Black – 13.6

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Tattletale took her sweet frigging time in catching up to us.  There was enough time for a concerned citizen to start talking on their phone while looking warily at Chicken Little and the hooded ex-killer Snuff who had been chasing -following- after him, time for me to talk to them while Snuff kept an eye on Ratcatcher, a defusing of the situation with Chicken’s help, and then time for us to get slightly bored.

With a light whistle to get Chicken’s attention, she motioned to the hawks.  “Release one to show goodwill?”

Chicken Little didn’t.  He hung back, on the opposite side of the alley as Ratcatcher, with Snuff standing beside him, one hand at his shoulder.  Ratcatcher had retreated into the building she’d been planning to escape into, mainly for warmth, and I stood at the doorway, keeping it just ajar enough I could keep an eye on her.

Not that she was going anywhere, with Chicken Little holding her pets.

“I’m not sure I can,” Chicken Little said.

Ratcatcher didn’t make a sound, but the bent nose of her mask flicked around in an alarmed way, her head craning to see Chicken Little through the cracked-open doorway.

“Why can’t you?” Tattletale asked.

“Because when you said I had to be nonlethal, that’s something I’ve never done before.  It’s like I plant these flags and the birds go to the flag to do whatever it says on the flag.  Attack, wait, watch out, patrol…”

“Yes… and?”

“And I don’t have a ‘catch but don’t kill’ flag so I just stuck down an ‘attack’ and ‘wait’ flag in the same place and they’re kind of stuck between the two and getting stressed out.  But it worked for them grabbing but not killing.  I can’t really tell one to do one thing and the other to do another, and if I put down more flags they can’t follow because of contradicting orders then they’ll either snap and eat the rats or they’ll both go quiet and let the rats go.”

I put up a hand to ease Ratcatcher.

“Let them both go then,” Ratcatcher said.  “I’ll cooperate.”

“No,” Tattletale said.  “We’ll figure this out.”

“They’re my friendth.  I trained them to use the litter boxth, and they bring me thnackth if I’m in bed and I don’t want to get up.  Ratthputin is my betht helper and Templeton is a cuddler.”

“Maybe-” Chicken Little started.

“Don’t cave,” Tattletale warned him.

“Maybe he wasn’t going to cave,” I said.  “If he has a suggestion let him think it through.  It’s his power.”

“I was going to cave,” Chicken said.

Tattletale extended a hand, as if to say ‘see?’.

Well fine, then.

“I’d rather not hurt people’s pets, and I did this because you were rushing me and telling me I had to do it now, I had to learn to think on the fly, and so I did, but now I’m doubting myself.”

“Don’t,” Tattletale said.  “You’re better than you think.”

Ratcatcher wrung her hands while Tattletale talked to her protege.  Her head turned, as if she was considering an escape route, then turned my way, looking me up and down.  As if she was considering an attack.

Fuck.

“Snuff?” I asked.  “Can you watch Ratcatcher?  I’ll help.”

Snuff left Chicken behind to take hold of the door.  I backed away, into the alley, then flew up to where the two hawks roosted on a length of pipe.

This felt weird to do.  I put my hands out, and I gingerly held the rat and the bird’s talon all together.

Feet like a fistful of knives, was that what Chicken Little had said?  Beaks like a sharp, fast moving knife.

With the other hand, I held the rat but not the talon.

“I’ve secured one of the rats.  Try releasing?” I asked.

“You’re sure?”

“I think so.”

I felt the animals move beneath my hands.  With one hand, I ensured a hawk didn’t let go or lose the rat.  With the other, I pulled a rat away.  I suspected they were as clean as any pet, but Ratcatcher was just far enough off the beaten path that I wasn’t ruling out fleas or other hygiene questions.  I was glad for the gloves I wore.

“And secure.  Back to what you were doing before.”

“Okay.  Done.”

I backed off.  One of the two roosting hawks had a rat pinned and gripped in talons.  I carried the other down to Ratcatcher.

“Thank you,” Ratcatcher said.  She lifted the rat up to her shoulder and adjusted her shirt collar so it served as a partial blanket.

Tattletale approached, and we entered the side door of the building, stepping into the hallway and letting the door close behind us.  Snuff and Chicken Little were left to wait outside.

“Where are we?” Tattletale asked.

“Rude messages were sent to the boss while she was drunk.  She doesn’t know if she sent them but it fits her prior behavior.  The messages came from her phone.  We hit a wall.”

“Phone and not computer?  Smart phone?”

Ratcatcher reached down to her pyjama legs, hiked them up, and then pulled checkered knee-high socks down.  The socks were pulled up around a phone, holding it snug to her calf.

“Why not use your pockets?” I asked.

“Running with thomething heavy in my pocketth is a good way to have my pantth fall down.  More comfortable for lying around.”

The phone was the kind that served as a hybrid between a flip-phone and a smartphone, oval and hinged at the top, with up to three ‘windows’ fanning out from the hinge.  Low resolution, and not much depth of color, which marked it as maybe ten years old.  The panes were scratched and the hinge had what looked like a splinter of a shell from a sunflower seed stuck in it.

“Counts as a computer.  Can I look?” Tattletale asked.

Ratcatcher touched the rat that clung to her neck and hid in her tangled hair without looking at it, then nodded, snapping the phone closed, opening it, pressing her thumb to the middle pane, and then handing it over.

“The messages line up to a time you got drunk?” I asked.

“Not thure, but wath it after five?”

“Yes,” Tattletale said.  “I found the first one.  Six p.m..”

“Then yeth.  I wait until five to drink.  They thay you’re thuppothed to wait until later in the day to drink.  That way you’re not an alcoholic.”

“What time do you get up?” I asked.

“Three or four?” Ratcatcher asked, like she was unsure and wanted my verification.

“In the afternoon?” I asked.

“Yep,” she said, with enough affirm in the affirmative that it felt like she was very satisfied the question when she’d asked me the time had some resolution.  “Thleep when I’m tired, eat when I’m hungry, walk when I’m rethtleth.  Annoy people when lonely.  If I’m hired I work the hours I work, thober.”

“Usually sober,” Tattletale murmured.

Ratcatcher considered, then shrugged and nodded.

Tattletale didn’t look up from the phone.  “Were you especially lonely a few weeks ago?  We’re trying to figure out if this was you or something bigger.”

“I have company,” Ratcatcher said, touching the rat at her neck again.

“I’m hearing that as a yes, you were lonely.”

Ratcatcher considered, then nodded again.  The body language was subtly different from the answer about whether she’d been sober.  Less carefree.

“And did you have a prior working history with Countenance?” Tattletale asked.

“This ithn’t fun,” Ratcatcher commented.

“Sorry,” I said.

She shrugged.  The rat stirred, moving around behind her neck to the other shoulder.  “No.  No hithtory.  I had a little bit of a cruth.  You know when you’re in a bad plathe and any boy with a nice voice and cute butt is nice to you, you get hopeth up?”

Not so much, I thought.

“And these messages, you thought about this sort of thing?” Tattletale asked.

“Doeth it matter?”

“We’re not sure you sent them,” I told her.  “People are going around messing with people.  Maybe something more insidious.”

Ratcatcher tilted her head to one side.  The rat perked up, reaching up to her ear.

“Nothing in the data,” Tattletale murmured.  “No weirdness in injections, outgoing data.  No patterns in the static, basically.  This stuff lines up with things you’ve thought before?  Or did it feel off?”

Ratcatcher motioned, and Tattletale handed her back the phone.  Ratcatcher slumped against the wall beside me, putting her rat in fairly close proximity to me.  She held it up so I could see too.

“Yeth, yeth, maybe, yeth, yeth…”

“Clarify?” Tatteltale asked.

Ratcatcher was busy scrolling.

“Uhh,” I said, “Go back?  Okay, so, opening prelude… rats mate more than once a minute, so even if he finishes quickly, he’d have a good thing going.”

“Pickup line,” Ratcatcher said.  “Yeth, thoundth like me.  There’th more.”

“Rat climaxes last five minutes-”

“-pretty thure it’th not true but thoundth good-”

“-which he might find fun, but if he doesn’t want to, ahem, take a rat to bed and attempt the physiologically impossible, he can take a girl instead.”

“Me.  Thatht the pickup line.  Thee?  I rate mythelf an honest three out of five and thay I’ll do thith, becauthe even a bad one ith pretty good, and then no thtringth attached-”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it, I see.”

“And thith part, we’ll thkip thith part, if that’th okay?  Personal.”

“Sure,” I said.  I cupped a hand to block my view of the phone while she scrolled.

“It still reads like you?” Tattletale asked.

“Yeth.  I don’t remember, but I thought about it a lot.  Even wrote thome but never thent them.  Until that night.  He rethpondth here,” she said.

I read it.  This is inappropriate, Ratcatcher.  Drink some water and rest.  We’ll talk about this tomorrow.

Pretty reasonable for a response to unsolicited texts in this vein at five in the morning.

“I apparently thent thome more, thith… leth me.”

Less her?

I read the texts, flinched, and looked away, which meant I was looking at Tattletale, who smirked.

“I thought you liked mice and rats,” I said.

“I do!  I wouldn’t do thomething like that, if you’ll reread it-”

“No thank you.”

“Thome guyth like thith thtuff.  I offer an alternative.  Rather than put a rat, thereth a potthibility of uthing a thnake inthtead.  Theemth more practical, you can hold on to the end of the tail.”

“Thank you for the mental image,” I said, averting my gaze from everything, while I tried to avert my ears from everything at the same time.

“Leth me.  Thnaketh are awful, they’re horrifying and they eat rodentth, but I don’t think I’d do that.  And I don’t think I’d keep texthting him unleth I was very, very drunk.”

“Okay,” Tattletale said.  “Good.”

“What do you think?” I asked her.

“I think I’m sixty percent certain this is weird.”

Only sixty percent?  I thought, raising an eyebrow.

“…In terms of the weirdness we’re investigating.  If it is weirdness we’re investigating and this isn’t a regular incident, then it’s a fifty percent chance that Ratcatcher here sent the first messages, and they sent everything after he responded to tell her to quit it.”

Ratcatcher reacted to that, head pulling back a bit.

“Otherwise, they fabricated it all.”

“You think that thomeone else thent thethe methageth?”

“Yes,” Tattletale said.  “There’s a very good chance that someone else sent these.  Tell me what happened after.”

“I went, they thaid to clean out my locker.  They were nithe about it.  Very polite but very careful.”

“Careful?” I asked.

“By the bookth.  Procedureth in plathe.”

“Has this sort of thing happened to you before?” I asked.

Ratcatcher shrugged, shook her head.   The shake was forceful enough that the bent portion of her mask flipped over to be bent the other way.  “But I’ve been in trouble before.  I get how it goeth.”

“But they’ve had trouble before,” Tattletale said.  “Countenance has.  There’s a history there and this attack was built to attack that weak point.”

“You sound pretty definitive at this point.  No percentages?”

Tattletale shook her head.  “I’m pretty darn sure.”

I looked over at Ratcatcher.  I tapped her phone at the hinge.  “This wasn’t you.”

“Hm,” She made a sound.  Her nose dropped.  “I’m not thure that maketh me feel better.”

“I get it,” I said.  “It’s invasive.  Violating.”

“No,” she said.  “I don’t care about that.  That’th the game we play.”

“It shouldn’t be,” I said.  “I prefer the good old days, when cape against cape fights wouldn’t dig any deeper than the surface level.  Costume against costume, no wounds that went beyond cuts, scrapes and bruises, unless they upped the ante first.”

“That’s stupid,” Tattletale said.  “Nothing’s surface level.  Our powers are intertwined with us, and we’re bringing all of our shit to the table when we go toe to toe with someone.  Pit your powers against their powers, and you’re digging into your own shit while they’re doing the same, going back to what used to be the worst day of your life, you’re flinging that shit.  To win your fights you need to know your enemy, but to do that you can’t stop at the surface.”

“We used to be able to.”

“We used to keep up a charade.”

“And while we were doing that no kids were getting chopped up into wriggling pieces!”

That seemed to give Tattletale pause.

“Point,” she said.

“Thank you.”

“But I think your take is a romantic, fragile one.  We can’t go back there.”

“Believe me, I’m coming to terms with that.  All I’m saying is I miss those days, and I’m going to respect anyone who holds themselves to those standards.  Holding back while doing what needs to be done.”

“I was never good at that,” Tattletale said.  “Surface level.  It’s a good way of putting it, but the tool I was handed is a backhoe.”

Her entire tone had changed, and… if I tracked backward in the conversation, it felt like it had turned around when I’d dropped the ‘wriggling pieces’ line.  Like she respected me more because I’d turned to using a backhoe.

I wasn’t sure I liked that.  That the only way to deal with her was to be an utter bitch.  Where did that take me in the long run?

“Thpeaking of romantic thuff,” Ratcatcher said.  She held up her phone, now all folded up.  “Thtarting with rat factth and ending with putting thnakes up boy’th pooperth-”

“Yeah,” I said.  “No.  No.  You need a friend to give you advice on crafting a better approach.”

“I had advithe from Rathtputin, Templeton, Duthty Rothe and Turnaround.”

“Your rats?”

“Rat, rat, mouse, and booze,” Tattletale clarified.  Ratcatcher nodded vigorously.

“But you guyth thtarted arguing and the thing ith, I don’t care about that thtuff.  I don’t do thecreth.  What thuckth ith that I’ve alwayth thtayed thurfathe level, like you thaid, and that’th why until today, I didn’t think anybody hated me that much.”

Always playing nice, and then someone turns around and delivers a low blow.

I couldn’t say the situation lined up perfectly with my own experiences… or maybe it was better to say that I couldn’t say it lined up perfectly with me, but I felt like we’d -collectively, pre-Gold Morning- tried, and we’d been dealt a low blow.

Part of that dealing had come from someone with a backhoe.

“Sorry,” I said.  “Hopefully our investigation will do something to clear your name.”

Ratcatcher shrugged.

“We should go,” Tattletale said.  “I’m thinking about things and I’m worried.”

I nodded.

“I’m free to go?” Ratcatcher asked.

“Be good, okay?” I told her.  “Whatever you were running from us for-”

“Petty theft,” Tattletale said.  “Grand theft.  Vandalism.  Criminal mischief.  Bit of a backslide since the regular thinker work dried up.”

“…Don’t do that,” I said, a little exasperated, staring past the holes in the paper mask at the eyes behind, wet, large, and guileless.

“Doeth it matter?  I wath being good and it didn’t help.  I had a good thing going and they came for me, attacking my not-tho-thterling reputation.”

“It matters,” I said.  “If not for yourself, do it for your pets.  They need someone to look after them.”

Ratcatcher shrugged.

Tattletale opened the door, and Ratcatcher rocked back, at the cold air.  Tattletale whistled and motioned.

Ratcatcher bent down to scoop up the rat that came bouncing along the floor, running up to her.  It shivered, possibly from shock as much as cold.

Tattletale let the door shut.  She leaned against the frame, arms in her coat pockets.

As Ratcatcher cupped her pet in her hands, I offered, “Do you want a hand?  Your place is next door.  But it’s cold, so I could fly you home, or-”

She was already shaking her head.  She turned away, walking down the hallway into the dimly lit recesses of the building.

“There’s an underground passage connecting buildings,” Tattletale said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Okay.”

“It’s better she’s gone.  I can fill you in.  We shouldn’t waste too much time, because I do think she sent initial messages and she was being watched closely enough that the moment she passed out or put her phone down, they were ready to pick up.  Which confirms that they’re watching you closely.  Us.  We.”

“Right,” I said.

“This was a multi-pronged attack, on Ratcatcher’s part, and I think yours would be too.”

“Pronged?”

“Ratcatcher isn’t the key target here,” Tattletale said.

I looked in the direction Ratcatcher went.  I wanted to go grab her by the arm, tell her.

“No,” Tattletale said.  “We’re better off if we keep this contained.  It shapes what they do next, and the less messy this is, the easier it is to get a sense of who we’re fighting.  I’ll be able to get a sense of them by how long it takes them to respond, how they move, where from.”

I felt uneasy at that, and it took me a second to articulate why.

“If you’re willing to keep her in the dark about particulars, are you doing the same thing to me?”

“As long as you stay more or less in my sight and avoid lying to me or giving me misinformation, I don’t need to.  But if we don’t resolve this soon, we’re going to have to part ways, because you have things to look after and so do I… and from that point I’m going to bullshit you.”

I frowned.

“Best you’re going to get, hon.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Ratcatcher was vulnerable and on the fringes, she made a certain kind of target.  But Countenance was the real focus, and he, I’m thinking, has a history of, how should I put it-”

“Rooftop liaisons?” I asked.

“No.  Hooking up with coworkers.  Maybe subordinates, maybe with messy end results, because any parahuman to parahuman interaction gets messy.”

“Some do,” I clarified.  “Some.  Maybe even most.”

“They all end in tears,” Tattletale said.  “And these moves our enemy is making are aimed at pushing things to rushed conclusions on that front.  They chip off anything that’s easy to chip at, and then they drive the chisel deep into the core elements.  Countenance is stable, trusted, and acts as the heart of his team.  This creates a seed of doubt.”

“And after this?”

“Sometime in the future, his past history with coworkers comes out.  A girl that he’s dating breaks away, another teammate, Effervescent, feels slighted.  She’s not the kind of person who would cheat on someone but she’ll be hurt she wasn’t even considered or flirted with.  It’s a schism that disrupts the team.”

And on our end, it’s Jessica?  Someone close to the Wardens?

“The fact we’re being watched means I want to keep a better eye on Chicken,” Tattletale said.  “Any questions you want to ask that you can’t ask in front of him?  Please tell me I don’t need to tell you what’s on and off the table.”

“I’m pretty sure I get it,” I said.  “We protect people besides Chicken, you know.”

“Yes,” Tattletale said, and I had a hard time identifying if she was being sincere.  “We’ll take steps.”

She pushed the door open.  We stepped out into the alley, where Chicken Little, Snuff, about twenty pigeons and crows and two hawks were perched on every available surface.

“Got what we needed.  That went exactly as planned, thank you, Chicken Little.”

Chicken Little hopped off his perch on a stack of construction materials and hurried to catch up as Tattletale headed straight for the neck of the alley.

So my guess was right.  She’d plotted that far ahead.  She’d looked to the future, but I didn’t have the sense now that she was focused on it now.  Her head turned periodically, and her eyes scanned windows and rooftops.

“What’s next?” Chicken Little asked.

“Big Picture,” Tattletale said.  “And while we’re on our way there, we’re shifting to a special kind of yellow alert.  I need you to reach out to your team.  They’re to contact the Undersiders, order an immediate blackout, phones off except for direct lines, no media, no radio, no internet, limit use of cameras, assume all systems are compromised and all outside information is untrustworthy.  Imp passes the message on to the Heartbroken, then goes to your headquarters and protects your team.  Foil and Parian pass it on to our intermediate contacts.  If they’re up for it, they should guard your headquarters too.  Once the message is sent, they blackout too.  That includes Lookout.”

Chicken Little looked my way.

I nodded.

“Why?” Chicken Little asked.

“It’s a vector of attack.  People can use those things to hurt any of us,” I told him.

“Okay.”

“Antares, do I need to state-”

“I’m calling Breakthrough,” I said.  I had my phone out already, and I started dialing as I finished the sentence.

We walked down the street, and with the flock of birds overhead, we were drawing some attention.  Whatever.  Past a certain point, I wasn’t sure it mattered.  Our enemies didn’t seem like they fit into that territory where they were confident enough to pull this off but so incapable of tracking us that the birds made the difference.

If this was Chicken Little’s normal pattern, then it was better if he acted normal.

The phone rang three times before it picked up.

“Sveta here.”

“Hey.  I’m with Tattletale, and something’s come up.  Any weirdness today?”

“Weirdness?  No.  Tristan’s coordinating with other big teams, Rain and I are in the middle of one of my control sessions.  Ashley’s bored so she went for a walk to buy some books.”

In the background, Chicken Little was talking on the phone.  He echoed my question about weirdness.

“Tattletale’s recommending a communications blackout.  In-person only,” I said.

“Master-stranger?” Sveta asked.

You go, Sveta.  You’ve been studying, woo!  “Yes, and you get big points for that one.  Avoid any electronic media or communications.  Keep an eye out for trouble.  Don’t trust anything that’s not face to face.”

“Should Tristan end his call?”

“As soon as is polite.”

“I’ll write him something,” Sveta said.  “I can write him things, I know this situation is serious, but I’m psyched.”

She sounded happy.

“Me too,” I said.  I was so glad she seemed happy and that just made me more worried.

“Fill us in soon,” Sveta said.

“Yeah.  We hope to have answers before dinnertime?” I made it a question, looking at Tattletale.  She nodded.  “Before dinner.  For now, just be safe.”

“What about Kenzie?”

“Chicken Little is calling her now.”

“Got it.”

I hung up.  Tattletale was studying me.

“What?”

She shook her head.

“Do you think the responses on the other end were faked?” I asked.

“I don’t think anything yet,” she said.  She glanced around.  “Nobody’s spying on us by usual means.  I’m wondering if it’s a machine.”

“A machine?”

Snuff reached the car first.  He pulled the door open for Tattletale, then for Chicken Little.  Me last.

“It feels like these gears turn slowly.  Inevitably.  If I was a person and I was putting together something this big and this dramatic, and if I was keeping an eye on the key players, I’d be taking action now, trying to ensure I was maintaining control.  I feel like a machine would be slower to process and adapt.  More sure of itself, maybe.”

Snuff pulled us out of the parking spot, as we were still belting in.

“Yes, uh huh, yep,” Chicken Little said.  He hung his head forward, as if he had no strength in his neck.  “Yep.  Got it.  Can I talk to Darlene?  You can make the calls.”

He paused.

“Hi,” he said.  “Look after her?  Keep her busy?  Maybe if she works in the workshop?”

Another pause.

“Thanks.  You’re the best.  Bye.”

He paused, then brought the phone down and found the button to hang up.

“Problem with Lookout?” I asked.

“Not a big thing,” he said.  “Was worried she’d freak out without the ability to stay in contact with everyone, so Darlene’s going to keep her company and keep her busy.”

“Makes sense,” I said.  “I know she has a few things she’s working on.”

“When I said I wanted to talk before, it’s kind of this.  Um.  If that’s okay?”

“Sure,” I said.

He reached up to his mask and undid clasps.  He lowered the round mask to his lap.  His face had bent bars molded to run along his face to his cheekbone and forehead, with parts jutting out where it connected to the mask.  He looked just a bit older than I’d been imagining him, his forehead creased in worry.  He folded his hands over his mask, and I shifted position to better face him, both of my hands at one of my knees.

Tattletale glanced back at the back seat of the car, noting the unmasking, but didn’t say anything.

“She’s a little… um, much,” Chicken Little said.

“She can be,” I said.

“And I say that when I hang out with the Heartbroken and a lot of them are much.  Different kinds.”

“Yep,” I said.

“It’s like… when I’m on the phone, there’s never a chance to hang up.  So I have to interrupt and hang up, and then I feel like the bad guy.  Or I ask for Darlene and I worry I’m being a manipulative bad guy.”

“She doesn’t see you as the bad guy, if that helps.”

“I know.  I mean, I know but I don’t feel, you know?”

“I feel you.  Yeah, absolutely.”

“And if I want to spend a while doing my own thing then she’s there, looking over my shoulder or sending me a message or saying hi.  And I like her but-”

“You resent her at the same time?”

“No,” Chicken Little said.  “But I see where I might be starting to or I might, soon, when the fun of everything being new with our team wears off.  And I don’t want to be that person who pushes her away too hard.  I don’t want to be that kind of person.”

“Most people don’t think about who they want to be except in the broadest strokes until they’re a bit older,” I said.  A teenager, but let’s not drive home how young you really are.  “Before that, it’s… big goals like wanting to be a superhero, or wanting to be an athlete.”

“I’ve had people bugging me about who I want to be and how I want to act since years ago, when I got my power,” Chicken Little said.  He rolled his eyes in an overdramatic way, before coming to a stop, looking at the back of Tattletale’s seat.

“Bugging you.  I’m glad my hard work is appreciated,” Tattletale said.  She was wearing sunglasses that lined up pretty well with the eyeholes of her mask.

“It is!  But it was a lot.  And can I talk to Antares like this?”

“Sure, sure,” Tattletale said.  She reached up and put earbuds in.  “Let’s not pretend you didn’t want me to hear that.”

“You too, Snuff?” I asked.

Chicken Little waited until Tattletale settled, listening to whatever it was she listened to.  Snuff had his headphones on, now, worn over his hood.  It made me nervous that I wasn’t sure how easily our driver could see or hear what was going on, but… better.

“I’ve been working with Darlene and Candy,” Chicken Little admitted.  “We take turns if she’s overwhelming us.  But Candy went to Aunt Rachel’s and it’s the two of us, and I dunno.  Is that manipulative?  Because I don’t want to be the manipulative kind of person either.”

“Does it come from a good place?” I asked.  “Or a hostile, bad place?”

“Good, I think?  But like, if she comes up to me and stands next to me then I feel like… no, stand a little further away?  And that’s not so good a place.”

“You’re wanting more space.”

“I feel greedy because I want a lot.  I’m a Master, right, you know how that works?”

“Yes,” I said, very seriously.  “I know that.”

“And we get our powers mostly from being alone or cut off or losing people.  And I lost everyone… and then I was taken in by Skitter way back in the day, and I barely remember those days, and I grew up with orphans, and we were total birds of a feather, you know?  That’s what we joked, after I had my trigger.”

“Makes sense.”

“And they left, and I got powers.  And after that, I was messed up, and Gold Morning messed me up more, with everyone moving in different directions, and Regent died before that, and he was fun, Skitter died during Gold Morning, even though she was kinda important to everyone, and Aunt Rachel is living way out in the middle of nowhere again, and… I was messed up.”

“All of us were, but I get what you mean.  Hit where it hurts?”

He nodded.  His forehead creased.  It reminded me a bit of Natalie.  “I kind of found my way to getting less messed up, and I grew up fast.  I’m a lot more mature than other boys my age.  It’s why I can mostly manage the Heartbroken.  That and experience.”

You’re not grown up all the way yet.

“Yeah.  You’re uniquely equipped,” I told him.  “You grew up with having them around.”

“Kind of.  But the thing is, I got advice and we decided figuring myself out meant figuring out how to be okay on my own.  Because if I couldn’t do that, then I’d always worry that I’d lose people and I’d be messed up again.”

“And you don’t feel like you can be okay on your own anymore?”

“It got backwards, and I feel like I can’t be alone to find my okay anymore.  And that’s not to say it isn’t nice to have them around and hang out, but it’s like it… there’s never the middle ground of okay in the middle.  Not with them, and especially not with Lookout.”

“It could be that you don’t find that tranquil sort of okay when you’re with people.  Sometimes I need to go do my thing and read or sort through files, or research, to find my okay.  Sometimes I can do that with people around, especially Tress or Swansong, sometimes I do it alone.”

“Tress or Swansong, but not Lookout?”

“No.  I adore Lookout, I respect her, but… it’s a rare moment.”

“What do I do?  Because she sends me like two hundred messages a day and she sends me messages last thing at night and first thing when she wakes up, and I feel like I could spend every minute of every day with her and she’d want more, and Darlene has told me she feels the same way, and-”

“I’ll talk to her.”

Chicken Little stopped.

“I’ll try.”

He deflated, apparently in relief.

The car passed through a tunnel.  Everything inside the vehicle went dark.  When we emerged, Chicken Little was putting his mask back on.

Somehow, I thought.  I have no idea how I’ll do this.

“She’s really cool,” he said.

“Yeah.  She really is.”

“She’s really stylish, in a very different way from the Heartbroken, and really fun, and when she gets excited about something I get excited too.”

“I’m really glad she’s connected with you guys.”

“I am too, but I feel like if things keep going like this, after she connected, I’m going to be the one to unconnect.  Or Darlene is, and I keep hearing about Darlene’s bad side but I’ve never seen it.  Or Candy is, and I feel like Candy would treat the problem like she treats a lot of things, like she’d use her power and try to fix it in one big obvious move that doesn’t really work.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

He nodded.

“She does this thing, you know, where she doesn’t smile when she’s happy.”

“Yeah,” I said, quiet.

“I had to tell Darlene that.  And Darlene went from giving her hugs when she smiled because she wanted to share that happiness to giving her hugs when she smiled because she needed a hug.”

“Perfect,” I said.

“Except we’re not sure what to do, now, so she’s been hugging her less and I’ve been thinking about taking a day off… and I was glad to be on a mission like this to get away, if I’m being super honest.”

“Yeah.”

“I know all the Heartbroken have rules and weirdness about how they behave, but I can either figure them out or I can deal.  But Kenz-Lookout is maybe the worst possible thing for my rules and weirdness, despite the fact I really like her a ton.”

I put a hand out, rubbing his shoulder.  “I’ll do what I can.”

“She talks about you guys a lot.  She misses you.  You, Ashley, and Chris.”

I nodded.

Tattletale cleared her throat.  Forewarning for the fact she was pulling an earbud out.  “We’re close.”

“Okay,” Chicken Little said.  “Thank you.”

There was a pause, as Tattletale put her earbud back in, then to me, he repeated, “Thank you.”

“Sure thing, C.L., thanks for being cool to my friend.”

The street didn’t have any parking, which delayed us.  The spot we did find was in an alley, without much room to maneuver.

While Chicken Little squeezed himself and his hawks out of the spot, Tattletale approached me, showing me her phone.

Messages with the address, and a follow up.  After a back and forth to hammer out the particulars of the meeting, the response from Countenance was that Big Picture was inviting us to his office, apparently, and he wouldn’t be wearing his mask or gear.

Downside: we had a very limited time when he was free and willing to talk.  If we wanted to talk to him later, we had to do it when he had free time around seven o’clock.  Which was past Tattletale’s self-imposed deadline.

Despite the fact the building was tall, the ride on the rickety low-cost, fast-install elevator with the chain running through a column in the center was a short one.  Up to the third floor, out of eight.

Big Picture’s studio was one without walls, barring the single closet and the entrance to the bathroom, which was disproportionately large and, as I passed it, riddled with bars, hangers, and clothes for both men and women.

Doubling as a change room, it seemed.

Big Picture was a photographer, and in his civilian guise, he was a tall, broad shouldered guy in a nice teal dress shirt, black slacks, and shined shoes.  His beard stubble was intentional and trimmed, and his gaze penetrating.

Walls and floor were poured concrete, and the livability of the space, which doubled as his apartment, was limited to a third of the bathroom, a counter with some kitchen appliances and a single oven burner, and a bed that jutted out from the wall above the desk, supported by two concrete pillars.  Each of the windows had three curtains, to allow varying levels of light.

That wasn’t really what caught my eye, so much.  There were high-quality pictures on every surface, and the expansive, expensive apartment had lots of surfaces.  All were large-scale, high resolution portraits, most of them full-body, some nude in the tasteful sense.  One of the pictures was Brio’s, the very same stylized image that would have been hung on the wall of Foresight’s headquarters.  This would be the guy who had taken those pictures for them to hang in their headquarters.

Roughly a quarter of the pictures were civilians or capes out of costume, a quarter were capes in costume, like Brio’s, and a full half of the people on the walls were case-fifty-threes.

“I know her,” Chicken Little said, pointing.

Chantilly.  The young Case Fifty-Three with skin cut like lace, forming a fabric around her, the intricately cut holes in her skin revealing raw flesh beneath.  She had been part of Faultline’s crew.

And I know of him, I thought, looking at Big Picture.

“I don’t have long, but if there’s information I can give, I’m happy to help,” he said.  He extended a hand to shake, and Tattletale shook it.  Chicken Little reached out to shake as well.  “I’m fine if you want to skip pleasantries and cut right to the chase.  You can call me L.J.”

I pretended not to notice the handshakes, and turned to look at the artwork, standing with my hands clasped behind my back, doing my best to deflect as innocently as I could without picking a fight or having to shake his hand.  Skipping pleasantries, in a way.

My eye found the ‘L.J.M.’ embossed in the corner of each.

Big Picture was the guy who’d admitted to Foresight that he’d done what he was accused of, so the character assassination angle seemed like it had flopped or… had gone by a route even more subtle than mine or Ratcatcher’s.

“You were going to be recruited by Foresight,” Tattletale said.

“I was.”

“What happened?”

“I was hired to help bring in Orchard.  I posed as a would-be customer.”

The name drew my attention, turned my head.

“You know them?” he asked.

“Yes,” Tattletale said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “They’ve come up in passing.”

“I don’t,” Chicken Little said, raising a hand.  Tattletale put a hand on his shoulder, and he lowered the hand.

“They made an art of turning people into… people of another kind of aesthetic.  Foresight and other teams are handling the remainder of the Orchard business,” he said.

“You posed as a customer, and… something went wrong?” Tattletale asked.

“I posed too well,” Big Picture said.  “Because of my work as a civilian and rogue, internet circles I traveled in, I knew the language, I knew names, I knew the kinds of people they associate with or the kinds of people who would associate with them.  It raised questions.  I brushed it off as having to do with my power.”

“But it wasn’t,” I said.  “You do associate with those people.  The kind of people who really, really like Case Fifty-Threes.”

I was being polite because Chicken Little was in the room.

I very much appreciate the beauty of Case Fifty-Threes, and other people with altered forms,” he said.  “Unique shapes, appearances, traces of memories or accents from worlds we may never discover.  But I want to stress that I think you’re putting me in the same category as people like Orchard’s customers, and that is not me.”

“But?” Tattletale asked.

No, not ‘but’, I thought.  That was not the follow-up I would have used.

“But I’d researched Orchard on my own, for reasons having nothing to do with wanting to take away another individual’s choice.  Because there was a period where I wanted to be one of them.”

He indicated with one hand, at where a print was mounted on the wall, of Gully, one of the west-coast Wards, if I was remembering right.  Hunched back, overbite, and muscles that seemed to weigh her down until she could barely stand.  In the art, she peered through dreadlocks with an eye that was framed to be bright and striking.

An old picture.  Sveta had remarked that Gully wasn’t around anymore.

“But you didn’t,” Tattletale said.

“I couldn’t come to terms with the risks.”

“They brainwashed people.  You were worried they’d brainwash you while you were at their mercy.”

“More or less,” he said, meeting Tattletale’s gaze with a level stare.

Fuck, this guy creeped me out.

“Foresight found out?”  Tattletale asked.

“They were tipped off.  They asked, and I was honest.  There was a brief misunderstanding where I was taken as a photographer of an… adult sort.  But that was never a focus.”

Sveta thinks you are, I thought.  And so do I.  I’ve seen pictures.

The only pictures that showed any excessive amount of skin were adults, both normal people and Case Fifty Threes, but I could see the darkness in Gully’s eye, and I could see the defensiveness in the lace-girl Chantilly’s picture.  Arms folded, body turned partially away, neck rigid and chin set.  It wasn’t a smiling picture.  Not a lot of them were.  There were a lot of dark, grainy backgrounds.

Gentle Giant was an adult, and the picture had him stand with his back to the camera, and by the look of it, he wasn’t standing tall, but bent forward, head ducked down slightly, his eye glancing over his shoulder in a wary or uncomfortable way.  Mottled, mossy skin, with bare back, buttocks, and the backs of his thighs.

Or was I seeing those things only because Sveta hated him so much that I felt obligated to?  Because the pictures, when they’d first come up on the scene and started popping up wherever Case Fifty-Threes were involved, were ones that Sveta had dissected while hanging out in the hospital room with me?

That Sveta had seen the feedback from people in her small, insular community, that they’d been paid handsomely for the photos, many of them desperately in need of that money, that the photographer hadn’t done anything wrong that they could put their finger on, and they’d still walked away uncomfortable and unhappy, then been unhappier still when the pictures started circulating in certain circles, and in some select cases, outraged when one picture in particular had taken off and saw the photographer indulging in his fifteen minutes of fame and his weeks of gallery showings.  There had been campaigns and outreach to other Case Fifty-Threes to warn them off.  But the money drew them in.

The discomfort and outrage had even extended to the way the tame, clothed images like Gully’s had been used.  Chantilly’s image being on the wall suggested he’d carried on after getting set up again, because it looked too recent to be pre-Gold-Morning.

I was trying to be fair, to extend a benefit of a doubt.  And I was groping beyond the point that there was a logical, empathetic, human rationale for what he did.  I was reaching more into the territory that pegged him as stupid, incapable of understanding that he’d wronged people, because the wrong could be the sort that was hard to grasp.

When in doubt, assume circumstances beyond their control, assume context.  When that failed, assume ignorance.  And even there, seeing how he’d done well, how he didn’t seem stupid or incapable, I couldn’t apply that label.  When that failed… I wasn’t sure.

He was exploitative.  The fact he wasn’t acknowledging the truly scummy side of Orchard was bothering me more.  Brainwashing?  The victims hadn’t been willing.

“Who tipped them off, and how?” Tattletale asked.

“I assumed it came from within, from internal background checks,” Big Picture said.  “It didn’t?”

“No.  I don’t think so.  You might have enemies,” Tattletale said.

“Oh, I definitely do.  It’s a very dramatic world, art,” he said.  He smiled, eyes crinkling a bit.

“If we go back to Foresight and ask, are you okay with them sharing?”  I asked.

“I’m not bothered.  I’m upfront about my art and where I come from.  We parted amicably, as I saw it.”

“Great,” I said.  My eyes scanned the pictures.  Even the innocent ones with warm smiles -mostly civilians or capes out of costume- left me feeling uncomfortable in my own skin.  I turned to Tattletale.  “We should go.”

“Is there a rush?” she asked, with a tenor or vibe that made me feel like she was jabbing at my jugular because I’d exposed too much throat.  Putting me on the spot.

I turned to Chicken Little, “Want to go wait outside?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Dirty move,” Tattletale said.  But she didn’t stop Chicken.

Chicken Little paused before leaving.  “Thank you for inviting us in.  They’re really good pictures.”

“Thank you,” Big Picture said.

“They’re dark, though.”

“They can be,” Big Picture said, turning to look at Gully’s picture, her head, face, and dreads seeming to emerge from the picture, out of darkness and into light.

“Do you want that darkness, along with wanting to be them?” Tattletale asked.

I was spared the continuation of the conversation by the ringing of my phone.  I put a hand on Chicken Little’s shoulder to guide him to the door of the studio as I put the phone to my ear.

Rain.

“What happened to the communication blackout?” I asked.

“Emergency,” he said.  “Weld came by to check in, I don’t even know what’s going on, but Tristan’s trying to handle it and he’s not having any luck, and now all hell is breaking loose.”

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171 thoughts on “Black – 13.6”

  1. Aiden is the same sweetheart we know and we love, he’s a treasure to preserved and protected.I love how Victoria tries to help him with his feelings for Kenzie, she’s like a big sister for these kids.

    Ratcatcher is a more friendly and warm-hearted Bitch. Both girls are some of my fav characters.

    Orchard are some of the creepiest and cruelest villain teams that Willybow ever imagined.

    Six warm and fun chapters so far, followed by “now all hell is breaking loose”. I’m going to miss the fun of this parahuman cop story. Soon.

    1. Well I’m never going to see Ratcatcher in the same light again.

      Big Picture runs on an odd line where he can be on either the “Just a weirdo” to the “Perverted creeper” sides.

      1. Well, she have some weird kink when she’s drunk but in general she’s nice and she loves her rats so much like they’re her children…. THEY’RE HER CHILDREN.
        I like her even more all thanks to this update.

    2. Yeah, I definitely found myself wondering if Ratcatcher’s shard messed with her brain the same way Rachel’s did.

  2. “An old picture. Sveta had remarked that Gully wasn’t around anymore.”
    Well another confirmation. Wonder when and how this happened. It could have been in the Cauldron base, but that’s not the only possibility.

    1. Or maybe Sveta is either misinformed or wanted everyone to think that Gully is dead. Same thing as with Chicken Little who said in this chapter that Skitter died, and we can’t even be sure if he doesn’t know about Taylor’s survival (as details of Worm’s epilogue seem to suggest), or because he wanted or was told to keep outsiders like Victoria in the dark?

        1. It is, but I suspect that she may have simply lied by ommision. There is a reason that Chicken Little wasn’t present in that scene in the epilogue of Worm when Tattletale explained Imp and Bitch how she managed to deceive Dinah about Taylor’s ultimate fate.

          1. From epilogue of Worm shortly after the “toast for Taylor” Dinah participated in, with only Imp, Tattletale and Bitch left in the room to hear what was said:

            “I think… it was maybe one of the big reasons I wanted to do this,” Tattletale said. “It was important that I showed her that Taylor was dead. I had to convince her.”

            “Convince her?” Imp asked.

            Tattletale nodded.

            “You’d think she’d be really good at figuring that basic shit out on her own.”

            “You’d think,” Tattletale said. “But no. We’re really good at lying to ourselves. Take it from another thinker.”

            This bit was actually discussed multiple times during recent months here, mostly because I thought it was the same weakness that was used to defeat powerful thinkers like Coil and March, though it also came up a little earlier when we were discussing who else could know that Taylor was alive, who could know that she is on Aleph, how they got this information (like who witnessed it and who just figured it out), who could keep a close eye on what she was doing there, who could actually reach her there etc.

          2. And before you point out that the quote I put in my previous comment could mean that Tattletale herself could be convinced that Taylor was dead, this bit just a few lines later seems to indicate that Tattletale at least suspects that this might not be the case, if she doesn’t simply know it for sure:

            “And Taylor?” Imp asked.

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

            “That’s cool,” Imp said.

  3. For some reason, Big Picture reminded me of of the Colagula from Get Out. That mix of fetishization, exploitation and envy. Icky.

    1. Jessica mentioned that she was worried about Sveta. Maybe Weld-Sveta relationship is another weak point that was attacked?

      1. if Sveta received a falsified message on her phone which had Weld apparently dumping her, and that message was as smoothly forged as the one that targeted Victoria’s it would be a very accurate, very messy, very effective attack.

        Also, we don’t tend to her about that machin army much do we?

        Finally, it seems to me that there are a few more facets of story in play. The first meeting where the heroine runs inot an old acquaintnce and it goes wrong, the second meeeting where the heroine is forced to team with soemone she has strong negative feeling s about.. and the thrid where they manage to overcome their mutal problems and work together

        Amy: Family barbecue, 2) Goddess. 3)?
        Lisa: Fallen situation 2) Black. 3)?

        And hsut for Pizzasgood. maybe wildbiow gets bribed way too well, and Vicky is the presiding priestess at Lisa/Amy’s wedding. (but it’s all a Simurgh plot.)

        And I think it wil have something to do with that machine army and kick off around Arc 18 or 19.

      2. “Jessica mentioned that she was worried about Sveta. Maybe Weld-Sveta relationship is another weak point that was attacked?”

        Sort of. Like Tats speculates that the whole deal with Ratcatcher was an oblique attack on Countenance and Foresight, I’m thinking that Weld and Sveta’s impending breakup is being used as an attack on Weld. If he was sent some sort of fake text that duped him to come by and let slip his desires for a satisfying physical relationship, that could cause the emergency that Rain called Victoria about.

        He’s pretty recent to Wardens membership, but he’s got a major reputation and following and has high potential as rise quickly in their ranks. The major distraction of his private life blowing up isn’t going to help him any. Plus, if the details get leaked to cape-centric tabloids, he looks like a real jerk and that damages his ability exercise influence/soft power in both the cape and non-cape community.

        1. This was more or less my line of thought when I speculated on a possibility of attack on Weld-Sveta relationship, though I’ll admit that I didn’t consider quite so many details as you did (for example I didn’t think about the possibility of attacking the Wardens by exposing the details of Sveta’s and Weld’s breakup to the public).

          Another thing to consider in my opinion would be who exactly out of senior members of Wardens would be most affected if Weld would appear to lose it. Which one of them was his greatest promotors and/or supporters for example?

          Yet another thing – how would the breakup, if it would become public knowledge, affect C53s standing in cape community, and their reputation in eyes of the public?

          1. Remember that Weld is more than just a Warden. Even back on Bet he was the best known example of a C53 who was both making a career as a hero, and was popular with the public. If he was accused of something nasty, then relationship between the C53s (especially those who want to or at least considered being heroes) and both the rest of the cape community and the public could seriously deteriorate in my opinion. In extreme case it could turn into a “witch hunt” of C53s, and at the same time make many C53s became villains and vigilantes just to fight back.

          2. You’re forgetting that Weld, along with Sveta and Gentle Giant, stood against most of the Irregulars during the Attack on Cauldron, wanting to bring the leadership to justice, not to a shallow grave. Weld doesn’t have much influence in the C53 community any more, nor does Sveta. Remember how Whippersnap treated Sveta? That’s how most Case 53s feel about them- especially the ones that formed the Irregulars. Gregor seems an exception.

          3. Sure, but if public turns on Weld of all C53s, then I imagine that plenty of those Irregulars who opposed him in the Cauldron, and other C53s who share their views, will feel justified to fight against the public, since they will see the public as just another enemy of C53s in general (they will argue that if the public is against Weld – the poster child of C53s – how can’t it be against all of them?) and as such it needs to be dealt with in a way similar to the way they planned to deal with Cauldron.

            And if anything that looks like an action of the public against random C53s will happen (and trust me – the anti-parahuman inclined people will make sure something will happen), then those C53s will feel even more justified in their views. The whole situation may quickly escalate into something very ugly, possibly even yet another civil war.

          4. Other than civil war I can also imagine a some sort of racial cleansing, like a pogrom as the word is used in English.

            (Side note you may or may not be interested in – “pogrom” is originally a Slavic word, and tends a much much wider meaning in Slavic languages in which it is used – for example in Polish, aside of the meanings English speakers may be familiar with, it may also mean a decisive defeat of a military force coupled with taking very heavy casualties by that force.)

    2. No, no, you’re being pessimistic. Let’s be optimistic instead. Sveta’s been training with Rain, using his power to push past her limits, and she’s in a good mood despite Victoria’s bad news and Rain’s power itself. Then Weld showed up in the middle of it. The obvious conclusion is that she had a breakthrough and jumped him. Unfortunately, Sveta and Weld are both very strong, and Weld is very heavy. The building just wasn’t built to hold up to this degree of passion. Tristan is frantically trying to shore the place up with his power, but he’s not going to be able to keep it up anywhere near as long as Weld, and things are just Really Bad over there. What will the neighbors think??

        1. *nods and plugs in the air guitar*

          He was a sleek machine, he kept his metal clean
          He was the best damn hero that I ever seen
          He had the silver eyes telling me no lies
          Wrapping me ’round ferromagnetic thighs
          He had that polished flare
          He’s got no need for air
          He told me to squeeze with my prehensile hair
          And the walls start shaking
          The earth was quaking
          This time no faking
          ‘Cause we were breaking through
          He Wellllded me all night long
          Yeah Wellllded me all night long

  4. Ratcatcher is bae.
    The texts were cringey as heck, even the ones she 100% sent herself, but still. Nobody deserves to get set up like that

    Big Picture is a creepo.
    If this was an Agatha Christie mystery, he’d be the guy who shoots himself in the gut to alibi out by posing as one in a series of victims.

    Weld got a text of some sort from Sveta, didn’t he?

    Foreshadowed neatly by Victoria checking with Tata whether the talk with Sveta was genuine.

    (Also, the machine remark made me wonder if this all had been a MACHINE ARMY PLOT, WHAT)

    1. I don’t think it’s Machine Army. I think this is a double-layer frame job. If people fall for the surface layer, then great, teams can be imploded, trust broken, bridges collapsed. But if people catch on and dig into it… they’re going to follow it all back to Dragon. Except that’s the second framing.

    2. Interesting idea about the machine army. My first thought was that, just like I theorized a couple chapters ago, the mention of a machine meant that Teacher managed to create an AI based on Dragon’s code. She was originally created as an experiment in emulating human behavior, so it would make sense that an AI based on her could emulate humans it observed well enough to make things like fake diaries etc. believable. An AI based on appropriately modify Dragon’s code probably could also be able to successfully spy on all of those people at once, and to sneak all of those messages, diaries etc. in without being spotted by Dragon.

      Speaking of Dragon. The way Chicken Little described Kenzie’s behavior once again made me think about how Defiant thought back in his interlude in Worm, that he was intense, while Dragon could keep up with him because her behavior wasn’t intense per se, but looked like it, because her mind was somewhat overclocked compared to human’s. I think that Kenzie appears to be just as intense as Defiant, even if in a very different way. Just another reminder that maybe D&D would make good foster parents for Kenzie.

      1. Kenzie would be a great boon for D&D’s tinkering I bet.

        Lookout: Makes anything that is big and inconvenient.
        Armsmaster: Takes big inconvenient things and makes them small.
        Dragon: Copies everyone else’s tech, mass produces it and combines it.

        1. I could see all of those, except Dragon mass-producing tinkertech. We know that she was under restriction that prevented her from doing so, and it probably isn’t something that she and Defiant would want to mess with without a very good reason considering that lifting her restrictions always had serious side-effects on Dragon. On top of it removing this particular restriction would make Masamune mostly redundant, and from the first chapter of Glow-worm we know that he survived Gold Morning.

    3. I think that Tats was referring to Dragon. The most likely theory at this point is teacher, and it’s not completely impossible for them to have missed a spot while removing teacher’s code.

    4. I really hope they’re not at that level of subtlety. I mean, we know they’re currently using their hardware flexibility to turn random buildings into death traps, actively attacking capes on another planet through this kind of subtle intox war doesn’t seem to fit.
      This does smell like anti-parahuman intentions, so that noone can trust heroes (not even other heroes). We know there’s enough Thinker-oomph affiliated with them to pull the kind of work needed to find chinks in cape teams’ armours.

      I hope we’ll get another Alcott POV intermission later on to throw some light on her the extra-big picture.

    5. My chief suspect is still Epeios, a talented tinker-hacker that tattletale had a big falling out with in “Worm”, and reminisced briefly about during her interlude in “Ward”. He is the reason Tattletale designed and uses her emergency server.

      But I do agree that a Teaxcher-subverted Dragon copy would fit. And Valefor, now improved and under Teacher´s control, may have paid her a visit to sing her the song of his people. “ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL”, that is. 😉

      I admit that the Machine Army has me VERY intrigued. I don´t know if the scarce, yet excellently written references to it in “Ward” are the nicest red herring, a passing work of worldbuilding, or if it is meant to have a very relevant and antagonistic role in the plot.
      If this would be the case, that would be great (The Entitities may likely be singularities themeselves, and the machine army may go down the “AI godhood” path very fast, providing for an excellent endgame villain), but it seems hard to relate it to any of the principal cast concerns & backgrounds as they stand now.

      1. I’m not sure Valefor can affect Dragon. Depends on how he’s affected by the Manton Effect- is he limited to humans (in which case Dragon and Dot are right out, as are many changers/breakers in alternate forms), or people (in which case Dragon, Dot and the changers/breakers are vulnerable)? We know people have to hear his voice to be affected, now, so earplugs will help, and if his power doesn’t work through recordings, Dragon might still be immune- she listens with mechanical audio recording devices, after all.

        1. It could also be that Valefor is limited to sapient biological creatures with brain structure and chemistry similar to human’s in which case Dot could be affected, while Dragon would most likely be immune.

          1. One thing to remember is that Dragon was immune to Khepri’s power. It could be the same thing with Valefor if his ability is at least to some extent based on a similar form of telepathy (at least I assume that Khepri’s power to control capes was based on telepathy, as it was with her bugs).

          2. Of course considering that as far as I remember Khepri had no problems with controlling C53s, breakes and such, it could be that she could potentially control Dragon if she managed to ger enough (maybe even all) of Dragon’s servers in her range, and it simply never happened.

    6. I feel like the Machine Army is some sort of Paperclip Maximizer run amok. IIRC, the Machine Army is expanding slowly, but steadily. That feels more like a “natural”, “instinctual” process than a mind plotting humanity’s downfall.

      If the Machine Army was a plotter or thinker trying to expand it would try stuff like what Dot was going to pull. Or it could seed all of Earth Bet pretty easy and start building nukes to force the portals.

      I like the idea its a double frame to frame Dragon. Although it occurs to me that Teacher student groups are basically machines built out of humans.

      1. Yes, I agree on the “PaperClip maximizer” scenario, that describes very well their expansion behavior as being instinctual.

        But you know what is the funniest part? The machines look EXACTLY like Bonesaw spiders. I guess that Riley managed to create an S class threat, simply by not tending to her creations… 🙂

        Seriously, Riley. Clean up your room!

        1. No, they aren’t. They were blocked off in a quarantine zone for years before Gold Morning, that suggests a non-Riley origin. Plus, as Riley’s spiders have wetware CPUs using human brain tissue, they probably have trouble staying dormant; they might even get bored if they’re left alone long enough. Plus, Riley’s specialisation is (I believe) surgery; the machine army is… Well, machine, and self-replicating. That’s outside her speciality.

          1. I did not know that the integrants of the machine army were locked in a quarantine zone before. May you remind me of the relevant passage, please? This is a particulalry interesting piece of information.

            Bonesaw Spiders were shown to be self-replicating under the direction of Bonesaw, one or two issues before Legend & Taylor tried to kill manton in the bunker he was hiding in alongside Jack Slash & Bonesaw. So at least that part is non-valid: they are perfectly able to replicate from something as simple as car parts, and were shown to be used by Bonesaw as assistants and, especially, ambush predators. And succesful ambush predators need to be very patient…. And I would say that the machine army fulfill the very definition of “wandering off”…by expanding 😉

            The fact that the Machine Army bots are spidery in shape and captured that cape in Dot interlude instead of killing her immediately harkens to Bonesaw spider behavior. Besides, the reason by which the cape was used as bait and not killed immediately could have been to proccess her brain as a nervous system for new spiders once her usefulness as bait wore out.

            It is not a perfect fit, but I am betting onto the fact that Wildbow loves his Checkhov guns very much, even setting them entire books before the fact (looking at you, Abbadon & Cryptid)

          2. @M113

            To my knowledge, the Machine Army don’t appear in text of the story before Ward. There’s a vague reference in the Glow-Worm prelude I think the first one, 0.1) to “unstoppable robot armies” as a hazard of travel on Bet. We get an actual appearance in Dot’s Interlude in Arc 3.

            However, there is Word of God reference to them that appeared before Ward. Their Wiki article reference the PRT Handbook which is an online Google docs that I think is a WeaverDice reference. Others can probably inform better than I can.

            The PRT Handbook
            https://docs.google.com/document/d/1hqJy4YEDqpKLwbatFVBLXnhs7dDTNykSYtDUCiR9ZBo/edit#

            The Machine Army’s wiki article

            https://worm.fandom.com/wiki/Machine_Army

            The link to the PRT Handbook is in Reference #1

          3. I’m terrible at remembering things like that, I’m afraid. I’m pretty sure the Machine Army was in one of the quarantine zones mentioned in Dragon’s interlude of Worm, but I can’t remember the specifics. In addition, my US geography is spotty, but Bonesaw’s travelled the USA from Brockton Bay to Los Angeles with the Slaughterhouse Nine. In Dot’s interlude, the fact the Machine Army had ‘crossed the Raleigh Gap/Chasm/Ravine/whatever’ was a big deal; Bonesaw’s likely left her robo-spiders in many different places- fleeing without them when the Dragon’s Teeth got too close, leaving them to kill first responders after a brutal bloodbath, some getting damaged by heroes, or even simply leaving one behind because the battery was nearly dead.

            Also, as robots with biological systems, they’d need some nutrients in order to keep themselves going- the Machine Army took all the metal and wiring from that store (down to the tin cans), whereas if they did have a need for organic chemicals, they’d likely have pulped the paper labels and taken the nutrients Dot was after.

          4. @ M113
            > May you remind me of the relevant passage, please?
            I have not found any mentions in Worm.
            Wiki refers only to “PRT Master Reference”:
            “Eagleton – Q3 – Site evacuated after Machine Army event, specialized patrols”
            and then only in Ward – Glow-worm 0.1: “…unstoppable robot armies…”, 3.x (Dot) and few mentions further without new details.

  5. There’s an extra line break between “He nodded” and “She does this thing.”

    It’s probably just a typo, but what with all the POV fuckery/space warping in this story, can we be sure it wasn’t intentional?

  6. “Thleep when I’m tired, eat when I’m hungry, walk when I’m rethtleth. Annoy people when lonely. If I’m hired I work the hours I work, thober.”

    I think the s in hours is supposed to be th.

    1. Looks like this could be our typo/maybe typo/general errors thread. On that note:

      > “Yep,” she said, with enough affirm in the affirmative that it felt like she was very satisfied the question when she’d asked me the time had some resolution.

      Not sure about the meaning of this sentence, but I think that something seems to be either missing or otherwise wrong with it.

      thecreth > thecretth (?)

      “As long as you stay more or less in my sight and avoid lying to me or giving me misinformation, I don’t need to. But if we don’t resolve this soon, we’re going to have to part ways, because you have things to look after and so do I… and from that point I’m going to bullshit you and

      Ratcatcher was vulnerable and on the outside. But Countenance, I’m thinking, has a history of, how should I put it-”

      A paragraph break in the middle of a sentence?

      > There were high-quality pictures civilians on every surface,

      Maybe “There were high-quality pictures of civilians on every surface,”? Maybe even “There were high-quality pictures of civilians and capes on every surface,”? Or maybe just “There were high-quality pictures on every surface,”?

    2. “when we go toe to toe”
      Missing hyphens, part 2.

      “romantic thuff,””
      > “thtuff”

      Theconding Alfaryn’s propothition (re:thecretth). The ‘ts’ thound thould turn into ‘tth’.
      Her lithp is also mathhively infectiouth. Like reverthe themantic thathiathion of thortth.

      1. ratthputin > raththputin (i supposed it could be a different rat)
        boy’th > boyth’
        now that she was focused on it now (is repetition of now intentional?)
        after she connected (should this be “after she’s already connected”)
        case-fifty-threes > case fifty-threes

    3. Not a typo, but an unfortunate wording, I think: “But I’d researched Orchard on my own […] Because there was a period where I wanted to be one of them.” – I parsed this unambiguously as him wanting to be a member of Orchard. Only from comments I got an idea that he referred to C53s.

  7. What is Big Picture’s power exactly? Is it just that? Really Fucking Good Pictures? Also, half the subjects of these photos are people who have been kidnapped, experimented on, stuck in cages and then brainwashed and dumped near inhabited towns (if they were lucky). For him to then say casually “yeah I was really thinking about trying out the whole case 53 experience but I couldn’t accept the risks” is, beyond tactless. I’d almost agree with Victoria’s initial assessment that he was dumb as fuck but I think he really doesn’t give a shit. The 53s are a fascination to him, to the point where I’d almost say it was an obsession or even a fetish and it’s horrifying.

    Anyway let’s hope Weld didn’t show up and do some “hey just checking in also I’m breaking up with you Sveta cya” or someone got a hold of fake!Victoria’s journal.

    1. Seemingly, and for his own admission, “to split an unlimited number of copies of his personality, that have unlimited time to analyze all details and information that his sensory input is providing”

      So basically, he has unlimited time to think and analyze anything he sees or hears, making him a Thinker. Not as powerful as Tattletale or Bluestocking, which can get answers they should not be physically able to get; the problem is that once he sees or hears the slightest snippet of information, he can overanalyze it to ludicrous extents.

      Say you lie to him and he only gave you a quick glance to see if you were genuine? This glance was enough for him to dedicate 200 person´s and 50 years worth of scrutiny to see if you were insincere or not, based on your body language.

    2. That’s just his job.
      His power lets him study anything he can focus on as if he had months of time to examine every detail. Which would totally help him find excellent poses and the best lighting for each photo he takes, of course.

        1. It could be, though at least for now I won’t put Big Picture high on my list of suspects. He doesn’t seem to have a good motive, and his power may be not enough to track what everyone that have come under attack is doing (like Victoria seems to be spied upon) or to plant evidence in a way that would be convincing to Dragon.

          Of course Big Picture could have a motive that hasn’t been hinted upon, or one that we haven’t managed to figure out yet despite existing hints (something to do with his fascination with C53s perhaps? Sveta, and perhaps Ratcatcher could qualify, and have apparently been targeted, but so have non-C53s too and the aim of the entire operation seems to be to mess with ability of all heroes to cooperate and coordinate with each other, not to get certain individuals, so it doesn’t seem to quite fit). Big Picture could also work with someone else who could provide him with abilities he probably lacks and would need to pull it off, but somehow it doesn’t feel likely to me.

          Many pieces seem to be missing from a picture of Big Picture being the culprit, and if Wildbow does his usual thing, then I suspect that we should already have most if not all hints necessary to figure out who is behind it all, and just don’t realize which bits are parts of the picture, and which serve as distractions. On top of it Tattletale would be likely to realize if it was him when she talked to him, so he would probably want to find a pretext to avoid that confrontation, and he did the opposite.

          1. Don’t forget that Victoria is an honorary C53 and while the public at large only knew she disappeared from the public eye, didn’t we get mentions of her Asylum stay in the montage of interviews?

            That’s obtainable knowledge for anyone researching Sveta’s history, for example, and the Wretch’s introductory scene made a point of reminding us that it’s a pile of naked Victoria body parts.

          2. If people were targeted because they are C53s or something close to it, how come Countenance appears to be one of the targets? Not to mention that Victoria already suspects that Jessica or someone else close to the Wardens could be another target. Sure, that “someone” could be a C53 too (Weld and Sveta are perfect candidates), but the scope of the attack doesn’t make it feel like it is aimed at the individuals for the sake of those individuals, but at hero teams (just think about it – we’ve already seen that Breakthrough, Foresight and Wardens appear to be the targets, and it is probably not even the whole list!) and heroes’ ability to cooperate and coordinate their actions, and it still doesn’t explain Countenance, unless he also is one of those physically deformed people, and as far as I can tell nothing seems to support this conclusion so far.

  8. It’s a little sad seeing Tattletale’s opinion on “the game” considering she was the one that introduced the concept way back when. It makes a lot of sense though, she saw how meaningless it was in Worm and things have only gotten worse.

  9. Sleeve pornographer stuff aside, Big Picture has a Case 53 fetish? I guess it makes sense that someone would. There’s a quote from a discussion about Everyday Life with Monster Girls on 4chan that stuck with me: when asked why they liked monstergirls, the anon responded “Because they have their monsters on the outside.”

    Perhaps not so true for mutant parahumans, but I still think that there’d be a distinct fandom for them.

    1. Considering that most C53s are Cauldron capes, who generally didn’t trigger because of some sort of deep trauma, I think there is a good chance that minds of C53s tend to be a bit less monstrous than those of average natural-triggered capes.

        1. Obviously there is always a chance of that happening, but the fact remains that their trigger wasn’t about the sort of trauma natural capes would go through, and shards generally tend to condition you to put yourself in situations similar to your trigger, so I think C53s may be still a bit less likely to be mentally “twisted” as much as natural triggers tend to end up.

          In other words with C53s you have a potential of lifetime of traumatic existence centered around what you have become, how people see you, and the fact that you have apparently been abandoned with no memories – a horrible thing to happen to anyone, but not necessarily something you never will be able to overcome or at least adjust to well. On the other hand a natural trigger is extremely unlikely to ever fully overcome or adjust to their trauma, because their shard actively tries to prevent it from happening, and this may not be the case with Cauldron capes.

      1. I think most of those people were going to die of a terminal health problem like cancer or something, like Alexandria before she was an experimentee.

    2. Also whilst waiting to attack the Slaughterhouse 9,000 Taylor, Imp, Vista and a few others have a chat about sexuality. Somebody mentions ‘the most disturbing and twisted Case 53 porn’, which somebody queries (I can’t remember who). Clockblocker (I believe) said ‘of course there is’. Now we know who made it.

      1. “That doesn’t exist, does it?”  Toggle asked.  “Case fifty-three porn?”
        “Everything exists,” Kid Win said.
        26.03

        1. I didn’t read Worm when it was being updated; I’m late to the party in that way. I binged it, several chapters at a time and sometimes a whole arc in a single sitting. Makes remembering the exact chapters and arc numbers tricky, though my memory’s otherwise good enough I know the timeline and remember small details- like this conversation.

          Thank you for finding the quote, OverQuantum.

          1. Seconded. Thanks for finding the exact quote and it’s chapter number. Such things are always good to have when something most of us probably read a long time ago becomes relevant.

  10. Weld and Sveta just happen to have a falling out that requires Victoria’s immediate attention in the middle of her investigation of a Big Bad who is probably watching her at all times and knows exactly how to rip parahuman teams apart?

    Hmm…

  11. So…are we fighting against the Machine Army? I mean, that would fit with what information we are given so far…

    How does one falsify a message so that a Tinker Goddess can’t see it?

    The simplest answer is to gain access to Victoria’s laptop or Ratcatcher’s phone and send messages like this.

    So, what if the Machine Army are already there? And waiting for the perfect opportunity.

    Also, Weld broke up with Sveta so my OTP of Weld x Antares can happen.

  12. I think we need to think where the machine army came from, and what controls them. Maybe they are something built and lead by Andrew Richter’s AI? It could even fit both my suspicion that Victoria’s diary, Ratcatcher’s messages, etc. have been written by an AI emulating human behavior, and the theory that it is the machine army other people have mentioned.

    The AI could be Teacher’s creation based on repurposed Dragon’s code (I think it is safe to assume that he has a copy), or it could be a rogue AI Richter wrote independently from Dragon. Remember that according to Defiant in Pandora’s chapter of Teneral Dragon was Richter’s “test three” (presumably in his attempt to create a human-like AI). It could be that one or more of the other “tests” have survived Richter’s death, and at least one of them is behind both the machine army and the current problem.

    1. One more idea – what if the AI behind the machine army and/or the problem Victoria and Tattletale are currently dealing with went rogue and hid from everyone, including Richter, even before Dragon was created? It would explain why he implemented all of those restrictions into Dragon. He wouldn’t do it because he was paranoid, as Dragon suspected, but because he knew that the Skynet scenario was a very real possibility, and wanted to make sure that Dragon wouldn’t follow her “older sibling’s” path.

      Who knows? Maybe one day Dragon will even need to ask Teacher and/or Dragonslayers to help her fight her own kin?

      1. i cant see the the last happenings short of a potential second gold morning, period- actually, given his past performance, you’d want his “help” even FURTHER away in a second existential threat scenario
        – Teacher simply isnt trustworthy, even with his own self-preservation on the line considering how STUPID the timing for his snatch-and-grab was, and on the personnel level…… the scenario feels icky- for all intents and purposes, he had her physically and mentally violated, repeatedly

        1. I never said that Dragon would be happy to cooperate with them, whether it would be her who asked for Teacher’s and Dragonslayer’s help or the other way around. She does have reasons to both strongly dislike them (to put it mildly) and to fear them, after all. I just think that she may really have no other choice than to do it if this hypothetical AI is not only able to mess with everyone’s computer without her noticing, but also controls the machine army on top of it.

          1. On the topic of Dragon’s hatered, does everyone here remember that in Dr. Mother’s interlude Dragon and Defiant basically promised to give Teacher and Saint fates worse than death for what those two did to her?

  13. What if it’s Kenzie? She’s uniquely qualified to watch people without them knowing and we know from glow- worm that she’s a capable hacker if perhaps not a great one. She created a camera that sees the past, maybe she created one that can see thoughts. What if her breaking free of monokeros was part of a plan and she’s not actually free at all. Maybe she’s under monokeros’ influence and mono is working for someone smarter. Teacher or Dinah. I could see either. Teacher wants to make his own Contessa so maybe he’s trying to get people separated from their groups so he can collect them and take their powers later or something. Or Dinah wants specific people to be alone and maybe join up together for some reason down the line.
    Her hugging Victoria unprompted may have been a subtle hint that something’s wrong in the hopes that she catches on and helps.

  14. Am I the only one who thinks that Vicky is unfair to Big Picture? Okay, he might have a C53 fetish. Weird, but so what. He wanted even to become one of them, which is very weird, but then again – so what. It’s his wish concerning only him and his body. He photographed C53s in an erotic context, and they left feeling that he wronged them, but didn’t know how exactly because “the wrong could be the sort that was hard to grasp” – whaaat? That approach is just royally dumb. If you don’t know for yourself what do you want, how could someone else be responsible for wronging you in a way unknown to anyone, first and foremost to yourself. You could just refuse, it’s not that someone dragged them by force, or brainwashed them, or deceived them about what is needed from them and what they acquire in return.

    1. Victoria pointed out that some of the people Big Picture photographed couldn’t really refuse his offer, because “many of them [were] desperately in need of that money”. Seems like something likely to happen to a C53, who usually would wake up with not only no money, but also no memories and no friends or family on Bet who could support them (at least no friends and family they could recognize, or who could recognize them).

      1. But that doesn’t change anything at all. Desperately needing money is very much not the same as being forced to do something against one’s will. If Big Picture’s offer is bad, that means it would be better if he didn’t make it – right? Well, that’s exactly what happens if you refuse and walk away. If people accepted his offer, it means out was better for them to have it rather than not have. One might, for example, seek employment as a janitor to get money, even though they’d rather prefer to sing in the opera, but that doesn’t mean that people who employ janitors are wronging anyone.

        1. As somebody who works as a janitor, it’s not really the same. I don’t get photographed as part of my job; what I do occasionally have to deal with is students (as I work at a school) shouting rude words at me and making disparaging remarks. Most Case 53s want to be normal; most also need money, to buy food, pay rent and possibly hire intermediaries so they don’t have to go out in public (like Gregor the Snail did in his interlude of Worm), and being a hero does pay, but not as much as being a villain or mercenary.

          Nobody, as a janitor, tries to convince me into taking off my clothes to be photographed, and in addition I don’t have any of the myriad issues with body image or self-worth a Case 53- whose body is not the one they were born with, and is furthermore not a body that can get lost in the crowd and is in addition rarely conventionally attractive if not outright deformed.

          1. Well, I’d say that, in contrast to the topic of our discussion here, you are being actually wronged (not by your employers though): if someone agreed to pose nude, they consented to it and are paid for it, while you don’t get paid for tolerating rude remarks and didn’t consent to it.
            I took a janitor as an example of a profession which is not prestigious, but isn’t associated with such stigma as porn or prostitution. The point I’m trying to make is that there is no reason to stigmatize these occupations either. Many people don’t want to be a janitor, and many people don’t want to be a porn model, but there’s nothing wrong with being either. What’s important is that no one gets forced to do something they don’t want to.

        2. TTO,
          There are people who sign up for slavery in this world. It’s better than American Immigration, I’m told (at least then you don’t sit in detention).

          Let me be a little more Clear.

          There are CHILDREN who volunteer for slavery (You too can buy their merch.)

          Desperately needing money, combined with “not even an adult capable of making a decision” Is a really bad combo.

          Now, yes, if you believe that it’s the child’s choice, I’d be happy to give you a link, and you can have some fine glassware, and only need to occasionally think about the careless kid who gets burnt. (Have you ever been to a burn ward? Ugly, ugly place).

          1. First of all: no, your example does not fit because we are not speaking of children here. You even pointed out yourself an important consideration about not being an adult capable of making a decision, which does not apply to our discussion. Sadly, it’s a very common tactic among real-world politicians: to play the “THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!” card first, to invoke an emotional response, and then to expand emotional conclusions about children to the rest of the people with a sleight of hand.

            That being said – what other options do those children have? And are they allowed to leave if they want to, or is there no way out? If they can leave, it could be a shitty place to be, necessitated by their life being shitty in general, but not slavery.

          2. TTO,
            Sveta codes as “close enough to an adult” to make a decision. I’m not sure we should treat all Case 53’s the same.

            As far as I understand it, they can’t leave (probably In a Guarded Compound). Which isn’t to say that the entire enterprise is entirely safe from shakedowns by ex-military.

            They don’t really have any place to go — no family, and this provides work and food and skills. It’s not a half-bad deal, for, you know, slavery.

            American slavery in the very recent past has been far worse than what I’m describing. (We’re talking “fuck the overseer or he’ll fire you” and that was not in the job description when you came to America).

        3. If people accepted his offer, it means out was better for them to have it rather than not have.

          As another person who has worked as a janitor, I want to point out that this argument from marginal values is a common mistake to make that ignores inelastic costs. Much like finding a 1=2 in your mathematical proof, if your premises define away the existence of demeaning work and exploitative legal employment, re-examine your premises.

          1. I don’t define it away, I consider it irrelevant to the discussion at hand. For example, regarding demeaning work: let’s even ignore for now that some work might be demeaning for some people and totally okay for others. Doubtlessly, it would be better to have options of non-demeaning work (and even better yet to have enough money that you don’t have to work at all if you don’t want to). If there are such options, then existence of demeaning work is irrelevant for you because you won’t consider it. If there aren’t, then you’d probably better have any work than none at all (and if you’d better have none, then again – existence of demeaning options is irrelevant for you). Note that this scenario could realistically happen, and it’s not the fault of employers offering “bad” options.
            As for exploitation, it makes sense only in a cultural and legal context. Currently we can see a trend that the society starts considering some ways of employment which were perfectly okay before to be exploitation, eventually outlawing them. So, if something is exploitation legally, then it’s just plain illegal and will be treated as such. If it’s not illegal but close enough to the edge of the trend, one might try to shift the public opinion of the activity, so that it would eventually be considered exploitation and outlawed. But then it would be wise to think of your ultimate goal first – how would the world look like after your efforts and would it be closer to your ideal. For instance, in the case we are discussing, I wouldn’t advocate for banning porn, because I don’t think it’s demeaning per se; porn photographers and models would have their place in my ideal world. Also, in my ideal world everyone would have an opportunity to have a job suitable for their capabilities and wishes. If someone has to be a porn model only for money, despite that they find it demeaning, that would be bad. But I don’t see any reasonable course of action for photographers, how could they distinguish models who really want to do it from ones who only need money, and treat them differently somehow. Such differentation wouldn’t benefit anyone, less of all those who are doing it because of financial difficulties. The proper way to help such people would be to create other opportunities for them, but that’s not the responsibility of photographers – it’s responsibility of the society as a whole. And Big Picture’s work might even indirectly help to create other opportunities (see my comment below about public’s perception). So I don’t see what could “ideal!Big Picture” do differently from “in-story!Big Picture”.

    2. If you need money and see an offer to be paid as a photographic model, and you accept and the photographer convinces you (possibly with a bonus) to take your clothes off and take photos of your naked body, and then you find those photographs have been put up on a porn site, would you be happy?

      Bear in mind, too, that the Case 53s automatically have no support network when they first arrive, which means they likely need the money.

      1. Well, if you agree to pose nude, it’s kinda obvious that you are doing porn (or erotic, depends on how you put it). If you want the photos to be displayed on some sites but not others, nothing prevents you from discussing these matters with the photographer and leaving if you are not satisfied with the conditions.
        As for needing money, I answered about it to Alfaryn above. It’s neither the job nor a moral duty of a porn photographer (even if we put it that way) to ensure that his models do it solely because they enjoy shooting porn and not because they need money (and if he discovers that someone agrees to his offer because of money – why, he should deny them the opportunity and withdraw the offer, of course! all for their benefit, in order not to wrong them).

        1. They didn’t go, necessarily, to pose nude. They went to have their photos taken, and get paid for it. Case 53s are parahumans; might be he’s going to do something that boosts their publicity, which needs them caped up and in costume. Then they arrive, and he admires them, flatters them, and offers them a bit more money to take their clothes off. He’s done nothing wrong, legally speaking; they’re officially over 18 or whatever, so it’s not child porn, but he has pressured them into it. Put them in a situation where it is exceedingly hard to say ‘no’. And most likely he did it without them being aware of the pressure, whilst still feeling it.

          1. He has no power over them, neither legal nor institutional and not even parahuman. There’s nothing he could pressure them with (and flattery and offers of additional money isn’t pressure, it’s an attempt to influence someone’s decision – but so is nearly any communication attempt). Even if nudity wasn’t in the offer initially, everyone involved would be fine with accepting the initial offer and refusing the “extended” one (or refusing both, for that matter).

        2. “If you agree to pose nude, it’s pretty obvious you’re doing porn”

          I feel compelled to point out that boudoir photography is a thing that exists.

    3. You find some weird painting in the attic while moving into a new house. One of the people helping you move ask if they can have it, you’re not sure: it’s actually kind of cool and you think you might want to keep it. When they offer you $50, though, you shrug and take the money- after all, you know they’re an art fan, and they seem really interested in it for for some reason. A few weeks later you see them on the news selling the weird painting, newly authenticated as a lost Salvador Dali original, at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

      Same ethics violation.

      It’s the difference between exploitation and full informed consent: Not saying no is not the same as saying yes, especially if you don’t fully understand what you’re saying yes or no to.

      1. Well, first of all, let’s not mix it up – there’s no “not saying no” in your example, there is yes. Someone asks you to sell the painting for $50, and you don’t say “well I dunno…”, you say yes. If you knew it was Salvador Dali, you would say no, and if you knew that, for example, it would turn out to be a fake short after being advertised on the sale, your answer might be yes again. Being not fully informed doesn’t have to do anything with it, it’s part of living in our world. There’s the issue of your partner being unfair to you by withholding valuable information, but that’s entirely another question.

        And then, what were Big Picture’s models unaware of? That he will become famous because of his photos? Oh right, that’s unfair indeed…

        1. Unlike most other phorographs images of people are not things that the photographer is allowed to use in any way he wants without prior consent of the people shown on photos he took if it could strip them of their dignity for example.

          The way Big Picture’s studio is organized (and I assume that any of his previous studios, including those on Bet were organized in a similar fashion) suggests that what he was asking them to pose for acts that would not later be used and displayed in context that could be considered disrespectful. His models did not agree for those photos to be displayed for weeks in galleries potentially visited by hundreds of people (though you could argue that legality of doing so probably could change from place to place), and they certainly did not agree for those photos to be distributed as porn (and I think doing this without their explicit premission would be illegal in most places where human rights actually mean something, not just in the so-called “first world” countries).

          1. And yes, Scorpion451 is right that besides the question of legality taking those photos in a way that did suggest that they would be used in a more respectful way than they ended up being used is a major ethics violation whatever it was legal or not, especially since Big Picture neither asked for permission, nor even informed his models about it.

          2. And in my opinion the fact that Big Picture seemed to intentionally target people who did not have money, and as such were unlikely to successfully defend themselves from what he did (by hiring lawyers for example) brought what he did from the level of simply unethical and at least not always legal behavior down to the level of outright exploitation.

          3. Another thing. I’m no lawyer (and even if I was, I would have no way of knowing Bet’s US or Gimel.US law well enough to tell one way of the other), but I could see a situation where it could be argued that Big Picture’s models (at least the ones he worked with later) would be giving an implicit premission to display their photographs in an art gallery the way he did. The problem is that he targeted C53s who probably had no way of knowing that because they were suffering from amnesia (not to mention the fact that they came from another world). Not to mention that for the same reasons they probably did not know their rights when it comes to using their images, and how to defend them.

            Proving that they had no way of knowing all of that in a court would probably be a legal nightmare however. Especially since those C53s (and possibly some other naive people who ended up in the same situation) probably had no way of affording a lawyer. It looks like one of those cases that certain lawyers should take pro bono if you ask me. I wonder if Natalie could do it one day. She certainly seems to have the right kind of personality for it.

          4. Yes, this is the main concern I have. If the agreements did not account for the uses to which their images have been put and Big Picture is just skating by on the knowledge that they’re going to be powerless to stop him, then he is a Big Prick who will hopefully run afoul of the Wretch and receive a Big Pruning.

            However, if the various capes signed agreements allowing BP to use their images in the ways that he has, then T.T.O. is correct and the capes are just being assholes by trying to place the blame for their poor decision making or weak wills on somebody else.

          5. And if there are not enough lawyers who would like to work for free on cases like this, then maybe some NGOs should gather money to pay for legal fees in such cases.

            On top of it in extreme cases (and I think Big Picture’s one probably qualifies) someone like ombudsman should should get involved, though once again I don’t know if either Bet’s US or Gimel.US ever had someone like that, and what exactly they would be allowed to do in this situation, as those details tend to change from country to country.

            It could also be argued that media could and probably should have become involved on the side of Big Picture’s victims, but we know just how likely it would be to help in a world where flow of any information regarding capes was tightly controlled by PRT, or in a place as messed up as Gimel just a bit over two years after Gold Morning.

          6. There’s also the content of the contract, if one exists. If it’s verbal, then really it’s useless; no way one of those will hold up in a civil court. If it’s a physical contract on a piece of paper, there’s lots of tricks about that which Big Picture could feasibly exploit- one of the simplest being ‘I agree to all the terms on this piece of paper, including the ones on the back’- if you don’t read that when you sign it, you might have read the contract very well and still be caught out by additional clauses on the other side of the paper.

          7. @Pizzasgood

            I would argue that considering the situation of many of Big Picture’s victims (complete lack of money coupled with amnesia) even if he did make them sign something that would say that he is allowed to use the photos in a way he did, court should declare such agreement void, as they probably had no way of actually know the implications of what they signed. This of course would make it an even more complicated case from legal standpoint of course, and as such – more difficult to win by Big Picture just by virtue of having more financial resources an better understanding of law.

          8. > more difficult to win by Big Picture

            Sorry. I obviously meant the opposite – “more difficult to win by Big Picture’s victims”.

          9. Oh my, this correction also doesn’t work, because of who the rest of that sentence was about. Let’s pretend I wrote “easier to win by Big Picture”, shall we.

            Once again sorry for not checking my exact wording enough before posting my comments.

          10. We know that Big Picture didn’t break any laws, though. Or even draft technically legal but clearly exploitative contracts. To Victoria’s best knowledge, “the photographer hadn’t done anything wrong that [the models] could put their finger on”, and the only reason she thinks BP isn’t a paragon of virtue is that they’d “walked away uncomfortable and unhappy”.

            I agree with TTO. Big Picture’s models dealt with him of their own free will. It’s not his’s fault that they’re poor, and they’re certainly not going to become less poor if he stops paying them. If he gets his work displayed in galleries, and becomes rich and famous in the process, well, that’s what most professional artists aspire to, and I really can’t see anything wrong with it.

            Maybe, in the coming chapters, he’ll turn out to be a literal child rapist, and Victoria’s dislike of him will be retroactively justified, but that will be then. So far, the worst thing he’s done is think about joining the Orchard.
            Which isn’t exactly a good sign, I suppose.
            Still, Victoria’s spoken politely with far worse monsters than him.

          11. The thing is that right to dignity is one of fundamental human rights. Big Picture clearly abused legal system to violate this right of his victims. Every legal system should have laws and mechanisms to prevent such abuse, and I have no doubt that Bet’s US and Gimel.US are no exception. The problem is that there are so many possible ways to violate of this right that the laws to prevent such behavior tend to define such violations in rather loose ways, which are open to interpretation by everyone, including the judges.

            In other words as long as Gimel.US recognizes their human rights Big Picture’s victims do have legal basis for legal action against him, but since both dignity and possible violations of dignity are so loosely defined, it would be very difficult to prove that such violation happened in a way that would let them win the case in case in court and have Big Picture compensate them or otherwise repair the damage he has done. The problem is further complicated by the fact that it is a case of rich, successful “artist” against poor people many of whom look like literal monsters, so I would expect that whatever judges and jurors would be involved could be strongly biased in favor of Big Picture.

            And this is just the civil procedure. For violating his victims’ right to dignity Big Picture should also face criminal charges (again – there should be laws that allow to press criminal charges if the legal system of Gimel.US is anything like ours when it comes to protecting human rights), but those would probably be even more difficult to even define in legal terms, and to prove in a way that would end up with him being found guilty, and appropriately sentenced.

          12. No, they can’t argue that their right to dignity was violated. Any right to complain when somebody uses your portrait in pornography is forfeited when you grant them the right to use your portrait in pornography; that’s what granting rights is. If you think that pornography is too undignified to tolerate, it is your responsibility to not grant people the right to make pornography featuring you.

          13. Presuming, of course, that they actually granted him those rights. As I said, that question is the thing I wonder about. If he’s doing things they did not authorize, then that’s obviously not okay.

            There’s also the matter of whether they can grant him those rights, which you questioned previously. But assuming they were sober, mentally competent adults, and the images don’t qualify as obscenity or some other illegal content, then they very probably could grant those rights.

            Note that amnesia, poverty, and lack of lawyers do not factor into this at all. The law doesn’t care whether you understand the contract itself. The law only cares that you understand that it is a contract and that you can reasonably assess whether you understand the contract. If you don’t understand the contract, the expectation is that you simply don’t sign it.

            The Case-53s’ best argument would probably be if they came from a culture with no concept of contracts (or a very radical departure from the American version of them), or that their English comprehension was so bad that they didn’t understand that the paper they signed was a contract. Proving this would be pretty difficult in most cases.

          14. 1) Regarding whether Big Picture used the photos in some way his models didn’t grant him the right to: if this were the case, it wouldn’t be some nebulous “wrong of the sort that was hard to grasp”. It would clearly be a breach of contract, very easy to define and to “put a finger on”. The fact that the models themselves have a hard time putting a finger on what exactly they are unhappy with, I think, proves that this is not the case.

            2) Regarding whether C53s could sign a contract at all. Well, they are adults and they aren’t impaired mentally, they just don’t remember their previous life. It doesn’t prevent them from understanding the terms of a contract. And if someone would argue that it does – it’s an argument that C53s should not have legal capacity at all (I don’t know English legal terms, so the term might be wrong, sorry), which I think is far too severe and unwarranted.

            3) Regarding dignity…
            – Hey, what about me taking some porn photos of you for $whatever?
            – Okay (takes the money, does the photos)
            (later…)
            – Ohmygod, what’s that? Is that PORN?! With ME?!! How dare you? You bastard, you violated my dignity!!

            4) Regarding dignity as well, but from another angle. I would even argue that Big Picture’s actions could be *beneficial* for C53s’ dignity and status in the society in general. I got an impression from the text that his works are tasteful, aesthetically pleasing and don’t portray the models in a degrading context. So by making photos that portray C53s not as monsters but as human beings who could be admired, adored, and even desired sexually, he is working towards shifting the public’s perception of them (which is leaning now heavily towards the “monsters” side).

          15. @Soadreqm
            > So far, the worst thing he’s done is think about joining the Orchard.

            I thought so too, but then I read the comments and got an idea that we might be interpreting it wrong. Given his fascination with C53s, he might have wanted to become one of them by letting Orchard work on him. So maybe even that worst thing is not actually the case, And regarding the rest of your comment – exactly my thoughts as well.

          16. I would argue that amnesia means that even if they knew English, they couldn’t understand all legal terms in the contracts, and what they exact rights were, and how they could legally grant anyone the right to use their images as porn. The fact that they were surprised to find out that their photographs were distributed as pornography means that they probably did not give any premission orally. This leaves a written contract as the only other option, and here we run into another problem – if they signed anything, they were almost certainly not given a copy because sooner or later someone of them would give their copy to a lawyer, and then it would not be “we couldn’t find anything we could put our finger on”, but “turns out we actually gave him permission”.

            As for C53s being legal adults, I need to point out that at least some of them probably weren’t, or at least they were unaware that law treated them as such, and what it exactly meant for them (which also should be enough to mount a case against Big Picture). Sveta mentioned that one of the reasons she never made a driving license was that it was impossible to determine if she turned sixteen yet or not. Gully, whose picture we saw in the studio, was a Ward, which seems to suggest that she was not in fact considered an adult.

            We don’t know if the only people whose photos turned up online as porn were considered legal adults, but considering Big Picture’s overall behavior, I think it may be possible that he never even bothered to check if it was the case – otherwise he would inform them as soon as the photos went online, or even beforehand, to make it clear that he did everything legally. The way it was done however suggests that Big Picture never informed them about it, so that he could claim at the court that he wasn’t the one who let those photos be distributed in such fashion, which implies that he was aware that what he did was not legal, at least as far as using those photos as porn is concerned.

          17. Many people IRL don’t know their rights and the legal terms, but the law doesn’t make a special case for them. Either you have legal capacity – and take all the rights and responsibility it gives you; or you don’t – and then you are considered unable to make any important decisions for yourself, and some other person has the right to do it for you.

            > The fact that they were surprised to find out that their photographs were distributed as pornography means that they probably did not give any premission orally […]

            If this were the case, then you don’t need a lawyer to put your finger on what do you feel wrong. But they were unable to formulate it – not for the court case, but for themselves. So maybe they did actually give the permission, fully understanding that, but it didn’t stop them from feeling bad. People can be illogical.
            Or maybe Big Picture didn’t actually spread his photos on porn sites. Porn is perfectly able to spread there by itself (strictly speaking, by anonymous users uploading it). If his works were displayed anywhere at all, they were inevitably going to end up on porn sites as well. Even if Big Picture was against it, there would be little he could do about it even in our world, and I doubt that there’s as much attention paid to copyright infringement in Gimel.

          18. One more thing that may or may not work in Big Picture’s victims favor. Right to dignity is a human right, and as such is considered inalienable. How this is interpreted exactly probably depends on particulars of a legal system in question, but I think there is very good chance that there is no legal way to form a contract in such a way that Big Picture’s victims would surrender their right to have their dignity protected from the sort of abuse he subjected them to, unless the contract makes it clear that they don’t consider distributing those photographs as pornography as a violation of their dignity (and you could possibly even make a similar argument for that stunt with art gallery).

            This means that it shouldn’t be sufficient for Big Picture’s victims to just sign a paper which says that they grant Big Picture all rights to the photos for him to use those pictures the way he did, because you simply can’t transfer or otherwise surrender inalienable rights this way. The contract that they would sign would need to explicitly state that they are ok with those photos to be used as porn, or at least make it certain that such agreement was implicit in the contract (which, depending on particular laws that apply to the contracts, maybe Big Picture could argue if he advised himself to his victims as a person who makes and distributes pornography, but he clearly didn’t do that).

            This means that unless none of his victims never read the contracts they signed, they shouldn’t be surprised that those photos started circulating as porn, and since there were so many of them, I suspect that no such statement appeared in any of his contracts (if any written contracts existed in the first place), because at least one of them would have to notice that and rise an alarm.

            (That is unless Big Picture’s power allowed him to make sure that absolutely none of his victims would actually read an understand what they signed, but doing so should probably be considered using a thinker power to cheat people out of their human rights, and should be treated as a crime anyway.)

          19. The most glaring flaw in this argument is that for some reason you consider porn to be a violation of dignity and human rights by default, with an explicit need to state otherwise (and not even consent for making, displaying and distributing the photos being enough for that). There are others, but even this one is fairly enough.

          20. Excuse me? How is pornography not a form of sexual objectification, and how are public displays of sexual objectification of someone without their consent not a violation of their dignity?

          21. People objectify each other all the time (not necessarily sexually), nearly everything is a form of objectification in one way or another. When I go to the hair salon, I’m objectifying the hairdresser because I don’t care about their immortal soul, about their favourite music or about anything really – I care about getting my hair trimmed, and I see them as a way to do it. Sorry (but not really). And they objectify me as a way to earn money.
            And regarding consent – we were talking about it all the time. There *was* consent, because otherwise it would be crystal clear for the models what exactly they don’t like. And now you are arguing for some special kind of consent, because porn is such a special case that just regular consent is not enough.

          22. What I’m arguing is that people have certain rights (including right to dignity) which they simply can’t legally surrender through a civil contract. All they could do is to make a statement that they don’t consider certain things a violation of those rights, and while such statement can be included in a contract, it is a different thing than just surrendering any or all alienable rights to their photographs (as is the case in our example) and as such just agreeing to surrender “all rights” to those photos in a contract can’t be a sufficient to distribute those photos as porn, because:
            – person’s right to dignity is not any sort of property right to a photo a person on that photo may have to it, but to them – it is a human right,
            – as I said above, human rights are inalienable, and as such they simply cannot be sold or otherwise surrendered as a part of any civil contract,
            – sexual objectification of someone by distributing their photographs as pornography is not just any form of objectification, precisely because most people would consider it a violation of their dignity if something like this happened to them, unlike the objectification of a hairdresser from your example.

            The hairdresser doesn’t even know that you objectify them, because you don’t care about their immortal soul etc., and even if they knew it would hardly be a violation of their dignity. If anyone would have a reason to be ashamed in that situation, it would be you in my opinion.

            All of it means that the piece of paper Big Picture’s victims would need to sign would need to consist of two separate things:
            1. a contract in which they transfer their alienable rights (specifically property rights) to the pictures to him for monetary compensation (if you say “all rights to the pictures” it still only means “all alienable rights in this context, because only they are rights to the picture that can be transferred via a contract),
            2. a statement that they don’t consider using those pictures as porn a violation of their right to dignity which is not only inalienable, but also not a right to the picture itself.

            If the contract is written in a way that gives Big Picture rights from point 1., but fails to give him 2., then he simply has no right to distribute those pictures as porn, because it would be a violation of human rights of people on those pictures, and unless it is clear that what he does is produce and distribute porn (and as nick012000 pointed out – not every nude photography is porn by default), then he can’t really argue that 1. contains 2. implicitly (and it is entirely possible that the local law may require 2. to be explicitly stated even if he did make no secret that he distributes his photos as porn, which is the thing he clearly did). The declaration in 2. would need to be explicit, and as such would probably be noticed by at least some of his victims, which would mean that what happened was not something they can’t “put their finger on”, but something they knew they explicitly agreed to.

          23. I still don’t see reasons why porn should be treated differently from anything other in that regard. The concept of dignity is subjective by definition, so acknowledging the right for dignity couldn’t be a law per se, it’s merely stating a direction which the actual laws would (try to) follow. In particular, it would be quite contrary to the point to use an opinion of some majority for defining what should violate *my* (or any other person’s) dignity and what shouldn’t. I might think that having to write in PHP violates my dignity (no offense to any PHP developers here. all the offense is meant for designers of the language:)), but if I sign a contract for PHP development, it means that I’m okay with this job enough that I’d rather have it than not. No need for special clauses about dignity there. I admit that I haven’t seen any contracts for porn models IRL, but I’d be very surprised if they contained such clauses.

            > sexual objectification of someone by distributing their photographs as pornography is not just any form of objectification

            Well okay, let’s imagine someone who gets aroused by the sight of nudists on a beach and is ogling them in a most certainly sexually objectifying way. The very same principle that you have written would apply here: if anyone would have a reason to be ashamed in that situation, it would be him.

          24. > as nick012000 pointed out – not every nude photography is porn by default

            Well of course it is. Let’s not dive into the distinction between porn and erotic, as it’s largely subjective and irrelevant here, and boudoir photography is just porn/erotic meant for private use. So unless BP told his models that he doesn’t intend to distribute the photos in *any* way (which is clearly not the case), it’s quite obvious that he offers to make porn/erotic photos for public viewing.

          25. the piece of paper Big Picture’s victims would need to sign would need to consist of two separate things:
            1. a contract in which they transfer their alienable rights (specifically property rights) to the pictures to him for monetary compensation (if you say “all rights to the pictures” it still only means “all alienable rights in this context, because only they are rights to the picture that can be transferred via a contract),
            2. a statement that they don’t consider using those pictures as porn a violation of their right to dignity which is not only inalienable, but also not a right to the picture itself.

            Dude, you’re just making shit up. In the US, whether it’s legal to photograph someone is determined by whether they had an “expectation of privacy”. What that means exactly is determined on a case by case basis, but for example, photographing someone in a public place is almost always okay, while hiding a camera in their home is not. If you actually go to a photographer to have your photo taken in a studio, there can be no reasonable expectation of privacy, unless he outright lies about what the photos will be used for. Big Picture likely would have had the models sign a stock consent form as he gave them the money, so that he could later show that he told them exactly what the photos would be used for, but the form isn’t required for consent to exist. It’s to protect the photographer from false claims.

            You can keep saying that pornography is a human rights violation, but that isn’t going to make it true.

          26. Sure, I’m making some of this stuff up. As I said I’m no lawyer, not an American, so you can’t really expect me to know all nuances of US laws regulating the matter. The fact that people have right to have their dignity protected as their human right, and that human rights are inalienable doesn’t really require digging into specifics of US law. It says it at the very beginning of Universal Declaration of Human Rights – an international agreement originally was not binding to anyone, but this has later changed with international covenants adopted by the United Nations which made rights contained in the UDHR binding to all UN nations since 1976.

            The way I see it just letting yourself be photographed naked in a studio doesn’t automatically include the right to have those photos be distributed as porn. I also doubt that all of those C53s were tricked into signing an agreement to that. The only things that Big Picture can really say to defend himself is that those photos are not in fact pornography, and that he was not the person who put them in the internet, and he has no idea how they got there. Both those claims should be easy enough to disprove in a court if his victims had good enough lawyers, the judge and jury were unbiased, and a thorough investigation of Big Picture’s online activity was conducted (something that shouldn’t be much of a problem for someone like Dragon).

          27. And even if Big Picture didn’t upload the pictures personally, but one of his clients or friends did it, he still wouldn’t be off the hook, because it would probably be relatively easy to get an evidence of his involvement anyway, either by making some of those people testify against him, or by getting whatever warrants would be necessary to search his house and studio or to listen in on his conversations with those people to find necessary evidence.

            Even if none of such evidence was found Big Picture would probably be in a legal trouble if it was proven that he saw these photos online (something that should be even easier for someone like Dragon, or even mundane police to do) and did not inform either authorities or his victims about it.

          28. By “distributing as porn”, as opposed to some other kind of distribution, do you mean distributing the photos with a label saying “PORN” attached to them?
            Let’s say BP and his models sign an agreement which says that the photos will be displayed on Big-Picture.com and in his gallery “The Beauty From High Heavens”. Then anyone could visit the site or the gallery and view the pictures as porn (porn is in the eye of the beholder, you know). Moreso, anyone could copy the photos online or take photos of the pictures from the gallery and upload them to TheMostPornyPornOnGimel.com (and by doing that, they would only violate the copyright but not dignity of the models). And the most what BP could do about it would be to send a takedown notice because of copyright infringement, and I doubt people pay much attention to it in a post-apocalyptic world.

          29. The way I see it just letting yourself be photographed naked in a studio doesn’t automatically include the right to have those photos be distributed as porn.

            If the photographer gave you money for the pictures? I think there’s a reasonable expectation that photos would be published in some context, even if there’s no written agreement between you and the photographer. Why else would he be paying you?

            And if there is a written agreement, then the terms in that written agreement apply. Even if you don’t like those terms. It’s not a “trick”. You were given a document, given an opportunity to read it, and asked to sign it. If you chose to sign it, then that’s on you. You have a legal and moral right to make bad decisions.

          30. It is obviously the context that is important, and (assuming that it is not specified by the law) it is for the court to determine. Showing a picture in an art gallery as a work of art is one thing. Putting it on a site dedicated to porn (or any other channel of distribution typically used for this purpose) is another. Honest judges and jury members shouldn’t have a problem with that. Making such judgements is actually a big part of their job.

          31. @Soadreqm

            > In the US, whether it’s legal to photograph someone is determined by whether they had an “expectation of privacy”. What that means exactly is determined on a case by case basis, but for example, photographing someone in a public place is almost always okay, while hiding a camera in their home is not. If you actually go to a photographer to have your photo taken in a studio, there can be no reasonable expectation of privacy, unless he outright lies about what the photos will be used for.

            Actually I would argue that if a photographer is running his business in a way that suggests that this is an art studio, not a porn industry, then yes, unless you are explicitly informed that your photos will be used as porn, you should be entitled to expect that your photos will be displayed and distributed strictly as works of art, and with the degree of respect for your dignity that would normally be expected when it comes to dealing with this sort of art. Putting them on internet in places where any random Clockblocker can tell you that this is porn is certainly not that.

            Once again – getting a right to distribute someone’s photo does not automatically give you the right to do it in a way that obviously may violate person’s dignity, because human’s right to have their dignity protected is not tied to a photo (it is a human right), and can’t be sold (it is inalienable). Big Picture would need an explicit permission to do it, especially because with the way he runs his business does not allow him to claim that he got an implicit permission.

            And yes, while I don’t know for sure, I do think it is very likely that the photographer would need an explicit permission to put such photos on porn sites etc. even if he had a big neon sign saying “porn industry” over his front door. The problem is that I don’t think that Big Picture ever asked for such explicit permission, because then his victims would sooner or later realize that they agreed to that. Most of them may have not read their contracts, but I’m certain that sooner or later someone would, and then Sveta and Victoria would not hear any talk about not being able to “put finger” on what Big Picture did wrong, but an outrage that he managed to con all of those people into agreeing to something they wouldn’t want to happen to them.

            Of course it could be possible that all necessary agreements are in the contracts and really nobody read them carefully enough to spot them, but I suspect that it could keep happening for so many years if Big Picture used his power to make sure that nobody read the contract carefully enough (for example if his power let him know in advance who will actually read the contracts), but using his power in such fashion would be an obvious crime, as it would guarantee that none of his victims actually had a chance to know what they agreed to.

          32. Yet again: define “using as porn”. Putting the photos on ArtisticNudity.com is okay and on Porn.com is bad, even if these sites point to exactly the same content?

          33. The full, airtight definition is obviously probably impossible, which is exactly why you need judges and jurors to actually judge if what you did was distributing it as porn. I don’t know how I would define it myself, but the first thing I would probably require in this situation is not to put such things anonymously on a difficult to find site (no matter what it’s URL is), but in a place and in a way where it is obvious that you are the author of the photo, you uploaded it, and that people you photographed would have no problem finding the photo, and voicing the protest if they think that you violated their rights.

            So some ArtisticNudity.com few people heard about wouldn’t work according to my interpretation, but photographer’s official online portfolio for example – something that anyone who has ever looked the author up on Internet would find, and know it was his. ArtisticNudity.com could maybe work if it actually was a site that everyone who is interested in this sort of art actually knows, and recognizes as one of the primary places to post this sort of art, and even the, but even then it would have to be done in a way that leaves no doubt who the photographer is, and that he uploaded it himself.

          34. This way it would be at least easy to hold the photographer accountable for his actions, something that is key whenever there is a good chance that subjects of the photographs could be abused. There is a reason that a lot of Internet pornography is anonymous and its authors tend to be difficult to track down.

          35. Not to mention that in case of this sort of Internet pornography I’m thinking about there is often another layer of anonymity, which makes holding the photographer accountable difficult – even if you can identify the photographer, you often can’t prove that he was the person who uploaded the photos – something that I think may be the case with Big Picture’s photo found on those porn sites that were mentioned.

            To be clear – author’s accountability obviously is not the only, or even most important feature distinguishing art from porn (heck, a lot of legal porn is published in a way that meets all accountability standards as I outlined them above), but if the photographer is taking measures to avoid accountability by either hiding the fact that he is the author, that he is the person who uploaded the photos, or just by publishing them in places where only a select audience interested in porn is likely to find the photos, then it should rise questions of legality of author’s actions whether he secured a premission to distribute the photos or not.

            I don’t know what the law says in such cases, but I suspect that there are some mechanisms to enforce author’s accountability in case of photography like this.

          36. And since I seem to have drifted from the topic of art vs porn to the topic of accountability and speculating how it could be implemented in law, shouldn’t Big Picture be required to inform people he photographed where he published their photos exactly, and how to find them every time he did that? Because he sure as hell didn’t inform his victims.

        2. There’s a lot TTO is saying here that is invalid.

          Unconscionability is the parent of many contract law precepts that boil down to “agreements are automatically invalid if there’s even a hint of misrepresentation, failure to disclose information, exploitation, duress, unfair bargaining power, or misunderstanding.”

          A textbook example of an unconscionable agreement, for instance, is a photographer seeking out vulnerable people desperate for money under the pretenses of having them pose for tasteful artistic nude pictures, and then pressuring or enticing them into posing for increasingly explicit images beyond the boundaries of what the model originally agreed to, for the intent of distributing them as porn without the model’s explicit approval or compensation.

          This is an internationally agreed upon and enforced concept that gets even formal contracts invalidated in courts with little fanfare, and in addition, depending on the place and circumstances, can be grounds for criminal fraud charges and even damages awards- but this is all provided the victim can prove it or even realizes that what happened was illegal, and whether the can afford to bring a suit they might not win.

          On the difference between artistic nudity and pornography, meanwhile, it’s the difference between a loaf of bread and bowl of gruel.

          1. Are you saying it happens also in countries where producing porn is legal? If so, how do they differentiate then between a photographer “seeking out” a vulnerable person and him just making his regular offer to a person who happened to be vulnerable? Does it mean you can agree to shoot some porn and then sue the photographer if you are a member of a vulnerable group?

            > On the difference between artistic nudity and pornography…

            …still irrelevant. You can define any criteria for the work being art, and your artistic nudity photo can meet them as much as you want, but still someone can and invariably will include it into their favourite porn collection (or, conversely, demand to take it down because it’s porn). And there still will be dispute whether it’s art or porn or artistic porn or pornographic art, because everyone draws this line in a different place.

    4. Don’t take it the wrong way but I do believe you have never been in an economically dire situation which you can’t really make a choice, because the alternative is starvation, homelessness, etc. Many jobs are supposedly a choice but not really since if the person had an alternative with the same financial dividends, they wouldn’t have made that choice. I would compare it to sex work with very clear brackets of “there are plenty of people who voluntarily choose sex work and have other, vial, real alternatives, which they do not choose, because they like that line of work”. More power to them and all that but in many cases it is not so and especially with case 53, feeling physically and emotionally violated with affected minds, without a real support system, this could be further violation of them, without them even realising it fully or being unable to articulate it.

      Just because one can’t articulate or doesn’t understand why something feels wrong doesn’t make it any less wrong or violating. Finding somebody who has completely given up and violating them doesn’t make that thing any less so.

      I do believe Victoria is biased, because of her own trauma concerning her own 53’ness but I am also sure that for a lot of the people in the photographs, focusing on their bodies, which is the reason that they are treated badly and some of them feel as not belonging in the human world, is exactly what can deepen their trauma. Sure, plenty of them could have used his interest (I won’t say fetish, because it didn’t feel exactly that) and using it to reclaim themselves… but… nakedness is a complex subject even at the best of times with the best adjusted people, that could be treated horribly (ahem, every person who has had their pictures shared without their permission or been treated badly for interpretations of pictures they themselves saw as empowering, just to be harassed and abused, verbally or otherwise) and perceived nakedness and all that it entails is another can of worms, especially in the world of Worm, my head is spinning (oh, to be an anthropologist living there or possibly studying cultural studies, sociologist… without the Gold Morning… and you know, sans the horrors)…

      Last but not least, Big Picture…
      I think it is obvious what feels scummy. The fact that he obviously is well off and the source of his money is taking pictures of people who not only don’t benefit but are actually shunned for having the bodies he is celebrated for exposing through his work, making them appear this way or that. On one hand, there is the thought, sure, he is an artist but on the other it does feel exploitative.

      And in regards to his “fetish”, it felt and sounded incredibly objectifying, very much similar to the people who want to be some other race, because they consider that cool but they do not even realise how much privileged they are…

      Ah, I had opinions about this, didn’t I. 🙂

      1. > I do believe you have never been in an economically dire situation which you can’t really make a choice, because the alternative is starvation, homelessness, etc.

        You’re mostly right, though I remember some tough times my family had to go through when I was a child. But I can understand people’s motivations in such situations. What I don’t understand is how could possibly not having these options be better than having them.
        Let’s suppose I desperately need money and don’t have options other than do some work which I consider undignified, or starve. If I’d rather starve than do this work, I could refuse and do just that (or maybe search for other options in the meantime). And if I think that this job is bad, but still better than starvation, I’ll take it. Now comes some good and caring guy, who decides in a fit of caring that I shouldn’t take this job, and my employer shouldn’t even offer it. Because it’s bad! So the only option left to me is starvation (and now it’s really not a choice). What we have here is a good guy being good in his own eyes, and probably in the eyes of the public, at my cost.
        Okay, now let the good guy take another approach and try forcing my employer to make me a better offer. But why should he? He’d rather not make me any offer at all. So I end up starving again, and the good guy is again being good at the cost of others (my employer’s or, failing that, mine).
        And what if the good guy takes yet another approach – if he himself makes me a better offer? Well, I’d be really grateful to him and would gladly take a better option over a bad one. And then no one is taking the bad option because there are better ones, mission accomplished. I’m thoroughly convinced that the right way to do good to people is not to take “bad” options away from them, but to create good options for them. A “bad” option is still better than none at all.

        > And in regards to his “fetish”, it felt and sounded incredibly objectifying, very much similar to the people who want to be some other race, because they consider that cool but they do not even realise how much privileged they are…

        Okay, and if they realise their privilege, do they gain right to want to be other race? Or they wouldn’t want to, because this realisation would make them unable to find anything good in being other races? Honestly, I don’t think there is anything wrong in this example too. Not everything should boil down to privileges and oppression and so on. People are free to want whatever they want (and even act upon their wishes, if it doesn’t harm other people).

        1. But other people were harmed. Emotionally, and I’d argue socially too.

          Disclosure: I’m speaking here as a trans person. This situation is very familiar to me, as is this argument. Trans bodies are alternately fetishised and brutalised by privileged people. Porn of trans people is very popular, and the rate of murder is also very high. These facts are not unrelated.

          People get off on our bodies in part because of their deviance from the norm. Mostly because of that, I think. That kind of “appreciation” contributes to the othering and alienation of real trans people, which in turn promotes discrimination and violence. The info we have implies it is much the same for C53s.

          As others have said eloquently above, Big Picture is profiting from the exposure of those bodies, and clearly he profits more than his models do. Look at his living space and his willingness to unmask. He’s secure, he’s privileged – while C53s he’s dealt with have been left feeling worse, not better, by a modelling experience. Why would that be true if he was really blameless?

          Being paid in exposure only works when that exposure doesn’t contribute to your oppression. Putting graphic images of deviant bodies into the public realm is dehumanising. And, again, it’s easier to exclude and harm those you don’t consider human.

          Your take on this, which you have fiercely defended, lacks nuance. No tangible harm has been dealt, yes. But your instinct to ignore the opinion of a LOT of people – Victoria, Sveta and those she’s spoken to – and instead side with the creepy dude, is perhaps a position you should question.

        2. > I’m thoroughly convinced that the right way to do good to people is not to take “bad” options away from them, but to create good options for them. A “bad” option is still better than none at all.

          If bad option is possible then there is some temptation to force someone into a situation, where he can only choose this option. If bad option is prohibited (ex. by law), it will also remove (at least one) reason to force someone into situation of choosing.
          For example, if someone get a credit for buying something expensive, he will have to pay some part of salary for several years and so will afraid to loose a job and so will have to be more obedient, acceptable for bad tasks and low salary. So companies are interested in putting employees into “credit slavery” and do so by advertising credits indirectly.

          1. Er…you know, your example doesn’t really illustrate your point. Advertising something (especially indirectly) is immensely different from forcing people to do the thing being advertised. That being said, I acknowledge that the problem of forcing someone into a situation without good options might exist. But the problem is exactly that: forcing someone into that situation. This is what should be persecuted and punished by law. But if we have two options: 1) prohibit “bad options”, which would actually do more harm than good, but is easy and allows a politician to look like a knight in shining armor (“X is bad, so I saved people from being able to choose X! and what the victims will do after being saved, is none of my business”); and 2) persecute individual cases when people are forced into bad situations, which requires far more work and yields far less publicity… Guess which option will be selected more often.

          2. @ T.T.O.
            > Advertising something (especially indirectly) is immensely different from forcing people to do the thing being advertised.
            Yeah, nobody force you to get a credit. But if you don’t buy car, house and clothes for your “level of income” – you most probably won’t be promoted. Management would prefer to promote someone else, obedient and dependent. As a result you need to “run as fast as you can, just to stay in place”, you would need to work much more just to have ~same amount of money left after paying credits, than in case of absence of credit slavery.
            And nobody to prosecute, because it is not a crime, it is just “corporate policy”.

          3. Or you could just not work for fuckwads like those. None of my bosses have ever seen my homes, most of them haven’t seen my vehicles, and they’ve never demanded I wear anything fancier than a polo shirt and cargo pants. Hell, nowadays I don’t even have to wear clothes at all if I don’t want to, thanks to the magic of the Internet. (Travel time is for chumps!)

      2. > The fact that he obviously is well off and the source of his money is taking pictures of people who not only don’t benefit but are actually shunned for having the bodies he is celebrated for exposing through his work, making them appear this way or that.

        The idea that they “don’t benefit” is explicitly false. It’s not like he’s just taking pictures and then running off and using them without paying the subjects. He pays them for the privilege of making and publishing the pictures. That they later regret the pictures indicates that they don’t benefit enough, but it doesn’t negate the fact that they do benefit some. It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t offer them a better deal out of his own sense of fairness and humanity, but ultimately it’s their responsibility to watch out for their own interests. They could listen to all the other people who keep trying to warn them, or they could look for an agent to negotiate on their behalf, or they could just do a better job of not dropping their pants any time somebody waves a dollar at them.

        And before “how do they afford an agent!?” comes up, I’ll admit that I don’t know how that works in the modeling industry, but in the writing industry you don’t pay your agent directly. They instead take a percentage of what you get paid (tends to be ~15% from what I understand), giving them incentive to get you a lucrative deal. This means that your own financial status has almost no bearing on whether you can secure an agent; it’s just a matter of whether your story is good and the market is interested. Getting back to the Case-53s, that seems to be a resounding YES. If BP can afford to pay them substantially more than he actually does, then getting an agent would be a win for the model. Say the agent gets them twice as much money — 85% of 200% is 170%, which is still a lot more than 100%, and they get better peace of mind knowing their agent has their back in the event of shady shit since any money BP cheats the model out of is also money he cheats their agent out of.

        > And in regards to his “fetish”, it felt and sounded incredibly objectifying, very much similar to the people who want to be some other race, because they consider that cool but they do not even realise how much privileged they are…

        Just because Sveta and co. hate their situations doesn’t mean that anyone else who wants to be that way is somehow bad for feeling like that. I hate being surrounded by people, let alone the focus of their attention; I’m a huge introvert and I have social anxiety disorder. Yet, there are people who love having all eyes on them, the exact situation I hate. Those privileged bastards! How dare they like something I don’t! And in a setting like Parahumans, it’s almost a certainty that multiple cis folks have been gender-flipped against their wishes, which I’m sure they found a horrific experience… yet, that doesn’t in any way make Furcate a bad person for wanting to be female.

        The concerning thing isn’t Big Picture’s fetish, but rather his attitude toward Orchard. His issue with them was the risk. He doesn’t seem bothered by what they were doing to other people, only the risk they posed to himself. So, is he a psychopath, or is he unable to conceive of the idea that other people wouldn’t want to be monsters, or is he just so self-centered that he doesn’t notice their displeasure?

        1. A long comment I wrote didn’t post. Ugh.
          OK, in a nutshell, making a choice that would affect you negatively or affects you negatively because you do not have many alternatives is still a bad choice. Being aware of that and using it to manipulate somebody so they make a choice is still a shit thing to do because your choice even though made, still makes you feel bad in one way or another. And if you lack the options to even have the support to understand it, you just feel bad. You just don’t have the spoons for that. Victims of trafficking have been researched quite a lot and we can argue 53’s are similar to that in many way (mentally, physically, they have been abused and victimised, they have been robbed of choices, little to no support and society sees them as freaks and monsters or at least almost all 53s we have seen on the page, sans Newter and a few others, perceive it as such. It may be true or not, doesn’t really matter, that is how the majority of them we have seen have described it as feeling it. By that standards only, we can acknowledge that psychologically, this is a complicated thing. People who have felt powerless have an acute issue with feeling powerless again). Not being aware of it doesn’t change much either about how it affects you.

          BP wants to be a part of a minority group that is defined by a violent “membership” of being kidnapped, given amnesia and turned into something forever without your permission. Frankly, I do believe that anyone who is actually aware what this means would never want to be part of that group, because it is truly fucked up. I get thinking about it but verbalising it is… tone deaf, to say the least.

          What I mean about BP getting praise is that when a person who is part of the majority (part of the in group) creates art using elements (in this case, people) from a group that is seen as Other or outside of the majority, the public that will react with disgust at the Other, appreciate it, because it has been put through the lens of an insider and thus deemed acceptable. I can give a very simple example: some people find it cool when Westerners adopt styles, clothing, accessories typical for other cultures and call it hip and cool but at the same time people who are native to those practices are seen as backwards and are shunned or discriminated for doing the very same thing. Who does what has context and different consequences depending on who you are and what the environment is. I remember reading a woman getting fired for keeping her hair in cornrows (typical hairdo for many people with natural kinky hair) even though another colleague, a white woman with her hair in cornrows didn’t have any issues. It was such a stark example that I remembered it. So that is what I mean by benefiting. BP is taking pictures, creating art of people, who in their daily lives are experiencing issues exactly because of how they look in the eyes of the same public that is liking his art. There are no negatives for him and he is lauded for his creativity of seeing them with new eyes but… that is not extended to the actual subjects.

          1. But if he *doesn’t* offer his new vision to the public, it will most certainly not extend to the actual subjects. Conversely, he is working towards bridging that gap. The existence of the gap is not his fault, and while some people would have the attitude you described, it’s on their conscience. And other people might come to acceptance of C53s far more easily when they have a view “through the eyes of an insider”. Acceptance is not a quick process, but it won’t happen at all if the groups keep being separated and there’s no one to bridge the gap.

            > making a choice that would affect you negatively or affects you negatively because you do not have many alternatives is still a bad choice. Being aware of that and using it to manipulate somebody so they make a choice is still a shit thing to do

            I don’t see any manipulation here. Well, it’s true that it would be better for many of BP’s models to get paid for taking kittens off the trees. But BP isn’t the one to offer them such alternative, it’s not what he does. What he does is adult photography, so he might offer them an option to be his models, or he might refrain from doing so. If he refrains from offering, it doesn’t benefit them in any way because there’s still no one who would offer them money for saving kittens, and now they are denied another possible source of money as well. If he makes an offer, it’s their decision whether they deem it acceptable; it he doesn’t, they can’t make a decision, it was made without asking them.

          2. > BP wants to be a part of a minority group that is defined by a violent “membership” of being kidnapped, given amnesia and turned into something forever without your permission. Frankly, I do believe that anyone who is actually aware what this means would never want to be part of that group, because it is truly fucked up. I get thinking about it but verbalising it is… tone deaf, to say the least.

            Where did he say he wants those things? You’re misrepresenting his wishes. What he obviously wants is to have an interesting non-human body. Case-53s are the most obvious examples of people with those sorts of bodies, but his wanting the sort of bodies they have does not imply that he wants to be put through all the horrible experiences they went through to get them. Though he should be more sensitive about it, obviously.

        2. Hi yeah uhh trans people don’t “want” to be a different gender, they ARE . That’s the issue with your comparison here.

          1. Woops, looks like I got sloppy in my terminology. Obviously what I meant by “gender-flipped” was “given sex-changes,” and what I meant by “wanting to be female” was “wanting to be biologically female.”

            Accounting for that, there is no issue with my comparison. Furcate wanted a change to their body that many would consider horrific. BP also wants a change to his body that many would consider horrific.

          2. Sorry Pizza that’s still an offensive comparison. Firstly, you’re comparing a creepy guy who intrudes on a vulnerable group to get his jollies, to a group of people who are often demonised as exactly that. See the bathroom bill arguments. That’s just insensitive.

            Secondly, they are not the same. BP has a fetish, a dehumanising fascination, whereas Furcate had dysphoria because of an internal truth. Furcate would have been receiving treatment to alleviate mental health problems. BP would have been fulfilling a gross fantasy of play acting as the object of his desire.

            More importantly don’t throw the life or death issues of trans people into an argument like this just to make a point. We deserve better than that.

          3. Sorry, but your argument is basically “don’t compare a creepy bad guy to us, because he is creepy and bad, and we are not. And also, we suffer because we can’t have what we want, and he apparently doesn’t”. The first part is exactly what Pizza’s arguing about – that BP’s wish is labeled creepy and bad without logical reasons. And I’ll address the second part: lack of suffering doesn’t make BP’s wish bad or inappropriate. It’s not that he has to earn through suffering his right to want something. Let’s imagine a perfect world where trans people are recognized and accepted in the society, are offered any help they might need, and can undergo physical changes if they want to. No more dysphoria, no more life and death issues, but that wouldn’t mean they’d have any less right to want and feel the way they are.

          4. I won’t argue that BP is a creep. I’m only arguing that it’s not his desire for an alternative body that makes him a creep. People are allowed to want different bodies. A person should not need dysphoria to justify self-modification, whether that modification is a breast implant, a nose job, a tattoo, a piercing, a bionic limb, or a transformation into the shape of a minotaur.

            As for what trans people deserve, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to insist on continuing to treat you with equality. I don’t give special treatment to any of the other categories of people who deal with life-and-death issues, and I see no reason to do any differently with you.

    5. No you probably aren’t the only disgustingly amoral liberal capitalist, I’m sure there are plenty of pure ideology spewing tools in this comment section!

  15. 1. “Ratthputin is my betht helper and Templeton is a cuddler.”
    Any references? After who Ratchatcher named Templeton? Templeton the Rat from “Charlotte’s Web” or some historical/known person?
    “Duthty Rothe and Turnaround” (mouse, and booze)
    Any references? (Is first a “Dusty Rose”?)

    2. So Big Picture is a photographer who make big pictures. Nice 🙂

    3. “any parahuman to parahuman interaction gets messy.” “They all end in tears,”
    Victoria could argue and say about her parents,.. but not right now. One could say any relations will end in tears…

    4. “Weld came by to check in” “now all hell is breaking loose”
    I guess, fake-diary/-texts masterminds have noticed investigation or communication blackout and make their move.
    Sveta was about to write Tristan something to stop “coordinating with other big teams”, probably it gone wrong. Tattletale was worried – right after Victoria hung up.

  16. I hate to be That Guy, but…

    Tattletale and Chicken Little seem to be dealing well enough with any mental scars left by Cradle.

    I know, I know… “Seem to be” is the key phrase…

    1. Or just plain NOT DEALING WITH IT. Denial is a useful mechanism when you’ve “got a job to do” (don’t help with flashbacks, struth).

  17. When Tattletale mentioned that she would have expected a human attacker to respond quicker, my first thought was that perhaps the attacker had planned for them to investigate, and already had contingencies in place– the evidence they’re following frames someone else, or the attacker can destroy their reputations the minute they try to act on it, or has already done sufficient damage and just doesn’t care about stopping them.

    Of course, I would expect Tattletale to pick up on stuff like that, and “all hell breaking loose” sure sounds like a response (and could have been set in motion before they even left Ratcatcher, with a fake text to Weld).

  18. Is Dragon going to be assimilated by the Machine Army? Will Defiant have to fight her – or will he end up having to fight off his own limbs?

    That’s my current big fear…

  19. Ratcatcher and Big Picture are theoretically an attack on Foresight leader Countenance.

    Assuming the same M.O., the diary attack on Victoria is actually an oblique assault on someone else. However, Vic’s the team lead of Breakthrough. The only “higher” target that jumps to mind using her as a vector would be Jessica Yamada (therapist to all of Breakthrough including Labrat, Bonesaw/Riley, Weld, Vista, Valkyrie/Ciara, etc).

    Of course, Yamada could be the oblique attack on Victoria, in which case I wonder if Weld is part of a 3rd target, or if this is the response to TattleVic’s actions.

  20. I still think there’s a possibility that Kenzie is behind all of this (assuming she’s not being framed). I know people keep bringing up the Machine Army, but it really doesn’t feel like them. They were never describe to communicate. Dragon also comes to mind, but this is out of character for her and requires annoying plots involving the bad guys hacking her, corrupting her backup copies, or unleashing an earlier Richter AI. I don’t feel like Dragon’s had enough presence in this story to justify those things. She only works as another framing victim.

    Kenzie, however, is a main character, so it’s perfectly legitimate for a plot to be tangled tightly around her. As for ability… She has the means to do the surveillance, better even than Dragon thanks to the time camera. She’s demonstrated several times that she’s good at hacking (the PHO servers in Glow Worm, Tattletale’s phone during the Fallen raid, and Teacher’s doorways during the Goddess arc). She’s shown with her video diaries that she’s fond of fabricating events, and during Ashley’s court hearing she showed a willingness to provide false evidence. In Glow-Worm, we saw that she’d created chat bots in the likenesses of former teammates and current friends. We’ve seen through both the chat bots and her various other bits of tech that she’s good at automation — this ties back to improved surveilance as well as the mechanical nature of things that Tattletale was picking up.

    So, that brings us to motive, which is where people usually throw their hands in the air and dismiss Kenzie, because why would she fuck everybody over? But that’s silly. This is Kenzie; accidentally fucking over everyone she cares about is her life story, and we were warned about this on numerous occasions.

    So, let’s break it all down. First, the diary. Kenzie understands people much better than the Machine Army, but she doesn’t fully grock them. What did Victoria herself describe the diary as? Rationalization. It’s somebody looking at everything Victoria has done and then trying to determine motives after the fact, without insight into what she was actually thinking beyond perhaps a few overheard mutters. This isn’t an attempt to frame Victoria. It’s an attempt to understand her. Here’s this person who has put herself out there and stuck with Kenzie through thick and thin when most others flee promptly. In a short span of months, she has become Kenzie’s second or third favorite person. But why? Why does she do this? Kenzie doesn’t know. So she pays attention and writes the diary, trying to fit it all together in a way that actually makes sense for her. That it casts Victoria’s friendship as something manipulative and self-serving isn’t the sort of thing that bothers Kenzie. Why else would anyone stick with her? Sure, Victoria’s a little messed up, but that’s okay! Kenzie will fix her!

    Next we have Ratcatcher. Ratcatcher helped free them from Goddess, so that earns Kenzie’s respect. And Ratcatcher liked her new boss. So, naturally Kenzie was shipping them, and when Ratcatcher finally started putting the moves on him and then chickened out when he played hard-to-get, Kenzie valiantly picked up the slack… and made things worse. Oops.

    Then there’s Big Picture. This was a legit subterfuge. Kenzie will have noticed Anelace flirting with Victoria and probably ships them, but she knows that Victoria and Sveta would not be able to get along with Big Picture. If Victoria is going to marry Anelace and tie Foresight and Breakthrough together, it’s best if BP isn’t in the picture. So, she dug up some dirt, leaked it, and actually managed to undermine his attempt to join Foresight with no hard feelings on either side. Go Kenzie!

    Finally, we have Weld. It’s not clear yet what happened there. Could be panic on Kenzie’s part — Victoria and Tattletale are noticing what Kenzie’s been up to, so she needs a distraction before they figure it out, freak out, ban her from the Chicken Tenders, stop doing business with her, and just plain abandon her forever like everybody else does. Or maybe this was another instance of shipping-gone-wrong. Or maybe she just thinks that now that Sveta’s able to stand on her own tendrils, she doesn’t need Weld’s support and now would be the best time to rip off the band-aid so that both of them can move on. Then Weld can hook up with Vista, and Sveta can track down Greg, and everybody will live happily ever after.

    This is only my secondary theory, though. My main theory is still Cheit and/or Teacher trying to fuck everything up and using Dragon as the scapegoat if it starts to unravel.

    1. Solid theories, plus Kenzie’s recent hug-against-the-rules is evidence of a *possible* backslide.

      I’m also leaning towards Cheit, but intentionally using Dragon as a patsy seems pretty reckless. Maybe Dragon wasn’t supposed to find the diary, but by doing so she’s forced them to accelerate their plan?

      Either way, we’re perilously close to this all tipping over in a big fluster-cluck. Victoria’s motives are under suspicion, she’s openly teaming up with Tattletale with no apparent threat to unite the villain and increasingly-violent brute heroine. A child member of team Breakthrough is separated to avoid charges of neglect/endangerment, and said child waltzes directly into the company of villains and starts working under contract for the people she just left. Damsel of Distress is out there stewing in a negative mind state, having left on bad terms. Victoria recently severely injured her own mother, having long had a very strained relationship with each other, and hasn’t been particularly involved with getting her treatment. If someone’s looking to frame Victoria, they don’t really have to stretch the truth to paint her in a very bad light. Breakthrough has always been pretty near the villain/hero line, and if their heroic leader suddenly careens over onto the villain side, it’s tough to say if the rest wouldn’t follow, even on a good day without any outside manipulation.

    2. Dear god, this seems so solid… time for “Little Sister” shenanigans! (puts on his tinfoil hat and digs an anti-atomic bunker in an non-inhabited earth)

      Kudos to you, dear sir!

  21. In regards to Sveta, I am imagining something two-fold. Weld getting the cat out of the bag and the information to be presented in a way that makes it clear V knew. Since both things are true, there is literally little to nothing neither Weld nor Victoria can do or say to deflect or explain it, because… again it is perfectly true. And I do think that this will hurt Sveta in ways that would be very hard to deal with.
    I… hope this is not the case but frankly, this is such a bomb waiting to go off, I expect it going off sooner than later.

    1. I also think that the cat may be out of the bag, especially since the fake diary actually mentioned “Sveta’s impending breakup”, so the attacker knows, and it is a perfect angle of attack.

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