Breaking – 14.8

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“Can anyone do us a big favor?” Kenzie asked, distracted.  “We need someone to walk over to Theo and Rain and tell them that the surveillance state is our friend.”

“Tell me where they are and why I’m telling them that and I will,” Byron said.

It was the small hours of the morning, and for the most part the only light was the ambient glow of city lights finding their way into the prison center through the glass roof.  The building’s heat led to some of the snow and ice on that glass to find its way in through cracks, precipitating a series of steady trickles and drips.  All of us, for the most part, had found places to settle in, but few of us slept.

The place lacked proper rooms, and it had the feeling of a labyrinth.  A central plaza was set in the middle, while showers, bathrooms, and one room with a purpose I hadn’t yet figured out were set around the perimeter.  A lot of the walls were paths for guards and guards only, and a lot of the hallways had thick glass windows with guards on the other side, with gaps and apertures for guards to fire through.  A lot of the hallways, ours included, had a faint four or five degree incline – not so much it was impossible to settle, but enough that it was hard to rest easy without feeling like we’d roll down the hall.

Byron was in prison clothes now.  Tristan hadn’t wanted to keep his brother in reserve as the hours crept forward, and so we’d had to find an excuse to swap them out.  Laundry was handed out on a requirement basis, and after some confusing discussion and pantomime we’d requisitioned an outfit.  The twin that was swapped out wore the armor, which made the swapping something that had to happen in a bathroom stall.

“They’re in the courtyard, southeast corner.  I think they’re trying to follow the rules but they’re not quite in the camera’s range.  I would bet if they stay in a blind spot like that the guards are going to harass them.”

“And we want to stay where the cameras can watch us,” Byron said.  He looked up at the cameras in our hallway.  “Got it.”

He pulled himself to his feet and walked off.

“Agents in hallway to our left and middle,” Kenzie said, sticking an arm out to indicate the hallways.  “I can’t say for sure that they’re going to be problems but-”

“But we take the right hallway to get to the central courtyard and there isn’t going to be a problem for sure.”

“Yep.  Pretty sure.”

Stay in sight, stay clearly under the cameras we were in a position to manipulate, and be model prisoners.  That was the game, the charade.  It was a game we could cheat at in small ways.  Kenzie was a big factor in that, with an eye on the same cameras the guards used.

For all the world, it looked like she was sharing a cot with Ashley, Ashley sitting against the wall, Kenzie lying down with a thin pillow propped up against Ashley’s thigh, which she used as a pillow.  Kenzie’s hands were motionless, folded across her stomach.  But as Byron left on his mission, Kenzie began humming dissonantly.  Tinkering in another way.

“Hmm hm, mm-mm-mm, hmmmm… Mm-wah, hmm…”

There was no musicality, it even bordered on anti-music.

“Kenzie, you’re cute and all,” Vista said, and her voice had a burr of tiredness in it.  She trudged over to the cot Byron had been sitting on and plunked herself down. “But you are going to get shanked if you keep that up.”

Kenzie tittered.  “Don’t make me laugh, you’ll make me mess up the sequence.”

“Does it have to be done tonight?” Vista asked.

“No.  I can finish programming tomorrow,” Kenzie said.  She turned onto her side, eyes pointed the way of Ashley’s knee, then twisted around almost to face the opposite direction to look up at Ashley, “You okay?  Your leg isn’t falling asleep?”

“You’re fine,” Ashley said.

“Darlene’s throwing me off with the sequences anyway.  She’s staying up tonight to keep an eye out in case I need emergency help or hands elsewhere.  She’s giggling because both Candy and Chicken are snoring.  It’s like dueling banjos, but snorty.  She’s trying so hard to not laugh so much she wakes them up.”

“You stay connected while you’re asleep?” I asked.

“Sometimes!  The first time we did it, Darlene fell asleep by accident, so there was nobody to cancel it, unless we wanted to wake her up on purpose.  Then that was the same night someone, I’m not gonna say who, they had a nightmare.  Really spooky when it happened, because you’re paralyzed while you’re asleep, but you’ll jerk and twitch and your heart rate goes up and stuff.  So I thwacked my hand against my bedside table to wake everyone up.  A little too hard.  It still hurts a bit.”

“Might be a little too much, if you’re always connected,” I said.

“Maybe.  But it’s kind of nice having company when falling asleep, you know?  It’s only been good dreams ever since.  I can feel them breathing and it makes it easier for me to breathe when it’s dark and I start thinking about spooky stuff.”

“Do you have trouble breathing?” I asked.  “Panic attacks?”

“Not actual trouble.  But everything feels heavier, you know?”

I digested that.  The pressure of the twilight hours.  “I know.  Is it the cape stuff that’s getting to you?”

“No, nah.  Cape stuff is fun.  Spooky stuff is when I’m lying in bed staring at the ceiling, and I start thinking about what if I never figure it out, you know?  What if I’m never better and I spend the rest of my life pushing people away, and every morning and every night I wake up without a family, and every Christmas it’s just me buying myself a present.  Always just me, you know, smiling smiling smiling, trying to keep busy making Christmas treats for the needy for Church events and still doing tinker stuff too because that’s going to be in my life forever…”

Her voice was taking on a wobbly cadence like she was finally drifting off to sleep.

“You’ll have me,” Ashley said.  “It’s hard to get rid of me.”

“Yeah, but…” Kenzie said.  It took her a while to summon up the thoughts.  It seemed like fatigue more than anything.  “…People go away.  They die.  So I think of you and I feel better, but then I think what if something happens, and I feel worse again.  Then I start thinking… better tinker.  If I make better stuff I can protect all of you.”

“I’ve died a bunch of times and I’m still here.”

“Yeah.  But don’t want to stretch that until it snaps,” Kenzie mumbled.  “Mm.  Don’t let me fall asleep.  I need to keep an eye out.”

“You need to sleep.  We’ll manage.”

“It’s unfair, you know.  Because being around you all like this and networking into the others through Darlene, Aiden sleeping in a cot in Darlene’s room and Candy sleeping in a beanbag chair in her room… is when I feel the least like I’m going to end up alone and I feel the most like I can sleep easy… but I should watch for trouble, I shouldn’t sleep.”

“You should.  Shh,” Ashley said.  “Rest.”

Kenzie twisted around, curling up closer and wrapping her arms around Ashley’s thigh, where Ashley sat cross-legged next to her.  She squeezed and smushed her face tight against Ashley’s leg.

“Chicken has a snot bubble in his left nostril.  It’s clicking rapid-fire every time he breathes out,” Kenzie said.  “There needs to be a camera that captures moments like that, and all of the feelings around that moment.”

“Go to sleep,” I said.  “We’ll see if you snore and put a smile on Darlene’s face.”

As I said it, I saw some people walking through the hallway in the dark.  They paused as they saw us.

Six, seven people.  Men and women, all silhouettes in the dark.  People came in wearing whatever clothes they had that were allowed, and those clothes were a kind of status symbol.  People inevitably had to start wearing the shitty prison uniforms after a time, and so that marked a kind of veteran status.  But the people who were veterans and had any kind of clout or standing were those who’d migrated into wearing the prison uniforms but had other clothing worn as part of their outfit, the more tattered the better.

Shirts with patterns had sleeves tied together and were worn around the shoulder or waist.  Dresses torn up and wound around hair or worn as wide hoods that extended from shoulder, over the head, to shoulder.

Beyond that, there were stages of quality.  One man with a frayed basket-weave mesh of two cloth types, worn as a scarf.  A woman with a complex five-part braid to her shawl seemed to be the one in charge.  Colors seemed to signify gangs or group affiliation.

We had settled down in an area of the prison the gangs seemed to stay away from, because the conditions weren’t great-it was cold enough there was a puddle of water in the corner with hints of ice at the edges- and because it was under the cameras.  A couple of older women and two family groups were set up in this spot.

“If you hug my leg that tight, you’re going to cut off the circulation,” Ashley told Kenzie.

But the kid was already asleep.  Ashley seemed to make peace with it.

“The first time I met her, I found her really hard to get used to,” Vista said.

“Kenzie?” I asked.

“Mm.  It took me a while to realize why.  Wasn’t anything to do with her.  It’s that she’s the opposite of me, back when I was a hero her age.”

The gang hadn’t moved.  They stood in the hall, staring us down.

“I look back and I wish I’d tried harder to be a kid.  Have friends my own age, crushes my own age instead of crushing on an older boy.  I wish I’d leaned on people more.”

“To be fair, he was crush-worthy.”

Vista made an amused sound.

Ashley turned her gaze my way.  She hadn’t used her power on herself recently, and with the apparatus out of her eyes and in Rain’s possession, she didn’t have her pupils erased or her smoke effect.  Her eyes looked almost normal.  In the dim, I could see her eyes move between me and the gang.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding slightly.  “Yeah.”

Ashley nodded.  She’d just wanted to make sure I was aware.

Did they want to intimidate us?  Were they keeping track to see if we all fell asleep at the same time?

“This thing about them sharing bodies or whatever?”

“They feel what the others feel.”

“Yeah.  That’s a little weird and creepy.”

“Yeah,” I said, I laughed softly, keeping my voice down to avoid disturbing anyone.  “Absolutely.  But it’s complicated.”

“Keeps her mind off of the idea of a lonely Christmas,” Vista said.

“That too,” I said.  “We’ll talk to her about it.”

“I don’t want to begrudge her anything she needs or wants,” Ashley said.  “Even if it’s ‘bad’.”

She made air-quotes as she said it.  When she lowered her hand, it rested on top of Kenzie’s head.

“Bad is bad,” I said.  “But I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing.”

“If her path to happiness means weirdness, or blackmailing her parents, or staying up late tinkering, then I’ll support that,” Ashley said.  “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it does require those things.  But if it did or if it does in the future, I wouldn’t necessarily stand in her way.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that.

Byron, Rain, and Theo came back, walking down the hall.  They didn’t slow down as they got closer to the gang.

I thought about my options.  How hard I could hit people, how fast I could move with flying without betraying that I was using powers.  I stood and stretched, so I’d be ready.  Vista pushed herself up from a position where she was sort of lounging to a proper sit.

Looking at all of us, the gang leader with the shawl braid nudged her lieutenant.  Without a word exchanged, the gang broke up, a good portion of them walking off in the direction of the showers.

It wouldn’t stay that easy.

I’d had Kenzie reach out to Citrine, and Citrine would apply a bit of pressure.  The Wardens would surely do the same.  Hopefully.

That gave us a clock, a period of time where we needed to play by their rules and avoid getting caught in their traps.  We could give them no video evidence, nothing that could be cut out of context, and no excuses.  If we did, then they would move for harsh punishment.

Kenzie had confirmed they didn’t have audio.  They did have video.  They kept tabs on us with soldiers, and with her eyes on the camera, she’d confirmed that some prisoners had entered the facility, possibly from another similar building, some of them were like the gang leader with the braided scarf, arriving dressed and acting like veterans with some clout.

And, Kenzie had observed, using the cameras, that these people had gone straight from the entryway, a different one than we’d used, to find us.  Now they remained in our periphery.

They would adapt.  As the clock ran down, they’d be more willing to force an imperfect conclusion over a perfect one.

I sat back down on my cot, being careful not to disturb Sveta, who was sleeping.  Beneath the two blankets she’d draped over herself, her body had partially disassembled, shoulder and ribcage dissolving into straps so she could more easily lie ‘flat’ on the angled hallway.

Byron looked over at Vista, who had stolen his mattress, and then started to look for another.

“A lot of the other mattresses are damp or cold,” Vista told him.

“Then you keep that one.  I can endure the cold and the wet with my power.”

“Don’t be dumb, Byron,” she told him.

I watched him hem and haw for a second.

“Not dumb,” he said.  “Just…”

“Complicated,” Rain volunteered.

Byron nodded.

“Come, sit.  We can talk about it,” Vista said.  “Or say the word and I’ll find another spot.”

He walked over, and he sat.

Rain and Theo found their own cots.  If Rain was bothered by the quality of his mattress, he didn’t comment.  He’d carried his issued blanket with him and draped it over himself without much of a care.

Golem, meanwhile, just sat.

“What are the rules or boundaries?” Vista asked.

“What?” Byron asked.

“Like, just for the sake of argument, if you were to start seeing a girl, what are the rules of engagement?”

I turned to look at Vista, my eyes widening.  She ignored me.

“I’m not sure I would.  I don’t think it’s fair to the girl.  Too many hurdles, too much baggage.”

“We all have baggage.  We could all die at any time, that’s life as a cape.  Put those things together and if we wait to get over our baggage we’re liable to end up dead before we get anywhere.”

Morbid pick up line there, Vista.

“True.  It’s still messy, if you ignore all of that.  If we expect to die sometime soon, we don’t want the meantime to be full of angst and anger, right?”

“Right, so we talk.  Negotiate.  Where are we at, Byron?  If a girl says she likes you, what does it take, what’s off the table?”

“I could make an educated guess, but I dunno.  I thought I had a good idea of it before and then things all went wrong.  Couldn’t go to third base, probably not even second.  I’d hesitate before even kissing, and if the line’s drawn there…”

“Doesn’t feel much like a relationship,” Vista said.

“No.  Which isn’t fair to the girl.”

“Your kid teammate over there was talking a bit about finding her way to a less lonely place.  Protecting those close to her, having people she’s connected to while she sleeps.”

“They’re doing it while they sleep?” Byron asked, alarmed, leaning forward to get a better view of Kenzie.  “Is that just because of this whole thing, or-”

“Focus.  Focus,” Vista said, pushing him back down to a sitting position.  “Can’t do anything about it.”

“Uh huh,” he said.

Vista had pushed him down, and she didn’t move her hand from his chest.

“I think you’re cool.  I like the words that come out of your mouth when you talk.  And I think Tristan’s really neat too, I think he’s fun and he’s good company.  If you want to try to figure out what you and me look like, and if Tristan was cool with it, I’d want to try.  You, me, Tristan, and what I imagine are a lot of rules and boundaries that keep things peaceful.”

“Did you talk to my team to figure out how to approach this?”

“Nope.  I mean, some preliminary fact checking, seeing if there were any things to watch out for.  They gave me the twenty-words-or-less on your ex.”

“They’re pretty restrictive,” Byron said.  “The rules.”

“Sure.  But we’ve talked a bunch of times now and I like you more each time.  I think I’d rather try you and me with all that stuff in the way than hang back and wait for some other sexy black knight type to turn up.  I worry there’s not enough time to wait for perfect.”

“I’m a blue knight more than a black knight.”

“Ehhh.  Broody and introspective with a dark background?”

“Yeah, maybe.  Conceded.  Feels like I’m being called evil though.”

“You can be a dark knight without being evil.  Trust me, if you were evil, it would be a total turn-off.  Speaking of turn-offs, you were supposed to pay more attention to when I called you sexy.”

“That’s… harder to navigate.”

“Yeah.  Just say you feel flattered.”

“I do.  Really.”

“You can add something to the end, Mr. Taciturn.  Like, ‘especially when it comes from a beautiful young lady such as yourself’.”

“You have no idea,” Byron said.

“That’s a good answer,” she said, her voice soft.  “So, uh, that’s me.  Now you do your thing, brood on it for a while-”

“Brood sounds so negative.”

“Introspect on it.  Digest.  See how you feel about it.  Talk to Tristan, see how he feels about it.  Tristan, you can talk to me if you want.  If any of you have any concerns or doubts or if you want to let me down easy, just say it’s too complicated or there’s too much going on.  I’ll understand.”

“Doesn’t feel very organic.”

“Nope,” Vista said.  “But it’s what we get.  Now I’m going to go find another cot, or I’ll be super self conscious.”

“Nah,” Byron said, getting to his feet before she could.  “Easier for me to get comfortable elsewhere than it is for you.  Let me be the gentleman, as a way of thanking you for being cool.  I’m not good at this whole thing, but it kind of made my week.”

Vista hugged her knees.  “It making your week makes my month.  So there, take that.”

Byron, wearing insulated footie costume feet and sandals, padded his way over to other mattresses, to find one that was unoccupied and in decent enough condition.

Vista, for her part, let herself tip over, until she lay on the mattress, and pulled the blanket over herself.  She saw me looking and winked.

She did end up slipping off into dreamland, not too long after that.  Byron wasn’t in a great position to watch both ends of the hallway, and Rain was reclining with intent to sleep, apparently having worked it out with Theo, so it more or less left Theo and I to maintain watch.

Into the small hours of sunrise, and the light of dawn on an alien Earth.

The dawn brought breakfast, and the plaza was loosely organized with people in line, with guards milling through.  The crowd was dense enough that there wasn’t a place to stand where we could extend our arms fully to each side, and that was a problem.

Our ability to eat was on the line.

“Not enough cameras here,” Kenzie observed.  “They use the guards more.”

The press of bodies would have made identifying incidents hard with the cameras.

It was hard to find a way through the crowd that didn’t put us in a position to get shivved, and I wasn’t ruling that possibility out.

It didn’t look like not eating was a possibility either.  Each person who picked up a bowl to get food had a bracelet put on them.

“Rain and I found some English-speaking prisoners last night,” Theo said.  Even without his armor, Golem was a big guy, and big was useful when we wanted people to get out of our way and give us a bit of space.  It wasn’t enough to give us a clear route, though.

“They were nice enough,” Rain said.  “But I think they didn’t realize who or what we are.”

One of the people in line went to get their food, bowl out.  The person checked their bracelet, ready to slip another on, then grabbed hold of their wrist, holding it up as much as they could while leaning over the serving table.

Guards came and seized the prisoner.  There was no struggle, no resistance.

“Want to know something crazy?” Theo asked.

“Sure,” I said.  “Hit me with it.”

“They want it.  This thing with the meal?  They stretch it out, so you’re hungry, you have to wait in line, you have to push, pull, shove, or you get the shitty food that’s left over when everyone else has eaten, all the chunks gone, and only the broth remaining.  So you do what you can to balance not causing trouble with getting your food, and bam, they check your bracelet, you won the lottery.  Guards grab you, drag you off, and take you into the administration building.”

“Punish you,” Rain added.

“And they want it,” Theo said.  “Most people in line here, they’re hoping for it.”

“Explain that one for me,” Vista said.  I didn’t miss the fact that Vista and Tristan were hanging out.  Everyone had gone to the showers on waking up and while inside the stall Byron had changed to Tristan, Tristan had set the armor aside, changed back to Byron, who’d put it on, then they’d changed back to Tristan for good.  There wasn’t any structure here, so they could do the same thing whenever they needed to swap.

He’d gone straight to Vista to talk.  Last night, eavesdropping hadn’t really been a choice, my only other option had been to stop standing guard and keeping an ear out for trouble, and that didn’t make sense.

“Sentences aren’t really sentences in terms of time,” Theo said.  “The Coalition and the other major civilized nations hate the idea of long sentences and stays in prison, they think it’s barbaric, so they make the stays short, unpredictable, and the punishments harsh.  Getting dragged off means you get punished, yeah, but it also kind of acts like a chance to prove yourself and have a kind of parole hearing in front of ten randomly chosen citizens, where a lot of the time if you give the right answers you get released.”

“The part that got me,” Rain said, “Was that once you’re out, your debt to society is paid.”

“There’s a bloodthirst to the punishment,” Theo said.  “I won’t deny that.  It took my breath away, just hearing it from the prisoners.  But here, at least, they want to knock out your defenses and natural resistance.”

“And brainwash you,” Rain said.

“Yeah,” Theo said.  “Basically.  I would not say I’d rather come here than go to a prison on Earth, if I’d done something wrong, but… wouldn’t say I’d rather go to a prison on Earth either.”

“The ‘rebuilding’ is supposed to be according to strict rules and shit,” Rain said.  “Revise and uncover coping mechanisms, perspectives, toxic relationships… really big focus on the rehabilitation part.  I’m really not sure how I feel about it.  The idea of going and within a year or three being done?  Being allowed to re-enter society?  That sounds good enough that I could see myself looking past the brainwashing.”

“Poor Rain,” Ashley said, putting a hand on Rain’s shoulder.  “The last few brainwashings really did a number on him.”

“Fuck, don’t scare me like that,” Rain said.

The thought of brainwashing led to me thinking about the hospital room.  I tried to divorce my thoughts from it, and found myself looking at Sveta.

More than a few of us had been brainwashed or affected mentally.  Rain, legitimately.  Ashley, through powers and programming.  Sveta, through Cauldron.  Me, through Amy.  Kenzie had maybe perpetrated it, if blackmail and manipulation of her parents counted.

It looked like one in eight or one in nine people were being pulled out of line.  To be punished, reconditioned.  I saw a family two parents with kids leading their kids by the hands.

That wasn’t really my focus though.  Supposedly we were safe.  We weren’t supposed to be punished.

Supposedly.

My focus was in the crowd.

I looked for the telltale pieces of clothing that weren’t light gray or brown.  Different colors of cloth were woven together to create clashing patterns, and those caught the eye.  But there were places where long hair was braided or woven with cloth, and that caught the eye in the same way.  There were pieces of clothing that had multiple patterns and texture that nearly matched, which made them stand out less.

I wanted to fly, to see over this crowd.  But we had been rendered almost powerless, by politics and not by any interference.

“We should eat,” I said.

“We have to.  If we don’t the guards drag us off and give us a hard time,” Rain said.

“Good to know.  Good research.”

“Thank you.”

Into the crowd.  Our formation was a battle formation, two people watching our flanks, two up front, two at the sides.  Our most vulnerable member was in the middle.

Guards moved through the crowd, jostling people, pausing to question or check them.

A whole group of people walked in row and column, the crowd parting, as they carried covered bowls to the large room I’d observed before.  I’d had a glimpse of the space as I walked to the showers earlier – it was now partitioned off into sub-rooms.  Apparently there was a sub-group of people who viewed eating in public or eating communally to be the equivalent of taking a shit in the company of friends.  Curtain partitions and a mutual expectation to eat in total silence allowed them their privacy.

I saw gang members with prison uniforms and accessories fashioned of old clothes in the midst of the crowd.  One guy, huge, with cloth wrapped around his hands like a kickboxer might do.  A woman with a strip of material  with a tight knot at the end had been stopped by guards.  As we passed, she and the guards she was talking to looked at us.

“Group of weirdos just hit the edge of the crowd at our seven,” Kenzie said.

“Weirdos?  Be more specific,” Rain said, turning to look.

“All dressed in black, bright bandannas.  Camera quality isn’t great.”

“Yeah,” Rain said.

“And guards,” Ashley said.

The heads-up was late, because the guards were moving through some of the densest parts of the crowd.  They passed that part of the crowd and set their sights on us.

Kenzie discreetly passed something up to her neck, before popping something else into her mouth.  She turned to Rain, motioning toward his sleeves.

Only another moment or two before they were here-

Rain pulled it out, fumbled with it for a second, too long-

Kenzie reached out, pushing the pronged apparatus into Rain’s midsection.  It was set to phase through, but Rain winced like it hurt.  Sveta took the other from Kenzie’s hand, and passed it under her top.

Guards forced us apart, proceeding with a pat-down.  They were young, no older than Tristan, and their expressions were hard, their hands rougher.

Checking us over quickly.

It was a mistake to think the guards and security cameras were enough.  The same woman with the braided shawl from last night stepped out of the crowd.

I’d expected a shiv.  Something prison-issue that had been honed to a point.  Failing that, I expected a flail or weighted object.

Not so.  She flung out an arm in our direction, and something lemon-shaped, metal, and the size of a golf ball came our way, a thread or wire attached.

I reached out to swat at the tiny lemon, ready to use my power, timing the Wretch with the swat, and then reconsidered- power use, could I get away with it?

I could.  I would have, but my hesitation threw off my timing, and I was a hair too late.  The projectile whipped around my hand, carrying the wire with it.  She pulled, and almost all of the skin between the middle three knuckles of my left hand and my wrist was pulled away, wrinkling up around the backs of my fingers, bound in wire.

Fuck, did it ever hurt.  I dropped to my knees, looked back at the guards- and saw the one who had been closest to me stepping back.

She flicked out her other hand, an identical projectile, and it was set to fly around my head.  I could bring one arm up, but it would circle around, catch me at one side of the face.

It curved in the air, ready to whip around, and then sailed straight, instead, cutting the guard’s forearm instead.  He barked out words in a language I didn’t understand.

Unfazed, barely seeming to realize that anything fucky was happening, she just hauled back on the wire, dragging the length of it up my hand, past the knuckles at the base of my fingers, and up to the first knuckle of my index and middle fingers, skin coming off like someone had taken a potato peeler to it.

Theo pulled his shirt off and threw it over the wire before trying to grab it.

I saw him run his fingertips along the edge of the wire, fiercely enough to make them bleed.  I saw some slack appear, as the woman who held the wire-

His fingernails, passing through the wire to lacerate the part of her hand it rested against.

Theo’s efforts individually might not have been effective or very visible, but they gave me some slack to work with, and they did get the attention of someone nearby, the guy with the basket-weave scarf around his neck.  Almost Theo’s size, he barreled out of the crowd and kicked Theo hard in the side of the stomach, sending Theo sprawling into the wire, causing me and the woman with the braided shawl to fall in his direction, as he fell on the wire.  The wire came free, mostly because it had finished its journey, starting at the base of my wrist and scraping its way up to fingertip.  The pain was blinding, and I was dimly aware I’d lost two fingernails along with a good bit of skin.

They said swearing had an anaesthetic effect, making pain easier to handle.  I couldn’t bring myself to worm a word, but I managed to make a noise that anyone, in any language, would interpret as something between scream and invective.

Guards barked words in their language, grabbing and pushing to keep my teammates from helping.  More guards came, only adding to the obstruction, but they didn’t step into the midst of this.

The woman started to reel in her weapons, and I stepped forward, planting my foot on the threads and the wad of my skin that had come off, probably with fingernails attached.  She stepped back, dropping threads, and turned her body away, almost a fencer’s pose.  To hide what she was doing with her right hand.

People had backed away enough I had a moment.  I stooped down, using my good hand to scoop up Theo’s shirt.  She threw another of those lemon golf ball yoyos with thread spooling out, and I used the Wretch, defending myself just enough that the thread would be glance off, be pushed away by the Wretch’s expansion.

A second later, I canceled it, throwing the shirt up and letting it catch on the wire.

I grabbed the cloth and the wire, and used the Wretch to ensure my grip was secure and that the wire wouldn’t cut through cloth and into my hand.

I wasn’t sure what happened next, as I tried to throw it down so I could step on it and make reeling it in hard.  It could have been the Wretch, reaching out with another hand and tugging.  It could have been the way she had the wires arranged for easy deployment.  But it cut her.

She didn’t scream, didn’t yelp, just immediately fell to her knees.  Wire had sliced through her hand from between middle and ring finger to the middle of the palm, with a visible gap.

The pain from the back of my hand made it hard to stand up straight, and hard to take a deep breath.  Every breeze across that area where skin had been flensed away made me want to scream again, or to vomit.

Broad fucking daylight, how many witnesses?  And someone in black clothes with a red loop of cloth at the neck made a run past Sveta, cutting her with a blade, and went straight for Tristan.  Tristan leaped back, groped for an empty bowl, and the man who held the bowl handed it over.

The guy with the knife had skin that looked like the equivalent of hair bleached blonde, too white, damaged, and uneven to be entirely normal.  He made two swings and Tristan held the bowl so it surrounded his fist, punching at the knife swings to deflect them with the wood.  He saw an opening and hopped forward, kicking the attacker in the gut.

The guy with the knife came at Tristan again.  Tristan stood ready, bowl in hand, and the guard who had been searching him earlier gave him a kick from behind, putting him off balance.  The knife slash extended from the side of the wrist to elbow.

Someone stepped out of the crowd, toward Tristan.

The guard intoned a single word in another language.

I didn’t need to guess what it was.  It was easy enough to tell, as Tristan took one step away from the conflict and toward the crowd, like he hoped to escape this.

People closed ranks.  Men stepped in front of women.  Rain tried to circle around behind the guy with the knife, only for someone in the crowd to grab him, throw him to one side, and kick him in the hip.  He rolled onto his back as a couple of people stepped closer to him.  A mob.

I saw a glimmer of silver at his fingertips.  He dismissed it before it took any form.  It could have been mistaken for a trick of light through the snowy glass ceiling above the plaza.

Rain’s attempt to stand saw him wince, dropping to one knee.  People looked ready to deliver another kick if he got close enough, but he couldn’t get closer to the knife wielder.  Without his powers available, he remained where he was, one hand at his hip.

Every last one of them against us.

Because we were parahumans.

Fuck.  Goals.  What did they want?

They wanted to frame us.  They wanted an excuse to force the issue with their trade deal.  To get their people into our city, where they’d have their own kind of influence.

Vista backed away as the guard who had been holding her lost his grip on her arm.  Toward Tristan, a little closer to the guy with the knife.

What had I said to Ashley, back on the train?  Every little bit mattered.  Every ally made, every reinforcement of positive expectations.  It counted toward a greater something.

Here, that something wasn’t in play.  Here, a small, powerful group led by a small, powerful person had frittered away any and all currency they had with the public, turning to force instead.

Every time a parahuman pulled out a gun because it was easier, or crossed lines, or went after families, or threw away all pretense of showmanship to go hard at the efficient, rational route, they were edging us collectively toward this.

Could we win, if we went all out?  Probably.  But would that lead us to a world we wanted to live in?

No.

Needed to find a way out, when surrounded by hundreds who hated us on principle.  By authority and institution that had no reason to take it easy or to tell the truth.

“We stopped Goddess, damn it,” I said, through pants for breath.

“We stopped her!” Tristan raised his voice, far louder than I was.  “Any of you speak English?  Tell them!”

Nobody translated for us.

Too angry.  Too riled up.  This wasn’t a prison like I was used to seeing on television or in movies, but it was a prison with its own pressures and influences.  People needed an outlet, after months or years of having their lives on hold.

They needed blood.  Punishment.

“Vista,” I said.

“Mm?” she responded with a sound, not a word.

“They want us to bleed.”

The guy with the knife came after her.

“Fuck it,” Vista said.

The guy tripped, his foot finding no traction, and he sprawled.  Vista walked up to him, stepped on the back of his neck on her way to step onto the wrist of the hand that held the knife.

She drove her heel down, grinding the back of the hand until the knife was released.  A good old prison shiv, instead of some razor wire bola bullshit.

“You want blood?” she asked, turning to face the crowd.

The guards didn’t look impressed, and looked wholly ready to come after her.

She cut the back of her hand, a single slash.

“How’s that?  Satisfied?  Is this what you want?” she asked, raising her voice.  “Blood?  These guys gave you enough blood when they put their lives on the line to stop your tyrant!”

Someone in the crowd translated this time.

Vista grabbed the blade and snapped it off.  I suspected she had used her power to thin it enough it would easily break.  She threw the blade to one side and the handle to the other.

Ashley wasn’t too bloody, but she hadn’t really fought, except to drop to the ground, a guy looming over her, her eyes narrowed at him.  Kenzie had a bloody nose.  Sveta had been cut, and the wound around the cut was zipper-flesh, her new ribbons, no longer meeting around the injury.  But it was a small cut.

Tristan and I had the worst injuries, objectively.

We’d cheated some, using powers, but not in such a way that they could easily point fingers at any of it.  Not in a way that -I glanced around, looking for cameras, and failed to find any- would play badly in video form.

No, they’d wanted us to bleed and we’d bled.

I saw heads turn, I saw expressions change.  People peeled away, moving toward the breakfast serving area, and in their push to get further from us and this scene, they barely left breathing room for one another.  The clearing expanded around us and the perpetrators who hadn’t yet backed off.  Some guards, some prisoners.

The reason the heads had turned, though…

On one of the raised walls overlooking the plaza, my sister looked down at my injured self.

“What do you want?” Sveta asked her, because I didn’t have the breath.  Pain lowered my defenses, this scene kicked what lay behind those defenses in the tits.

“I’m supposed to look after you, keep an eye out for trouble.”

“Fuck you,” Sveta said.

“Yeah,” Amy said.  She sounded disappointed.

I tried my best to ignore her, turning my attention to the mess on the floor.  Wire lay limp on the ground, and mixed in with it was some general debris, food slop that had dripped from bowls, dust made moist and collected into tiny amounts of mud with the tromp of feet and more of the food, and the blood spatters from our various injuries.  Globs of blood dripped from the back of my hand.

“I’ll testify I saw this happen, you did nothing but defend yourselves.”

“That would be appreciated,” Theo said.

I found what I was looking for, tangled in wire.  My skin.  Only one fingernail attached at one corner, where the finger skin had folded in and stuck all together.

I did not like my flesh being where it wasn’t supposed to be, especially while hearing that voice.

Amy spoke down to us from her perch on the wall.  “Citrine is here.  She heard about you guys being arrested and she’s working on it.  Wardens obviously know too, but they’re wrapped up in a new crisis or something.  What do you say we get you cleaned up and see you guys to the visitor center?  I’ll crisis manage in the meantime.”

A dozen wretched feelings stirred within me, and combined with the pain and revulsion of the detached bit of flesh, and the stress of all of this, I spat up a mouthful of bile.

“Sure,” she said.  “That-”

I spat off to one side to clear my mouth of the remainder of it.

“Sorry,” I said, not to Amy, but to my team.  “How’s it, Tristan?”

“Definitely need stitches,” he said, keeping a wary eye on the wall.

“Kenz?”

“I walked into a guard’s elbow, that’s all.”

“Sveta?”

Sveta made a face.  Her arm took wounds in a strange way.

Theo had been lacerated when he fell against the wire shirtless.  Almost as bad as Tristan’s cut.  Vista had the cut on her hand.

“Let’s get looked after,” I said.  The ‘uk’ part of ‘looked’ almost saw me vomit from purely reactionary factors again.  “Go see Citrine.”

“Can we get medical attention?” Ashley asked one guard.  She still knelt on the ground, still wore that tense expression.

The guard pointed.  Same direction as the showers.

He had been a participant, but hadn’t been one to actively kick or shove, except whatever he’d done to handle Ashley.

There were worse people to follow.

We headed toward the showers and the medical area that lay beyond.  Some of us supported others.  Sveta held the bridge of Kenzie’s nose.  Theo leaned on me.  Rain leaned on Ashley, limping.  Our priorities were to get help for Tristan and Theo.  Or Theo, at the very least, if we could manufacture a situation to swap Tristan out.

“We do this for Gimel.  If anyone isn’t comfortable pushing forward with this, if you’re scared or if you need out, we could-”

God, I hated to say it.

“-Ask for some strings to be pulled, favors called in,” I finished.

Even with my offer, nobody seemed especially intent on escaping or going.  They knew the importance of getting those supplies for Gimel.  Even if it meant enduring a gauntlet.

We’d have to be more careful.  If the Wardens were busy, most likely with Teacher, we were largely alone in this.  We had us, we had Kenzie’s group, we had Undersiders, maybe, and we had Citrine, who we were about to chat with.

Again, I looked up at the perch, absent my sister.  She’d disappeared around the time I’d puked.  Just… walked away.  The opposite of help.

But there was no reassurance in her being gone, definitely no reassurance in her being here.  I wouldn’t even be reassured, I worried, by escaping this place and leaving Shin well behind me.  She’d proven she could pull me in if the right crisis was manufactured.  This, in so many ways, was her world.

The only peace I could be sure of would be to remove her from it, to remove her from Gimel.  Something permanent.

I hoped with every last iota of my being that the Wardens would be intact enough after the Teacher raid to make a level-headed call on the subject of Amy.  I certainly didn’t trust myself or my team to make that unbiased call, not after this.

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112 thoughts on “Breaking – 14.8”

  1. Well shit, figured this would happen but so soon? nah. Kudos to Vista though girl has her priorities straight.

  2. Fuck man.

    Vista also has the thirst for Water Boi, Shank city for the Parahumans and The Wardens have something going on more pressing than surviving through the fucking winter.

    And, worse of all, Victoria is wearing ugly ass prison clothes! This world, truly, is cruel.

    1. Well either they do the Teacher Raid without Breakthrough and resolve it, which is kinda dissappointing, because Vicky is kinda the one who broke that case, or they fail in the Teacher Raid cause the main characters weren’t there, proving once again the Wardens are kinda useless.

      1. Seems like the’ll be no ‘winning’ for the author in either case. Either case you’re disappointed because you want mutually exclusive things: The Wardens showing they aren’t useless-which means they can’t get help from Breakthrough-and Breakthrough also being present in the raid.

        1. Yep feels like a very poor decision on WB’s part to omit the Teacher raid since it was a perfect point to link our MCs to the overarching plot, of course we’ll have to see how it plays out. I will say that WB is writing away from his strengths and really discounting how much people want to see the post GM plot threads. It doesn’t really make any sense to me that he picked a character that’s close to these plot threads as his MC, teased them repeatedly and then had all of the threads resolve offscreen.

        2. Also it’s perfectly possible for the Wardens to look useful with BT on the case. Just have them be badass in the fight against Teacher and you’re good, if they both lose or both win then you’ve solved the problem.

        3. That’s easy to solve. Breakthrough is present for the raid and witness the Wardens be awesome in some way.

          1. That would require to either:
            a) The Wardens postpone the raid until BT is out of the prison and back again.
            b) BT gets out of the prison and back home this very day.

            Well, a) makes no logical sense for the Wardens as BT is not essential in their plans and b) is unlikely unless Citrine pulls something miraculous.

            But I agree, WB made some sub-par choices as far as story progression goes.

            Also going to prison to maybe secure supplies was a bad move overall. If Shin is so unreliable that they break existing contracts they wont secure anything anyway.

      2. Nah, see, the Wardens are only allowed to not be useless when they’re offscreen. So long as Breakthrough was part of the planning and execution of the raid, the Wardens would inevitably screw up massively and get stomped by Teacher so that Breakthrough had another impossible situation to survive. This way, there’s at least a chance that the raid won’t be featured in an interlude and they can get away with doing the entire thing offscreen, thus enabling non-useless action by the Wardens.

        If we get a Miss Militia interlude or something about the raid they’re screwed though. It’ll be March all over again.

  3. “Poor Rain,” Ashley said, putting a hand on Rain’s shoulder. “The last few brainwashings really did a number on him.”

    Ouch.

    1. The fact that Rain is so resigned to the fact that the universe hates him is hilarious.
      Like “eh, brainwashing really isn’t so bad”
      “What can I say, im only probably not inbred”
      “Lets open up on my love life to a heatbroken girl, sure it cant hurt at this stage”

      And then he ends up storing volatile tinker tech in his stomach… I enjoy his sufferings in direct proportion to how much I like the character.

      1. “Sleeping on a damp mattress in a foreign prison? Starting to worry this might all be a dream. Things this good just don’t happen.”

    1. I really hope we’re suppossed to be appalled by their brutal gulag prison system and having whole families including children held. Respecting different cultures only works when the different culture isn’t doing something utterly awful.

      1. I really like the “differently bad” feel to it. It’s obviously a horrible, abusive system, but in very different ways and by very different means than systems we’re more familiar with.

        1. Having children imprisoned with violent adults in communal prisons? Thats beyond crazy. No civilized country would do something like that. Its atrocious. You dont have to have a sick imagination to imagine what would go down there.

          So if WB wants to establish a feeling that the government of Shin should be nuked for the greater good than yes, mission accomplished.

          1. You’re making an assumption. We don’t actually know how violent this prison is yet. We know that Breakthrough were violently attacked, but they’re parahumans and the attack on them was prearranged, not a natural event. Their experience can’t be viewed as representative of a normal day in the prison. We also don’t know enough about Shin culture to judge the danger. It’s possible that they have strong enough views on the matter of harming children that even random bystanders would gang up and murder anyone who tried to violate that taboo. The prison might even reward them for such behavior by reducing their sentences, giving them incentive to keep a sharp eye out for abuse.

            To me, the more worrying issue is the possibility that children imprisoned along with their family for their parents’ mistakes might be deprived of education, resulting in perpetuating the problem. But we haven’t seen enough to know if that’s actually happening. For all we know school isn’t even in session right now and the children are only present for a temporary visitation period before the next cycle of education begins, at which point they’ll be transferred into foster care until the next break.

          2. Kenzie is a child and she was hit (on purpose) by a guard breaking her nose.
            So not that much assumption here…

          3. The people of Shin very explicitly don’t view her as “really” a child, though, because she’s a parahuman. That’s obviously awful too, but it means their treatment of Kenzie is not their typical attitude towards children.

          4. Not to mention that juvenile incarceration facilities in the real world, at least in America, are known to be fairly violent in their own right.

          5. Yeah, extrapolating their treatment of foreign superhuman child soldiers to normal local kids is just silly.

            Also, the story does not say that Kenzie’s nose is broken. It only says that it’s bleeding; that can easily happen without it being broken.

            Hell, we don’t even know if she was struck intentionally in the first place. After all, Kenzie very specifically said that she walked into that elbow. She’s probably lying, but accidents do happen in a scuffle. It’s also possible she’s not injured at all and used a projection to fake it in order to avoid real injuries.

            Shin is fucked up, but let’s stick to roasting them over the things they’re actually doing. We’ve got plenty of ammo already; there’s no need to manufacture a bunch of hysterical bullshit to further justify disliking them.

          6. Its not so different from some refugee camps in some ways. Or real life “reeducation centres.”

  4. That tinker-thingamabob in Rain’s (man he’s got bad luck) stomach… How much was left on that things battery again? You know, before it the power fails and it phases back into a fully solid state? O_o

  5. And yet another crisis is pulled from the ether to make the Wardens ineffective and useless. Practically an infinite supply of those in this story.

    1. I swear I’ve seen a trope on TvTropes that was defined as “Most of the protagonist’s problems could be solved if the stronger heroes weren’t somehow busy with other stuff all the time”, but I can’t remember what it’s called.

        1. Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll get some interlude telling us all about all the huge threats the Wardens are dealing with. Wether or not it’ll succeed in convincing us is a different matter.

          1. Personally, I think that the universe of a story extending beyond the immediate concerns of the protagonist is a good thing. Doesn’t need to be in focus.

    2. Ineffective and useless *to the protagonist and her team* — not so useless to the world they are busy trying to save. And we know this is a dangerous, messed-up world.

      Hg

      1. The Wardens are utterly useless and ineffective to the story, because nothing they do is ever shown to have any effect on the world.

        Indeed, even the anti-parahuman movement would be potentially undercut if it was shown how much parahuman Heroes were working to keep them safe, but no. Everything the Wardens do is in complete secret against threats only they know about, and as stated Wilbow can pull this same stunt forever as an excuse to keep the status quo as crappy as possible and the fate of the world on the shoulders of troubled teenagers.

        Just as a fun exercise, let’s say the Wardens hypothetically didn’t exist. Would anything in this story change? No, because if the Wardens didn’t exist all these secret world ending crisis that pop up like weeds would go right out the window with them as elements in the story.

        1. I suppose that’s technically true, because the world would have ended from any one of dozens of threats if the Wardens weren’t doing their job, so there wouldn’t be a Gimel for Ward to take place in.

          I seems to me that guarding Gimel from world-ending threats is their main job and they instead try to give aid to other groups like Foresight and Advance Guard to handle lesser threats.

          1. This reminds me of Victoria’s monologue about the work of heroes from arc 2 when “if a hero does his work well and the streets are clean then people start thinking what they are paying you for
            And we know that the wordens dont shar their victories with the public so to not scare them.
            From what we saw in valkirie’s interlude some of them are very scary indeed and world ending for sure
            Maybe , functionally for the plot, having problems and the wordens not exist is thee same as javing them exist and cancel themselves out
            But I think it is importand for the world that these provlems do exist and someone does have to deal with them
            And additionally it adds an other point of complexity for the human/parahuman relationships.

          2. To echo Manukos thought…same thing happens in the IT industry all the time: if the IT team is doing their job right, everything works and everyone wonders why there is even an IT staff…but if things are broken and people actually have to deal with IT staff always fixing problems, people wonder why they are paying for an IT staff that can’t keep things working…IT never wins.

        2. I think this misses the fact that this is a Breakthrough story, not of the Wardens. What the Wardens are doing is important from a worldbuilding standpoint-and from the point that the protagonist isn’t being dumb and not asking for help when they could get it-but for Breakthrough’s story it only so far as it’s a constraint. A lot is happening in the multiverse and it’s left openings, Breakthrough needs to fill those openings to make things work.

      2. No they are actually useless, couldn’t stop two bit hacks like the Fallen, got absolutely owned by March right up until the point they killed her and were completely oblivious to the teacher situation going as far as to reprimand people because of his scheme. For fuck’s sake their most powerful hero couldn’t even enter their universe of operation because unexplained reasons. Machine Army marches on, 3 ex-birdcage prisoners gained massive power on their closest allied world, and Dauntless titan is looming. They absolutely suck.

    3. “And yet another crisis is pulled from the ether to make the Wardens ineffective and useless. Practically an infinite supply of those in this story.”

      I highly suspect Teacher is manufacturing problems for them. He’s not stupid. Even if no one has slipped outside of the Warden’s HQ, he’ll have his people doing psych evaluations on the people he can watch and intelligence analysis on the comings and goings at the Bunker. He very likely knows they’re planning something and is working to prepare. Thisi is one reason why the Wardens want as many points of entry as they can get on the old Cauldron base. A stronger attack form multiple fronts seems to be considered better in their eyes.

  6. Well, those assholes tried to make our heroes bleed but our heroes made them bleed MORE, which was pretty great. If they’ll continue to win prison fights like this one, nobody will dare to attack them anymore. Not even guardians. They’ll become the kings and queens of the prison.
    Miss was super badass but Theo…Taylor would be so disappointed seeing you having your ass kicked like this by a non-parahuman, Theo. Did you forgot so fast what she taught you?
    “If her path to happiness means weirdness, or blackmailing her parents, or staying up late tinkering, then I’ll support that,” Ashley said. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it does require those things. But if it did or if it does in the future, I wouldn’t necessarily stand in her way.” ASHLEY, THE BEST MOTHER OF THE CENTURY.
    The worst PAIN for Victoria: having ugly prison clothes. Nothing else can equal this pain.
    All in all, good prison fight. Those bastards were surely taught a HARSH lesson.

    1. Well, those assholes tried to make our heroes bleed but our heroes made them bleed MORE, which was pretty great.

      I don’t see it. It seemed like the only one of them really bleeding was the lady whose hand got split open. Maybe also the guard who Vicky deflected the one bolo at, but it wasn’t clear if he was actually injured. Breakthrough, on the other hand, have someone with a flayed hand, another with cuts from the wire, three people with knife wounds, and one bloody nose. I think like 70% of the blood in that encounter came from Breakthrough.

      Besides, how does it hurt the Shin governments if Breakthrough beat up some random convicts bribed to harass them? Unless they were special ops guys in disguise, Shin didn’t bleed at all (besides possibly that one guard, who is basically a nobody anyway). Just some disposable criminals nobody cares about.

      This was not in any way a win, and there is no “keep fighting and they’ll stop.” Shin has an essentially infinite number of prisoners to throw at them. Prisoners who, as Rain and Theo pointed out, welcome the opportunity to put their safety on the line in order to get their sentence over with and move on with life. If fights with results like that one continue, Breakthrough will either literally bleed to death through simple attrition or be forced to accept Amy’s ministrations.

      If Breakthrough want to win this, they need to not have many — preferably any — more fights like this. I don’t think they can be intimidating enough to deter further attempts without crossing the exact lines Shin is trying to make them cross. They’ll need to find another solution, either by getting out, getting allies, getting better at avoiding fights, or deterring Shin’s leadership from continuing in this vein in the first place.

      1. This whole ordeal is pointless anyway.
        If Shin wants to break contracts and let Gimel starve they will. What does it prove if some totally innocents are thrown into jail and abused?
        The only thing we see is that it was a BIG mistake to kill Goddess. Because she was a lot more rational and humane than those assholes.

        1. The way I see it strarving Gimel was never the point. Not really. It is all about:
          – showing Shin population that they can successfully handle foreign capes,
          – gaining a foothold in Gimel,
          – breaking Amy’s reluctance to follow orders she considers unethical.

          On that last point, why do you think they kept the elder Dallons on the planet? And why did they allow the family to interact with each other under watchful eyes of multiple guards? I’m certain that at least some of those guards have decent psychological training. Shin leadership must be delighted to have Victoria – she is such a perfect leverage against Amy after all. On that note I also don’t doubt that it is no accident that Victoria was the one who was the first person to be attacked in this chapter, and ended up with a wound that is likely to have long-lasting or permanent consequences if it is not treated by a parahuman like Amy?

          1. Accurately judging just how Gimel government responds to threats of having their supplies cut off and their heroes captured can also be important. Seeing that Citrine came to negotiate in person tells Shin that Gimel treats the situation seriously, and confirms that it is unwilling or unable to resolve the matter with force. Another thing Shin may be trying to learn is just how much is Gimel willing to yield when faced with threats they can’t just punch through (will they accept those Shin citizens arriving with transports?), and (perhaps most importantly) if Gimel will ultimately choose to rescue a handful of their capes over securing food and shelter for millions of their unpowered people.

            I imagine that answers to all of these questions will be critical to how Shin will try to shape its future relationships with Gimel.

          2. The best thing Gimel can do right now is to show that they unwilling to surrender despite having powers they may threaten to use (otherwise the threat would no longer be credible, and Shin would sooner or later invade the city), unwilling to compromise their moral integrity (Shin would never trust Gimel government led by capes if it happened), and unwilling to escalate the situation (if Taylor was the mayor, I imagine that Shin would already be preparing to nuke the city).

          3. …and Kenzie should keep gathering evidence of Shin crimes. Gimel clearly needs this sort of leverage against them, if only to rally its own population against Shin if the latter keeps pushing.

  7. Damn, Vic, that hand injury does not sound good. I figure it’s going to be hard to use that hand for a while now…unless it gets some kind of extra help, eh?

    1. I think Victoria would rather her hand be permanently disfigured and in constant agony than let Amy anywhere near it.

  8. Was it the hand that got shot or the hand burned with acid that got flensed? I know the Wretch has dozens to spare, but Victoria accrues damage on her meat arms at almost a Taylor-like rate.

    Also, Missy’s come-on to the Capricorn’s is still the highlight of this chapter. Victiria wallowing in recognizing her inobjectivity regarding Amy and the background uselessness of the Wardens is starting to get hella repetitive.

      1. The fact that Vista very clearly asked Byron about boundaries of a potential relationship, wasn’t surprised that he told her that they could never get to the second base, and offered to negotiate the terms with both brothers despite it, makes me feel 99% certain that she is perfectly aware that Tristan is gay.

        What is really admirable about how Vista handled things, is that unlike Moonsong she respects Tristan’s will and his unique situation in any relationship Byron ends up in. Moonsong wanted Tristan to unconditionally accept her relationship with Byron, she didn’t care much about Tristan’s feelings, and even resented him for being an obstacle. In my opinion Byron was right to break up with Moonsong, because what she wanted from him would be almost as unfair to Tristan, as Tristan’s stunt when he “killed” his brother was unfair to Byron.

        Effectively Moonsong wanted Byron to choose between her and Tristan, while Vista wants to see if they can reach an agreement which will be satisfying for all three of them.

        Finally the fact that Vista started this entire conversation in front of multiple witnesses, including entire Capricorn’s team also makes sense. This way she made sure that any of Capricorn’s teammates could protest if they thought that she and Byron are forcing Tristan to do something he would be uncomfortable with.

      2. Gicen that Missy originally crushed on Tristan and Victoria had to explain things to her, I’m plenty sure she’s aware and that’s why she’s wording things the way she does.

        Remember the whole inattainable armored knights talk?

  9. Cool bolas thing. Not a weapon I’d want to use without training, though. So where’d she learn how to use it? Particularly since the thing didn’t even have a decent handle and misusing it sliced that woman’s hand in half. Probably long term damage- unless she sees Amy, or they’re really good at surgery here. Which isn’t impossible, I guess.

    1. Well, she isn’t in the prison for nothing. Since she isn’t a parahuman either, to be convicted only because of her parahuman nature, she must be a criminal. One who probably used the wire to kill people with. I can see why she’s so good with.

      1. I don’t think this is that kind of prison. There’s children in here, after all. It’s ‘Rebuilding’, surely she’d fit ‘Contrition’ or something?

        And if she’s a criminal, why’d she learn such an unusual weapon when knives, guns, poisons and bricks kill just as easily and without being quite so dangerous to the wielder? I’d say she was more of a circus performer with an impressive, dangerous skill.

        1. Or maybe she’s a sadistic criminal who believed that knives and guns are not brutal enough to satisfy her sadistic needs.
          Or a criminal circus performer, yes.
          Just look at the fun she had horrible mutilating Vic’s poor hand. Only someone sadistic would have attacked with such ferocity and cruelty. She’s a sadistic criminal who hate parahumans.
          As for the children locked there, maybe they’re criminals too? Or their parents are criminals and they’re locked with them as additional punishment for their parents to have their children suffer because of their crimes?

          1. I see this prison as a mixture between parahumans, criminals and people who were anti-government (so called political prisoners). They want to rebuild the most dangerous elements of their society into “better” people. I think this prison have the worst kind of prisoners, or the ones that Shin considers to be the worst.

          2. Shin’s giving me a… North Korean I guess for lack of a better way to describe it feeling for how their prisons operate, and how NK has the generational Gulags, something that the civilized world finds barbaric.

          3. An idea that occurred to me, actually- maybe on Shin some group of professional assassins survived to the modern period. We’ve had several throughout history, though they usually managed to annoy people and get wiped out. The Hashashin were destroyed by the Mongols after killing somebody important, and the ninja… I’m not sure what happened to them.

        2. This is the facility for rehabilitating people, yes. However, note the part where Victoria talks about this group of prisoners being brought into the prison after them, already wearing vet-gear, and then immediately heading to their position to watch and brood. The implication is clear. They don’t belong here. They were imported from some other facility specifically to harass Breakthrough. If Citrine or Amy presses the prison officials about it, it’ll surely turn out to be a matter of “misfiled paperwork” or some bullshit excuse like that.

        3. > I don’t think this is that kind of prison. There’s children in here, after all.
          “they punish harshly for wrongdoing or even accidents”
          And as Grinvader noted in comments – Shin’s “prioritize consequences over intent in legal matters”.
          If children’s actions lead to death of someone, he probably will be considered murderer and treated like one – in prison with other murderers.

    2. my call is she’s a spec ops/military/millitia plant- seems like a weapon needing too much skill/training for a “normal” prison weapon aside from the numerous questions about where they GOT it from- probably not anything special ops cause that weapon’s SUSPICIOUSLY complicated/exotic for a prisoner-built prison weapon-not exactly stealthy…
      …..was that “just” razor wire, or something monomolecular?

  10. Vista, while I appreciate your bravery, and consideration on having this conversation in front of the narrator so the audience could see it, isn’t this a rather personal conversation to be having in front of the entirety of breakthrough, plus golem? Putting Byron on the spot a wee bit there, no?

    1. Sveta was asleep. Rain, Ashley, and Theo couldn’t care less. Any conversation with Byron will be heard by at least Kenzie and Tristan. Vista probably enjoyed sharing that sort of thing with “Big V”, since they had been romantic rivals of a sort before. Scandalous!

      1. Actually I would argue that the reason why Vista wanted to have that conversation in front of witnesses from Breakthrough, who also happen to be Capricorn’s primary support group, was that this gave them a chance to later check to see if the brothers (especially Tristan) are comfortable with what she proposed and if what she did was otherwise harmless to both the brothers and the overall team dynamic and protest if they thought it was not the case.

        The fact that some of the Breakthrough members were asleep at the time really doesn’t matter much, considering that the ones who were awake can, an most likely will fill them in at some point in the near future, if they haven’t already.

        1. Another likely reason why Vista didn’t wait to discuss things with Byron in a more private setting could be that she is still in the mindset she described when she was explaining Solarstare’s behavior and High Hill Bravo to Victoria in chapter 13.3.

          She is a young warrior who knows that she may simply have no time to “wait for a better opportunity”, either with Byron or with someone else. She knows that if she doesn’t act fast they may be separated at any moment, or that even one or both of them may die soon. And she is used to a concept of discussing such things (and more) around “A lot of people aged sixteen to twenty-five with not enough supervision, just thrown in together with bunk beds and sleeping bags”.

          It is not impossible to think that it never even occurred to Vista that Byron and Tristan may want more privacy during such discussion. Remember that in chapter 13.1 she was also entirely comfortable with discussing her “battle scars” in private places after only telling the boys to “cover their ears”. It was basically the similar idea – no reason for more than a token privacy or for dancing around sex-related topics too much.

          It is actually quite realistic – for example a lot of young girls who fought in various resistance groups during WWII ended up being pregnant with children of boys from their units. Similar thing with young people who didn’t fight themselves, but weren’t certain how long they will manage to live in an occupied country with war happening in and all around it.

  11. Typo thread.

    > We had settled down in an area of the prison the gangs seemed to stay away from, because the conditions weren’t great-it was cold enough there was a puddle of water in the corner with hints of ice at the edges- and because it was under the cameras.

    Add a space before the first dash?

    > A woman with a strip of material with a tight knot at the end had been stopped by guards.

    There are two spaces between ‘material’ and ‘with’.

  12. “Fuck you,” Sveta said.

    “Yeah,” Amy said. She sounded disappointed.”

    Yes, yes, we all know which member of Breakthrough you want to fuck.

    “Again, I looked up at the perch, absent my sister. She’d disappeared around the time I’d puked. Just… walked away. The opposite of help.”
    And if she’d stayed you’d be bitching about that just as much, while trying to refuse any help she offered you and your team. At least Vicky admits she can’t make a fair call on Amy.

  13. I’d like to say that in Hindsight, this chapter was fail. It lacked something so important that I just won’t ever be able to enjoy Ward ever again.

    There was no speech from the Warden on how things work in his prison when they arrived. You can’t do a prison story without the warden speech! I mean how could Wildbow mess up like that! And you have to do it when they first arrive! You can’t insert it later, it just doesn’t work!

    The above was a joke.

  14. So someone on Spacebattles pointed something out. At the end of this chapter Victoria has a blood red hand, with missing fingertips. Kinda Mirrors something with Amy doesn’t it?

    1. Good job, now Vicky’s going to lop it off at the wrist as soon as she notices.
      Then she’ll ask Rain for a chainsaw replacement. Hail to the king, baby.

  15. Interesting prison. We had a lot of talk about how Shin society was bad if they maintained old-fashioned brutal punishments. But here they are looking at 20-year sentences taken out of a person’s life without seriously trying to reform them, and they see *that* as the barbaric practice.

    And are they necessarily wrong?

    Long-term sentences can be necessary in some cases; it’s easy to point out scenarios (most Birdcage inmates, in-setting). And certainly a long-term prison sentence *could* be implemented in a completely humane manner. But what proportion in the US are truly necessary? How humane are our prison terms, if rape is taken for granted in our prisons?

    The text is explicit on this point, and the text is kind of right. Shin prisons are transparently awful. But are they worse than what happens in modern America or China?

    Debateable.

      1. Vista, Golem, and every member of Breakthrough besides Sveta came from the USA, so when they make unqualified comparisons to Shin’s prisons, they’re probably comparing to the USA’s prisons. If the story is comparing Shin’s prisons to the USA’s prisons, then it’s only natural to talk about the USA’s prisons when discussing that comparison.

      2. Who or what’s Canadian? The author?

        Sveta is the only Breakthrough member who is so much as a hyphenated-American, I think. The rest were implied to have been born in the US.

        Weird question.

  16. Every time a parahuman… threw away all pretense of showmanship to go hard at the efficient, rational route, they were edging us collectively toward this.

    Could we win, if we went all out? Probably. But would that lead us to a world we wanted to live in?

    Big V going in hard on a certain someone and her methods, make no mistake.

    1. Big V is bad at vocabulary. Rational methods by definition do not predictably lead to undesirable results; they can only lead to undesirable results if those results are not practical to predict. If Vicky can predict that brutality results in a more undesirable outcome than not being brutal, then she shouldn’t consider brutality rational in the first place. Victoria is confusing rationality with shortsightedness and tunnel vision.

      1. I somewhat disagree, I think. Rational methods only work in the abstract.

        In the real world, humans are animals who rationalize what they feel like doing, while insisting they are rational animals. [See: The Protagonist Who Must Not Be Named] So long as it is humans who are implementing rational methods, they will do so irrationally.

  17. Yikes that degloving/fingernail loss is absolutely nasty.
    And unlike Taylor, Victoria can’t just get Amy to heal it because… yeah.

  18. Why has nobody, as far as I can see, commented that it seems very brave of Citrine to come to Shin in this situation? Do you think she has some way to guarantee her safety? Or maybe she thinks that for some reason not coming to personally would lead to even worse results than anything Shin governments can do to her (like cutting off supplies to Gimel for example)? Perhaps she is simply that loyal to “her” people who not only defended her during a debate with Garry, but didn’t stop there and risked going to Shin as an indirect result of that discussion?

    1. Yes, she has a guarantee. Several of them. Number Man and the Number Boys. Besides, she’s a world leader (literally), arresting her would have far more severe consequences than arresting a bunch of children and young adults who are visiting to clarify a point made by a diplomatic mission. Because now I’ve typed that, I guess it’s possible to see Breakthrough not as diplomats but as specialist experts brought in to clarify a point raised in diplomatic talks, which means they might not be covered by diplomatic immunity.

      1. I never doubted that she can get powered bodyguards. Likely more than just the Harbingers – it could be a mistake to depend only on people Shin may expect to come with her. There are two problems with this solution however. First is that Shin governments control the terrain, and may have cape support. If they made a deal with Amy’s group, why not some others? Why not even convince some of the parahumans who came with Amy to Shin to help them with this matter. It is not like all of those people are particularly loyal to Gimel government. There is also a fact that Luis was hinted to have powers… and the fact that Citrine, Number Man, and his clones can, like most capes, be easily defeated using completely mundane means. All that is needed is good understanding of their powers and a plan that takes those into account. None of them are for example bulletproof, or immune to poison.

        If Citrine has a guarantee, it must take a form of threat of serious repercussions if something happens to her, or a cape or power Shin couldn’t plan for in advance, or adjust their plans for once they know about this new factor. Imp comes to mind as a possibility. The problem with the latter solution is that, once again, Shin may have capes who can counter such surprises. The problem with the former (and with diplomatic immunity) is that with Wardens, and likely other hero teams otherwise occupied, and the mayor freshly revealed to the public as a known villain, it could be possible to use Shin contacts among Gimel anti-parahumans to stage something that would lead to overthrowing Citrine as the head of Megalopolis’ government, making any hero response to her capture (or possibly even death) difficult.

        It may even be Shin’s plan – lure Citrine out, give the heroes better things to do, and replace her with someone like Gary when no one in the city is in a position to do something about it. If Shin plays its cards right, such move could even have a wide public support among the population of Megalopolis (and possibly even some Gimel capes), further complicating and delaying any attempts of heroes to rescue her or punish Shin for their attack – possibly even to a point that no such attempt would be made.

        I am perfectly aware that it is a crazy conspiracy theory, and that Shin governments are probably neither in position, nor willing to risk doing something like that. But who knows? They may be a part of some big conspiracy opposing Citrine. We know that those exist. Teacher’s Cauldron is just one example, and Shin may want to work with him, because of what he could give them (for example a deal similar to what Chiet got), because he could easily find a way to master key people in Shin governments, and because his forces opposed Goddess in the prison.

        1. Citrine is a world leader. As in, she’s the duly elected leader of Earth Gimel. Kidnapping her means war. And who even knows about the Harbinger clones? And what they can do? Nobody knows they’re Number Man clones, because nobody knows Harbinger retired into Cauldron as Number Man. They’re combat thinkers, but… That’s a very limited understanding of their powerset and what they can do. Number Man and Citrine keep them quiet.

          Shin would not work with Teacher, except unknowing. Teacher is everything that Shin fears about parahumans, and they’d be foolish to get into his clutches.

          1. Citrine may be the closest thing Gimel may have to a world leader (though she is certainly not that – she is a major of just one city – perhaps the biggest one on all Earths, but Gimel has settlements on more than one continent), but it probably wouldn’t mean much if she was removed from her position while on Shin? What if for example some anti-parahumans manage to find or fabricate some legal pretext to say that a cape couldn’t take her position, or that she couldn’t do it without revealing that she used to be a villain first? And considering how strong the anti-parahuman sentiment seems to be, and how strong ties Shin may have to Gimel anti-parahumans, removing Citrine from power via something like a coup or an uprising could also be possible right after she was revealed to be not only a cape, but also a former villain. It could even be the crisis the Wardens are dealing with at the moment.

            Also remember that if Gimel heroes are unable or unwilling to act for whatever reason, Gimel simply has no chance of winning a war against Shin. I would argue that Gimel may be unable to win such war with its capes, and only achieve mutual destruction instead.

            Here are ideas about who besides the Harbingers Citrine could bring as her support. She seems to have good working relationship with Faultline’s crew. The obvious C53s would probably be unsuited for this mission, but maybe not Matryoshka? Shamrock, Faultline or even Scrub (if he is still with the crew) also seem possible. Old Cauldron members, and people with ties to it could also fit, except those working with Teacher of course. Possibilities include Balminder a.k.a. The Dealer, and Legend. Amy would probably say something about Legend if she recognized him, but if he came in his civilian identity… Undersiders like Imp or possibly Snuff could also work as parts of Citrine’s bodyguard. Last, but not least Citrine probably could mobilize the remaining Ambassadors in a situation like this.

            In any case Wardens couldn’t reach Citrine right after the debate between Gary and Breakthrough, because her phone was busy then, which makes me think that she might have been gathering allies like the ones mentioned above. Maybe even also calling in some favors with capes who owed those to Cauldron (as was the case with Barfbat in Citrine’s interlude).

          2. Just FYI, the term “world leader” doesn’t mean somebody who literally leads an entire planet. It refers to leaders who operate on the world stage — the leaders of nations and such. As the mayor of a city-state with a population somewhere between Spain’s and Germany’s, Citrine qualifies.

    2. I agree that Citrine coming to Shin sounds dangerous for her.
      I’d even go so far to say that it is possible, that Shin set all this up to get rid of Citrine, thinking she is a cape tyrant like goddess or maybe even just because they want to send a message that a cape leader is a no-go.

  19. woah that was INTENSE. god victoria got fucked up real bad, im scared that shes going to be forced into being healed by amy…. i can only imagine how TERRIFYING thats going to be

    on the more positive side, vista x byron is shaping up to be a really cute ship with healthy communication and boundaries. i like her so proactively getting along with the in laws, lol. it will probably be very good for the twins for byron to have a girlfriend who ISNT in mutual hate with his brother. (in a more meanly humorous way, it is so classic byron that his new girlfriend originally had a (brief) crush on tristan)

    also, the kids team is ALWAYS hooked up together? i mean i can see how thatd be kenzies idea of heaven, but i can also see how aiden is feeling stifled with that added on top of kenzies whole kenzieness in general. i feel like being constantly affected by darlenes power is gonna have some negative longterm repurcussions, either by a subtle influence from her power that is heretofore undiscovered or just plain psychological repurcurssions bc wow evolution sure af didnt have THAT in mind when it molded the human brain. ……. i also love it tho, its SO interesting and i wanna see what happens. i love the kid team, theyre so tight knit

  20. Fuck, a degloving injury? Unless Shin has much better medical tech than we do, that’s an amputated hand unless Victoria lets Amy fix her.

    1. So in other words, this whole Shin excursion is really a clever slight of hand by Rain as he slowly but steadily increases his iron grip on Breakthrough. I mean, doesn’t anyone else find it a suspicious coincidence that the formerly racist guy whose power is to make hands was hanging out with the other formerly racist guy whose power is to make hands, away from the group and just out of camera range, not all that long before the anti-hand yo-yo master showed up to scope her target out? It makes you wonder what other sorts of sinisterly dexterous manipulations he and his hand-bro were getting up to.

      I’m going to laugh when we learn that the fifth dream space contains none other than one of Theo’s giant fists, with a face drawn in blood on the thumb and index knuckle.

  21. An open discussion on how the prison system brainwashes, followed by the Gimel troup being hurt and needing medical “treatment”.

    I can feel Amy bargaining herself away to keep Vicky safe, and Shin will soon have an even more efficient brainwashing prison system

    1. That is a scary thought. But I can totally see that happening.
      Amy is still the most tragic, misjudged figure in this story.

  22. I JUST broke of a significant chunk of my nail (on the fleshy bit) so, yeah. Thanks for that, Wildbow :<

  23. Some cool stuff here but I didn’t need that flensing-yoyo mental image in my head. Wildbow’s great at finding new ways to squick me out 😛

    Also I got a ‘you are posting too fast’ error message when I tried posting a reply to someone, though I haven’t posted in days.

  24. I don’t get why they’re even in there. I mean, let’s look at the big picture for Shin:
    – You’ve got a neighbour world full of capes, run by capes.
    – The neighbour world got rid of your cape-tyrant for you
    – The neighbour world needs resources so that non-capes survive the winter
    So why would you imprison the neighbour world’s capes and attack them? Especially since it’s not even them who did something wrong, but Amy.
    The only reason I can think of would be to force a war with the neighbour world, falsely assuming that those capes are tyrants too.
    In which case I’d say it is a terrible idea for Citrine to come anywhere near Shin. I’d guess Shin wants to get rid of her, assuming she is another goddess-wanna be, after it was revealed that she is a cape.

    1. The text has made it quite clear that Shin’s government is like those IRL: not a monolith, with each different constituent decision-affecting party driven more by random impulse than by a sense of collective good. Why? There’s always a “why”, each more horrific than the ones we’ve seen before.

  25. “Spooky stuff is when I’m lying in bed staring at the ceiling, and I start thinking about what if I never figure it out, you know? What if I’m never better and I spend the rest of my life pushing people away, and every morning and every night I wake up without a family, and every Christmas it’s just me buying myself a present. Always just me, you know, smiling smiling smiling…”
    Well, that certainly didn’t strike a chord. No sirree.

    Big props to Little V for making moves and hopefully WB didn’t just bait us into letting our guard down with Sveta’s situation before springing some injury complications. Great chapter

  26. Excellent degloving mental image.

    Excellent implications.

    Excellent fear.

    Excellent “You want blood?!”.

    I prepared a slightly longer and concise review, but this is probably better.

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