Breaking – 14.5

Previous Chapter                                                                                       Next Chapter

Miss Militia stood straight, one hand behind her back, the other extended forward, like she was going to shake their hands.  They couldn’t though, because we were all arranged in a loose circle that put the nearest members of Shin’s government about four long strides from Miss Militia’s position on the floor.

“Miss Militia.  Warden.  If I may?”

Her words were followed by an echo, the translators speaking in muted tones to respective groups.  Only two groups had translators, it seemed.

“Luis, Founders.  I think you might,” one of the men with braided ties answered, his English without even an accent.  “I’ll wait for my colleagues to reply.”

I recognized Luis.  His skin was black, his clothes fine, and his expression a constant kind of warm that might have been politician fake.

Many sat at chairs with tables built into them made me think of student’s desks in a high school.  Difference was that cloth draped from the arm that held the table up and surrounded the legs like a skirt, and the makeup of chair and desk both were ornate, almost throne-like.  At the foot of maybe four or five of the thrones, and there were maybe fifteen in total, I could see young men, fourteen or fifteen, sitting on cushions or mats, writing constantly.

I hadn’t expected the gap in culture to be something so oppressive.

I was put in mind of attending a mosque service, having little idea of the process, and trying to not embarrass myself or disturb the regular attendees.  The difference was that barely anything was happening, nothing specific was expected of me, and yet we were so much further from the familiar.

Except for Luis, who seemed uncannily ordinary.  I could remember seeing him back when we’d first met Goddess, holding her umbrella.

And underlying it all was Miss Militia’s warning.  That we might need to use our powers.  Guards and soldiers in various colors were arranged around the room, and a pretty good number were arranged right behind us, weapons put away, but still a lot of people with guns and short spears.

The others seemed to come to their consensus.  Luis said something in another language, and then smiled.  “You may.”

Miss Militia moved her hand, holding it so both hands were clasped behind her.  “I come bearing reassurances.  For their role in stopping the Blue Empress, you afforded Amelia Claire Lavere and Chris Elman some privileges and assurances.  Today I’ve brought the other members of that group that played a role in stopping her, they played a lesser role, yes, but they ask for nothing but goodwill.  We have a Natalie Matteson, unpowered, to speak for them.”

“Saying they played a role may be overstating it,” Chris said.  His voice was surprisingly deep.  A man’s voice, and I’d even suspect it was deeper than an average-

“Don’t make this harder,” Amy rebuked him, while interrupting my observation.

How could I have missed the sound of her voice and find it so deeply unsettling at the same time?

The translators repeated even those lines.  A short statement, like a rock thrown into a pond in a cave, and then the resounding, distorted echo.  A response, another series of voices filling the room.  My heart was beating with a speed that surprised me.

Luis conferred with others in the other language before saying, “Would Natalie Matteson be willing to step into another room?  My colleagues feel it would allow her to share her truth, and we could see how the stories line up.”

Natalie, nervous, looked to Miss Militia for input, then said, “If necessary.”

One of the people who had been translating and one of the people from the boxy-robed group stepped away.

I liked Natalie.  In the paranoia of the moment and the tension of this scene, I had to wonder how much I trusted her interpretation of events.

“Not all of my colleagues agree that the Laveres and Elman should have received any favors,” Luis said.

“They don’t ask for much.  Goodwill.”

“Will is easy, good is free, yet goodwill can be the hardest thing to give,” he said.

“Winter climate affords bridges,” Miss Milita said.

“Is it winter?  Ignore the weather.”

“It’s chilly in here,” she told him.

Luis laughed.  After the back and forth, it was the only sound without its ‘echo’ of translation.

Fuck me.  They were speaking English and I wasn’t sure I understood what they were saying.  Others from Shin seemed to.  A few smiles.

“Yosef, Lone Sands.  I like you, Militia,” one of the men in flowing clothes said.  A woman I presumed was his wife was dressed in patching colors, her clothes wrapped around her.  He did have an accent.

“I like you too, Yosef.  I would also like assurances of my own to start,” Miss Militia said.

There was a pause.  A distortion in the echo of translators speaking.

Something wrong?  I tensed.

“You confused the translators,” Luis said.  “I like this, I would like that, but… hard connection to draw while maintaining the small poetry.  Let me-”

He said a single word.

With that, the translation finished uninterrupted.  I didn’t feel more relieved.  It created a sensation like they had more power, because they controlled the language.

Miss Militia  was as unflinching as she ever was.

“What assurances?” Yosef asked.

“I would like to know why governments have changed from this morning.  The Coalition is gone.”

“They were made to abstain.  Just in case,” Luis said.  “We’re deciding what to do about you, about them-”

He indicated us.  Breakthrough.

“And about them.”

My mom, dad, Amy, Chris, Marquis, and Marquis’s underling.

What to do?  My thoughts were caught between wondering what they even could do and what they were capable of.  Did they think they could mass-execute us, or were they coming in from another angle?

“Can we make an appeal?”

“Wouldn’t an appeal eat it’s own tail?”

“What’s the tail?”

“Some would say you’re too dangerous to even talk to.  Some of you can change minds with a word, or kill with a whistle from wet lips.”

“You have teeth, but I would get within arm’s reach of you without worrying about my throat.”

“Don’t be deceptive, it’s not like you,” Luis said, and his tone had cooled.  “Every last one of you have bigger teeth.”

“I know you, Luis.  I know Yosef, and I know the rest of you who haven’t yet joined this conversation.  You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have threats of your own.”

“Right now we’re supplying enough food to feed two million of your people and we’ll continue doing so through the winter.  Amy Dallon pledged assistance and cooperation to increase that amount to five million, possibly to ten.  That’s food.  Shelter.  Clothing.  Chemicals.  Industry.  All deals end now.  With her, with you.  You get nothing and millions may die.  I’m sorry.”

My own surprise at the statement was redoubled when I saw movement in the periphery of my vision, looked, and saw it was Amy hanging her head.

Chris said something to Amy.  From what I could catch, it was an ‘I told you so’.

Vista might have looked agitated, because Miss Militia put a hand out.

“We negotiate from that point forward,” Miss Militia said.

“Can we?  Do we?” Luis asked.

“No and we don’t,” Yosef said.

“Yes we do,” Miss Militia said.

My breath was hard to regulate as I went from considering the implications of even just Amy’s apparent deal falling through, which I knew people had been planning around, went to considering outright cancellation of any deal whatsoever, and then realized this was just maneuvering.

Well, ‘just’.  It was a lot of weight to be throwing around.  Threatening to scrap the deal as a show of power and an indication of what was at stake.  Attacking us directly wasn’t the only tool in their toolbox.

Miss Militia found her footing.  Her appeal was as emotional as I’d ever heard her be.  “You know me, you like me, you know I’ve never wronged you.  These young people deserve your goodwill.  They did right by you, I believe you were at least partially in their thoughts when they took the actions they did.”

“We were debating about them earlier, among ourselves.  If I may?” Luis asked.  He made a beckoning gesture.  “We’ll talk to them, and we’ll see if a revisit of our deal is a discussion worth having.”

“Antares?”  Miss Militia started reaching back for my shoulder.

“For now, we would rather talk to Swansong.  She made a dramatic gesture and got our attention.”

They planned this.  They knew they’d do this before we stepped into this room.

I met Ashley’s eyes and I tried to read if there was something black still residing there.

Please be goodPlease be your best self.

Miss Militia made a small motion with her hand, for Swansong to approach.  At the same time, she held up her other hand to tell us to stay.

“If you would step back, Militia?” Yosef asked.

“I would like to stay by her side and counsel her and anyone else.  She doesn’t know the small customs.”

“We’ll forgive any small breaches.”

“In your minds maybe, but not in your hearts.  This is best for everyone.”

“I agree,” Luis said.

“Conceded.  Stay,” Yosef added.

What I was getting now was that this was a formalized debate, in a sense.  The ‘floor’ was a subtle thing, with everyone gathered in a circle and then people stepping forward as they had permission to engage.  Luis had had to ask, but Yosef hadn’t.  Because he was powerful, or because he’d stated something everyone could agree with.

Which left me to assume that taking stances everyone could agree with would be important, or… you’d get challenged.  Maybe even ejected.  It also left me to wonder if it was possible to step even closer to the middle.  Was there a progression, a series of levels of authority?  Did other movements matter?

Ashley stepped up, holding her hands much like Miss Milita did, clasped behind her back.  Her chin was more raised.  “Thank you.”

“We start by introducing ourselves, before any statements,” Miss Militia said.  “Name first.”

“Swansong,” Ashley said.  “Ashley Stillons.  Breakthrough.”

“I’m Luis, that’s the name the Blue Empress gave me,” Luis said.  “My true name is Amil.  I was young when I worked for her as a servant, I made it a goal to learn her tongue from her, and when she tired of my presence, from her subordinate powers, who she tried to keep near.  Now I’m someone who speaks for those who were most affected.”

“Custom,” Miss Militia’s voice was quiet, joining the murmur of translators as she advised Ashley, “Is if you overshare, you invite others to do the same.”

“Who overshared?”

“You did.  You gave your full name.  It may be rude not to engage in the back-and-forth, but it also tends to turn debates into something self-aggrandizing or about gathering the information to tear others down.”

Oh great.  It had to be Ashley who was front and center for that particular lesson.

“Perfect,” Ashley said. “That’s fine.”

“Mirror him, match what’s being talked about.  If he shares about his work you talk about yours.  If he talks about war stories, you talk about yours.  Questions are too pointed and rude unless you have a good relationship.  Then you expand and invite them to mirror or compare themselves to you, or you wind down the personal side of the conversation.”

“Wind down how?” I asked, my voice quiet.

“Compliments are a good way of winding down the thread of discussion and getting back on topic,” Miss Militia said, to all of us, then to Ashley, “I suggest complimenting, it’ll help ease tensions.”

Ashley looked a bit annoyed, but she addressed Luis, “I don’t speak for anyone but myself, though I once considered myself one of the leaders for my team.  I still do, in a way, but only for certain things that need my skillset.  I respect the work ethic and the approach you talk about, the planning.”

“It wasn’t easy.  I think if I did not have the scars I have now, the other people in this room wouldn’t trust me,” Luis said.  “My family was… ravaged.  There were people with powers who were free to be their worst selves and one of them chose my siblings as a target.  Now she does not speak.”

“If you saw the video of us talking to Nieves, you know I was ravaged myself,” she said.  “They took my voice, too.”

“My parents grieve constantly.”

“My parents-” Ashley paused.  She’d mirrored and realized the trap late.  “I killed them.  It was an accident.”

“With your power?” Luis asked.

Miss Militia had said a question was supposed to be pointed, incisive.  Was that an end to civility?  The back-and-forth just a way to maneuver the other person into a point where they could be attacked?

“Yes.  With my power.”

“Powers are dangerous.  Unpredictable.”

“They can be,” Ashley said.  She floundered. I could see tension in her neck and shoulders as she stood there, effectively skewered after having been invited to share something personal.  Was that a trap?  If she hadn’t shared enough, would they paint her as deceptive?

I wanted to fault Miss Militia for throwing us in the deep end of this pool, but I was pretty sure she hadn’t expected this to be this, and I got that there wasn’t a great way to fill a bunch of kids in on what looked to be a very subtle and complex form of debate.  There were probably a lot of sub-rules and points of decorum.  She’d committed us to their custom by advising us, at least to a small degree, but she had to think that doing the alternative would hurt more.

“Yosef was a soldier,” Luis said.  “he saw a lot of that ugliness.”

“I earned some prestige,” the other diplomat said.  “We don’t see much war, we’ve seen its price, but when she arrived, some of us fought back.  She beheaded us again and again, until we had no leadership to speak of.  We thought it was a victory if it took thirty of us to kill one of their kind.  I killed one, a girl younger than her-”

He indicated Kenzie.

“-but with the losses we incurred, it was not a victorious day.  It was only a personal victory and a release for me to put my shoe-heel to her head until she died, after all I had lost.”

Sveta put her hands to her mouth.

“The poor child,” Miss Militia said.  “She was enraptured by the Blue Empress.”

“She was what she was,” Yosef said, to Miss Militia.  To Ashley, he said, “That is why I stand here with the station I have, talking to you.  I killed one and I played a part in killing another.”

Ashley answered, “I stand where I do now not because of what I did, but because I put distance between that self of mine.  I tried to gather a small army of thugs beneath me and claim a share of a city for myself.”

“That would be your Slaughterhouse, then,” Yosef said, and I was ninety percent sure he knew it wasn’t as he jumped to his conclusion.

“No,” Ashley said.

“A violent word, Slaughterhouse,” Yosef said.

So this was the rebuke, if someone tried to be slippery or dodge a topic and got called on it.  I wondered about the extent to which it mattered.  Was there a point system?  Were their cultural attitudes the sort to call out this sort of thing?

The statement was an invitation, a question without being a question, demanding elaboration.

“They were a band of killers.  If the Blue Empress’s worst were monsters, then I’m sure they were similar to the Slaughterhouse.”

“A roving band of killers,” Miss Militia said.  “They suffered losses in the city I was protecting and went recruiting to replace their own.  The prospective recruits who didn’t cooperate were made to cooperate.  Swansong included.”

“Thank you for the clarification,” Luis said.

It almost sounded like that was another rebuke, not a pleasantry.

“I was thrown into battle against one of Miss Militia’s colleagues.  He killed me.  I was brought back from death, thrown into more danger.  The hardest head could be softened by that much dying.”

Chris spoke up, “You say that, but there’s another you out there who got harder, not softer.  You reveled in those days you spent with the Slaughterhouse, and she still does.”

“What are you doing?” Ashley asked him.

“Commenting.”

He sounded like some blend of irreverent and resentful as he made his ‘comments’.  It jarred with how everything else seemed to be an ongoing dance. I could see tension and betrayal across my team.  Kenzie smiled.  Even Vista looked bothered.

“You reveled,” Luis said.

“Not quite that.”

“It’s good,” Luis said.  He smiled.  “We’re always hungry to get insights about how your kind think and operate.  We study you voraciously, even now that we aren’t being ordered to, we compile records, we send ambassadors to talk to your experts and we pay them.  But a simple, brief explanation helps.  You reveled.”

“A simple brief explanation from him is going to be misleading.”

“So we can’t trust them.  You’re here to warn us, not to reassure?”

Ashley clenched one of her hands.

This is a charade.  A dangerous charade with the lives of millions who were counting on food and shelter may not get that.

“Why do your kind want things like kingdoms, island chains, or pieces of cities?” Yosef asked.

“Do you know how we get powers?” Ashley asked.

“We know.  As well as you do, I think.”

Right.  Goddess had mentioned they’d studied powers at her behest, with labs that rivaled Bet’s own, just with a hell of a lot more focus and motivation, and possibly a few more eureka moments.

…Possibly a little less massaging of data or focus on what was more palatable.

“We come from places of powerlessness.  Hold someone down at the floor of a lake, and they fight to come up for air, but the fight doesn’t stop there.  We put distance between ourselves and the water.”

Luis smiled.  “She told you we like our proverbs.”

“She didn’t.”

“We do like them.  You were powerless once and now you want power.  You need it, a dare say?”

“I dare say it depends on the person,” Ashley said, defensive.

“Dare say,” Luis said, and he winked at Ashley.  “The little prizes you learn when you pick up a tongue.”

“Will you chatter or will you step back, Luis?” Yosef asked.

“I’ll make an offer, let her answer, then gauge if others are willing to sign the deal,” Luis said.  He was lively, shifting his footing, his eyes bright.  “Swansong, we do not like things being hidden from us and we feel Chris Elman and Amy Dallon Lavere hid things from us.  We would punish them.  Moderate them.  Do you like them?”

“One betrayed me, one betrayed my friend, but a truce could be made.”

Not really helping to smooth things over, I thought.  But I wasn’t sure being dishonest would have been better.  Being diplomatic and choosing words more carefully would help.

“That might be ideal,” Luis said.  “We could give you a share of what we’ve agreed to give them.  Islands, people if those people are willing to live under you, and some people do want that security.  There is a servant class that is cloned, smart enough to obey orders, too stunted to have an identity or personality beyond the surface level.  We don’t know what to do with them.  We would give you some, Chris Elman would feel their absence, and you could barter with him for what else you needed.”

Chris could be heard chuckling.  “Assholes.”

The epithet was translated in a selection of languages from beside or behind every other group, including the guards behind us.  Luis could speak our language, but people in his entourage couldn’t.  The word was spoken, brief, and the tenor of things changed slightly.

Him being here and giving so little of a shit in a formal setting wasn’t making things better.

And because I looked his way, I could see Amy’s face, pale enough the freckles stood out.  I was reminded of Presley on the train, looking at me in my peripheral vision.  Except this time the reason for my skin crawling was real.

“If I could-” Miss Militia started.

“Miss Militia,” Luis interrupted, with unusual gravity.  “This is an offer between me and her.  We don’t need custom.”

“She needs counsel.”

“Your counsel would slap me in the face.  We would thank you for bringing the guests here and we would escort you out so we could talk to our guests.”

“There’s no need,” Miss Militia said.  I saw the weapon at her hip flash green-black, as if it almost changed forms.

Okay.  Shit.

“This feels too generous,” Ashley said, her head turning.

“We believe in making debts right.  As Miss Militia said at the outset.  She asked for goodwill but this would be goodwill and solving a problem in one fell stroke.  It would also itch at my curiosity, would this satisfy the part of you that went to a city and collected thugs to take a part of it?”

Ashley.

“I think so.  But I’d miss my team.”

“It would be yours to share, or for one of you to take with the agreement of the others,” Luis said.

It’s too biased an offer.  There’s a catch or a trap here.

“You saved our world, you get something.  Good acts are rewarded.”

“And we sign deals of cooperation that keep us out of your way?  Thank you, it’s a kind offer, but no.”

“You should take the offer, Ashley,” Chris said.

“No,” Ashley said, more hostile now.

Luis spread his arms.  “That’s fine.  We’ll figure something else out.  Thank you, Ashley Stillons, Swansong.”

Was that an official dismissal?  We announced ourselves with our names and we were asked to leave with the same, like a parent rebuking a child with their full name?

Either way, Ashley backed off.  Kenzie put an arm around Ashley’s waist.

“You’re maneuvering aggressively, if you don’t mind my saying so,” Miss Militia said.

“These are aggressive times,” Yosef said.  “We thought we had an ally we could work with, and now we hear she’s unreliable.  She did something in the past and she’s done it again.”

“If I may-” Amy started.

“You may not,” Luis said.

Again, that light in the eyes, the intensity, like someone riding a high.

Luis was supposedly on our side, but… he’d been close to Goddess, acting as a bodyguard or accompaniment, there’d been a hint that he had powers, by the way he’d held himself, and now he was aggressively maneuvering, as Miss Militia had put it.

“You chose to speak to Swansong,” Miss Militia said.  “I would suggest you speak to the others?”

“No need,” Yosef said.  “Amy Dallon Lavere made her attempt at explaining herself to us before you arrived.  She failed.  We spoke to Swansong because she had the potential to be the worst of you.”

Ashley rankled visibly at that.

“We will speak to you because you’re the best of them,” Luis added.

“Then tell me, we were talking trade, you wanted to ask some questions of Breakthrough and get some perspective before moving forward.”

“We did.  They have our goodwill.”

“Then can we talk about trade?”

“We can.  I’ll start with the term you’ll find most objectionable.  Whatever we agree on, the people we send to you with supplies, materials, or anything else will stay in Gimel.”

“Stay.  As residents?”

“As residents.  It should be only a team of five or ten per shipment.  We only have so many that can comfortably speak your language.  You get far more in the way of housing than you’d see occupied.  More in food than they could ever eat.”

Chris spoke, his voice low.  “They want to send you people who’ll keep an eye on parahumans, keep them in their sights-”

He mimed picking up and holding a gun.

“That’s insane,” Miss Militia said.

“Parahumans unchecked is insane,” Yosef replied.  “We desire a measure of security.  If you’re good and just, you have nothing to fear.”

“This is why the Coalition is gone?”  Miss Militia asked.

Luis answered, “It is.  They felt they had no room to speak here, so they abstained at our request, in exchange for some room on a trade deal we’re working on.  Internal, nothing to do with you.”

“If I may,” Miss Militia said.  “This is more formal and more serious than I expected.  Could I excuse my guests and speak with you in private?  I want to bring up things you have shared with me in private.”

There was some discussion, much of it in a language that wasn’t translated back to us.

Miss Militia turned around, and she smiled.  I hadn’t seen her face in some time, not since my stint in the Wards.  She looked about as stressed now as she had then.  But she looked more tired now.

I didn’t miss her gaze slipping from me to Sveta, and then to the guards behind us.

“They may take a recess and rejoin us if they desire,” Luis said.

“Go,” Miss Militia told us.  “Be careful.”

Again, that flicker of a glance at the guards.

Be careful.

Guards escorted us from the room.  What we’d seen was preliminary, a setting of the stakes, a testing of the guests by challenging a volatile member and making an offer, probably a trap.  And then the real terms.  What they wanted.

I left that scene behind, as Miss Militia stood alone against five nations.  This was where she had been, and what she’d been working on.

The guards that followed us into the adjacent room blocked my view of her.

Be careful, she’d said.

She’d said it in a way that made me think trouble was imminent.

I didn’t want to do this.  To have this conversation.  The room we entered was like a greenhouse patio, with tables and chairs set against the wall.  Snow was piled against the glass.  It was warm.  I could see Miss Militia if I looked past the guard and through the window into the meeting space.  As the guard moved, though, my vision obscured.

Tristan was keeping an eye on the window too.  He looked at me, then back to the window.

Yeah.  We were on the same page.

I so didn’t want to do this.

Amy sat on a table.  My mom sat on a chair beside her, my dad beside her.  Marquis was a distance away, closer to Chris.

A good fifteen feet separated us from them.  A gulf.

“Hi Chris,” Rain said.

“Hi,” was the deep-voiced answer.

“Missed you, believe it or not.”

“I didn’t miss you.  Sorry.”

I couldn’t ignore Amy’s face looking at me from the sidelines.  Silent, staring.  The hands tattooed with my metaphorical blood.

“You put on some weight,” Kenzie said, still smiling.

“Puberty and changer powers, you know.  It’s a thing,” Chris answered.

Changer.  He still pretended.

“Yeah,” I said.  She’d moved when I talked, like she was stirred out of a daze.  I avoided looking.

“Same for Case Fifty-Threes.  The mutations tend to get worse,” Sveta said.

“Yeah, but your new body isn’t from that, is it?  Otherwise Weld would be in big trouble.”

Sveta looked away at the mention of Weld.

“You stepped up your game, huh?” Chris asked.  “Better body.”

“Yeah,” Sveta said.  She smiled.  “I’m pretty happy with it.”

“It’s okay.  You could’ve gone with a supermodel body and you went with that.”

“Fuck you,” Sveta said.  “You’re better than that, Chris.”

“Am I?” he asked.  “Why would you think that?  Name one thing I’ve done that’s ‘better’.”

“You were our friend.”

“Sorry, but that doesn’t count for anything.  I used you, that’s all.  No hard feelings.”

“Some hard feelings,” Tristan said.

Chris snorted.

“We need to instill you with some manners,” Marquis said.

“How long have you tried?” Chris asked.

“If I try for just a short while longer, I may strike on a success.”

“Ever the optimist,” Amy said, her voice pitched funny.  Nervous.

Tristan didn’t take his eyes off the window.  I looked.  Miss Militia was standing in the center of the room now.  I wished I knew the context.  Natalie had rejoined her, but looked so intimidated I wasn’t sure what she could add.  I worried, by the look on her face, that she had detracted more than she added.  This wasn’t her world, it wasn’t her fight, and we’d pulled her into it.

Guards stared me down as I looked past them.  I didn’t flinch, turning back to Breakthrough.  The others.

This warm space was crowded despite the unoccupied swathe of patio between the two factions.  The guards were arranged in two rows of five by the door, hands on their weapons.

Yosef had talked so casually about killing a parahuman child.  Would he do something?  I had my aura.  I could hit the glass above us and bring snow and glass down on their heads.  I wasn’t sure it was enough.

A face loomed in my peripheral vision.  I was worried I was going to lose it if I didn’t distract myself.

“Mom.  Are you okay?”

“Better,” was her response.

“I sent you messages.”

“I got them,” she said.

“I read them to her,” my dad said.  “We couldn’t reply.  Nothing nefarious, just… difficult.”

In looking at him, I glanced at Amy.  It was a punch in the gut.

I hated having feelings that had nowhere to go, and with no air in this hot box of a room, with everything on the line, things were worse.

“Are you going to fully recover?” I asked.

“Yes,” my mom said.  “Mark and Amy are looking after me.  We’re moving slowly, but we will get there.  We’re being treated well.”

“You’re moving slowly because dear daughter fucked up and now you’re both scared.”

“What did you do, Amy?” Sveta asked.

“It’s being handled.”

“What happened?”

“It’s handled.”

“Leave it,” Rain said.  “It’s not worth it.  Even if it’s not handled, there’s nothing we can do.”

“It’s eating me alive to imagine what happened and I can only imagine what it’s like for Victoria.  The unknown is worse.”

“And it’s all we get.  Accept the things we can’t change,” Rain said.

“It’s handled,” Amy said, repeating words that would echo in my head for weeks now.

I couldn’t.  I could have swung a punch if there was someone in range.  I almost punched the glass.  That would have been dramatic.  Instead, I turned, and I saw Sveta.  Ashley stood beside her.

I couldn’t breathe, so I started simpler.  I couldn’t not have a heartbeat, and the heart gave my lungs oxygen.  I couldn’t not be feeling the humid warmth in the air of this room, see the blue hue of snow piled up against the glass, with parts left snow-free for sun to shine through.  I couldn’t not hear the muffled echo of translators speaking in their crisp, foreign tongues.

I wanted to say I couldn’t not stand up straight, stay centered with my own sense of balance, but the reality was that I could see a world where I toppled, bowled over by the sheer unpleasantness of all of this.

Nobody was talking.  There was so much to say, and there was only silence and tension.  Bitterness.

I reached out for the exterior window, touching glass that had snow on the far side.  I traced a finger along and drew in the moisture.  A circle.  I blotted out the interior.  The cold, moisture, and the touch helped ground me.

I’d wanted to come because I had to face my demons, like Sveta had faced hers.  Like Ashley had done when she threw down the gauntlet for Gary Nieves.

In my desire to be anywhere else I looked at the window.  No escalation, no changes.

I wanted to see, to hear, to-

Instinct told me to look at Kenzie.

Her head bobbed slightly like she was listening to music.  But it wasn’t music.  I could time the motions to the cadence and rhythm of speech in the other room.

I put my hand on her head to stop the bobbing.  The motion made my injury twinge.  Her hair pressed close to the scalp by a hairband, left open and hanging free at the back of her head.  She wore a hairpin as part of the hairband, that was a ‘club’ from the deck of cards.  I wanted to ask why.  I didn’t want to try to speak and fail.

Kenzie moved her head, my hand still atop it, and leaned against my side.

With the way the discussion was going in the other room, I wasn’t sure we’d be invited in to talk trade deals or testify on my family’s behalf.  I was worried.

I was avoiding breathing more often than I breathed, holding my breath like I was trying to minimize exposure to poison gas.

Or pathogens.  The thought lurched into my mind and made me ten different kinds of scared, my mouth drying up, my hand moving involuntarily, streaking against the glass, collecting moisture and cold in the webbing between index finger and thumb.  My other hand rested on Kenzie’s head, still, moved suddenly, and made her look up.

“Sorry.”

She shook her head and smiled.

I leaned my head forward to rest forehead against glass.  Sveta moved, putting herself between me and Kenzie and my family, her back to that same glass.

Tristan watched the other room, arms folded, and in doing so he faced down the guards.  Rain was caught between watching them and watching Chris.  Ashley was more focused on Carol, my dad, and Marquis, with Amy a distant fourth.

Amy.

I’d wanted to face my demon and I’d put myself in a glass cell with it.

“You don’t have to move, I’ll go back to where I was standing.”

“I’m stiff, that’s all.”

Marquis’s statement.  My mother’s response.

With some unsure movements, a shuffling footstep or two, she crossed the distance.  Sveta looked back at me to double check, and I pulled my head away from the coolness of the window, wiped the moisture from my forehead, and nodded.

Sveta let my mom past, taking Kenzie with her.

Tristan watched.  Kenzie listened in.

My mom stood beside me.

The guards to my right.

My mom pulled me into a hug.  I let her, answered it.  I squeezed her tight.  I hadn’t hugged her since- had it been the barbecue?

Disturbing, somehow.  All of this was.

We broke the hug.  My mom touched the window for balance.

“I’m sorry,” I told her.  “I really am.  It was bad strategy, it was unkind when you were going out of your way to help- my power is-”

“Amy told me.  Her interpretation.”

The words I’d had died.

She turned away, looking out past the glass at the storm-swept landscape of foreign buildings.  Towers extending up from one of a building’s four faces.  Another squat building had no third and fourth floor, a stone figure curled up within, holding the fifth floor up.

My mom drew a circle in the window, then drew her own icon within it, using a long fingernail for the details.

“I’m sorry,” I said, again.

“Me too,” she said.  She drew another symbol.  Fingerprints formed the sizing templates for individual segments of my dad’s grenade shape, and she used her nail to create corners.

She was apologizing for-?

“She’s not well,” my mom said, quiet, wiping away the image, where it wasn’t perfect.  She breathed on it to restore some life to the canvas.

In the background, Rain was talking to Chris again.

The words rocked me, stole away all rational and ordered thought.  My mom ignored the impact of it, continuing to draw on the window.

I looked.  I fixed my gaze on Amy, and I studied, pulling from memories of four years ago.  Memories of two years ago, when she’d come to Victoria the Wretch, stole away all emotions, false and otherwise, and made her offers.  Gave me her warnings.

She looked back, locking eyes with me.

The discomfort of me being present, her own shame, and the awkwardness of being between my dad and Marquis with Chris and Rain’s chatter in the background set aside… I couldn’t see it.

I one hundred percent believed it, but I couldn’t see it.  I looked away.

A part of me desperately wanted to.  That part of me wanted to see the illness, see a sign that would warn me, and in equal measure it would condemn me for not seeing it back then.

A part of me wanted this, wanted to not see, because it absolved past me to some degree.

“What tea?” Ashley asked.  Part of an ongoing conversation I’d tuned out.

“Believe it or not, I’m not much of a snob,” Marquis answered her.  “At this point I’ll drink what I can find.”

“You’ve lost standing in my eyes, Marquis.”

“Deservedly so.  In my defense, the world did end, and I’m a long way from home.”

“Even so.”

“Yes.  Even so.”

Kenzie wasn’t acting alarmed.  Tristan still watched, still kept his back to Chris, his arms folded.

The guards remained hostile.  The people in the other room were still arguing that their anti-parahuman soldiers should get freedom to act, or they’d cut off support we desperately needed.

All of this, the talk with Nieves, a pretext, I was guessing.  An excuse.

I felt like I was dealing with frying pans and fires.  A suffocating room, the fate of millions, tensions between old friends.  My mom and my guilt there.

I turned my eyes back to my mom’s work.  Letters.

‘We need help’, she’d written.  She started on the next word.  A vertical line-

A guard moved from his spot.  Casually, my mom wiped the message away.  She met my eyes for a moment, then focused her gaze intently on the snowstorm outside.

Previous Chapter                                                                                       Next Chapter

187 thoughts on “Breaking – 14.5”

  1. Of course Wildbow can think up a sophisticated cultural code of conduct, and make it all come off smooth and natural with room for manipulation.

  2. – The Shin-ians have some greater hold, some trump card that lets them keep the parents, Amy and Marquis down
    – Perhaps their studies of capes and shards yielded fruit (power suppression gas or something)
    – Luis doesn’t have parahuman powers, I bet. He’s just exulting in a moment of dominance
    – Swansong handled herself well for such a fraught situation (I suspect Wildbow set something of a writing challenge for himself there)
    – Miss Militia has leveled up like a mofo. She was always awesome but now, she’s like Legendary Interdimensional Ambassador Hannah

    1. – Interesting theory about powre suppressing technology. If it exists, it is probably either a new invention, or not something that Goddess’ danger sense could not deal with, or something created by a cape who used to be unnder Goddess’ control. Otherwise people of Shin would get rid of her by themselves. On the other hand there may be something to this theory if you consider that Amy appeared pale, and her power is supposed to make her be unable to be physically ill (or at least her power is supposed to completely protect her against infections). Of course it also could be that Carol meant that Amy is mentally unwell. Which could mean anything from extreme stress or mental breakdown, to being “teachered”.
      – Whether Luis has powers or not, he appears to hide something from his compatriots. For a person Goddess has lost interest in at some point he seemed to be awfully close to her when we saw him on Gimel. Also remember that Goddess probably didn’t consider him a threat. It could be that she thought she could easily deal with him, like she thought she could deal with Chris, but maybe he was actually loyal to her? It would fit Victoria’s observation that he may have powers, because it would mean that he could be “aligned” by Goddess.

      1. Furthermore the fact that Amy was apparently unable to fully heal Carol may also mean that something is wrong with her power, further lending credibility to “power suppression gas” theory. Maybe after Goddess’ death all Gimel capes who went to Shin with intent of spending more than a few hours (like the villains who went there with Amy and the elder Dallons) fell into a subtle trap – their powers were weakened to a point where they couldn’t escape off-world, and they effectively became hostages, bargaining chips to be used in negotiations with Gimel like the one that is going on right now.

        1. By the way if everyone has been exposed to some power suppressing gas or pathogens, I wonder if everyone will be saved by Kenze who is not only wearing an air filter, but also hid this fact with her holographic tech, and hasn’t been talking during the meeting, which means that the guards may be unaware that she may be unaffected by whatever is in the air, assuming it needs to be breathed in to work.

        2. One more argument for a “powers suppression gas” – it would make sense that Amy is not well even if power suppression is the only thing that the hypothetical gas does. With the immunity to diseases her power normally grants, she would probably not bother getting any shots before coming to Shin, and she could be suffering from “regular” local diseases. In fact with her power completely protecting her against pathogens, regular vaccines could simply not work on her, while at the same time her immune system could be completely unable to protect her from anything because it probably never had to deal with anything since the day she triggered. An immune system which was unused for years could also potentially cause other problems, like strong allergies, as soon as Amy’s power stopped protecting her body.

      2. She cant get infections, because she uses her power os virus or bacterias that try to infect her, but she cannot use her power on herself, so if she is comtamined by a gas, the only solution would be to for example change a bacteria so it would consume the gas inside ger

    2. Power suppression technology is interesting, because I would surmise it was the holy grail of parahuman research. Managing it would have stopped the landslide of parahuman violence that culminated into Gold Morning, and avoided the need for such unpalatable measures such as the Birdcage, the “cops & robbers” game and the amnesty.

      I am fairly sure that most of the parahuman research budget of multiple earths went into it. So why wasn´t this technology discovered before? (besides the plot interest reasons)
      The tinkertech scans of appropriate “Trumps” should have given something usable very fast… and either they didn´t, it wasn´t scalable… or the entities hardcoded tinkertech shards to be UNABLE to grasp & tinker power suppression, as it was the surest way to wreak havoc in the cycle.

      So basically Shin has managed something that should have been made “impossible” through power use. So either it is something based in conventional science (like magnetic fields specifically playing havoc & inducing misfires on the neuronal synapses of the corona pollentia, making power use unreliable, but not impossible) or an unforeseen combination of powers & ingenuity made it possible.

      Amy dear, you DIDN´T make an INFECTIOUS plague that causes neuronal damage ONLY to Corona Pollentias to “cure the parahuman power abomination” issues, DID YOU? particularly, you DIDN´T take designer input from chris, right? Riiight….

      Dust your biowarfare defence manual & NBQ gear people, we are in for a BUMPY RIDE.

      1. Two things that could have changed, both because of scions death: all new shards not getting the programming to suppress/thwart all attempts to do this, and powers just working differently in his abscense in a way that leaves them vulnerable in some way now they weren’t before. Or both.

    3. Shinians is awful. Shinese? Shinish?

      Though that’s like calling the people in the Antilles “Indians” – it really only means something to Aleph and Bet folk. What do they call themselves, I wonder? It’d have to be a neologism – they haven’t known of alternate dimensions *that* long.

  3. Can’t wait for a fight between our heroes and those parahumans asshole (one of them was so proud for killing in cold blood a brainwashed child, what a jerk. I feel sorry for Luis’ sister however, Goddess was indeed a monster) to start because I want to see Victoria and Amy starting to fiercely protect each other, like two sisters should do and maybe becoming close (as close as its possible for them) after this experience. I want them to forgive each other and be close again, this is all I ask for.

    Chris either continues to be a jerk or he’s planning a role (be more convincing in front of the guards while he’s planning their escape). Hope is the second .

    1. “Chris either continues to be a jerk or he’s planning a role (be more convincing in front of the guards while he’s planning their escape). Hope is the second .”

      Why not both? 😀

      I mean, that would pretty much be exactly what he did last time.

          1. I like him a lot, actually. The fact that he is an unwilling lab-rat phylactery excuses a lot of his behavior… but he is right now a tad over the line.

            I still like his ambition, the fact that he has seen how half-measures to quell the “conflict imperative” of shards don´t work, and how something like a second gold morning WILL eventually happen unless drastic measures are taken. So I am totally rooting for him, and like him more than any other Breakthrough member besides Kenzie.

            I mean, it´s my own assessment. At some point, the clustering shard dynamics ensure that a sufficiently smart grouping of shards with a suitable power source will occur, and those will form the core of a new entity… which is guaranteed to wipe out or massively damage mankind as it arises.

            Think about it as the risk of the rise of a superinteligent and singularitarian AI from multiple “dumb” AIs running in very powerful supercomputers. The Shards have a simple “ego”, closer to a very smart dog, running into a “brain” with virtually unlimited processing power.
            The fact that they don´t go haywire and try to rebel even against the parent entity is that they are task hedonists: everything goal & personality that is not related to power handling is cut out. So their goals are so simple & monotask that they remain unimaginative enough to not be a threat.

            Unless you bunch a LOT of them with very different goals & skillsets in the same space, open a phone line between them & put pressure on them to survive in the absence of communication with the entity hub.

            I mean, the shard-creature from Rain´s cluster looks just like that scenario forming. AND Grasping self would make an amazing endgame boss.

            I want to see what Chris “We take action, and this time we make it BIG” looks like. Maybe triggered slave caste forming the “deep blue” parahuman power supercomputing center?
            Looks like his alley.
            AND the fact that two shard users which look like they had functions in entity physical shell formation & homeostasis wind up collaborating in the same Earth, just as Teacher´s endgame seems to be “the entity reformation initiative” is NOT a coincidence for me.

          2. …wasnt the whole point of the reveal that all that was bs-that literally all he cares about is himself and having test subjects to experiment on?
            *is currently wondering if he missed something >.<*

    2. > Chris either continues to be a jerk or he’s planning a role (be more convincing in front of the guards while he’s planning their escape). Hope is the second .

      I think he might have been doing more than just acting for guards benefit. I have a feeling tried to steer the negotiations in a direction where he, Amy, the elder Dallons, Marquis and as many Gimel capes as possible would be kicked out of Shin. That said he seemed to be fine with leaving Ashley on Shin if it would mean he would be free to go.

    3. Rain: I missed you
      Chris: I didn’t.

      Poor Rain. I wonder what Chris feels towards the team? Was he legitimately just using them? What exactly for, cause he didn’t really need them? Is he just completely unsentimental and aware hes ade a flat out choice? Has he been tinkering with his emotions to make himself less human? Or is he Up To Something? Seriously the most interesting character in Ward for pure ambiguity (and sheer assholeness)

      1. He was using them to get access to big fights and interesting powers. Once it looked like Amy would get him access to better resources, he bailed.

      2. I don’t buy it. That’s Chris offering a free “Hate Me, It’s Okay” card.
        That’s not something you DO if you don’t care.
        Manipulators … /manipulate/ they don’t sit there and play cards that put them in a worse position.

        … shit. Maybe Chris is making it so that his former friends won’t feel so bad if they have to hurt him.

        1. It’s a Wildbow work. You’d be stupid to have hope to begin with.

          Have low expectations.

          Like “Not all of Breakthrough will die horrible deaths.”

          Or “March is still dead for now, at least.”

          Maybe, if you really want to live dangerously, “At least the body horrors are going to be an interesting read.”

          1. Or “they’ll escape without anyone from their team, Marquis, Amy or Chris dying but they’ll encounter other problems after 5 seconds of their escape”.
            Wildbow usually make the good guys pretty victorious, despite all the stuff they’re facing. But their problems never end.
            As for body horrors, having Sveta, Amy and Chris by your side, you can expect at a lot of body horrors coming from them.

          2. @Chair-Zard

            Remember when we all hoped Vista had somehow survived? Or when we all hoped that Foil could get the drop on March? And then there was that time that Sveta got an actual body.
            Although we’re still probaly going to see body Horror.

            Now, possibilities.
            Vicky get injured and Amy goes berserk against the attackers somehow
            Amy gets injured and Vicky, to her own surprise goes berserk (and with a hell of a shock realises that deep under her anger she still cares deeply for Amy and misses her.
            The sister s have their powers neutralised and it’s only Victoria and Amy, no shard invoovlement and they are both smart enough to reconise it and talk honestly and freel for the first time in forever, without being sabotaged.

            Ta

    1. Generally these blurbs are supposed to get people to vote. I sure won’t vote for Vicky to get close to Amy again.

          1. I just want Vic emotional wounds to heal enough so she’ll forgive Amy and try to be sister with her again. I just want my long time suffering girls to be happy agsin. Is there too much to ask for?

        1. What I think of Amy doesn’t come into it at all. It’s what I think about Victoria – that Amy causes her immense discomfort, that she (justifiably) doesn’t want to be around Amy, and that sometimes trauma like that will just remain.

          1. You’re acting like lulu wants them to be simply forced into physical proximity. That isn’t what she meant by “becoming close again.” She meant close in the emotional sense, i.e. that Victoria’s trauma doesn’t just remain and instead heals so they can be sisters once more.

        2. Replying to your other comment, yes that is too much to ask for. You want Victoria to forgive the woman who ostensibly raped her??? What?? Why??

          1. Amy was unde a lot of emotional stress caused by Bonesaw’s visit back when she raped Victoria. She wasn’t even aware what she was doing until she realized her mistake and tried to fix it but Vic refused to allow her to touch her again. Amy was a traumatized victim whose Shard messed with her and she deserve to be forgive.

          2. Amy tried hard to help everyone and is not exactly her fault that she went through a lot of shit caused by externa influence and her own broken mind. I feel terrible sorry for her.

          3. I never read or interpreted the Amy/Victoria relationship struggles as a rape metaphor.
            …and honestly, didn’t Amy act to save Victoria’s life from Crawler’s acid? Amy disactivated Victoria’s memories while Amy rebuilt Victoria’s body using bugs/animals because Amy didn’t want Victoria to suffer those memories of being half alive….
            … I guess I’ll have to re-read the part where Amy did anything rape-y, but I’m not understanding your stance at the moment.

          4. Amy didn’t literally rape Victoria, but it can be considered analogous to it, considering that it involves violating Victoria’s body in some fashion.

          5. I don’t think that Vic should have to forgive Amy but I do think she should try to understand her and not for Amy’s sake but her own. You and many other people compare Amy to some faceless rapist that should be forgotten and cut out…..But she not, they were sisters for years ,you can’t sweep that under the rug forget it never happened Victoria tried that and consistently failed resulting in her mentally flinching every time she even accidentally thinks of Amy witch really isn’t healthy, while reinforcing the idea that Amy is this terrible evil mastermind when in reality she’s just a helpless lonely stupid girl, that was made this way by her terrible up bringing that Victoria had a part in. The truly sad thing is that Amy could have reinvented herself if Victoria would have just let her leave that night……….So long as Victoria holds on to this warped mind set she won’t be able to move on from her trauma.

          6. @lulu
            Amy mind-raped Victoria consciously. It was described as ‘barely a conscious decision’ i.e. still conscious. On top of that, the main reason she refused to work on brains was because she knew she wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation of fucking with Victoria’s if she did so. And she was right. I’m not saying I think shes an outright awful person, but does she deserve to be forgiven by Victoria? Absolutely fucking not, and its absurd to me that anyone would think she does.

            @Thulcandra
            Lisa straight up told Amy that she needed Victorias consent. She said that she should fix what she did to Vics head, heal her enough to stabilise her, and then leave her until Victoria could make a decision for herself. And what did Amy did? She refused that, and turned her into the wretch. It doesnt matter that she saved her from Crawler, it is still a clear violation.

            @TomboySultan
            Who’s saying Vic should sweep it under the rug and forget it happened? That is obviously not how you deal with it. What Im saying is that Victoria doesnt owe Amy shit.

          7. Victoria mindraped Amy for years with the aura (WoG canon IIRC), as WibblyBob would say “turnabout being fair play”…

          8. the problem is, someone outright TOLD her she was fucking up WORSE whilst she was in the process of mutilating Victoria into the Wretch, and essentially told them to GF themselves, she knew what she was doing better then someone without a biomodification power-
            the initial, accidental alteration was that- a genuine, heat of the moment accident she was trying to avoid, but the physical mutilation…

      1. Gonna second that vote against closeness. People are acting like the options are 1. Victoria traumatized forever to the point of it seriously affecting her life and 2. best buds forever. People can grow and heal from trauma and still not want anything to do with the person that hurt them, that’s only self preservation. Also gonna say it’s not really dependent on whether Amy did it because of outside trauma. If a person under entirely unreasonable stress harms you seriously then that’s a person to avoid. No person acts out for no reason, that doesn’t mean they get no repercussions for their actions.

        1. Its not an unreasonable stress: Bonesaw threatened to kill her adoptive father, forced her to mercy kill two human beings, breaking in this way her personal code, exposed her to horrible trials and experiences so…any human being whose name is not Taylor (parahuman or not) would break under so much emotional stress. Amy was a victim to a bunch of murderers who wanted to make her their member. She didn’t ask for this unfortunate experience, you can’t blame her for acting irrationally under so much reasonable distress. I’d personally understand and try to forgive her but Vic is not me. Still, I won’t judge her if she’ll never forgive Amy. I’ll just be sad.

          1. Except she always knew she would end up doing what she did to Victoria. That’s the whole reason she refused to work on brains. It wasn’t just her having a bad day, it always something that she knew deep down had a non zero chance of happening because she wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation. It was no accident.

          2. What I meant by unreasonable stress was exactly what you described. Something that nobody could be expected to behave well under. I’m saying even if somebody can’t be expected to make good decisions based on the situation they are in, if they rape you (change your brain chemistry so you love them, and then turn you into a many limbed monster in order to try and enhance your beauty), that’s a person to be avoided, not necessarily by everyone, but certainly by the person they hurt. I actually have a lot of sympathy for Amy and I hope she can find a place where she has healthy relationships and is treated as a confused human who messed up and not a monster by people in general. But Victoria isn’t people in general, she’s someone who was seriously harmed by Amy and as such should avoid her.

  4. I thought Carol making a concession that Amy isn’t well would be the most important part of it, but it’s the fact that it’s not happy-go-fun time in the land of Shin.

    Also, Luis is probably a thinker if he’s able to hide his powers for so long. Probably a good one if he was Goddess’s second hand.

  5. Yeah out of the frying pan, into the powderkeg while being matches. Well I suppose nothing brings a family together like people trying to murder them together.

    Well it’s nice to see that once again something Amy was doing went horribly wrong. Some things never change I guess.

    1. Amy once tried to make a salad.

      It took seven rabbits to fix the damage done to Clockblocker.

    2. Yes girl with a terrible neglectful childhood where she was also mastered by her sister. How do you people have so much hate for her? You people have some serious hate boners for a character who has been a victim in all but one instance of her character. I really don’t understand how it’s possible to hate a character this much who isn’t Jack Slash or Teacher. It’s really bizarre.

      1. Exactly! Victoria’s perspective throughout the entire story is completely unreliable in this case.

        I’m firmly on Amy’s side of the conflict, yet peace and healing for both would obviously be great.

        1. I’m gonna try and explain why I don’t like Amy. What Amy did is unforgivable. Truly. She violated Victoria on a level that makes Bonesaw’s work look tame. There’s no Amy’s side here. This isn’t even a conflict.

          And that’s it. I get it’s Wildbow, and I understand she was having a breakdown and powers enhance neuroses but that left an indelible mark on her for me. I don’t blame Victoria for not trusting her. I wouldn’t either. Her having to live with the consequences of her actions is the kindest thing that can happen to her. Hopefully she’ll learn to live with it but given how it seems she’s already snapped I’m not optimistic.

          1. Your reasoning is perfectly understandable, Beauxsym, yet it is firmly rooted in emotions and moral reaction – thing I tend to ignore in favor of cold evaluation from my own first principles. It is a conflict, I’d say, and there are sides.

            When there is this palpably thick distance between both, the eye-averting and straining of self-control; that looks like a conflict to me, and rather that making a judgement and leaving a mental mark on a person, I prefer to observe and understand some more.

            Amy’s interlude or several would be so good, mmyes.

          2. I think there is a pretty big difference between Amy and bonesaw here though.

            What Amy did was (at least to some extent) an Accident. and it happened once.
            I Agree with you that it is unforgivable. That’s fine, I stand by that.

            But there is a big difference between someone who does something unforgivable, by mistake, and then shows remorse (for example say… a drunk driver killing someone), and someone who knowingly and intentionaly kills and masters multiple people because they think it is a good idea and/or fun (Heartbreaker, cherish, Teacher, Jack slash, Bonesaw, Siberian, Lung, Kaiser, Sylvester ……)

            No one’s arguing that Amy is owed Victoria’s forgiveness, only that she might be at least somewhat deserving of the audiences pity. More so than plenty of other characters.

          3. Forgiveness… Sometimes it’s not the forgiven who are the ones who really benefit from it. Sometimes it’s the one’s doing the forgiving. I don’t know, it just feels like… Until she changes how she’s dealing with it, Victoria will never be out from under Amy’s shadow.

      2. I think it’s because Victoria is one of the few people outside of a Grey Boy loop that had a worse time of things in Worm than Amy, and that worse time is due to Amy, though it was an accident. I don’t personally think that it is Amy’s fault, given that it’s been confirmed that she was sabotaged by her Shard at the time.

        But yeah, the hate is kind of weird given how Amy is basically eaten up by guilt, shame and self-loathing in every appearance she’s made so far, and the fuck-ups people are condemning her for happened when she was genuinely trying to help people.

        1. “She’s not evil, she’s just a fuck up” isn’t a bad way to describe Amy in general.

          Just because you got a great power from a shard doesn’t mean you’re going to use it great.

    1. > “A dangerous charade with the lives of millions who were counting on food and shelter may not get that.”

      this is a grammatical mess

      > “We do like them. You were powerless once and now you want power. You need it, a dare say?”
      > “I dare say it depends on the person,” Ashley said, defensive.
      > “Dare say,” Luis said, and he winked at Ashley. “The little prizes you learn when you pick up a tongue.”

      “a dare say” then “I dare say” then “dare say”. Presumably the first is a typo and the third has implied single quotes around it (“‘Dare say’, the little prizes you learn when you pick up a tongue.”), but on my first read it sounded like Luis had butchered an idiom twice in quick succession. Kinda jarring after Vicky noted how his English was perfect.

      1. them made > them that made
        her, they > her. They (or semi colon)
        it’s own tail > its own tail
        you, I believe (maybe em dash instead of comma)
        shelter may not get that > shelter they may not get
        a dare say > I dare say
        Chris could be heard (i’m not sure why this isn’t “I could hear Chris”)
        hair pressed > hair was pressed
        hand rested on > hand, which rested on

  6. Loved the tension in this chapter.

    I also wonder how much are these negotiations about Shin governments being distrustful of parahumans, and how much is this thing an internal power struggle between various Shin factions. Note that one of the governments did not participate, and only two representatives of the other governments really talked, and they didn’t seem to like each other much. The key to dealing with Shin is probably identifying where each faction stands, which of them are potential allies, and possibly what the price of their aid is, and which factions should be treated as enemies.

  7. 1. > “You’re moving slowly because dear daughter fucked up and now you’re both scared.”
    > “What did you do, Amy?” Sveta asked.
    > “It’s being handled.”
    > “What happened?”
    > “It’s handled.”
    > “Leave it,” Rain said. …
    > “It’s eating me alive to imagine what happened and I can only imagine what it’s like for Victoria. The unknown is worse.”
    Unclear who is saying what.
    Lines 1, 3 and 5 – Amy? 4 and 7- Sveta? Or 1 is Chris?

    2. > ‘We need help’, she’d written. She started on the next word. A vertical line-
    Any guesses on next words? “right now”? “Luis”?

    3. > We spoke to Swansong because she had the potential to be the worst of you.”
    So Swansong passed the test?

    4. > “Is it winter? Ignore the weather.”
    So it is not even winter? 🙂 Or it was Shin inside joke?

    1. > “You’re moving slowly because dear daughter fucked up and now you’re both scared.”

      Yeah I had absolutely no idea who said this line– it was Vicky’s turn in the conversation, but it really didn’t sound like her, and I would have expected some description of her emotional state as she said it. My next guess would have been Sveta, but that quote ends and Sveta speaks immediately after, so it’s not her. Maybe Ashley? Who the fuck is calling out Amy, that seems important and there’s 0 context???

      1. Chris, most likely. Only he and Ashley would be tgat snide, and the wording implied being a witness, so Chris it is.

        But I second that that conversation is a kudzu that needs way more descriptors than it currently has.

          1. Amy, Sveta, Amy, Sveta. It fits with the direction Sveta’s assertiveness has been going in recent arcs.

    2. Re 2. A vertical line could be a beginning of almost anything, but my first guesses were “I” and “Run”.

      1. Though I guess it could also be something like “immune system failure”. Remember that ever since she triggered, Amy was completely protected from pathogens by her power. If her power acts up… her immune system is probably more likely to turn against her own body than protect her from any disease.

      2. Though I guess it could also be something like “immune system failure”. Remember that ever since she triggered, Amy was completely protected from pathogens by her power. If her power acts up… her immune system is probably more likely to turn against her own body than protect her from any disease.

        (Sorry if it turns into a double post.)

  8. Hmm. Amy isn’t well, eh? And there’s that clone-drone class. And she did something terrible.

    Clearly she made a Vicky-Virus that only worked on the drones, and Carol is now concerned.

    1. It’s just thirty Victorias in maid outfits referring to Panacea as “The Forgiven One.”

      1. It’s plausible and entertaining, and could be the basis of lots of Harbinger-style shenanigans once Bonesaw gets them connected to Waste-chan, but it doesn’t feel quite right. Cryptid’s “dear daughter” comment implies that Marquis also regrets this particular action taken by Red Queen. We know enough about his character to say that he would not feel bad about her taking liberties with NPCs. “Not my taste, but I can’t fault my daughter for finding her own personal enjoyments in this life.”

    2. Pretty sure Carol means psychologically. Some Vicky hints at right after that sentence. Don’t quite understand where so many people are assuming she means physically. Maybe it’s just not a common phrase where your from?

      1. My joke — that Amy transformed all the drones into Victorias — was 100% based on the idea that she’s psychologically unwell.

    3. We kid, but I think you hit the nail on the head.

      Amy was in a dark place. She was working with Cryptid, which almost requires accepting his premise that the servant class “doesn’t count”. She was struggling with some of her old pre-Birdcage impulses.

      She said to herself: “I can’t let the pressure build up and explode ever again. I need a coping mechanism. I need to vent. I’ll just mess around a little, get things out of my system.”

      And Carol, getting a look at what “Amy coping” entailed, said to herself: “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

  9. Uh, uh, uh.

    Such a difficult situation, with not only their lives but the lives of millions riding at this. I don’t envy their position at all..somehow it feels worse than plain fights to death, since there is that burden at the back of their minds that they have the slimmest chance to come to a deal and if they don’t, they condemn countless people as well, ugh

    1. Sadly how blind and uncontrolled hate (of both sides) only bring death and suffering to so many people who doesn’t deserve any of these.
      Fuck Goddess for keeping ruining parahumans and non-parahumans lives even after her death.

  10. First time since the very start of ward that I’ve been here for an update and AHHHHHHHH, power fuckery is definitely going on, if Carol hasn’t made a full recovery yet, then it’s only because Amy can’t use her power, there’s nothing stopping her from casually touching her and bringing her back to 100%, also Vicky’s line of thought to pathogens and not breathing? We know that fucking with the brain fucks with the power, Shin knows this too, and I bet they’re very motivated to create technology to do just that, also, they’re in a greenhouse, seriously, what a place to gas people.

  11. We have something else to consider, as someone else mentioned a little while ago, where is Dot?
    We’ve all learned through reading ‘Bow’s stuff that he’s sneaky. The Agent of Valkyrie what skull shaped Vitiligo? “What used to be Vista’s breastplate exploded?”

    So, what do folk think Dot’s reappearanced will portend? Maybe, when that machine army hits Gimel, The offspirng of Nilbog will charge to rescue Amy.

    And then we still have Dauntititan and whoever the hell terrifies Valkyrie.

    Place your bets.

    1. Depending on how similar or dissimilar her biology is to human’s, Dot may be simply dead or dying of whatever Shin diseases are so dangerous to people from Bet.

      Alternatively, as I suggested when people compared Kronos Titan to Yggdrasil, she could be living in Titan’s “branches”, and playing the role of Ratatoskr there by carrying messages between Dauntless and Simurgh.

        1. My hierarchy was:

          wretching Carol > wretching Dot > wretching another human > wretching Chris’ “test subjects”

          Not as some moral scale; just that’s how I think I’d be emotionally affected.

          I’m worried.

        2. “Or Dot could simply be the person who Amy “turned into a monster”…”
          “No wait you don’t understand! She was already a monster! I just made her a larger and more dangerous monster! But I had a good reason, She needs to be able to help her fellow monsters fight the killer Robots! But the robots aren’t like you think, they disguise themselves as convience stores to kill people! It makes sense in context!”

          1. Other variants of this idea could be “But this is how she looked all along!” and “I just wanted to give the poor thing a human body, and I didn’t manage to pull it off quite right.”

          2. “This setup is so convoluted that it sounds suspiciously like an anime. Huh, I guess Goddess really was an Isekai protagonist after all.”

  12. Shin is really really interesting. Its so rare to see a fictional forgien culture that isn’t just an exaggerated version of an “exotic” real world culture, or a planet of the hats culture with one big trait everyone shares. The social sparring was really interesting. Specific, yet plausible.

    1. Actually, now that you have brought it up, I also haven’t seen exotic culture being portrayed this realistically in a long time. Wildbow has put so much thought into Shin that I wouldn’t be surprised if he has notes on Luis’s dental habits.

    2. It’s truly well-done.

      Looking at it, though, I’m less clear how Goddess could take over in the first place. Why couldn’t they just murder every parahuman that left Goddess’ side, to get around her danger sense? I’d guess Wilbo has it worked out in his notes, but I’m not sure if we’ll get to see it, or need to.

      1. I would guess that she would discourage that by vicious reprisals if any of her Parahuman subordinates were killed.

  13. Also, Marquis and Ashley in this chapter. Gold.

    Marquis and Chris: Chris is like his weird nephew who has to stay with him for a while. Marquis is annoyed about his poor manners and he dosnt fit into Marquis’s household. He is determined he will break that spoiled boy of his rude habits and have him behaving well before he go’s home.

  14. Not even finished, but I can’t help it.

    Chris, you fricking moron. Just get over your poop self already.

    We saw in Chris’ interlude how absolute the compulsions imposed on him by his father/self control him, and how utterly he wishes to reject them. The extreme lengths and twists of logic he had to go to to overcome the one compulsion he’s been able to completely rid himself of, so far. It’s reasonable to assume it’ll take as much effort and opportunity – at least – to transcend what was done to him in other areas.

    We saw in his interlude that as overwhelming as his compulsions might be, his actual version of self-actualization had more to do with overcoming his limits than with obeying them. Chris is in the room with the only people who might, just might, help him with the goals that actually mean *anything* to his true self. So of course he continues to be the most excessive douchebag he knows how to be.

    This darn kid.

    1. The thing is, he doesn’t know that they know his true past, and he *really* doesn’t want anybody on Shin to find out. In fact, if nobody ever learns who Chris used to be, he will be very happy.

      1. When the thought was that Amy and Chris were taking over, the plan looked much less moral than it does now. World conquest basically requires mass murder.

        But back then this *also* looked much smarter.

        What if Teacher thralls *weren’t* watching over everyone’s shoulders, crippling enemies by revealing exaggerated versions of their dirty laundry? Trying to keep their sort of secrets off the radar would still be insanely dumb. The physical aspects of what Amy did are common knowledge on Gimel because they were aired on TV right when this all started. So-called mastermind Chris, meanwhile, assumed his true identity would not come out… on the planet he went to specifically so he could experiment en masse on sub-sentient hominids.

        The reason Teacher hasn’t outed Cryptid yet are probably not good for everyone.

        1. Note that to our best knowledge Teacher hasn’t also done anything to attack Lung either. Does he think that Lung is either still working for him, or may be convinced to do so in the future? Seems like a possibly critical error on Teacher’s part considering that near the end of his interlude in Worm Lung basically decided to kill Teacher one day.

          Is Teacher that naive, or does he simply think that Lung should be dealt with in a more discrete way? Maybe he is perfectly aware of the danger Lung may pose to him but thinks that turning public against Lung would either be ineffective (which may be right – Lung doesn’t really seem to care what most people think about him, and he probably can’t have a much worse reputation than he already has anyway), or maybe Teacher thinks that attacking Lung this way would be dangerous to Teacher himself, because in retaliation Lung could not only point out his connections to Teacher, but also give someone (like the heroes, or possibly even worse – the public) whatever information on Teacher’s goals, plans to achieve them, or even details about Cauldron complex he knows.

          Note that as a general rule Teacher seems to avoid letting certain secrets reach the public – for example what old Cauldron relly did, and how much power (including political power) it had on Bet. I think it may be intentional. For example Teacher may want for the Cauldron to enter Gimel political scene with good reputation at some point (at least better than whatever reputation the heroes will have at that point), or (more likely, I think) he sees value in continuing to keep the public in the dark about Cauldron, its goals, plans, and past and present activities as much as possible.

    1. Yosef is an elephant fleeing from a mouse. He may eventually get away from it but he will leave a ruined, trampled jungle in his wake.

    2. Translation: “Teaming up together to fight a terrible foe! Give me more, I don’t get it yet.”

      I guess it’s not totally off-topic.

    3. >Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra!

      Maybe, yeah. If they can get Teacher to play the role of the Beast of Tanagra, that might be possible.

  15. I just found out that a lot of the worlds’ names come from the Bible. Aleph, Shin, Nun, and Bet to some extent, are found in Psalms 119.

  16. Don’t know about Shin and Nun, but I think Aleph and Bet come from the alphabet.

    Shin still sounds like “true” or “new” in Japanese to me, and this fits quite well with the “technically superior and rebuilt from ruins” condition.

  17. For Ethical. But Amy fixed Victoria the way she was before, except for her mutated forcefield. She fixed her conscious mistake. Even if she will never truly forgive her, Vic should try to make amends with Amy and if she can’t do this either, at least try to control her urge to break things everytime Amy is in her presence.
    Poor Amy suffered a lot too. Because of other people, because of her stupidity, of her Shard, of her barely controllable sexual attraction for her sister. Why not try to give her a second chance? Not necessary forgiveness, but a second chance will not hurt anyone. She’s not a sadistic mass murderer. She’s just a stupid girl who did stupid mistakes. A mass murderer like Valkirye got a second chance and most of readers like her. Why Amy should not have the same chance?

    1. I do agree with you.

      But I would add more. Amy had one of the counted handful of healing powers ever witnessed, out of the deep, subconscious wish of healing, helping, mending a fucked up family dynamic.

      Do you remember the first apparitions of Panacea in Worm? Her entire life is work; she slept in hospitals to just try to save as many people as she possibly could. She worked much more hours that were considered safe for medical doctors, gnawed by guilt & the cold knowledge that she doesn´t have a right to stop, or have a normal life, or want anything else for herself, because she simply is too damn useful. She probably has saved more than a thousand lives with her own hands, and probably failed to save many by just a handful of minutes before she makes it to the next hospital bed, the next operating room…. And that isn´t counting the emotional impact of trying to heal parahuman asylum inmates, people mangled by powers or Endbringer wounds, or being a combat medic in one of the most brutal parahuman battlegrounds of the old earth, Brockton Bay.

      So basically you have a shell-shocked teenager which has been defying the conflict imperative of her shard for a lifetime, and everyone is dealing with her as a portable “fix it all medikit”, not a person.
      Not allowed to have a moment of weakness, or something for herself.

      And then, she does ONE thing wrong, when she is PSYCHIATRICALLY unstable and done in by her shard & a slaugtherhouse member with a talent for messing with people´s heads, right after a second trigger, for which she turns herself in AND scars herself for so she can´t EVER forget.
      Carrying her “bloodstained hands” with her for her lifetime, so to speak.

      Please give the girl a break. Everyone in “Worm” & “Ward” has done worse things, including the most spotless heroes.

        1. And she will not even remake you in Victoria’s image as you do that, I bet.

          (She may have had so much practice that such work goes almost automatically for her, though).

      1. This is going too far. We get it, you don’t like Amy. You’ve put her in one specific box, and she’ll never leave that box. She is more important to you as a symbol than as a character. If (when) the story has a redemptive arc for her, you’ll stop reading. That’s fine for you. Those of us who are more into reading the story as literature and considering how characterization interacts with plot and setting also have valid opinions and tastes. You certainly can accuse all of us of being rape apologists for that, but you shouldn’t.

        1. I wouldnt stop reading if she got a redemptive arc. In fact, I would find that super interesting. Funnily enough, I don’t actually think shes that awful of a person. However, I do think she did one of the most morally reprehensible things in the entirety of the previous story, and I dont think that should be downplayed. Especially with people saying that she deserves forgiveness from her victim. Fuck that.

      2. Riley did WORSE than Amy when she was Bonesaw yet she was given a second chance and people were ok with that. Valkirye did WORSE than Amy when she was Glaistig Uaine yet she was given a second change and people were ok with that. Amy only hurt her sister (being under a long of mental and emotional distress) AND she fixed her back- both mind and body- yet there are people who said that she doesn’t deserve any second chance and is better for her to hide into a hole and die there. “Love” the logic that some people have.
        Well, if someone deserve a second chance more than Riley and Ciara, that person is Amy. She already suffered too much, paid for her mistakes and fixed them. She was terrible sorry for what she did and she accepted to punish herself by going to Birdcage. She’s still sorry, even after her self-punishment and after she fixed her fuck up. How much this girl should punish herself/be punished by others so people can finally accept that- enough is enough- and can finally forgive her?

        1. Sorry, but that’s a bad argument. Which of Riley’s and Ciara’s past victims have forgiven them? As far as I know, the only past victims we’ve seen them interact with have been Ashley and Taylor (if you count Gold Morning). That’s it. Taylor and Ashley are weirdos who form an utterly rubbish sample group. Most people are going to react more like Victoria has — avoidance and grudges.

          Besides, the second chance isn’t about individual relationships. It’s about people’s place in society. Amy did get her second chance, just like Riley and Ciara. She wasn’t in prison, was she? That was her second chance in action. She hasn’t been denied it at all. Even Victoria’s left her alone, only moving to oppose her (through parental meddling) when she thought she was taking over Shin.

          1. I mean people as readers, not as characters in the story. Most readers forgave these two mentioned despite everything they did and gave them a second chance. But the same readers refuze to give the same treatment to Amy, even if she didn’t do not even half of the evils Riley and Ciara did. Sorry if I wasn’t very clear.

          2. Ah, gotcha. I still disagree. Nobody is clamoring to throw Amy in a hole. They seem to be fine with her getting a second chance at the social level and are just saying they don’t think Victoria personally should forgive her, and perhaps that people in general should be on guard around her just in case. Which is reasonable. I also suspect folks would behave the same way if we got an interlude from one of Parian’s people and they were all stressed out about the idea that Riley is free and unsupervised.

        2. Amy did get a second chance. She was let out of the Birdcage and was working with the Wardens. I dont understand your argument here. The difference between her and Riley/Ciara is that both of them are actively trying to better themselves, while Amy is not. In fact, we dont even have that much evidence to suggest that Amy even understands how awful the thing she did is, considering she thought there was even a slight chance that Victoria would forgive her. Also, I dont count her going to the Birdcage as a point in her favour. Doing that essentially doomed Victoria to her fate.

      3. Comparing Amy to a rapist is useful for illustrating the severity of the trauma caused, but it’s not a relevant comparison when it comes to the matters of morality or forgiveness. It’s pretty difficult to accidentally rape somebody in real life. If you happen to have your finger permanently glued to the trigger of a gun, however, it is not difficult at all to accidentally shoot somebody. That is what happened here. Amy can modify people’s biology with a stray thought. She knew that, and she was scared of it, so she ran away to protect Victoria. Then Victoria forced herself on her (Amy was very clear that she didn’t want to be hugged; it was a cut and dried case of assault), the stress became too much, and Amy’s trigger finger twitched.

        That’s a hell of a lot more forgivable than rape. Not because the consequences are any less bad, but because it’s a much easier mistake to make. If you raped me, I would find it almost impossible to forgive you — you almost certainly did it through direct intent.

        On the other hand, if we had an argument, you got dangerously mad, and you tried to walk away rather than continue and risk violence, but I followed you and pressed the issue, you finally snapped and shoved me, and I fell down the stairs and wound up a paraplegic? In that scenario I would forgive you, despite that being a fate worse than rape, because it was my own damned fault. You “shouldn’t” have shoved me, but it’s a known fact that people lose the ability to control themselves when pushed past their emotional limits. You were doing the right thing by recognizing the danger and trying to exit the situation, and I did the wrong thing by refusing to allow you to do that.

        If I wanted to be a hypocritical asshole I could still blame you for not recognizing the danger sooner and giving yourself more time to exit, or for not doing a better job of de-escalating (or in Amy’s case, for not clarifying why she was objecting to that hug), but fuck it. People make mistakes, and these are not unreasonable mistakes to make while under stress.

        Similarly, what happened after Crawler and the Undersiders teamed up to give Amy the opportunity to put things right is horrible but understandable. When a surgeon is going through hell and is then forced to work on a loved one they’ve recently wronged, it’s not surprising if they fuck it up. (Some will argue that she shouldn’t have even tried, but that’s bullshit. There were no other options. It was Amy or death. Victoria preferred death, obviously, but suicidal opinions don’t deserve consideration in a scenario like that.) She was in a shitty situation, she did her best, and her best turned out to be not quite good enough.

        Amy’s real mistake was giving up and consigning herself to the Birdcage. That is what I struggle to forgive her for (though I certainly can and do). If she’d waited, calmed down, and come back to the problem with a clear head, a photo album, and some moral support, she could have put everything right two years sooner. Everything but her relationship with Victoria, obviously, but even that would have been far more mendable than what actually happened. But instead of taking responsibility for her mistake and fixing things, she gave up and ran away.

        Amy is not a rapist. Amy is a deadbeat dad. (At least in Worm. By Ward she’s more of a formerly deadbeat dad who pulled his head out of his ass, paid all the missed child support, and made attempts to be a part of his child’s life… attempts blocked by the hurt and spiteful ex who would rather he just stayed gone at this point, because fuck him.)

        1. I just re-read the relevant bit of Carol’s interlude from Worm, and I need to retract the above (other than the bit about the hug+mindfuck). Amy’s actions in de-coccooning Victoria were, in fact, quite rapey. I was thinking she directly tried putting her back to normal and just kept fucking it up. That is not the case. She did not “do her best.” She caved to temptation and treated Victoria like a canvas.

  18. I once considered myself one of the leaders for my team. I still do, in a way, but only for certain things that need my skillset.

    Why hasn’t every other Breakthrough member in the room demanded M/S protocols immediately after Ashley (or person appearing to be Ashley) said that? Why has none of us done it as soon as we read it? Some kind of meta power?

      1. Diplomacy is one thing. Admitting that she for the most part no longer considers herself a team leader in front of every other current and member of Breakthrough is something else. Just who is this woman and what has she done to Ashley?

        1. Sorry.

          in front of every other current and member of Breakthrough > in front of every other current and former member of Breakthrough

  19. 5. Something strange here…
    a > Chris spoke, his voice low. “They want to send you people who’ll keep an eye on parahumans, keep them in their sights-”
    b > “If I may-” Amy started. | “You may not,” Luis said.
    c > ‘We need help’
    Why Shin’s allow Chris to speak and spoil (?) their diplomacy, but did not allow Amy to speak? While they simultaneously secretly holding at least elder Dallons in hostage-like situation?
    I guess there is some conflict between Shin’s – one faction hold Dallons, while on negotiations other factions are present. Or there is external factors.

    1. They “allowed” Chris to speak because he didn’t ask permission. He decided that speaking out of turn was worth the risk of pissing them off, so he just spoke up and said what he wanted. Amy, on the other hand, tried to be polite, and in so doing she placed herself below them, granting them permission to silence her if they wanted (which they did).

    2. I’m also getting the vibe that they chose Ashley for potentially being “the worst”, and Chris’ jabs pushed that further. Amy would have tried to be more positive, which wasn’t their angle of approach.

  20. Biggest shock moment this chapter, and no one has commented on what Victoria thought:

    “How could I have missed the sound of her voice and find it so deeply unsettling at the same time?”

    That line stopped my read cold, and made me sit back. For our protagonist, that statement is more significant than Carol’s revelation, than anything. *She’s been missing the sound of her sister’s voice.*

    What the what?!?

    1. Don’t forget that for most of her lifetime Amy wasn’t the person who did horrible things to Victoria’s body and mind. She was her sister, and Vicky loved her. If it had been some roving psycho who did those things to Victoria it wouldn’t have been half as bad. Still unbelivebly bad, but not as bad. But don’t go thinking there’s some lingering modifications or stockholm syndrome just yet. There may just be a part of Victoria that misses her life from before everything went all wrong, and that would include her sister.

      1. @negadarkwing @Alfaryn

        Oh I agree, it’s not out of character for her to have that feeling. Nor does it require some leftover brainwashing.

        Regardless, it is a HUGE character development. The incredible thing is that Victoria’s come far enough that she’s able to have this thought “out loud” at all.

        1. I agree that it is an important development, but I wouldn’t call it “huge”, simply because I have expected something like this to happen for a long time, and I feel like it is perfectly natural for it to happen right now. Remember that Victoria considered an idea of reaching out to Amy weeks ago (near the end of March-LL-Cradle conflict if I remember correctly), and on top of it she knew that her parents were with Amy for just as long. She had time to get used to the thought.

          Not to mention that the way Sveta got her new body let Victoria confront her fear of bio-kinetics again, and the fact that modification of Sveta’s body (by a person who by all accounts should be considered most untrustworthy!) appeared to be successful probably greatly eased Victoria’s fears about this group of capes in general. Victoria may subconsciously feel that if someone like Mr. Bough could do a good job with Sveta, then perhaps Amy isn’t that scary too…

    2. Feels like a completely natural reaction to me, though obviously not meaningless. It clearly shows that Victoria is realizing that her feelings for Amy are more complicated than she let herself think for last couple of years. The fact that Victoria is deeply traumatized by what Amy did to her, and terrified that it may happen again doesn’t mean that she can’t still feel sisterly love beneath all of it. I think that this thought ultimately indicates that Victoria is continuing to slowly but surely get over her trauma.

      I personally stopped at this moment:

      “Are you going to fully recover?” I asked.

      “Yes,” my mom said. “Mark and Amy are looking after me. We’re moving slowly, but we will get there. We’re being treated well.”

      “You’re moving slowly because dear daughter fucked up and now you’re both scared.”

      “What did you do, Amy?” Sveta asked.

      “It’s being handled.”
      […]
      “It’s handled,” Amy said, repeating words that would echo in my head for weeks now.

      It isn’t the first time when Victoria said something about the events there were yet to happen. Remember this bit from chapter 10.13:

      As I took flight, turning my body so I caught the wind and the eleven year old in my arms didn’t, I had a view of the bloodstained field. I shifted my orientation and my grip, and set my eyes on the wound in the sky where the portal in Brockton Bay had been ripped open wide.

      That would be the direction we were going.

      Things had changed. From a city of gold to a city of crimson.

      Unless Victoria is slightly precognitive, and doesn’t realize it, it means that Ward can’t be interpreted as an ongoing record of Victoria’s current thoughts and experiences, but an account written later, likely after a conclusion of the entire story, in which Victoria sometimes offers hints about important events which from reader’s point of view are yet to come.

      In my opinion this means that whatever Amy did, and however it’s “being handled” will be very important in upcoming chapters covering at least next few weeks of story time, and it will have a major impact on Victoria. In other words we should keep a close eye on everything that seems related to this matter, because it will almost certainly be a major plot point at least for a while.

      1. By the way, did we ever see such narrator’s hints about “future from reader’s PoV” events anywhere in Worm? I can’t remember even one such situation. Seems like a clear difference between how Worm and Ward are narrated.

        1. Another difference between the “main” narrators of Worm and Ward (Taylor and Victoria respectively) seems to be that up until arc 22, when Taylor surrounded to PRT, Worm was told from a perspective of a narrator who seemed to want to include all details of her life, not only as a cape, but also its private parts. As if Taylor wanted us to see and possibly judge her day to day life not just as Skitter, but as a complete person she was then. After arc 22 she went in opposite direction – telling only about the most important events, and skipping weeks or even months at a time.

          Victoria in Worm seems to take a middle road – she clearly wants us to see some things, but is comfortable to skip over others to stay focused on some aspects of her life and events she participated in. This may one of the most important reasons why we seem to see much less interactions between Victoria and unpowered people in Ward, than we saw between Taylor and civilians in Worm. This difference doesn’t necessarily have mean that Victoria interacts with regular people less than Taylor did, but that Victoria judged more of those interactions as unimportant to the story she wants to tell.

          Note that it doesn’t even have to mean that Victoria considers unpowered people or her interactions with them as less important than Taylor did (though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone who considered herself a “cape” long before she got powers saw things that way), just that whatever the point of Ward is doesn’t or at least hasn’t up to this point have as much to do with the unpowered people (at least in Victoria’s opinion) as Taylor’s interactions with such people in Worm (again, at least from Taylor point of view).

          1. By the way, I think that if you imagine Worm as a story told not by Wildbow, but by Taylor, this imbalance in amount of details in which her life pre- and post-surrender to PRT is described makes sense. Taylor’s time with the Undersiders is clearly the one she had much stronger feelings about than her life as a hero. On top of it a person like Taylor would probably want anyone who read or heard her story to understand that “villainous” period of her life better than her nominally “heroic” one, not only because of how much this first means to her, but also because she would feel it would be more difficult for a random person who reads or hears her story to correctly understand who she was as Skitter, and why she did what she did at that time, than who she was as Weaver, and what her motivations and actions were during that period of her life.

            Such imbalance of details between pre- and post-surrender may be jarring to a reader who treats Worm as a bit of fiction written by Wildbow for entertainment purposes, but actually makes perfect sense if you allow your suspension of disbelief to extend to a point when you start treating Worm (or at least its chapters written from Taylor’s point of view) as a story of Taylor’s life as a cape told by Taylor herself.

          2. Of course I don’t mean to suggest that everything in first person narration in Worm and Ward seems like it those could some sort of autobiographies written by Taylor and Victoria. There are many things about how those stories are told that don’t seem to fit this idea. For example I don’t think that anyone could remember their past as clearly as they are described in those books. Moreover I don’t think that either of those women have such love for drama that they would put all of those cliffhangers at the ends of most chapters, begin some chapters “in media res” to draw reader’s attention or intentionally omit certain events to get those surprising reveals at certain moments (like how the real purpose of that “master-stranger protocol” Lisa nad Taylor used against Coil was revealed only right before his death). Not to mention that few people would probably want to describe their lives in such detail, especially considering how personal and emotional certain events described in Worm and Ward were to Taylor and Victoria.

            I find it hard to imagine that someone would at the same time make such effort to describe such personal aspects of their lives in such detail (which would indicate opening up to the reader almost completely), and at the same time dramatize their story so much. This aspect of Worm and Ward obviously feel like come form Wildbow-the-storyteller, not Taylor or Victoria who tell us about their own lives. Still having someone like Taylor focus mostly on what they would see as both the most important and the most controversial part of their life so much makes me fell like Wildbow told Worm closer to how protagonist would tell it herself than most authors using first person narration manage to do, and the final result is for the most part, at least in my opinion, both impressive, and very pleasant to read. We will see if the same will hold true for Ward. I think at least so far it appears to be the case.

          3. Here is funny idea. If we want to immerse ourselves in those stories as much as possible and pretend that they were actually written by Taylor and Victoria, perhaps we could think of them as Taylor’s and Victoria’s autobiographies not published as written, but edited by a certain talented Canadian author to better hold reader’s attention?

          4. Interludes breaks any attempts to imagine Worm and Ward as auto/biographies. There are Entity’s POV, shard’s, soon-died persons, Brutus and so on.

          5. The interludes are obviously a different thing. There is a reason why I said what I said strictly about regular chapters. On the other hand we had this not so serious discussion about which characters could write some of the interludes with more unusual points of view. I could even add one more suggestion – if the Parahumans setting existed for real, could those stories be written by shards, and copies of parahuman minds existing inside them?

            More seriously though, my point was that in Worm Taylor’s narration focused much more on the time when Taylor “was a villain” – a period which Taylor herself would probably want to present in more detail than her later life as Weaver, if she wanted to tell someone a story of her life up to the point when Worm ends. Not because that period was more interesting for the reader (though in my opinion it was), but because it was more important for her, and at the same time more controversial, so she would probably feel like she needs to explain it better than her later life as Weaver.

            I wonder if this imbalance in amount of detail in which those two periods in Taylor’s life are described is something that “just happened”, because Wildbow thought that “Skitter period” would be more interesting for the reader, if after arc 22 he was just tired with Worm and wanted to finish it as soon as possible… or if he realized that Taylor herself would probably stress that particular period more in something like her diary or autobiography and thought that intentionally creating such imbalance would make the story seem more like something Taylor herself could tell.

            I also wonder why narrative in Ward is also done the way it is – with lots of shorter and longer breaks (from a few hours to a few weeks at a time) between arcs or even individual chapters or scenes – which seems like something in between Worm up to arc 22, when such breaks rarely lasted for more than a few hours, and Worm post-arc 22, when breakes were much longer (even including the over year long timeskip). Is it only because how he decided to put events he deemed interesting enough to describe on the timeline of Ward, or because he felt that he needed to find some balance between ultra-detailed description of events in Worm up to arc 22, and post arc 22 Worm which seemed to skip over too much, especially when compared to the earlier part… or is it because he decided that Victoria would have no reason to either focus too much attention on a certain short period described in Ward at the expense of other periods which also fall within the intended timeline of a he story.

            In other words – were Wildbow’s choices in how much text to devote to each time periods in the stories determined only by what he wanted to focus on, or did he “put himself in his protagonists’ heads” so to speak, that he allowed himself to spend more time writing events during certain parts of Worm simply because Taylor would put more emphasis on that period, and if so – does he follow similar logic for Victoria in Ward.

            Or maybe Wildbow simply decided that either the almost unrelenting action of Worm up to arc 22 seemed unrealistic, because it is rare in real life that so much happiness in one place in so little time, and decided to include longer breaks in Ward to make events of the story happen in pace which seems more realistic?

            A yet another possible explanation could be that Wildbow includes those breaks because he wants to explore all phases of Victoria’s recovery from her trauma in detail, and on the other hand it would seem unrealistic if she went from being in as bad place as we saw her at the beginning of Ward all the way to completely recovered (or at least as recovered as we are going to see her at the end of the story) in as little time as it took Taylor from the moment she went on her first patrol to the moment when she surrendered to PRT? This would that if Ward is supposed to have length comparable to Worm, it has to have some time skips (because it needs to cover much more time than Worm up to arc 22), but at the same time can’t have breaks as long as post-arc 22 Worm, because it would be impossible to show Victoria’s entire recovery in satisfying details?

      2. > “It’s handled,” Amy said, repeating words that would echo in my head for weeks now.
        I think it is just her expectation/prediction after Amy 3 time repeated “It’s ~ handled”, not power-related precognition or a posteriori story.
        Like someone said “I will forever remember how they look like”, but actually it won’t be forever, of course.
        Ward still looks like real-time story, with all changes of mind-processes due to master/stranger effects and so on.

      3. Im going with “bad edit”, or context left out rather than deliberate tense useage.

        “It’s handled,” Amy said, repeating words that would echo in my head weeks from now.

        “It’s handled,” Amy said, repeating words that were an echo in my head for weeks now.

        “It’s handled,” Amy said, repeating words that would echo in my head for weeks now, triggering Amy related brain stutter. Or … weeks now, Tattletales voice no more welcome than Amy’s.

  21. People think and speak this way all the time though. “I’ll always remember….” doesn’t require future sight, it’s just an expression.

    One character has a great deal of experience with how long her mind turns over disturbing tidbits of information related to another character: weeks. It doesn’t have to say a thing about the narrative structure.

    1. Not when such statements always turn out to be true later on. I think that the one about “city of crimson” sort of has soon after Victoria said it (though I fear that we will see it realized in a way even closer to literal yet), I strongly suspect that the one about “words that would echo in [Victoria’s] head for weeks now” will, and if you look carefully, you will probably find more “predictions” along such lines that turned out to be true later.

      At least this is how it seems to be in Ward. Worm is a different story. As far as I remember all foreshadowings there seemed to come not directly from first person narrator’s foreknowledge, but from other sources – like certain scenes from interludes (begging with that TV program on Scion in the first interlude), things that happened in the story that later became important (like Taylor’s explanation about the Triumvirate from the first chapter of Worm if I remember correctly, which was prompted by her first lesson at school dedicated to parahumans), words of people better informed than Taylor herself (especially Tattletale and Dinah), and certain actions of characters early on which foreshadowed some similar actions later on (like Amy breaking Victoria’s mind could be read as a foreshadowing of breaking Taylor to unleash Khepri).

      1. To put it shortly, in Ward first person narrator seems to sometimes know what will happen in the story later on. In Worm the first person narrator at most “happens” to talk about things that seem unimportant at first, but become relevant later on. At least this is the feeling I have.

        1. In one story we had a protagonist who couldn’t see the long term. In this story we have one who can.

          I’d be sure to applaud if you were proved right, but I’m quite certain you aren’t.

          1. The difference between the narrators could be what you suggest (one does know the future, the other one doesn’t), but I can think of at least two other interpretations that would give more or less the same effect:
            – Both narrators haven’t experienced future events, but Ward’s narrator is able to make accurate predictions about the future (not necessarily through some sort of precognition – just a good dose of intelligence and intuition would probably do), while Worm’s narrator doesn’t even try.
            – Both narrators know the future up to the end of their respective stories, but Worm’s narrator is more careful and self-disciplined, and never drops hints about events Taylor did not expect to happen at the point of the story being currently narrated, while a less disciplined Ward’s narrator sometimes does. In a way it would even mesh well with certain other behaviors Taylor and Victoria displayed – for example Taylor, even in her inner voice, was careful enough to never call a cape in costume with their civilian name and vice versa. Victoria on the other hand does it all the time.

          2. You misunderstand me. I do not suggest one literally knows the future. I suggest Taylor lacked foresight and emotionally lived in the moment. She wouldn’t or couldn’t see beyond her current obsession du jour, whether it was undercover work, rescuing Dinah, rebuilding her territory, preparing for the end of the world, or finishing off the Warrior all by herself. She refused to engage with other perspectives than applying her own toolbox to solving the problem before her, right this minute, in the manner she had decided was correct.

            Victoria is very different. She’s a scholar, a planner, she believes in building lasting brands, making progress, et cetera, et cetera. She thinks about the future. She talks about what she is “ready for.”

            My actual position is close to the first “other” interpretation you have there.

          3. Of course Ward’s narrator could also be simply more comfortable when it comes to noticing and using opportunities for allegories. At least “the city of crimson” could be explained that way. Remember that in arc 1 Victoria commented that the city looked like it was made of gold, and suggested that she didn’t like it because of the association of this color with Scion. In chapter 10.13 Victoria already knew that the villains were on warpath, has just participated in a bloody engagement, and saw that ominous portal over Brockton Bay. The allegory about going “from a city of gold to a city of crimson” may seem natural in light of that. You could even forgive Victoria that as far as I remember technically she couldn’t see Brockton Bay, but New Brockton instead.

            …Except that in interlude 12.z March said the following just as she was about to attack the heroes in Brockton Bay:

            When this was done, all would be crimson.

            And March’s attack on BB is not something Victoria could predict back in chapter 10.13 with just intelligence and intuition. A coincidence? Somehow I don’t think so. I bet that when both Victoria and March mentioned “crimson”, they were talking about some event which was supposed to happen in Brockton Bay at some point in the future, and considering that March’s attack on BB didn’t turn out to be all that bloody, or otherwise obviously associated with “crimson”, I suspect that the event in question is yet to happen, which leads me to a conclusion that in 12.z March knew what this event will be, because she planned it, and her plans have yet to see fruition, while in 10.13 Victoria-the-narrator mentioned the same event because she also knew that it is going to happen, and she could know it either through some sort of precognition (which we know Victoria doesn’t have, don’t we? …unless she somehow does, though I really doubt it) or because for Victoria-the-narrator that event has already happened, which in turn leads me to conclusion that she really narrates Ward as a story she knows if not up to its conclusion, then at least up to this event that is supposed to happen in BB yet.

            By the way, here is my prediction – we probably can interpret those mentions of “crimson” in both 10.13 and 12.z as foreshadowings of a major future event (most likely one of the most important turning points of the entire story) that will at least begin in Brockton Bay, and will end up with a “city of crimson”, though it is probably still not clear if the “city” is supposed to be Brockton Bay or Megalopolis, and if “crimson” is supposed to mean “blood” (a seemingly oblivious allegory) or something else.

            We should probably keep an eye out on anything that could be described as “crimson”, and looks like it could be an important element of a major event in one of those cities. The Red Queen with her tattoos comes to mind… and if it is not Amy, I also remember that the Teeth had “a thing” both for the red color, and for blood, and Cherish the Butcher is presumably still somewhere out there on the bottom of the ocean not that far from Brockton Bay.

          4. Sorry Admiral Matt, I obviously sent my comment just above before I saw your response which ended up directly preceding it.

            As for your interpretation that Taylor emotionally lived in a moment, while Victoria is more of a planner, I can see it to some extent, though I would put it a little differently. Taylor thought and planned for the future a lot. More and more as the story progressed. In fact Dinah’s prophecy forced her to make plans reading as far as two years into the future. In other words the difference between Victoria and Taylor seems to be not in an ability to plan, but in that Taylor, unlike Victoria, never planned beyond the point of whatever her current goal or set of goals required. Note that while people like Tattletale, Citrine and the Cauldron for example seemed to prepare for life after the apocalypse, Taylor never made such plans for herself… almost as if she assumed that her life would be over whether she would manage to stop the apocalypse or not. No wonder that at the end of arc 30 she felt so sure that Contessa was going to kill her, and so willing to accept her death – she probably has more or less consciously mentally preparing herself for something like that for a long time before becoming Khepri, or even before Gold Morning started.

          5. Come to think of it, if Taylor managed to convince herself that she will most likely not survive the apocalypse, it would do a lot to explain why she was willing to sacrifice herself by letting Amy mess with her brain in the last chapter of arc 29. She even justified her decision with words:

            Maybe there was a sacrifice involved.

            Not for the first tome Simurgh’s influence turned out to be very subtle – she basically made Taylor become a martyr, because Taylor already had the right mindset to become one for a long time. You could even argue that Taylor displayed inclinations in that direction when she told Lisa that she was willing to try to rescue Dinah even if it meant that she would face Coil alone, or when Dinah asked Taylor her probing questions when Taylor was bringing Dinah back home after Coil’s death. Questions that Dinah asked probably to see if she could with clear conscience burden Taylor with a task of saving the world.

            It is strange by the way, how often we think of Taylor as a person who was willing to break any laws and other rules of the society, and even risk and sometimes sacrifice lives of others to accomplish her goals, and how rarely we seem to discuss Taylor as a person who was always willing to sacrifice herself to do the same.

          6. Lisa clearly understood this self-sacrificing side of Taylor by the way, and seemed to both admire this feature of Taylor’s character, and to devote much of her life to attempts to save Taylor from actually doing just that. No wonder that in her interlude Lisa felt like she failed Taylor just like she failed her brother.

          7. By the way, I know it is probably a long shot, but could the willingness to sacrifice themselves “for the greater good” be a human trait Teacher saw in Taylor and decided he needs to protect humanity from? One could argue that one problem with the city and its population (from certain hero teams all the way to groups of unpowered people such as anti-parahumans) is that they are too unwilling to compromise on anything if they feel it would go against their beliefs.

          8. To be clear I don’t mean that the problem with people in the city is just that they are willing to sacrifice themselves for their beliefs, but that they also want to fight and sacrifice other people and values (and basically do all sorts of damage just to avoid having to make compromises) to always stay true to those few things that are the most important to them, that form the hard core of their belief system.

            You could argue that Taylor is a perfect example of all of those behaviors, which could be why Teacher used her as an example in his conversation with Contessa at the end of her interlude.

            If Teacher indeed thinks that the thing that is wrong with people is that they are too unwilling to compromise, it would explain a lot of things both about him, and about Ward in general.

            It would tell us why Teacher let the people who disagreed with him about portals and time effects go or why he has found a way to give his students their free will back. It would explain why he always uses his power only on willing subjects (whether it is a limitation of his power or something that he does because he actually respects people’s right to make their own decisions – as always with powers it may be a little bit of both).

            It would also tell us why Ward is full of people who by all rights should cooperate with each other, but instead of it argue, or even fight over things that should be minor (like the heroes who split over the issue of how carefully vs. quickly they should proceed on matter of attack on the Navigators), and why there are so many independent cape teams in general. It would explain why it is so difficult for the city to find compromises needed to live peacefully with powers like Chiet and Shin, or how difficult it is even for the capes who are unhappy to see a former villain as their mayor to reach some sort of agreement with the anti-parahumans. All of those are basically examples of the problem I’ve already mentioned – people’s unwillingness to compromise.

            Finally it would explain why Victoria is so important to this story. She seems to be one of the relatively few people around other than Teacher (assuming that my interpretation of him is correct) who is willing to pursue compromise over destructive (including self-destructive) conflict. Once again the whole thing reminds me of my interpretation of Solarstare’s words that Teacher may want to reach some sort of understanding or agreement with Victoria. There are a lot of differences between these two people, but they are some of the very few characters who seem to agree on one point – that solving problems through compromise is preferable to solving them through destructive conflict.

          9. Also note that Teacher seems to actually value differences in people’s opinions as long as those differences can be used in a constructive way – this is actually the reason Overseer gave on why Teacher preferred to have his students have their free will instead of keeping them as an army entirely subordinated to his own will. The former could be seen as a compromise between free people, the latter is outright slavery.

            Similarly Victoria seems to respect a wide range of values and belief systems various hero teams stand for, and isn’t quick to judge some of those as better than others. All she wants to do is to ensure that those people compromise enough to cooperate with each other.

            You can see it as a spectrum. On one end you have free people in conflict over minor differences between their beliefs – which seems to be the “default” state of things for most people in the setting, and is obviously a problem. On the other hand we have complete subjugation of everyone to one person’s will and belief system, which is something that Goddess is a perfect example of, and Taylor probably also did far more than she had to – this situation is obviously also a problem. Somewhere in the middle we have a compromise despite differences in some less important beliefs or doctrinal differences as a middle ground between those two extremes.

            Victoria seems to prefer this middle ground over those extremes – she obviously doesn’t want people to fight each other over all but possibly the most important differences in their beliefs, but also refuses go all the way to the other extreme and “become a tyrant”. She is perfectly willing to allow other people to make some decisions even if she thinks they are not the best ones (like when she agreed to the three-pronged attack against Love Lost, Cradle and March) just to make people cooperate with her out of their own free will.

            Teacher may try to achieve the same thing. He seems to be trying to run Cauldron in this way, and he may be trying to provoke a situation in the city which will force various groups (like the capes and the anti-parahumans) to compromise at some point. After all it is not like the capes in the city can keep all political power anymore, and at the same time the unpowered can’t really expect to solve all problems Megalopolis is facing without letting capes keep at least some power.

          10. And the funny thing is that the mayor who at the first glance may look like Teacher’s and the anti-parahumans’ enemy is another of those characters who seems to prefer compromise. Remember that she even asked all of her counter-candidates, including Gary, to read and discuss Accord’s notes, to see if they think something could be done to run the city better. There is a reason why her old group was called the Ambassadors after all.

            The problem with Jeanne is that she seems to be unable to convince other people that she takes their opinions and advice seriously. Examples range from Gary’s refusal to even took at Accord’s notes, through the way to probably not communicating well enough why she refused to do what she was asked in that petition regarding portals and time effects, all the way to Victoria seeing Jeanne’s initial unwillingness to provide as much support against Cradle as Victoria would like to have. Ironically a lot of it is actually a result result of Jeanne’s reputation as a former villain, and not her actions as the mayor.

          11. Of course it is entirely possible that I misjudged Teacher and he is what he appears to be in the first glance – a person who will let you keep your independent thoughts and will only as long as you serve his purposes, and only because having subjects who have such degree of conditional independence serves his purposes by allowing other people’s ideas to refine his plans. This would obviously put him closer to the “subjugation” end of the spectrum than anywhere near the middle ground called “compromise”.

            All I’m saying right now that I can see either version of Teacher as possible right now, and if I’m leaning towards the one I described in previous comments in this thread, it is mostly because it would probably be a more surprising one for most readers (and we know that Wildbow likes his surprises and less than obvious motivations for his character), and because I actually believe that Teacher at least thinks he is saving people from themselves, just like he has told multiple times, and the inability to make compromises, to find that middle ground, is in my opinion one of the most important reasons why things are going so poorly in the Parahumans setting.

  22. What do you think Megalopolis has as far as regular military goes? It seems obvious that they don’t have manpower to match what potential invaders like Chiet, Shin or Machine Army can throw at them, but it seems inconceivable that they would depend only on capes trying to work with law enforcement like the police and Patrol Block and with fresh conscripts or civilian volunteers. None of those groups are actually trained and organized to work with each other against a threat like this. Does the city have a “normal” unpowered military (which would probably be very weak not only because it would lack manpower, but also because it would likely have very little equipment, especially heavy or sophisticated weapons), or is PRTCJ the only organization devoted to fighting external invaders?

    Either way it seems that someone likely will invade the city, if only so the author could say “It is your turn Crystal!”

    1. I must also say that I worry about chances any military the city may have to successfully oppose such invasion. It is not only because we can probably expect their potential opponents to have advantages in numbers, heavy and sophisticated weaponry, and logistics. It is also because the presence of portals in and around the city means that unlike Bet’s US and Canada, Gimel.US can’t count on combination of navy, air force and military bases abroad (even if it had any) to keep any conflicts away from its territory.

      And it’s not like Bet’s US and Canada (where most people in the city come from) had a lot of fresh experiences when it comes to fighting any defensive wars on their own territories, especially against enemies who hold all advantages I’ve mentioned above (if anything, they are probably used to having all of them, except perhaps the numerical advantage). The fact that any such invasion would immediately mean that the civilians concentrated in the country would immediately be caught in a crossfire, probably only makes matters worse…

      1. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that Gimel.US “geopolitically” in a very bad situation. They probably have no army capable of resisting their potential invaders, and consequences of successful invasion will likely be catastrophic:
        1. If the city is successfully invaded by the Machine Army it is the end for everyone there, since Machine Army seems to be not interested in keeping any humans alive, so it will most likely simply exterminate all humans in the city.

        2. If the city is successfully invaded by Chiet, then between the fact that many people in the city brought their guns from Bet’s US, and the fact that the city is full of capes we can expect a very active armed resistance movement. The problem with it is that Chiet threatened to invade because of deaths of just a few of their “faithful” (check Crystalclear’s interlude if you don’t believe me). I can easily see Chiet deploying death squadrons supported by tanks and other heavy weapons with orders to kill something like a hundred Gimel civilians for every “faithful” killed by the resistance. And I can see Chiet allocating enough resources to actually pull it off. If that would happen, then continued “armed resistance” with no outside help capable of actually forcing Chiet forces to leave the city would be just a fancy name for nation-wide suicide.

        3. To make it worse the fact that plenty of people in the city are either capes or own weapons means that it may be very difficult to actually stop people from resisting before someone on Chiet decides that enough “faithful” have died to justify complete extermination of everyone in the city using some sort of weapon of mass destruction, or even “dimensional collapse” that Cradle suggested was possible.

        4. I’m not sure if Shin would invade the city, but they have shown that they are willing and able to starve it to death. Moreover I suspect that whatever deal Miss Militia is trying to make will fail because Breakthrough will likely cause trouble due to the situation Victoria’s family has found itself in.

        So these are the problems. Now how about some potential solutions? I can see five possibilities, at least two of which may actually be already implemented:

        A. Diplomacy aimed at finding someone to be a big enough threat to all potential invades that they decide that they can’t afford to spend resources to invade the city. For example you could increase tensions between Shin and Chiet to a point that they will have to seriously consider a possibility of ending up in war against each other. Unfortunately this one could backfire really quickly, because everyone who considers a large scale inter-dimensional war will have to realize the strategic value of the city as a staging ground, and invade anyway.

        B. Giving potential invaders something more valuable to them than the city itself for not invading, while at the same time putting yourself in a position where you can cripple an government that tries to break this deal. This is actually what Teacher may be doing on Chiet right now! The problem with this solution is that it won’t work forever. Sooner or later Chiet will run out of room to expand, and will consider invading the city again, and while Teacher could prevent one or two governments from doing just that, unless he can master the entire current Chiet population, he will probably be unable to stop some new government consisting of people he can’t control from forming on Chiet or one of its colonies and starting an invasion anyway.

        C. Creating a threat of mutual destruction that will go off in case the city is destroyed. It should work against the threat of “dimensional collapse” outlined in problem 3., but likely not against the others, and many cause problems on its own. I suspect that March may have already done it by unleashing the Kronos Titan. Considering that it exists in all accessible universes, and appears to keep accumulating energy, it is possible that it could become unstable and “explode” in all of those universes if its part existing on Gimel would be destroyed. It is possible that nobody knows what such “explosion” would cause, or if it would even happen in the situation I described, but such uncertain threat may be just as effective as a deterrent as one better understood (like a threat of global nuclear war for example).

        D. Making it impossible to go through portals leading to Gimel. It seems entirely possible that this is precisely what Teacher tried to achieve when he gave his portal-expanding devices to the Fallen. This solution has three weak points:
        – there is no guarantee that nobody will eventually figure out a way to restore the portals, or make their own doors into the city,
        – it would cut the city off from Bet, which means that if Machine Army decides for example to attack Kronos, the Titan could “explode” just as described in solution C.,
        – it would leave the population of the city not only cut off from outside material help they need to survive at the moment, but also trapped in a place full of really big portals which we know are constantly accumulating energy, and may release it with very destructive effects.

        And finally…

        E. Quite possibly the only solution which may work long-term. The city could make a contact with an Earth with population and other resources the Megalopolis needs to repeal any invaders and to feed its population. An Earth that is also culturally and ideologically close enough to it that it could either become Gimel’s protector, or accept people from Gimel as refugees. I can think of one such Earth. Earth Aleph. The problem is that probably nobody (except maybe Teacher) knows how to get there, and that if the conversation between Annette and Taylor at the end of Worm is any indication, Aleph may be unwilling to accept refugees. Maybe even Teacher gave them the means to close their portals? He did provide such technology to C.U.I. after all… Would Aleph be more willing to risk conflict with Shin, Chiet and the Machine Army by becoming Gimel’s protector?

        On possibly somewhat related note – remember that two people besides Clairvoyant and Doctor Mother saw “into Simurgh’s mind” in her interlude? Both were Teacher’s students. Did they survive Irregulars’ attack? If this is the case then perhaps Teacher’s Cauldron understands Simurgh’s motives better than anyone else? Is this what convinced Mathers branch of the Fallen to work with him? And considering that March, Cradle and Love Lost either belonged to, or worked with the group of people who left Teacher’s Cauldron, perhaps at least one of them also have such insight? Maybe March expected or even intended to bring Simurgh to Brockton Bay by unleashing the Titan?

    2. What about regular military before Gold Morning?
      I didn’t remember much from Worm about armies, checked wiki – nothing detailed.
      I guess nobody considered non-parahuman conflict between countries, especially after Scion destroyed nuclear missile, so most resources were given to PRT. Plus a lot of military resources should have been destroyed during Gold Morning while humanity and parahumanity throw all to stop Scion.
      There just shouldn’t have been left much…

      1. There must have been some regular armies before GM. We know that the Russians tended to utilize capes as small unit leaders in their military. We also know that some PRT directors had military background (or at least Tagg did). I imagine that in the world which had no nukes and had capes and Endbringers instead regular military has lost a lot of importance compared to Aleph for example, but I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t exist at all.

        The reason why I think that Gimel probably doesn’t have a strong military is that I just don’t see a lot of Bet’s military assets, especially heavy weapons, ending up on Gimel. How do you bring a warship through a portal? Why would you take a tank instead of a few trucks loaded with food or other essentials? Moreover I don’t see that military recruiting too many men at this point. Every person who ends up serving full time as a soldier is a person who doesn’t grow food, construct houses etc., and until a possibility of war has been mentioned those were more important tasks. Of course it is entirely possible to make soldiers do such work too. In fact some of the more destroyed countries in Europe did just that in early years after WWII (or sometimes even during the war), but if you make soldiers work in the farms or construction sites too much for too long, they will probably quite quickly lose a lot of their effectiveness as a fighting force.

  23. Natalie was added to the chapter during last 24 hours, starting from “We have a Natalie Matteson, unpowered, to speak for them” and few times later.
    Also following line was modified: “Guards stared me down as I looked past them. I didn’t flinch, looking back toward the others”

      1. Victoria ignores things sometimes, and Theo’s always tended to blend himself into the background by personality. That I can take. Assuming he’s back to normal next chapter.

        Natalie though, Victoria couldn’t conceivably ignore, even for a short period.

        1. > Assuming he’s back to normal next chapter.

          You make it sound almost as if Cuff should have some suspicions about her boyfriend and Imp…

  24. “It’s okay. You could’ve gone with a supermodel body and you went with that.”

    “Fuck you,” Sveta said. “You’re better than that, Chris.”

    “Am I?” he asked. “Why would you think that? Name one thing I’ve done that’s ‘better’.”

    “You were our friend.”

    “Sorry, but that doesn’t count for anything. I used you, that’s all. No hard feelings.”

    Somehow I doubt that this is really how Chris feels about Breakthrough, and if he doesn’t I wonder how much of it is an act, and how much is because he is going through denial…

    1. I’m thinking a good portion of it is denial.

      I think the most telling thing is where he refers to himself as a changer. Lab Rat was a tinker and damn proud of it. But Chris on the other hand… Chris is a changer who happens to use tinkering to do it.

      He may be trying to look grown up, but they’re still dealing with that angsty, screwed up boy who doesn’t know what he really wants, let alone who he wants to be.

      1. Actually he may be pretending that he is a changer reasons that may have nothing to do with denail, and everything to do with trying to not make everyone’s situation (including his own) much worse.

        Remember that while he may not know that every member of Breakthrough knows that he is Lab Rat’s “sort of clone”, and may be unwilling to volunteer this information for pretty much the same paranoia-related reasons as before, but this is probably a much less important concern (if it is a concern at all anymore) than the other, more rational one – he knows how people of Shin reacted to learning that Amy hid the fact that she turned one person into a “monter”, and supposedly learned about it only through a combination of Gary’s revelations and the fact that Amy supposedly did it again on Shin. Imagine how would people of Shin react if they learned that Cryptid is a copy of a tinker who was turning people into monsters so often that his victims become a significant percentage of patients in the same asylum Victoria ended up in.

        This is clearly also why nobody called Chris on his lie in this chapter despite the fact that at least everyone in Breakthrough and Amy know about it. Everyone remembers that they are guarded by people at least some of whom know at least some English after all, so they can’t mention anything about a connection between Lab Rat and Cryptid without representatives of Shin governments – the same people who are unhappy with Amy after all – learning about it almost immediately.

  25. Here’s a thought about Taylor, Victoria and Dinah which came from one of those long threads above, but seems to be different enough from the main topic of that thread to be posted on its own.

    Taylor seemed to be a person with very strong opinions on what are the right goals to pursue. She had doubts about them sometimes, but rarely to the point that she would just decide that maybe she should stop pursuing some of them, either because the goals are wrong, or because the price she or other people needed to pay to reach those goals if too high. Halfway throughout Worm Dinah actually made it worse by outright telling Taylor that she needs to make sacrifices to save the world. The result was a full-blown messiah complex which lead Taylor to doing all sorts of horrible things – from killing Aster all the way to asking Amy and Bonesaw to mess with her brain, or at least things that were really risky or painful to people she cared about – like leaving the Undersiders to surrender to PRT. And it is not like Taylor didn’t display this sort of behavior even before Dinah told Taylor all those things.

    What if Dinah knows that Victoria is going to be just as important at some point as Taylor was, and simply decided to keep Victoria in the dark about it? Why would she do it? I can see a few possible reasons. One is that Dinah understands just how badly she has harmed Taylor and everyone around her by giving a justification for Taylor’s complex, and just wants to spare Victoria the same fate. Another reason could be that Victoria can play her destined role only if she remains ignorant about it. Maybe where Taylor needed a confrontation that she is going to save the world to actually do it, Victoria needs the opposite – no sense of higher purpose, and a constant doubt that what she is doing may be wrong?

  26. Isn’t it interesting that when Victoria heard that Amy broke a second person, our narrator didn’t correct that statement even in her thoughts? The taboo surrounding Khepri seems to affect even Victoria’s inner voice. After all we know that Amy told her sister what she did to Taylor during Gold Morning, and still Victoria avoids the topic as much as she can – both in her narration and while talking to people who may be able to tell her more about Khepri – like the Undersiders.

    Why is it the case? Is it only that being mastered by Khepri affected her so much (and we know that it did – Victoria pointed out herself that after Amy took her body and “heart” from her, her mind was the only thing she had left, and Khepri took that from her)? Is she just rolling with the unsaid agreement that capes don’t talk about Khepri? Is she doing it because she is careful not to harm feelings of others, especially people like the Undersiders, who from her perspective obviously still appear to grieve after Taylor? Are there other reasons?

    I expect that the truth is some combination of answers I gave above, but which of those reasons are most important to Victoria?

    1. Or maybe I’m wrong about what exactly Victoria knows about what Amy did to Taylor? Maybe while Amy explained that she unlocked Taylor’s power, she didn’t mention just what it did to Taylor’s mind, and with the conspiracy of silence surrounding Khepri nobody else enlightened Victoria about this fact later?

      In other words maybe Victoria is convinced that Taylor had her full mental capacities throughout entire Gold Morning, until she disappeared for good? Maybe this is the reason why she doesn’t think about Taylor when Amy’s victims are mentioned?

  27. Triads!

    Um…

    1. I really liked how well the text showed the change in atmosphere through Victoria’s perception and her reactions, particularly to Amy.

    2. And the writing on the glass. Definitely chillier than the snowstorm outside.

    3. And our resident Overthinker 12 exerting power!

    On to 14.6…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *