Black – 13.5

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“Warm up the car,” Tattletale said, over the phone.  “Plug in the booster seat and cage.”

“Booster seat?” I asked.  “Who?”

“You want to ride with?” she asked, more like she was replying with light annoyance or incredulity than she was offering.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Half-size cage, slot it into the middle.  Thanks,” she said over the phone.  She hung up, and rather than answer my initial question, she walked across the junior team’s headquarters and knocked on the frame to the office.

Kenzie was lying on Chicken Little’s desk, legs bent at the knees so they hung over the front and side of the desk, her head not that far from Chicken Little, while she held a projected panel up.  Chicken Little sat in his chair, chicken in his lap, and Darlene sat on the desk next to him, one foot resting on the edge of his chair.  All three twisted their heads around to look at Tattletale.

“We want to rent Chicken,” Tattletale said.  “With the supporting team in a supporting, stay-at-home role.”

“You’re taking him?” Darlene asked.

“It’s good, it’s a job,” Kenzie said, without lifting her head up off the table.

“Okay,” Chicken Little said.  “Let me get ready.”

“Don’t say yes yet,” Kenzie said.  “Parameters?  Guidelines?  What’s the job, how long?  How intensive?  How dangerous?  What tools should we expect to employ, and what does it cost us to employ them?  Then what do we get paid, based on all of that?”

Good questions, I thought.  The sort I’d told her to be ready to answer.

Tattletale rolled her eyes, clearly annoyed.  The end of the roll saw her eyes looking at me, for some reason.

“Okay, what she said,” Chicken Little told Tattletale.

“The job is to accompany us.  Might use your birds.  Strict fact-finding mission,” Tattletale told him.  “Talk to your team to get answers once or twice.  Low intensity.  Darlene can take a fifteen minute bathroom break to fuss over herself if she wants, it’s that mild a job.”

“That’s- don’t go and say that,” Darlene said.

“One of us on desk duty to go and get the other if we need it, if we’re not using microphones?” Kenzie asked.  Her legs kicked where they dangled over the edge of the desk.

“Yes.  Low danger,” Tattletale said.  “I hope it’s low danger.  Tools?  Bring two raptors.”

“And the Haast Eagle?” Chicken Little asked.

“That you called Chicken Large, told all the other kids about, and expected I wouldn’t hear about?  Too big, too dramatic for what we’re doing.”

“I’ll have him fly with, give him a chance to stretch his wings, if that’s okay,” Chicken Little said, getting a short nod in response.  “Okay.  That’s good.”

“For pay, let’s say… seven hundred.”

“Too low,” Darlene said.  “For a day’s work-”

“Day’s half over.”

“Tying up all three of us-”

“To a small degree.  We don’t really need you two, so you can decorate, play that singing game you’re too embarrassed to play when anyone else is around-”

Darlene huffed, annoyed.

“-or sit in his chair and spin in circles until he’s back if you want.  You’re not that tied up.”

“Don’t sit in my chair,” Chicken Little told Darlene.  “We can get you a good spinning chair if you want.”

“I wouldn’t- I don’t,” Darlene said, huffing more, and looking a little sullen.  “Even if I would, we’re going to be linked up and my spinning around could distract him.  One thousand.”

“Whatever,” Tattletale said.  “Seven hundred, but that includes a thirty percent discount because we’ll take a route to stop and get Roadkill.”

“Yes!”  Chicken Little exclaimed.

“What’s roadkill?” Darlene and Kenzie asked, almost simultaneous.

“Roadkill BBQ, it’s a restaurant.  It’s so good, I’ve been wanting to bring some to you guys.  It’s so worth the discount we’d be giving,” Chicken Little said.  “I’ve asked Tattletale and Imp once a day for weeks because I loved it and I want you guys to try it too.”

“That’s sweet,” Kenzie said.  There was no smile on her face, as she laid across the top of the desk, hands folded across her stomach, her head turning now and then to look at whoever was speaking, eyes large.  At the same time, though, her legs kicked more than they had been, heels banging slightly against the heavy wood of the desk.  She looked up at Darlene.  “Thinking about us.  What a good guy.”

“It’s really good,” Chicken Little said.  “One of my favorite meals I’ve ever had and my favorite since after Gold Morning.”

“It’s manipulative of Tattletale, trying to get us to lose out on three hundred dollars,” Darlene was a little quieter, like her resistance was crumbling.  “Just to get some dinner?”

“Say yes.  Please.” Chicken Little said.  “Roadkill is worth three hundred dollars.”

“For three hundred dollars we could pay someone to go pick some up and bring it here,” Darlene said.  “And still have some left over.”

“Hey,” I said.  “Kudos, Dar.  Good thinking.”

Darlene smiled.

Tattletale gave me another eye roll.

“Don’t roll your eyes at me.  We want to train them to negotiate well.  It’s part of guiding them.”

Darlene added, more for Chicken Little and Kenzie’s benefit than mine, “I grew up with more brothers and sisters than I could really keep track of and we had to negotiate and fight over everything.  Sometimes with powered older siblings or with our moms, too.”

“It’s good.  Thinking outside of the box instead of getting zoomed-in on the back-and-forth,” I said.

She smiled more.  Kenzie reached up and over her own head to give Darlene a pat on the back.

Tattletale looked a little exasperated, her expression and tone like she was considering me one of the children to be managed instead of a partner in this.  “If you want me to pay a thousand-”

Us to pay a thousand,” I said.  Partners.

“Obviously,” Tattletale said.  “We’re going to want to get our money’s worth.  But if you want to relax a little, then you can have a dinner date-”

Darlene’s eyes narrowed, the others seemed unfazed.

“-with your friends, and we’ll relax our expectations accordingly.”

“Yes?” Chicken Little asked.  He poked Darlene in the side of the stomach.  “Please?”

Darlene looked down at Kenzie, who nodded her head in an exaggerated way.

“…Okay,” Darlene said.  “But make it seven fifty, and we’ll knock fifty bucks off to give you your seven hundred if Antares bullies Tattletale some more.  Find an excuse to give her a noogie or a wet willie or something.  Take her down a peg because she’s getting annoying and rude.”

A little resentful of the jabs and teasing Tattletale had fit into the debate, apparently.  Darlene had gone from heated and annoyed to sullen to pushing back against Tattletale on the price point, and now, having said that, seemed much more at ease.  Very quick to adjust on an emotional front.

“Deal, I’ll see what I can do,” I said.  Because anything that reinforced a healthy pushback against Tattletale was a good thing.

Tattletale suppressed a sigh, and gestured.  “Come on, then.  Up and at ’em, Chicken.”

“Earbuds,” Kenzie said, handing off some devices to Chicken Little.  “Sound should be better, but we’ll see.”

“I’ll call Imp and get the sign-off,” Darlene said.

“I’m here,” Tattletale said.

“You’re hiring us,” Darlene said.  “Rules are that if Undersiders hire us then we ask Breakthrough if the job’s okay, and if Breakthrough hires us then we ask Undersiders if it sounds good.  And if it’s not either of you guys then we can ask anyone, or we ask both groups if it’s serious.”

“Good rules,” I said.

Darlene nodded.  “But since you’re both hiring us then we should ask someone who isn’t involved.”

“I like that,” I said.

“Shaving years off my life,” Tattletale muttered.

“Good,” Darlene muttered back, as she brought her phone to her ear.

“Be nice to Tattletale,” Chicken Little said.

“Okay,” Darlene said, before turning her head slightly, eyes narrowing at Tattletale.

Tattletale did an exaggerated eye-narrowing of her own.

Chicken Little was out of his seat, handing off his chicken to Darlene.  He already wore his mask, which was the dinner-plate round mask with round black lenses for eyes and a little cone on the lower face for the beak, a ‘cockscomb’ extension at the top that arced back and over the top of his forehead to join his fauxhawk.  He had his red and white coat with the tailfeather ‘tails’ at the back and the pinion cut around the sleeves.  He kicked off chicken-styled slippers and slid his feet into sneakers with blades worked into the exterior design, three over the toe and spurs at the back, in a ‘talon’ design.

Once the shoes were laced up, he put his hand through a stylized falconer’s glove, opened a cage, and had two hawks perch on his arm.  Between the large glove and the weight of the birds, it looked like his skinny arm had trouble holding them up.

He turned to look at Darlene, who was talking on the phone, no longer sitting on the desk, but walking away from the desk so as not to be overheard.

She gave the thumbs up.

Chicken Little hit switches, and his office went dark, shutters whirring as they closed it off from the remainder of the office.

“Because noise,” Kenzie explained for me, as she ducked under the shutter.  “The squawking and chirping gets kind of crazy sometimes.”

“You good?” I asked her.

She nodded.  “Very.”

She had a stray lock of kinky hair that had pulled free of the pin.  I used a finger to poke it back into place.  “We’ll see if we can time the Roadkill thing so I can bring some to Swansong, and you can have a long-distance dinner together.”

“Please.  And short-distance dinner sometime this week?  Can I come over sometime?”

“If your guardians at the institution say okay,” I said.

She stepped forward, giving me a sudden, very unexpected hug.  Her forehead hit my breastplate with the enthusiasm of the movement, and both Darlene and Chicken Little’s heads snapped over to look at us in that moment.

I put my arms down, forearm and hands across her shoulderblades.  I murmured, “I thought you had rules.”

“I’m getting sloppy,” she said.  “It’s bad, I know.”

“Okay,” I said, not sure what to make of that.  “Careful.”

She nodded, hugged me tighter for a second, then broke the hug, bouncing over to Darlene’s side.

Tattletale, Chicken Little and I made our way downstairs, and into the parking garage that was attached to the building.  Snuff was standing by the car, which was running, engine idling.

The hawks went into a cage that was apparently built across the middle section of the backseat, dividing the two sides.  Tattletale took the passenger seat, and Snuff got behind the wheel.  I ended up sitting behind him, because of how the door of the cage opened behind Tattletale’s and where the booster seat was fit into the car.

“What are we fact-finding?” Chicken Little asked, as he strapped in.

“Turn off your earbud?” I asked.  “I don’t want to loop in Lookout just yet.  For her protection.”

Chicken Little hesitated, then turned it off.

“Thanks,” I said.  “And Snuff?”

“We can trust him,” Tattletale said.

“You didn’t use him when we had the thing three weeks ago.”

“She used me,” Snuff said.

“I used him,” Tattletale said.  “I had questions, then I verified, and I put him on duty looking after some secondary interests and projects, because I wasn’t as sure I could trust the mercenaries I put on those projects.  Sometimes you need a good ally to keep the tent from falling down while you hammer in the stakes.”

“My things are off, my team isn’t listening.  What’s going on?” Chicken Little asked.

“A group of people are trying to be sneaky,” Tattletale said.  “Framing others, planting really convincing evidence.  Possibly for a bigger play further down the line.  Possibly to sow discord or create divisions within groups.  It would be like if someone pretended to be you and sent nasty messages to the Heartbroken, so you’d never get invited to Aunt Rachel’s again, or if they were planting evidence on your computers now so they could mess up your team and allll the other teams a year from now.”

“Okay,” Chicken Little said.

The discourse was interesting from a certain angle.  That it felt like Tattletale talked down to Chicken Little, except she had a tone like she was talking down to anyone, normally.  Just… more here.

I felt like I approached Kenzie as more of an adult and expected her to keep up, and she was sharp enough to do that, with only occasional steering.  Based on what she’d told me and shown me, she’d been clever even before triggering.  It wasn’t a tinker thing.

Tatteltale continued, “We know of one case.  My power tells me we should expect others.  Our first stop’s going to be Foresight.  Who they targeted, why, and how is going to tell us a lot.”

“You think it’s inevitable they targeted Foresight?” I asked.

“Eighty percent sure they would.  If it’s about controlling information, then they’re obvious.  If it’s about power and going after bigger teams, then Foresight’s a good target there too.  If they didn’t target Foresight, then it’s probably a focus on smaller teams, which suggests subversion.

“I have a good working relationship with Anelace,” I said.  “We could ask him and see what he’s willing to share or hint at, without us spelling anything out just yet.”

“This is all secret?” Chicken Little asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “The more people know about it, the higher the chance that the people who’re responsible react or use emergency measures.  Right now we just want a sense of what we’re dealing with.”

“Okay,” he said.  “So you haven’t told Precipice and the others?”

“No,” I said.  Thinking about my team and what would unfold if the character assassination went any further than it already had was a dark thought, tempered by how Chicken Little had phrased the question.  “Thinking about Precipice?”

“He’s cool.  We talked at the hospital when we all visited Lookout.”

I smiled.  “He doubts himself a lot, you know?  He’s had a rough go of it.”

“All of us have,” Chicken Little said.  He leaned back, resting one arm on the top of the cage with the eerily still and quiet hawks in it.  “But some of us, like the younger Heartbroken and Lookout and I, we had stuff happen so long ago that we don’t remember it, you know?”

“Is that what Lookout said?”

“I kinda just figured.”

I nodded.  I wouldn’t out her or correct him, especially with a strange mercenary and manipulative thinker in the driver’s and passenger’s seat, respectively.

“We don’t remember it all but a lot of the time it messes us up.  Feelings get mixed up, swapped around, or we have something quirky.  For me, it’s dreams.  For some of the heartbroken, it’s like wires get crossed.”

“Good way of putting it,” I said.  “And there’s the scope of the agent-parahuman relationship, right?”

“I don’t know about that.”

“The way it was explained to me in courses I took, the earlier you get your power, the less defenses you have.  You don’t know how to work with it or make it do exactly what it wants, so… the power has more room to make you change or adapt instead.”

“That makes a lot of sense,” Chicken Little said.  “And it’s like if a chicken grows up in a coop that’s too small, it ends up deformed.  Or if a tree grows into a fence and it gets warped and there’s metal in the wood.  We have something big occupying this space-”

He tapped his forehead.

“-and grow around that thing.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Yeah, I like those analogies.  Perfect.”

“Did Precipice have powers for a long time?”

“No,” I said.  “Last year.”

“I have more experience than him,” Chicken Little said.  “That’s funny.”

I smiled.

“He made knives for fun he said,” Chicken Little said.  “And even hand-made bear traps from scrap, once.  Like Biter and Bite-size have for their masks, but weaponized.  That was before he was a tinker.”

“I think he spent a long while without T.V. or internet.  Not even that many books to read.  So he kept his hands busy.”

“Given the situation, he could have done worse,” Tattletale added, in what probably passed for a compliment, coming from her.

“Situation?” Chicken Little asked.

“That’s for him to share if he wants,” I said.  “You might already know parts of it-”

“He does,” Tattletale said.

“-but maybe I’ll send him with Lookout for one of the drop-offs, and you guys can catch up.”

Chicken Little nodded, enthusiastic.

The chatter continued as Snuff pulled onto the highway, picking up speed.

Foresight.

Foresight had good aesthetic running through it.  Cursive-style loops and sweeping lines in white ran across glossy black panes that decorated the walls, those scripts gathering together for specific signs, symbols, and images.  The places where those decorative panes weren’t set up were naturally eye-catching through their absence.

Brio’s portrait had been hung in one of those absent places.  It wasn’t the only hung portrait.

There were areas where plants were on shelves, the vegetation draping down, but the tinted lighting made the green plants look nearly black.  With the way they hung and crawled against the wall, the black was against a backdrop of white, above panels with more tangled cursive, or against light panels inset into the wall.  A dose of nature, but focused on exaggerating the abnormal.

The ‘visitors’ area was surrounded by a gallery of images of each of the team’s heroes.  Each image was larger than life, floor to ceiling, each figure made even larger by the fact that a given image only captured a portion of them, at least half of their body residing outside of the frame.  A picture of Effervescent, a pale image against a pitch black background, hair falling around her shoulders, the colorful nature of her costume desaturated in a way that fit with the hallway’s scheme while still hinting that she had the most colorful costume on the team.

After Effervescent on the left side was a picture of Anelace, a black-costumed figure against a stark white background, the white of the mask with the black cursive scrawling of the dagger on the eyepatch standing out, given the composition.  Then a picture of Crystalclear, crystals and skin white and light against a black background, respectively.

So it alternated, on both sides of the hall.

Anelace and Countenance stepped into view, the two of them talking well before they were in my earshot.

Anelace put out his hand to shake.  I shook it.  Effervescent didn’t offer me anything, and I didn’t push.  Honestly, as bad as things might’ve gone, I was pretty content with being set up against these two.  Anelace and I had gotten along for a while now, he was an attractive guy, going by his fitness, and he’d made some attempts at inviting me on dates, including one at a crime scene.

Effervescent was one of the thinkers who had rejected me when I’d applied to join Foresight, after the community center, before Jessica’s therapy group.

“Checking out the competition?” Anelace asked.

“I don’t see us as competing,” I told him.  “We’re all on the same side.”

“Including the Undersiders?” Effervescent asked.

“They’re parked outside,” Anelace clarified.  The remark got a look from Effervescent.  She might have wanted to try to trap me in a lie or omission.

“We’re pursuing a joint project,” I said.  “Or I am.  I needed someone with her particular skills.”

“Thinker skills?” Anelace asked.

“We have thinker skills,” Effervescent said.  “You could have come to us.”

“There’s another joint project where we’re collaborating,” I said.  “Lookout got hurt a few too many times in too short a timeframe.  We decided it was best to get her out of that situation before any institutional crackdown.  During the whole Cradlemarch mess, we ran into the Undersiders and she got along with a few of the kids in Undersider orbit.  Lookout is pursuing a team with them.  It puts Undersiders and Breakthrough in irregular contact.”

Effervescent folded her arms, tilting her head slightly as she looked at Anelace.

“If it works, it works,” Anelace told me.

“The kid’s hers?” Effervescent asked.

“Chicken Little.  One of Lookout’s teammates.  We hired them to keep it fair and we’re using it as an opportunity to train them, teach them what to look for.  A simple, minor mission.”

“I still have a hard time getting a read on you,” Effervescent said.  “But there’s more to this, isn’t there?”

“There’s always more to a situation,” Anelace said.  “When you get information, you get three-quarters of the information at best.  When you dig again, you get three-quarters of what’s left, but things shuffle, change, and adapt in the meantime.  A problem bloats, a person develops in response to whatever you’re adjusting…”

“And I’m not interested in high-level back-and-forth over the philosophy of information gathering,” Effervescent said.  For a colorful personality, she was kind of pissy.  “Is there something more to it, Antares?”

“Yes,” I said.  I paused.  “I can’t really get into it.  I want to look into some stuff, and I want to ask for you to give me the benefit of a doubt here, because I can’t explain it all.  I’ve gone toe to toe with some of the tough contenders these past couple of months.  I’m hoping that counts for something.”

They exchanged a look.  Anelace had his arms folded, and I saw his fingers lift away from his arm, two extended.

“I’d have to ask Count,” Effervescent said.  “What do I tell him, ‘lace?”

“What can you tell us?” Anelace asked me.

“You have options,” I answered.  “I can tell you nothing, it’s the least complicated option.  I investigate, and at some point, ideally tonight, I get an answer and I fill you in with all the rest of the teams.”

“What’s the drawback?” Effervescent asked.

“That it’s not a safe option,” I told.  “It’s the least complicated.  The safe option is that I lie to you.  What I tell you lets you know what to watch out for, but it doesn’t get into the problematic stuff.”

“And if you tell us?”

“Option three is I tell one of you, and they join me for the next short while, while we dig through this.”

“We’re tied up,” Anelace said.  “Stuff to do, can’t take a sabbatical.”

“What are the consequences if you tell us outright?” Effervescent asked.

“I haven’t gotten into this with my own team, and I know them.  I don’t know most of Foresight.  I need to diagnose the problem before I can diagnose the consequences, but I can tell you it’d be bad.”

Effervescent nodded.  She looked at Anelace again.

“I like option two,” he said.  “The lie.  It tells us the most and I think safety is the best priority.”

“Going by her judgment.”

“Yeah,” Anelace said.  “What’s your read?”

“Seems genuine, as far as I can tell.  I say go ahead.”

“Not running it by the boss?” I asked.

“Countenance is busy, and he trusts us.  Trusts me,” Effervescent said.  “And as far as ‘lace goes, he trusts me to keep tabs on and find ‘lace if he goes missing.”

I raised an eyebrow at Anelace, which I could only do because I wasn’t wearing my mask.

“I had a thing a little while ago, when the team was new,” Anelace said.  “We were supposed to be paired up for jobs.  I dodged Effy.  Effy caught me with, ah, the reason for the dodging.”

“A rooftop liaison with a villain or villainess?” I asked.  “You don’t have to answer.”

“A villainess would have been easier than the liaison ended up being.”

“That’s actually true,” ‘Effy’ said.

“And I feel bad.”

“Half true.”

Anelace laughed a bit.  “Good enough.  You want to tell us your convenient lie here in the front hall of our HQ, or step away somewhere?”

“Outside?  Tattletale can chime in, fill in the blanks.”

I saw them exchange looks.

“Believe me,” I said.  “I know.  Every doubt, every suspicion.  I get it.  I know one hundred percent.  But I think including her helps all of us.”

“Alright,” ‘Effy’ said.  “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Anelace said.

We made our way outside.  Anelace held the door for Effervescent and me.

“Fuck me,” Effervescent said.  “That’s a big-ass bird.”

Tattletale was outside the car, leaning against the side.  Chicken Little was sitting on the trunk, while his eagle was perched in a tree above him, devouring one of the twenty crows that occupied other branches.  His hawks were out of the middle-seat birdcage and rested on his shoulder and glove, respectively.

Snuff was a good fifty feet away, his hood pulled up to show a jaw with no chisel to it, covered in stubble.  He was smoking with enough intensity that a cloud surrounded him.

“I recognize him.  Snuff,” Anelace observed, as we got closer to Tattletale.

“Is it a problem?” Tattletale asked.

“He was a murderer for hire.”

“He was.  Pre-amnesty,” Tattletale said.  “You didn’t answer my question.  Is it a problem?”

“No,” Anelace said.  “You let him hang around with a kid?”

“I hang around with who I want to hang out with,” Chicken Little said.  “Right big guy?”

The giant eagle made a sound that made me think it wasn’t doing so hot.  Loud, but the furthest thing from fierce.

“We’ll work on that,” Chicken Little said.  “Eagles have the worst screeches.  What about you two?”

The hawks screeched, the one on his arm flapping its wings without taking off.  Several of us winced at the sound.

“Bothering the neighbors,” Effervescent said.  She indicated the street.  Lots with businesses ran into lots with houses with no rhyme or reason.  I was put in mind of the eclectic mix of dentists, doctors, pharmacies, convenience stores, clothing stores and houses one could find in a typical Chinese-American part of town, but this was just regular town.

“Oh, sorry.  I can see why you’d be worried,” Chicken Little said.

“I’m not worried.  I’m saying literally they’re bothered.  I’m aware.”

Chicken Little ducked his head down a little.  “I thought it was cool.”

“It was,” Effervescent said.  “But cool has a time and place.”

“As I see it, if you’re trying for ‘cool’ you’re doing it wrong,” Anelace said.

Chicken Little huffed, sitting up straighter, looking like he was going to start an argument.  Tattletale reached out, and the hawk on Chicken Little’s glove flapped violently, turning its beak her way.

“Huh?  What?  Did you want something?”

“To get your attention.  Let us talk business, listen and learn, alright?”

Chicken Little huffed again, but he nodded.

“Clandestine business you apparently can’t tell us straight,” Anelace said, to Tattletale.

“Essentially,” she said.  She turned my way as she said it.

“We’re going to tell them a lie that serves as an analogy,” I told Tattletale.

“Your call,” she said.

“Consider this a, uh, poaching job,” I said.  “One group trying to steal members from another.  A group of people are out there looking for easy targets.  My feeling, and I’m not sure if Tattletale agrees, is that this was something aimed at new members of the team and at fringe members.”

“They’re breaking up teams and looking to recruit them once they’re gone?” Anelace asked.  After a pause, where he saw my expression, he added, “In this hypothetical or somewhat relatable situation.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Has the recruiting already happened?” Effervescent asked.  “Do we look at people who’ve left for cryptic reasons and joined some specific team, or-”

“No,” I said.  “We’re not there yet.”

“And you’re prying,” Tattletale said.  “I think we’re using this rough outline of the situation to avoid spelling it out exactly.  Which would make it bad form if you pried.”

“Okay,” Effervescent said.  “You don’t want us prying why, exactly?”

“Because there’s a lot of potential misinformation flying around, and if someone else starts following up or trying to cover their asses, we lose the ability to follow the trail,” Tattletale said.

“That too,” I said.  “It’s where we need your trust.”

“No recruiting happening yet, but some splintering of teams or targeting of vulnerable people,” Effervescent said.

Tattletale rolled her head back.  “You’re prying.  You stopped for all of five seconds and you’re prying again. As a professional pryer, I’m in actual pain here.”

“You tell me not to pry and then you tempt me with a line like that,” ‘Effy’ said.

“Do you have anyone?” I asked, aiming to interrupt.  “Do you know anyone who fits this bill?  It could be recent, could be just starting.  New or fringe member, is my guess, but someone where there were recent revelations or some initial grumblings, or anything weird that has you or your group distancing yourself from them.”

Anelace and Effervescent exchanged looks.

“Who?” Tattletale asked.

“It’s not that cut and dry,” Anelace said.

“That’s why we’re digging into it,” Tattletale said.

“It’s why I brought Tattletale in.  She can figure out what isn’t that cut and dry,” I said.

“Who?” Tattletale asked, in the next breath.

“Two of ours,” Anelace said.  “Kind of ours.  We were looking at recruiting, with the shift in the amount of work we’re doing and the ground we’re having to cover.  We have a lot of thinkers and we got to know some others through duties like watching the portal or sitting in on diplomatic meetings.”

Right.  Crystalclear had mentioned doing those duties.  Keeping an eye on people coming in through the portals, keeping an eye out for stowaways, for trouble, for criminals.  Many of the Thinkers had worked in groups to make sure they covered enough bases.  Weeding out problems before they entered the city and disappeared into the maze of lost people trying to figure out what their identity on this new world looked like.

“And you recruited two of them?” I asked.

“Ratcatcher and Big Picture,” Anelace said.  “We didn’t get to the recruitment part.  We had a branding department working with Ratcatcher to see if we couldn’t Foresight-up her costume, get the right design while keeping her look.  Big Picture was starting to look into it, Countenance invited him on some patrols, and he went with.  Getting a feel for things.”

“And it went sour,” Tattletale said.  She looked more lively and interested than I’d seen her in… maybe ever.

“Yeah.  Sour’s a way to put it,” Anelace said.

“Don’t get carried away,” Effervescent said.  “Because I really don’t think this is a setup.”

“You don’t?” I asked.

“They confessed,” she said.  “Big Picture confessed, one hundred percent, no objection, was fine with leaving.  No fuzz, my read on it was clear.”

“And Ratcatcher was fuzzy,” Tattletale said.  “Because…”

Anelace answered, “Because it’s Ratcatcher.  I don’t know if you’ve met her, but when she’s quiet she’s like a toddler with a fork in their hand, inching toward a light socket.”

“She’s going to hurt herself?” Chicken Little asked, speaking up for the first time in a bit.

“Exactly,” Anelace said.

“Or burn the house down,” Effervescent said.

“Oh.  Wow,” Chicken Little said.

“When she’s not quiet she’s… fuck, I’m usually good with words,” Anelace snapped his fingers a few times.

“A fire hose on full blast with nobody to man it,” Effervescent said.

“Yeah, okay.”

“Messy, all over the place, unpredictable, supposedly useful in a crisis, but-”

“If you have to explain it it’s not a good analogy,” Anelace said.

“I’m pretty happy with it,” Effervescent said.  “Even if I want to explain it.”

“Can you explain the situations?  What happened with them?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Anelace said.  “Big-”

“No,” Effervescent interrupted.

There was an awkward pause.

“Doesn’t feel right,” Effervescent said.  “Even if we think there might be a reason to look into it more, it’s dishing drama and that’s the sort of thing that’s between them and our team.”

Anelace nodded.

Effervescent added, “But you can talk to them and ask them.  If they say the same thing, let them know we say it’s fine.  You’re… independently investigating, in case something bigger is going on.”

“Can you point us in their direction?” I asked.

“I’ll text you,” Anelace said.  “Unless you want to meet up on a rooftop somewhere, Antares?  A little more ‘cape’ than hanging around on a street.”

“Maybe,” I said.  “Slim maybe, if I’m being honest.  But I appreciate the trust.”

“Sure,” he said.

“We appreciate you not talking about this to anyone that wasn’t standing here at this meeting,” Tattletale said.

“Hint taken,” Anelace said.

Tattletale whistled to get Snuff’s attention.  The guy whipped up what looked like a miniature black hole, sucking up all the smoke and, by the looks of it, vacuuming up a lot of the other particulate, mess, and the light dusting of snow from his hood and the coarse, thick black sweater he wore.

“Talk to you later,” Anelace said.

“Yeah,” I replied.

Snuff started up the car, and we pulled away from the street with the Foresight headquarters.

“You’re aware of what the rooftop meeting means, right?” Tattletale asked.

“I’m aware,” I said, trying to not give Tattletale a tell as she watched me in the rear-view mirror.  There were a lot of complicated feelings surrounding that.  Anelace wasn’t my type in some ways, but I ran the risk of having a type so narrow that only one deceased person fit the bill, and there were a few more obstacles in between me, him, and that eventuality.

For now, I was content to shift into neutral and coast through this as casually and shallowly as possible.  It was flattering, Anelace had a nice build, with a tight-fitting suit to showcase it, he was a hero, and as awful as he was with timing he had some decency to him.  So long as I didn’t dwell, I could just enjoy the vague idea, try to adj-

“Wait, what’s this?” Chicken Little asked, interrupting my thoughts.  “Secret meanings?”

“He wants to take Antares out on a date,” Tattletale said, taking me from the shallow-casual dip into the pool of romantic notions and pushing my head beneath the waters.  “It’s like saying ‘do you want to come in for coffee’?  It’s not about the coffee.”

“This is, for the record, very awkward,” I said.

“Blame the guy who propositioned you with a bunch of colleagues, an old nemeses, and a kid hanging around.”

“No, no,” I said.  “I’m happy blaming you, Tattletale.”

“Of course you are.”

“And it can mean just meeting to hang out and catch up.”

“That’s true, and that fact is the only reason I didn’t drag my fingernails down my cheeks from the cringeyness of it,” Tattletale said.  “But I know and you know what he wants.”

I floundered mentally while Tattletale pushed my metaphorical self into the deepest corner of the pool.  At least she hadn’t called me Glory Hole.

“Tattletale knows stuff,” Chicken Little said.

“Unfortunately,” Tattletale said.  “Not a mental picture I wanted.”

“Unfortunately.  Agreed, yeah,” I echoed Tattletale.  “Can we change the subject?”

My phone booped.  A message from Anelace.  The same stylized image that was on the wall of Foresight was his avatar in phonespace.  He had the address.

“Twenty-second and Blockgreen.  It’s not far.”

“Heard,” Snuff said.  “Twenty-second and Blockgreen.”

“Um,” Chicken Little said.  “I know we changed the subject…”

He trailed off, not continuing.

“It’s fine,” I said, regretting it as I said it.

“You can do better,” he said.  “Anelace said something like how you can’t be cool if you’re trying to be cool and that seems like a douchey thing to say.”

Snuff sniggered in the front seat.

“How do you be cool if you don’t start out cool?  It’s like it’s the privilege of the cool-by-default and nobody else is allowed to try for coolness.”

“I think you’re good, Chicken,” I said.  “The Heartbroken and Lookout think you’re cool.”

“Actually, I wanted to talk about Lookout, because I’m a little unsure about some stuff.”

“We can do that.”

“But before that, I wanted to say that Anelace guy talks about being cool but I was sitting there thinking his costume and his team’s costumes are trying way too hard to be edgy.”

“Amen,” Snuff muttered.

See?” Chicken Little said, with an almost plaintive edge to his voice, as though he was pleading for people to get it at the same time nobody in the vehicle was disagreeing with him.

“Edgy, as Swansong would put it, is something you live up to.”

“Of course she’d say that,” Tattletale muttered.

“Then he should buy you flowers or chocolate and not embarrass you in front of people, so he can live up to it,” Chicken Little said.

“And we’re here,” Snuff said.  “Which is a shame, because I was enjoying this.”

“I’m glad someone’s having fun,” I told him.

Out of the car.  I showed Tattletale the phone, and looked around for the building number.  By the time I turned around, she was pointing at it.

“Get your birds,” Tattletale told Chicken Little.  “If and when we use them, they should be used nonlethally.”

“They’re hawks.  And an eagle-”

“Don’t use the eagle.  That will kill.”

“So will the hawks!  They’re awesome killing machines!  They have feet like fistfuls of knives!”

“And this is practice and training,” Tattletale said.  “Nonlethal.  Hang back with Snuff.  If I whistle, cross the street, come to me, obey.”

“But-”

“I’m the customer, right?”

“Half the customer,” Chicken Little said.  He turned to me, and even though I couldn’t see his face, I could tell he was hopeful.

Like the divorced parent thing again.  When one parent said no…

“What she says.”

His shoulders drooped.

Tattletale and I crossed the street, which was busy enough she had to time her crossing to slip between traffic.  I ended up flying over.

We reached the front door.  I wondered if we were breaching some rule of secret identities.  Then I saw that the glass panel by the buzzer had slips of stained, coarse, post-Gold Morning paper where each resident had handwritten their own names.  Everything was laid out in neat print except for one, which just said ‘Rats’.

The building didn’t look nice, which made me wonder just how the other residents felt about it.

I hit the buzzer.

Cars whizzed this way and that down the street.  One had a bad muffler, and roared.  Too many lacked the tires, I was sure, to handle the light coating of ice, snow, and moisture on the road.

Tattletale whistled.

“What?” I asked.  When I looked, she was leaning against the railing.

“She’s ducking out the back window.  You should really hurry,” Tattletale told me.  “You might be able to fly, but she knows the hiding places.”

Chicken Little and Snuff were hurrying across the road.

“And you’re-”

“Waiting,” Tattletale said.  She made a face.  “She’s faster than me, what am I going to do?”

I took off.  Up and around the building, dodging a frozen clothesline someone hadn’t bothered or cared enough to bring in.

I saw Ratcatcher, and she saw me.

She was quick, faster than I would have been on foot, and wore a sweatshirt, pyjama bottoms, boots, and her mask with its crooked nose.  Her hair was a mess, to the point I was pretty sure she’d been in bed when I’d buzzed in, despite the fact it had to be one or two in the afternoon now.

She leaped to another building and caught the fire escape, and then she leaped down, catching hold of an air conditioner.  Bare handed, freezing cold metal.  She let go with one hand and caught a rat that was tracing her own route, following her.  She placed it on her messy hair and then reasserted her grip on the air conditioner.

She leaped from air conditioner to window, landing on the frame.  I shifted direction, and in the time it took me to reach her, she opened the window and slipped inside.  The window shut behind her.

I stopped short of entering, because there were enough people in the hallway and I didn’t trust myself to not hurt anyone by barreling through.  I watched her route and flew around.

At the next window, I saw her round a corner.  I traced her route again, watching through a bedroom window as she let herself into an unlocked apartment, looked through a kitchen window to see her head into the next room.

Back out into the hallway.  I opened the window and entered.

She was quick enough that I almost missed what happened while I hauled the window open.  Only the fact the hatch in the wall was held open for a second to let one of her pet rats follow her in let me know.  It clanged shut.  I flew to it, and I opened it.

By the smell, it was the building’s chute to the dumpster.

I flew back out the window, tapping it firmly with my foot so it would close, and flew around.

She’d put some distance between us.  She’d exited the chute and the dumpster at the bottom of it, and I saw her entering a building.

Two hawks swooped down, snatching up the rats that followed behind her.

There was a pause, with her holding the door open, the door blocking my view.  Then the crooked nose of her mask extended out and up, as she tracked the disappearance of her pets.

I landed.

About two seconds later, while I approached with arms up to show I wasn’t a threat, the thought connected.

Tattletale had invited Chicken Little for a reason.  This reason.  She’d guessed Ratcatcher was one of the fringe candidates, and she’d brought the bird master to go after the rats.

Non-lethally, she’d stressed.

She was going to be so insufferably pleased with herself, that it all came together like it did.

Ratcatcher didn’t look down, her eyes on the sky.  At the corner of the building, Chicken Little was jogging, Snuff huffing as he followed.

“We can bring them back,” I said.  “They’re unharmed.  Or they should be.”

She didn’t look away.

“All we want to know is what happened with you and Foresight.”

“You’re not going to arretht me for the other thtuff?”

I shook my head.  Then I paused.  “What other stuff?  Should we?”

She shrugged.

Whatever.

“We just care about the failed recruitment for now.  What happened, that you didn’t get recruited by Foresight?” I asked.

“It thtarted with me getting pith drunk,” she said.  “Thent thome textth to my new both.”

“Texts?”

“The thorta textth you don’t want your grandmama to thee.”

“Do you remember sending these texts?” I asked her.

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158 thoughts on “Black – 13.5”

    1. Because it’s Wildbow, the guy who loves to take any chance of a protagonist to be happy and begin repeatedly chopping off it’s limbs while laughing maniacally.

    2. I have a sneaking suspicion that Victoria has some other definition of “piss drunk” in her vocabulary than normal people do. Must be all the cats in her system.

  1. One thing interesting that I forgot to comment on last time is that Victoria’s journal is up to date. Even though Dragon scanned it a long time ago. So whoever is doing this is constantly maintaining it, or some sort of AI is.

    As far as this chapter goes, including chicken little but keeping him on radio silence with the others is a risky play. Lookout could start to get upset knowing that something sneaky is going on and try to dig into it on her own and either over hear a conversation or find the diary or something like that.

    1. I assumed the radio silence was just for the background information they gave him, and probably for the discussion with Foresight. They’re surely listening in for the rat hunt.

    2. “One thing interesting that I forgot to comment on last time is that Victoria’s journal is up to date. ”

      Not just up to date. The journal was updated sometime during Black 13.1~13.4 since it included commentary on Moonsong and Byron’s breakup

    3. No, no, you see that’s the actual unspoken plan. This will cause Kenzie to investigate on her own. By the time TT and Vicky figure out who’s to blame, Kenzie will have already dropped cameras on them.

  2. Chicken Little is the most adorable little villain ever. He’s an irresistible ball of fluffiness and adorableness. I adore him and I’ll be terrible angry if he’ll ever die. He’s too pure for this world and deserve nothing else but people to love him and be kind to him.

    Darlene and Kenzie are too smart for their age, but so cool and together with Aiden, their team is a DELIGHT to read about. I teared up when Kenzie hugged Victoria. Victoria and Ashley are the best big sisters for Kenzie.

    Team Brains and Brawl investigating this conspiracy against heroes is the next best thing we got right after March’s death. I think Vic and Lisa will become good friends after they’ll find and expose the evil conspirators. They’re like two cops who hate each other then they start caring for each other until they become best friends. Remember Lethal Weapon, people? Vic and Lisa are the parahuman version of Lethal Weapon’s team.

    Missed Ratcatcher, she’ll be very helpful if she’ll join Brains and Brawl. She’s intelligent and very sneaky.

    1. “I teared up when Kenzie hugged Victoria.”

      Tender as the moment seems, I’m like 80% sure that she put a bug or camera on Victoria. Kenzie even mentions that she’s getting sloppy with her rules…

        1. While it’s absolutely posible that Miss-I-Can-See-You could have bugged Vicky, Lisa would have found out.

          Unless she did…

          1. Yeah. If Lookout says she’s getting sloppy, and LISA is worried?
            You should be worried too, Vicky.

            I wasn’t worried when it was just Lisa, but when Lookout knows there’s a problem…. there’s a goddamn problem.

          2. Kenzie’s behavior may certainly be a cause for concern, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be something purely negative. As serious as her problems with over-attachments con be, she still needs to (re)learn to show emotions in ways that are at least understandable to most people, and those shows of affection may serve that purpose.

            Have we for example ever seen Kenzie cry outside of her interlude?

    2. Someone– possibly multiple someones– commented that Rain is alternate universe Blake. I can’t unthink it. Now I see Aiden as alt universe Evan with the adoration of Precipice. So cute!

  3. I’m glad we get to see Ratcatcher back in action after she proved vital to the Goddess ordeal.

    I’m also glad that this chapter ends with a lovely place to prelude a Ratcatcher interlude.

    1. Yes, more Ratcatcher makes me happy. Though I never thought that she was the sort to get pith drunk. Now let’s find out if she did send the pictures or not. Maybe the thread that unravels the whole thing is going to be the pictures having her mask off. Ratcatcher’s been very die hard about having a mask of some sort on.

      Course I’m also looking forward to finding out if she’s a case 53, Skitter Clone, Labrat victim, freak cotton picker accident or what.

      1. Maybe she is a C53-ed Skitter clone? Remember that the clones of S9 members only got their powers after Bonesaw implanted them with memories based on their originals? What if you cloned someone and instead of giving them powers of their originals by providing them with the original’s memories, you gave them a Cauldron vial? Would such person get different powers, coming from a different shard? If you gave them their original’s memories then would they be recognized by their original’s shard? What would happen then? Would they get both powers? Only one, and if so – which one?

        Tune next time as Tattletale, Bonesaw and Chris continue experimenting on our Cauldron-powered Taylor clone!

        1. Theory has been floated that she’s Scurry, the Echidna Skitter Clone that used rats. She covers her face at nearly all times because of the deformities from being one of her copies.

          Some of the clones came out not straight evil copies but “weird” a warping with a focus on some perspective of the original flipped. In this case, Taylor’s self-sacrifice tendencies flipped to a hard focus on self-preservation, up to and including not being a murder happy nut. Not saying it’s fact, but the Lab-Rat Chris thing panned out so who knows.

        2. Seems overly complex, when there is already an unaccounted for Skitter clone with facial deformities and an affinity for rats left over from Noelle.

      2. She definitely isn’t a skitter clone. One, shes not a violent lunatic. Two, tattletale would have picked up on the fact the cape she’s tracking is a clone of her best friend.

        1. She could theoretically be a Skitter’s clone, I think. Different memories coupled with different trigger conditions could lead to a completely different personality. Different conditions for physical development, coupled with some physical trauma and/or changes in appearance as a side-effect of the trigger (let’s call it C53 lite), could result in completely different appearance. She could essentially be a completely different person despite having the same DNA as Taylor.

          I’m not saying that she is, I’m not even saying that it is likely, but she theoretically could, in which case I think that Bastard could have a better chance of recognizing her as Taylor’s clone, than Tattletale would.

          (Even though now that I think about it, Tattletale might have recognized Chris’ connection to Lab Rat as soon as she saw him. Chris at least had a lot of his original’s memories and personality – something our theoretical Ratcatcher the Taylor’s clone wouldn’t have in the situation I outlined above).

          1. The thing with Ratcatcher’s powers is that it’s not just rodent control, in fact that’s not even the primary. It’s suppossed to be the Thinker of noticing small things. Taylor could fake that I guess with her bugs, but rats are harder to sneak through someone’s pockets without them noticing.

          2. Like I said, if she was given a Cauldron vial, she would have a power coming from entirely different shard. Considering other shard and other memories fact that our hypothetical Taylor’s clone is a thinker specializing in awareness of details of her surroundings and with affinity for small creatures, would be, in my opinion, surprisingly close to the bug power, and how Taylor often employed it to get similar effect.

          3. On top of it running as a preferred method of staying safe also reminds me of Taylor (especially very early Taylor – think along the lines of arc 1 of Worm).

            And there could be a chance that Lisa won’t need Bastard to recognize Ratcatcher as Taylor for her, and will make the connection at the very beginning of the next chapter – after all those two will probably meet face to face for the first time only then, and we know that Tattletale’s power works better when she has direct contact with people she uses it on.

          4. And those of you who have some knowledge of Battletech lore for example, may recognize the logic of making a clone based on genes of successful warriors capes even without giving those clones memories of their predecessors in hopes of creating a new generation of just as, if not more successful warriors capes.

            And it would be difficult to give an example of a cape more successful when it comes to effectively and creativity using her power than Taylor was, don’t you think?

          5. In fact I just realized how much I, barbaric Terran freebirth, have erred by calling Ratcatcher a mere clone. She is obviously a Trueborn warrior.

            I really need to be conquered and indicted by the Clans. The only problem with it is that Clan Slaughterhouse is mostly defunct after it’s Khan was captured in the time-loop and betrayed by warrior Bonesaw and surviving members of Harbinger and Damsel sibkos.

            Clan Cauldron under Khan Teacher could probably indoctrinate me in place of Clan Slaughterhouse, if not for the fact that it is so secretive that we don’t even know what philosophy they follow right now. The only thing that they are opposed Warden Clan Cauldron (in-exile) led by Khan Citrine, and by their allies, the most important of whom are, quite ironically, called Wardens.

            On the topic of Wardens – the fact that one of their key members – Valkyrie, and one of their prisoners – Nilbog conduct a foul mockery of Clan eugenics program by creating the so-called Valkyrie’s flock just proves the enormity of warrior Bonesaw’s betrayal.

            (How was this particular reference? Not too obscure?)

      3. Or, er, Murder Rat, from the Slaughterhouse Nine thousand. Which… feels a lot more plausible than last time I considered the theory, LHC what have you done to me.

        1. Murder Rat was an amalgam of Mouse Protector and Ravager, neither of which had powers that had anything to do with actual rats. Or Thinkering.

  4. I’m so happy Ratcatcher is back! She’s so likeable with few appearances so far. I don’t think she’ll ever be that major of a character, but I want to see so much more of her.

  5. >Anelace and Countenance stepped into view, the two of them talking well before they were in my earshot.

    > Anelace put out his hand to shake. I shook it. Effervescent didn’t offer me anything, and I didn’t push.

    You changed Countenance to Effervescent or vice versa.

    I like to think TT thought she would mess with Anatares about Anelace, but it backfired and just made everyone but Snuff uncomfortable

    1. Continuing the typo thread.

      > “A villainess would have been easier than the liaison ended up being.”

      Possibly a missing word? “A villainess would have been easier than who the liaison ended up being.”?

      > You stopped for all of five seconds and you’re prying again.

      There is only one space after this sentence.

      > How do you be cool if you don’t start out cool?

      “How can you be cool if you don’t start out cool?”, “How do you become cool if you don’t start out cool?” or something along those lines, I think.

      1. > “Thent thome textth to my new both.”

        I’m not sure about this one, I’m not that good at understanding Ratcatcher’s particular brand of English, but if “both” is supposed to actually mean “both”, then shouldn’t there be an extra word or two in this sentence to explanin who or what she means by “both”? Like “both my new teammates”, or even something like “my new and old teammates both”?

        1. It’s ‘boss’ with a lisp. If in doubt, replace Ratcatcher’s ‘th’s with ‘s’s. It’s a pretty standard way of transliterating a lisp in English; I’m sure Polish has ways of getting the same difficulty with s sounds across when written.

          1. As for representing the same problem with ‘s’ in Polish, I would go with ‘f’. It is actually the closest thing Polish has to English ‘th’ (to unending irritation of both every Pole trying to learn to pronounce English correctly, and every native English speaker who has to listen to such efforts).

        2. If you say it out loud, it makes .. thenth. Ratcatcher speaks English, but with a lisp: She sent the texts to her new Boss.

          1. That is if you pronounce this particular “both” the way it was supposed to be pronounced. What probably confused me the most was that when I saw “both”, I thought that ‘o’ in it stood for long ‘oʊ’ or ‘əʊ’ (in International Phonetic Alphabet script), as it is pronounced in word “both” in various English dialects, while it was supposed to be ‘ɔ’ as in “boss”, which is obviously a different sound even if it is usually written using the same letter ‘o’.

            Then again, I always considered using almost unmodified Latin alphabet to write English as one of the more unfortunate ideas humanity managed to come up with.

      2. Typothread!
        In the first sentence, ‘lace appears with “Countenance”, who is then effervescent for the rest of the conversation.

    2. “the whole Cradlemarch mess,”
      “We have a lot of thinkers”
      Capitalisation.

      “I’ve gone toe to toe with”
      Hyphenation.

  6. Darlene is a delight.

    Also, possible typo?

    “Brio’s portrait had been hung in one of those absent places. It wasn’t the only hung portrait.”

    Little confusing, the past tense in first sentence makes it sound like it was taken down after he died but then the second sentence makes it sound like it’s still up.

    1. The portrait is hanging there; it had been hung up. Not the only hung portrait means Brio’s not the only deceased member remembered that way.

  7. Not so sure why they were so cagey about Foresight finding out about this operation was. Presumably Foresight wouldn’t want to be manipulated by some asshole Thinker either.

    1. Because they don’t want to tip their hand to too many people. If word gets out that Victoria and Tt are on the trail of the people behind this, that might trigger some sort of contingency plan they don’t want to trigger. With the number of people in Foresight, there’s no way to be sure they’re all trustworthy, and even if they are all trustworthy, telling them still increases the chance of a leak.

      1. Also to keep it from looking like this is actually Vicky trying to cover her ass and convince everyone she’s not actually a horrible person, someone’s trying to frame her, honest.

  8. So I took a late lunch and wanted to read this on something that wasn’t my phones little screen. I copied the text, being careful to not read the last bit and pasted it into Word, printed it and took it with me.

    The last sentence of this chapter was all alone on the page and I had to flip the paper to read it. Wildbow, I doubt you did that on purpose (too much variable stuff in different programs/formats, it’s meant to be read on the screen anyway), but it was great anyway. It added an extra half-beat to the conversation that gave the end some added punch. Perfect end.

    Oh, and the rest was great in ways I’m not good enough with words to express.

  9. See this is the buddy cop show we always wanted but never thought we’d get. One’s a hero with lasting emotional scars from being a mass of body parts thanks to her lesbian adopted sister. The other’s a villain who’s got lasting emotional scars from her brother’s suicide, and not being able to save her best friend. Together they try to teach a kid who thinks a Fauxhawk is cool how to be better than both of them.

  10. > Chicken Little was sitting on the trunk, while his eagle was perched in a tree above him, devouring one of the twenty crows that occupied other branches.

    Looks like Chicken Little cares just as much about the random crows, as Taylor used to care about random bugs she fed to her more useful ones – from the spiders she used to make silk for her all the way to Atlas. Then again, just like with Taylor’s bugs, it probably is the easiest way Chicken Little has available to feed Chicken Large.

    1. It’s actually kinda sad. Crows are really smart and social. They also hold grudges. I kinda feel bad for the crows.

      He’s to Crows what Kephri was to capes.

        1. I doubt it. Corvids are opportunistic omnivores, which is a diet that encourages intelligence- some monkeys, pigs, rats and chimpanzees are also opportunistic omnivores, and humans are too, sort of- and they also nest in groups and mate for life, which encourages social behaviours, especially in smart animals. Carnivores are smarter than herbivores, because they need to catch their prey. Opportunists need to be smart enough to recognise an opportunity when it comes along, and recognise the patterns to exploit it best. Crows watch squirrels bury nuts for winter so they can raid the stash when they’re hungry.

          Plus, they’re living in a city on a world that has never had a city before, alongside humans that weren’t there four years ago. It’s the perfect environment for an opportunist omnivore, with road kill, trash and pets all providing new food sources.

          1. “Crows watch squirrels bury nuts for winter so they can raid the stash when they’re hungry.”
            Hell Crows have figured out how to use cars to crack the nuts. And to read the traffic lights so they don’t get run over doing it. And have been seen operating vending machines.

          2. @negadarkwing: those are extra lazy crows, since they also know how to crack open a walnut by dropping it on the road from a couple stories high.
            Rubber-tasting nut ain’t so great.

          3. It could be other birds – looking like crows but not smart. Victoria not a bird expert.

          4. You can’t really judge if the bird is smart or not based purely on its behavior, if said bird is in range of Chicken Little’s power.

        2. Actually, we don’t necessarily know that these are Gimel’s crows. They could easily be immigrant crows from Bet or elsewhere. We humans have a long history of accidentally bringing invasive species with us into new lands, to say nothing of the intentional imports.

          1. Considering that it took a while to secure the first Bet-Gimel portal in Brockton Bay, Bet crows could have easily “imported themselves” even back then.

          2. And it’s not like Brockton Bay would have a small population of crows weeks after Leviathan’s attack. When that portal appeared, BB probably still was the sort of vermin-infested mess which would make an ideal place for crows to live in.

    2. Ive been thinking that id get pretty attached to by birds if I was aidian. I mean, I get skitter not having an emotional attachment to her bugs, cause fuck bugs. But birds are sorta awesome! And crows and ravens are smart af, and should be treated with a bit of respect. Also, if you killed a bird in front of me when I was 12 I probably would have cried, so this is PROOF thats theres a dark little villians heart in aiden, and the story will end a cape version of birdemedic, courtesy of Kehpri the second.

      1. > if you killed a bird in front of me when I was 12 I probably would have cried
        Aiden should have feed predator birds for a while and aware or cruelty of life. Besides, he is parahuman and you are not 🙂
        P.S. My grandfather was villager and practical enough to butcher rabbits in presence of 8-9 years old me and it did not bother me much.

  11. If the next two or three arcs are a
    comedic buddy cop movie with Tattletale and Antares I will be overjoyed. This was great.

    I know it can’t be lethal weapon forever, and that eventually the plot needs to move on. But while it lasts I’m going to love it.

  12. I wonder what Ratcatcher’s been up to. She’s great, and… Possibly a low-level mover, apparently? Or just a practising freerunner/parkourist.

    Loving the interactions. Between Antares and Tattletale, between Lookout Little Heart, and between Anelace and Effervescent. Even between Snuff and Antares, a little.

    In other, totally unrelated news, there’s a game called ‘Who’s Your Daddy’, or something, where two players take turns to be baby and daddy. Baby’s job is to kill itself, daddy’s job is to stop baby in the allotted time. One of baby’s methods is to get a fork into an electrical socket. I don’t know why this chapter has me thinking of the game, but it’s quite fun. I need to talk my friend into playing it with me again.

    1. My bet is on the freerunner/parkourist, with absolutely no mover power. It sounds exactly like something someone with Ratcatcher’s power would pick up for their own safety (just like Taylor practiced running, some basic hand-to-hand combat and first aid) because this style of running synergies perfectly with their power and the environment they usually operate in.

      1. Yeah, I’m leaning the same way, too. She’s got the power to get information from rats (they talk to her, as I recall, but she doesn’t talk back as ‘that’d be crazy’, yet they seem willing to do what she wants) and she can see either small things or hiding things, probably the latter based on how she found Dot. That’s already Master, Thinker and a little bit of Stranger; Mover on top would be pretty unlikely. Maybe an agility-boost side benefit (like Tristan’s enhanced strength or Byron’s cold resistance, or Brian’s inability to be detected by smell) but nothing more.

        1. She does seem to have enhanced flexibility a la Mouse Protector / Ravager / Murder Rat. Possibly a third member of that cluster? Except that we have no evidence of the teleportation or toxic-wound abilities, and Mouse Protector and Ravager didn’t *appear* to have an actual power-rooted association with rodents.

          1. She may be a case 53, or something similer. Remember Weld wondered if she was, and she’s got some sort of facial deformity. It’ hasn’t been really talked about, but I’m thinking she’s furry, only more horrifying than cute. So she may have an altered physiology beyond her main powers.

          2. I wonder if she just has a badly broken nose and some missing teeth under that mask. That would be some pretty good trolling by Wildbow after all the emphasis on her mask’s crookedness and her lisp.

          3. Judging from Ratcatcher’s interaction with Crystalclear in his interlude, I don’t think it is that simple. She seems to think that she looks more monstrous than he does.

          4. On the other hand, if Ratcatcher is a Taylor’s clone, as has been suggested, then maybe you are right Gazeboist, maybe Ratcatcher’s looks aren’t objectively that horrible. Remember that Taylor was somewhat sensitive to the fact that in her opinion her hair was the only part of her that looked good. Maybe Ratcatcher is similarly sensitive, which coupled with awareness of her unnatural origin and her intended purpose of harming people, especially Taylor, could mean that she probably wouldn’t need to look too bad to react as she did in that talk with Crystalclear.

  13. Foresight’s description of Ratcatcher seem a bit exaggerated, don’t you think?
    She looks competent in Dot’s interlude and in Goddess finale.

    1. They were describing her as a person, not as a cape. As a cape, she’s competent, as a person she’s either heading into a dangerous situation or out of control. It’s… Not a great combination, really. Especially not in a hero.

    2. She’s extremely competent (after all, she almost got away just now), but she’s mercurial and almost deliberately obtuse in her interactions. She’s about as un-team-player as they come, at least by nature (though presumably the right team could make excellent use of her).

      1. She actually reminds me of pre-Heartbroken Imp, especially very early on when she was sort of a probationary Undersider.

    3. I think it may be just a question of a bad first impression based on looks and surface-level behavior.

      Think about how Foresight HQ and costumes look like, then compare it to Ratcatcher, her place, and her “little friends”. No wonder they are inclined to have strong negative opinions on her.

      1. Not to mention the Pith drunk make grandma cry texts. Well she may just be responsible for the Pith Drunk part, we’ll find out Saturday.

      2. > bad first impression based on looks and surface-level behavior.
        For the team with “a lot of thinkers” including (probably) some kind of lie detector? Does not add up.

      3. She went far enough into recruitment that they were looking at updating her costume so it matched the Foresight team. It’s not first impressions; it’s more than that, they know her better than ‘first impressions’. And they had Crystalclear keep an eye on her during the prison break, so they’ve worked with her before. They *know* her, this isn’t just first impressions and surface appearances.

        And as negadarkwing pointed out, she sent ‘pith drunk, make grandma cry’ texts to her boss… Which implies she’s known and trusted enough that they handed out Countenance’s phone number to her. (Or possibly just Anelace, as he seems to be high in the food chain- second in command, I think, but don’t have evidence for.)

        1. I still think that first impressions played a role. Remember that the interior of Foresight HQ, and their behavior and costumes was a little too much even for Victoria the fashionista. Ratcatcher is their polar opposite in that regard. I’m not saying that the messages were not the dicing factor, I’m saying that the general impression Foresight got from Ratcatcher probably contributed to them not giving her benefit of doubt, when the messages popped up.

        2. Effy seems to have more authority than Anelace here, so I doubt he’s the formal second in command. He does seem to be higher up than Crystalclear, but that might just be because Crystalclear is newer and/or we’ve only ever seen Crystalclear working for Foresight in the field.

  14. ” I put my arms down, forearm and hands across her shoulderblades. I murmured, “I thought you had rules.”

    “I’m getting sloppy,” she said. “It’s bad, I know.”

    “Okay,” I said, not sure what to make of that. “Careful.”

    I get it. I totally get why Victoria does this.
    But GOD DAMN IT Vicky. Every time this comes up it is bad.

    The kiddo wants a hug. This is a different situation. People being deprived of contact is bad for them.

  15. Tattletale whistled to get Snuff’s attention. The guy whipped up what looked like a miniature black hole, sucking up all the smoke and, by the looks of it, vacuuming up a lot of the other particulate, mess, and the light dusting of snow from his hood and the coarse, thick black sweater he wore.

    Is it only me, or did we finally see Snuff’s power in action?

    1. The fact that

      He was smoking with enough intensity that a cloud surrounded him.

      probably also had something to do with his power.

      1. I mean, even if the “miniature black hole” was not his power, but some sort of tinkertech vacuum cleaner for example, the mere fact that he – a villain, and a known murderer, used it makes me think that his “cloud of smoke” was really dangerous, and needed to be disposed of. I don’t think that someone like him would have bothered to do it with regular cigarette smoke.

        1. It would also mean that he wasn’t really taking a cigarette break. He was preparing to intervene if things went south with Foresight.

          1. Could be the smoke is part of his power. Could also be that he has fine enough control to suck the smoke particulates out of his sweater, and a boss who doesn’t like for her driver to smell like cigarette smoke. Either way, he probably was prepared to intervene, just by virtue of being TT’s bodyguard.

    2. I think we’ve seen it before in the background (eg when Kenzie used her past-camera to look at the battle between the Undersiders and the Marching Band), but this is the clearest instance I can remember.

  16. Considering that Chicken Little apparently keeps having his power-related dreams. Do you think he and Colt should be properly introduced to each other?

    1. I dunno. Aiden’s got enough violently protective girls around him, and Colt was part of a group that shot one of them, and chopped them up. Factor in wanting to avoid his chick magnet rating kicking in, I’m pretty sure someone would try to murder Colt.

      1. Well, it would certainly be odd for everyone if Colt had to say “Hi, my name is Colt, I don’t know if you remember, but some parts of your already met me. We even ended up in the same egg. Oh, and I’m terribly sorry for shooting in general direction of one of your girlfriends and siblings of the other one, and actually hitting one of them and their savior and guardian you came here with. I wasn’t exactly myself then (not that I’ve ever been much better since then). What do you say we look past all of that and become friends?”

        And Queen Administrator’s response would obviously be “Sure, I always like making new thralls friends.”

  17. Okay so forgive me for jumping into this crackpot, tinhat theory here. Sorry if it makes no sense and sorry for typos, I’m typing this on my phone.
    So… I’m still convinced Ratcatcher is an Echidna clone (or at least some other type of clone but Echidna makes the most sense to me). We’ve seen with the echidna clones that the clones can be deformed/altered in physical ways and have some variations on the powers of the Capes they were copied from. We were also given no indication as to how long they could potentially live – although it’s reasonable to assume that they would be able to care for themselves in a meaningful way seeing as they had all the memories of their prime (original). With Ratcatcher’s abilities, I think she could have escaped the collapsed Coil base and gone on to live a decent life following Gold Morning. (I do recognise this as all probably unlikely but a guy can dream 🙂 )

    If you consider the way Echidna clones often have a twist on the prime’s power, I think it’s reasonable to think that Taylor’s Thinker and Master ratings were reversed to some degree in Ratcatcher. Instead of a heavy focus on the actual troops (bugs v rats) that’s more prevalent in Taylor, Ratcatcher would have a focus on the best way to utilise her environment to make her troops more effective. As such, her Thinker power would be more primary than her master power.
    I also believe that Ratcatcher has a disconnect in her understanding of her power. I think her shard does most of the rat-controlling and info extrapolation – a la Skitter’s ability to do this mostly on her own – and she doesn’t realise that it’s a more intuitive power, so she equates what her shard gives her into “The rats are talking to me”.

    Also, I just want to point out that I think Skitter and CL’s QA shard desensitizes them to the effects of their mastering on their creatures. So Skitter doesn’t mind losing bugs, CL doesn’t seem to care about that one crow that his Haast was eating, and how Khepri didn’t seem to be empathetic towards all the Capes she was killing during Gold Morning.
    Now arguably you can say that they cared about Atlas, Chicken Large, and the Undersiders she stored away in another dimension, respectively and I’d agree with you. They don’t care about their mastered ‘creatures’ unless they have a specific value to them which is why Atlas was more important than the bugs, etc.

    Linking this back to Ratcatcher and how she was stopped by the team in this chapter, and my tinhat theory, I think Ratcatcher is the opposite in that her empathy towards her rats is higher, so her direct control of them is lower.

    1. Forgot to mention that I think she’s an echidna clone of Taylor 🙁 but I’m sure you’ll be able to extrapolate from what I meant

      1. Good one. Would have to check if there is any chance that there could be any surviving Echidna clones of Taylor, but it would certainly be a good explanation of why Ratcatcher run as soon as Tattletale appeared in the area.

    2. AFAIK Echidna clones were all psychotic. Ratcatcher is a bit awkward and maybe “simple” but she does not strike me as psychotic.
      Also her powerset does not scream QA for me like Taylors or Chickens does.

      1. Maybe she just doesn’t appear psychotic, because she had more than four years to calm down and adjust? Maybe she even survived because she was one of the less psychotic ones to begin with? As for the power – yes it is a major stretch, but Echidna clones never had exactly the same power as their originals, and the differences were fairly serious in some cases, if I remember correctly, and it is not that there are absolutely no similarities between Ratcatcher’s and Taylor’s powers. Nothing says that Queen Administrator always has to give primarily master powers, after all, and Taylor’s power did have a thinker element.

        1. People need to remember that the power classification is a PRT thing, not related directly with the powers, but in how the power interact with the world. Master and Thinker identify only how the powers appear to work.
          I really like this theory. Makes some sense.

        2. Yeah. And Taylor’s thinker power was consistently under rated. Underrated by a lot. A typical college educated person (cause that’s who is easily available for college psyche departments to run studies on) can track 7 items in their mind at once at most. Taylor would know the individual locations and activities of tens of thousands of bugs at once, maybe hundreds of thousands at once. And the typical person has functional performance drop by massive amounts if they are working on even two tasks at once, see the classic guerrilla basketball experiment. Taylor could track 100s or thousands of things at once. Her mind was not just a little better than ordinary people, it was many many orders of magnitude better. She probably should have had a thinker 8 rating or even higher. I think the PRT consistently undervalued her thinker power.

          1. While I also think that Taylor’s thinker ability was probably seriously underrated, it may not be quite as strong as you suggest. Remember that her ability to split her attention had some serious limits. If I remember correctly Taylor never displayed an ability to use her bugs to perform some of her more difficult tricks independently in too many places at once.

            For example she couldn’t listen in to a hundred different conversations in a hundred rooms in her range at the same time. Same with sight – even making one picture her brain could understand from her bugs could be a problem for her. I don’t believe she has ever displayed an ability to make her bugs “speak” two different things in two different places at the same time. Her ability to focus on multiple tasks at one which she didn’t directly perform through her bugs also probably wasn’t that great.

            Taylor’s enhanced situational awareness when she could track her surroundings with her bugs did seem to translate to an ability to come up with plans involving giving multiple people very detailed orders in a very short time – probably more detailed than any unpowered commander could give even if they had a way to observe the entire battlefield at once, but not nearly as detailed as she could give to her bugs, at least before she got Kheprified, at which point she could control something like hundreds of people with very different powers to perform a single coordinated attack, though even then she used people like Number Man to perform some calculations necessary to do pull something as complicated as that salvo with capes with blaster powes which ended up with deaths of many of them (including Lady Photon), because she did not make Doormaker close all necessary doors in time to prevent Scion’s counterattack from reaching some of those capes – which shows that her ability to independently control multiple people, (not in terms of being able to telepathically give them orders, but in terms of giving many of them multiple different orders all at once), while clearly beyond anything a human would be able to do, was at it’s limits long before she got to tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands people.

            Taylor seemed to do better with bugs, but even then it looked like she could employ them to solve maybe a dozen, maybe even a hundred or two, but certainly not tens of thousands of problems at once. For example I doubt that she would be able to use her bugs to give individual, detailed orders to those people whom she warned against Shatterbird’s attack, if all buildings in her range were as full of people as they would be if most of Brockton Bay’s population had not moved out after Leviathan’s attack. Even with that many people Taylor did not give every one of them all of their instructions individually, but often just limited herself to arranging her bugs into a couple written words intended to be read by several people at once, and used other bugs just to wake people up and make them look at the writing. Considering how empty Brockton Bay was at the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if Taylor worked on arranging this much in only a couple dozen of places at once, and even that feat was probably something she managed to do only because her power had a temporary upgrade because of the stress she was under at the time.

            What Taylor seemed to be particularly good with was tracking multiple bugs at once (both what they were doing, and where they were in relation to her and to each other), being aware of what they touched, and (especially) if the ones she used as part of her warning system or a way for her allies to bring her attention to them died, or were shaken for example. Even when she wanted to make bugs move in a coordinated fashion (to form writing, or even some symbol, like an arrow, not to mention one of her bug-clones), she seemed not to individually control every step of every bug, but instead just imagine the final effect she wanted to achieve, and let her shard figure out the detailed steps necessary to get there. And even her ability to give directives to her shard was probably not fully conscious, because her bugs often reacted to her emotions, not her intentional orders.

            All of this means that Taylor’s ability to multitask, while far beyond that of a regular person, was probably much more limited than you probably think – both in terms of how many things she could focus at once (dozens, maybe around a hundred, but certainly not hundreds of thousands of tasks at once for easier uses of her power – like warning people through writing, probably from one to just a few tasks at once when it came to things like speaking, listening and especially seeing through her bugs). Her ability to split her attention between information coming from her own senses or tasks she performed through other means then her power was probably even more limited – only a little better than that of a regular person, if at all enhanced.

            And all of it describes Taylor’s abilities only relatively late in the story. If you read the first chapter or two, you will see that at the very beginning of Worm she was far more limited – being able to issue little more than general commands to broad groups of bugs (like “all bugs of a certain species in a certain general area”). The most impressive feat she was capable of at the time in my opinion was to make spiders coordinate to weave fabric, and even that could repurpose some of the natural ability to construct more complicated structures from threads spiders already have.

            Finally – the threat level of her thinker power. Remember that it is supposed to be a threat level, not an overall measure of how far beyond human capabilities what you can do is. Considering that the thinker aspects of Taylor’s powers were largely dependent on her ability to work through bugs (like I said above, her ability to multitask was probably only a little enhanced, if at all). This means that thinker level 8 would probably be way to high to describe her power, though I will admit that at the same time thinker 1 (or even 3, as Tagg told his people to treat her after her surrender) was probably way too low. In my opinion Taylor’s thinker abilities were really somewhere between those values, and only if she had access to bugs. Without them – she really wasn’t much of a threat compared to a regular person.

          2. Of course by that last sentence of the previous post, I just meant only that Taylor’s thinker abilities did not contribute to her being a threat if she had no bugs. Late in the story her training, experience (including combat experience), extensive knowledge of capes, powers, tactics to deal with them, and an ability to (sometimes literally) “pull the trigger” or put herself or her allies in danger to accomplish her objectives, would made her a serious threat even if she had absolutely no powers at all. Even now, without her powers (assuming they are still gone, like they were in the epilogue), I suspect that she is more dangerous than 99% of unpowered war veterans she might be able to meet on Aleph for example. But this sort of threat has nothing to do with threat level assigned to person’s power category by PRT.

      2. We know for a fact one of the Echidna Clones controled rats, Taylor commented on this during the Echinda fight. It’s one of the reasons why this theory keeps popping up: Ratcatcher is an apparently deformed woman who Masters rats and, we now have reason to believe, has taken up running. Also Word of God is that if Danny had triggered like the shard originally planned before jumping, his powers would have been Rat-based.

        Now she might be something different, but her power being rat related is one of the things that speaks for this possibility, not against.

        1. I must say that your arguments (both in this comment, and the one you posted in the “Ratcatcher as a C53-ed clone of Taylor” thread) just moved the idea of “Ratcatcher as an Echidna clone of Taylor” from the crackpot land straight into realm of plausibility, at least in my head.

        2. I see your point.
          Maybe its just that I HOPE she is not. Because this clone theme is getting a bit too predominant.
          It was fun-crazy with the S9000. It worked with Lab Rat. But having another one. And from Taylor no less?
          Skitter was a cool mix of Hero/Antihero and I am aware a lot of readers probably want to see her again in some form. This is just getting too clone-y for my tastes. Its not “The Clone Wars” after all.

          1. A far as I understand that some people may be tired of clones popping out everywhere, I think Ratcatcher (assuming she is an Echidna clone of Taylor of course) may prove to be a very different kind of a clone than any we have seen before, in no small part because she must be aware that she was meant to be an imperfect copy, and that her sole purpose was supposed to be harming her original, which probably clashed in complicated way with a desire to be a good and heroic person Ratcatcher probably inherited from Taylor, and with Ratcatcher’s awareness that despite her methods deep down Taylor was doing her best to be such person.

          2. There is also the fact that Ratcatcher would be doomed to forever live in Taylor’s shadow. Unlike all other clones, Ratcatcher can’t really hope that whatever she does would even come close to what Taylor accomplished during Gold Morning. Even Taylor herself had to admit during her epilogue that no matter what she did during the reminder of her life could ever come close to her role in killing Scion.

          3. Another possible difference between Ratcatcher and the other clones. Between the fact that not only bodies and minds, but also powers of those clones were imperfectly copied, and the fact that as far as I remember Ratcatcher wasn’t mentioned in Scion’s interlude, when he looked at Taylor and mentioned Aiden’s bud, I think that Ratcatcher’s power may not come from Queen Administrator, but is just a mockery of Taylor’s power coming from Echidna’s shard.

            Technically even on genetic level Ratcatcher may not be Taylor clone, but just an imperfect approximation Echidna’s power made to look a bit like Taylor, and to have some sort of twisted approximation of Taylor’s memories.

          4. I guess we will know that Ratcatcher’s power comes from Echidna’s shard, not from Queen Administrator if she gets something like memory-dreams from someone like Oliver, not Taylor.

      3. Indeed, IIRC one of the reasons for the removal of That One Interlude was that the clone subject was a little too normal psychologically.

        1. Doesn’t mean that the idea that didn’t work yhen, couldn’t be revisited now. What if the Ratcatcher lived almost like a half-feral animal for a while after Echidna’s defeat, and didn’t attack people only because it wasn’t suicidial, and only got better adjusted to living in a society as time passed? Remember that it has been over four years which included an almost literal end of the world since the Echidna battle. Who says that an Echidna clone couldn’t change in that time?

          1. And if the Echidna clone theory is correct, I think that it is just as possible that Ratcatcher is still dealing with the instincts all Echidna clones shared, that she run every bit as much because she was afraid of Tattletale coming after her, as because she was afraid of her own reaction – that she would try to harm or kill Tattletale and Aiden just because they were Taylor’s friend and charge, and going after them would hurt Taylor.

            If this is what Ratcatcher is dealing with, it would even explain why she drinks so much.

          2. I could even imagine Ratcatcher’s reaction to Tattletale’s presence – “Litha, pleathe tell me that the’th dead. I’m being you, tell me that the’th dead! I thon’t be able to control mythelf around you and the kid, if you won’t tall me that Taylor ith dead!”

          3. being > begging. No reason to make an already confusing Ratcatcher’s speech even more difficult to understand with typos.

  18. Name suggestion for Darlene: Teamplayer?

    Also I get the feeling that the whole Darlene/Aiden/Kenzie situation is gonna end up in a poly relationship once they grow up… or at least that’s what I’m hoping for. No unhappy endings!

    Snuff was surprisingly likeable here. Also, I like how Darlene is like ‘UGH’ about Tattletale while Aiden’s like ‘thats my mom be nice to her’.

  19. – yay, Ratcatcher
    – definitely parkour with some enhanced flexibility
    – Chicken Little is quietly leveling up in front of our backs
    – he is also in a future-poly relationship and doesn’t even know it
    – FUTURE because all parties are underaged, supervised and therefore will not be getting into any shenanigans until they are of age
    – Kenzie didn’t smile, that means she’s happy!
    – because I am Captain Obvious
    – GloryTale is best team-up
    – the new mystery? Gaslighting email diaries? Ratcatcher has been targeted? My prime suspect is Teacher. My secundus suspect is also Teacher. My tertiary suspect is a Dragon-copy … controlled by Teacher
    – so it’s probably the Machine Army gone quasi-sapient

  20. @Alfaryn:
    …In fact I just realized how much I, barbaric Terran freebirth, have erred by calling Ratcatcher a mere clone. She is obviously a Trueborn warrior.

    No, not too obscure a reference at all… and Jesus, McKenna and Kerensky, it made me grin! A favourite game from years ago; Mechwarrior, using Battletech as the combat system, with a GM who had damn near all the figs… painted, no less

    1. Well, I never was that much invested in pen and paper Mechwarrior RPG, or in the computer games (other than Megamek), but I have a lot of sentiment for Battletech as a boardgame, and still very much like to play it.

      As for the Battletech lore… I consider it silly for the most part (not that I mind it’s silliness, at least in a boardgame, it bugs me more when I try to immerse myself in it in a way an RPG would require – part of the reason why I was never too fond of any Mechwarrior/A Time of War RPGs), but this silliness is exactly why a used it as a reference in a discussion focused around what looks like a silly theory.

      And of course I focused on the Clans – not only because of a suspicion that Ratcatcher is a clone, and in that universe cloning is Clan’s “thing”, but also because I consider the Clans one of the most silly elements in the Battletech setting, so they fit perfectly in that thread in my opinion.

      1. I guess you can tell which of those systems fit what I look for in a pen and paper RPG more – something like Amber DRPG and GURPS, or something loke Toon and Paranoia?

        By the way, did anyone ever try making Worm Diceless RPG? I think that with a good GM and players it could work better than anything with dice.

        1. Sorry, should’ve written “Weaver Diceless”, not “Worm Diceless” of course. I blame lack of sleep for this one.

      2. ‘Silly’? I’ve heard/seen lots of criticisms of the Clans, but that’s a novel one. And as for the Battletach/Mechwarrior backstory… well, once you can accept these immense, lumbering, metal *things* as a practical reality, the rest follows. Of course, my husband never could manage that initial suspension of disbelief….

        I see the whole Battletech universe as akin to the world of superheroes; to have an immersive and enjoyable experience with either, you have to begin by accepting the ‘rules’ of the setting. In Battletech, that means no pointing out how absurd the whole concept of these massive, bipedal (or quadrapedal) “Queens of the Battlefield” really is.

        And of course, in the world of superheroes, you have to accept that 1) Lois Lane is a Pulitzer Prize level reporter, and 2) Clark Kent’s disguise is good enough to deceive her. Once again, suspension of disbelief is the price of admission!

        1. What can I say, I consider most space operas silly even if there are no twelve meters tall walking ‘Mechs in them, and I consider the Clans particularly silly because the feudal societies of the Inner Sphere at least make some sense in light of technical limitations of the setting (especially the fact that messages can take so long to travel between star systems). It makes sense that feudalism would become the default form of social order in such situation, because whoever switched to that would be able to control an interstellar empire better than anyone who insisted to stick to other forms of government, so feudal interstellar states would naturally be in position to conquer their non-feudal neighbors.

          On the other hand Clan honor should lead to increased losses at war (employing as little forces as possible to get the job done, and treating battles as series of honorable duels would immediately give the advantage to the opposition which doesn’t follow those rules), and in peacetime (destroying valuable military hardware to settle disputes through honorable duels). This means that any Clans which wouldn’t stick to those rules should have a tremendous advantage over the others. Probably enough to conquer them simply by winning a war of attrition. In other words I don’t think how Clan social order could be stable in the long term, and it lasted for centuries.

          Interestingly enough I consider most superhero settings silly too, and like the parahuman setting in part because Wildbow went to great lengths to invent plausible explanations to why some of the most unbelievable cliches of the genre (why almost everyone has a different power, why everyone started getting powers around the same time, why people with powers keep fighting each other, why the government is so lenient when it comes to superpowered crime, why people wear those ridiculous costumes, why tinkers don’t mass-produce their devices, and why their presence did not drastically change the overall technological level of the civilization, why most powers seem to break fundamental laws of physics etc.) may actually work.

          Not that I have something against silliness in general. I just prefer my RPGs to be a little more serious most of the time, and to happen in worlds which at least try to be somewhat plausible.

        2. Not really.

          By the time Lois got her own title in the late 1950s, the focus had shifted somewhat away from her “anything for a story” portrayal to stories that were somehow simultaneously more domestic and more bizarre.

          During the Silver Age, most Lois Lane stories fell into one of the following formulas: 1) Lois tries to prove that Clark Kent is Superman; 2) Lois tries to trick Superman into marrying her; 3) Lois is transformed into something weird or gains temporary super-powers (this part of the formula was also very common in the main Superman title and Jimmy Olsen as well during this period); 4) Lois and Lana Lang try to murder each other; 5) Superman pulls an elaborate hoax on Lois either to teach her a lesson in humility or to protect her from organized crime (sometimes, though rarely, you get the reverse double hoax where Lois gets the upper hand in the end, as in “The Amazing Superman Junior”); 5) Lois wants to be a movie star; 6) Lois decides maybe she’ll investigate a news story; 7) a combination of any of the above.

          The author does not explicitly note that Superman would use androids and shapeshifters to make Lois think she couldn’t prove collusion his secret identity to the required standard.

          1960s

          The selection here is a combination of formulas 1, 3, and 6 from above, as Lois gains X-ray vision and uses it alternately to solve mysteries and try to prove that Clark is Superman.

          Basically, the same audience that accepted Campy Joker and his boners demanded that Lois Lane suspect Clark Kent.

  21. @Alfaryn:
    I’ve never played Toon, but I’ve played a lot of Paranoia, and I’m something of a fanatic for the Amber Diceless RPG. Oddly enough, the same group I played Mechwarrior/Battletech with was also my group for prolonged campaign-style sessions of Amber Diceless… in fact, it was our Amber GM incorporating scenarios from Battletech that convinced us as players to actually try Mechwarrior.

    1. I actually never played Paranoia (though I considered doing it at one point), and it mostly from reviews. I included mention of it simply because I thought it fit my example. I played Toon once or twice, but it really never clicked with me that much, and ended up in the “when me and my friends all retire” category. I never played anywhere near as much Amber as I would like to, but I still consider it my favorite system. Similar thing with GURPS, which is probably my close second favorite, and which I unfortunately also never had chance to play much. As for RPGs set in the Battletech universe, the one of them I’ve bought was actually A Time of War, and I didn’t do it with intention of actually playing it, but because some time ago I’ve become something of a collector of certain tabletop Battetech-related publications (including the core rules), and because as much as I consider Battletech lore silly, I don’t mind reading some of it for fun from time to time, and I consider a good RPG manual set in a particular setting one of the better ways to present the lore of that setting.

      Since you mentioned that you like Amber DRPG, I’ll let you know that I’ve been thinking about how that system could be modified to work for games in the Parahumans setting. I don’t expect to ever go far beyond those initial thoughts, both because I rarely have a chance to play RPGs anymore, and because I doubt I will ever succeed in introducing enough people to the setting to have a decently-sized group of players who would like to play in this particular setting. Turns out that it is not an easy thing to do if you live in a country where almost nobody speaks English as their first language.

      Still, if you want me to, I could try to put those thoughts in writing, and post them here or on reddit for example. Such post could inspire someone to create an actual Weaver Diceless system in a form they would be able to use to actually play the game? Maybe they’ll even post it? I personally would be happy to see such system.

  22. Having read this chapter I started thinking about the team doing the attacks.

    My suspicion: they hijack the mobile devices of the victims. Maybe thats how they choose, too. People who have such devices with them most of the time.
    Think about it. Vic is never without her mobile. Ratcatcher was probably tricked by sending from her mobile. Only thing that puts a damper on it: TT should think of possible attack vectors and make sure they are closed. Which would mean testing/getting rid of mobiles.

    But then TT is a strangely on/off kind of cape. Here it seems she planned everything including Chicken and Ratcatchers pets. But looking back at her own mercs double crossing her, she has huge lapses.

    1. I had this suspicion too. I even pointed out that if the Bunker was either cut off from the cellphone network, or any communications between the Bunker and the outside world were closely monitored by Dragon (and as such no cellphone could be used to spy on what happened there), it could explain why whoever put the fake diary in Victoria’s computer didn’t know that Jessica told Victoria about the diary, and the first thing Vicky was likely to do after returning home would be to pull out her network card from her laptop.

      If the authors of the diary knew that, I imagine they would at least change the last edit to remove any mentions of Byron’s andd Moonsong’s breakup, because it was a clue that, despite what logs suggested, Victoria’s laptop was accessed while she was away from it, and I imagine they would want to hide at least this one fact from Victoria, because it says a lot about their methods, capabilities, and limitations.

  23. There have been more emotional moments than this particular instance that would’ve been natural for Kenzie to go for a hug, but she still didn’t. This is an early warning sign that she’s being *too* linked in with her new team (earlier, Vic noted that she was in communication via camera and connected to Dar’s network even when apart), and the emotions and feelings of attachment are spilling over. Vicky is well within her rights to take this as the warning flag that it is.

  24. By the way if, as has been suggested above, Ratcatcher indeed is an Echidna clone of Taylor, then I suspect that it is no accident that Tattletale kept her distance from Ratcatcher earlier, and now not only went to Foresight first, and took Aiden, who was uniquely suited to stop Ratcatcher from fleeing by catching her rats, with her.

    I suspect that Tattletale might have known what the Ratcatcher is for a long time, and both of them intentionally kept their distance from each other, because of how complicated, painful and potentially volatile their interactions could be because of their respective relationships to Taylor. At the same time Tattletale probably kept an eye on Ratcatcher for the entire time both to make sure that nothing will happen to her, and that she will not become a problem herself.

    Now that the problem with Victoria’s diary has surfaced, Tattletale could, because of her constant interest in Ratcatcher, quickly realize that Ratcatcher would be one of the most likely targets. What naturally followed is that Tattletale went after Ratcatcher specifically, both because of her concern for the unfortunate clone, and because of her worry that the situation could push Ratcatcher into doing something drastic, and potentially dangerous to herself or to othe people (especially Taylor’s friends).

    1. By the way if Ratcatcher is an Echidna clone then I suspect, as I already indicated earlier that she may be unable to stop hating Taylor because of it (even if Ratcatcher knows that this feeling is wrong, that it comes not from who she is, but instead from what she is, from what she is hard-wired to feel). I think there is one interesting consequence of this assumption that is not directly related to relationships between Ratcatcher and Taylor’s friends.

      You see, if my assumption is correct, then the entire situation may strongly resonate with Victoria. This is because there are plenty twisted parallels between Ratcatcher’s situation and the relationship between Victoria and Amy – from irrational hatred felt despite knowledge that it is irrational, to the fact that Victoria’s feelings about Amy during her stay in the hospital were as unnatural and imposed by external power, as Ratcatcher’s feelings about Taylor in this scenario.

      And because plenty of past events seemed destined by the author (or maybe by her shard?) to make Victoria confront her feelings about Amy in a way that could lead Victoria to slowly overcome her sister-related trauma, and the above scenario would fit this trend, then I think it may be another reason to believe that not only Ratcatcher indeed is Taylor’s clone, but also that Victoria will soon learn about this fact.

      1. One more parallel between Victoria and Ratcatcher – Ratcatcher seems to consider herself a monster, just like Victoria does. They seem to have so much in common that they could maybe become good friends because of it? Maybe this is another reason why Tattletale took Victoria almost straight to Ratcatcher?

        Wouldn’t it be funny if Tattletale was behind both the diary and the Ratcatcher’s message after all, because she wanted to find the way for those two to meet in a way that would let them share each other’s pain? Not that I seriously suspect Tattletale of masterminding the whole situation for this purpose, if anything Tattletale may just be trying to take advantage of the opportunity, but wouldn’t it feel both disturbing in one way, and right in another, if Tattletale actually was the mastermind here?

        1. One more interesting thing from the tinfoil hat land – by typing the password into Victoria’s computer Tattletale has practically almost proven that she had the means to put the fake diary into Victoria’s computer, and I think she could also be one of the people who could write it.

          Who knows? Maybe even Dragon, Jessica and Tattletale cooperated to put Victoria and Ratcatcher in this situation to let those two self-declared “monsters” meet? Maybe even Dr. Darnall knew what the situation was all about, because he just happened to be Ratcatcher’s therapist, and came up with the idea of arranging this meeting?

          1. Except she hasn’t. One of Tattletale’s tricks, with her power, is knowing passwords when she sees the ‘enter password’ bar. The same trick tells her the number of a telephone when she sees it, which is why she was able to dial people who didn’t give her their number. She still has to see the password bar, however, and unless she’s slipped remote access software onto Victoria’s laptop- software Dragon would notice- she’s got no way to see that bar.

            And this is very convoluted and unlikely for therapists to setup. If they think Ratcatcher and Antares could help each other, they’d give one the details of the other, or ‘accidentally double booked your appointment’, so they meet in the waiting room or something.

          2. And hey, what if that second person Lisa mentioned in her interlude she didn’t manage to save wasn’t Taylor, but Ratcatcher? Wouldn’t it fit this situation? A last ditch effort to save both Ratcatcher and Victoria somehow?

          3. @Earl of Purple

            Sure, Tattletale can break passwords, but who said that she broke Victoria’s password now, and not four weeks ago? As for Dragon, in this scenario she wouldn’t “notice” anything fishy about how Victoria’s computer communicated with Internet not because the hacker was so good, but because Dragon was one of the co-conspirators who wanted to bring Ratcatcher and Victoria together. It would even explain why nobody suggested using Defiant’s lie detector – it would be because Jessica and Dragon knew that Victoria was telling the truth. Similar idea with Jessica – she didn’t tell Victoria about the diary, because Victoria intimated her, but because she wanted Victoria to go to Tattletale, who would then take her to Ratcatcher.

            In this, admittedly crazy, scenario Tattletale would just need to have Ratcatcher join their little group, and make those two “monsters” continue the “investigation” (not really much of an investigation for Tattletale, if she was one of the people behind it), so that Antares and Ratcatcher have an opportunity to bond with each other while looking for more capes who came under attack from the “mysterious mastermind” until Tattletale was satisfied that those two bonded well enough with each other that the charade was no longer necessary, at which point Dragon, Yamada and possibly Darnall and whoever else was in the “conspiracy” could pop out of the woodwork to explain that the whole thing was organized for Victoria’s and Ratcatcher’s benefit, and apologize for the deception.

  25. If Ratcatcher is indeed Echidna clone of Taylor with all emotional baggage it implies, I wonder if she will end up joining Breakthrough (not the Undersiders, this would probably be too emotionally painful for everyone involved, and possibly also dangerous, if Ratcatcher is still dealing with hatred of Taylor she would be created with).

    Joining Breakthrough would fit on so many levels:
    – Ratcatcher has been rejected by Foresight (something Victoria can relate to), and even if she could rejoin, she may not want to, because her personality really doesn’t fit there,
    – Breakthrough is all about helping it’s members deal with their emotional baggage, and Ratcatcher not only clearly has a lot of it to deal with, but could also help other members (especially, though not exclusively, Victoria, since there are so many similarities between their burdens),
    – Being a somewhat monstrous clone wouldn’t be something Breakthrough wouldn’t know how to relate to. Victoria, Sveta, Chris and Ashley all clearly are or were at least one of those things. If you consider being a monster in mind, not just in body, then you can add adding the rest of the capes on the team (with a possible exception of Byron) to the list.
    – Breakthrough has technically just lost their surveillance specialist, and someone with Ratcatcher’s power could certainly be employed in a similar role.

      1. Right. Thanks. It’s one of those simple things about English spelling that somehow keep slipping my mind from time to time.

  26. I think that the Tinkertech expertise used to do Victoria´s and Ratcatcher´s false diary and texts might come from Epeios.

    He is mentioned to be a tinker specialized in malware and hacking. Tattletale counted him as an ally, “maybe something more”, before he performed an unspecified betrayal on Tattletale. Let´s note that Tattletale used his spyware to fool and delay Dragon when attacking the PRT base in the “Worm” book, if even for a short time.
    If Tattletale senses his scent over the plot, that may be one of the reasons that makes her so cooperative in this arc.

    Of course, Kenzie fits the bill even better… but in the unlikely case this is the case, I won´t be mad.

    1. I guess we all agree that Kenzie has the technological and surveillance part covered. But I very much doubt she has the psychological insight to write a convincing fake. I would rule her out on that grounds alone.

      1. I agree that Kenzie has the technical expertise to plant/do stuff but not the emotional skills. However, she is surrounded by a team of people with emotional reading/manipulation skills. Add in a lot of free time with no emotional maturity and Kenzie’s team starts looking like the main suspects.

  27. Calling it now: RC is Madison Clements. Her shard is a bud of QA, focused on a different sort of vermin. All that time spent around Taylor, thinking of ways to make her more miserable, of course the shard was associated with her. She might have triggered when her face got messed up in a Scion disaster, or in the aftermath of that. She is petite and not afraid to get messy. She looks up to Antares, and wants to follow her lead in doing better. Now that Antares is a black hat, that might not work so well…

    1. Well, it would certainly explain why she was so interested in what happened to Taylor, but would also mean that she most likely lied to Victoria about training to become a teacher. Why would she do that?

      1. Maybe Madison triggered with a tinker/thinker power instead, and has been the mastermind behind Victoria’s diary and Ratcatcher’s message. Think of it as a continuation of her career as a bully. It would fit especially if Ratcatcher was indeed Taylor’s clone, and Madison knew about it.

        1. …And Victoria would be targeted for crossing Madison during the photo session back in Brockton Bay, and for suggesting that Madison deserved it to happen to her during their conversation on PHO in Glow-worm.

    2. How has Antares gone black hat? What supervillainy has she been involved in outside of her brief stint as Goddess’s minion?

  28. I just thought about another reason for not only Ratcatcher being Taylor’s clone, but also for this fact being revealed today. Easter is coming, so it seems fitting for us to witness the closest thing to resurrection of humanity’s savior we are likely to get in Ward.

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