Breaking – 14.3

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There were no big television cameras to capture us, no news crews with their own setups. Just the people with laptops hooked into masses of wires that seemed to weigh more than the laptops themselves, those wires threading their way beneath seats to the big screens at the back.  But there were people with phones out.

The thought crossed my mind that we could have Kenzie intercept anything too crippling.  It was a fleeting thought, and one that sat uncomfortably in my head after it had fleeted.

“You don’t sound surprised,” Gary Nieves said.  Rain’s statement had thrown us all for a loop, and whatever else he was, slimy fearmonger, a scarier kind of politician than even Citrine, a stubborn asshole, he was used to this battlefield, under the withering stares of uncountable eyes, where every word mattered.

I could see Rain hesitate.

My own thought was on how to handle the link to Citrine.  And it wasn’t an easy route to take, because I wasn’t at peace with the choice to work with her.

“It sucks,” Rain said.  He reached up to touch his hair or his face and he seemed to realize, belatedly, that he still wore his mask.  Rather than stumble, he jumped into his next statement as if invigorated.  “All of this is scary, and what you describe doesn’t sound good, but I’m- we’re living it.  It’s scary to think about capes taking over worlds, but I’ve seen it.  I saw the woman who used to rule Earth Shin take steps to reclaim her throne, and I.”

He stopped there for just a bit longer than a fraction of a second.

“We saw her die,” Tristan filled in.  “She tried to take over, but the Wardens were watching her, her enemies were watching her, and when she made an attempt she was killed.  Imprisonment and trial would have been nice, if I’m being honest, but… no choice.”

She was throwing buildings around.

“And now others step in to fill the void.  Her sister.”

My sister.  Amy.

It was tough to hear, but I had kind of anticipated that line of attack.  I felt irrationally pissed off, which was a lot because I had a right to be pissed that he was picking at my scabs.

“We don’t talk,” I told him.

Shouldn’t you?  Putting aside the fact that you’re family, you grew up together, you seem to be implying you’ve taken on the responsibility of watching and handling the dangerous ones before they get too far.”

“Not my team.  All heroes.  Even some of the villains.”

“How good a job can you do if you live with one for most of your life and you can’t even see that she’s deranged enough to dismantle human beings and put them back together wrong?”

I flinched.

“How good of a job can any of you capes do policing any of the others?  You’ve missed some pretty big stuff.  Even among your families.”

“I can’t speak for my teammates or the other heroes,” Tristan said, “But there are others watching what’s going on in Shin.  The last I heard, they were keeping parahumans contained to one area and letting the rest of that world get back into its own rhythm.”

“That-”

“But what I can say,” Tristan added, with more vigor, bullying his way through, “sorry to interrupt, but I wasn’t done.  What I can say is that people are watching out, and I think we’re doing okay.”

“To go back to the topic of her sister-”

“Why?” Swansong asked.  She was incensed enough to make me worry.  “To poke at old wounds?”

“Easy,” I said.  “It’s my wound and I’m not getting heated here.”

“Your sister, Antares, who is supposedly being watched, apparently just did to someone else what she did to you four years ago, when she put you in the hospital.  She was sick then, she’s sick now, and no, I don’t think anyone’s watching closely enough.”

Ashley took a step forward before I could even process that mental image.  I did a full one-eighty degree turn, my hand going out to almost punch her collarbone more than I put my hand out to stop her.  The heel of my hand rested against bone, while my eyes dropped down, my expression tense.  I was sure I was giving the crowd a good show- I turned away a bit and let my hair fall down into the way to hide my expression.

“Stop,” I said, my voice a whisper.

“I’m sure people are looking after the situation,” Tristan said.  “We might not catch everything, but we don’t want any of the bad stuff any more than you do.  We watch because we have to.   Like Precipice says, this stuff you’re bringing up can be scary, our own lives are on the line when we go out there to stop despots and monsters, and we can’t afford not to keep an eye on the dangerous ones.”

His voice was confident, steady.  I focused on it.

Misinformation, I told myself, and I willed it to be true.  Misinformation that Amy had done something anything like what she’d done to me.  A teacher plot, aimed at making this worse.

I had a feeling in my throat like I wanted to groan or to throw up.  I swallowed it, doing my best to logic it away with the mantra of misinformation.

Gary was saying, “Yet our current mayor, tell me, should I call her Jeanne or Citrine?”

“Call her whatever you want,” Tristan stated.  Which- shit.  Sounded combative.

“Call her Jeanne Wynn, I think,” I told Gary.  I couldn’t afford to let the others stumble through this, with their own worst traits being highlighted.  I couldn’t let myself sink into my own worst mires of thought.  That was what Teacher wanted.  More confident, I turned his way and said, “The amnesty where we said ‘your past crimes don’t matter unless you commit more’ came into effect as a combination of deals we had to make to get people on our side to stop the end of the world-”

“The world ended,” Gary said.

“To stop it from being worse.  So people struck deals, and to some degree, all of this was a wake-up call for an awful lot of… awful people, and there was a lot of room for second chances.”

“We’re still talking about Jeanne Wynn?”

I had more vigor as I talked.  Citrine was a safe subject.  Not an easy one, but a safe one.  “I’m talking about a lot of people.  Mayor Wynn’s power doesn’t change how she leads.  It doesn’t influence her decisions.  Am I happy about it?  No.  She was a member of one of the groups that had a stranglehold over my hometown.  But they kept the peace, and that’s better than some.  If she wants to be a regular mayor, use her experience with capes to make decisions in a city where cape stuff is pretty major?  I think I can make peace with that.”

“If she’s lying about who she really is then can we trust her in anything else?”

“I think to make that decision for yourself, you need to look at how she’s done.  Again, I’m not dancing with joy given past history, but I’m personally giving her her second chance, and objectively speaking, I think she’s doing a good job.”

“It’s the face she shows us.  She was second in command of a crime syndicate, until the leader died, at which point she assumed control.  Protection rackets, pressuring politicians, sheltering and hiding villains on the run from law enforcement, kidnapping, ransom.  She has murdered people.  You’ll jump in here to talk about amnesty, I’m sure-”

He let the statement hang, pausing to give me room to do just that.  I didn’t take the bait.

Be calm.  Process.  Think about the fact that he’s a vehicle for Teacher’s weaponized information and misinformation.

“-But we didn’t get a say in that.  No vote or referendum was held, none of the unpowered were counseled that I’m aware of.  We weren’t asked if we wanted to make this deal-”

“You’d rather Scion have killed every last one of us, unpowered and powered alike?” Ashley asked.  “It took every last bit of strength we had, including the assistance we had to barter for, you insipid dolt.”

“Easy,” I said, even as my heart rate tripled.  Damn it.

“I’ll let your outburst pass without comment,” Gary said.  “Even if we accepted the amnesty, we have to limit it to not punishing people for crimes committed on Earth Bet.  That’s it.  It doesn’t mean we can’t look at what she’s doing as a politician and wonder just what it is she’s doing behind the scenes, knowing how she’s operated in the past.  Is she making threats?  Is she using her power to hold people hostage?  Is she killing people who get in her way?”

“Is she?” Tristan asked.

“It would explain a lot of things,” Gary said.

“Can you clarify what those things are?” Tristan pressed.

“How easy it was for her.  How people never seemed to be in her way for very long.  How she always seemed to have funds.”

I could have imagined a less seasoned politician stumbling when pressed for details.  It was a thing my mom had done when I was a kid that I’d picked up and done myself until friends in early high school told me to quit it.  ‘Name one instance’.  It worked great to shut down arguments until someone answered and you were quibbling over whether the instance counted.  My mom had been surgical with when it was applied, picking instances where she knew it would frustrate any arguments.  Tristan wasn’t surgical.

I jumped in with, “Jeanne Wynn was a candidate because she invested heavily into things on this side of the portal.  She planned, and that’s why she’s so well set up.”

“With illicit money.”

“I don’t like it either, but in retrospect?  A lot of the important buildings and infrastructure we’re using now are because she thought the world might end, and she planned around it, investing.  She was right, and we’re all better off for her planning.  I’d rather she did what she did than us not have the community centers, power, trade deals, concrete, prefab building parts, and food that we have.”

“If she knew about the end of the world then why didn’t she stop it?” Gary asked.

“Do you really think she knew about Scion and didn’t stop it?” Tristan asked.  He didn’t wait for an answer.  “At this point you just sound like a sore loser.  Things were bad with the Endbringers and other incidents.  People everywhere were thinking about their options, prepping for disaster.  She was just smart about it.”

Thank you, Tristan.

I knew what answer I might’ve given if I were Gary.  I would have said yes, yes, she could have known and she could have been calculating enough to hold her tongue.  I knew enough details that I didn’t think it was the truth, but it would have been a decisive attack on her character.  Thing was, Tristan was good at speaking.  He had a forceful and combative approach that didn’t come across in his tone, but made people listen, gave him momentum, and let him drop questions any opponent would be happy to answer, and even drop in casual insults like ‘sore loser’ and then string it all together in a way that made it hard to combat.  Gary couldn’t answer the question with an attack on her character without being the sore loser, couldn’t answer the sore loser comment without sounding like he didn’t have an answer, and the audience came away with what Tristan wanted.

Funny thing was, I was realizing that Gary had all the answers, he was ready, he’d probably gone through a hundred mental recitations of this debate or similar debates since getting the material he’d shown from the slides.  He’d already shown himself to be quick in answering the tough, accurate questions.  But when Tristan came at him with his own unique approach and a less stellar argument, Gary seemed a little flat footed.  Rain had done something similar, but without the raw presentation.

“You’re devoting a lot of effort to defending her,” Gary said.

“Because you’re devoting a lot of effort to attacking her,” Tristan said.

I followed up.  Bring things back to center.  Rain established our thesis, whether I love it or not.   “Precipice said this all sucks.  He’s right.  The world ended, things aren’t great.  This cape stuff?  People taking over worlds?  You’re right to be upset and angry.  He’s right in agreeing to that.  I don’t think you’re right that every world is taken.  Not Shin, probably.  Mayor Wynn has given us no indication she’s using powers to rule us.  She was elected.”

“Somehow.  And she did get there using her advantages.  As you said, money that came from caped villainy.”

“Sure,” I said.  “Probably.  But as much as I don’t like her or her role in what happened to my hometown, I do think she wants the same thing we all want.  She wants us to get through this winter.  She wants us to thrive.  My team?  We want the city to thrive.  The best of us are getting bloody, injured, and traumatized fighting the worst of us.”

“The best of us,” Gary answered, his voice taking on a different tone.  “Do you really think you’re better than us?”

“The best capes, fighting the worst capes,” I told him.  To balance my answer, I added, “I can’t think of any non-capes I really dislike, let alone qualify as the ‘worst’, and I can think of a lot I love.”

“And here I hoped I was getting a refreshing bit of honesty from you all,” Gary said.  “Too bad.  It’s interesting, though.  The ‘best’.”

Fuck me, he was really seizing on that.

“I think the sorts of people who have fought Endbringers a dozen times, dedicating their lives to helping others, they deserve the title of ‘hero’, or of ‘best’, just as much as any soldier who fights for our country, Bet or Gimel,” I told Gary.  I took a page from Tristan’s book.  “The therapists who kept them sane through it, Patrol leaders, lawyers, I know them and I consider them among the ‘best’ too.”

“PRT directors who keep an eye out for those who need help,” Ashley said.

“Friends,” Rain said, barely audible, certainly not audible to Gary.

“The people you’ve listed off are all cape-related,” Gary said.

“It’s the life I’ve lived,” I answered.  “I was a cape from the beginning.”

“And it consumes everything,” Gary said.  He stared at me, his eyes level, not even wavering.  “I’m here because I don’t want it to consume us.”

His arm swept out to incorporate the crowd.

Rain had his thesis.  This was Gary’s.

Rain shifted position, like he was about to speak, and then stopped.  Maybe nervousness.

I tried to fill in for him.  “We don’t want it either, and believe me, we’ve seen and survived some of the worst of what’s out there.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Gary said.

“I’ve pulled an actual human baby out of my throat after someone tried to implant it in there.  I’ve seen people cut into fist-sized cubes and have to live through it.  Some of my teammates got similar treatment.”

Rain touched my arm, and I thought at first it was support or solidarity.  Then I felt the fingers of the small arm that gripped me down by the elbow tighten.

“I grew up with the bad, all-consuming stuff too,” Rain said.  “The isolated scary stuff is bad, but there’s good stuff too.  Good people.  People who are trying to help and fighting on the exact same side, for the same things you’re fighting for.  I don’t think that’s ridiculous.”

Right, we’re not trying to scare them.  That’s why he stopped me.

“I said you’re being ridiculous because you talk about surviving the worst when you represent it,” Gary said.

What the fuck, Gary?

“I’ve researched the various teams.  I know who you are, though it took some reminding.  You had an attempted murder charge for apparent fratricide while they were trying to figure out how to charge killing someone you share a body with.  You were Fallen and were directly complicit in the mall fire that killed over a dozen people-”

Each statement was punctuated by a shift in the tone of things, reactions from the room.  I could hear his voice echoing, a half-second late, as the speakers outside carried it to the crowd beyond.

“-Your own mother just went to Earth Shin for medical care because you struck her so hard you took part of her head off and damaged her spine.”

I dropped my eyes to the ground.  Gary apparently knew the fucking particulars better than I did.  Fuck.

I wanted to retort but the mental picture took my breath away.  I’d left the hospital wanting to keep anyone from ever having the same kind of fate I had, and then I’d hurt my mom that badly.

And they’d taken her to Amy.  Who had allegedly done something.

I didn’t want to connect those dots.

“And you were Slaughterhouse Nine,” Gary finished.  His capstone.

“So stupid,” Ashley told him.

I reached out, my hand on her shoulder.  She looked at me, and her eyes- white from corner to corner, black wisps of smoke curling out from the edges of the eyelids, exaggerating black eyelashes.  Her eyes were empty, blank.

“We should go,” I said.

She batted my hand away from her shoulder.

“Stupid, small man,” Ashley said.  She took steps forward, and I flew a bit to keep more or less in front of her.  I was ready to tackle her to the ground.  My wariness and tension seemed to be reason enough for Gary to back up.

I spared a glance, and saw Sveta was pushing past the crowd that was standing around the rows and columns of chairs.  Ashley took advantage of that glance to step around me.  I didn’t spare another look for Rain and Tristan.

“You have all of these facts but you.  Know.  So.  Little,” she told him, making each of the last three words its own punctuated statement unto itself, accusatory, hissed, and pejorative, in that order.

People were standing from their seats, backing up.

“Swansong,” I said, my voice stern.  I used my aura, the radius just wide enough to catch her and none of the audience.  She snapped her head around.  “No.”

“Yes.”

“Ashley,” I said, shifting my tone.  I spoke to her more as a friend,  “Please.”

I noticed blue motes.  Not many, but some.  Byron was using his power, keeping it ready.  A blast of water, in case she lunged for Gary?  I hoped it wouldn’t come to that, because it implied I wouldn’t be in a position to tackle her out of the air.

She reached out in my direction, and it wasn’t a warning or a threat of a blast aimed at annihilating me.  Just- a hand extended, relaxed.

I grabbed it, and I felt her shift her grip, her fingers interlacing with mine.  She half-turned, reached for the wrist of the hand I held, and undid something before twisting it, partially using my grip to help the twist.  When she pulled her hand free of mine, the movement was ginger, gentle, and careful to keep everything from elbow to fingertip pointing up.  It required my cooperation, to let go of her fingers, and I gave it.

Her fingers were stiff in their movements and slow as she touched her other wrist.  She didn’t keep her left hand upright, and instead let her arm swing down.  The swinging motion coupled with the hand being unattached saw it sliding out, flying in Gary’s general direction.  Pale and slender, each nail was done up in black and white polish.

It hit the ground like a lead weight, landing halfway between herself and Gary.  Fingers twitched as they curled up like the legs of a dead spider.  Nail polish splintered off.

Her other arm didn’t swing down, but simply lowered.  I saw the hand slide free, striking the ground near her foot.  The pipe that extended out from the bottom end of the wrist stuck up for a moment, before it toppled and hit the ground with a sharper sound.

“They took my hands,” Ashley said, staring at Gary, extending her arms partially up and out.  The stumps were capped with metal discs with circular holes in the center for the hands to slide into, slick with blood and lubricating oil in equal measure.  “They held me at knifepoint when they made me join.  They took my hands, they took my ability to speak, and they made me act like one of them.  I wasn’t an angel before, but the fact they had to make me says I wasn’t really Slaughterhouse Nine.”

I relaxed, dropping the six inches to the ground.  With that, the tension of others in the room began to dwindle.  One or two people sat.  Others remained standing but didn’t look ready to bolt.

“Wherever you’re getting your information, you’re not getting the full picture,” Ashley said.  “You’re attacking us for things that are far more complicated and unpleasant for us than you’re aware.  I hope so, in any event.  Because if you aren’t ignorant, you’re malignant.”

I bent down, picking up he hand by Ashley’s foot.  When I looked up, Gary was bending down to pick up her other hands.

Rain’s voice was low and quiet, “Be gentle with it.  I know she dropped it to make a point or something, but if you actively tamper with it it or touch the sensors near the metal bone, it might muck with the settings.”

“I’m not a brute,” Gary said.  He weighed it in his hand, and he seemed surprised at how heavy it was.  “I’m not the bad guy here.”

I wondered if the implication was ‘but you are’.

“My brother isn’t a villain either,” Byron said.  Right, they’d changed to have water available.  The motes were gone.  “He was a scared teenager and I’ve forgiven him for what he did to me.  I feel like that’s where things should end.”

“From my experience with law, there’s a reason victims can’t rescind charges.  It’s up to the prosecution, because you need that objective observation and involvement.”

“Victims can testify, though,” Byron said.  “If there’s a jury, victims can make their statements.  If he’s on trial, this is my statement.”

“You’re not on trial,” Gary said.

“Aren’t we?” Rain asked.  “Aren’t we always?  We’re being judged and condemned every damn day we’re out there.  I was damned for being powerless before I got my powers and damned for being broken after I got them.  Family judges us, friends judge us, and it’s usually harsh judgments.  You’re being judged and assessed by your audience, Mr. Nieves.  They’re always doing it.  That’s just how people work.”

“I don’t think you capes are on trial nearly enough, considering the damage you can do.”

“I agree,” Rain said.  “It took too long for the Fallen to be stopped.  I saw a lot of people get hurt.  I’d have liked to see more justice, during that period of time.”

The conversation and its tone had shifted.  We’d moved forward, around Ashley, and Gary had stepped forward to pick up the hand.  There was an audience, but our tone and our volume was more conversational now.

I spoke up, matching my tone to the conversation, despite my anger and anxiety.  “I want to get to a place where there is more justice, where the courts are equipped and able to act against parahumans that cross the line.”

“Even if those parahumans smash their own mothers’ heads into a wall?”

“Even,” I said.  I didn’t flinch.  I stared him down instead.  “It was a miscommunication, me not telling her enough about my power, maybe a bit on her, for not letting me be in a position to tell her.  That sounds a lot shittier to say than I think it was.”

“It’s complicated,” Rain said.  His old catchphrase.

Ashley wasn’t asking for her hand back, and she wasn’t lifting her arm up to indicate for Gary to give the hand back.  I felt like it would be forcing the issue to take the hand I held in my own, cold and otherwise human, like the chunks of the Navigators had been, and give it to her.

She wanted him to offer, and he wanted… I wasn’t sure.

“I’ve seen so many people die,” Gary said.  “If we don’t take a harder line now, then I’m going to see more die.”

“A lot of us were there, face to face against Scion,” Byron said.  “We saw deaths firsthand.  We were there for outright warfare against the Fallen.  Dozens died.  I don’t want to one-up you, sir, but I think we’ve seen more die than you have, and it doesn’t hurt any less.”

Byron shifted back to Tristan.  Gary looked wary about the blurs, as every small difference in detail between the two brothers was bridged by a brush-stroke smear of shadow, before consolidating in the new form.

“I think we want everything you want,” Rain said.  “But we can’t be debating you or defending ourselves against allegations while we work toward that end result.”

“Vastly, painfully simplified allegations,” Tristan said.

“Well, if you wanted to derail my speech and the promotion of Mrs. Darleet’s book, I think you succeeded.”

“No,” I said, and my voice was harder.  “Swansong just laid herself bare, showed you her disability.  You’re holding the evidence in your hand as we speak.”

“You used me for ammunition,” Ashley said.  “I get to say something back.  Isn’t that how a trial goes?  If I don’t get to, it’s something else entirely, and you might as well have the common decency and the feeble trace of courage to follow through and either hang me or burn me at the stake.  Let me go out in a dramatic way, but don’t you dare misrepresent me.”

“I’m not going to lynch you.  You’re being ridiculous.  We’re asking questions.”

Ashley answered, “Without us here to answer them.  When we do answer them, we’re accused of derailing.  The difference between us, Gary, is that you have a kind of power here, and you haven’t even tried to be just, kind, or fair.  But in my experience with Breakthrough, I’ve seen that no matter how rocky the road gets, and it’s rocky right now, it feels like we’re losing or we’ve lost… we still try.”

Gary still held Ashley’s hand, and he seemed lost in thought for a minute.  No retort, no response.

Then he looked at the base of the hand, where what Rain had called the ‘pole’ stuck out, to be threaded into the hole in the stump and root in the forearm, he looked at Ashley’s arm, and he seemed to realize how weird it was that he was holding a girl’s dismembered hand.  He extended his hand, holding the hand by the wrist.

Ashley put her arm out, hole pointed at him, and he had to turn the hand ninety degrees to stick the pole out and put it into the hole.  There was a faint sound like something sliding into a sheath, Ashley pushed out to help the final connection pop, then twisted her arm around to rotate the hand before something caught.

“Thank you,” she said.  She flexed her hand, forming a fist, then moving the fingers.  She turned to Rain.  “Feels wrong.”

“You threw your hand down like someone throws down a gauntlet in a duel.  It’s going to screw up the fine tuning.”

“Guys,” Tristan said.

Gary glowered.

“You might have really hurt relations with Shin or Cheit,” I said.  “I don’t know what happens to the mayor, but if this leads to her being ejected or removed, I think it hurts all of us.”

“We can disagree on that.”

“We’ll see how it goes.  In the meantime, if you need help with something else, if you have questions or if you want to meet us halfway?  You can contact us.  I think there are better ways to use the listening ears you have.  If you get tired of tearing things down with no plan to build them back up, I have ideas about how you could educate and inform people, or broaden what we have in the way of the Patrol, that lets people have more involvement.”

“Something else,” he said.  “In other words, you think I need help with what I said about the mayor, Cheit, or Shin, but you won’t give it.”

I thought about it.  That had kind of been my intended implication.  There were so many toes to step on.  Territory I didn’t want to get into.  Like my sister.

“If it does turn out that that’s the case, reach out.  We’ll see what we can do.”

Mr. Nieves didn’t nod or shake his head.  He turned to the table where the two and a half pounds of laptop and twenty pounds of cabling were, motioning for them to wrap things up.  I heard the blip of the speakers being disconnected as wires were undone.

And that somehow felt like the end of the conversation.  I backed away, Ashley turned.  I spotted Sveta in the crowd, looking relieved.

That was it.

“Want a book?” Mrs. Darleet asked, as we went to go.  When everyone had backed up, she’d stepped away from her podium and into the edges of the crowd.  Now she was back at it.

“Read it,” Ashley said.  “I was talking to my team about it earlier.”

“That’s great,” the woman said.

Probably a publicity stunt, or a chance to make us look bad when we refused, or pure irony.  I didn’t have a read on her.  But whatever.  I held out my hand, took the book, thanking her.  People would interpret our taking the book however they wanted.

The crowd got out of our way.

We left it behind, and I hoped that even if we hadn’t defused it all, we’d at least raised questions or broken their stride.  I hoped the video wouldn’t look as bad as I worried it would.

“He played dirty,” Tristan said.  “Bringing up the shit he did.”

“Swansong called him small.  He kind of is.  He’s using the only tools he has to try to effect change.  I remember what it was like, being unpowered in a powered family, how little it felt like anything I did mattered.”

“Pretty generous of you,” Tristan said.

Sveta exited the building, making her way through the crowd and crossing the street.

“I dunno,” I said.

Sveta joined us.

“I think you’re going too easy on him, offering help, bending the knee,” Ashley said.

Rain answered her, “We’re on the same side.  We want the same things.  It’s a… minor difference, I guess, but an important one.”

“A distinction,” I supplied the word.

“That.”

“What distinction?” Ashley asked.

“He’s anti-parahuman, except, my experience says he wouldn’t call himself that.  He’d say something like ‘I’m aware of how dangerous parahumans are’ and he’d have some stats to back it up.  Thing is?  So are we.  We’re very aware of the threat posed.  We’re more aware.  The dif- distinction is that he’s focused on the overall threat.  We’re focused on specific threats, the worst of them.”

Ashley stared int the silvery-white lenses of Rain’s mask.

“It’d be nice to work together or whatever when it comes to dealing with the worst capes.  Focus energies,” I said.

“Exactly,” Rain said.  “There’s overlap, common interest.  We all want certain capes that are abusing their powers, abusing the system, and abusing others gone.  Maybe we can loop Gary into that.  Get him on board.”

“It’s not that easy to change someone’s mind,” Ashley said.

“I know it’s not, believe me.  I’ve dealt with my share of bigots.  But I think there’s a chance,” Rain said.

“It’s not simple,” I agreed.  I still had anxiety and dark thoughts pushing in at the edges from what had been brought up.  I wanted to move, to act, to go punch bad guys, just to keep that stuff at the edges from creeping in enough to matter.  Move fast enough and that kind of thinking would have to cling on for dear life.

“It’s complicated,” Rain said.  “It’s the kind of complicated I’ve been wrestling with from the beginning.”

“Speaking of complicated,” I said.  “Ashley.  You’re…”

“You’re backsliding,” Tristan said.  “That was bad.”

“I thought I made a good point.”

“You’re backsliding.”

“We’re all backsliding, if you haven’t noticed.”

“I know you,” Sveta jumped in, joining the conversation.  “You were on the edge.  You could have blasted him.”

“I could blast anyone.  I could blast you, right here and right now.  But I don’t because I don’t want to.  I didn’t blast him because he’s a goblin of a man without even a single testicular smudge’s worth of manliness, who attacks people behind their backs.  He’s not worth it.  Does he redeem himself somewhat by giving me my hand back and listening to us a little?  A tad.”

“You thought about blasting him and you held back,” Sveta said.

“I held back,” Ashley said.

“We need to discuss this.  This pattern of behavior isn’t good,” I said.

“A pattern where I hold back?”

“A pattern where you need to hold back,” Sveta said.

“This is me.  This is who I am.”

What was?  I felt like I’d gotten to know her, that she’d let her guard down, dropped aspects of the self-imposed image she’d built up around herself, and become more comfortable.  I’d liked the Ashley I’d gotten to know.   Now… I wasn’t even sure about any of it.

People who broke down tended to reveal raw and vulnerable parts of themselves, and I’d thought that in the past events where Ashley’s facade had cracked, I’d seen glimmers of the Ashley who cared deeply about Kenzie and who could care deeply about others.  The Swansong.  Now I felt like the Swansong facade was cracking under the strain of keeping up the act here and it was revealing a Damsel beneath.

White with black beneath the surface or black with white beneath the surface, just endless beneath-the-surfaces.  Always with a few limited constants.

There had been vulnerability here, though.  Showing the missing hands in front of watching eyes.  Declaring she wasn’t Slaughterhouse.  Still, there was something I’d call darkness.

“Do you need to hang back?  Take a break while we look after other stuff?”

“No,” Ashley said, sounding offended.

I was frustrated, and with how Ashley tended to ramp up when she got agitated, and the way my own frustration seemed to mirror that right now, I backed off, letting Sveta take over.

My phone was ringing anyway.  I pulled it out and I checked the screen, and then I went very still.

“What’s wrong?”  It’d been Rain who noticed.  “Teacher attack?”

“I don’t think so,” I answered.

“What, then?”

“Someone caught some of what Gary was saying when he named names.  It got out to Earth Shin.  They want to meet.”

I didn’t want to do this.  I was happier telling myself Gary had been wrong than I was putting myself in a position to know one way or the other.  Knowing that she did what he’d alleged, or that she didn’t and that I had to wrestle with the word ‘innocent’ linked to her name.

“Family they?” Sveta asked.

“Family they.”

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155 thoughts on “Breaking – 14.3”

      1. Effect can be used as a verb to mean “to bring about”. So here they are saying that he is trying to bring about change.

    1. Looks like this is the typo thread.

      > Just the people with laptops hooked into masses of wires that seemed to weigh more than the laptops themselves, those wires threading their way beneath seats to the big screens at the back.
      > Like Precipice says, this stuff you’re bringing up can be scary, our own lives are on the line when we go out there to stop despots and monsters, and we can’t afford not to keep an eye on the dangerous ones.”
      > “Precipice said this all sucks.
      > Now… I wasn’t even sure about any of it.

      There are either too many or too few spaces before these sentences.

      > I saw the woman who used to rule Earth Shin take steps to reclaim her throne, and I.”

      Wouldn’t using an ellipsis or a dash rather than a dot be a better way to end this sentence?

      > A teacher plot, aimed at making this worse.

      Capital ‘T’ in ‘Teacher’. Possibly also ‘Teacher’s’ instead of ‘A teacher’.

      > I bent down, picking up he hand by Ashley’s foot. When I looked up, Gary was bending down to pick up her other hands.

      Unless Ashley somehow got a third hand when we weren’t looking the last word in this sentence should be ‘hand’.

      > “He’s anti-parahuman, except, my experience says he wouldn’t call himself that.

      Scratch the comma after ‘except’?

      > Ashley stared int the silvery-white lenses of Rain’s mask.

      int > into

      1. up he hand > up the hand
        other hands > other hand
        it it > it
        sheath, Ashley > sheath. Ashley
        int the > into the

  1. Convenient how at the end, we don’t know Ashley’s footing…another great chapter. Loving Sveta’s new abilities too, wow!

      1. Nah, it was actually Carol’s idea. She wanted to try a change of looks. All these years with the best cosmetics kit in the multiverse living in her house and she never took advantage of it.

      2. What if it is even worse? What if the shape of Carol’s breaker form changed to a Tetrahedron? Just imagine the horror! You won’t be able to play soccer with her, New Wave will need to come up with entirely new engagement patterns, and argue over their names again, and undoubtedly many, many people will hurt their feet by stepping in her by accident!

        1. Moreover with the new shape of her breaker form Brandish undoubtedly gained an ability to predict who is going to die during the next Endbringer fight. This means that she probably stayed on Shin, because she needs to be protected against Teacher and whoever else might be going after precogs, and the villains allied with Amy can provide the best protection she can get at the moment.

    1. I expected that from that moment Vicky admitted the miscommunication issue.
      Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be rocky all right.

  2. So, breaking news was one of the reason for the title, and *breaking Brandish was another. Ashley’s patience approaching breaking point is in there too.

    The question is, which part of family is asking to meet with Victoria and if it is Amy, oh hell… if Vic’s forced to work in concert with her sister a second time, but then Vicky decides to change the angle of how she deals with her and calls for an impartial judge. (No, not Imp’s hand.) and then hires Tattletale.

      1. Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if it meant all four of them. It is not like Victoria and Marquis can forever pretend that they haven’t belonged the same family ever since Amy was adopted by Dallons.

        1. By the way I, wonder when will an entry “Parental Unit 3” appear on list of contacts in Victoria’s phone.

        2. Well, Victoria doesn’t have anything to do with Marquis, “belonging to the same family” relationship isn’t transitive. Amy might have 3 “parental units”, but not Victoria.

      2. I think “Family they” is a narrowing down of “It got out to Earth Shin. They want to meet”. Using the singular ” they” allows Victoria to abstractly refer to Amy without the gut wrenching awfulness that a more specific “She” would bring her.

        1. Now that I think about, you’re probably right. It would explain why Victoria said that “Someone caught some of what Gary was saying”. Singular “someone” not “some people”.

  3. Gary is such a SMALL MAN with an even SMALLER MIND. So small that he doesn’t even deserve to get killed by someone so amazing and cool like Ashley. I’m glad Ashley showed so much self-control because I didn’t want her to risk the hate and revenge of the crowd by spilling the blood of someone so SMALL and PATHETIC like Gary. It doesn’t worth it.

    The good thing is that they completely pwned Gary with their arguments and logic. He was utterly humiliated because he failed to convince people to follow his stupid and total bigot view on parahumans.

    Now for the bad thing…I’m kind of worried for Carol, hope that everything will be better than I expect to be.

    1. That’s kind of why I feel sympathy for him. He is a small, powerless muggle in the world, where he and everybody he knows may be dead next day due to Parahumans. Which is not even irrational fear, but an actual reality, that he lives in. I’m pretty certain the way two alien gods set up their weapons test, didn’t have a happy ending for humanity or any ending, where it would still exist. And extinction is still in the cards. Gary is right about the big picture – the heroes are caught in solving immediate problems, they are always caught in some conflict, by alien design, so they don’t have to solve the core problem. If parahumans don’t find a way to communicate & redefine their relation with passengers, a new golden morning will come.

      1. True. But he’s still a dick. And the question is, just how spiteful a dick is he? Because if his spite is what really drives him, he’d never accept any solution that isn’t exactly what he wants.

        1. Does his being dickish change anything from his main point tho? How else is he supposed to feel about a group of people causing nearly all of the problems that is currently affecting him and the rest of the nonpowered? Gratitude? That’s a lot to ask, especially considering the fact that the capes are really interested in telling the nonpowered anything.

      2. He’s not fair at all. He’s a Dick with capital D. He expected for Citrine alone to save the world from Scion, despite knowing that Scion killed hundreds of capes and Citrine was like an ant compared with him. He blamed Vic for hurting her mom (accidentally) despite knowing that Vic was trying to stop a very dangerous parahuman like Cradle to make more victims. He’s good only at judging parahumans, without even trying to understand their motivations of their actions. He’s good only to blame, but never find real solutions. He’s good only to present parahumans as evil nonhumans despite knowing that “his humans” survived in a modern city thanks to heroic parahumans. He never try to see the good side of the group of people that he hates so much. He also see what is bad and rotten. This is how a bigot blinded by hate usually act. I don’t feel sorry for someone so narrow minded.

        1. He’s not even aware that he might trigger anytime, becoming exactly the person he hates. What he’ll do if he’ll become parahuman? Kill himself because he can’t live anymore as a “monster”?

          1. He probably can’t. Triggers are most common between 8 and 30, with a few years’ swing either way. I think Gary Nieves is in his forties at the youngest. He just seems like a grumpy old man to me, and forties is the minimum for that.

          2. Send him to Amy, let him rewire his brain and along with lab rat alter him so he can trigger. Then tell him he now has parahuman potential, have the worst day of his life and then trigger.

            Also, to for comparison, J Jonah Jameson is a saint. he was oaky with the fantastic four because they’ve always been public and he stood up for the X men’s civil rights

          3. There is a simpler solution. Send Gary to Teacher. He probably wouldn’t like either of the methods of giving people powers without using something as unreliable as natural triggers Teacher has at his disposal.

        2. “[Gary i]s good only at judging parahumans, without even trying to understand their motivations of their actions.”
          I disagree. Judgement means being able to recognize reasons why someone should be condemned, but also being able to recognize reasons why they shouldn’t be condemned. If you can’t do both, you’re not judging someone; you’re just condemning them.

        3. I just wanted to say how grateful I am to you for writing that. This whole plot with Nieves’ movement has been so viscerally terrifying to me in the ways not even the Fallen were, it truly helps to have someone put him in perspective.

          Speaking of perspective, I was truly impressed with how Victoria tried to make an ally even out of Nieves. I remember someone saying a few chapter comment sections back, that the theme of Ward seems to be connections – and for that, she seems to be a perfect protagonist.

      3. Everybody he knew already got murdered by parahumans, right in front of him, and now he’s being used as a puppet by a precog.

        1. agreed- i dont even take him seriously- he’s full of shit, or a self-deluded pawn like saint at worst- the man isnt dangerous himself, he’s just a tool, by his own choice…

          now, whoever’s pulling his strings, on the other hand…

    2. He may be small, but I wonder if is if he is small enough to win the next mayoral election.

      On a possibility related note, while I think that the conversation Gary had with Breakthrough would be nice enough if it happened behind closed doors, I just can’t help but fear that the audience will misinterpret plenty of nuances of what they just heard in worst possible ways.

      1. While someone will presumably misinterpret it, I think the opposite holds for the bulk of the audience. Realistically, I think the only way this fails to hurt him* is if there’s a 24-hour channel devoted to lying about capes. Teacher could do it, but if he were that invested in anti-parahuman media I doubt the whole encounter would have gone out to Earth Shin.

        *Or his bigoted cause. In principle Gary himself could still turn back from the Abyss.

    3. Did breakthrough win that encounter? I know from our perspective they did. But our perspective is Victoria and there was a conspicuous lack of her noting how the crowd was taking the whole exchange. They may have just legitimized Gary’s stance by trying to take a parallel argument.

  4. It’s terribad that this isn’t just how WE learn what happened to Carol, but so does Victoria.

    Ashley, however, was a boss. The problem, I think, is that Victoria keeps forgetting that Ashley is going all method acting in her maskirovka, and fails to correct her judgement for it.

    I wonder how much of this shitshow actually ends up on the air tho.

    1. Victoria’s got a flaw of not trusting her teammates knowing what they are doing, and thinking their methods aren’t as good as what she’d have done in their shoes. It’s kinda showing worse now, I think.

      1. I don’t blame Victoria for being worried about Ashley, Ashley pretty much admitted afterwards that she was getting close to blasting him. And she has a history of murdering people who make her too mad, i.e. BoB.

    2. > The problem, I think, is that Victoria keeps forgetting that Ashley is going all method acting in her maskirovka, and fails to correct her judgement for it.

      You sure about that? The way I remember it when Ashley went undercover in Hollow Point she ended her “maskirovka” with a manslaughter. Maybe she is simply not cut for such performances? I hope for the best, but I admit that right now I’m just as worried as Victoria is when it comes to Ashley.

      1. I was thinking she learned her lesson, and the fact that Victoria has twice had to remind herself that no, Ashley is aware of what she’s doing – the hand scene tells us that she’s playing at this.

        Remember, killing BOB happened before she decided to be Swansong.

        1. Let’s hope that you are right, though I worry that under sufficient stress Swansong may once again do something she will regret later. It is not like killing Beast of Burden was a purely rational and premeditated decision on her part. Far from it in fact.

        2. She showed everyone her weakness when she took off her hands. And While Vicky is taking away that it’s a bad and dark thing that Ashley is talking about how she made the choice not to blast Gary… Well you’ve got to wonder how important being able to choose is to Ashley. She didn’t get a choice while watching her father beat her mother, she didn’t get a choice when her power killed her mother, and every misfire after that, she didn’t get choice when the Slaughterhouse 9 recruited her. For Ashley, saying “I made a choice” may be her way of saying “I was in control of myself”.

    3. The line between method acting and just plain method is thin indeed—dangerously thin, if the “method” in question involves murder.

  5. That was a victory. An unexpected, brilliant victory against someone who’s determined to fight them because he doesn’t want to be cowed by them, unaware that fighting them proves he’s already cowed.

    Swansong was awesome, and I loved the whole chapter.

  6. I can’t help but feel kind of bad for Gary. I keep on getting this impression that he really doesn’t believe what he’s preaching deep down. It feels like he’s being manipulated from day 1 by Dinah.

    Poor Gare-bear.

    1. Would Dinah manipulation explain why he knows basically everything? Her gifts do not include omniscience or remote viewing. Whereas e.g. Teacher does have that sort of perfect surveillance setup, and while Gary is worried about Cheit he didn’t mention anything specific about Teacher…

      Actually the most obvious explanation is that he has teamed up with St. Yamada. She knows all of the stuff he just rattled off.

      1. …and she would be a more appealing associate to Gary, because she appears to be a normal human, although one braver and wiser than most of us.

      2. Recall that in 7.y Gary made contact with Erwin, who fed him information, and 10.z told us Dinah’s been gathering Thinkers. Erwin could easily be a messenger from Dinah (or Teacher) to directly manipulate the politician who was about to spearhead the anti-parahuman sentiment

      3. And that’s yet more evidence that the whole “theory” about Dinah is BS, and Teacher is the one manipulating Gary. Of course Teacher wouldn’t give Gary any information about himself, and would act through proxies to conceal his own involvement.

    2. “Useful idiot” might be appropriate. It seems like his heart’s in the right place, but he lets himself get lead around by the nose by players that see him as a tool for rabble-rousing, dissent, and enacting discriminatory laws/practices that reduce the effectiveness of Gimel’s #1 asset on dealing with other worlds.

  7. I think the sequel to Worm has really focused on Parahumans. In the first Worm there was a stronger connection to Brockton Bay and it’s people. Parahumans took most of the spotlight, but we had message boards, POVs of civilians, PRT was run by humans. Heck, Jack was taken down by person without powers. Here, at least for me, the city and it’s people exist in abstraction. There’s no emotional connection. I kind of miss it.

    1. Perhaps a part of it is that as Victoria herself put it, “she was a cape from the beginning”. She simply never had as much close relationships with non-capes as Taylor did (I am aware how ironic it sounds considering Taylor’s social awkwardness, especially compared to Victoria), and it just influences the narrative?

      That said I also would like to see a bit more focus on non-capes in this story.

      1. Also remember that between Victoria’s stay in hospital and the chaos of Gold Morning plenty of her connections with unpowered humans from Bet were probably broken. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t know if any of her old non-cape classmates even survived Gold Morning, much less where they live right now. It was probably much easier to maintain or re-establish contact with capes and people like Yamada through easy to find, high-profile organizations like the Wardens.

        In other words Victoria doesn’t have much contact with civilians she knew back on Bet, because they are difficult to find, and most of them haven’t thought of contacting her (Madison may be the only one we know about), and in a city with fifty million inhabitants it is not easy to run into such people by accident. The fact that Victoria probably returned to “superheroing” not that long after sites like PHO were re-established probably also didn’t help. Chances are she would find more of her old civilian acquaintances if she had more time for browsing forums and social media such people used to frequent than she probably has as a team leader and a coordinator of Breakthrough’s hero network.

        Taylor had an opposite problem – sometimes she happened to run into a civilian she knew, and wanted to avoid (like Emma in Arcadia High).

    2. I sorta agree. There was always this sense that brockton bay was a sorta character in its own right. You could picture yourself being among the people living in supervillain territory post Levitation, for instance. I felt that taylor interacting with civilians was one of the best parts of the story. Scenes like the mannequin attack, her staging her claim of the city, raiding the merchants, blackmailing the mayer, and her identity being outed- all of them were grounded in the normal people of the city, and they felt like forces in their own right, albeit very minor ones. I get this sense of… ivory tower with Victoria. She grew up with capes, always was going to be a cape, all her friends were capes, even wanted to study capes in college. She’s a good person, but beyond the abstract does she care about normal people at all?

    3. The state of the world(s) gets more focus than the Megalopolis. I’m not sure if it’s better or worse, but it’s definitely different.

      I find it kind of ironic that the story whose POV character was a socially-withdrawn teen cutting off more and more ties with each passing arc showed more of the community beyond her social circles than the story whose POV character is extroverted and socially-aware.

  8. “And now others step in to fill the void. Her sister.”
    Okay, that’s really a dick thing Gary. I think you deserve to be hung up by the Figgin.

  9. I… didn’t really like this chapter. A lot of breakthroughs argument came across as “you don’t understand because you’re not special like us.” I understand that sure, they are the frontline fighters, the soilders, and they are needed and deserve sympathy. But NONE of that addresses the sheer political power parahumans hold. Having a hard life dosnt mean you deserve power, or know what to do with it. Its in character for Victoria and Ashley, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If Nieves is a bigot (and on a technical level I don’t think he is, just a dick) so are they.

    1. They weren’t arguing for parahumans having power. That part wasn’t in contention due to Rain’s approach. They just pushed back at the argument that parahumans are all bad and all dangerous. You let Gary convince you the argument was about something it wasn’t.

    2. They’re simply realistic. Which normal scientific expert in the series would you have with greater weight than Dragon?

      Which leader who could deal with contingencies on the level of a precog?

      Which populist that Teacher or Mama Matters couldn’t massively outperform?

      Chief had human leadership, and Teacher owns them now.

      Restructuring their leadership at any time in this story would have been disastrous. Dragon et al have clearly been bracing this whole book, waiting for a blow.

      Building these cities so fast was clearly a parahuman feat. It had to be, because if they weren’t where they are now, Teacher could’ve taken over in less subtle ways, because he has no compunction about using his powers to organize a society.

      1. Theres a huge difference between using resources and one person controlling the resource getting power because of it. Whats more, Citrine WAS a villian. Amnesty just means she can’t legally be held accountable, it dosnt wipe away the past. In real life, I never vote for Sinn Fein (an Irish political party led by former IRA members) because I don’t want my country run by former terrorists and current crooks. When they are fighting s class threats, sure, let parahumans take command- its martial law, basically and it exists for a reason. The rest of the time, handing power exclusively to parahumans because they are oh so better is just creating an elite class.

        1. The problem is, a non-para in power is a massive target and weak point, under the situation as it stands in Ward from the start, it appears to have been the surest way to end up under total parahuman control.

          I think it’s a case of fair on paper not equalling fair in reality. There is no real way to avoid ceding extensive power in planning and execution to Parahumans unless you don’t care if your plans have any chance of working and thus don’t mind that you don’t have personnel capable of executing those plans.

        2. > When they are fighting s class threats, sure, let parahumans take command- its martial law, basically and it exists for a reason. The rest of the time […]

          The problem is, this “rest of the time” is yet to come, and it won’t be soon. As it is now, there is a constant need to fend off S-class threats, rebuild society and all infrastructure after the end of the world, and there’s a war with Cheit looming on the horizon.

  10. ashley im so fuckin proud of you hon
    to me the others’ concerns read more like part of the ploy against teacher, and vicky forgot to check because she’s so frazzled and let that influence her read of ashley
    but honestly comparing that bit about breakthrough always trying to the ashley from the beginning of the story? heartwarming

      1. You’ve been watching Bonesaw operate too much.

        Surgeons do not typically have blowtorches.

        Spread the word.

  11. I jumped in with, “Jeanne Wynn was a candidate because she invested heavily into things on this side of the portal. She planned, and that’s why she’s so well set up.”

    “With illicit money.”

    “I don’t like it either, but in retrospect? A lot of the important buildings and infrastructure we’re using now are because she thought the world might end, and she planned around it, investing. She was right, and we’re all better off for her planning. I’d rather she did what she did than us not have the community centers, power, trade deals, concrete, prefab building parts, and food that we have.”

    I must say that this bit made me feel like Accord’s bullshit powers are slightly less bullshit than I thought before. I’ve always wondered how it was possible to build a city housing fifty million people from scratch over two years. Looks like it happened because the construction wasn’t done entirely from scratch. I always knew that Tattletale prepared for the end of the world by gathering resources around the area which ended up becoming New Brockton, but I haven’t taken into account that the Ambassadors may have been doing the same a little further away from the Brockton Bay portal. It even makes perfect sense that the person who was Accord’s best apparently managed to do an even better job when it comes to such preparations than Tattletale did.

    Still, actually building a city capable of housing fifty million people within two years (even if some of them lived in tents) seems only slightly less implausible to me than it did before this revelation. There is only so much that can be done just by stockpiling materials and tools, scouting terrain for raw resources, planning etc. Remember that actual building on large scale probably couldn’t start before the necessary manpower arrived on Gimel during and after Gold Morning. It is not like Citrine could have just hired hundreds of thousands construction workers and send them to Gimel before GM.

    1. Regarding the fact that Citrine was “Accord’s finest”, I think that both Gary and Victoria may have missed one important reason for Jeanne Wynn’s success as the mayor. Remember that Accord did not give powers to incompetents. To become an Ambassador, you had to sufficiently impress him as an unpowered human first, and we know that it wasn’t easy. Citrine impressed Accord more than any of his other Ambassadors. This means that even without her power Jeanne is a person of impressive capabilities, and considering what sort of capabilities Accord valued in people she probably has a perfect skill set to take her current position.

      1. Gary, at least, also appears to be unaware that she’s married to the Number Man, whose powers are probably the best available substitute for Accord’s.

        1. Number Man’s powers are certainly very helpful when it comes to implementing Accord’s notes, but my gut feeling is that they are not as much a substitute for Accord’s power as they are a way to complement them. Accord was great when it comes to designing flexible, easy to understand and follow overall strategies that worked in wide variety of potential conditions. His strategies almost certainly included a (most likely not that long) list of key variables that need to be closely monitored, and suggestions on how to proceed depending on values of those variables. Number Man on the other hand is probably worse when it comes to formulating overall strategies, but better in tracking the exact values of individual variables and creating mathematical models which can be used to predict those values in response to various measurable factors.

          In other words, I think that Accord’s main strength in lies in something like strategic management, while Number Man is probably better at disciplines like econometrics which are useful when it comes to implementing a good overall strategy, and modifying it to someone extent as needed, but are no substitute for it. Number Man would probably be much less successful if he tried focus on a project outside of the scope of available Accord’s strategies.

          On the other hand detailed mathematical models Number Man can create and just the amount of raw data he can probably track if you give him access to Internet, would obviously be an invaluable resource to someone creating the overall strategy in the first place, and I wonder how much Accord’s notes owe to information provided by Number Man.

          1. Not to mention that there are probably many factors you need to take into account while trying to come up with strategy to build something like the city that may not even be possible to handle well with mathematics. For example happiness. There are obviously tons of mathematical models that try to deal with happiness in one way or another, but how do we even know which ones of them are correct? How do we even represent overall happiness of a person (much less a society)? Can it be done with a single aggregate value or at least a set of numerical values or any other mathematical concepts? How do we know that a certain aggregate or set of numbers is better at representing happiness than some other set? Can happiness even be measured?

            I imagine that Accord was much better equipped to handle concepts like happiness than Number Man is.

        1. That’s the thing – they may not know that. On the other hand the fact that Accord’s organization enjoyed a steady supply of capes who seemed to share certain skill sets and personality traits, and, judging from their powers, never operated alone before becoming Ambassadors, might have clued in a cape geek like Victoria.

    2. I’m pretty sure Accord, Citrine, and Tattletale weren’t the only ones making preparations. Seems to me like everyone with access to resources who had heard of Dinah’s prophecy (or thought the end of the world was coming from something else) would want to do something like that.
      (Also, wasn’t it implied somewhere that Cauldron was doing the same?)

      1. Remember that before Gold Morning nobody probably knew that city area is going to end up with all of those portals. It may be even possible that until Khepri substituted Doormaker with Labyrinth and Scrub the Brockton Bay portal was the only portal in that general area. We know that there were more portals leading out of Bet, but they were probably scattered all over the world, which means that outside of natives of Brockton Bay and its surroundings (wide enough to cover Bet’s counterpart of the area occupied by Megalopolis right now) nobody was focused on establishing themselves beyond that particular portal. The situation was further complicated by the fact that with Undersiders de facto having a better control over the portal in Brockton Bay the only people who could make any real preparations in that part of Gimel might have been the Undersiders and the Ambassadors. Bet’s US government theoretically had access to BB portal, but with BB itself being controlled by the villains the government might have focused its efforts elsewhere.

        All of this means that Tattletale and Citrine might have very well been the only people who made any real preparations in the part of Gimel that later became the city. Moreover because of Citrine’s association with both Accord and Number Man Citrine and her Ambassadors might even been the front Cauldron used to make its own preparations in the area. This would further explain why Citrine’s preparations were so successful – Cauldron might have simply given her money and other resources necessary for preparations around Brockton Bay portal, and with Cauldron falling apart in the aftermath of Gold Morning Citrine and Number Man could simply claim all Cauldron’s assets anywhere near Brockton Bay portal as their own with no Cauldron’s strings attached anymore.

  12. I called it. Ashley’s slowly losing it. She needed that vent her sister gave her, it’s gone, she no longer has that bent, that source of peaceful conflict to keep her cool. It’s only a matter of time till her inner Slashly finally breaks free.

    1. Actually you could argue that Damsel more or less called it too, and even warned both Victoria and Swansong about it.

  13. Is it only me, or have we seen yet another change in Rain in this and the previous arcs? He doesn’t seem to drown so much in guilt and self-doubt anymore. Does it mean that if the members of his cluster don’t even bother picking up the tokens, they don’t get them once they wake up by default? Where do those tokens go if this is the case? To the fifth space?

    1. They do get the tokens by default. Rain only didn’t get his the last time because he didn’t do anything with them and Cradle was trying to drain the powers of everyone, so Rain’s power was drained and it assumed he’d given his tokens to Cradle. In actuality, Cradle had stolen the tokens, but Love Lost had thrown hers at Rain. So Cradle didn’t get Love Lost’s power for that reason. If Rain had given his tokens to Colt or Love Lost, then he still wouldn’t have had any- but Love Lost or Colt could have been able to do something.

      1. They do get tokens by default if the tokens end up on the floor, but are we certain that it also happens if the tokens are never picked up from the dais?

        1. I hope so. Those tokens might be emotion, but they’re also power. Without his tokens, Rain can’t cut things. He can’t even throw his blades, and his primary power’s a blaster one. He’s supposed to throw those things.

          Besides, tokens reinforce their emotion power, and the manipulation is shaped by the emotion of the token’s originator. That person’s dominated by that emotion to some extent by that emotion. I’d not be surprised if Rain’s own emotion had changed.

          1. Actually my worry is less about Rain’s powers or emotions (though they obviously are very important too) and more about the possibility that the tokens end up in the fifth space. Overseer’s interlude contained a suggestion that whatever is in the fifth space may be capable of some sort of buildup. I think this buildup may fueled by tokens it has access to, considering how central they are to this cluster. And considering the title of this arc, I fear that whatever is in that space may be close to its breaking point…

  14. I bent down, picking up he hand by Ashley’s foot. When I looked up, Gary was bending down to pick up her other hands.

    Should be picked up the hand.

  15. Calling it now. Brandish deliberately asked Amy for a bunch of extra arms and eyes as part of a Carol-scheme to show solidarity with Victoria while simultaneously gaining an edge in the office.

    Or we can use the boring theory that what Gary interpreted as one of Amy’s fuckups was really just Chris being Chris.

    Either way, the reason her family’s only just now getting back in touch is that it took this long for all the paperwork to be finalized. But it’s done now. Chris has officially been adopted by the Dallons, and Carol, Mark, and Marquis are now happily married.

    1. >Either way, the reason her family’s only just now getting back in touch is that it took this long for all the paperwork to be finalized. But it’s done now. Chris has officially been adopted by the Dallons, and Carol, Mark, and Marquis are now happily married.

      This does seem like the most likely turn of events. Marquis and Carol do get on so well after all.

      1. Just imagine the salt if Amy is actually doing things right, everything is working out perfectly, and she’s done more to make the world a better place, and more successfully than anyone else in this story. It would be glorious.

    2. > Or we can use the boring theory that what Gary interpreted as one of Amy’s fuckups was really just Chris being Chris.

      Somewhat less boring theory: it’s Chris following the imperative 4 and getting Amy’s help with it. And becoming a Warrior counterpart to the Thinker Kronos.

  16. BT didn’t exactly enjoy this mission, but they didn’t fail either. That validates Cinereal’s decision to overrule Antares’s whinging. I can’t imagine Moonbeam keeping up with that debate. Victor might have kept up, but there’s no way he could have kept his native assholery under wraps. Also the E88 thing. That doesn’t even mention the impending additional scandal about which Cinereal would say no more. Gary certainly would have said more…

    What if this entire situation has been engineered to bring about that family reunion that came up right at the end? Thinkers exist whose plans are that convoluted.

  17. I think closest real analogue to cape’s with their powers are military. All arguments are applied – military is stronger, required to defend against enemy military, sometimes difficult life, shift of values, even conflict-driven occurs 🙂
    Natalie in Shade 4.6: “There’s a view, and it isn’t my view, that if you have a power then you’re armed at all times”
    And so society approach to handle capes should be similar – military are not to take power positions over civilians, while civilian top leaders like presidents have power positions over military.
    So far situations looks like military coup in progress – capes at power.

    1. Decent point. I like it. The ugly reality, though, is that aside from (maybe) Earth Bet’s China, the cape “military” spend most of its time and effort facing internal enemies. The positive way to frame that (and ~more accurate) is law enforcement. In some ways there’s been a sort of secret police aspect to it (cops-and-robbers) reminds me slightly of the rules of the espionage “game”).

      When the military is distributed everywhere down to the small town level and spread out everywhere, should we be comparing cape activity to martial law then? Or to militaries occupying foreign countries? I suppose there are aspects of both.

      1. I would argue that there is one key reason why comparing capes to military, or even to a lesser extent the police doesn’t really work that well as fatas we consider a threat of taking over state governments. Militaries are organized in such fashion that a relatively small number of generals on top of their command structures (in theory often just the supreme commander) can use them to take over their respective countries through a coup. This is because soldiers who refuse to follow orders can face harsh repercussions (in many militaries even including death penalty) for not doing so. In an extreme, theoretical situation a single commander-in-chief could order a military coup and take over their country despite the fact that none of his subordinates are really willing to do so. In practice that commander would need at least some people in the upper echelons willing support him, but it would still be possible to take over with an army in which only a small minority of the soldiers support the coup.

        This is simply not the case with capes organized the way they are in Megalopolis. Each one of them can refuse any order of their team leaders and leave their team at almost any point in time without facing any legal repercussions. If there is a cape “military” that is in position to perform a “traditional” coup it is the Yàngbǎn. Powerful masters (like Goddess or Teacher’s group) or capes with what I personally term as power equivalents of WMDs (like Panacea or Bonesaw) may also be able to do something similar by using their powers to force people to cooperate, but none of that happened in the city, and the presence of multiple independent capes and cape teams is actually the best possible insurance against such scenario.

        Shin may be in a tad worse situation right now, because I strongly suspect that if Amy or possibly also Chris put their minds to it, they could potentially take over, but fortunately for that world Amy is almost certainly unwilling to do so (it completely doesn’t fit her personality after all), and unless Chris was allowed to make his experiments on the “drones” he was supposed to be provided with without any supervision Amy, as well as all other capes who went to Shin with them, should be able to prevent any successful coups on his part.

        All of it means that while certain capes can take over a countries (or even entire worlds) by force, most of them are in no position to do so in places where there are many independent capes and cape teams (and Megalopolis is probably the best example of a place in which it is the case) because they should prevent each other from doing so, and quite frankly there is probably no better way to handle this problem. In other words while some capes may potentially be in a position to perform a coup, the best way to prevent it is to keep as many independent capes and cape groups around as possible, and encourage them to police each other and keep an especially close eye out on the most powerful of them like Panacea, Teacher, Madam Mathers, Dragon, Cryptid, Bonesaw, Valkyrie, Coils, Contessa etc. who may be position to take over by themselves or with only a few willing supporters.

        In other words you should treat most capes not like some sort of military, but like American citizens who were given right to carry weapons to prevent their own government from using its power against the nation. I think it is far from ideal solution for multiple reasons (most of which actually come up in real life political debates about whether the Americans should have as unrestricted access to weapons as they do), but sadly as long as people continue to trigger, and with rare exceptions there is no way to take powers away from them permanently without defeating them first, it may be the only solution that works.

        1. In turn, I would argue that ~any American citizen could buy or even make weapons to defend/attack others, while Gimel’s citizens could not buy superpowers. Yes, there is difference in firing skill, but still – 2x or 3x more people will level skill difference (may be not against), while some capes could not be handled even by thousands of nonpowered people.

          Organization argument is good though. But this is because of current absence of army-level organization and possibility to go mercenary’s and villain’s path. Looks like private armies in Middle Ages. We know how it was reformed to current state.

          1. Giving everyone weapons may not be necessary to prevent some small group of people from taking over a country and turning it into a police state. Assuming that most people are fundamentally good enough to not want to live in such place you would need to give weapons to enough randomly selected people. I think that the concentration of capes in Megalopolis may be sufficient for that, and assuming that most of them are natural triggers, you could say that the way they were selected was random enough for this purpose.

          2. @Alfaryn
            > Assuming that most people are fundamentally good enough
            > most of them are natural triggers, you could say that the way they were selected was random enough for this purpose.
            Most humans are fundamentally good, but parahumans seems not. Otherwise we would have significantly more heroes than villains before GM. I think conflict-driver make a lot of initially good parahumans into villains.

          3. Maybe, but wouldn’t it be sufficient if most parahumans instead of being “good” (however we decide to define it), were simply interested in not living some sort of parahuman totalitarian state controlled by someone else, or being wiped out by some sort of “WMD power”? Because I think that even most villains wouldn’t like that to happen to them.

          4. > Most humans are fundamentally good, but parahumans seems not. Otherwise we would have significantly more heroes than villains before GM.

            Parahumans are fundamentally just as good as baseline humans (that is – kinda, but not much). Is there more policemen than criminals IRL? Plus, natural triggers by their nature require some traumatic event which is unlikely to turn a person experiencing it towards ideals of love and humanism.

          5. @T.T.O.
            > Is there more policemen than criminals IRL?
            Incorrect to compare, because there are a lot of civil people besides policemen and criminals, but there are very few neutral parahumans. And policemen are hired to withstand current crime level, so it balanced to some extent.
            > traumatic event which is unlikely to turn a person experiencing it towards ideals of love and humanism.
            Not certain. I heard about a lot of people who were changed after near-death experience to be more cheerful.

        2. *Yes, there is difference in weapon firing skill, but still – 2x or 3x more people will level skill difference (may be not against military)

  18. Ashley is so interesting here. I was expecting it to be Rain, but he doesn’t have the confidence yet.

    What I love most is that two diametrically opposite things just happened. For almost all of mankind (can’t say “the whole world,” can we?), excepting only Breakthrough, Doctor Yamada, and Teacher Cauldron, Swansong has humanized herself dramatically. The dangerous Slaughterhouse freak that strode forward intent on murder transformed. Suddenly the figure on camera was a crippled girl, a kidnapping victim, an abuse survivor aspiring to do good, a…. *damsel* who had once been in heartbreaking *distress*. And the ending will redefine the beginning; to most viewers she was *always* intending to say what she said, because that’s how the human mind works.

    She’s never looked more Swansong, more the hero, more relate-able, more the sort of person who deserves to be trusted with law enforcement. And by extension she had a much wider impact. She enabled Byron, Rain, and Victoria’s admissions to get through the noise, and created the implication that there might be context for anything and everything. She created (for the first time!) some benefit of the doubt for people who were ever Jack’s former slave-soldiers. Maybe even Riley will be seen in some corners as the brainwashed child soldier she actually was. This is huge, transformative, and – in my humble opinion – aimed at Ashley’s sister. But put a pin in that.

    Yet while the world may finally be rethinking Ashley and people like her in an important way, we know better. Breakthrough and Teacher’s watchers know that what *actually* happened was that Swansong almost (as she would put it) “ruined herself” on live television. The text tells us she almost screwed Gimel society over at a stroke, and suggest that had Victoria handled the moment a hair less well, Breakthrough would have been shattered.

    It reminds me of the moment Taylor became Weaver. It was both the point she finally rejected villainy and officially became a hero, *and* her least heroic moment to date. She had just murdered two people, one desperately needed for Endbringer fights, then had her justification for the act yanked out from under her.

    Prediction. Behind Swansong’s recent attitude and actions are dreams she’s getting containing Damsel’s recent memories. She’s out there, and she’s not doing well at all.

    1. That’s an interesting take, I hadn’t considered the situation (or even the part from Worm) from quite that angle before.

      The Teacher situation really screws with our perception of things; between that and Victoria’s own personal issues, it’s hard to get a read on how out-of-control Ashley really was. I suppose that’s probably how it might’ve read to the others too, and they just have to roll with it.

      I’d kinda forgotten about clone-dreams, I don’t really recall them kinda sharing them that way but maybe there was something mentioned during the Prison arc? I’ve been waiting for the “Sister Damsel” shoe to drop, it’s an interesting character situation.

      1. Damsel announced that she relived Swansong’s murder of Beast of Burden in her dreams just before taking off. She *also* claimed that she *didn’t* get any of the happy or relationship-affirming memories in her dreams, in almost the exact same words this Ashley (Brashley?) used after capture-the-flag.

        That’s a big deal because from the Eclipse Arc we happen to know our Ashley was flat out lying. Her dreamed memories included Edict getting her snacks, with no conflict or bloodshed even peripherally involved. It’s just how the Ashleys posture, it seems. I’m not sure what it says that Damsel said it to her sister, who obviously would know better.

        1. Maybe the difference between the Ashleys is that only Swansong gets such happy memories in her dreams (or at least gets more of them)? If I remember correctly it was stated somewhere that there were some slight differences between the S9000 clones of the same people from the very beginning. Maybe what sort of dreams they get is one of those differences? Perhaps this difference is even the reason why one of them became a hero, while the other stayed a villain?

          1. I don’t think that is unlikely at this point; the book has been at pains to emphasize that the difference between the two is only a “road not taken” one. To have a secret dream difference so late in the game would undermine what’s been done with the characters so far.

            Plus it would make Breakthrough’s Ashley’s lie super weird. She makes the false claim, her sister repeats it in almost the same words, but is telling the truth?

            I can’t see it.

      2. Good point on the Teacher aspect. Despite myself, I forgot that Teacher’s people listening in probably changed what Breakthrough said to Swansong. I think the text is telegraphing to us that it did almost go there, though. The backsliding comments were ~mostly meant at face value.

    2. In hindsight, I was much too hard on Ashley.

      And I was not nearly hard enough on Victoria.

      I suspect Victoria is much more in a dark place, if anything, than the teammates she’s so worried about. And when she gets worked up, she stops watching feet, and she starts taking everyone’s exaggerated performances at face value.

      Was Swansong signalling when she said she had considered killing the guy? We can’t know, because Antares took it for granted that her teammate was on the verge of murder.

  19. Here’s a thought about leaks and misinformation coming from Teacher – doesn’t it look like he avoids using any information that is closely tied to old Cauldron secrets, even though such information could seriously harm public image of many capes in the city? Does Teacher do it because he wants to avoid drawing public attention to Cauldron or himself? Or is it because he doesn’t want to damage whatever reputation Cauldron has in public eyes? If it is the latter, perhaps he plans to first discredit the capes already established in the city and then have his branch of Cauldron openly come to the city and convince the public that they should support them instead of the current government and the heroes working for it. Perhaps Teacher will even try to either become the next mayor or have one of his people take the position?

    1. “… Perhaps Teacher will even try to either become the next mayor or have one of his people take the position?”

      Second chances, right?

  20. Here is a theory about how Old Man became one of Cauldron’s “unwitting eyes”. Cauldron can see not only what happens in Rain’s cluster dreams, but also in dreams of at least some other people (for example everyone whose dreams come from their shards), including Old Man. Which means that each night they get to see everything any person ever affected by Old Man’s power did that day, as long as that person happens to sleep at the same time Old Man does. This in turn means that as long as Tattletale stays in the bunker, Cauldron will have a very good idea about what’s happening there.

    1. Depends whether they can directly intercept the dreams of people on alternate Earths. They might have to first place sensors on whichever Earths they want to monitor, in which case the Bunker will be fine as long as the heroes can prevent anyone from smuggling in such a sensor.

  21. Warning! A nearly baseless speculation about events that happened in the final interlude of Worm and are completely unrelated to current chapter below.

    In the crowd, a boy with dark curls, a little bit of a slouch, and a white t-shirt.

    Alec?

    What if someone cloned Alec S9000 style and sent him after Taylor? How would Aisha react if not only one, but two most important men in her life sort of returned from the dead? What would happen if someone managed to clone Taylor?

    1. By the way, wouldn’t it be interesting if Taylor was a mastermind behind some of the current events? I think she could work with someone like Dinah and Contessa. It could be even that Tattletale’s little toast from epilogue of Worm wasn’t meant to convince Dinah that Taylor was dead, but merely to convince Dinah that Tattletale thought Taylor was dead.

    2. > What would happen if someone managed to clone Taylor?
      Taylor without Panacea’s patch is a bug controller girl 🙂 A-Class threat, but not Khepri. Probably even weaker than Skitter if double trigger will not be translated to clone.

      1. That clone would possess a good approximation of something I’ve always considered more dangerous than Taylor’s powers – her mind with its knowledge, intelligence and cunning.

        1. If Taylor ever shows up again (before Vista’s 18th birthday), I lean towards the clone scenario.

          It would be a way for us to see her back in the story without really knowing for sure if “Taylor” is alive or not.

    3. Another quote from the last interlude of Worm with a paranoid interpretation:

      “You done?” her dad asked.

      “Done,” Taylor responded. “It wasn’t her. I knew it going in, but it wasn’t her.”

      What if Taylor said it about Annette not because this wasn’t her Annette, but because she realized that the person she spoke to wasn’t really Annette at all. What if Taylor knew or at least suspected that Annette was mastered by someone (like Alec’s clone) or even imperonated by someone like Satyr? It would fit the fact that Taylor didn’t tell Annette certain things, like the fact that the portal-sealing device was on Aleph. Taylor probably wouldn’t have too many reasons to hide things like that from real Annette, but a cape mastering her or pretending to be her could be a different story…

      1. Alec clone S9000 style sent Taylor-hunting?

        Alternate-Annette being mastered or an impostor?

        *room starts spinning*

        1. > Alec clone S9000 style sent Taylor-hunting?

          Not necessarily hunting. I think that protecting Taylor could be just as likely goal, though I imagine that Taylor may be not too happy about having such protection from the shadows, especially if it included mastering her mother’s counterpart for some reason.

          1. By the way even Danny’s absence during Taylor’s conversation with Annette could be explained by paranoia. What if he didn’t show up until only after that talk not because he didn’t want to face a woman both so similar and different from his wife, but stayed behind to make sure that someone wasn’t following Taylor for example, or in an attempt to see if there wasn’t someone among the surrounding Taylor and Annette who was a little bit too much attention to his daughter?

          2. To be perfectly clear there could be no Alec, Annette could be just herself, there could be no hidden eavesdroppers, the woman from the train could be just a random stranger, and there could be no real reason for Danny to keep his distance from Taylor to look for people tailing her. It could be all in Taylor’s head, but would you be at least a bit paranoid in her situation?

          3. Another thing for Taylor to be paranoid about – what if the private investigator who Heberts hired to find Annette realized who Taylor was, and tipped off the government? It is not like nobody on Aleph would recognize her or understand her importance. It could be that Annette was visited by people from some three letter agency, and instructed her what topics to talk with Taylor about. It could explain why Taylor wasn’t entirely honest or open about certain details during that talk…

          4. The more I think about it, the more I realize that Taylor may be right to be paranoid about Aleph’s governments and their secret agencies. Think about it – during that epilogue two people all but asked her probing questions about topics that of importance to public security – from “Are you carrying a bomb?”, which would be mostly of concern for US government, at least as long as she stayed in the country, to “Do you know what happened to the portals, and how it can be undone?”, which would undoubtedly interest every government, and many other organizations on Aleph.

          5. Even some of the information that Taylor volunteered on her own, or things that Annette did not ask Taylor about seems suspicious.

            Taylor mentioned that she’ll “never do anything one ten–thousandth as important as what I was doing before.” Was she trying to convince someone that she is not a threat. She also asked Annette for another meeting at an unspecified date. Was she trying to convey that she won’t disappear, and that if someone will want to keep an eye on her whereabouts or try to milk her for more information, they will be able to contact her at any moment through Annette?

            It also seems a bit strange that Annette didn’t even try to ask Taylor about which cape she was. It would be an obvious thing to do for someone from Bet, since everyone there is used to the unwritten rule about not unmasking capes, but Annette is from Aleph. Why didn’t she at least try to politely ask Taylor this question? Wasn’t she interested in the answer? Seems somewhat unlikely, doesn’t it? Was it because Annette knew the answer already, or was instructed not to ask?

            It could be that Taylor’s “retirement” is not a retirement at all, but instead a delicate game meant to keep her from being killed “just in case”, or disappearing in some black site.

          6. One more thing. During the epilogue Taylor seemed to have a problem controlling her artificial hand both on the train and near the end of conversation with Annette. What if she usually had a better control over her prosthetic and just covered her surprise about her problems with fast talk? Maybe she suspected that someone made her lose control momentarily? Maybe this is why she was looking for someone like Alec in the crowd? Maybe he actually has been following her since the train, and used his power to Taylor her know he was there?

            So how do you like this set of conspiracy theories surrounding Taylor during the epilogue so far?

  22. Antares-Kept her cool re:Amy stings

    Capricorn-Excellent debate by Tristan, way to pick up Antares and Precipice’s slack, and Byron deleted one of Gary’s attacks completely.

    Tress -You didn’t blow your cover, good.

    Rain-A+. Your sincerity shows.

    Swansong- Risky, but you intimidated them enough for revealing vulnerabilities to hit hard rather than just exposing additional targets for them to attack. You also did that while selling the “fractured team” thing to Teacher (that IS what you were doing of course, right?). Also managed to keep your cool under tough circumstances, GJ.

    ….and yet Breakthrough starts sniping away at each other right away after the debate, zero positive reinforcement. I REALLY hope that’s the anti-Teacher measured in place (in which case, wow, that must be hard), otherwise Breakthrough’s in much more danger than Teacher currently poses to their mental-emotional wellbeing.

  23. Why do posters keep yammering about Taylor? The enthusiasm is difficult to understand, unless Wildbow has made extensive changes during his re-editing project. I found Taylor deeply unpleasant to read or to read about; hypocritical, manipulative and self-excusing… and yet the other characters all sang her praises. If the main character in a story is repeatedly praised by the other characters with little or no justification provided by the author, then that’s a warning bell; it reveals the presence of an Authour’s Favourite character, or worse, the sickening saccharine taint of the dreaded Mary Sue.

    Taylor was paranoid, arrogant, dishonest. Entitled. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere; surely all those flaws interact to create a flawed but riveting character. No?

    Er, no. All those flaws were simply marks on a laundry-list, described in isolation; this wasn’t a character description, it was checklist. Taylor’s flaws were self-contained; they never interacted with the narrative or with each other… *O.K., first show Taylor being paranoid; write some paranoid thoughts for her. Now show she’s dishonest; write about her slanting the truth when someone asks her a question. And finally write about the bullying Taylor endured in high school, to show that none of her villainous actions were her fault because-she-was-bullied.*

    Ultimately, Taylor was a very unconvincing character; a paper-doll without motives or intentions of her own, an overpowered, plot-armoured caricature that was very obviously a writer’s early attempt at creating a protagonist for a novel-length work. Oh, and I read ‘Worm’ as it came out. All of it. And Taylor never improved. The only reason I kept reading was for the secondary characters; Clockblocker was a joy, and Regent a delight. I admired Bitch, and saw in her a most unusual point-of-view… and then Tattletale was scrawled across the page, and so much for the secondary characters being enjoyable.

    Admittedly, I have not read the re-edited version of ‘Worm.’ The reasons for my hesitation should be apparent.

    1. While I think there are some truth in what you say both about Taylor’s character, and the fact that some of her character flaws might been presented in a way that made her unconvincing at times, or that she might have felt a bit Marry Sue-ish at times (though I definitely don’t judge her as harshly as you did, and actually liked her as a character, especially until the end of arc 22, when she surrendered to PRT; she got less convincing and more unpleasant to read in my opinion from that point on) she was in my opinion a good protagonist for a story like Worm – a story which was largely about going against threats so big, that you simply had to be both ultra-competent and willing to cross a lot of moral lines have a slightest chance to defeat them.

      However I’m interested in seeing her again not because I want to have her as a protagonist doing the same thing for the same reasons in world full of threats as big as Scion, but because I see a lot of potential in her if she has either changed (which is very likely in my opinion, since there are no more Scions for her to kill, she doesn’t have her powers anymore, she had a chance to reflect on her life choices, as we saw during her final conversation with Contessa, and it seems likely that Queen Administrator is no longer affecting her mind), and/or she gets to play a different role in a different story.

      I could see Taylor as an important character, possibly even a protagonist in a story about change of one’s character and fundamental beliefs, while having to confront sins of one’s past.

      I could also see an unchanged (at least character-wise) Taylor as a great antagonist in a story like Ward, which is largely about healing both individuals and the entire society after the apocalypse. A lot of her character flaws that in Worm were essential tools of survival could be seen as things that need to be overcome for the healing to occur. Such story could let the author not only let Taylor’s character flaws play a very different role – as actual vices of an actual villain (as opposed to a person who simply does what needs to be done to save the world) who needs to be dealt with somehow by the protagonist like Victoria. On top of it the fact that Taylor is such a genius bordering on Mary Sue-ish level of competence would make her a terrifying opponent to face even if she had no powers at all, but was simply placed in a role of the mastermind of an organization the protagonist needs to defeat. The idea of an unpowered, but otherwise ultracompetent mastermind is obviously not new to the superhero genre, but I feel that it wasn’t sufficiently explored in the parahumans setting yet. Doctor Mother could fill more or less that role, but I think that she simply never was all that good about it, plus the fact that Contessa was always there made Doctor Mother feel more like a “prop” as Ciara has described her, than an actual mastermind. I think Taylor could do much better in that regard. Another reason why Taylor would make an interesting antagonist is that the reader would know (possibly better than a protagonist like Victoria) that our bug-girl has redeeming features. Not to mention that any reader who liked Taylor as the protagonist of Worm would probably sympathize with her just for that reason.

      Yet another role Taylor could play in my opinion is that of an annoying, but indisposable supporting character. Someone the protagonist disagrees with on many important points, but can’t afford not to work with (though in Ward this role seems to be filled by Tattletale already).

      Taylor could even be an interesting element of the story simply by appearing on a scene (as she is probably polarizing enough for people to argue about what to do with her, or even fight over it – potentially creating rifts between people that would otherwise remain best friends). To make things even more dramatic Taylor could also set things in motion if something happened to her, as there would be plenty of people who would be willing to do everything in their power to either save or avenge her, and possibly even more people who would do a lot to harm her.

      Once again – even if you disliked Taylor as the protagonist of Worm, I think she has a lot of potential to be an interesting character in Ward or some future Parahumans story. Don’t think so much about who she was as Worm’s protagonist. Think about who she could become if you either let her become a different person, put her in a different situation, and/or let her be seen through eyes of a different protagonist, especially one who has a very different life philosophy, moral compass and overall character.

      1. (Sorry if this one turns into a double post.)

        Of course there is one more way in which I feel Taylor could become an antagonist. One that I think is even more likely than what I described above. She could be trying to save everyone again, and she could be right to be using her usual methods, but the protagonist would fight against her simply because they think that someone using those methods needs to be stopped, and Taylor wouldn’t bother to, or wouldn’t be able to explain the protagonist why what she does is necessary.

        In other words I could see her to be in position not that dissimilar from what I suspect people like Cradle or Teacher may be if they actually want to save everyone like they say they do. With Victoria’s tendency to consider every person marked in her papers as a “villain”, I could easily imagine her going against Taylor in situation like this, and maybe even being a little bit surprised that the Undersiders turn against Breakthrough just as Tattletale predicted it could happen back in Aiden’s interlude, and even more surprised that half of the heroes, including most Wardens and possibly even Sveta, will take Taylor’s side. In this situation Taylor could be Victoria’s antagonist first, and later turn into another of those indisposable, if disliked, allies.

        1. After all both Taylor and Victoria are both fundamentally good people, but the way they go about doing what they think is “good” or “necessary” is so different, that it shouldn’t be difficult to imagine them ending up on two sides of a conflict caused by those differences, especially since Victoria never really had a chance to get to know Taylor that well (and vice versa). Victoria could easily see Taylor as a little more than a ruthless villain, whom she knew as Skitter, or possibly even a monster known as Khepri, while Taylor could see Victoria as either a brute whom she knew as Glory Girl, or as a softie whose scruples stop her from doing what needs to be done.

          1. There is also the fact that I could see Taylor and Victoria not only learning to respect each other, but also becoming friends eventually (though it would probably be a long and difficult process for both of them), and could learn how to be better people from each other (not unlike members of Breakthrough, who were brought together by Yamada for a very similar purpose).

            There are plenty of problems each of those two women have that the other has a perfect response to in my opinion – like Victoria’s tendency to judge people through perspective of labels society gave them (especially labels like “villain” or “hero”), or even their taste in costumes (though I’ll admit that as the story goes on, Victoria seems to become better at not “judging a book by its cover” so to speak).

            More importantly Victoria could perhaps help Taylor with her tendency to escalate conflicts unnecessarily, or manipulate or force people into doing what she wants them to do, instead of trying to actually convince them that she’s right, or reach some sort of compromise (something Victoria is great at).

          2. Another thing Taylor could perhaps help Victoria with is Victoria’s generally naive and black-and-white worldview (something her tendency to judge people by their villain-hero labels and their costumes is just a symptom of), and on a more practical, though not entirely unrelated front – Victoria ignorance when it comes to some of the bigger secrets held by the cape community – ignorance that is made worse by the fact that Victoria considers herself some sort of an expert on the topic of capes.

            People like Tattletale or some of the Wardens could in theory do something about Victoria’s ignorance, but for various reasons seem to be reluctant to do so. I bet that if Victoria was to befriend Taylor, it would be relatively easy for Victoria to get Taylor to open up enough to start talking about the really big, important secrets. Easier than doing the same with someone like Tattletale at least.

          3. Why do I think that Taylor would be more likely to enlighten Victoria about some of the darker sides of cape history than the heroes or people like Tattletale would?

            Some of the heroes may be keeping things from Victoria, because those things paint them and their past deeds in negative light. Others may want to spare Victoria’s feelings, because many of those secrets ar connected to topics or people Victoria is sensitive about (like C53s, or Amy). Some heroes may just think that it is simply better not to share things in any other than just need to know basis, simply because it is easier to keep secrets from unwanted ears if fewer people know about them. The stunt that Victoria pulled during Hard Boil also probably doesn’t help – a lot of the heroes may be very unwilling to share something really sensitive with a person who is known to talk about such topics on TV.

            Tattletale is also a person who shares information on need to know basis. That is unless you pay her for it. She is after all a broker, who treats information as her commodity, not something to be given freely without a very good reason. It doesn’t help that Tt has monumental trust issues. Just think how many people she has ever really opened up to.

            Taylor may also have her trust issues, but she is known from being able to do monumental leaps of faith – something that may overcome those issues. She also believes in cooperation, and a good cooperation requires sharing far more than just a bare minimum of information sometimes. There’s also the fact that Taylor would probably be much less inclined to wear kids gloves when it comes to dealing with Victoria’s fragile ego – something that, as I said above, probably stops many people from revealing certain things to Victoria.

          4. To sum my rant up, I don’t feel that Taylor was an uninteresting character for most of Worm (though I will admit that I didn’t like Weaver as a character quite as much as I liked Skitter). I will also admit that there are some issues with her as a character throughout the entire story (though again – not that big; I consider her one of the best characters I read about in recent memory, especially in superhero genre, which I personally didn’t like that much until I started reading Worm). I do however think that she still has a lot of unused potential, and could be every bit as, if not more, interesting as she was in Worm. All you really need is to put her in a new situation (and both Taylor’s personal circumstances, and current state of the world are very different from what we saw in Worm), and maybe show her from perspective very different from her own, possibly even one unsympathetic, or even outright hostile to her. We saw a little bit of it in Worm, especially in certain interludes, but I think that those merely scratched a surface of what could be done in this regard.

            I also don’t think that Taylor (or any other literary character really) has to be sympathetic as a person to be interesting. I personally considered her a very interesting character throughout most Worm, and can see myself liking to read about her even if I didn’t sympathize with her as much as I do (and I’ll admit that for the most part, though not entirely without reservations, I do).

    2. A man walks into a bar. He says to the bartender, “I need a drink real bad, friend. You would not believe the day I’ve had.”

      “Oh yeah?” says the bartender. “Try me.”

      “Well, it all started with these sheep I rescued. Found them as lambs in a box beside the road, starved half to death. My wife and I did our best to nurse ’em back to health, but they’ve never been quite right, you know? Scrawny, wool’s weird, faces shaped weird. They’re just… just weird.”

      “Sure.”

      “So anyway, that was last year. They’re mostly grown now, and they are the most hyperactive sheep I’ve ever seen. Not… not that I’ve seen many sheep. I’m no farmer. But you know, you see ’em on TV, or in a pasture as you drive by, and they just kind of stand there, right? All docile? Not my sheep. My sheep are always running around, jumping on stuff. I come out to check on them and they start jumping around like popcorn in the popper. And they dig! You ever seen sheep that dig holes?”

      “Can’t say that I have, but I don’t see many sheep in my line of work. They hardly ever make it past the drinking age, you understand. Very tragic.”

      “Right, right. Anyway, these sheep. I keep them in a pen behind the house, but they dug out last night. I woke up to find one staring at me through the bedroom window.”

      “Tall sheep.”

      The man wiggles his hand. “Mostly average. It was just standing on its hind legs.”

      “You’re right. I don’t believe you.”

      “What? No, no, not like that. It was leaned up with its messed up feet things on the wall.”

      Bartender frowns. “You mean hooves?”

      “I guess they’re supposed to be hooves? But like I said, they’re messed up. Nobby things with claws instead of proper hooves. Whatever you want to call them, there he was staring at me through the window, scratching at my siding, and baaing at me. These sheep, you ought to hear them. They can’t even baa right. They have to really strain to get it out. Almost like a bark. Whatever asshole left them in that box, I hope they… I don’t know, get mauled by skunks or something.”

      “Would serve them right.”

      “Yeah. So he was out there baaing at me, right? I got my boots on and went out to put him back in the pen, and his sister bowled me over, then they tore off down the road chasing the neighbor’s truck. By the time I caught up, they’d followed him all the way into town and were running around in the park harassing people. There were kids tying to play frisbee, and these damned retarded sheep kept jumping up and snatching the frisbee out of the air. Ruined it, too, with those sharp teeth. Then they saw me coming and took off again. Still haven’t found them. I’ve been all over town. I just got back from the office whatsit store where I made some fliers. Here, mind putting this up?”

      The bartender looks at the photo on the missing-sheep flier. “Sir, these are poodles.”

      * * *

      When a person is confused about something, sometimes it’s because that thing is messed up, but sometimes it’s because they’re just not equipped to understand. Popular consensus seems to be that Taylor was an interesting and engaging character. Odds are high, then, that the problem lies with you, not with Wildbow.

      If it makes you feel better, I’m the same way about Victoria, albeit to a lesser extent. I grocked Taylor immediately, but Victoria still feels weird and alien. The problem isn’t that Wildbow is bad at writing her. It’s just that people like Victoria are different enough from me that they don’t make sense. I don’t have a solid mental model for that kind of person. The story’s gone on long enough now that I’ve at least managed to kludge something together that makes things feel less disorienting, but it’s still weird at times.

      1. I’d second what @Tehbeefer said, but I’m too busy laughing my ass off.

        That methaphor was Aisha’s Level.

        XD

      2. Double bonus nerdpoints for using grok and kluge in the same paragraph, but a small malus due to spelling mistakes.

      3. Good way to put it. I guess that some people want and expect to get sheep so much that they won’t appreciate wolves, no matter how good those wolves happen to be.

      4. I for one like the fact that Taylor & Victoria are so different.

        I would like to define Taylor as far more down-to-earth & self-aware than Victoria is, and far less prone to labeling people, but less aware of consequences, which led to a lot of collateral down the road. Taylor made many more mistakes than she had to learn & atone from, which made her even more likable to me.
        I also had the impression that Queen Administrator boosted her already sharp mind to genius levels. The amount of detailed observation & snap-shot judgement calls she took would feel implausible to me otherwise.

        Victoria, on the other hand, feels even more intelligent & competent than Taylor is, because it doesn´t look like her shard boosts her perception or reasoning as Queen Administrator did.
        She is far more aware of her environment or the consequences of her actions, but this feels as a hardly won character after traumatic handling from her mother, which wanted a T-800 Terminator series, not a daughter. (Don´t dismiss with 2º-Gen trigger ease, this family dynamic has already been described as burnt toast before).

        The amount of control she needs to exert to survive & meet expectations is properly phenomenal. Sadly enough, as a T-800, her socialization outside cape life is VERY lacking, which, compounded with the fact her current Amy trauma leads her to supress emotions & use goal-oriented tunnel vision, firmly locks her in an “ivory tower” when it comes to her unpowered concitizens.

        We like her a lot (she is exceedingly well-meaning & protective of everyone she comes around)
        but to everyone else, her goal-based mentality & emotional control must make her look like she is briming with barely-repressed violence, and every bit a hardass as Cinereal, if not worse. Like a Hammer to which everything is a nail. Or a very polite terminator. For me, I cannot imagine Victoria smiling in public, ever, or doing any of those thousand little mannerisms that let people surrounding you that you are listening to them silently, not seizing them up for confrontation.

        Another unpleasant side-effect is that Dragon is literally “god AI made friendly” and still Vic mind looks like the inner workings of a Skynet hellbent on word domination in comparison.
        There´s a reason Teacher´s Diary worked SO well. It was very plausible.
        See this example below.

        “ALERT, PR BREACH LOCATED.
        Designate “Gary Nieves” as “Foe”. Evaluating foe….
        ……………………………………………………………………
        Done.
        ……………………………………………………………………
        Deploy “emotional_appeal_to_offset_PR_damage.exe”…
        ……………………………………………………………………
        Done.
        ……………………………………………………………………
        WARNING, AMY MUNITIONS USE DETECTED. Shard is Running “Lethal Force.Exe”….
        ……………………………………………………………………
        Execute admin privileges. “Lethal_Force.Exe”… denied. Shard user privileges… revoked.
        ……………………………………………………………………
        WARNING, PR BREACH STILL AT CRITICAL LEVELS.
        Diverting PR Breach to teammates….
        ……………………………………………………………………
        Done.
        Combat…. ceased. Reevaluating “Gary Nieves” status….
        ……………………………………………………………………
        Done.
        Designate “Gary Nieves” as “Asset”. Evaluating asset….
        ……………………………………………………………………
        Done.
        Deploy “appeasement_info_scraps.exe”…
        ……………………………………………………………………
        Done.
        SATISFIYING PR LEVELS REACHED.
        Victoria Logging out.”

        1. While I don’t necessarily disagree with your description of Victoria as someone who may appear to have “goal-based mentality & emotional control” from random outsiders’ viewpoints, I find it ironic that you chose to describe Victoria this way in a comment that compares her to Taylor of all people…

          1. By the way, how drunk would a random observer need to be to consider our T-800 “goal-based mentality & emotional control” after her sister is mentioned?

    3. In Literature, as in all Art, there can be a thousand correct perspectives on the same work…. and yet some people still manage the wrong ones. You have offered the latter.

      You read a story where the protagonist is regularly criticized by other characters, frequently with *completely valid* criticisms. Perennial debates focus on her habit of rationalizing it away whenever she is called out on anything. It’s a defining aspect of the character. Armsmaster tears her down accurately and harshly right in Arc 3, and the censures do not stop for more than a few chapters up to Arc 30, when Tattletale finally cuts loose on her.

      I’ll leave it at that. Pizzasgood has offered the answer to the main concern that troubles you.

  24. I think Gary may not be the idiot monster most of you make him out to be. Sure he is a puppet but he is saying things that so many regular people are thinking and feeling
    To dismiss him completely, is to dismiss the public completely. Yes parahumans are fighting horrid things that would wipe the rest of the civilian population off of the map, but those same civilians can’t see/don’t know about it. At the same time those civilians are freezing and starving while the Parahumans have food warmth and shelter. Sure Gary is attacking those defending his very life, but at the same time those defenders have formed an “elite class” that no one else has access to.

  25. PR Fun Fact. To outsiders, it must have looked like the Republican/Democrat candidate was about to get SHOT on live TV!

    Remember what Natalie told them? Regardless of intentions, power use in public is considered to equal waving a loaded gun with the safety off.
    Vic & Byron were using powers ON SCREEN, and Ashley, an ex-“Slaughterhouse 9000” member, looked like she was to make another victim.
    This looked like a mexican standoff against the leader of the Republican/democrat party on live TV… by parahumans that crashed a public event uninvited.

    Gary Nieves actually has the patience of a SAINT. Even Natalie says that she is more than slightly irked with breakthrough, and they are her personal friends & employers. I hope that she someday gives them a FULL dressing down, they REALLY don´t get the obnoxious they look to outside people.
    Like “riding the SJW boat with Paris-Hilton PR bedside manner all day long” kind of obnoxious.

    You are 22 years old, talk down the Barack Obama or Trump of your time and tell them IN LIVE TV “Yay sure, can throw some scraps of info your way if I feel like it”. That is, 30 seconds after waving loaded guns in front of his nose.

    GENIUS PR MANAGEMENT LEVEL DETECTED, GOOOOD JOB!

    I am rooting for Natalie stepping in and taking charge ASAP. She is underexplored as a character right now.
    She could start the next group meeting by:

    “I taught you TWO things the first time we meet.
    First, a power displayed in public equals waving a loaded gun at the public & shouting “KISS THE FLOOR, NORMIES”! Second, you are running a private Guantanamo & your PR smells like sulphur.
    Now, you ARE oficially deemed INSANE. You dealt with the next president of the USA like he was a misbehaving dog!

    Everyone, step down from your high horse right now, please. It is so tall that the oxygen deprivation up there is messing with your judgement, if you even remember what it is anymore. Gods, I miss Chris, at least he was more self-aware.

    It is official, I am stepping up to be your designated PR officer, taking over all & any PR duties from RIGHT NOW. I expect a letter reflecting about your own PR mistakes tomorrow morning sharpish. And your live TV privileges have been rescinded for, like, FOREVER.

    Now get out of my office”.

    1. > First, a power displayed in public equals waving a loaded gun at the public & shouting “KISS THE FLOOR, NORMIES”!

      Yup, only the small detail is missing: it was waving a loaded gun (if you want to put it that way) at our own teammate, just to be ready to protect the public from her in case she does something really stupid. Would you rather let the events unfold however they would?
      And by the way, this whole metaphor with waving guns kind of doesn’t make much sense. If you were living in a world where a lot of people has guns growing out of their hands, you’d get used to it. And you’d most likely not perceive each and every gun as if they’re pointed your way, and would rather rely on some signs other than the presence of the gun itself to determine whether its owner is threatening you or not. There would be some people who’d perceive things like you described, but most of them would be the ones who were in their middle age when powers first appeared (and only those of them who still tend to cling to their habits and worldview even when the whole world changes before their eyes).

      > Second, you are running a private Guantanamo

      Okay, yes we are (nevermind that it’s not “private” but rather belonging to all the heroes, i.e. to law enforcement in general). Would you rather prefer that we didn’t, and all the parahuman criminals who are too dangerous to hold in regular prisons would run rampant through the city? There isn’t really much of a choice here.

      1. I do agree with all your points, it´s just that a significant fraction of the population WOULD fall into the misinterpretations described above.

        Curiously enough, the demographic you are pointing at is the one that Gary Nieves belongs to… 😉

        Also take into account that, at this stage in the cycle, parahumans are an exceedingly tiny fraction of world population. No matter how you internalize the behaviors you told, one thing is reason and the other emotion…. And the “guns” were waved around, regardless of the intent.

        Also, most of the human population BEARS the burden of the new parahuman reality by lack of other choice. It does not mean that it should be considered ethically acceptable, nor “normal”.
        Animadversion & a desire to “fight back” are legitimate and even desirable, as long as the strategies produced are ethical and effective.

        Even before gold morning, the fraction of villanous parahumans and the endbringer manifestations were running civilization to the ground.

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