Black – 13.11

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The car doors slammed with a kind of finality.  Sveta went to my side, supporting the Old Man, while Tattletale emerged and walked around the front of the car, which had its headlights on, engine left idling.  Snuff leaned over the top of the open door.

“I’ve been a bad friend,” I told Sveta.

“No.”

“I haven’t backed you up enough, and I’ve been lost in my own head enough that I didn’t connect to the fact we were coming here.”

Sveta looked up at the narrow building, not so different from others on the street.  The differences were subtle, the front face of the building a little further into the sidewalk, the peaked roof with its golden solar panels extended a little higher than any of its neighbors.  Unlike the other Wardens Headquarters, the building didn’t advertise what it was.

“I’ll deal with it,” Sveta said.  “I think it’s important to show that I can deal with it.”

“You’re within your rights to have a day, a week, or a month where you focus on dealing, or feeling, or… anything.”

“A right isn’t an obligation,” Sveta said.

“It- isn’t,” I said, changing my mind mid-sentence, ending the statement awkwardly.

The break in the conversation was marked with a flurry of snowflakes from above, with the flicker of amber streetlights on the wide, snow-dusted, one-way street, and by the background noise of Tattletale talking to Snuff.  I caught the word ‘Roadkill’.

Arranging dinner for Lookout and the others.  I hoped Lookout was doing okay, outnumbered and wrestling with family dynamics.

I hoped Sveta was okay.  That any and all of us were okay.

“Whatever’s happening with Weld, if we really are breaking up like this, that doesn’t change that he’s a role model for me.”

I nodded at that, a slow nod as I digested the thought.

“Maybe not a relationship role model, but Weld-as-a-hero?  Absolutely.”

“Absolutely,” I echoed Sveta.  I wanted to say more, but I’d been dwelling, and now I was trying to pull myself up and out of it, take care of what needed taking care of.  My mantra of doing what it took to avoid regrets was still in effect, if it wasn’t in effect more so because I was out of it, frustrated, and closer to the me of the hospital room than I had been in a while.  The words didn’t come, leaving me with just an echo of her statement.

“I want to keep that going.  If I quit on the hero shit now then aren’t I just saying I only did it because I was dating him, or because of him?”

“You’d be saying you cared about him and you needed to focus on you for a little while.  The rest of it doesn’t matter.  Nobody who matters is going to judge you.”

“I matter,” Sveta answered.

I gave her a look, tilting my head to one side, then tilted my head further.  “Can I give you a hug?”

She didn’t answer, instead putting her arms around me.  The agitation from earlier that had led to her hurting me, if very little, seemed to have passed.  I could feel the give in her shoulders, the pushback from tendrils that held them in place, the lack of structure to her upper body, and the weight of her arms.  I was aware that tendrils were supporting the Old Man a couple of feet from us.  He seemed remarkably okay with it, though he might have still been dazed by the fall down the stairs.

“I don’t get to act on my emotions,” she said.  “At best, I’d go to my- Weld’s apartment, my old room, lock myself in and relax my control.  But I don’t have a room to go back to.”

“Yeah,” I said.

A thousand thoughts went through my mind, and I felt as though I could have sorted and filed them, putting things into an order or priority, if the day hadn’t started with my meeting with Jessica and ended with Teacher’s power move.

“You’ve got a ten thousand yard stare there, Antares,” Tattletale said.  My eyes went to her, tracking her as she walked around the car.  Snuff pulled away.

Sveta broke the hug.  She gave me a curious look.

“You sent Snuff away?” I asked Tattletale.

“To get food for the sprogs.  I’m going to break my promise of being back for dinner, so I might as well feed them.  Besides, what’s he going to do if the Wardens decide to unilaterally arrest me?  Fight Dragon, Defiant, Vista and Narwhal?  He’s good but I don’t think he could beat any of those guys.”

“True,” I said.

“At this point the only reason I’d bring him along would be to protect me from you two bullying me, and he’s done a piss-poor job of it.  He’s got a long way to go before he’s a proper Jeeves.”

“A little conspicuous for a hypercompetent butler,” I noted.

The other car had parked a little further down the street, and the trio were approaching.  Engel glowed in the dark, and the glow- I had to look away.  She looked like music and the smell of flowers.  Synesthesia.  It was deeply uncomfortable.

“Come on,” Tattletale said, winking at me.  “Let’s see how fucked you all are.”

She really didn’t have to word it that way.

The trio joined us, following a little ways behind as we entered the building.

It was late enough that the lighting had inverted inside the Warden’s headquarters.  Earlier, the light that had shone down and inside had been from the windows, diffuse and soft.  Now it was light from the walls and corners, starting from the places that shadows had been earlier, while the windows and surrounding areas were dark.  This light was sharp and stark, with fairly clear distinctions on the walls between where the beams touched and where they didn’t, the ‘didn’t’ catching only the diffuse, dull reflections, and only where the gleaming wood grain was raised.

This lighting fit the way we’d disposed of the four prisoners this morning, and disposed of the other prisoners earlier in the week.  It somehow fit that mornings were the time we ended up doing most of them; capes stayed up late and slept in, really slept in, in the case of Ratcatcher and her ilk, and our nine in the morning was the equivalent of two in the morning for ordinary people.  It was also possible that my feelings about mornings were because I really wasn’t a morning person.

There were staff members inside, including a receptionist and a few people in business formal clothing.  They were tracking the news, crowded around a phone.  It was possible they’d been on their way home when the details hit the media.

Multiple sets of eyes turned our way.  I had to convince myself that there was no way that details of the diary would have been disseminated and shared yet, that it was more about Engel, Egg, and Scraping than about attitudes and resentment.

No, those feelings would come soon, I was sure, but not now.

I stopped by the receptionist’s desk.

“Can I help you, Antares?”

“Heavy question,” Tattletale said, quiet enough I wasn’t sure the receptionist caught it.  I avoided reacting.

“Can you page the office?  Antares, Tress, and Tattletale coming in with a… I guess a prisoner and three guests who might have useful information.  Tell them our prisoner is Case Twelve, they should know what it means, and tell them he’ll need medical care.  Um, I think it’d be best if we took security precautions.”

“Precautions?” Tattletale asked, behind me.

I’d hoped she was far enough back to not hear me.  Good ears.

“Um,” the receptionist said, tapping a few keys.  There was a hint of nervousness there.  “Precautions.”

Her hand moved to one corner of the keyboard.  The F-keys.  The lip of the counter around the receptionist’s desk blocked Tattletale’s view of her hand.

“Yeah,” I said.

“The power grid is overloaded.  Can you wait a minute?”

“It’s fine either way,” I said.  I saw the receptionist relax.

So, apparently, did Tattletale.  “Coded question and answer?  I approve.”

It was one of four special codes that had been shared with me, but there were apparently six in total.  ‘Can you wait a minute’ translated to ‘should I hit the alarm?’ and any yes or no answer was confirmation.  It was good that she’d asked, faced with an unfamiliar situation and faces she didn’t know.

Really annoying that Tattletale had caught it so quickly.  Now we’d have to change it up.

The receptionist typed for a few long seconds, then paused.  I could see the change in what was on the screen in the tint and brightness of the light that reflected off of her glasses.

“Lobby, stairs, or elevator to an upper floor?” she asked.

I looked around the lobby.  I was wondering exactly what she meant when I saw her hand hovering over that corner of the keyboard.

“Stairs,” I said.  “Thank you.”

Without a smile, the receptionist nodded.

We headed to the stairwell.  The lighting was even more focused there, halogen bright, highlighting stairs and wall without shining into our eyes at any point.

“Come on,” Sveta told the Old Man.  “Lean on me.  You’ve fallen down enough stairs today.”

“Funny girl,” the Old Man replied, humorless.

Egg, Engel, and Scraping were utterly silent, but they followed.  Our progress was slow, because the Old Man was hurt but he didn’t want to be outright carried.

“Curious,” Tattletale said, walking with her gloved hands clasped behind her.  Her coat flapped around her legs as she ascended.  “You say we’re ‘going in’, but then she brings up the lobby.  Another code, but I didn’t get this one.”

“You’re being annoying,” I told her.  “Surprisingly annoying.”

“Very,” Sveta echoed.

“I’m just being me,” Tattletale said.

“Is it a thing where you get cranky and ramp it up?”

“No.  On a day this lousy, we need to find joy in the little things.  This is interesting.  The heart of the heroes.”

“I can’t help but wonder if you revel in these lousy sorts of days,” I observed.  “I remember the Undersiders doing quite well when Brockton Bay was at its worst.”

“Ah,” Tattletale said.  There was a gleam in her eyes as I glanced back.  “I sense a teeny tiny bit of resentment there.”

“A bit.”

“You’re not wrong.  I like picking up the pieces and puzzling them back together.  Is that the dark line of thought that’s been eating at you for the past fifteen minutes?  Resentment?  Thinking about how the troubles in Brockton Bay started with Coil doing something similar?”

“No,” I said.

“Can’t puzzle you out right now.”

We reached the first landing.  I looked up, and I spotted the security camera.

“What?” Tattletale asked.

When I reached for her, she was already pulling back.  Sveta took my cue, grabbing Tattletale and keeping her from retreating.

I raised a hand, waving at the security camera.

The appearance of the hole in reality wasn’t as noisy, with the work Lookout had done earlier.  I wasn’t even sure the people in the lobby heard.  There was a snow-dusted landscape on the far side.

“Not funny,” Tattletale said.

With Sveta helping, I chucked Tattletale through, then raised my hand again.

The portal closed.

“A little funny,” I whispered to myself.

Sveta, by contrast, had body language that betrayed her worries.  Tendrils reached out of the sleeves of her patchwork coat to help wring her hands.  They ran along the backs and fingers of hands where the wrinkles and textures of flesh weren’t quite right, and where fingers didn’t end in proper nails, with stick-on nails pretty clearly stuck on.  She glanced back at the other case fifty-threes.

“Same methods as Cauldron, Sveta?” Egg asked.  “Dimensional doors, snatching people.”

“Fuck off, Egg.  I’m really not in the mood.”

“Calling it like I see it.”

“The catchphrase of assholes everywhere,” I murmured to Sveta, as I put a hand on her shoulder and led her to the corner of the landing that was furthest from the other group.  “You okay?”

“Yeah.  You’re sure?” she asked.  “About Tattletale?”

“Can’t have her looking at our security apparatus,” I said.  “The way she’s been talking, she might actually figure something out.  That’s bad.  But she might also press buttons and let us know she knows, in which case everyone freaks out.  This is simpler.  Let her cool off.”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s hope this isn’t so much of a routine shift that it screws up the password procedure,” I told her.

The Old Man was looking so out of it I wasn’t even sure if he’d registered everything that was going on.

“You okay?” I asked him.

“I’m looking forward to lying down,” he said.  He visibly tried to straighten to his full height, something he hadn’t even been doing when working at the counter in the Lodge.  He swayed slightly, was steadied by Sveta, and seemed to realize he was doing it, because he managed to stop.  As much as he presented more of an image of strength, he conceded, “I’m worried.”

“What we’re doing right now, we’re doing to protect you.  Feeding people parts of yourself is gross and concerning, but it’s not our priority right now.”

“I’ll cooperate,” he said, smiling.

He had a bit of a creepy vibe.  It sucked that my feelings about the guy were so mixed.  On the one hand, creepy reverse-cannibal.  On the other, he was a survivor of a kind we really didn’t have enough of.  Every minute, hour, or day he lived, he was blazing new ground, as far as I knew.  Raising the bar for all of us.

“Don’t touch the diagrams.  Follow behind Sveta,” I said.

“What happens if we don’t listen?” Egg asked.

“Alarms go off, battle-ready parahumans come storming in from all directions.  You get interrogated.  It changes the attitudes they have toward you.”

“Do not,” Engel told Egg.  “I want to make a good impression.”

Egg scowled, face cracking in twenty places, but he acquiesced.

We walked up the stairs, and the hallway lit up with its two dimensional shapes, running along the wall and floating through the air.  Piecing together the password required using the fragments around me to make the image appear right from my perspective.  Step one was the five-sided snowflake, bracket moved toward the hollow square, greater-than sign moved to another corner- I was missing the middle part, and I found it on the wall, touched it, and slid it in the direction I wanted, until it was three-quarters of the way down the hall, but centered in the image in front of me.

Confirmed.

Step two for my password was what I’d committed to memory as the ‘upward hourglass’.  Triangle, triangle, diamond for the center, then brackets moved and rotated to top and bottom, the ‘prongs’ of the brackets all facing skyward.

Confirmed.

I cleared the five stages of the password, walking forward at a steady, casual rate, and the portal opened at the end of the hall.  Beyond, I could see the bunker.  The Warden’s headquarters, illuminated with spotlights at the exterior.  Areas under construction were decorated with yellow ribbons and sashes, blocked off with gray tarps.

“Into the belly of the beast,” the Old Man grumbled.  It was possible that the interdimensional stuff was far enough out of his wheelhouse that his composure was cracking.  Pain and hurt might have played a part.  That the bunker was a little bit on the imposing side might have played another.

Defiant waited outside the headquarters.  On seeing us, he approached, footsteps not heavy in the ground-shaking, clumsy way that I tended to associate with the word, but solid, leaving no room for ambiguity.

“Case Twelve,” Defiant said.

“Apparently recognized from a decades-old case file,” the Old Man said.

“Who?” Defiant asked, finger extended toward me, Sveta, then a general gesture for Engel’s group.

“Me,” I told him.

“Good,” he said.

“Tress helped,” I added.  “Kept him in one piece after the villains were provoked.  Tattletale thought it was a maneuver from our culprit.”

“Tress.  You’re one of Armstrong’s,” Defiant said.

“I- yes.  Kind of.”

“I like Armstrong.  There was a time I had my eyes set on Boston, and I imagined him and I making a good team, complementing each other’s strengths.  I’m… now glad I didn’t get that position, having learned more about who I am.”

“He mentioned you once or twice in passing, I think.  Even years later.”

“I hope it was flattering,” Defiant said.  “Tell me, is our Case Twelve an immediate concern?”

“No,” the Old Man answered for me.

I answered, “Only his health, as far as I can tell.  Little Midas pushed him down the stairs to score points with the more violent villain faction.  Tattletale said something about wanting to check him, or see if they scanned him to inspire tinker tech they’re using.”

“And Tattletale?”

“We stuck Tattletale in the prison world so she wouldn’t crack our passwords.”

“I know, and that’s good,” Defiant said.  “We put her in area Z-X.  Z-Y and Z-Z are being used for storage.  But what do I need to know before bringing her out?  Is she a concern?”

“She’s cooperated, played ball, and she has a pretty good sense of what’s going on.”

“She usually does.  They’re discussing the situation inside.  Some of the details are private.  I’ll have to ask our guests here to wait while you two go in.  I’ll open the door for Tattletale and fill her in on what we can.”

“That sounds perfect,” I said.

I felt a bit of trepidation at going inside.  On my last visit, I’d found out that Jessica no longer believed in me, and that Dragon had been sitting on a very ugly perception of who I was as a person.  False, but the kind of false that hewed close to reality.

He might have noticed me hanging back, because he said, “Once Dragon started believing you, she started investigating.  We think her searches tripped a switch, which prompted the attack.”

“Tattletale said something similar,” I noted.

“Dragon is sorry,” Defiant said.  “We all are, I think.”

That idea, ‘we all’, it suggested more than him and her.  I wasn’t sure it included Jessica.  I could imagine talks being had, about whether I was a problem.

“No need for apologies.  Makes sense to do, right?  Got to keep an eye on things.  There’s no PRT keeping tabs on dangerous parahumans.”

“You can be sorry even when wholly justified in your actions,” he said.

“Can you?”

“I think so.”

Was he talking about his time as Armsmaster, and his retirement of the name and role after the Endbringer fight?  I’d heard the rumors and reports from the other Wards, once upon a time.  The statement didn’t quite line up with it.

It was Sveta’s hand on my arm that helped get me moving.  I pulled off my mask and lowered my hood.  To be more open, to be less threatening, to people I’d explicitly threatened.

Door locks clicked and let me in.  Scattered members from various teams were present.  It wasn’t even leadership, it was too soon for that.  It looked like it was whoever had been closest.  Dragon, Legend, and Valkyrie were at the head of the room.  I saw Vista, Golem, and Cuff, Rescue, Effervescent, Houndstooth, Lark, and Mayday.  Moonsong’s friend with a name I couldn’t recall was taking notes.

No Weld.  I could see Sveta relax a fraction.

No non-parahuman staff, it seemed.

“Welcome,” Dragon greeted us, as we passed through the door.  “Let it be known for transcripts that Antares, AKA Victoria Dallon, and Tress, aka Sveta, neither of whom have secret identities, have entered the room.”

Vista had a laptop with her.  Carrying it in one hand, she brought it over, setting it down on the table.  She paged up to show us what we’d missed.

Situation handled, security breach repaired.  Temporary moratorium on all online communications and downloads bought time to patch the damage and run damage control.  The mayor and her husband were working on the business and interdimensional relations front.  Conflict was not expected but they were planning to be ready regardless.

Dragon’s presenting style seemed to be to start from the general and then hammer in specifics.  That was the general.

Specifics: the security breach wasn’t a thing.  Yes, some redundant security code had been used, yes, it was flawed, and they suspected the culprit was why.  It was groundwork laid weeks in advance.  But it had been spotted and ninety percent fixed.  The culprit had pushed the false story regardless.  Proving the falsehood would require a lot of businesses and groups to share private data on how they’d managed things, and that was going to be an uphill battle.

The brief internet blackout had been fought and delayed, forcing use of actual munitions to enact.  It had led to minutes passing before the blackout took effect, after which point the adversary had ceased fighting.  Speculation: they’d wanted those minutes, nothing else.

I skimmed other, lesser details, with lists of businesses and groups that may have been more explicitly targeted, but nothing jumped out at me, and Legend’s words were more interesting.

“We think this is more groundwork, a platform that lets them launch further attacks.  If details, emails, personal information or secrets are leaked in coming weeks, then people won’t ask who.  They’ll be interested in what, because their curiosity is piqued.”

“We should do everything we can to keep this from being named,” Lark said.  “If it gets coined as a term then it moves us even further from the ‘who’.  We should also pay attention to the initial details they share.  If this becomes a battlefield where we’re painted as the bad guys, quote-unquote ‘leakers’ will be held up as heroes.  We want to combat that, and it’s going to be hard.”

I found myself nodding along.  I didn’t like Lark, he’d been scummy and and tried to use me to get Amy into Auzure, his corporate team, but there was no denying that he and Legend knew their PR and image stuff.

“We agree there,” Legend said.  “We’ve already seen some hints of how subtle this can be.  Dragon?”

“Once I found the telltale signs, I uncovered two incidents, in addition to Antares’ case.  I hope you don’t mind my raising the subject, Antares.”

“No,” I said.  I hadn’t seen mention of my diary in the transcript.

“They manufactured months worth of falsified diary entries and planted them on Antares’ computer, put in key phrases they knew would trip my alarms when Antares shared files with me, and led me to think poorly of Antares for weeks.”

“What kind of thing are we talking about?” Rescue asked.

“Diary entries with zero alibis, matching times I was online.  Filled with details suggesting I’ve been watched every minute for weeks or months.  They fit how I’d write and almost fit how I’d think.  Except it’s twisted.  Talking about using my teammates as pawns, manipulate them, hurt them for my own goals.  It’s me if I was a manipulator playing the long game.”

“Yes,” Dragon said.  “The two other entries I found before other things demanded my attention dated to when the villains were lashing out violently.  One was a false piece of surveillance, suggesting one group had been more violent than they were.  It impacted decisions we made and how we signed off on Super Magic Dream Parade going all-out against those villains.  The other incident was an exchange between local law enforcement and capes in Advance Guard.  The outgoing message was altered to be more dismissive and aggressive.  It may have played a part in police not cooperating as fully as they might have.”

“Antares mentioned something might have happened with Foresight,” Effervescent said.

“There are a few more incidents,” I noted.  “They disrupted recruitment efforts for Foresight, driving off Ratcatcher and Big Picture.  All of the attacks we’ve tracked down so far are two-pronged, hurting multiple parties at once.  Ratcatcher’s move was to pull her away from the group while hurting Countenance’s reputation.  Big Picture was a ploy to deny Foresight a recruit while simultaneously denying a colleague of Big Picture the ability to use Foresight’s resources to gather information.  Protecting themselves.”

“You know who they are?” Valkyrie asked.

“They’re Teacher’s thralls, acting on Teacher’s behalf.  We’re almost positive.  The long story short is that he fully staffed Cauldron’s old base and is staying out of reach.  Tattletale can explain the breadth of this to you better than I can.  She’s talking to Defiant for now.”

“Then let’s skip a few sections and move straight into need-to-know,” Legend said.  “That will let us get to where we talk to Tattletale sooner.  The way this is set up, we can expect they will make moves in coming hours, days, and weeks.  They’ll reveal secrets and mix falsehood with fact, saying it’s what they found or downloaded in the minutes that we weren’t able to bring things down.  I can already anticipate three major angles of attack.”

“Scion,” Mayday said.

“It’s possible.  People still have questions.  Breakthrough opened the doors to that when they appeared on Hard Boil, and we’ve all done our parts in sharing necessary pieces of information.  Changing the narrative, twisting it, or incriminating people or groups could be devastating, given how close to home this is.  The other possible angles are sharing just how bad things are elsewhere.  The Machine Army, the rising rate of broken triggers, the wars over footing that we’ve been engaged in, among other things.”

“And the last?” Lark asked.

Legend looked at Dragon.

Oh no.

“Some of you know this.  Many don’t.  I am not human,” Dragon said.

I felt a chill creep over me.  Okay, my ‘oh no’ might have been understated.

“Not human how?” Mayday asked.

“I was created by a tinker, who is now deceased.  I was made with heavy restrictions and I live by several of those restrictions today.”

“That’s why I can’t read you,” Effervescent said.

That’s the least concerning thing, Effervescent.  There’s so many cases of things derived from powers going sour or getting screwed up.

“I’m an A.I., and people will panic when they find out,” Dragon said.  “Some of you might feel the need to panic or be concerned now.  Please trust me when I say I am the same person who has been fighting on the side of the heroes since I was created.  Nothing has changed.”

Fuck.

The chill redoubled as I recalled Tattletale’s phrasing around Dragon.  She knew.  Dangerous knowledge to have.

“For what it’s worth, I give my full faith to Dragon,” Legend said.  “She’s a true heroine.”

She was.  Just… it really sucked that it was one of the best of us who had such a glaring weak point for our enemy, now.

Dragon went on, “I won’t push for immediate answers, but I want people to know we should be open where possible.  Share what you think is necessary, so we know and can come to terms with it before there’s a bigger problem.”

“Then I’ll be upfront,” Lark said.  “I planned to share this before anyone mentioned anything.  Auzure got started after Gold Morning with illicit funds.  Nothing too worrying, but when we contributed to the Navigators’ work in dealing with human trafficking, it was because we realized our role in one specific incident, and we wanted to make amends.  I lost sleep over it.  I still do, if I think about it too much.”

“He’s being honest,” Effervescent said.  “There’s stuff we need to cover from Foresight, but I have to run it by the boss first.

Secrets, lies, and dirty laundry.

I could wrestle my head around Dragon being what she was.  By deed, by action, and by the impact she’d had on the world, she was a heroine.  I didn’t trust powers and I worried about anything big that came from powers, but… I could look past that.

But Effervescent’s comment was followed by Mayday talking about a settled lawsuit, which made me think of my history as Glory Girl.  Too violent, too rushed, people got hurt.  All was happy in the end, but it was the kind of thing that could be put in a very ugly light.

“Anything else?” Legend asked.  “Most of you know my history.  Those who don’t, you can talk to me after.”

I heard a faint creaking, and saw Sveta clenching her fist.

“If there’s nothing else, we should bring in our guest.”

“Guests,” I said.  “We brought two case fifty-threes and their colleague.  They’ve seen Teacher’s installation.  I think Tattletale is holding off on questioning them because she’s worried about being overheard.”

“We should be safe here,” Legend said.

I nodded.

Nobody else had any dirt to volunteer, so Dragon turned her head to the window.  Her voice wasn’t loud enough he should have heard.  “Defiant?”

Some other kind of communication.

Eerie, in context.  What was Armsmaster or Defiant in light of this?

Tattletale grinned at me as she entered, like she thought being unceremoniously chucked into a prison dimension was a good laugh, or because she was trying to nettle me.  Egg gave Sveta a dark look.

Defiant followed them in, then stood at the door.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” Legend said.

“For sure.”

“Start us off?”

“What we talk about here doesn’t leave this Earth,” Tattletale said.  “Teacher can’t see us here, he can’t hear us, and if we’re going to get out ahead of this, it means being careful and decisive.  We brought some help for figuring out the layout and context of what’s going on, I already know a few ways we could potentially get in there… it requires less energy and manpower to leave a door open than to constantly open and close them, and having an emergency way in and out gives Teacher security if he loses his horde of tinkers.  There’s a way, but it’s not an easy one.”

Sensations swam around and through me.  Tastes, smells, touches, and visual patterns.  Engel was barely doing anything.  It wasn’t ‘love’ as an emotion, or else I’d have some defense against it, but it was something approximate, a dizzying, thrilling, sublime set of fucking sensations I wanted nothing of.

Being around Engel was getting to me.  I’d already spent most of the car ride here in a dark place, in part because Engel had set me on the road there, but in combination with the lingering feelings I had about the way Dragon and Jessica had treated me, I wasn’t sure I had this in me.  The main room of the Wardens’ bunker was spacious and it still felt claustrophobic.  Effervescent was giving me a look.

“If it’s alright, I’m going to duck out for a breath of fresh air,” I said.  “This is a retread of stuff I’ve spent the day investigating, and it’s been a long day.  I’ll read the transcript after.”

“Not at all.  It’s understandable.  Thank you for your contributions, and your efforts to uncover what’s going on,” Legend said.  “Tattletale, can you start by walking us through what you know?”

“I can,” Tattletale said, smiling.

I didn’t really trust myself to speak.  With everything going on, knowing he’d left Cauldron in a tumultuous time and that there were reasons for that, it had still felt good to hear kind words from someone as big as Legend.

“I’ll be right back,” Vista said.

It was only after the glass-like door had shut behind me that I felt like I could breathe again.  Sveta and Vista had followed me out.

“Sword of Damocles poised over our heads.  A threat of blackmail or losing all standing at any point in time,” Sveta observed.

“If we can’t beat Teacher, we might have to make hard decisions,” I said, still trying to get to grips.  I was aware of Engel behind me.

“Hard?  I don’t follow,” Sveta said.

“Whether we take our lumps, play nice, and trust that people will turn around… or if we stop treating them like they’re a consideration?”

“Them?” Sveta asked.

“Civilians.”

“Victoria, no,” Sveta said, sounding genuinely horrified.

Vista was silent, serious, and utterly unsurprised.  I wondered if the idea had already come up in some fashion.  Had it been discussed among the Wardens?

“I don’t want it either.  There’s always been a divide, and it just got wider.  Getting back to a comfortable or even slightly uncomfortable middle ground is going to require a hell of a lot of effort not just from us, but from them.  From the civilians.  And I’m not sure if they’re ready or willing to meet us in the middle.”

“I want to say you’re wrong, that… neighbors and friends and people I took a cooking class with have all been decent to me,” Sveta said.

She wanted to say it, instead of just saying it.

“Yeah,” I said.  “It’s not the option, it’s a option.  It won’t be easy, either way.”

Vista was quiet, “Saying we don’t care what you little people think, we’re going to do what we need to do… or trying to be friendly while some asshole out there stokes fears and makes us out to be monsters.”

I looked up at the starry sky above.  My eyelid flickered as a fat snowflake hit it.  Sveta, at the same time, looked down at the ground.

“This isn’t turning out to be a breath of fresh air,” I said.  I didn’t feel better after leaving that claustrophobic space, Engel pressing in on my every physical sense.

“Can we walk?” Vista asked.  “You wanted to know how our mission went earlier.  Foresight and the Wardens had our team-up.  We succeeded.”

I couldn’t even remember what I’d asked her about.  I just nodded my agreement to the walk.  Putting distance between us and the ongoing discussion.

The route she led us on should have clued me in, but I was caught up in thinking about implications.

The row of cells.  Parahumans awaiting sentencing.  Lights were on inside, illuminating cells.

I saw the Old Man first.  Two doctors were in there with him.  Sufficiently private, maybe.  The door had been left open.  Defiant would have warned them about not ingesting his fluids,which might have been why they wore face masks with clear plastic panes.

And in the other hallway, I saw Colt and Love Lost, both awake.  Jessica stood outside Colt’s cell.  She’d already noticed me.

I approached, my heart hammering.

“Victoria,” she said.  “Sveta, hello.  Vista.”

My hand touched my visor, where it hung from my belt.  I looked around.

“I am so sorry about earlier,” she told me.

Same thing as Defiant.  Same answer.  “You had every reason to think the worst of me.”

“I could have handled it better, at the very least.”

I shrugged, looking at the cells.

“Is Precipice around?” Colt asked, raising her voice.

I shook my head.  “No.”

“I’ll see him soon, I guess.  I’ve lost track of what time it is.”

Jessica said something to Colt, then walked our way.  So we wouldn’t have an audience.

My backup, Sveta and Vista, didn’t leave.

“Can I have a word with Victoria alone?” Jessica asked.

“It’s up to Victoria,” Sveta answered.

I knew she loved Jessica, that Jessica was one of her favorite people and one of the very few people she’d ever had in her corner.  That this had to be a really hard line to draw.

It meant a lot.  I needed to make it up to Sveta.

“You can go.  Thanks,” I said.  “But stick around?”

“Sure,” Sveta said.

Vista and Sveta walked off a bit.

It was cold, the path down to the prison area was the same slope and cliff edge that seemed to bring the cold air down while letting the warm air get lost.  The path was lit by bulbs on sticks, the prison and the more distant bunker itself illuminated more by lights on the outside than by anything on the inside.  The spotlights and lamps caught drifting snowflakes and turned them into water droplets, which mottled the light.

“I don’t know what to say,” Jessica told me.

“You’re fine,” I responded.  “It’s the nature of what we’re up against.”

“It doesn’t feel fine to me.  It feels fine to you?”

“No.”

“I know it’s not an excuse, but for context, I did not handle being cast away very well.  Sent to another dimension with some of my most difficult patients, knowing what was at stake, that I was abandoning my patients.  I tried to do too much after coming back and I struggled- failed on multiple counts.  I failed you.”

“Is it kind of messed up or unfair that I can remember you walking me through the process of how to go about an apology, when I wanted to address all the people I hurt as Glory Girl?  And now it feels a bit bullet-pointy that you’re hitting all the usual notes?  Acknowledge blame, get a response, promise to do better, yadda yadda?”

“It doesn’t mean the apology isn’t genuine.  I really do mean it.  Feeling some resentment is entirely fair.”

“No, it’s just-” I started, stopped.  “I don’t know what I can say here, that isn’t lashing out.  I already regret what I said just now, about apologizing.”

“Don’t.  Some lashing out is fair.”

“I’ve tried to take care of that team.  Look after the people.  If they’re a little banged up, missing, or in tougher spots, it’s because of what’s thrown at us.  Not because I think of them as pawns or anything.”

“I know that now.  I know we’ve differed in opinion on some things, Victoria, but it was always my impression that you would treat them with kindness, care, and concern.  You kept Rain alive when people wanted to kill him and they’re in custody now.  You found out about Kenzie’s parents, something she kept a secret from me, and you got her into a healthier place.”

“Different, not necessarily healthier.  She’s spiraling again, I think.”

Concern crossed Jessica’s face.  “How badly?”

“I feel like three or four really difficult conversations and a very watchful eye will cover it.  Not sure though.”

“I’ll trust you there, and I’ll send a colleague her way.  Are you aware I’m taking a leave of absence?”

“I’m aware.”  It had come up in passing earlier in the day.

“I can’t be a good therapist as I am now.  I can provide some advice and perspective, but that’s all I’ll be doing.  I’ll be available for absolute emergencies, if you need me.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “Take care of yourself.”

“I’ll try,” she said.

So formal, so rote.  All so careful, like neither of us wanted to step on the other person’s toes.

“Are you here to talk to Colt or Love Lost?”

I turned toward the prison, looked at the rows of high-tech cells, glass and chickenwire, all see through walls with only some panels up for privacy.  Vents seemed to direct warm air into the individual cells.

“In part,” I said.  “Partially to get away.  Other stuff.”

“Do you want company?”

I shook my head.

“Good excuse for me to go home?” she asked.  She made it an offer, light, friendly.

“Yeah,” I told her.  “Safe travel, you know?  It’s messy out there.”

“It’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be tense, as we see how this unfolds.  I hope it doesn’t hit you too hard.”

It already hit pretty hard.  I feel like a lot of relationships and connections have been fucked with, even though people are ninety percent sure it’s fake, now.

I didn’t say it.  Instead, I told her, “Tattletale is dishing on what we uncovered today.  She’ll have details she’s figured out that she hasn’t shared with me.  It might be worth picking up a copy of any transcripts.”

“I’ll do that,” she told me.  “Good luck with Colt and Love Lost.”

“Thank you,” I said.  I thought for a second, then impulsively added, “Mind telling Vista and Sveta to stay put for a minute?”

She gave me a quizzical look.  The sore spot where I’d been doubted so much still smarted, even from that simple look.

“It’s for a good reason,” I told her, even though I wasn’t sure.

“Then I will,” she said.

She walked past me, toward the headquarters and the two girls.  I walked past her to the prison.

Being deceptive felt shitty, especially leveraging her guilt.  But Jessica didn’t need more to deal with, and I was worried she’d stop me if I told her the unvarnished truth.

There were guards on duty, but they were caught up in their own business.  One or two looked at me as I made my way down the hall, but my interaction with Jessica or Vista vouching for me seemed to give me a pass.  They didn’t stop me either.

“Hi,” Colt said.

“Hi,” I replied.

“I have a court appointment tomorrow,” she said.  “Mrs. Yamada thinks I have something in my powers messing with my head.  If it’s true, it might change things.”

“Good luck,” I said.

“Thank you.”

In these sterile rooms that were more window than wall, I saw the beds and the stainless steel combination toilet and sink that made me think of the asylum.  Locked doors, therapists, guards.

I couldn’t trust Jessica with this because of a fundamental difference in our philosophies.  It wasn’t a pretty difference, and that difference had been clearly marked out for me in the diary.  Being here, I was closer to being the Victoria of the diary than the Victoria I was so sure Jessica would want me to be.

Jessica wanted to get us to a place where we were dealing.  Where we were equipped with the skills to battle our own issues, to handle conflict and confrontations.

I’d tried that.  I was so, so weary of it.  The game.  The back and forth.  Consideration, when none was extended back.  It was so hard, so difficult.  I was so tired of dealing.  I wanted to at least consider what we needed to do so things were dealt with.

“I want to make a transaction,” I said.

I’d walked past Colt, down to the end of the row.  One of the prisoners had changed into his prison outfit, letters marked down each leg and the side of the costume.  He was a skinny guy with styled hair and a beard a little too long and frizzy to be stylish.  Brown hair, brown beard, a long face, and rectangular frame glasses.  On the end of the bed, a uniform was laid out, black coat, bodysuit, and pants, with silver branches worked into the design.

Across from him was his partner in crime.  Blond, tousle-haired in a way he’d tried to do with styling gel, but looked forced, still wearing his white bodysuit with black branches.  He’d only taken his jacket off.  His eyes and nose were red, cheeks wet, his face a perpetual scowl.  I couldn’t imagine not removing a costume with those hard branch bits.  Maybe he was denying his new reality.

Whatever.

“What’s the transaction?” the one with the beard and brown hair asked.  He stood from his cot, adjusting his glasses.

I didn’t answer right away.

The two of them were Orchard.  Ex-Boston.  Apparently people Ashley had crossed paths with, in a former life.  Slave peddlers who used their individual powers to alter slaves in mind and body, to fit custom orders.  Vista had said the Wardens and Foresight had been successful in picking them up.

There was a slot for file folders built into the door.  I picked them up, paging through.

If everything else hadn’t thrust me into a bad place, the pictures here would have.  Before and after pictures.  Abducted people, then what Bonesaw would have called art.  What my sister would have decried as a mistake.  A young man made to have the heads and legs of a dog, only the trunk of the body normal.  Three women, apparently abductees from overseas, made to look identical, the ‘after’ picture showing them sitting in a row, smiling the same smile.  A Mr. Sheppard had paid for a Mrs. Sheppard, wife, to be changed into an old woman, paying forty thousand dollars for the procedure, and another fifty thousand for the mental changes to go with it.  There was a picture of Legend, same features, hair, build, and costume.  An exact likeness bought and paid a dizzying price for by villains trying some obscure scheme.  It hadn’t worked.

There were others.  One to four jobs a year brought in enough money to keep this pair living comfortably.  There had been a two-year hiatus after one had been injured when capes came after them.  They’d escaped overseas.

Just being near them made me feel nauseous.  The files also gave me names to put to that ugly feeling and creeping horror.  The one with the beard, now in his uniform, was ‘Mr. Bough’.  The other with pale skin, pale hair, and red eyes and nose was ‘Mr. Drowsing’.  Cape names.

“Mr. Bough, you’re going away for a long time.”

“It’s probable.  No court, no justice.  Just… this, I suppose?”

“Not even,” I told him.  “We have a place to send you.  Because you’re dangerous, we’ll put you somewhere especially remote, so any other prisoners in the same world aren’t likely to find you.”

“Remote?”

“A prison world.  Pushed through a portal like the one that brought you here, with a pallet of supplies.  Then you fend for yourself.”

“Oh Lord,” Mr. Drowsing mewled.  “Oh god.”

“You’re offering me a way out?” Mr. Bough asked.

“Fuck that,” I told him.  “Fuck no.  But I think a guy who lived the kind of lifestyle you did is used to his comforts.  I helped uncover a conspiracy today.  I have some clout, or favors I can pull in.  We can provide some comforts-”

“Victoria!” I heard Sveta.

She and Vista raced forward like there was a danger.  Some of the guards stationed outside an empty cell a few cells down rose to their feet.

They weren’t rushing because they were worried about me.  This pair was so scummy, I imagined, that it conjured up imaginings of deals with the devil, as though any shake of the hands could doom things forever.

“Vista explained what you were after,” Sveta said.  “These guys are supposedly utter monsters.  What are you even doing?”

Mr. Bough stared at her, studying her, even approaching the corner of his cell that put him nearest to her.

“She wants me to fix you,” he said.

Sveta looked at me.

“You… you despise this stuff, Victoria.  The unquestionable monsters, biokinesis-”

I looked away.

“-You can’t even hear it without flinching!  What are you doing?”

“I’m asking about options,” I said.

“Why?  You don’t have to.”

“I do have to,” I told her.  “I have to do something so I’m actually changing something for the better, for people I care about.  We’ve been fighting against this slow grind and dealing and we’re getting worn out and worn down.  I want permanent, good changes.  I want to get at least a few things dealt with.”

“All at once, today?  Why?”

“Not today,” I said.  “I’ve been asking around and looking at options for a little while now.  Uh, options for the Capricorn brothers, asking a power specialist.  I talked to someone about placing Lookout, given her special needs.  Sent out some emails about hand tinker stuff and changers who modify their hands, to see if it’s useful for Rain or fixing up Ashley’s hands, or helping you.”

“And talking to biotinkers, despite everything else that’s happened, for me.”

“You more than anyone,” I told her, with some emotion in my voice.  “Because you’re my best friend.”

“I didn’t ask for it.  I didn’t ask if you’d do this for me.”

“But you want it,” I said.

She didn’t respond, emotions crossing her face.  When Vista touched her arm, more of a support pillar than I was, Sveta came free of the train of thought, nodding.

“There are other reasons,” I said.  “For me looking into this for you, specifically.  I knew some of what was going on with Weld-”

I saw the pain in her face at that.

“-And I wanted to bring it up somehow, but I didn’t know how.  I thought- if I could find a good, safe way to give you something good, maybe that would help on a level, if and when he went forward with it.”

“How long did you know?” she asked.

“Weeks.”

“Fuck it, Victoria.  What the absolute fuck?”

“I don’t want to watch you hold this in, and I don’t want to watch you struggle with forces outside of your control.  And I know this is stupid, it’s a long shot, and it’s probably retreading old ground you or others have looked into, but… I wanted to try.”

“Try?  Are you aware of happens if we try and fail?”

“More than anyone,” I said.

“Not that,” Sveta said.  “Not what Amy did to you.”

I floated back a half-step, involuntary.

“I’m saying it, blunt, because that’s what we’re talking about.  You can’t offer me hope and have it be for nothing.  That would hurt more than anything.”

I nodded.  “I did tell Jessica to tell you guys to hang back a minute.”

“She did,” Vista said.

I’d originally planned to include her from the beginning, but when Jessica had been leaving, and I’d been faced with the decision to bring Sveta along or not, this way had felt more sensible.

After a pause, Sveta seemed to accept the line of thought, though it was a far cry from accepting everything.

“I want good things for you,” I said, meeting Sveta’s eyes, my own eyes moist.  “You backed me up when it counted and I want to do the same, but I can’t even give you a reassuring hug on days like today.”

Sveta blinked a few times, trying to be angry, but getting teary instead.  The tears were black, welling in the inner corners of her eyes.

Vista pulled out a tissue from her belt, which Sveta took.  She was remaining the mostly silent ally to the both of us.  A referee.  I was aware guards were close enough to hear, and so were the two prisoners.

My heart pounded as much as it had in any fight.  I hadn’t handled this well.  This… it came from black thoughts in the car ride.  From thoughts of indulging in monsters, wading into murkier waters.  It wasn’t familiar ground, and now I was repeating Jessica’s mistake from earlier in the day.

“Show me?” Mr. Bough asked.

Sveta turned his way.

“Show me what I’d be working with.”

She stared at him for what might have been twenty seconds, before reaching up.  She undid clasps and removed her dress, then shed her wig.  As if to be more imposing, to scare him away from what he might say if he were insecure in the least, she raised herself up and stretched out.

“What do you want?”

“To be human again,” Sveta told him.  “To have my body again.”

“I can think of ways.  I can try.”

“Trying isn’t good enough,” I told the man behind the glass and chickenwire barrier.  “If you can do it, we can talk special dispensation while you’re locked up.  I pull favors, get you something to send you on your merry way.  Television, solar panel, something to play movies, or-”

“Regular,” he said.  “Regular visits.  Once every week, something smaller, books, supplies.  Check on me, ensure I’m well.”

“We can look into it,” I said, glancing at Vista.

“There are people who we put in remote places, bolt down their supplies to the rock,” Vista said.  “Ensure they can’t roam, make it harder for them to get help if we check on them.  Some of the minors.  We have a precog check the coast is clear, and if it isn’t, the plan is to just leave them to rot, count them as dead.”

I looked at Mr. Bough.

“Works,” he said.  “No recruited help.  Just… give me enough to stay in touch with things.”

“Twenty dollars in value, once a month,” I said.

“Stingy.  I’d be changing a life.  I’d-”

“Can you?” Sveta asked, interrupting.

I cut in, “And don’t say ‘try’.  Because if you try and fail, I will personally pulverize one of your legs in my hands before we drop you in another world.  Be sure.”

Mr. Bough smiled wide, showing some silver-capped teeth.  “I have ideas.”

The statement seemed to shake Sveta, to the point she wasn’t holding herself up at an imposing height anymore, or even at my height.

Seeing that and the latent nausea of having to deal with a biotinker and every mental picture associated with them was enough to get to me too.  I reached out to Sveta to stabilize her and for stability.

“Being a case fifty-three is a big part of who I am,” Sveta said.  “Even if it worked, which it isn’t guaranteed to…”

There was nothing I could say to that.  It was hard to fathom.

“…I don’t even have a community with my kind anymore.  So why do I cling to it?”

“Because it’s what you know,” Vista told her.

“You said they’re the worst kind of monster, Vista,” Sveta said.

“We’re not that bad,” Mr. Bough said.

“Shut the fuck up,” I told him.

“So it feels wrong,” Sveta added.  “Going easier on them to get a selfish favor.”

“You struggling feels wrong,” I told her.  “You lost your prosthetic body because I failed you, and-”

“No I didn’t, you moron.”

“-Because I could have pushed harder against what I saw as a bad idea, when we split the groups.  I didn’t want to be a tyrant, bullying people and pushing for my ideas, and I let us take a bad route, and you lost your body because of it.  I felt guilty about Weld and I wanted to help somehow, and… this is entirely the opposite of what I wanted to say.  What I mean is you suffering feels wrong, because you’re one of the best people I know.”

Tendrils reached up to wring her prosthetic hands, and touch my hand where I held hers.

“I need to think about it,” she said, but as she said it, she was unconsciously bobbing her head, nodding in agreement to her own internal arguments and thoughts without even realizing it.

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108 thoughts on “Black – 13.11”

  1. Ok, so now we get the sveta interlude where we realize she’s a teacher plant and her getting a body is the Worst Possible Thing, right? There’s no way something can just go well for our protagonists.

  2. Oh, god. This is just asking for a disaster, for something to go wrong, for Wildbow to f them over one more time. Poor Sveta.

    1. Yup, I’ll banish you to untold suffering and loneliness in an alien land, maybe ask someone if they could give you a pillow, but meanwhile since I’m being so kind can experiment on my best friend.

  3. Wow. What a terrific idea. Let’s attempt to alter a tentacle hentai monster who has killed hundreds in Russia with two Frankenstein doctors with absolutely no morals during a period where nobody can trust each other because of evil machinations from the resident Big Bad.

    I don’t see a single problem with this.

    At least we have Sveta Interlude coming up.

  4. I don’t know if I can handle Sveta being fucked over here. I’ve made it through all the other times characters I liked got fucked over and lost everything in all WB’s other books, I think this is the one that’s going to get to me.

    Note to self: Do not read the next few chapters at work. I do not need my coworkers asking why I’m sobbing in the corner.

    1. Oh come on guys. Clearly this is going to work out fine, but Sveta won’t be able to adapt to being human again, and in fact this triggers a downwards spiral for her. Or a jealous Case 53 murders her. Or it turns out they really, really needed a murder squid, but now they don’t have one.

      1. From what Spright did, I assume she’ll be able to grow/extend extra tentacles even with a humanoid frame.
        Probably less than she currently has, but that’s just how powers work.

        1. The problem is, her power doesn’t work. Spright could do that because he cheats like a mofo and bypasses her shard being set up wrong.

          I imagine they’d have to fix her power itself if she wanted the hand tentacle thing.

  5. “Dragon is sorry,” Defiant said. “We all are, I think.”

    Sorry is cheap. Pepperidge farms gift sets are not. I expect her door to be blocked by gift baskets.

    1. I think the thing that stings the most is that Dragon sat on this for weeks and instead of talking it over with Victoria, gave it to Jessica who sat on it some more.

      They could have done this earlier!

  6. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I really don’t care if Sveta will turn out to be evil (Teacher’s mole). Her friendship with Victoria is one of the best things in Ward and I can’t see her ever hurting Victoria, no matter how much devoted she’s to Teacher. If she’ll ever have to choose between Teacher and Victoria, her friendship with Victoria will win in front of loyalty towards Teacher. This is a regular theme in Ward, the power of friendship > than loyalty bought with money or with promises.
    Victoria/Sveta should not trust Orchard guys. They’re obviously money hungry monsters who never changed. They should ask for Riley’s help, an ex-monster who changed into a human being. Riley will help them if they can contact her where she’s now.
    I don’t see Cradle anywhere. Maybe he was already exiled, because he’s considered more dangerous than Colt and Love Lost.

    1. Unfortunately it sounds like the Wardens are faking Riley’s death for some reason. So it’s this incredibly awful human trafficker or Amy, and Victoria pretty reasonably trusts Amy way less than this guy.

      1. She should rather trust Amy over Orchard any given moment. But Victoria have understandable reasons for not trusting Amy. Better wait until the whole Teacher problem will be fixed- meaning, until the end of Ward- and Riley can be contacted again (once the heroes will not have any reason to fake her death. Either Teacher problem have some connections with Riley’s false death- they protect her so she won’t be captured and used by him or she’s working at a super-secret project and heroes don’t want anyone to know about) than trust totally shaddy biotinkers. Too bad Vic and Sveta are too impatient to wait any longer.

  7. we stop treating them like they’re a consideration

    She has a point, but still, it really sounds like Victoria’s going off the deep end. Not fast and not suddenly, just a gradual drift into stronger and stronger measures, until she looks back one day and realizes she no longer remembers why she made all the sacrifices.

    1. Could be even worse, the heroes could start treating civilians like they are a problem to be dealt with using forceful measures, like an introduction of completely cape-controlled state through a coup or mastering or otherwise using powers or even old good aggressive propaganda and censorship to manipulate the masses.

      1. > The other possible angles are sharing just how bad things are elsewhere. The Machine Army, the rising rate of broken triggers, the wars over footing that we’ve been engaged in, among other things.

        If people don’t know about it yet, it seems that censorship is already in place.

        1. Of course there is plenty of information filtering, but I would argue it is not a quite censorship yet if for example journalists never hear about the problem. You could even argue that depending on a particular definition of censorship it is not censorship even if some journalists know about the problem and simply choose not to inform the public about it (in other word that word censorship does not include what we mean by self-censorship, at least when the latter is not a result of any outside pressure on the potential of unpublished information).

          What I meant by censorship here was a narrow definition in which authorities either prevent certain information from being published against the will of the journalists, publishers and pretty much everyone with access to Internet theese days either before it gets published (pre-publication censorship), or after it gets published, but before it can reach too many people (post-publication censorship), either through direct intervention in information getting published or through some sort of more or less legal pressure on the publishers and the authors (threat of lawsuits which could ruin the authors or publishers, cutting funds of publicly sponsored publishers, arrests of people who don’t stay quiet against the wishes of authorities etc. – and those are actually some of the less drastic but also not particularly subtle measures that could be employed if you’re willing to bend or break the law to enforce censorship, the list of tools a corrupt or outright authoritarian or totalitarian governments can use to enforce censorship is much wider than that).

          I highly suspect that on Bet PRT or occasionally even Cauldron directly might have used at least some of those methods, but I must say that at least for now I haven’t seen anything that would strongly suggest that the Wardens or Citrine’s government are doing the same – for now they just seem content to simply not let information they don’t want published fall into hands of people who are likely to do it (at least for the most part – I suspect they would do more if someone published information clearly marked as confidential).

  8. Legend’s list has three items, but it should have four. There is another cape, whom other capes dislike discussing even more than Scion, Machine Army, and Dragon. Teacher is pretty much set up as the dude we love to hate, so it would be totally consistent for him to drag her into this, as well.

    1. Yeah, and like all other attacks, it’ll be taylored for maximum impact. Revealing the involvement of her power would be shocking for the civilians, and the fact that the values didn’t band together by choice would decrease trust. Also, some people might go after her if they find out she’s alive. Although it might be a bit too much of a sore spot for teacher, possibly

    2. It also should have been item #1.

      Exposing what really happened in the leadup to Gold Morning followed by how Scion was actually defeated is probably the fake leak Legend anticipates.

      Actually makes me wonder how many besides the undersiders have anything like full knowledge. Victoria certainly doesn’t

      1. Chicago Wards were there for Jack’s last stand. As was Lisette, the most powerful woman in the world. Lung, Shadow Stalker and the Chicago wards were there for the raid on Cauldron. Canary, Lung, Marquis, Shadow Stalker, Amy and Riley were there for the birth of Khepri. Number Man and Contessa have to know, being that Coil was one of Cauldron’s projects and the Undersiders played a big role in his rise and fall, and the Number Man had left Cauldron with Weaver. That adds Citrine, especially with the Undersiders and Accord having worked together too, and both of them probably know about Dragon’s secret. That’s be the kind of thing I’d have expected Cauldron to pick up on if a 15 year old girl was able to.

        Speaking of Dragon, she fought her after her rebirth and worked to prevent the end it the world, Defiant definitely knows 99% of the story, the heavy hitters in the PRT probably know just about everything as well. Amusingly enough, fan favorite Jessica definitely knows the story of the end if the world and all that led up to it.

        I’d say anyone that _knew_ Weaver or Skitter has some idea who the yellow arm band is for too, so that’s the Chicago Wards and Protectorate likely included, along with Brockton Bay Wards and Protectorate, though none of them knew about Dragon, Vegas Protectorate too, thanks to their ties to Cauldron. Dinah. Faultline’s crew probably have a good idea what all went down, they were invested in figuring out Cauldron and had dealt with the Undersiders regularly. Not all of them know it was Amy that made Khepri, or that Cauldron had a dead ~~god~~ alien in their basement, or that that’s what Scion was, but enough of them have enough of the pieces that all it’s take is a single conversation to get 90% of the story, or that a leak of the full story would be easily verified by asking different people to verify their part of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a crack theory on the in-universe Parahumans boards that covers the true history of what happened, too crazy to be true according to 99% of the posters.

        The list of people that have a good idea what happened, what _truly_ happened, from start to finish, is likely longer than you’d guess, but still probably not something a significant percentage of even capes would know. We don’t even know how much Vicky actually knows, which is funny because her own rebirth is directly thanks to Khepri and the end of the world, and if anyone was going to piece everything together by reading case files, she’d be pretty high up the list having caught Case 12 when Lisa, someone else that’s probably read all the old PRT case files missed it. Vicky does know about the whole alien thing, and what Cauldron was doing based on comments through this story, and even though most people don’t want to talk about that day, information is bound to have leaked out, if it’s enough for her to have pieced together what she missed, IDK, but she does have a teammate that has most of the pieces she’s missing “standing” right next to her.

    3. Well, saying something like “Capes want you to think that they defeated Scion themselves, but it is a lie – their morale was completely broken, and they were ready to flee and leave humanity to be slaughtered. It was only because Khepri mastered them and forced them to fight that we live today” would certainly be an excellent angle of attack, because it would undermine public trust in that at least some capes are fundamentally heroic enough not to falter when confronted with a major threat. The fact that they did nothing to chase Simurgh away from Kronos Titan would only add to this image. On top of it almost all capes repress thoughts about Khepri so much that they would probably never see it coming.

      1. Of course the facts that capes fought Scion both before and after Khepri could control them would be conveniently omitted or downplayed (one way to do it would be to exaggerate Canary’s role in keeping them fighting after Doormaker run out of his juice). It probably wouldn’t also help that even some capes were wondering if they deserve to wear Gold Morning badges, considering that many of them joined the fight only after Khepri forced them to do so.

    4. Teacher is definitely shitty enough to involve her. And I was thinking, if his regular weapons are the people he controls, including the ones who can control others, and the people *they* control (e.g. all of Cheit, now), I wouldn’t be surprised if his secret weapon was, you know, the same thing, but bigger (say, a particularly powerful and… controversial Master).

      I wonder if Teacher was inspired by She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, either in-story or narratively. His strategy approximates hers: get everyone on the same team through mind control (though there seem to be a lot of people going that route in Ward). She was a recent and famous example of that strategy being *very effective*; I’m curious if that had an effect on tactics/metagame among the major players. It’s also a neat contrast to Worm, which was filtered through Taylor’s perspective; we knew she had good intentions, we knew how big the threat was, we’d seen how often coordination problems had gotten in the way. But from the outside, with someone that we don’t trust and actively dislike, that shit’s terrifying.

      1. > I wonder if Teacher was inspired by She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, either in-story or narratively.

        Teacher could have seen something in Weaver probably even before her Kheprification. Remember that he used her as an example when he talked about post-Scion problems to Contessa in her interlude.

        That is unless he already knew at that point – either because some precog told him that it was about to happen, because he put that field hospital where Amy unlocked Taylor’s final power under some sort of surveillance and that scene happened after it became clear what Amy’s intervention did to Taylor (so probably after chapter 30.1), or because the ending of Contessa’s interlude happened only after Teacher met Khepri himself in chapter 30.3.

        I think if we knew exactly when that last scene from Fortuna’s interlude happened, it could explain a lot about Teacher’s possible motives. Personally I suspect that it was most likely after Taylor was Kheprified, because it would explain why Contessa had a problem with recognizing Weaver at Teacher’s photo at first, and more likely than not even after chapter 30.3, because in that chapter Teacher seemed not to know at first that Taylor couldn’t speak anymore, and even suspected her of being a Ingenue’s thrall or something along those lines – he wouldn’t do it if he had that hospital where Khepri was born under a good surveillance.

        There is always a slight possibility that he was simply forewarned by some precog or similar clairvoyant who was too weak to give him a clear picture about what exactly happened or was supposed to happen to Taylor there, but I think that even with Teacher’s power Occham’s razor says that Teacher going to Contessa only after meeting Taylor in chapter 30.3 is more likely than involvement of such unknown weak thinker.

        1. In fact maybe all Teacher meant by “savin us from ourselves” in his conversation with Fortuna was that he needed her to defeat and either kill or take powers from capes too powerful and too unhinged to be allowed to roam freely.

          Perhaps Teacher’s goal is to either put himself in position where he can do it to anyone at any time, or even to cut entire humanity from powers completely? Especially that last possibility sounds really bad – plenty of capes would probably die at the moment it happened (like most C53s for example, and many other people whose bodies were modified by powers), would be trapped and possibly also quickly die in whatever alternate dimensions their bodies are stored when they use their powes (most if not all shakers, whichever Vera brother was “away” when it happened etc.), in case capes using their power to fly – fell to their deaths, and so on.

          1. Of course some of those deaths could be avoided if appropriate precautions were taken beforehand, and getting humanity rid of powers completely could be beneficial, and possibly even necessary long-term, but somehow I think that most capes won’t share this point of view, and will oppose Teacher if he tries to do something like that.

          2. Oh, and assuming that Teacher managed to pull the plug on powers, but was only about 99% effective? For example what if the method he used worked only on capes whose shards existed before the entities reached Earth? Wouldn’t it be interesting plot twist if Victoria, and a handful of capes with similar “new” and “weak” powers (likely mostly second generation capes, maybe also bud-capes like Aiden) had to work together to give everyone else their powers back?

          3. I even think I know where Victoria would need to start gathering necessary information to figure out how to do it. Not just in the archives with existing research on powers, but also in dreams of a certain cape – Colt is most likely a bud after all…

  9. “You can be sorry even when wholly justified in your actions”

    I love this, especially when contrasted with Number Man’s quote in 9.z. It shows how much Colin has changed since Brockton Bay.

    1. It sickens me that so few people think about NOT keeping the Thinker who can figure out almost anything in minutes near your computer/passwords.

  10. Typo thread:

    > “There’s stuff we need to cover from Foresight, but I have to run it by the boss first.

    Missing quotation mark at the end of the sentence.

    > It’s not the option, it’s a option.

    a option > an option

    > Defiant would have warned them about not ingesting his fluids,which might have been why they wore face masks with clear plastic panes.

    Add a space after the comma.

    > “-Because I could have pushed harder against what I saw as a bad idea, when we split the groups.

    Maybe a lower case ‘b’ in “because”? It is a continuation of an interrupted sentence after all.

  11. it is interesting how even after Dragon outed herself as an A.I., Victoria didn’t add two to two and get ten by ten as an answer to Sveta’s problem, and instead went to the Orchard. Just shows how badly rattled she is by everything that happened today, how she isn’t thinking clearly, how her thought process is gravitating towards the most horrible solutions.

    On a better day Victoria would probably immediately think “Dragon is an A.I., but has a body that successfully passed for human for years? She must be a better at prosthetics than any other tinker I talked with about Sveta’s problem!” I’m not 100% that Victoria knows how badly Mannequin wounded Armsmaster, and that it was Dragon who rebuilt his body, but even if she doesn’t, the fact that Tattletale recently commented that he “overclocked his brain” should be a big hint for Victoria that he may be a cyborg further proving D&D’s ability to work with prosthetic bodies.

    1. Hopefully Sveta will “think about it” long enough for her, Victoria or Vista to realize that they should be talking to D&D about Sveta’s problem. All three of them have the information to needed to figure out this solution, and it is not exactly a connection that requires a genius to make.

      1. And the funniest thing is that depending on what Sveta meant by her comment about “Being a case fifty-three is a big part of who [she is]”, she may even prefer to have a very good prosthetic “shell” similar to Dragon’s body over having her body permanently changed back into human’s.

      2. Heck, even if Vista, Sveta and Victoria won’t figure out that they need should ask D&D for help, there might be a chance that Dragon herself will do it, if she is monitoring what is happening in the jail area. Alternatively Tattletale may be not distracted by her discussion with heroes so much that she won’t realize what the prolonged absence of those three women means and decide to intervene. There are many ways in which what Victoria has in mind with Mr. Bough may be stopped before something irreversible happens… And if it won’t be done in time, and something bad happens to Sveta, then Victoria will probably finally have a good enough reason to reach out to Amy.

  12. It is funny how Tattletale thought that the Wardens may “decide to unilaterally arrest” her, considering that every single Warden we saw in this chapter probably trusts her more than Victoria does. Does Tattletale’s power really make her mistrust everyone? Could be, considering its comments about Foil in Tattletale’s interlude. It would also explain why Taylor is probably still the only person Tattletale has ever fully opened up to, or why her “inner circle” she trusted with whatever knowledge or suspicions about Taylor’s survival in the epilogue of Worm consisted of only Imp, Rachel and herself.

    1. I don’t think she seriously considered this as a possibility, it was brought up in context of her sending Snuff away – she meant that even in a (highly unlikely) turn of events when she might need force, he wouldn’t be useful, so there’s no reason to keep him around.

      1. Yes, I know, though I think that after Gold Morning Lisa should understand that Wardens giving her an open invitation to meetings like this would be a mere formality, at least as long as the people who currently lead the Wardens remain in charge.

        …Though maybe she was simply afraid that there is a 1% chance that the Wardens got some Teacher-made materials designed to make Wardens drastically change their opinion about her, and they could actually believe those despite warnings Dragon got from Victoria?

  13. Poor Jessica o.O the events took quite a toll on her and she must feel keenly like she has failed..Mrs Yamada is taking a leave of absence, is the universe screwed? More Defiant, Dragon and Vista yay! Will Miss Militia ever reappear, she had a statue in the HQ didn’t she? And vista promised to hang out with her and Rachel or some meetup. and i’m excited about Victoria going into edgier territory even if it may end quite badly.. Excellent chapter.

  14. Wow, the exile chapter was only this morning? Serial- time strikes again!

    Speaking of, has anyone worked out how long Ward has been going on for chronologically? I thought it was about six months, condsidering it started in summer and a couple of arcs back mentioned snow, but I could be fairly off.

  15. Interesting to drop the “tyrant” here. Victoria using the words of her shard.

    The thing with Dragon, well, let me quote someone famous for being wise and very drunk:
    “Well. You are not human ok, that’s okay, I don’t mind. You’re still a mind, like, I don’t know if you are a robot […], but you are still a person to me here right now, who is talking to me, ok.”
    I don’t think too many people would be that upset about Dragon being an AI.
    People would demand supervision of her, but that’s about it, especially considering her record so far.
    At worst, there would be a split among the civilian population about whether or not she should be turned off out of safety concerns.

    I’ve got a bad feeling about this thing with Sveta.
    It would be great if she got a human body again, yes, but the circumastances are terrible.
    I also worry that the biotinker changes might fail when it comes to Sveta’s power, similar to how Ashley’s power doesn’t go well with her hands.

    By the way, it was a relief to see Tattletale getting pushed around a bit, but it’s kind of frustrating how nothing ever gets to her, how she is completely resistant to self reflection. If she weren’t always switching sides to the heroes when it matters, she would be the most punchable character in the entire series.

    1. > Interesting to drop the “tyrant” here. Victoria using the words of her shard.

      One has to wonder if Victoria got this idea from her shard, or the other way around. Perhaps both? The shard could have learned the term from Victoria, and like it som much that it is manipulating Victoria into considering becoming one herself?

      > By the way, it was a relief to see Tattletale getting pushed around a bit, but it’s kind of frustrating how nothing ever gets to her, how she is completely resistant to self reflection.

      I think Tattletale is perfectly capable of self reflection. We saw her do it plenty of times. It is just that she has plenty of reasons to think she shouldn’t change:
      – her power is best utilized if she has contacts on both sides of the law,
      – she is talking care of someone people who would be very difficult to accept by the public without some sort of serious restrictions placed on them,
      – she saw how red tape and corrupted government made heroes of Brockton Bay unable to save the city from crime and poverty for decades (something Coil began and the Undersiders finished doing in mere months),
      – she is probably more interested in doing what needs to be done than in having a reputation of a good guy (in fact a big part of Undersiders’ success came from having a reputation of people who can be good when they want to, but can also be bad, and very terrifying when it suits their needs better).

      Finally her shard probably tries its best to make sure that she will always appears as that unapproachable person who can always break anyone’s psyche. Remember that it constantly supplies her with dirt on other people and points out their vulnerabilities. Things Tattletale uses against people are likely most of the time trivial compared to what she could use. Tattletale is probably very careful about this sort of thing after realizing what her angle of attack can do to some of the more emotionally vulnerable people – she saw it happen before after all.

      For Tattletale Victoria is in fact a perfect reminder how serious and sometimes unpredictable can attacking people’s emotions be. After all it is likely that Amy would never break down emotionally during confrontation with Bonesaw to the point where she ended up doing what she did to Victoria afterwards if Tattletale didn’t “prepare the ground” by telling Amy what she did that day they met in the bank. The way she chose to avoid answering Victoria’s question about her role in Amy’s breakdown, the fact that Tattletale tried to give Amy an advise that could prevent the worst if Amy listened to it and healed Victoria as soon as possible, and the fact that it was ultimately Tattletale who told Brandish where to find her lost daughters three days later clearly shows that Tattletale is perfectly aware of the damage she did to Amy, and consequences of that damage to the entire Dallon family. To drive the point further home for Tattletale, she was present when Amy damaged Taylor in a similar way to what she did to Victoria. It wouldn’t happen if Taylor didn’t know that Amy can work with brains, and was willing to do so in emergency situation, and that in turn wouldn’t be possible without Amy doing what she did to Victoria and Taylor being present to see the results.

      1. To sum it up Tattletale probably doesn’t care if the world sees her as a villain any more than Imp cares that her cape name “was taken”. She chose to be a villain, because her power, and the kinds of problems she’s dealing with are much easier handled when people consider her a villain. Being a hero would only hinder her. What Tattletale focuses on instead is being one of those “nice” villains who try to do what needs to be done, and who try to help people more than hurt them.

        You could see a bit of Taylor’s philosophy in it too. After all around the time she saw Dinah imprisoned by Coil and the time she was outed by Armsmaster as an “undercover hero” said she who planned to betray Undersiders. Taylor decided to treat villain and hero labels in a purely utilitarian way – she remained a villain as long as it suited her goals better, and switched sides only after she realized she needed to be recognized as a hero in order to deal with the upcoming apocalypse. Lisa will probably consider doing the same only if she thinks that being recognized as a hero is better achieving her goals, and I don’t think she has ever been in quite this situation yet. At least she doesn’t seem to think so, which is not a surprise considering that she generally has a rather negative opinion on the heroes – something she even seems to have passed on Chicken Little, considering how proud he seemed to be when he said he was a villain and a loyal Undersider.

      2. Okay most of this is true except that Jack Slash would’ve gotten to Amy anyway, she’s powerful enough that S9 would target her no matter what. He’s Jack, he absolutely could’ve torn down her mental defenses regardless of whether or not Tt did what she did.

        1. Maybe, but I think confrontation with Tattletale has played at least some role. Jack’s power seemed to be able to break people easier if they were already emotionally vulnerable, and Tattletale essentially weakened Amy’s psyche which was already not very strong even before the bank job. Compare Amy to Riley who resisted Jack until she was completely both physically and emotionally exhausted, and she was a small, freshly triggered kid who witnessed her whole family butchered over and over again for hours!

          The way I see it, if Tattletale didn’t do what she did to Amy in the bank, Amy could be in mental state to resist long enough for help to come in time, or for Amy not to mess with Glory Girl’s emotions when those two met while Amy was trying to run from home. Heck, if Amy don’t know that she was a daughter of a Birdcage inmate, maybe she wouldn’t try to run from home at all.

    2. TT has plenty of self reflection. The fact that she doesn’t VOICE said self reflection when dealing with “collatoral damage barbie”, who apparently now thinks throwing people into interdimensional holes is okay is no surprise.

      Her power gives her more juice when needling people.
      Her power makes it EASY to needle people.

      And there’s the thing… look, Victoria has a whole bunch of harsh thoughts that she does not voice. Yeah? Normally, when dealing with people this is actually a kindness, and actually diplomatic… but for TT she still RECIEVES all that negativity anyway. Regardless of what V actually expresses, TT recieves the negativity, and gets to know all the cynical and shitty reasons that Victoria is “polite” (hint, it ain’t because she gives a damn about Lisa’s wellbeing).

      So she’s spent the day around this person who she KNOWS is hugely dangerous, hates her guts, and has done terrible terrible things through ignorance and stupidity (for example, running her aura for years on end while sitting next to Amy).

      What’s the POINT in TT being nice to Victoria? Even when she is, even when she’s being helpful, Victoria still doesn’t change her mind, doesn’t stop for a second to treat Lisa like an actual human being, as opposed to a useful ally to be called on when it is convenient for her?

      On the other hand, if she needles Victoria, then V reacts, and actually SAYS the nasty stuff in her head. Which is honestly kind of preferable.

      I suspect that one of the reasons that Lisa and Taylor were such good friends was that Lisa looked through to what was beneath and decided that she actually LIKED that person… regardless of lies at the start, because she could tell that Taylor genuinely liked and cared about her.

      And now she gets to spend her day with someone she views as dangerous, ignorant, and self righteous, and who walks around treating her as a plot explanation device to be put up with only when she is useful.

      The way Victoria treats Lisa is EXACTLY how Diary!Vicky treats people… with an added dose of pettiness.

      1. Ditto. I’m also kinda sick of people hating on Tt. From Victoria’s POV, we see not only how truly annoying she can be but how dangerous she can be and how much damage she can do to people’s lives. I’m not denying that. However, we saw from Taylor’s POV that Lisa isn’t always a combo of annoying and dangerous, she can also be kind, loving to and protective of her friends. She’s not actually a malicious person, regardless of how much Victoria believes she is. And, as has been explained above, even if she showed V her nice side that can be kind, V would treat Lisa exactly the same. She’s too biased from previous experiences to give Tattletale the benefit of the doubt. She gives into the same impulse most people give into when interacting with Tt–suspects everything she’s saying might be false or layered with a different, secret agenda. We all know why people think this, my point is that it must be incredibly isolating for Lisa to have everyone suspicious of her. Due to her power, Lisa knows that even if she tried to be trustworthy, it wouldn’t work because her power is so dangerous. If I were in her position, the worst parts of me would come out too. In her case, its being incredibly irritating to people she dislikes and annoyingly smug when she’s right about something.
        The one person Tt truly trusted and who trusted her is gone now, even if she’s not dead. That was Lisa’s best friend–she’s not as close to Rachel or Imp.

    1. Well, the good news is that she does have a day. The bad news is it’s not until May, and I think she’s still stuck in November or December.

  16. Some dangerous thoughts there about capes simply taking over. As Antares noted, there were only capes in that room.

    Antares was worried about Dragon because powers find a way to fuck things up. That’s exactly what they want to do with a cape tyranny. Considering the Mayor, primary army and authority are all capes it’s really only basic law Enforcement and courts left.

    Kind of a cape tyranny in all but open name.

    …I think Dinah might be on to something with the anti-cape civilians.

  17. Ditto. I’m also kinda sick of people hating on Tt. From Victoria’s POV, we see not only how truly annoying she can be but how dangerous she can be and how much damage she can do to people’s lives. I’m not denying that. However, we saw from Taylor’s POV that Lisa isn’t always a combo of annoying and dangerous, she can also be kind, loving to and protective of her friends. She’s not actually a malicious person, regardless of how much Victoria believes she is. And, as has been explained above, even if she showed V her nice side that can be kind, V would treat Lisa exactly the same. She’s too biased from previous experiences to give Tattletale the benefit of the doubt. She gives into the same impulse most people give into when interacting with Tt–suspects everything she’s saying might be false or layered with a different, secret agenda. We all know why people think this, my point is that it must be incredibly isolating for Lisa to have everyone suspicious of her. There’s also no point to changing her attitude now to be kinder and less annoying, all the heroes especially Victoria would see it as a trick and never give her the benefit of the doubt anyway.
    The most isolating thing is probably losing Taylor–that was the closest thing to a trusting relationship Tt had and even if Taylor isn’t dead its still hard.

  18. I just realized that while Tattletale can:

    • crack passwords no problem,

    • get thrown in a Prison World an know she’ll be picked up later

    • and write a book called “Secrets, lies, and dirty laundry” and make it a Best Seller…

    .

    .

    .

    … she can’t have surprise birthday parties.

    1. If a particularly strong Thinker stays around everyone in the know, the party may remain a surprise. Although Lisa might fear something less innocuous and act accordingly.

      1. And by “Particularly strong thinker”, you mean Contessa?

        Because Contessa planning TT a surprise party sounds too frickin’ adorable, and is the only happily ever after I will now settle for.

        1. We know Thinkers tend to interfere when they get too close to each other.
          A Stranger or Trump with the right power could also do it, I suppose.

    2. Best bet is Imp simply pulling it at the last second and staying invisible for the duration of the setup. If she can gather others together without them being in the know then all the better. Just notes to meet at a certain place at a certain time then there’s food and cake.

      Best done in a place they know TT should show up as part of her regular schedule rather than trying to lead her anywhere.

  19. Have to admit, I am a little bit disappointed that this is the way it’s playing out. A part of me was rooting for them to be all, “Wow, Victoria. You couldn’t handle having people see through your machinations, so you manipulated Lookout into staging this whole ‘Teacher’ thing to cover your ass? The fuck’s wrong with you?”

    On the plus side, now Sveta’s considering Orchard. That means we have a very real possibility of her getting to enjoy a normal body for a few hours before her shard gets uppity and reverts most of the changes, with the end result being her current form except with her tendrils replaced by dozens of noodle arms.

    1. “Wow, Victoria. You couldn’t handle having people see through your machinations, so you manipulated Lookout into staging this whole ‘Teacher’ thing to cover your ass? The fuck’s wrong with you?”

      XD

    2. Or just plain old regular arms and legs that are extra grabby.

      Obviously the better approach is to check with Amy first, given that they’re not trying to change Sveta’s brain bits, but that’s off the table for equally obvious reasons. If Sveta goes the Orchard route, 55% chance Amt has to fix stuff. Besides Brandish, of course.

  20. I’m rooting for good ol wildybubs to f*** with us in completely unforseen ways, like Sveta’s body works normally and she gets to keep her powers, Vick reaches out to Amy after realizing she did the same thing to her first and genuinely apologizes, nothing weird or bad comes from super therapist’s leave of absence, teacher and all of his new cauldron gets wrapped up neatly and clean, people realize parahumans are still human, parahumans realize it’s wrong to cut unpowered out of government/that parahuman’s shold serve/protect, Lisa becomes friends with Vick, lookout grows up into a great adult/ doesn’t become an unblinking government body, and everything else comes to a surprisingly sweet resolution only for us to find out Natalie was another entity watching/observing and decided it has learned enough so begins the harvesting/refueling process for blastoff

  21. “[…]I was made with heavy restrictions and I live by several of those restrictions today.”

    Interesting way to put it. If I read it correctly that sentence doesn’t tell us if some of Dragon’s restrictions are still in place, or if she simply chose to obey their spirit after they were removed…

  22. !! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TATTLETALE !!
    #m#g #i#ch

    ‘I wonder ‘who’ vandalized the banner…’ Lisa thought with a knowing, unimpressed stare.

    “I thought of giving you one of Pink Floyd, but that creepy Italian-ish woman wanted it” Vista said, rummaging “This one is from another Earth” she said, holding the “Deep Purple” t-shirt with an eye embroidered above the words “Natalie decorated it”.

    “Yeah, I asked Victoria for advice, but… she gave me none”.

    “S’alright” Lisa said “Oh, speaking of…”

    “Happy birthday. Again” Victoria said.

    “Thank you” Lisa said, grinning at the last word.

    “I wonder what you got her” Vista said.

    “I’d like to give it to her in private. You mind?”

    Vista eyed her warily, but the pair left.

    A mischievous smile appeared on Lisa’s face.

    “Awww, I thought you didn’t lik-”.

    “I thought that giving you the chance to do something meaningful for somebody else would be a good gift”.

    Lisa raised her eyebrows slightly.

    Victoria looked her straight in the eyes.

    “I offer you to help Dragon make Sveta the best prosthetic body possible” Victoria said “Looking for weaknesses in the frame or the interface”.

    “Mm. But why not ask Fortuna?”

    “Sveta… is not comfortable with her”.

    Lisa crossed her arms.

    “And the fortune-teller..?”.

    “She, uh…” Victoria paused, thinking of a reply “… charges too much”.

    “You couldn’t think of something better, right?”.

    Antares stared at her.

    “I didn’t want to use my power here, but” Tattletale said, offering her open hand “I’ll need 42 dollars”.

    “What?”

    “It’s what a ticket to Earth Shin costs”.

    “No… It’s not” Victoria said as a brief look of horror crossed her face.

    Tattletale sighed.

    “Yeah, you’re right. I just want you to give me money” she said “Since you forgot to bring me a present, it’s only fair”.

    Antares set her jaw and stalked off.

    “See you in the bathroom, G.H!”.

    Dodging a few guests, Dinah approached her table.

    “Hey. Enjoying the party?”

    “Yeah”, she said. “But I could have done better without the sudden blindfolding and the portal swallowing the car”.

    The girl looked at the floor.

    “We suggested other options to Imp, but you know… We didn’t have too much time for planning” Dinah said. “And that reminds me. I’ll go for your present. I’ll be right back”.

    “Take your time” Lisa said to the girl’s back, knowingly out of earshot “I already blew the candles…”

    A woman with- “without” a fedora, Lisa noted, approached with two portions of cake.

    She took one plate “Thanks”.

    The woman didn’t reply, blinking a few times.

    “Uhh, it’s strange, seeing you around, so casual”.

    “I didn’t know what to get you. And I didn’t want to use my power to find out”.

    Lisa took a piece of the cake with the spoon.

    “So I baked”.

    Lisa lowered the spoon.

    “I… think I’ll just take coffee…”.

    Fortuna looked at her.

    “The… cake?” Tattletale asked, looking at the food, suspiciously.

    “No, I don’t know how to make one” Fortuna said “So I made bread”.

    Tattletale glance at the table where most of the edibles were.

    “Coffee outside it is…”

    Victoria returned with a package in hand.

    “Oh, you got me something!” Lisa said, receiving the present “And it’s… wrapped in the same paper that the turkey sandwiches were…”

    “Don’t look a horse in the mouth” Victoria said, smiling.

    Lisa took the paper apart

    A fedora.

    Of course.

    Fortuna eated quietly, looking at the exchange.

    ‘Best Plot Device’ was engraved on a stylized piece of metal at the edge. ‘Best’ barely readable after been furiously scratched.

    “Rustic”.

    “I hope you use it often. I wrote your initials on it”.

    Lisa searched without using her power and found letters written on the back. With correction fluid…

    “E.B.?”.

    “It stands for “Emerald Beauty”” she said “For your eyes”.

    Tattletale used her power.

    “It also stands for “Exposition Bitch””.

    “Ohh, totally not what I was going for…”

    “Nah, s’alright. I’ll wear it just… now” Tattletale said, puting on the fedora.

    Fortuna left her spoon on her plate and extended a hand in Victoria’s direction.

    Victoria looked at her.

    “You said she wouldn’t want it” Fortuna said.

    Victoria reluctantly handed her her wallet’s change.

    “Aaand this is my present” Dinah said, arriving with a…

    “Piggy?”

    “It’s a boar” Dinah replied.

    Tattletale took it in her hands and looked it over using her-

    “Uhh.., where did you find it?” Tattletale asked.

    “In Teacher’s base when you guys rided it. It was in the third floor”.

    “Why don’t you have it?” Tattletale said, looking at Fortuna.

    “Me?”

    “Yeah. Look at it. I mean, ‘look’ at it”.

    Contessa asked her power an-

    “Oh. Okay” she said, extending her hands.

    “But” Lisa said, taking a step back “it’s 42 dollars”.

    “Very well” Contessa said and they made the transaction.

    “Mmm… Vicky’s money” Lisa said while smelling the bills.

    “Why are you smelling your fingers?” Dinah said.

    “Hey, guys! What’s up? Tatts…” Aisha said, just arriving…

    “It doesn’t make sense” Lisa said, bewilderedly staring at her hands.

    Imp half-hugged her friend.

    “Defiant is dancing robot-style and Dragon is dancing Salsa. Nothing makes sense, silly”.

    1. @Ex Lurker

      I do believe I worked out two things upon reading this, first that EB is a stand in for soemthing that rhymes with Weevil Itch and the second si that you;r read the fanfic. ‘Loaf’.

      And… is that a feral boar Dinah brings?

      1. I’m not sure who (or what) Weevil Itch is, but I did read “Loaf”. Excellent mix of humor+plot, but mostly humor.

        And I don’t think the boar is feral. It has a slightly orange/beige fur, grey-ish ears and a black nose.

        I think there is even a picture of it somewhere on this site…

        1. feral
          /ˈfɛr(ə)l,ˈfɪərəl/
          adjective
          1.
          (especially of an animal) in a wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication.

          … in a wild state…

          … wild…

          Oh.

          Me no english much it seems. XD

          1. @ex Lurker

            1) Anyone else who’s read loaf will understand Lisa’s near panic. and to those of you who haven’t, it’s fun.

            2) The Weevil itch joke was ryhming with ‘Evil bitch’ (E.B).

          2. @ShawnMorgan

            “2) The Weevil itch joke was ryhming with ‘Evil bitch’ (E.B).”

            XDDD

    2. I think you’ve just answered a few important questions Ex-Lurker, like what Teacher keeps at the top of his complex that everyone would want. It is obviously the last working dialysis machine in the known multiverse. Only why would Dinah call the former PRT ENE Director a boar?

        1. Nah, under new parahuman supremacy Dinah can call her normie slave-slash-livestock however she wants. I’m just surprised that she didn’t stick to the name that seemed to be accepted by the entire parahuman community for years now.

          1. By the way now we know why Victoria’s parents haven’t returned from Shin yet. Brandish is probably busy re-writing all laws to work with her draft of Parahuman Supremacy Act.

          2. And it makes sense for Brandish to do this work on Shin, since 90% it is clearly adapting solutions already present in Shin law to Gimel.US legal system.

          3. since 90% it is clearly > since 90% of it is clearly

            Looks like I “can’t English” today too. Not that it is new or unusual at all.

  23. So at this point we can consider BT and the Wardens a bunch of pigs right? They casually discuss and handwave the illegal activities that got them to where they are but are about to disappear a minor who was essentially press ganged into crime and has almost certainly had her mind altered by her trigger. They’re also perfectly fine with escaped criminals who have dodged due process being on their team but have created an inescapable prison because they feel it’s a better option than allowing villains to fall through the cracks in the current system.
    Defiant alone is enough for me. He should have a kill order on him for what he did during the Leviathan attack and yet he’s a top man at the Wardens. We also have no idea if his and Dragon’s relationship is even consensual since he personally reworked her code to make her as she is now. How do we know he didn’t include a “love and protect Collin line”? Defiant refers to his stance on the law applying to himself IMO. Can’t wait til he gets what’s coming.

  24. Here is thought inspired by my reaction to Ex-Lurker’s little fanfic posted above – what do you think are the chances that Emily Piggot is not only still alive, but also an active participant of current events? I could imagine her holding a position of some importance among the organized anti-parahumans for example.

    1. Of course considering that Ms. Piggot is no idiot, and understands that capes are needed sometimes, she could refuse any offer from the anti-parahumans, or even accept it to become heroes’ agent in their camp. It think it all depends on what and why the anti-parahumans want to achieve exactly, what resources they have, and what measures they are willing to employ.

      Alternatively Emily could do something for the Patrol Block. The point is that with her personality if she is still alive and healthy enough to work, I can’t imagine her staying retired for long after Gold Morning. I think that perhaps ironically she is like a cape in this regard.

  25. Piggot’s probably working with the secret end boss, who I am going to say is Greg Veder…

    C’mon, this is Wildboe, my idea s not going to be anything as complex as the actual ending now, is it?

    1. Greg Veder? Really? And here I thought that the secret end boss has been so good at staying in the shadows that it had to be Shadow Stalker.

    2. Oh, and as far as secret bosses are concerned, remember that as far as I remember nobody ever saw Emma’s body…

      1. Perhaps now we know how Ward will end – in the epilogue set during Vista’s birthday party Taylor will arrive as a surprise guest. Soon after that team Shadows of Winslow (the trio plus Greg) will crash that party and mess with Taylor somehow, thus kicking off the conflict that will be the focus of the third volume.

        1. I can even tell you how Emma could have survived. Scion probably saw her when he was about to destroy Brockton Bay during Gold Morning, saw just how crushed and devoid of purpose she was then, and it clicked with him. This is how he felt after learning about Eden’s death, after all. So he gave Emma a new purpose – killing humans to the point of extinction in case he failed to do so together with enough power to do so.

  26. It sickens me that so few people think about NOT keeping the Thinker who can figure out almost anything in minutes near your computer/passwords.

  27. I hope for Sveta’s sake, that these Orchard motherfuckers can actually live up to their billing. With their abilities, I have to assume they have worked on Case-53s in the past.

    You would think, if there had been any success stories, they’d be eager to announce as much and sell themselves better.

  28. I’m really glad Colt got help from Yamada at the last moment, it wouldn’t feel right if she were sent off to the prison world out of negligence. Rain really dislikes her, but I think she has a lot of potential to have a bigger role down the line.

  29. Anyone else get strong Blake vibes when she walked to the Biotinkers? Making deals with unsavory entities is familiar ground for a ‘Bow protagonist…

  30. “I can’t help but wonder if you revel in these lousy sorts of days,” I observed [to Tattletale].
    Everyone likes to feel helpful.

    “What happens if we don’t listen?” Egg asked.
    “Alarms go off, battle-ready parahumans come storming in from all directions. You get interrogated. It changes the attitudes they have toward you.”
    “Do not,” Engel told Egg. “I want to make a good impression.”
    Egg scowled, face cracking in twenty places, but he acquiesced.

    I miss Alec. Egg’ll do, though (at least until Dunk picks him up).

    “You can be sorry even when wholly justified in your actions,” [Defiant] said.
    “Can you?”
    “I think so.”

    So do I. Not sure what it implies about his position on prior misdeeds.

    Vista was quiet, “Saying we don’t care what you little people think, we’re going to do what we need to do… or trying to be friendly while some asshole out there stokes fears and makes us out to be monsters.”
    So glad this doesn’t have any parallels to our real world. The victims of fear-stoking assholes are the little people! So they don’t have to make this choice.
    …Wait, I think that’s worse.

    There was a picture of Legend, same features, hair, build, and costume. An exact likeness bought and paid a dizzying price for by villains trying some obscure scheme. It hadn’t worked.
    Ah, a bit of fill-in-the-blanks classic-comic-nonsense humor. Levity is nice.

    And speaking of much-needed levity, yay, Sveta might be getting a body! It would be nice to have her retire from Breakthrough (or accept a support role), even though there’s a part of me that wants her to have something that lets her be both human and tentacley ball of (controlled) destruction. Maybe a human body that can break apart and reform as a protective shell around her loose organs, releasing tendrils that Sveta can control better because flails hands tinker-derived neurological BS?
    It’s not gonna be that easy, even if this turns out to be a solution (or part of it), but hey, I can hope. Sometimes, hope’s all you have…especially after the world ends.

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