it does. It’s off and unsettling, but everything makes sense and is a plausible position for Vicky to have.
    I’m loving and dreading where this goes.

  13. The only intent I can think of for this kind of widespread yet personalized attack is to destabilize Gimel’s cape scene, to break their relations to hinder cooperation.
    This leaves us, I think, with 3 possible suspects:
    1) Earth Cheit – Motive: I bet they’d love to see Gimel’s defenders fighting among themselves so they can eventually swoop in and take over. Means: They’ve got an entire planet’s ressources and parahumans united under one government, I’m sure they can figure out a way to do something like this.
    2) Teacher – Motive: Same as Cheit. Means: He has portal tech and a lot of old Cauldron stuff, and he can give out tinker and thinker powers with specific uses. Might be enough to spy on people to this extent.
    3) Simurgh – Motive: ??? Means: She’s probably the most powerful Thinker/Tinker floating around, faking a diary should be easy for her. She also likes to use subtle, long term manipulation.

    1. Thoughts on your suspects:

      Cheit… they have resources… they have motive…. and yeah, I guess you are right that they have a planets worth of resources….
      but then again, story wise, it doesn’t feel like anything was hinted at here. It doesn’t feel like there was any explicit indication that they would have these powers.

      Teacher….
      Does teacher have his hands on The Clairvoyant? Remember when Doc Mum was using the Clairvoyant + teacher assist in order to “read” ziz (see the last section of 28.x) .
      Because the assets displayed there would appear to be about half of what would be needed in order to make this plan……
      But it would still require a ridiculous amount of foresight! In order to start collecting and planting data MONTHS before Victoria actually became important, it seems… possible? Maybe.

      Ziz….
      Honestly, this plan just doesn’t seem subtle ENOUGH to be a Ziz plot.
      If it was Ziz, I wouldn’t expect her to Frame Vicky, I’d expect her to say a couple phrases and then actually have this all happen.
      Why frame someone for a crime, when you can find the right word in order to convince them to do it intentionally?

      The methods look strange, but the crazy far out planning looks very Dinah, and we’ve had multiple explicit mentions of her motives currently being inscrutable, along with (potentially) several indications that she may have been lining up Breakthrough for some time. … but that said, I feel like a Dinah plot seems like the sort of thing that TT would notice, and if it was Dinah, I’d expect her to line something up, not just “Target EVERY team”, as seems to be suggested by TT here.

      1. Here is one thing for you to consider when deciding who could be responsible – I expect that at least after Dragon found the diary in Victoria’s laptop, she would start to monitor Victoria’s online activity to see if someone could be planting something in her computer. It would be an obvious thing to check for in a situation like this, don’t you think? Even if she couldn’t decript anything that was sent to Victoria’s computer, shouldn’t she notice that some of the communication between Victoria’s computer and the rest of the Internet doesn’t match what should Victoria’s online activity look like in terms of volume of traffic, servers her computer connects to, intervals between transmitted packets, protocols used, security of the servers Victoria has been connecting to etc. You could probably work around any of those problems to make everything look innocent, but all of them? In a way thatDragon wouldn’t notice? How good you would need to be to pull it off?

        Dragon didn’t notice anything suspicious despite the fact that “Victoria’s diary” apparently kept growing for three more weeks since then (presumably in small chunks added no more than a few days apart). How could it happen? Did someone use Richter’s old codes to hide any suspicious data blocks from Dragon, or was she just for some reason unable or unwilling to monitor Victoria’s online activity the way I’ve just described?

        1. It’s possible that Dragon still has some degree of her original “don’t break the law” restriction active, or is otherwise unwilling to engage in significant surveillance of an ally without their knowledge or permission.

          1. I don’t think it is the case. If anything it could be possible that she didn’t want to devote resources to conduct such surveillance of someone who ultimately didn’t commit a crime, and instead trusted Jessica to be able to correctly figure out if the diary was actually written by Victoria or not.

            Notice that even Jessica ultimately told Victoria that she is concerned, but didn’t take any action other than conducting her investigation and confronting Victoria yet. Plus even she admitted that there is a chance that Victoria is innocent. If Jessica thought that Victoria committed an actual crime or that Victoria is so dangerous that something needed immediately be done to stop her from influencing her team the way Jessica thinks she does, then that confrontation would end very differently – even if Victoria was allowed to leave the Bunker, she would probably be assigned an escort who would make sure that Victoria wouldn’t do something that looks suspicious – like taking Kenze to a “liar of villains”.

            Of course it is also possible that Victoria does have an “escort” she isn’t aware of – for example in form of Dragon who uses Victoria’s phone to track her every move and listen to her every conversation right now. If this is the case, Dragon may be convinced about Victoria’s innocence as soon (if she isn’t already) as Victoria and Tattletale’s investigation manages to bring first results.

          2. Of course it is entirely possible that Dragon respects people’s privacy to a point where the only reason she routinely does a full scan of any system she connects to is to ensure that none of those systems can be used to hack her. In this case Dragon wouldn’t spy on Victoria right now.

            Remember that Dragon is ultimately a very good person. There is no reason to think that she wouldn’t respect people’s privacy just because she could get away with keeping everyone she suspects of anything under constant surveillance.

          3. And, funny enough, Dragon’s respect for people’s privacy could be a reason why she didn’t catch the fact that someone kept updating Victoria’s diary through Internet for last three weeks.

        2. Note that we don’t actually know whether the diary was updated over the internet. Other possibilities include stealthy ninja action, a hidden receiver, a power that allows altering data, or a master effect causing Victoria herself to write the diary.

          1. All methodes theoretically possible. Some could backfire on their users if they can’t stop the diary from growing despite the network card having been removed. I could imagine it with the master effect especially if it wasn’t placed carefully enough, and can’t be removed without making some sort of direct contact between Victoria and whoever put it in place. Not that I expect it to happen, but wouldn’t it be an interesting situation?

          2. Also don’t forget to add occasional possession by Victoria’s shard or a split personality (Victoria did have multiple heads for years after all, what if she has an “evil twin” inside her who evolved in one of those heads back then?) to your list of possible master-like effects.

          3. Just realized that I don’t need to remind YOU of all people about the possibility of Victoria beeing possessed by her shard at least.

            I feel stupid again.

          4. Or maybe it is an actual non-mastered Victoria from the future who for some reason decided that she should write the diary for current Victoria’s own good?

          5. We also have yet to see it but a technopath or tech based shaker/striker/breaker (thinking “travels into the digital world” for breaker) could do it.

  14. If I’m to assume that Tattletale is right – she usually is, it is kinda her thing – then this has quite some implications. As Victoria says, there is no guarantee that everyone is getting framed the same way (vaguely scandalous diaries). Doesn’t even have to be on computers all the time… Although the placement of this tiny morsel almost necessitates tinker powers in order to cover the tracks. Dragon would have checked for obvious shenanigans before giving this to Jessica Yamada. Teacher might be out as a suspect because of this, because he can only produce shitty tinkers (a two on the power scale at most).
    It remains to be seen what else Tt will find in this vein. Might be other diaries, or missing money, or implied substance abuse, or… the possibilities are limitless.
    It is, however, striking that Victoria as a person does not seem to be the target here… She wouldn’t even face a trial over this. No matter how this turns out, she remains a factor in play. The strike targets her (net)work more than herself as a person: Dismantling her team, discrediting her effort to connect hero teams by making her out to be manipulative as hell, damaging personal connections.
    Therefore, I see two possible goals “the opposition” (whoever this might be) could be after:
    (1) provoking certain reactions from the isolated individuals (the nature of which remains to be seen)
    (2) separation of the (para?)human players, possibly with the addition of new conflicts.

    For option two, Earth Cheit seems the most obvious suspect, as they’d profit the most. Option one might be basically any mastermind’s first step in an elaborate scheme…

    There are interesting chapters ahead! 😀

    1. You rule out Teacher on the grounds that his tinkers are too weak, but we don’t actually know the limits of Teacher+Scapegoat.

      1. and keep in mind the sheer collateral damage he made with a SINGLE shitty tinker- sometimes it only takes a single aggressively mediocre nobody like saint at the wrong time to start the fucking wheels coming off- and ii got the feeling he’d been planning THAT operation for a significant length of time.

        trying to remember-canonically, did Saint just finally snap from paranoia combined with his degraded intelligence,and his owner rushed to make the most of the opportunity since the vulnerability wouldn’t last, or did Teacher nudge him into mind******* Dragon despite it literally being the worst-possible time to make a power play for his own safety?

        1. Saint is a bad example, since he was able to stand up to Dragon because of Richter’s black box and the code that was within. Teacher gave him the ability to use said code. Basically made him a swordsman, but even so Saint would have never been able to forge the magical blade to strike down the Dragon. Here, we’d need another blacksmith to conceal tracks about the placements of faulty evidence since Dragon has outgrown Richter’s code at the end of Worm.

  15. I wonder if this diary is a result of Dauntless connecting everyone? Could someone get read-only access to Victoria’s shard? What would that look like?

    1. It may be not a definite “no”, but remember that Yamada blocked Victoria’s number before Dauntless second-triggered.

      (This comment will be a very weird case of “something like a double post” if my previous attempt to respond to Departure_Dave’s idea will somehow return from the void it seems to have gone to. Sorry everyone if it happens.)

  16. I just wrote a very long post about how I think that all signs seem to point out at Teacher, and it apparently didn’t go through.

    I don’t have a backup copy, and I’m not in the mood to spend next couple of hours to write the same thing again. Either it was stopped for moderation or something, and will pop up later, or it will be one of my theories you will never see. I feel that I posted way too many of those lately, so maybe it is a good opportunity to take a short break anyway?

      1. I could point out that I have no Word on the tablet I usually use to comment with, but yes, I probably should have typed it in some other program that would save the text for me, and copied it from there. Even simple application for making notes would do, and it’s not like I don’t use it for Ward, though these days for little more than making a list of typos when I read the story.

        I just hate switching between it and the browser so much that I usually prefer to type my comments directly in the browser, even though the comment box isn’t really suited for work with longer texts and there is a small chance of losing a post this way (as it apparently happened here).

        That said, maybe not everything is lost. It happened to me a few times that one of my comments wasn’t displayed immediately after I posted it, but for some reason appeared later (sometimes after just a few seconds, sometimes only after hours, if not days).

        1. What I do sometimes is just occassionally copy whatever I type into the comment box, especially before posting it..

          No need for another app, and it’s a reasonably good way to keep your text safe.

          1. I tried doing that too, but the way the interface of my tablet works with editable text, doing it is even more pain than typing a comment in a separate program would be.

            If a given block of text can’t be edited (for example when I’m copying something from the story text or another comment to make a quote) it isn’t so bad, but when I’m trying to copy what I’m currently typing into the comment box, even selecting the already written text can be a pain, not to mention that after it is selected hitting “copy” doesn’t always actually copy anything anywhere for some reason (and I won’t know it until I actually try to paste it somewhere else).

            In other words – tablet is excellent for reading, and works for writing short comments, but for writing longer ones I will probably need to move back to my desktop computer, or get myself a laptop.

  17. Man. Victoria Dallon still manages to be Fashion Police when all this shit is going down.

    And what’s up with Sveta? Why is she adding shit to sandwiches? Stop that.

    1. Sveta probably has a problem shifting from making food for Weld, and doing it for normal people. Remember that Weld needs some really wired stuff in his food for it to taste anything other than bland to him.

      As for Sveta making food for herself, I wouldn’t be surprised if her diet was only a little less unusual than Weld’s.

      1. Fuck. That’s actually fucking good.

        Goddamn Wildbow and your consistent characterization.

        1. Team: Wishbone. It covers the heart and is often broken (for a wish) and frequently comes from chicken.

  18. Did Chicken Little’s corner of the kids HQ remind anyone else of the “Skitter’s floor” of Taylor’s HQ in Brockton Bay? I wonder if he intentionally took inspiration from that place, or if it was unintentional, based on subconscious recollection, or even just suggested by someone else who saw Taylor’s hideout (like Tattletale for example).

    1. That was exactly my thoughts! He needs some mood lighting and a dramatic villain chair to pull it off properly tho

  19. the first paragraphs dont read like Vicky at all. Sveta and Weld makes her actually fret. She actually cares for Kenzie. although i guess since we have been passengers inside her head we can know this whilst st. Yamada cant.
    i am on a re-read of Worm. isnt being able to truly help some thing of a unfulfilled wish for Lisa?

    1. They don’t read like Victoria to us because we know her actual thoughts from her narration. If all you knew about her behavior around Jessica and Victoria’s acquaintances could tell Jessica (especially considering that Jessica couldn’t tell them what she suspected Victoria of, and that Jessica couldn’t talk to someone like Tattletale who would probably quickly figure out what’s going on herself), I imagine you could be fooled.

    2. Whats more, her “voice” is similar. Word choice, phrasing, ect, even if its not stuff she’d actually say. Almost as if its been written by the same author in fact…

      Oooh new suspect! Wildbow did it! He’s written himself into the story stephan king in dark tower style!

  20. 1. “Even Weld breaking up with Sveta was in the fucking diary.”
    Weld talked with Victoria in 11.4, while Dragon-scan happens earlier (as far I understand), in 10.13.
    This means, that diary continued after Dragon-scan.

    2. “I fed my computer a ton of [info on Victoria] and put it in a blender, and now I’m extrapolating with human-guided machine learning. It takes its best guesses about what’s working along six different protocols and each time I keep one and discard another it adjusts its guesses and narrows in on something workable.”
    Just imagine…
    But in that case Tattletale would find out pretty soon.

    1. I think it might have just duplicated Yukikaze’s ninja outfit from Taimanin Yukikaze or Sakura’s outfit from Taimanin Asagi, which makes me wonder what exactly she was using as training material for the expert system, because the Taimanin series is very, very NSFW.

  21. How about Hub for Darlene’s cape name? The Heartboken are supposed to be scary after all, and I imagine plenty of readers would find this name quite disturbing, if nothing else…

      1. Nah, as nice as it sounds (and I think Interlink does sound better than Hub) the Heartboken are supposed to be scary, so why waste the chance to scare the readers on meta level by making Darlene’s cape name remind them of how the shards called Scion?

        1. The problem is that Hub just isn’t scary. When I hear it, I don’t think of the Warrior-Hub. I don’t even think of fancy technology. I think of hub caps.

          Also, Pinkhair has a point. To that end, I think it would be better to avoid names that reference the support function of her power and instead focus on the aspect other people are likely to encounter — feeling Darlene’s pain. So, names like Reflecta, Agonizer, Overshare, Mirrorsense, or Stop Hitting Yourself.

      1. It’s also asking everyone else on your team to ask you to fix random stuff around the hideout:
        “Hey Hub, can you do something about that leaky faucet?”

        Verdict: 2/10 – bad outcomes for both enemy and ally interactions.

  22. The direction of disagreement with Victoria’s actual thoughts makes my prime suspect the anti parahumans forces we last saw arranging a mayoral candidate and messing with immigration. They want evidence that parahumans can’t really coexist with baseline humans, so having them say in their own words that’s their goal makes sense.

  23. Mmmm. Non-platonic subtext between Ashley and Vicky? Between the favourite and second to third favourite person of Kenzie’s?

    I think we now know the author ;P

    This was a fantastic chapter. Took me until the section of manipulating Ashley to realise this was the diary.

  24. Man, the diary writer is way off the mark in some pretty crucial details. Mentioning Amy is a big one since it took forever for Victoria to even start using Amy’s name in her own thoughts let alone anything spoken or written. The inentional non-platonic manipulations of Ashley and Byron is another since Vicky can’t even consider herself suitable to be in a romantic relationship anymore. She doesn’t have the self confidence in that regard to even attempt trying to lead anyone on. This was the point that flagged to me that this was the diary. But otherwise it was pretty chilling to read and I can definitely see Dr Yamada’s concern if there’s even a shred of credibility to it.

    My heart went out to Victoria there, that’s a hot mess of potential personal pr hell sitting like a ticking timebomb on her laptop. The anxiety is real.

  25. This is mildly awkward. Hopefully the duplicate in the wrong place can be deleted at some point?

    Reading this I can’t shake the feeling that somehow, in some sense, Victoria actually did write the diary.

    She calls out the end of Sveld especially, for good reason, but that’s not the half of it. Get a load of this fricking thing: “I’d seen the way Byron had looked at me on that day in group therapy.” The former? The original exchange could’ve been spied on; we know outside observers noticed Weld’s eye wandering; Victoria’s been asking around for urgent Sveta solutions…. It wouldn’t take rocket science to reconstruct that much.

    Byron’s one-time side-eye ogling from the end of group therapy though? Noooo. Nope. THAT is another tier entirely. That graduates things from ‘impressive power-enabled forgery’ all the way up to ‘weirdly-specific Fortuna gambit.’ It’s *too* accurate. Any one piece could have been real; could have fit the book we’re reading just fine. Some she might only ‘think out loud’ under strange conditions (emotion power, head injury, heat of the moment, new trauma, meeting Amy…), but it all reads like a version of her. Even the woman herself says as much:

    “I couldn’t blame Jessica for doubting me. Reading this, I was starting to doubt my own reality. Because it was close. ***There were thoughts in there that mirrored thoughts I’d actually had, and lines in there that paralleled things I’d said in reality***, if they weren’t those exact same things.”

    Calling it now. It can sound like a version of her would and it can know things only Victoria could, because it *is* from a version of her. This will turn out to be Scapegoat playing with power synergies, or a very similar power combination.

    This makes me think of Furcate’s versions, Ignis Fatuus’ outfit, and Scapegoat’s Lens: the “nearby” timelines with other versions of the same parahumans. The shards use them for precognition and simulation, apparently, and William Giles sees/accesses them by touch. In pure pragmatic plot terms, we have plenty of alternatives. But our protagonist is changing into a different version of herself, the black-masked killer learning to live with wounding her parents and marooning-probably-dooming her enemies.

    What could be more thematic than being confronted by her own worst self?

  26. 3. Looks like diary did not mentioned execution-exile procedure which should be weak indication that Victoria did not write it, at least for Dragon.
    Or it could be reason for faking diary itself – discredit capes performing execution.

  27. What was brought up in the comments was that Victoria didn’t learn that Weld was on the rocks with Sveta until _after_ Dragon scanned her computer.

    This means that it couldn’t be Victoria’s shard as was theorized, but some powerful thinker conglomerate.

    Teacher, Earth Shin, Earth Cheit, Alcott’s Anti-Parahumans and, of course, Parian’s true power.

    1. Actually the mention of Weld and Sveta, and plenty of other details we saw in the diary at the beginning of the chapter, just suggests that whoever has been adding to the diary after Dragon found it. If Yamada mentioned that she knew about the situation with Sveta and Weld from the diary that would mean something more, but still could be explained by something as simple as Dragon periodically checking Victoria’s computer for updates to the diary.

        1. If the diary mentioned knowing about Weld and Sveta before Victoria herself did, she would have commented on it in her narration. Note that the diary also mentioned other events that happened well after Dragon found the diary, such as Damsel leaving. The obvious takeaway isn’t that the diary was prescient, but rather that the copy on Victoria’s drive has continued to be updated from time to time.

          1. > diary also mentioned other events that happened well after Dragon found the diary
            Not necessary, it could be real!Victoria extrapolation of diary. Only “Weld breaking up with Sveta” is mentioned directly, while Wildbow is known for wordplay 🙂
            For example “I had cheated earlier when I’d commented about Byron to Rain” 99% should not be in diary, because referenced conversation happens right before diary reveal and fake!Victoria could only write this at the time real!Victoria found the diary.
            But other stuff, like Brandish injury are highly likely 🙂 mentioned

          2. @OverQuantum

            Whoops, looks like I missed your post when I discussed what the bit about Byron and Moonsong’s breakup in the diary means bellow, and half of that discussion was unnecessary, not to mention that the rest probably should have been posted here.

  28. > “We. Us. Investigate.”

    That explains everything. The diary is a plot by Queen Administrator to make everyone work together again.

  29. Remember that Amy gave Victoria a choice of keeping memories of her stay in the hospital or not keeping them? Considering how those two years affected Victoria, and how it made her very uncomfortable with thinking about Amy, her body from that time still reflected in the Wretch, or about herself in context of any “non-platonic” relationship, maybe the Diary is written by some version of Victoria who doesn’t remember that time in the hospital, and doesn’t have the associated trauma, trying (and failing when it comes to topics mentioned above) to figure out Victoria’s thought process behind her current behavior?

    1. Heck, this diary seems so perfectly rational in some ways, that maybe it could be written by some psychopathic version of Victoria, or that perfectly rational version of Victoria Amy created during Gold Morning right after restoring Victoria’s body and clearing that alteration to Victoria’s brain which started all of it?

      1. Or maybe an even better fit would be something like Echidna clone of Victoria? Only you would probably need to copy Echidna’s power somehow, and modify it to work without the person being copied realizing that it happened? One thing it could solve is how other capes could be targeted in similar ways – they could be cloned too.

        Is there a chance that some powerful tinker made a scan of Echidna?

        1. It’s Tattletale’s Echidna clone. Through some cursed portal, she’s crawled her way back into canon.

          1. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Victoria’s Echidna clone, and if more of such clones of other capes existed.

            Think about it – Echidna clones hated their originals, and used memories they inherited from their originals to make their originals suffer as much as they could. It was basically their entire motivation.

            Now think about how much the diary makes Victoria suffer on how many levels. It threatens her friendships, it threatens her position as a group leader, it undermines her reputation, it mentions everything that triggers her traumas (Amy, romantic relationships, the Wretch, even the fact that it is a diary makes Victoria remember her time at the hospital, because it is the only time when she wrote diaries), it presents motivations for Victoria’s actions that are as logical as it was abhorrent to Victoria, and it is written in such a way that if any person Victoria cared about were to read it, they would be at least deeply hurt, and concerned. Even Yamada was.

            Doesn’t it look like the diary strikes at pretty much every vulnerability Victoria has at once? At least every one Victoria knows she has? Wouldn’t it be exactly something that an Echidna clone would do if it wasn’t put in a position where its existence would immediately be exposed and it would have fight for its life, like the clones from Worm had to, but instead would be able to work from shadows?

            If such clone was responsible for Victoria’s diary, then:

            1. It would have its memories updated if not constantly, then at least often enough to keep writing the diary (for example every time the clone and/or Victoria go to sleep – did Ashleys got each other’s memories when they slept? Rain’s cluster members certainly did). Alternatively a new clone would be created right before a new section of the diary was written.

            What if for example some anti-parahuman member of Patrol Block installed a tinker device into Victoria’s laptop that scans her every time she goes online, and sends a result of such scans to some place in the Internet where the scan would be used to either create a new clone, or to update the existing one’s memories. At that point the new or updated clone could start writing the new bit of the diary.

            2. Other clones would probably use different means of attack than diaries – Victoria’s used a diary, because Victoria hates diaries, and because no matter who and when would find such diary in Victoria’s computer, such discovery would be bad for Victoria on many levels. Other people could be affected more by other things than fake diaries more, so their clones would use those…

          2. And of course it doesn’t have to be a literal clone. For example an AI which simulates a mind of such clone based on a scan of Victoria’s mind would also work.

            Didn’t Teacher have a copy of an AI designed to emulate human minds? All he would need to do is to find a way to scan Victoria and make the AI emulate a mind of Victoria’s Echidna clone…

        2. Echidna clones default to violence against anything and everything automatically. The inconsistency of having one exception is why we lost the Witness chapter along with extra Vista and Shatterbird screen-time. That sort of Victoria clone would’ve just made a beeline either Carol or Amy.

          1. If it is just something based on Echidna’s power (like a tinker device based on a scan of her power) the behavior of such clone could be different. Alternatively you could put the clone in a situation where they are physically unable to interact with the outside world in any other way than by writing the diary (for example – hold the clone in Victoria-proof cell, copy just a mind of the clone and turn it into a Dragon-like AI, etc.)

            I’m also not convinced that Echidna’s clones would necessarily default to physical violence if they knew that the world at large didn’t know about their existence. Remember that they can be smart enough to use more than just physical violence – how else would the Triumvirate be outed as members of Cauldron during Echidna battle?

          2. If it is just something based on Echidna’s power (like a tinker device based on a scan of her power) the behavior of such clone could be different. Alternatively you could put the clone in a situation where they are physically unable to interact with the outside world in any other way than by writing the diary (for example – hold the clone in Victoria-proof cell, copy just a mind of the clone and turn it into a Dragon-like AI, etc.)

            I’m also not convinced that Echidna’s clones would necessarily default to physical violence if they knew that the world at large didn’t know about their existence. Remember that they can be smart enough to use more than just physical violence – how else would the Triumvirate be outed as members of Cauldron during Echidna battle?

            (Sorry if it turns into a double post. Looks like I made a typo in my name the first time I tried to post this).

    2. Interesting theory, but it seems a tad far-fetched. Then again, well thought out, but far fetched theories are your middle name. But, to be fair, considering it’s Wildbow, who seems to be the master of telling our expectations to f themselves, I’ve decided to accept any theory I hear as truth, even if they contradict, so I’m not surprised.

      1. Of course it is far-fetch, but I want to try to analyze all possibilities I can come up with both as a community’s process of brainstorming a possible solution, and because well… I think that coming up with cohesive if far-fetched theories can be just as fun, as sometimes finding one that later actually turns out to be true.

        1. Makes sense. Truthfully, I do the same. You have no idea how many times I made up some random theory that ended up accurate.

        2. To be perfectly clear this is how I personally go about making my theories:
          1. I try to make them elaborate enough to explain at least answer one big question and provide some explanation why this answer may be correct,
          2. I try to read enough past fragments of Ward and Worm, which I think may be relevant to the theory, to verify that the theory doesn’t run contrary to some easily found facts,
          3. I often use the Wiki, mostly to make it easier for me to find relevant fragments of text mentioned above,
          4. I try to keep up with everyone’s comments here,
          5. I usually avoid other places when the story is discussed (like reddit),
          6. Except for extreme cases I stay away from WoGs as much as possible – I consider them spoilers for this sort of exercise.

          Other people may follow different rules of course, and it is fine, but I personally consider this particular set my personal compromise which results in an intellectual exercise that is challenging just enough to be most fun for me. On top of it those rules give me an excellent pretext to re-read plenty of old fragments of the stories, which I consider fun in and of itself.

    3. I think this is getting warmer.

      I see two problems: The first is that Wowbild would use the butterfly effect, so that alternate Victoria wouldn’t have had all the same experiences. She probably wouldn’t even be a Breakthrough member.

      As it isn’t a single entry, to me that suggests it is a composite of *many* alternate Victoria’s, somehow selecting the combination that meets certain requirements and fitting it seamlessly together into a coherent whole. Almost the way Scapegoat does with the human body, but applied on the other side of the Manton limit.

      Also it is canon that the parallel worlds with other versions of parahumans are locked away the way Scion’s body was. Very very few parahumans have shown any ability to access the worlds beyond the Lens.

      Furcate clearly did. Eidolon’s Echidna clone used it to get dressed. Oh, and it is Scapegoat / Black Goat’s entire power.

      That’s my guess: Scapegoat with power synergies, or a Tinker scan of him.

      1. The butterfly effect is one of the reasons why I suggested that there may be something that makes an updated scan of Victoria every time she worhs with her laptop, or at least every time she goes online. Another way to achieve the same (which I also mentioned, by the way) would be to set things up so that Victoria’s hypothetical clone would get an update of Victoria’s memories every night when they sleep for example (just like Ashleys get each other’s memories, but only one way – from Victoria to the clone, and pretty much all memories, not just some snippets).

  30. Victoria was never cloned by Echidna. She was long gone before Noelle started her rampage.

    1. Which is precisely why I suggested that for this theory to work some tinker would have to make a scan of Echidna’s power and build something based on it.

      One thing to consider to either disprove this theory or make it more likely is which tinkers have ever seen or otherwise came close enough to Echidna to make a scan and if any of them would have a motive and opportunity to use results of that scan to mess with the heroes now.

      We should also not forget about a possibility that someone else is using notes, blueprints or scan recordings of such hypothetical tinker who could scan Echidna, but I feel that this is a possibility both too complicated and generating too many potential suspects to try to follow it without additional information for now.

      1. It is probably good to remember that as a general rule just because a cape is dead doesn’t necessarily mean that their power is gone.

        There are plenty of known ways (and possibly many unknown too) to gain access to such powers, and even modify them. Tinker devices based on scans are just one of those methods, and I chose to mention this particular one because it is so widespread and because we can probably scratch many (though not necessarily all) of the people who we know have alternative ways of accomplishing it from the list of suspects.

        1. And especially the shard still exists. I presume it could link up with someone new, and give the the same or a similar power.

  31. > If we’re tackling this, we should start at the fringes. Small groups and groups with very new or tenuous memberships.

    Who do you think Antares and Lisa will begin with? I think some of the likely candidates could be pretty much anyone mentioned in this quote from chapter 10.3:

    There were smaller teams too. The Major Malfunctions. The Lone Wolf Pack. Paint Fumes. Super Magic Dream Parade. The Keepers of Peace. Green and Bear It. The Homonculus Three. The High Road. The Fifth Brigade.

    (On that note I wonder how Fume Hood is dealing with Tempera’s death. I’m afraid that she may be particularly vulnerable to whatever is going on right now.)
    Plus the following people and groups:
    – Longscratch,
    – whatever this mercenary hero group with Accessio and Mamori is called,
    – The Wayfarers,
    – The Navigators.

    Maybe also some villains, like some of the villains we saw under Peancer’s, Bluestocking’s and Bitter Pill’s command last time? Especially the ones who did not belong in their core groups like Etna and Crested?

    Can anyone else think of any other likely candidates?

    1. Generally it looks like there are a lot of “fringes” to cover. If Victoria’s forcefield still worked like it used to, I would wonder if Tattletale would have to swallow her pride and let Victoria carry her bridal style while flying from group to group just so they could visit all of those groups in reasonable time…

      1. And maybe Tattletale’s dignity isn’t necessarily completely safe, because I guess even in her current shape Victoria could manage the piggyback?

      2. There is a solution to that problem, and it’s a lot more fun than a bridal carry. It involves a hang glider and some rope.

        1. Except they don’t have a hang glider, so maybe just some rope and a couple of carabineers or even eyehooks? Come to think I even know who they could borrow something like that from…

          1. You’re making an assumption there; we don’t actually know whether or not she has a hang glider. However, the cool thing about being a villain is that if for some absurd reason you do find yourself suddenly lacking in hang gliders, you can simply “procure” one. That ability is kind of the entire point of being a villain in the first place!

            And then, finding yourself in possession of a hang glider, a rope, and a Victoria, the obvious next step is to harness Vicky up and have her tow you around. If anything goes wrong, you simply untether and glide to the ground at your leisure.

          2. Or we could just have Kenzie quickly put together a glider-box. How long it could take her to do something that simple, if her new workshop is right there in the eastern part of the room?

          3. An extra benefit of doing it this way is that there is probably not that much time left until Christmas in the story, and the glider-box would probably be an excellent prototype for Santa’s sleigh.

            Next step would be to convince Prancer, Moose and maybe a few other similarly themed capes to pull it.

          4. And don’t tell me that it won’t work because Prancer an Moose can’t fly. Taylor also couldn’t fly… except when she could.

          5. By the way, has the Unblinking Surveillance State already gathered enough data to decide in what proportions this year’s Santa’s budget should be split between toy factories and coal mines?

        1. It is one thing to carry someone for a few moments. It is another to keep doing it for hours (which visiting all of those people would probably require) especially since Victoria isn’t exactly in her top physical shape. I think they would want to at least have some safety measures in place in case Victoria drops Tattletale, or Tattletale otherwise falls from Victoria, which is why I mentioned a rope and carabiners and eyehooks. A couple of good belts and/or harnesses would also be useful, I think.

          Basically you would want a setup similar to what alpinists etc. would use to ensure their safety in case one of them falls.

          1. If Vic is doing the Superman-style flight, she could just sit on her back like a horses. 🙂
            Whats a bit of dignity for the greater good.

          2. > If Vic is doing the Superman-style flight, she could just sit on her back like a horses Bitch’s dog’s.

            It could work, Tattletale certainly has experience with that.

    2. Under the definition of “fringes” as “small groups and groups with new or tenuous memberships”, I would put the Chicken Tenders in the fringes.

  32. Random re-read thoughts

    “I did my best not to show just how relieved I was to hear those words, after doubting my own sanity.”

    Victoria; you’re talking to Tattletale. Knowing this shit is literally her super power. Trying to hide your relief just ain’t gonna work.

    New theory, the easiest way to interact with TT is just to relax, emote as much as you’ld like, and chill the hell out. Why not? Feel free to chatter away about all sorts of things, and provide TMI or vent about how you’re upset about random bullshit.
    She already knows anyway. You might as well not stress yourself out trying to PRETEND otherwise.

    1. Finally! Somebody who realizes having secrets when dealing with somebody who knows all about you in minutes is stupid and pointless!

  33. What really stood out to me in this chapter:

    The diary is still being updated and kept current. Which means
    1) it was not planted just for Dragon to be found
    2) it should be trackable who does the updating.

    This Arc is fun to read so far. TT and Vic working hand in hand promises good times.
    TTs conclusions are interesting but make sense considering point 1)

    1. Only gripes I have with this chapter: it felt rather short.
      Hope WB isnt running out of steam. 🙂

    2. It was being updated, back when it had only been discovered by third parties who believed it to be written by Victoria. We don’t yet know if it will continue to be updated now that Victoria herself is aware of it and trying to track down the responsible party. They’re obviously paying close enough attention to her to realize that she’s learned of the diary. While it would be pretty hilarious if they added a new entry about how Victoria is miffed about the fact that her diary has been discovered and will now try to trick people into thinking it’s all a big scheme by her enemies, I find it hard to imagine them actually doing that. More likely is that they move on to Phase Two of their master plan, which probably involves either leaking the diary to the public before Victoria can get this under control, or else starting the Next Big Disaster to deny her the time to investigate.

      1. It mentions Kenzies new group of peers. The Sveta-Weld thing. So it is pretty current. It definitely was updated AFTER Dragon found it.

        But yes, “they” should know she found it. That Yamada mentioned it. So the assumption “they” will move on to the next stage is probably a good one.
        Leaking it would be a bad move however. That would just prove (or at least strongly hint) to Yamada and Dragon that this is a setup. And the public probably wont care at all about this diary. “Another cold and manipulative Para trying to maneuver their team. So what?”

        1. > It definitely was updated AFTER Dragon found it.

          Yes, and I specifically acknowledged that when — in my very first sentence — I said: “It was being updated, back when it had only been discovered by third parties who believed it to be written by Victoria.” 🙂

      2. In Solarstare’s words – they got their audience’s attention (or at least they have attentions of Dragon, Jessica, Antares and Tattletale – they may want a wider attention, but Victoria’s and Lisa’s investigation will probably get them just that).

        Next step would be to their reputation back…

        I mean, we know that Wardens have some weak precogs or similar thinkers they used to figure out how bad it would be to pop time effects for example, and Solarstare began her little talk with “I can explain it all, if you’re interested.” and then everything she said sounded cryptic, and full of double meanings. How could she not be one of those thinkers?

        I even explained a bit more about what I think Solarstare’s words could mean in the last chapter’s comments section shortly before this chapter was posted. You may want to check this link out in case you missed it then:
        https://www.parahumans.net/2019/04/09/black-13-3/#comment-84511

        1. Next step would be to their reputation back… > Next step would be to earn their reputation back…

          Sorry about this one.

        2. As to why Solarstare would not be called something more obvious, like Oracle or Cassandra, I can see two reasons:
          – the in-story reason would be that those names were probably already taken,
          – the meta reason would be that too many people would realize what her words really are, and too quickly interpret them correctly, and that wouldn’t be fun, would it?

  34. You know what? Now that Sveta “walks” by pushing herself with her tendrils off the ground, I wonder how long it takes her to use a doormat, and how many times a day she washes them. Could be just one more reason why she keeps using prosthetic hands.

    1. It would also explain the dress. It is not there just to make her look more human, it also prevents her from accidentally getting her hands dirty with tendrils she uses for walking.

    1. Agitation 3.05: “Lie detectors can be fooled, even mine”
      Cell 22.6: “she [Alexandria] didn’t get an accurate read on you [Taylor].  Much, I expect, for the same reason my lie detector could never seem to.”

      1. You are probably right. Still it is curious that they didn’t even try this method, and had a supposedly badly overworked Jessica do a three weeks long investigation instead. Does it mean that they really didn’t want to let Victoria know about the existence of the diary? It would fit the fact that Victoria had to intimidate Jessica with her power to make her tell Victoria what her proof is, and where it came from.

        1. > Does it mean that they really didn’t want to let Victoria know about the existence of the diary?

          Probably not about the existence of the diary, but about the fact that Dragon found it.

        2. The Victoria described by the diary would be presumed able to trick the lie detector. So, there are two outcomes. Either the lie detector does detect a lie and Victoria really is guilty, or the detector does not detect a lie and the status quo of uncertainty remains. There is no scenario where the lie detector helps Victoria, and despite her displeasure about the way she’s been treated, it does seem that they want to believe she’s innocent. Dragon was willing to sit on this until Jessica got back, and they’ve continued dragging their feet for three weeks now without taking action against Victoria despite her potentially sinking her claws ever deeper into Breakthrough. They are clearly not in a hurry to accept the diary’s version of events, so why would they have any interest in the lie detector?

          1. Yamada probably wanted to gather more facts before acting. Thats why she wanted to keep Vic in the dark. Now that Vic knows about the diary Yamada will hurry her actions along, I think. Its what Vic is suspecting, too. Her assessment about her emotional outbreak and aura use is probably correct.
            So we might see some nasty hero-infighting.

            Although I wonder how dependent BT actually are. Their funding comes from Number Man. They are more of a “club” than any official institution. So… worst thing is Wards cut them out. Which wouldnt make much sense operationally. Even IF the diary were true.
            I suspect their are other hero teams with questionable leadership.

          2. I think that this is not exactly the reason Jessica chose to keep Victoria in the dark about the diary. From Jessica’s point of view Victoria had to either be the author, in which case she would realize that someone had found her diary as soon as Jessica made her accusation and mentioned that she has solid proof, or Victoria is not the author, in which case I can think about only one reason to not mention the diary – to spare Victoria’s feelings which would (and have) been hurt while reading the diary.

            In other words Jessica did not want to keep quiet about the diary to hinder Victoria if she was guilty, but to protect Victoria in case she was innocent.

          3. Now that I think about it, this may be the reason why they did not use the lie detector – it was impossible to use it to determine Victoria’s guilt or innocence without informing Victoria about the diary first.

  35. TATTLETALE AND ANTARES TEAM UP, HELL YES. I love these two blond catty lowkey controlling but ultimately nurturing and well meaning super powered soccer moms, and now this rivalry has finally found a problem big/interesting enough to join forces over!

    This attack not being focused on Victoria or even Breakthrough makes SO much sense. The attack is big and detailed enough that it has serious firepower behind it, so it makes sense that that firepower belongs to a player that’s got amibitions and resources big enough to affect the cape scene as a whole instead of just one random small hero team.

    Also I liked that part about Victoria learning Tattletale’s rules to how she thinks/operates. No mercy or shame lowblow verbal punches doesn’t mean hatred, it’s just her default. Victoria strongly dislikes Tattletale because she, like, has common sense and decency, but she’s also understanding and thoughtful enough to figure this shit out, and I think once she gets used to interacting with Tattletale using her rules that she’ll maybe even get inured to it and even enjoy the company?? Hey, if anyone’s intense enough to be TATTLETALE’S friend (looking at you Taylor ‘escalation’ Herbert…) it’s Victoria.

    I just. Really want for these guys to be friends. They’ve got so much in common that they hate each other and also TATTLETALE WOULDN’T BE LONELY ANY LONGER!

    Also, SUCH a relief that someone as smart and with as much resources and unbiased (because she hates her) as Tattletale believes Victoria and is determined to help her, even if its for unaltruistic reasons. It’s reassuring that Victoria has an ally in this mess, especially such a useful one for this particular situation.

    1. Yep. I worry about Tattletale continued survival, her interlude made it sound she was trying to resist the well of blackness her shard feels her daily…and slowly failing. I am afraid one day she might try to commit suicide.
      Taylor was heroic, Victoria is heroic…but Tattleltale´s shard is a terrifying, overbearing passenger that taints every one of her thoughts, as we saw in her interlude. The fact that she has survived without becoming a nihilistic apocalypse cultist like Jack Slash still has me puzzled. For me, Tattletale is the most heroic person in Worm & Ward so far, besides the unpowered PRT soldier who shot Jack Slalsh. I hope she survives and finds happiness, she deserves it.

      If the “Amy Corona surgery” was given to Tattletale, or should she submit to her Shard, I am expecting a WORSE threat to mankind´s continued survival than even the Simurgh.

      1. I’m not that worried about Tattletale’s survival, at least not because of the reasons you mentioned. What she clearly needs is that someone forced her out of her shell. Kenzie and Victoria already seem to be doing just that, even if they don’t realize it.

      2. If Contender wasn’t such a violent freak he could have made a fortune selling his power as a service to any cape who wants a reprieve from their overbearing passenger.

        Tinkers should copy his field effect and use that to securise various critical points.

        1. > Tinkers should copy his field effect and use that to securise various critical points.

          Question is – could tinkers do it? There must be some serious limitations when it comes to copying certain powers with tinkertech, otherwise all really useful powers would be copied many times already. In case of Contender the very nature of his power could be an obstacle – how do you scan a power using another power, if the effect of this first power is to stop other powers from working? Sure, we don’t know if Contender’s power stop tinker scanner from working, or from recording anything useful to a tinker, but it may be possible.

  36. > We were parahuman, not human

    …and all of this talk about crumbling of non-cape life.

    Doesn’t it sound exactly like echo of Valkyrie’s inner demons? Crazy theory number N – the diary is some sort of a plot cooked up by Valkyrie with possible Jessica’s cooperation.

  37. What about Erwin? That guy from 7.y who gave Gary Nieves the information about Kenzie that led to that disaster on live TV (Hard boil?).
    His plan was, allegedly, to use Gary Nieves as a pawn to rid the government of parahumans and turn Earth Gimel into a vassal state to another earth.
    Maybe he’s working for Earth Cheit, and this diary kind of fits his M.O.

    1. Actually, while I haven’t mentioned him by name I meant people like him when I mentioned “Gary Nieves and the people who provided him with the documents with the dirt on capes” last chapter.

      Now that we know what is exactly in Victoria’s diary I think they are less likely. They may still be involved, but I think that whoever wrote the diary had to use some powers to do it or at least to constantly spy on Victoria. The diary just mentiones too many small details as seen from a perspective very close to Victoria’s, and manages to build narrative around them that is too elaborate and too internally cohesive to be written by someone who just observed Victoria through mundane means and something like Victoria’s psychological profile and/or her old diaries from the hospital to work with. Especially if you consider that details like Victoria’s reaction to Byron and Moonsong’s breakup have apparently been included on the same day when they happened.

      Unless the diary is a work of a genius in both surveillance and putting together such elaborate stories based on data from such surveillance, then some powers had to be involved, I think. So unless Erwin is a cape, I don’t think it was him.

      1. I had the opposite reaction to this chapter; my suspicion that it’s Erwin’s faction increased.

        1. I still think that it may be possible that it is that faction, but as I said it would probably require much more resources than just Erwin, unless he is a very powerful cape or an AI on par with Dragon. An entire faction may have such resources, of course.

          1. The interesting question right now is: is TT correct in the assumption that Vic is not the only target but just one of many.
            If thats the case then the ones behind it are either A LOT of people or someone with a power that allows spying on a lot of people simultaneously. A surveillance tinker maybe. Or someone like the Clairvoyant. Where is that guy anyway? Still with Cauldron?

          2. Tattletale seems to be not the only person who thinks that Victoria may not be the only target, or that the diary is the only method of attack. In fact Victoria seemed to suspect the same in the previous chapter:

            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.

            As for the Clairvoyant, we really don’t know where he is right now, but since last time we saw him (in chapter 30.7 of Worm) he was in Narwhal’s care, I suspect that the heroes would do anything in their power to keep him away from the Teacher. They must understand that, because of Teacher’s portal tech, Clairvoyant-Teacher combo may be almost as broken as the Clairvoyant-Doormaker one.

            The fact that Clairvoyant-Teacher combination would be this strong is actually why I’m inclined to say that those two aren’t working together. Otherwise Teacher would most likely be able to act much more aggressively and precisely than he apparently has, and he probably wouldn’t need to have certain field agents like his moles among the prison guards we saw in the Goddess arc.

          3. Teacher could obviously use some people among the prison guards, but he probably would not need as many as he seemed to have, since every new agent is another person who could potentially either betray him or be recognized as his thrall. It would make sense to keep their number as low as possible, I think, and with Clairvoyant’s support that number would probably need not to be higher than maybe two or three people in each shift. I was under impression (possibly false, reflecting Victoria’s paranoia at the time, and not facts) that Teacher had many more moles among the prison guards than that.

  38. I just realized that if Victoria did exactly like she told Tattletale, and first thing she did after getting from the Bunker to wherever she kept her laptop was to take her network card out, and if laptop was supposed to be turned off when she was in the Bunker, then I think that whoever is behind the diary made a mistake by including the mention of Byron and Moonsong’s breakup. A mistake that tells us something about their methods and limitations.

    Victoria said:

    The times the entries were made, at a glance, seemed to line up with times I’d been free and active online.

    but it can’t be true when it comes to the last edit, if the first thing she did after coming back home was to pull out her network card, no matter what the logs in her computer say – she was simply away from her computer during all the time from the moment of Byron and Moonsong’s breakup, to the moment she pulled her network card out.

    You see if the diary was updated via Internet, it should be impossible to do after Victoria pulled out her network card. This means that unless there is another network card hidden in the laptop, whoever added this bit into the diary had to do it when Victoria was away from her computer. This would mean that they had a way to turn the laptop on while she was away (by entering whatever place her laptop was – probably her home, like Jessica mentioned in the last chapter) or remotely and add the update then.

    Even if there is a second network card, the mention of shouldn’t be there, because it tells Victoria that the update had to be added when nobody should be able to connect to her computer (either because it was turned off, or because it had no network capability she knew about).

    This means that whoever planted the update either had no way of removing it after the network card was removed, or didn’t realize that Victoria removed the card in time to make necessary modifications before Victoria read that bit about the breakup.

    All of it makes me think that:

    1. Whoever wrote the diary had no way of spying on Victoria when she was talking to Yamada, because if they did, they would most likely revert the last update before Victoria got home. Maybe they have no way of spying on anything that is going on in the Bunker (for example because they use Victoria’s phone to spy on her, and if the phone is in another world, it is disconnected from the cell network). Maybe they need some special circumstances to see Victoria (for example maybe they need Victoria to be next to one of her teammates who, knowingly or not, is their point of view).

    2. Most likely either the authors of the diary can fool Dragon about when the updates to the diary were made (and possibly even about when Victoria’s computer is connected to the Internet), or they didn’t realize that Dragon saw Victoria without the laptop in the Bunker. I say it because unless the update was made right before Victoria returned home, if Dragon saw this last update and correctly read from the time stamps when it was added, she should quickly realize that Victoria couldn’t do it, because at that time she was at the Bunker, or on her way home, while the laptop was home – outside Victoria’s reach.

    1. Re. 2. Another possible explanation is that the authors of the diary simply don’t know that Dragon found it yet. If they knew it, they would make sure that no edits would happen around the time when Dragon saw Victoria away from her laptop, because of the risk that Dragon could decide to check if anything was added to the diary at that time.

      Either way it proves that the authors of the diary either don’t know some things – at the very least what Jessica told Victoria, or they couldn’t revert the last edit in time. Considering how quickly they managed to add that bit about Byron and Moonsong, I’m leaning toward the former.

      1. One more possible explanation of why mention of the breakup happened. It goes back to what I said about Solarstare’s “explanation” – the authors of the diary may know perfectly well, that Victoria knows about them and the diary, but they simply don’t care about making their lie seem plausible anymore, because their aim was not to discredit Victoria, but to provoke Victoria’s current investigation.

        If I interpret Solarstare’s words correctly, then the first thing the authors of the diary wanted to accomplish was to get their “audience’s attention” – to make the heroes look for them. They have attention of Dragon, Yamada, Victoria and Tattletale now, and the investigation will probably mean that more capes will soon turn their attention to the problem.

        In other words the authors of the diary may want to be found. The next step would be “earning their credibility back” – telling or showing the heroes something that the heroes would not believe or pay attention to, if they weren’t investigating the situation with the diary and whatever other attacks are going on.

        It feels a lot like the people behind the diary may feel like they are in a situation that is very similar to those people who made petitions regarding the time effects, and like LL, Cradle and March when they went for their terrorist attack in Brockton Bay – they want the heroes and the government do something about “the greatest threat”, but are getting ignored, so they keep looking for methods of putting the heroes in a position when their warnings can’t be ignored anymore.

        Threatening to disorganize the heroes by targeting some of them the way Victoria was targeted could accomplish that where even the terrorist attacks couldn’t, because the heroes can beat the terrorists (just like they did in last arc) as long as they can present a more or less unified front, but after something like what is going on now, they may be unable to cooperate like that.

        In other words the people behind the diary may be trying to tell the heroes “Look, you didn’t listen to our petitions, you didn’t listen when we attempted a terrorist attack, but we can do even more to make you listen to us – we can destroy the only real advantage you have over the villains – the ability to trust each other. Should we do it, or you finally do what we wanted you to do all this time?”

        1. Of course the timing (the fact that Dragon found the diary days before the battle in Brockton Bay), means that either the same group wanted to try what I described above and the terrorist attacks around the same time, or there are two groups which want to force the heroes to do something about “the greatest threat”, and one of them went for the terrorist attack, and the other for the current method.

          Since the first group had people who left Teacher after he vetoed going after the portals, it seems likely that the person behind the current situation could actually be Teacher trying to accomplish the same goal of making the heroes cooperate with him to deal with “the greatest threat”, but using a different method than March and co. – one that shows a better understanding of hero psychology (and let’s face it – he probably does have that particular advantage over March and any of her allies). After all if you give heroes a well defined target (like a terrorist), they will just band together and fight, but if you make heroes mistrust each other without showing your face to them, they won’t be able to deal with the situation that easily.

        2. I don’t understand this theory. If Cradle and Love Lost were trying to get people’s attention to inform them of a threat, why is it that every single time they’ve had anyone’s attention, they totally neglected to explain the threat?

          1. And if it is the Teacher, do you think that he could just call, or even waltz into Wardens HQ or the city hall and simply ask everyone to listen to what he has to say? How many people would listen to him? He could try to do it through a something like a letter messenger, but wasn’t the petition exactly that?

            Like I said – if he wants the heroes to listen to him, he would need to place them in a position where they couldn’t ignore him. The best way to accomplish it with a typical villain is to, as Victoria told multiple times, take away what the villain wants. To do it with heroes though, you would need something different, and going after the biggest advantage heroes have over the villains – the ability to trust each other to the point there many hero teams can coordinate on daily basis (like they did through Breakthrough network) or to band up together in face of greater threats (like they did against March in Brockton Bay for example), could just do the trick, I think.

            If I’m right, all other attacks will have one thing in common with Victoria’s diary – they will be designed to not so much destroy any heroes, as to make various teams (and maybe also certain individual powerful heroes) unable or unwilling to work together as a larger, coordinated force.

            It could even be already working for a while now – it may be part of the reason why Shepherds, Advance Guard, Kings of the Hill and the Wayfarers left the meeting in chapter 10.11 (just hours before Dragon found the diary!) and were not present at the meeting with the mayor in chapter 11.4. All it would take to accomplish, I think, would be to give them some “evidence” that would make them distrust some key people who did not end up leaving the meeting in chapter 10.11 like they did. Giving them “Victoria’s” diary in a way that would make them think it was authentic, and discovered by accident could be one of the ways to do it (and I think it could have happened, especially if you consider how many of them seemed to be inclined to mistrust every Victoria’s word then), and they could be fed similar lies about other participants of that meeting on top of it.

          2. As for Love Lost and Cradle not explaining the threat, remember that they could simply not be willing to talk to Rain’s teammates. They hardly can be expected to behave rationally whenever Rain enters the picture, and they could have expected Rain’s teammates (including Victoria) to behave just as irrationally. The people they wanted to talk to were probably the Wardens and the government, not someone like Victoria both because they thought that Victoria, as Rain’s teammate, wouldn’t want to listen to them (and to be fair, she did a lot to make them think that was the case by usually attacking first, and leaving questions for later), and because they considered her to not have enough power to be able to actually help with whatever they wanted to be done. All Cradle and Love Lost wanted to do with the smaller players was to ensure that the most useful of them (like Tattletale) and the most vulnerable of them (like the kids) would not die before the Wardens and the mayor caved in to their demands.

            The people behind the diary may want to go the opposite way – instead of trying to reach the people like the mayor and the top-ranked Wardens first by creating an S-class problem, they seem to go after smaller teams – like Victoria’s, in hopes of either gathering enough support of lower ranking heroes that they would not need support of the people in the highest positions, or (more likely, I think) to use the threat of cutting the Wardens and the government from smaller hero teams support, either by making those smaller teams not want to closely cooperate with the Wardens or some other hero teams (like AG, Shepherds, Kings of the Hill and the Wayfarers did during recent arcs), or making those smaller teams be useless to the Wardens and the government because of the problems with their key members (like Breakthrough right now).

            Remember that while higher-ranking Wardens and Citrine with all her Harbingers are all powerful capes, most of their political power depends not on their own powers, but on the ability to use other hero teams to do a lot of their work for them. Take out that, and those people at the top of City’s power structure will have no choice but to come to the negotiating table, if not just unconditionally accept the “opposition’s” demands, which is exactly what I think the “opposition” ultimately wants.

          3. And by the way if what I described above about the nature and aims of the current attack is true, then it is just another reason to suspect that the current “opposition” is in fact Teacher. Remember that in his early career he tried to have key figures assassinated, like the US Vice President or UK’s Prime Minister. The second attack was even successful, but it didn’t give him much, because prime ministers can be replaced. Because the system is prepared to function in case of such deaths of such key figures.

            If Teacher learned anything from that (and I think he might have – he is an intelligent guy, and he had years in the Birdcage to reflect on his mistakes), then he probably realized that if he wants to bring the system to its knees, he can’t do it by attacking any one key figure. Instead he needs to attack whatever the power structure is based upon, and in the City, with it’s laughably weak legal system that thing is trust. Trust the government and the Wardens have in the smaller hero teams, trust those small teams have in the government and the Wardens, trust the small hero teams have for each other, trust the public has left for the heroes and the government institutions.

            This trust has been weak since before the beginning of Ward. It has been weak since the PRT has fallen apart after the capes who participated in Echidna fight learned that the Triumvirate was composed of Cauldron members, and since some of the natural triggers among the heroes realized that some of their colleagues bought their powers from that organization. The diary is just one more way to undermine this trust people have for each other, and since to greater extent than ever it is trust, not law that allows the Wardens and the mayor to keep things together, this is a perfect angle of attack.

            Something Teacher with his past experiences should understand better than anyone else.

          4. And yes, any other group could understand that too. People have mentioned Chiet and the anti-parahumans for example. But I don’t think it is Chiet at least – the presence of the Order in Cradle’s team seems to suggest that Cradle-Love Lost-March attack was Chiet’s plot. It doesn’t feel right that Victoria’s diary popped up around the same time. Chiet tried diplomacy early on, and terrorism now. It doesn’t feel right that they would try a third scheme at the same time they tried terrorist attack.

            Dinah, if she still is the power behind the anti-parahumans could be a better suspect, but I’m not sure that she and the anti-parahumans would have resources to create the situation with the diary, while at the same time running multiple other similar attacks, as Victoria and Tattletale suspect.

            Unless someone like Chris decided to suddenly go after the heroes for some reason (and I don’t think it fits, if for no other reason, then because his particular kind of paranoia makes him hate the methodes used to create and plant Victoria’s diary), this leaves only Teacher in my opinion.

          5. And no, I don’t think that Teacher wants to irreparably destroy the power structure of the city. It would not give him much – he probably couldn’t take over the city and build his own power structure there anyway, because everyone is so wary of him, his thralls and any capes known to be working with him. Even if he tried to take over, such attempt wouldn’t last in my opinion, unless he had a way to master the entire population of the city (and if he could do that, he would have done it already).

            Which is one more reason to suspect that all he wants is to merely threaten Citrine’s and Wardens’ power to force them to cooperate on his conditions.

          6. cooperate on his conditions > cooperate on his terms

            At least that is how this expression usually goes, if I remember correctly?

          7. It doesn’t fit. If Cradle and Love lost were really just trying to get the authorities to listen to them, they would be telling everybody they meet, even enemies and unimportant low-level capes. It increases the odds that somebody listens to them, and maybe that person investigates on their own, finds the truth to their claims, and then applies their own additional pressure to the authorities. Is it a long shot? Sure, but it costs them nothing to try. And if they do try and try and try, then that adds legitimacy to their claims. People start to think, “Wow, they sure are persistent with these claims of doom and destruction. Maybe we should look into that.” Plus, if they’re right, then there are good odds Tattletale hears about it and picks up the cause herself. She’s no stranger to taking extreme actions for the greater good.

            But they haven’t done this at all. Even if you rule out Breakthrough due to Rain’s presence, we (and Tattletale) would have heard about it by now from other capes. We haven’t. We’ve heard absolutely nothing. They aren’t trying to inform anybody of anything at all beyond the simple matter of their loathing for Rain.

            Furthermore, if they were trying to save the city, it would have shown up in their interludes. It did not. Cradle’s interlude even explained outright that he intended for March to create threats to the City for the sole purpose of trying to ransom his own freedom in the event Breakthrough caught him (i.e. not for the purpose of making people take him seriously).

            Contrast to Legend’s interlude in Worm. Cauldron, unlike the Mall Cluster, really were trying to save the world, and it showed despite all the lies and shady activities they were involved in.

          8. Actually the heroes would have little reason to talk to most heroes, because they were known villains even before Ward started. Why would any heroes listen to them? They would probably try to arrest them instead. As for Tattletale, remember that Cradle did try to make some sort of a deal with her during the villains meeting, and she probably did not want to listen to him because she knew or suspected that he was working with March at that point, and March has already attacked the Undersiders because of Foil. When it comes to other villan groups, remember that Cradle and Love Lost actually managed to convince plenty of them to work for them, and some of them (like Sidepiece and Disjont) actually seemed convinced that city is in fact “lost”. It is just that none of the villains Cradle and Love Lost managed to convince were powerful enough to deal with “the biggest threat”, or whatever the problem they were concerned about was, on their own. Cradle and Love Lost needed someone with far more power, possibly including political power than those villains, and that meant the government and Wardens.

            As for the interludes, it wouldn’t be fun if Wildbow explained in them what exactly Cradle and Love Lost were afraid of, would it? It is safe to assume that he will keep us about it in the dark for quite a while, possibly dropping some small hints here and there, but waiting to make the big reveal later.

            Finally – March. Remember that she betrayed Cradle and Love Lost, by doing something different than she promised. The plan those two agreed to definitely did not include releasing Kronos titan. Remember that Cradle actually surrendered after he heard that it happened, and has not even spoken in the dream-room since then. In my opinion it is not a just a result of being imprisoned – he is convinced that everything is lost already.

            March’s betrayal also explains the bit about “creating the problem only they can solve”. It had nothing to do with ransom. Remember this bit from Cradle’s interlude:

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

            There is no mention of collecting any ransom here. In fact the first thing that Cradle mentioned is an offer to provide resources, knowledge and power (including manpower) to help, and later even mentioned March as a convenient scapegoat the heroes could use to “save face” after doing whatever they needed to do to solve the real problem (which I suspect they didn’t want to do, because it would be unpopular with the public).

            Cradle’s plan was not want to cause a really big problem, like the Kronos titan, but something smaller – possibly like the broken trigger of Killington mayor just to drive it home, that the threat is serious enough that it could end up with something like the titan. Love Lost didn’t want to do even that – she hoped that just demonstrating to the Wardens and the government that some villains could be in position to pop some time effects would be enough to convince them to do whatever she and Cradle wanted them to do.

          9. And remember – Cradle didn’t say those things I quoted to anyone, he thought those things to himself. He had no reason to lie.

          10. Actually the heroes would have little reason to talk to most heroes, because they were known villains even before Ward started. Why would any heroes listen to them? They would probably try to arrest them instead.

            I’m not suggesting that they walk up to the heroes and say “Hi!” I’m saying that when they cross paths and the heroes are trying to arrest them anyway, they might as well speak up about what they’re doing. But they never did, despite having multiple opportunities. The most recent example was Love Lost. That fight didn’t start with a standoff and dialog, but it did end in one. Love Lost used the opportunity to negotiate her freedom in exchange for the whereabouts of parts of the Breaksiders. If she were actually trying to save the city, however, she could have brought that up at the same time. Also? Email exists. Intermediaries exist. Megaphones exist. They have had ample opportunity to explain themselves.

            As for Tattletale, remember that Cradle did try to make some sort of a deal with her during the villains meeting, and she probably did not want to listen to him because she knew or suspected that he was working with March at that point, and March has already attacked the Undersiders because of Foil.
            He didn’t need to make a deal with her! He could have simply told Tattletale the information, no strings attached, via email or intermediaries if necessary.

            But that wasn’t even my point, as I don’t know if he knew enough about Tattletale’s power to realize that she doesn’t need to trust him to quickly ascertain the truth of his words (though he and his cluster were working with her on their earlier jobs and the Fallen raid, so maybe). The point is that if he was telling people in general — even just other villains — about the problem instead of keeping it a big mysterious secret, Tattletale would have found out on her own. Since she clearly doesn’t know about whatever it is Cradle was supposedly wanting so desperately to tell people, we must assume he’s kept it a secret. Yes, he told them that there is a problem, but he has not discussed the nature of that problem nor solutions for it.

            That is stupid. Even if they don’t have the means to implement the solution, why would he keep them in the dark?

            As for the interludes, it wouldn’t be fun if Wildbow explained in them what exactly Cradle and Love Lost were afraid of, would it?

            The interludes didn’t need to explain what they are afraid of, only that they were genuinely trying to stop it. Again, see Legend’s interlude from Worm, where this exact thing was done without spoiling Scion.

            There is no mention of collecting any ransom here.

            Not with that exact word, but it’s what he was referring to when he talked about using the city as a bargaining chip:

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

            By this point in the story, it had become known among the heroes that he was responsible for what happened to the Navigators — something that all of the heroes decided was totally unacceptable, and many of them were out for blood. He needed a way to get them to back off and let him go free. So, he allowed March to go off and cause a big city-endangering distraction while he drained LL and Colt, and he planned to offer his services afterward to clean up her mess in order to avoid being arrested, using the city as a bargaining chip to secure his freedom.

          11. > Email exists. Intermediaries exist. Megaphones exist. They have had ample opportunity to explain themselves.

            You know what else exists? Formal petitions. Those things that have been tried to little effect. E-mails can be traced by someone like Dragon, intermediaries can be arrested and forced to reveal what they know about you, people with megaphones tend to draw bullets and blaster powers.

            Plus Cradle and Love Lost may not have believed that any of the smaller teams can help on their own, or can sway the government and the Wardens, especially since they directly or indirectly work for them. Sure, they probably should have tried anyway, but between his psychopathy, and her anger I’m not that surprised that they didn’t.

            As for the bit with taking money from the enemies of the city to destroy it (and I guess the rest of Gimel with it), it was obviously plan B, which Cradle didn’t implement, and wanted to avoid if possible (which the terrorist attack was all about – to force the heroes to implement plan A described a paragraph earlier). And I’m not surprised that Cradle, who is a psychopath with ties to a Cauldron splinter faction, would consider plan B if it would mean sacrificing fifty-some million people in the city (or however many are there at this point), plus unknown number of people in the rest of Gimel (no more than a couple billion, quite possibly just a couple hundred million) if it meant saving the rest of humanity in all other words. It would even be relatively small thing compared to Gold Morning.

            And remember – even if Kronos titan already exists in all Earths, and we don’t know how much damage he can actually do when he starts to act, but Dauntless seems to be convinced that it is a lot, and he still keeps drawing more power. Not to mention that all of those other time effects and portals still very much exist, and nothing says that something much bigger than Dauntless may pop out of them. All Earths really may be in danger. In this case Cradle’s plan B may really become necessary one day (that is, unless the titan’s existence doesn’t mean that even this plan is no longer feasible, which could be the case if dimensional collapse of Gimel could spread through him to other Earths for example).

          12. And to put things in a more genre-specific terms, I suspect that Cradle and Love Lost may be so focused on the big picture and big players that they see small hero groups as little more than glorified henchmen of the government and Wardens. Why would they waste their breath talking about the big picture to mere henchmen?

          13. As for Cradle’s talk with Tattletale, we just saw how much it took Victoria to get five minutes of Tattletale’s time. How much do you think she gave to Cradle, who not only wasn’t her ally, but was actually working, or at least considering working with March – a person who just happened to be the most annoying pain in Undersiders’ asses at the time.

          14. Let me attack the problem from yet another angle. To do it, we need to remember that neither Love Lost nor Cradle are very sane (and let’s not even start on the topic of March’s sanity).

            What is important, is to understand in what way they are nit sane, and how it reflects on their behavior. I’ll focus on Cradle, because he seems to appear more sane at the first glance, and because a lot of conclusions about him probably translates to Love Lost’s behavior because of the influence of his tokens on her.

            Cradle used to be a fairly well adjusted psychopath. All of it ended when he triggered, and soon after realized to his horror that as long as Rain is in position to give him tokens, he risks developing guilt.

            Cradle probably thought that to deal with Rain, he needs to temporarily cut himself from his friends, whose presence served as his reminder to not break the rules. He wanted to be temporarily free of those rules, because he thought that he needed to be able to be able to potentially use all means in his disposal to get rid of Rain, without being held back by those rules.

            What Cradle didn’t realize was that thise same friends served another purpose for him – they reminded him that most people do have empathy. Snag and Love Lost become his closest acquaintances, and because they kept taking Cradle’s tokens, they started loosing their empathy too, and ceased to display it in a way Cradle could understand it. Other people he closely interacted with, like his mercenaries, probably also didn’t display much empathy in his presence.

            This means that Cradle, who had a problem with understanding empathy, because he had none, probably for all practical purposes either forgot that it exists, or stopped believing that it could influence behavior of people like the mayor, or the top-tier Wardens. This means that he probably honestly didn’t believe that talking to smaller, less important hero teams, could let him sway mayor’s or Warden’s opinions.

            We know that Victoria could reach out to Citrine for example, and would have a decent chance of convincing Citrine to maybe listen to what Cradle has to say – both because Citrine, as a person with empathy, would feel the need to respond to Victoria’s plea, and because that same empathy would make Citrine feel strongly enough about safety of her citizens to care about their well-being seriously enough to do whatever is in her power to protect them.

            Cradle however could not believe, because he started seeing Citrine as a fellow psychopath – a person who would neither care about Victoria’s (or any other not-so-important hero’s) pleas to reconsider her decision regarding the portals and time effects, or to do what was best not for her, but for the people of the City. The fact that Citrine denied to do what the petitioners asked her to do with the portals and time effects, probably also convinced Cradle that Citrine cares for nobody, except herself and her position as the mayor.

            If you look at it from this perspective, it is no wonder that Cradle wouldn’t want to ask Citrine either directly or indirectly to do anything about “the threat” as long as “the threat” wasn’t proven to be a danger to her personally. Asking her would, in Cradle’s opinion give no results, because she simply wouldn’t care to help anyone if it would endanger her position, and from what Cradle thought, it can be deducted that whatever Citrine would need to do would be unpopular enough to cost her her position as a mayor.

            So Cradle did what he thought could convince the person he thought Citrine was – he organized an attack, which would prove that “the threat” could do enough damage to the City that Citrine would be replaced as the mayor even quicker, and more surely if she did nothing, then if she did whatever unpopular thing she would have to do to actually solve the problem. At the same time Cradle offered Citrine March as a convenient scapegoat.

            In Cradle’s mind Citrine’s situation would change from one, where doing nothing was less likely to be removed from her position than actually solving the problem would, to an opposite situation – in which Citrine would be more likely to be removed if she did nothing, because she would be blamed by public opinion if she still took no action after a time effect was popped and caused a broken trigger for example, while at the same time if she actually did something, she could blame March for forcing her to make unpopular decisions. This means that Citrine would have to solve the problem to stay at office, and would act out of purely selfish reasons.

            Similar thing with the Wardens – Cradle probably saw them as people who didn’t act because of selfish desire to save face, so he provided them with means of doing it when they acted (March the scapegoat again), and at the same time – made it so that they would lose face if they still chose to do nothing.

            Finally – Love Lost. Her reasoning was probably similar. Even though she had some empathy left, her anger and her knowledge that the mayor is a former villain made Love Lost think that Citrine is a “monster” (to use LL’s term) acting from purely selfish reasons, and as such would have to be put in position where she would need to act to not be removed from the office. Love Lost’s opinion on Wardens was probably not much better.

            The only difference between Love Lost and Cradle was that because she still had some empathy (enough to stop herself from harming small children for example), she didn’t want any time effects to be popped, because popping even one of them could harm a lot of people, and she still cared about other people more than Cradle did.

            Cradle was more focused on forcing Citrine and the Wardens to act by any means necessary, while Love Lost still thought that some means are too likely to hurt too many people to justify using them, and was willing to accept putting Citrine and Love Lost under less pressure by only threatening to pop the time effects instead of actually doing it, just to keep people who could be affected by popping the bubbles and time-loops safe.

            In other words Cradle was willing to sacrifice some people around the time effects to exert stronger pressure on the mayor and the heroes, while Love Lost – wasn’t.

          15. E-mails can be traced by someone like Dragon

            Not well enough to stop them from being useful. You just send the email from a free or hacked wifi connection somewhere away from home, using an email account that you never access from home, and then promptly leave the area. Since we’re talking about Dragon, you should also put your phone into airplane mode or turn it off before going there, temporarily randomize the mac address on your laptop before connecting to the wifi, and immediately kill the networking after sending the email. These are all easy things to do, and they should be obvious to someone like Cradle.

            And no, Dragon isn’t going to drop out of the air on top of you as soon as the email is sent. She’s fast, but she is still subject to travel time. Furthermore, she has bigger fish to fry. If you haven’t done something ridiculously stupid yet — such as chopping up the Navigators in a plea for attention as though you’re some kind of paint-chip eating infant — then she’s going to ignore it. Remember when Goddess sent Breakthrough an email and then teleconferenced with them, and nobody noticed? Dragon doesn’t even monitor all of the things, let alone deploy over them.

            people with megaphones tend to draw bullets and blaster powers.

            No they don’t. The Fallen of all people were openly recruiting, and everybody else just stood by and watched. Literally. The heroes were right there frowning sternly the whole time. Nobody would have stopped Cradle from hiring some folks to go around educating people about the threat and the solution. There are just too many more immediate concerns for them to focus on than a bunch of nonviolent distributors of unsolicited information.

            And to put things in a more genre-specific terms, I suspect that Cradle and Love Lost may be so focused on the big picture and big players that they see small hero groups as little more than glorified henchmen of the government and Wardens. Why would they waste their breath talking about the big picture to mere henchmen?

            Because they aren’t complete fucking idiots, maybe? And because, as you said, Citrine’s actions are likely to be influenced by what her constituents want? More people on his side means more attention to the problem and more pressure on the mayor to act. Do you think real-world environmentalists just go around refusing to talk to anybody who isn’t a head of state or industry leader? Do you think terrorists only communicate with politicians? You target the powerful people, sure, but you try to grab the little folks along the way so that you can have more voices, more votes, and more avenues for reaching the powerful ones. And, if push comes to shove, more pitchforks and torches when you decide a revolution is in order.

            Besides, if Cradle doesn’t want to spare the time to repeat himself to every peon he meets, he could simply do what every other activist does and make a shitty website (or print pamphlets, if he wants to be traditional). Then when people are like, “Hey Cradle! Why you be choppin’ folks up, man?” he can just be all, “Busy savin’ the world, dawg. Read my website.”

            And before you worry about Dragon tracking him from the website, the same means I outlined above for emails work just fine for updating websites. Nor would Dragon delete the website out of hand. Dragon is smart. She knows about basic, ancient, utterly proven advice like “know your enemy,” so she would at least spare a few milliseconds to read his website first. Since she’s open minded and knows that sometimes villains have a point, she’d consider the possibility that he’s right. She’d at least investigate a little. And if he is right, then there are good odds she’d find enough to justify investigating harder, and before long he’d have Dragon helping to apply pressure (far more effectively than he can!) to Citrine and co.

            But if she did decide to delete his website, so what? At most it’s a few hours of effort lost, and in reality most of that effort would still have value as long as he kept a backup copy of the explanation he wrote up. So, now he can simply print off a hardcopy of his already-written explanation, hand it to a minion, then delegate to that minion the task of converting it into pamphlets, printing the pamphlets, recruiting a bunch of people, and procuring some megaphones. That way Cradle can spend the rest of his time planning his childish acts of terror while the minions handle the grunt work of spreading his message.

            He gets all that for the low cost of one afternoon’s effort and a bit of spare change. But if he’s not willing to spend such a trivial amount of effort on massively boosting his plan’s effectiveness, why should I believe he really cares about saving anything in the first place?

            we just saw how much it took Victoria to get five minutes of Tattletale’s time.

            The only reason it took her any time at all is because she played the “Can I ask you a question?” game instead of just asking the question outright (or in this case, explaining her problem outright). She was trying to be polite instead of dumping everything on Tattletale without warning.

            Perhaps Cradle also wanted to be polite, but there is a lot of middle ground between politely asking somebody to listen to you and chopping them and their team into pieces that you wear as armor while bathing in the blood of your recently betrayed allies. When Tattletale didn’t listen to his polite request to share the information, he could have just gotten out the megaphone brigade and forced her to hear the information. Rude, but not as rude as what he did instead. And if it somehow didn’t work, it’s not like he couldn’t still escalate to chopping up children anyway…

            So Cradle did what he thought could convince the person he thought Citrine was – he organized an attack, which would prove that “the threat” could do enough damage to the City that Citrine would be replaced as the mayor even quicker, and more surely if she did nothing, then if she did whatever unpopular thing she would have to do to actually solve the problem.

            So, clearly you believe the threat to be a result of popping the time bubbles, or March’s popping of time bubbles would not provide a relevant preview of how bad the threat could be. Yet, the petition Citrine talked about in 11.4 — which you claim came from Cradle as a way to avoid or mitigate this threat of popping bubbles — was a request to pop the bubbles. So I take it that you believe the crux of this is that they needed to have Citrine gently pop bubbles before somebody like March came along and popped them worse? And the solution he came up with was to trust somebody he knew to be a suicidally reckless lunatic to carefully do a bad popping that wouldn’t be quite as bad as a real bad popping, but still bad enough to make gentle pops seem massively preferable?

            And this somehow makes more sense than, say, scanning March and using his tinker abilities to build his own gentle-bubble-popper in order to bypass the need for Citrine, or at least a remote controlled ungentle-popper that he could use to handle the preview-bad-pop himself without needing to trust March? (Yes, yes, they’d need their scapegoat in that case. That’s what mannequins are for, or minions who don’t know they have bombs planted in their costumes.)

            You can make up all the excuses you want to try to justify Cradle’s actions, but at the end of the day, that’s what they are: excuses. Not explanations. Not arguments. Excuses. The actions that he’s taken don’t line up with the motivation you attribute to him. The excuses all feel tacked on, and the picture painted doesn’t fit. It’s like if someone put a sweater made for a human onto a pony. It’s ripped in places, stretched oddly in others, the sleeves had to be removed and reattached in a different position… The whole theory feels like a massive contrivance, not a natural flow of motivations and choices. I mean, take a step back and just think about it objectively for a moment:

            “Hmm. They ignored my petition to save the worlds. The logical next step is to spend a bunch of time and resources chopping up a bunch of people to use as hostage-armor to protect me from the people who will want to kill me in retaliation for that unnecessary and irrelevant act which has nothing to with any of my actual plans, while independently of that my untrustworthy lunatic associate goes off unsupervised and hopefully doesn’t unleash a second apocalypse on the various Earths while performing a very dangerous demonstration of the threat posed by that second apocalypse. This is the only plan I can think trying, because the mayor is a psychopath who only cares what her constituents believe, so it’s clearly a waste of time to convince her constituents that she needs to listen to my petition even though convincing them would force her hand and accomplish my goal without having to risk the fate of all Earths.”

            Really? Alf, Cradle is a psychopath, not a retard. You’re clinging so hard to this pet theory that its bones are bending and creaking. You’re killing the poor thing. Just… just let it go, man. Let it go and be free to once again roam about in the verdant fields of optimistic dreams where it can rejoin the herds of its fellow crack theories. I know you’ll miss it, but… but it just wasn’t meant to be.

          16. > petition Citrine talked about in 11.4 — which you claim came from Cradle as a way to avoid or mitigate this threat of popping bubbles — was a request to pop the bubbles.

            Actually, I think the petition was to find a way to safely dispose of the bubbles, possibly using some methods Citrine would not want to implement, because it would be unpopular with the public (for example accepting aid from Chiet extremists, especially if it could be seen as surrendering some of City’s independence, or compromising on some fundamental values – like democracy).

            And I don’t think that Cradle is a retard. I think that he is convinced that Citrine cares only about her position, that she acts for entirely selfish reasons, and possibly also that she lacks empathy just as much as she does, so he had do give her selfish reasons to do what he wanted her to do. to put her in a position where doing what needs to be done would make her less likely to lose her position as a mayor than ignoring the problem would.

            Same thing with the Wardens – Cradle probably thought that they (or at least those of them, who make real decisions) are more interested in saving their face than doing the right thing, so again – he provided them with a scapegoat they could blame for doing what he wanted from them, while at the same time made sure that they would lose face if they continued to ignore the problem, because after the terrorist attack the public would know that portals and time effects are dangerous, and would expect, and possibly even demand the Wardens to take action. After all the Wardens exist precisely to deal with those sorts of power-related threats.

            So no, I don’t think that Cradle is necessarily a retard. I just think that he simply projects his psychopathy on the mayor and the Wardens, which leads him to think that the only way to convince them to do something is to provide them with entirely selfish reason to do it. If they were just as selfish ad as focused on protecting their positions and reputation as Cradle probably thinks they are, negotiating with them just wouldn’t cut – he had to force them to take action by endangering those positions and reputations.

            It is not retarded. It is just a logical consequence of assuming that the mayor and the most important Wardens care about nothing than themselves. A wrong assumption of course, but not unexpected between Cradle’s lack of empathy, and those people ignoring the petition (at least from Cradle’s perspective). It is probably even an assumption shared by many people – like plenty of the anti-parahumans, or people who suspect most if not all politicians of acting for entirely selfish reasons, which is not so uncommon line of thinking even in our world, much less in a society where just a few years earlier plenty of politicians and PRT members were actually caught on cooperating with the Cauldron.

  39. One thing I kinda missed but that did stick out a bit this chapter:

    TT knew the password of Vics computer. Okay, we know she has a power that helps fill in the gaps and super intuition and all. But just like that with no context on first try?
    Maybe there is something to it, that the mastermind behind this is actually TT?

    Could be easily verified by checking if there are entries in the time she was severed, though

    1. She pulled that trick all the time in worm. And as for clues to feed her power, she KNOWS Victoria personally. Id honestly be suprised if she DIDN’T crack her password.

      1. If anything just typing Victoria’s password in front of her could serve two purposes:
        – annoying Victoria even more short-term (and we know Tattletale can’t stop herself from doing it),
        – building trust necessary for a long-term working relationship by letting Victoria know just another detail about capabilities of Tattletale’s power Victoria could be still unsure about.

        It may seem like a very indirect way of building trust, but this is Tattletale who, as Victoria noted during this chapter, can’t even bring herself to apologize directly.

      2. I must have missed that in Worm.
        But you are right. They know each other personally for some time. And it does fit TTs powerset.

        It was just very…. in your face. Like there is no doubt in her mind about the password.

    2. Cracking passwords with ease is something shes done multiple times, with people she knows much less about than Victoria

    3. There are strong arguments for Tattletale being the one pulling the strings here, but knowing the password isn’t one of those.

  40. I just realized what is the most harmful thing Tattletale could say to Victoria right now:

    “You know why everyone has been so eager to discuss fashion with you lately? To distract you from thinking about your sister.”

    Bam! Instant Victoria’s retirement from the Fashion Police.

    It’s good that whoever wrote the diary put something like that in it either because they, as I suspect, don’t understand depth of Victoria’s trauma, because they felt that it would go against the narrative of cold, calculating Victoria they chose to paint, or because they simply chose to have some mercy on the poor girl.

  41. So, I’m a little confused about the order of events for this arc. In the second half of 13.1 Victoria and Ashley head to the location where parahumans are being sent away. When they arrive Byron and Moonsong are breaking up. At the beginning of 13.2 it says “Much of our group had gathered at the landing in the stairwell, halfway between floors. Breakthrough minus our human element, Vista, and Weld.” So based on this wording I assume that this is happening immediately after the events of 13.1. In 13.2 they go through the portal and end up in the bunker. In the bunker they talk to Colt, then Jessica shows up to talk to the group. In 13.3 while Jessica is talking to the group, Victoria is talking to Solarstare and Vista up until Jessica agrees to meet with Victoria one on one. Then at the end of the meeting Jessica tells Victoria she knows about the diary.

    My point in recapping all this is because I don’t understand how this line can be in “her diary”: “Byron had talked vaguely about Moonsong over the last few weeks, and I’d seen this coming.” She is writing from the perspective of her suspisions about by and moon having been confirmed but since finding out this for sure she has been with at least one other hero up until Jessica told her about the diary. Shouldn’t this raise some doubts about how likely it really is that she wrote the diary? There would be no reason for her to continue to update this diary after she knew that Jessica knew about it.

    I’m not sure if this is a clue or a mistake but it seems weird to me that Victoria wouldn’t call this section out since she has an alibi for why she wouldn’t have written it that she could at least prove to Jessica.

    1. I don’t think that’s a viable argument for Victoria, since she could’ve added those entries herself anyway, just to be able to say “look, it keeps updating on it’s own, even though I totally wouldn’t do it anymore”.

  42. Not the reaction I expected from Tattletale.
    Lowering my guard towards her as a suspect a little, but I’m still wary that she might’ve set this up in order to get Victoria to do something for her.

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