Breaking – 14.11

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The guards escorted me to Sveta’s holding cell.  The setup wasn’t so different than the room we’d met Citrine in- walls that looked like concrete, with high windows and textured glass that, I was assuming, let them look in from one side, while distorting our view looking at them from our side.  Diagonal bars separated Sveta’s side of the cell from me, but the room was long, and two-thirds of it were devoted to Sveta’s side.  Once I seated myself on the stool and a female guard stood between Sveta and I, the setup of the room made me feel like I was the prisoner in the cell.

Sveta’s hair had been combed with her fingers.  She’d pulled on a prison-supplied tunic, keeping her shirt, but tying it around her waist, in a loose approximation of what the veteran prisoners had done.  One of the sleeves had a bloodstain.  Her arm had been bandaged where it had been cut, but even there, the way blood had soaked into the bandaging suggested a wound more like a piece had been taken out of her, shaped something like a cross between a jigsaw piece and a lightning bolt.  She had no stool, only two worn mattresses and a pile of old clothing she’d left in one corner.  A single hose that dangled to waist height stuck out of the wall, near a drain that I was guessing served double duty as shower and toilet.

She walked over to the wall and slumped down into a seating position by the bars there.  I remained at the stool.

She studied me.

“Hi,” she said.  “Are you okay?”

“As far as I can tell,” I said.  “They’re watching and recording us?”

I made it a question, but it was a statement.

“Maybe.  You look more done with this than I am.”

“Pretty much,” I said.  “We’re guessing it won’t be much longer.  Jeanne Wynn said she’d pull strings.  I talked to Amy after I woke up-”

“Siblings are tough,” Sveta said, quiet, her eyes intense and searching as she studied me.

“All family is, in a sense,” I said.  I suppressed a sigh and changed the subject, “We’re guessing it won’t be long.  An hour at most, probably half that.”

“Educated guess or…?”

“Kenzie guess, really.  We know Jeanne is quick.”

Sveta nodded.

“We think it’s either going to be Natalie or someone else like Armstrong.”

Sveta looked a bit surprised.  “Another Kenzie guess?”

I nodded.  “We were thinking who we’d want to have there when we get out, worried family members, friends.  Ashley thought Armstrong made sense, and the more we thought about it, we thought it was likely.  He’d want to help if he could and he does have some clout, he knows Jeanne a bit.”

Sveta nodded, and her face relaxed a bit from the line of thinking alone.

Armstrong was the kind of guy who had that effect on people.  He’d leaped from a position at the University to a position of being consultant to the early Boston PRT, then full-time staff, and ultimately director.  He was responsible for rescuing Weld after Weld had been dropped off, an amnesiac with a head and part of a chest, left in a scrapyard.  He’d treated Weld as the closest thing to family.  He’d looked after the original Ashley, reaching out and trying to coax the supervillain into a position with the PRT.  When Sveta had started dating Weld, he’d accepted her as readily as he’d accepted Weld, even going so far as to fund her prosthetic body.

He was someone who cared.  Who looked for answers.

It hardly needed to be said, but Kenzie’s ‘guesses’ about timeline and Armstrong coming weren’t guesses.  We’d been thinking about plans, about who we wanted to come and pick us up, and Ashley had suggested we ask Darlene and Candy to ask Armstrong to come for Sveta.

I had little doubt Ashley had wanted to see him too, but we had collectively glossed over that detail.

Once he’d caught up on the situation, Armstrong had reached out to the mayor Jeanne Wynn.

“Knowing it could be soon makes the waiting harder,” Sveta said.  “Especially with everything else going on.”

“Yeah.”

“But I have you for company for the next five minutes,” she said.

“Makes me think of the hospital.  A lot of moments where I wanted to make the most of our limited time together, but not knowing what to say.”

“We hung out so much we ran out of things to say.  But having you around is nice, even if we aren’t talking every second.”

“Do you remember the drama when they rolled out that whole patient chat thing?” I asked.

“They regretted that about five minutes after turning it on,” Sveta said, smiling.  “I think about half of the technical downtimes were to give hospital staff a chance to recover.”

“They eventually outsourced the management,” I said.  “You were gone by then.”

The patient chat had been voice chat and instant messages for patients who couldn’t leave their rooms but who had access to computers or phones.  There was more limited access for people like Sveta and I, who had needed more specialized interfaces for using keyboards.  Pullable ball-tipped knobs for Sveta with a spaced out key arrangement, while I’d had the knobs unscrewed and removed, just using the spaced out keys.

Thinking about the events, schedule, and timeline reminded me that I hadn’t actually been in the hospital with Sveta for all that long.  She’d left not all that long after I’d arrived.

“Did we ever look up what happened to Earl?  Buzzer?” Sveta asked.  “I know he was one of the real personalities in the patient chat.  He graduated out, didn’t he?””

Earl had had an always-on power that produced an abrasive noise at volumes loud enough to cause permanent ear damage, audible from halfway across the city.

“Yeah.  He met someone who could ‘eat’ powers.  Drain the power gradually down over time, get stronger from it.  They had a thing going, until it turned sketchy,” I said.  “The eater got controlling.”

“Shit.”

“Just something that happens when you put two people together, sometimes.  He went back to the hospital, and then a few weeks later left to go work in a remote location, I think.”

“Hey, good for him,” Sveta said.

“Nicest person in a face to face conversation, but when it came to the online stuff he was a drama magnet.”

“Yeah.  What about, uh, Keelee?  She graduated out.”

“Yep.  She remotely signed into patient chat a few times.  Worked online at a call center.”

“Good for her.”

Keelee had regressed in age every time she’d used her time manipulation power.  Weeks, months, and years regressed as she’d become a teenager, then a kid.  The regression was fast to set in, and the only way to go the other way was real, actual, unwarped time.

I wouldn’t say it while Shin might be listening, but Keelee had joined a criminal group with the plan of defrauding a wealthy family in France.  In a fit of unbelievable, unfathomable, possibly addiction-induced recklessness and stupidity, she’d intentionally de-aged herself to the apparent age of three years old, while maintaining all of her mental faculties.  The idea had been to get adopted into the art-loving family after showcasing ‘natural’ artistic and musical talent she had learned from classes.  A text-focused thinker in the crew to get her into the registries, a tinker on contract to make a few forged toys that doubled as communication devices so they could be her handler…

But the tinker had bailed because the job was an enterprise that would take years, and they were too impatient.  The text thinker had bailed when the family had adopted a handsome three year old boy instead, who had showed zero ability with finger paint or music.

Leaving Keelee in her de-aged state, an absolute monster onlineOffline, she’d complained constantly about wanting cigarettes, which the nurses refused to let her have, except on her birthday.

Gossip, talking about powers and patients, it made a good way to pass time while occupying the mind, because there had always been something going on, even while we’d been in limbo.

Sveta asked about Roos, AKA ‘Jacked’, who had surgically removed his own body parts to implant hypermuscular cyborg replacements, and did just fine for himself until he got hurt in a fight.  He’d left the hospital after weeks, which had been enough time for the natural degradation of tinker stuff over time to ruin his implanted parts.  With broken parts he hadn’t been able to collect materials or earn cash to buy the materials, couldn’t keep up with tinkering.  His health had suffered, and he’d ended up at the Asylum, trying to get stable so he could get back on his feet, literally.  I told her he’d passed.  Even with the hospital’s help, he hadn’t bounced back.

There were ones who’d ‘graduated’, ones who’d left or outright escaped, and ones who would have stayed for a lifetime, had Gold Morning not cut those lifetimes short.

“I wish Armstrong had met some of them,” Sveta said.  “He was always super interested in the weird cases, parahuman research, all that geek stuff.  He’d love to collab with these guys, since they’re apparently fantastic at deciphering this stuff.”

I might be interested, forgetting everything else,” I told her.  Thinking about the ‘everything else’ put a bit of a damper on my mood, after the lighter conversation.

Lighter but not ‘light’.  Even now, I was kind of strategizing, and I was pretty sure Sveta was picking up on what I was trying to do.  Keeping things positive, highlighting that parahumans had issues too.  Now we talked about positives.

I wasn’t lying, though.  A big part of me wanted to work with anyone who could help decipher parahumans and powers, especially with what Amy had said.  Everything on the line, cracks spreading, broken triggers on the scale of Dauntless happening in greater frequency and numbers.

Yes, they’d tried to hurt us or kill us.  They were after our reputations, all for the sake of political points.  They had a twisted view that we were in a separate box from everyone else, and we thus didn’t ‘count’ when it came to the terms of war or diplomacy.

In their eyes, killing one of us was worth thirty of their own dying.  To wound all of us with something as fuzzy as temporarily detaining a group that had just been on television for causing issues?  They viewed it as worth a possible diplomatic crisis.  Miss Militia or Jeanne Wynn?  Too high profile, too problematic.  Us?  We were more acceptable as targets.

And I wasn’t ruling out that Amy or Chris had said or done something.

There were a hundred things I wanted to talk to Sveta about, but we chattered instead, keeping up the lighter tone, talking around the elephants in the room, and tried to convey a positive image.

“I’m anxious to get back to the hero stuff,” Sveta said.  “Help people, um, I know Weld isn’t waiting for me at home anymore or anything, but I do look up to him still.”

“Even if he is a bit dumb about stuff.”

“About relationship stuff.  And he’s inexperienced, not dumb.  So am I.  But I want to live up to the standards he set.  For him and for Armstrong.”

“Yeah.  Do…” I started, hesitating.  Sveta tilted her head to one side.  “…Do you see yourself dating again?  Finding a guy?”

“I want to find myself first.  Then yes.”

“Cool.  I’ll look forward to that.”

“Aren’t you afraid I’m going to talk your ear off or obsess with stars in my eyes, like I did way back then?”

“Nah,” I said, my voice soft.  “Nah, I like seeing you happy, and you were happy in those moments.”

“And happier when I met him, thanks to you.  Happier when I met him again, after screwing up the first time, thanks to you.  Happier when I went with him and got to go out into the world, thanks to you.”

I dropped my eyes to the floor.  I supposed Weld had told her, that I’d had to convince him to go back and talk to her.  That she needed the support.

“Sorry it didn’t work out.”

“No.  I grew a ton as a person.  I was such a kid back then.  I’m glad, even if, even now, it hurts.”

I nodded.

She shifted position.  Her head rested back against the wall, staring across the room at the wall while she asked, “Is it weird if I see myself with another Case Fifty-Three?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t think so, but it depends on rationale.”

“Just… a part of me still wants to belong to that.  Fat chance, though, right?  They’re not fans of me.”

“Some are, I’m sure.”

Sveta shrugged.

“You and Egg, huh?

Sveta made a face.

“In all seriousness, it’s cool.  Knowing what you like.”

“I think I like it.  It’s hard to say for sure.  It might be me wanting to belong, like I said, and I’m misinterpreting that.  I don’t think I do know what I like, only what I kind of expect or assume by default.”

Fuck, there was a lot to unpack there, but I didn’t have the energy to get into it.

“Don’t mind me,” Sveta sad.  “Getting lost in my own head.”

“Nah, you’re fine,” I said.

“I hate this,” she said.  “I hate all of this so much, and I know I have no right to complain, but it really sucks that I finally have a real body, a really good compromise between having a power and being normal, and we run into these guys, who are dead set on making me out to be a monster.”

“You know you aren’t though, you know?”

“I know but I don’t feel it,” she said.  “My feelings are taking a while to catch up with things, and then this is dragging those feelings the opposite way.  It’s fucking with me.”

“It ends soon,” I told her.

“Maybe.  Sorry.  I shouldn’t be complaining.  Not when-”

I shifted position, scratching at and tugging on my ear.

“-there are so many bigger, realer things to worry about.”

“It’s big enough and real enough to you,” I told her.  “It’s who you are.  That’s massive.”

“Yeah.  I don’t know why I put it that way.”

A good thirty seconds passed where we didn’t talk.  The guard that stood by the bars looked a touch restless, which put me on edge, but that didn’t seem to be the prelude to anything.  Nobody was audible in the hallway, and nothing came of the restlessness.

“Thank you for coming,” she said.  “I was so anxious, when you got hurt.  Then we didn’t get attention, and then when we did, it all went wrong.  You’re really okay?”

“M and S protocol, but okay.”

I saw her eyebrows knit together for a second before she forced them apart.  She clenched one hand, then rubbed it with her other hand, before tracing that hand up her arm to her wound.  Her voice, though, remained casual, as she said, “That’s a pain.”

I shrugged.  “Mark and Aunt Sarah.”

“Ugh, family,” she said.

“Yeah.  Family,” I said, sighing.

Our tone remained casual.  A few more names that anyone overhearing wouldn’t necessarily pick up on.  Only the use of the word ‘protocol’ would stand out.

I could hear footsteps in the hallway.

Time was up already?

“I’ll help when I can, once we’re out of this,” Sveta said.  “Mark and Sarah or no.”

“Yeah.  We should be out soon, so just stay safe.”

“Yeah,” she said.

The door opened.  More guards.  My escort.

The prisoners in these cells got up to five minutes of company up to three times a day, never the same person more than once.  Shin viewed the family unit as something to keep together, so the policy was meant to let kids visit parents and parents provide guidance to kids.  There were cultural aspects in the midst of it all.

“Thanks for keeping me sane,” Sveta said.

“Likewise,” I told her.

The guards liked to manhandle us, to put hands on us and guide us, forcing us to move.  I didn’t fight them on it, though I did flinch slightly as one suddenly brought a hand near my eye.  It made him smirk, as he pushed on the back of my head, driving it forward and down, while two more shoved my back and shoulder, respectively.

Back toward the central complex of the prison.  Toward hallways and faintly uneven floors, moisture and people milling about.  Toward prisoners who would attack us and guards who would stand by or help.

Once I was through the doors and the doors were shut, I had no escort.  I was left to rely on memory to navigate, and my thoughts felt as tender as the most damaged parts of my body did after a physio session.  Every road was a dangerous one, that could provoke pain or surges of emotion, and I had to remain calm.  One foot in front of the other, every second got us closer to that release.

Closer to the raid, leaping into a bad situation.

Ashley found me, falling into step next to me.

“She’s mostly fine,” I told her.

“No she isn’t,” she replied.  Her face was drawn, tense.  “Emergency.”

“What?”

“This way,” she said.

She didn’t move her head, but she flicked her eyes up and over.  With the special projection cameras removed from her eyes and her power not having seen recent use, her pupils were visible, and even her irises had some gray to them.

Camera.

In another hallway, a child screamed.  Another child screamed back.  Then there was laughter between the two.  When I turned my head to look, I saw one of the attackers from earlier in the day.  A guy with the ragged cloth decoration marking him as a veteran prisoner.

A kid ran up to him, smashing face into stomach, wrapping arms around pelvis.  She peered through a mop of messy black hair to look up at him, then over at me.  No older than eight, and she wore the same veteran clothing as the guy I was assuming was her dad.

This fucking world.

The team was assembled in one of the back hallways.  Ashley leaned over my way.  “This is contested turf, but we need it.  They aren’t pressing us hard yet, but if the day got longer, I think they might fight us for it.”

“Why do we need it?” I asked.  It was furthest from the plaza, and moisture had settled in the lowest point, where there was probably supposed to be a drain, except it had clogged.  I wasn’t sure why it was so in demand.

“We’re mostly out of camera sight here, and the one camera has water on the lens, courtesy of my brother.  They don’t want us leaving unscathed and we need privacy if we’re going to do something about it,” Tristan said.  He kicked a scrap of cloth too small to wrap around anything into the water.  “They want Armstrong.”

“What?”

“If we’d sent Natalie they might have gone after her, but Armstrong is worse for them, I think.  Believes the opposite of what they do.”

“Start from the beginning,” I told him.

“Yosef’s faction, the hardline guys from the meeting, Kenzie says they’re pulling something, they want to stage an attack.”

Kenzie looked around, then slapped the wall.  She blinked a few times.  “Listened in on the phones, my team gave it to Miss Militia to translate, she got back to us while you were gone.”

“And they want to hurt Armstrong.”

Tristan answered while Kenzie fiddled.  “They were trying to figure out what Sveta is capable of.  They were talking about her before, but they figured out that she changed her body after one of their people called people she knew.  They want to lead Armstrong to some place and kill him in a way that makes it look like Sveta did it.  Then they can hold us indefinitely or execute us, they take out one of our side’s allies and big players, and they make the Founders and Coalition look bad.”

“Founders are Luis’s group, closest to Goddess’s old power structure.”

“And the Coalition are the guys who weren’t at the meeting,” Vista supplied.  “Coalition and Founders manage this prison.”

Kenzie pulled her hand away from the wall.  I saw the weapon she held, like a knife a foot long.  She’d combined two of the projection lenses into a single long one.  She looked around, then stuck it into the wall.  I saw her squint one eye, then the other.

“They’re more or less on the same side when it comes to parahumans but they still compete and have big differences when it comes to other politics,” Ashley said.  “And they’re new.  When you look at gangs and governments, the newly established ones are the most insecure and reckless.”

“It isn’t how it should be, but it happens,” Rain said.  “Even with the Fallen, a family would get too large, people would leave and try to set up shop elsewhere, filled with motivation and new ideas, and they’d make messes.  I remember hearing about it.”

“Everywhere,” Ashley said.  “Everyone, every time.”

“Almost every time,” Kenzie said.

“Do tell,” Ashley replied.

“I think the future Kingdom of Damsel will be flawless.”

“You’re sweet,” Ashley said.  “But let’s focus.”

“Right.  Poking my eye into the wall, and… this’ll work.”

“What are they rigged to do?” I asked.

“Give me a look on the other side, tap into phone lines, and boost signals for my tech.  It’s still not great.  Lots of dense stone wall.”

“Do we break through and intercept?” I asked.  “It fucks a lot of things up.”

Kenzie talked while running a hand along the wall, “They’re stuck, trying to figure out what works as a way that is unequivocally Breakthrough murdering Armstrong, but in a way that doesn’t alert the Coalition or Founders that they’re up to something.  If it was old Sveta they could strangle him.  But it’s not and they don’t know how she works now, except that she’s made of ribbons, so they debated it for about three minutes.  Now they’re talking about framing Rain- large clean cuts, framing Byron, except they’re confused about if he’s here, and framing Ashley-”

“Structural damage and big holes,” I said.

Kenzie nodded vigorously.  “They’re unsure about convincingly doing all of those, which means it’s down to me, I don’t really do weapons, or you, Victoria.”

“Smashing him,” I said, my voice hollow.

“They’re getting the pieces in motion.  The problem is, they aren’t going to bring him to us where we can stop them.  They’re on the other side of big walls.”

I started to follow Kenzie, but Tristan put a hand on my shoulder.  I looked at him.

“Do me a favor, stay put?” he asked.

I glanced at him, looked around, and then looked at the water.  The murky pool near the blocked drain had a faint glimmer of light to it.  Orange light.

“You’re sure?” I asked him.

He nodded.

Rain dropped to a crouch, dipping a gloved finger into the water.  He began to sketch.  A square, trapped inside a diamond, trapped inside a square.  Four rooms set out along the exterior of the big square, for the various rooms at the outer edge of the prisoner area.

A map of the place.  The square in the center was the plaza.  The four exterior rooms included the shower area and the private dining room for the religious.

“That’s the best I can do,” Kenzie said.  “My projection hairclip is modified to work as a camera and give us eyes on one of the hidden doors the guards can use to flood this area.  Then I have one in-eye camera for me and one for one of you.”

Tristan stuck his toe in the water, boot scraping as he dragged a stone knife out into view, then stepped onto it.  He was making more.

“We sneak out, get to where we can warn him,” Tristan said.  “If they spot us we go offensive.  Hit them before they can use their guns, break out.”

“Seems too dangerous,” I said.  “All of us, some of us walking with a limp?  We’d get seen, or we wouldn’t be able to find hiding places.”

Rain frowned.

“We can’t let him walk into a trap,” Ashley said.

“We won’t.  But we divide our efforts,” I said.  I closed my eyes for a second, thinking, shifting mental gears.  This was more familiar territory.  It made me think of working with my mom and dad.

Which reminded me that my mom had signaled a need for help.  I interpreted it to mean that she needed a way out of Shin.

“Divide by?” Rain asked.

“Distract the guards.  Start a small fire, or… something.”

Rain reached over and picked a knife out of the murky water, holding it so it was partially hidden.  He held it in his lap so those of us who were close could see.  “This?”

“That’s extreme,” I said.

“We need extreme,” Tristan said.

“Missy, Theo, please help me wrap my head around this.”

Vista shook her head.  Her eyeliner had smudged overnight, outlining her eyes inconsistently with a blur of black that extended to one cheekbone, her hair was messy.  “He’s like a dad to Weld, he’s important to Sveta.  I feel like Gimel needs him.”

“And he came for us,” Ashley said.

“I’m not saying no,” I said.  “But stabbing?”

“No,” Ashley said.  She reached down.  “Give?”

Rain passed the blade to her.

I glanced down.  Kenzie was setting out little rocks and bits of debris on Rain’s map.

I stuck my toe out at the nearest rock.

“Three guards,” Kenzie said.  “I don’t have enough bits.  Two.  Three.  The big prayer room is the best way to go.”

“Rain, you come,” Ashley said.  Her expression was a dark glower.  She looked over our group.  “Victoria.”

“Why us, specifically?” I asked.

“Because you two look the meanest next to me.”

“Wow,” I said.  “I know I haven’t washed my hair with actual conditioner or shampoo, but-”

“But nothing.  You had a shit day, you look drained, it works for our purposes.  We don’t have time,” she said.  “My instincts say this works.”

I looked at Rain, who nodded.  I gave him a hand in standing and a hand in walking.

“Let him limp,” Ashley said.  She sighed.  “We’re trying to look like assholes, so don’t be nice to him.  Connect the dots.”

“Mm,” I grunted, glancing at Rain again as Ashley started walking toward the plaza.

There was a family at the corner, nothing to do with the one guy who’d attacked us, who had a kid with him.  It made me think of New Wave, because they included parents and children, uncles and aunts, and scattered relations, all with family resemblance.  They favored green and black for their extra clothing, like they’d all been wearing those colors when arrested, and had doe brown hair that was as coarse-thick as any hair I’d seen on anyone white.

“These are the guys who run this hall,” Rain said.  “Theo and I heard about them when we were asking questions last night.  People had a hard time translating it.  They live in the systems.”

“Prison family.  Successive generations spent arrested.”

“Kind of.  But it’s more complicated.  It’s not just prison.  It’s other services.  Goddess elevated them to a certain status by making an office for those who were loyal and willing to do what she needed.  Like private military.  These guys and people like them signed right up.  They’ll accept anything if it gets them a cot and hot food without them having to work.  Military, Goddess’s task force, prison, some types of school…”

“Useful,” Ashley said.

“Kind of scary,” Rain observed.

“But useful.  Scary and useful often go hand in hand,” Ashley said.

People squared shoulders and raised chins as they stared us down.

“Any of you speak English?” Ashley asked.

“Goddess’s tongue,” I added.

A boy with long hair said something in a foreign tongue.  An adult offered a one-syllable response.

“I learned for school,” the boy said.

“We need a favor.  We’ll buy,” Ashley said.  “But we need it soon, no fuss.”

The boy translated.

Another one syllable response.

“Guards say you killed the Goddess in Blue.”

“She threw a building at us.”

The boy considered, translated, got a grunt of an answer, and then said, “Cost us.”

“If you want to drag out this conversation, we’ll go elsewhere.”

“If you want a favor, we’re the best.”

“Not Rafa?” Rain asked.

The boy wrinkled his nose.  His parent nudged him, and he translated, catching the parent up on the last few exchanges.

The man made a face, momentarily disgusted.

“They put their dicks in dogs,” the boy said.

“They what?” Rain asked.

“Idiom,” I guessed.  “I hope.”

“They make messes, fall over each other, drink.  The only thing you can trust them to do is put their dicks in dogs.  You don’t want them.”

“Then deal with us.  We need a distraction,” Ashley said.  “We’ll pay.”

She held out her hand, palm down, thumb tucked in.  The boy reached out, and Ashley laid her hand atop his.  The knife was there, hidden from view, and the boy felt it.

“That’s-”

“Sharp,” she said.  “There are more like it.  That’s your pay.  But you distract the guards, so we can do what we need to do.”

The boy translated, dropping his voice at the tail end.

The adult answered with the longest sentence yet.

“Dangerous.  Burns the hand we want to keep warm,” the boy translated back for us.

“What do you want?” she asked, more tense, almost hostile.  Time was running out if Armstrong was due to arrive and collect us.

The boy shrugged.  “This.”

“You want security,” I said.  “You want reliable.  Comfort.  Stability.”

“Yes.”

I nodded, trying to figure him out.  “What if you could come to Gimel?  There are plenty of homes, we’re doing our best to provide food, and most of that is free.  If you want stable… we could arrange that.  Say… five people from your family.”

“Ten.”

“Five… Ten if you abide by our rules,” I said, ninety percent sure they would.  “You don’t kill anyone when you distract.  You don’t kill anyone after.”

“Killing like this destroys you,” the boy said.

“Gets you executed,” Rain interpreted.

“If you hurt anyone it’s someone who deserves it,” I said.

“A man.  He gave Goddess names of people who were educating their children alone so they would not learn Goddess Tongue in schools.  Later he gave Coalition names of those who were loyal to Goddess.  Some of ours.  He’s a man of sick loyalty, always turning around.  The prisons love him so they go easy.”

“Maybe,” I said.

The boy translated the conversation so far for his parent and other family members.

The adult responded.

“We’ll take that knife for your distraction.  Put a blade through his tush so he won’t be able to hold his shit in.”

“Tush?” Rain asked.

“Rain,” Ashley said.  “It’s not important.”

“Wrong word?” the boy asked.

Rain nodded, while I pressed, “No harm they can’t heal.”

The father said something.

“We could harm three,” the boy said.  “Three to distract.  All deserving.  Sick loyalty, sick eyes, and a sick that lasts for generations.  Two men and a woman.”

Rain touched my shoulder.  I looked at him and he indicated the group.

They were agitated.

Armstrong was here.

“Don’t hurt them too much,” I said.

Rain added, “We can’t guarantee we’ll give the visas to any specific people.  This is for your family as a whole.”

“Yes, of course.  We’re happy here, but some of ours don’t have prison, hoping we don’t get punished so we can stay longer.  Some don’t have anything.  They’ll go.”

“They’ll be good?”

He nodded.

For a lot of lines, for a kid who wasn’t older than Kenzie, he wasn’t even asking his dad or translating.  He just seemed to accept it as the rule or fact of their whole dynamic.

“When we signal,” I said.  “You distract.  Do it near the showers.  Keep guards away from the, ah, prayer room?”

“Yeah,” Rain said.   “The eating room?”

The boy said a word.

“That, yeah,” Rain said.

“And don’t tell,” I stressed.  I figured it was a given, but not kidnapping and  assaulting diplomatic envoys seemed like a given too, and Shin was way the fuck behind the learning curve on that one.

“Keep your deal and we keep our throats closed.”

Ashley reached out again.  The boy reached to take the knife, discreetly putting it away.  He began explaining to his family.

We walked back to our group.

“We have a distraction?” Tristan asked.

“Yes,” Ashley said.  “It’s all about projecting the right image and asking the right people.  They respect the powerful and naturally noble, and they respect fear.”

“Good enough,” Tristan said.  “Who’s handling this?  Staying hidden, doing something to signal our guy, get back without drawing alarm.”

“I’ll go,” Vista said.

“I’ll go too,” I said.

“You’re sure?” Tristan asked.

“Sure enough.”

Kenzie was a kid, as useful as it would be, and we needed her to stay behind to tell the group what the guards could see and where they were.  Tristan needed to stay to keep an eye on the knives he’d made.  He prepped two more while we negotiated.  When push came to shove, they’d stay in a place nobody and no cameras were watching and swap out, turning the weapons we’d given over into water.  No evidence.

Theo would stay because he was too big and didn’t trust his stealth ability.    Sveta was captured.  Rain had a limp.

We wanted at least three, and Ashley did have some capabilities, she made a lot of noise, but if we were careful and kept her power use small, that would minimize the effect.

Three of us.

Kenzie bid me to bend down.  I did, keeling with some use of my flight for stability.

The wicked multi-pronged thing appeared in her hand.  She looked around to make sure the coast was clear, then extended it into my head.  I could feel it, a glimmer of sensation, a blorb sort of feeling in the fluids of my eye, a sting of a tickle in cavities at the back.

Then my vision distorted, like I was looking through an inch of water, and clarified.  I could see images and text.  Outlines visible through walls, highlighting guards, cameras, and power lines.  The field of view of each camera was plainly visible, and as I looked at a camera, I could see a crosshair focus on it.  Staring at it for what I guessed to be two seconds snapped my view so I was looking through it.

Text at my peripheral vision remained as clear as day despite the fact I wasn’t focusing on it.

Candy, telling me she was working with me on this.

Telling me she’d relay Kenzie’s messages that couldn’t be conveyed through the camera.

Rain and Theo joining us, Vista, Ashley and I retreated to the area where the private eating partitions were set up during mealtime.  For the time being, everything had been taken down and folded up.  Despite space being a premium, people didn’t move mattresses or things into the large empty room.

We didn’t enter either, but that was because our destination was another wall, putting us close to the hallway with the least guards.

A flash of blue marked my peripheral vision, and I looked.  I saw the distant silhouette.  Armstrong.  Another- Natalie.

Another figure, not the red of guards or the blue of our hostages, but a yellow-green, could be seen in their company.  After second, more silhouettes appeared.

Cryptid.  Silhouette one, the fastest one the system had recognized.

Crock o’Shit.  Silhouette two.  The lie detector from the prison raid.

Coalbelcher.  Silhouette three.  The heavyset man who’d been something of a crime boss on the men’s side of the prison.

It couldn’t be easy.  I couldn’t trust Chris to play nice.

No.

I nodded to the others.

Getting us our distraction.

The commotion drew hollers and alarms.  Guards broke into runs, diverging from their paths at the tops of the wall to hop down or use ladders to descend into the prison.  Some hurled canisters, producing gas.

We retreated back to our side, as the guards in our company thinned out.  There were still some stationed at exits, but we didn’t need an exit.

Rain looked to me, and I nodded, touching the wall.

He produced a silver blade, and he stabbed into the surface.  Not a line, but a hole from a thrust.  He backed off, then struck the wall with his elbow.  The silver flared, and the material of the hole broke, a thin crack.

Vista expanded it until it was large enough for us to enter.

We slipped through, into empty hallways.

-He’s changing-, the text in the corner of my vision told me.

I looked, and I saw Chris’s distant silhouette morphing.  He was here to be their enforcer.

He broke into a run, and so did we.

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98 thoughts on “Breaking – 14.11”

  1. If Armstrong will be killed, I’ll RIOT. He’s one of the few 100% good and heroic people in this world. As little as I saw him (most I heard about him than saw him in person lol), I already love him. No matter what you guys will do: sacrifice your lives, kill people, blow up this whole hellish prison, blow up the whole Shin, you have to save this man,

    Let’s see if Chris will continue to be a heartless dick or he’ll help his former team. I still have a tiny bit faith in him. He can’t be worse than the original Lab Rat who actually helped the good guys in Worm, right?

    1. Not to pop your bubble, but Lab Rat helped them not out of goodness, but because it was the end of the world. Lab Rat was many things, but noble wasn’t one of them.

    2. Lab Rat ended up a cell leader in the Birdcage. I mean, sure, at the very end he helped keep Taylor from doing, but I wouldn’t argue that that made him a moral person.

  2. Wow. Shin upgraded from from petty torture and political BS to flat out assassination, then planned to frame Gimel! At this point, even Christ seems better than these guys!

    1. Shit is starting to look worse than even Teacher and his army. No even that bastard planned to straight up assassinate heroes in order to frame a whole planet.
      Chris, if he continues to help them despite everything they’re doing to his former team/parahumans, is just as bad as them. No excuse.

      1. Chris doesn’t know they are planning an assassination. All he knows is that they are attempting a prison break. All he probably knows is that they are attempting a prison break.

        Fun fact: Trying to break out of prison is illegal even if you were wrongly arrested, even if the other prisoners attack you, even if the guards attack you, and especially if you conspire to assault people!

        1. Fun Fact: Breaking out of prison is legal in some countries, like Germany, Austria or Mexico.
          (Of course you’ll still be sent back to prison for the original crime, but you won’t get any added punishment for the escape. If you assault anyone on the way out, that’s a different matter.)

        2. Or maybe he knows everything and help Shin because he have the same purposes as them/ he doesn’t care about the other parahumans who are not him and Amy/Marquis or he hates his former team too much and now he have the opportunity to destroy them.
          Or he knows but he’ll probably change his mind in the meantime and help his former teammates over his new allies.
          Chris’ mind is the most complicated shit. He makes Amy extremely easy to be read in comparison.

    1. Wow. That never crossed my mind. Victoria is potentially compromised here. Unlikely this specific scenario is all her doing but if she’s carrying some mental trigger or change they haven’t figured out into it, it’s hard to know how it’ll play out.

    2. Come on… Now that people (thankfully) seem to stop suspecting Dinah to be Stupid Evil, Amy is taking her place. That’s not even her powerset, she’s not Valefor. Maybe if Kenzie was teachered some time ago and made camouflage projectors for him, so it was actually Valefor talking to Victoria…

      1. It’s absolutely in her powerset she made Victoria love her she could make someone want to kill someone else. I don’t think that’s what’s happening because Amy stands nothing to gain from that but it’s completely possible.

        1. To make someone have certain feelings for someone else (e.g. hate them, and thus maybe wanting to kill them as an indirect consequence. or maybe just spit in their food, or however that person decides to express their hate, maybe even not express it at all) – that’s possible, as we have seen. To make someone want to take a certain specific action – that wouldn’t be possible, I think. And to hide that wish behind a certain trigger, so the person doesn’t even realize it’s there until the time comes – that’s almost definitely outside of her power.

        2. Yes, Amy could make Victoria hate Armstrong. However, it’s clear from her narration in this very chapter that Victoria doesn’t hate Armstrong. Plus, I can think of no good reason she’d do that and a really good reason why she wouldn’t: Victoria would kill her, assuming that Ashley didn’t reach her first. If Amy were going to alter Victoria’s feelings about anyone, it would be herself. It looks like she didn’t do that, so she didn’t to that to Vic regarding Armstrong.

          Plus, I can’t see how Amy would willingly be part of any plan that framed Victoria for murder. That seems like a short route to getting her executed. Ominous statements about it who should have survived GM aside, I just don’t see her taking an (knowing) active part in arranging Victoria’s death. Her general Amyness is making Shin want to kill all parahumans, of course, but that’s another matter.

    1. Or not, since I’m getting an error message when I try. Forbidden- “You don’t have permission to access /vote.php on this server”. Hopefully it’ll be fixed, or it’s just me, or something.

          1. Yes, but double-voting used to simply refresh your vote’s duration without leading to a 403.

    2. “Forbidden
      You don’t have permission to access /vote.php on this server.”

      NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO- as of 2 minutes ago- OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooo…

  3. Tush is the right word, it does mean buttocks, it’s just… Quite an old word, and not often used. I like that ‘they can only be trusted to put their dicks in dogs’, though. That’s quite an evocative image.

    And let’s see who the lad is suggesting they hurt… A traitor with ‘sick loyalty’, somebody with ‘sick eyes’, not blind I think. Possibly a peeping tom? Something along those lines. And a ‘sick that lasts for generations’ sounds like a child abuser to me. Good to know that as weird as this prison is, some things are universal.

          1. It’s not an expression I’ve used. I’ve heard it, and I have passing familiarity with it, but all in all it’s not something I immediately think of.

          2. Make sure to reread Cockroaches 28.1 for extra inreference-iness. (Or just lookup “dog” in there, the phrase appears about 5 times in different variations.)

    1. A child abuser? No, I don’t think so. That line there is a poisoned apple.

      Watch. A “sick that lasts for generations” will turn out to mean Breakthrough consented to stabbing someone with a congenital disease.

      1. As somebody with Asperger’s, dyscalculia and dyspraxia, that thought gives me shivers. Because I think you might be right.

    1. Pretty sure that’s a side-effect of whatever timey-wimey chicanery she could do. Which makes me wonder what her trigger event and primary power did.

  4. Time for action. Time for the typo thread:

    “Luis’s group,”
    “Goddess’s old power structure.”
    “Goddess’s task force,”
    “Goddess’s tongue,”
    Extra possessive s.

    “and assaulting”
    “ability. Sveta was”
    Extra spaces.

    “After second,”
    +a ?

    1. > The setup wasn’t so different than the room we’d met Citrine in- walls that looked like concrete,

      Add a space between ‘in’ and the dash?

      > He graduated out, didn’t he?””

      Scratch one quotation mark at the end of this sentence.

      > “You and Egg, huh?

      Add a quotation mark at the end of this sentence.

      > “The eating room?”

      There are three spaces before this sentence.

  5. I feel like crock-o-shit could play a significant role determining the situation. They might actually side with Victoria because helping the severely anti-parahumans would impact their own state

    1. I’m interested in finding out how Crock-o-shit functions in a fight. We know she’s a lie detector and she chose her name to reflect that, but I doubt that’s all she does. For instance, until we actually meet her in Arc 11, I thought Bird Brain was just a top-down view clairvoyant, but it turns out she uses that power to be terrifyingly deadly in personal combat.

  6. …… what if this whole thing is a ploy by Amy?
    if she has mastered Victoria, having an Excuse to have her locked up perminently would give her essentially forever to try and “bring her around”- and the temptation to just put a hand on her head and change things around will be there every minute of the day…

    1. That would be dumb as all hell. Or even dumber than that. If she were willing to go that far, she would just put her hand on Victoria’s head and change things right away, when she had a chance to. That would also have a benefit of actually getting her what she wants, as opposed to the ultimate evil plan you have described.

      1. While I agree with you that this isn’t some insane plot by Amy, I actually think Amy would prefer having ongoing access that Victoria that is compelled to simply altering her brain. Changing Vic’s brain to love her doesn’t give Amy what she wants, because Amy knows, better than anyone, that it isn’t real. She wants Victoria to really love her. That can’t happen if Amy takes away her ability to choose.

        I think it’s clear to virtually all readers that Vic falling in love is Amy is never going to happen, but Amy’s clearly in denial about the Victoria’s feelings. I starting to speculate that this weird self-deception is helped along by Amy’s perception of other people’s emotions as processes in the brain that she instinctively understands. She knows exactly what the neural processes of Victoria loving her would look like and all she has to do is input the correct external stimuli to make that happen. i.e., “If we talk for long enough, I’ll find the right combination of words to make her love me.”

        1. >I starting to speculate that this weird self-deception is helped along by Amy’s perception of other people’s emotions as processes in the brain that she instinctively understands. She knows exactly what the neural processes of Victoria loving her would look like and all she has to do is input the correct external stimuli to make that happen.<

          Like someone who knows what an accurate, realistic-looking drawing of a face should look like. But lack the ability, the dexterity to draw it right.

          On the first try.

          Then they try and try, again and again until…

          Well…

  7. Calling it right now: Chris found out about the impending assassination attempt, and that’s why he’s changing right now. And he’s about to mistake Breakthrough for the assassins.

    sees them “I knew they were trying to frame Breakthrough, but this is taking it to a whole new level … “

    1. Wouldn’t it make more sense for Chris to figure Breakthrough got a bead on the situation and are coming to the rescue? He knows Kenzie looks in on everything she can, and that Breakthrough would come to rescue Armstrong if they found out about the assassination.

  8. …Aaaand it looks like during next chapter we will have the first “proper”, physical cape-on-cape fight in quite a while… Maybe even since arc 12 if we don’t count such borderline events like the chase after Ratcatcher or that bump in the head Old Man got curtesy of Little Midas.

    1. Thank god. Hope it comes at the very start and continues as they get dropped into the Teacher raid for 15 chapters

      1. I for one liked that there were no typical cape fights for a while. One of the things I didn’t like about Ward is that most of its chapters contained either cape fights or obvious setups for fights that would happen within a chapter or two. In fact I hope that Victoria will somehow manage to de-escalate the situation one more time, and convince Chris to stand down without a fight.

        1. Do you mean Worm or Ward?

          I agree that there were obvious setups for fights in Worm, and Ward handles that better so far. I’m not usually one for action centred stories myself, but the way it was written in Worm kept the fights interesting throughout.

          Antares has grown a lot as a person in Ward so far. I’m looking forward to seeing her grow in breadth more as a cape and finding out what her shard alludes to in 12.all.

          1. I agree that it was more of a problem in Worm than in Ward, but even in the current story we saw a series of skirmishes and battles between capes with regularity I found tiring, especially since a lot of the time when Victoria wasn’t fighting, she was preparing for the next confrontation.

            I found that especially having only a short, three-chapter break for shopping and catching up with family between the finale of Goddess’ attack on the prison (I don’t count the last Capricorn interlude and Valkyrie’s interlude because they also had their share of fighting) and the beginning of three-arc-long conflict with March, Love Lost and Cradle at the end of chapter 10.3 just wasn’t enough for me. It felt like the protagonists have hardly any time for regular life between their cape conflicts.

            I obviously understand that last two arcs are also both conflicts (arc 13 – a defense against Teacher’s character assassination attempts, arc 14 – a an ideological dispute and diplomatic conflict with anti-parahumans both on Gimel and on Shin, coupled with Victoria’s rather hostile confrontation with Amy, not to mention little things like the chase after Ratcatcher, the not-quite peaceful evacuation of Old Man from the Lodge in chapter 13.9, or the fight with prisoners in chapter 14.9), and that both those arcs are likely just a setup for a big fight against Teacher, but I’m still glad that at least conflicts in those arcs did not contain much physical cape-on-cape violence.

            Still, I wouldn’t mind to have the protagonists have about an arc of “slice-of-lifeish” time to slow down, catch some breath, and process everything they have been through at some point. We know that they do get entire weeks to do it (for example this is probably what happened in a three week break between arcs 12 and 13), but I would like the story to actually focus more on that aspect of their lives more at some point, both because it would be an even more radical break from the seemingly unending chain of conflicts we see, and because I feel like we just don’t get the full picture of lives of the protagonists when things slow down, and without it I feel like we don’t fully understand what sort of people they are. Of course the author has shown us a lot of moments like this, especially earlier in Ward, but I feel like such short fragments are not a perfect substitute for somethings like an entire arc when things slow down.

            Note that I never said that the seemingly near-constant conflict obstructs Victoria’s growth as a person. In fact I would say that a lot of her personal growth happened during fights. Same a lot of the other characters. I just feel that we need to see more insight into how they process everything that happened to them during tense moments (like when they were investigating whatever big problem they were facing at the moment, preparing for a fight, or actually fighting) when they have a chance to actually relax, look back at what happened to them, and think how they want to proceed from that point on.

          2. An don’t get me wrong – I do like both tense and action-filled times in Ward, and I get that Ward would hardly be a superhero story without having plenty of those. I just think that they are over-represented to the point where they both skew our perception of main characters as people, and are just getting somewhat boring (not to mention make the story and the characters feel a bit unrealistic) due to the fact that so little text is devoted to times that aren’t action-filled or tense.

          3. Another related problem is that we know so little about non-cape aspects and relationships of the main characters. Let’s take Victoria as an example:
            – does she know her neighbors well?
            – what does she think about her mailman or a cashier in a convince store closest to her home?
            – does she continue to study in hopes of getting into university?
            – does she have non-cape related hobbies she uses to relax?
            – does she keep contact with teachers or students from that school Gilpatrick’s unit was recruiting people from?

            We don’t know answers to any of those questions, and in my opinion it not only makes our perspective on Victoria one-sided, it also contributes greatly to the fact that some people feel like the world that parahumans live in (or at least the one Victoria lives in) seems separated for the world of unpowered humans.

            The picture is distorted to a point where it feels like all un-powered people are either nameles, faceless masses completely ignorant about lives of capes, or active anti-parahumans, or specialist working with parahumans (like Gilpatrick, Jessica, Natalie, or Armstrong), and we know it can’t be true. Most of those people lived their entire lives on Bet. They know parahumans, often personally. They have to have a wide spectrum of opinions about powers, parahumans, and how those fit in social order and life in general. We simply see none of that, because we rarely see Victoria interact with non-parahumans in a meaningful manner that is not directly related to things like powers, cape fights, and the conflicts – like the one with anti-parahumans or the one between construction workers and the government.

            We know that since Victoria has grown up in a cape family, she probably pays less attention to the more mundane sides of life, but I just can’t believe that it happens to the extent that balance of the time devoted to unpowered, mundane, everyday life and her daily non-cape-conflict-related interactions versus everything else seems to suggest. Having something like an entire arc devoted to such things (or just more attention devoted to such details in the “downtime” chapters like 10.1 and 10.2) could do a lot to make both Victoria and the world she lives in feel more complete and realistic.

  9. I love you, Kenzie, but your eye cameras take everything that is disturbing about contact lenses and crank it up to 14. So. Much. Nope.

  10. Okay sooo… weird realizations:

    Suppose you want to control some sort of Para-titan (a la Kronos).
    Its made of a bunch of parahumans that sort of get… glommed togeather…
    Now suppose half of those parahumans are already loyal to you, pre-glomming, and you happen to be teacher.
    😐

    Okay, new scenario… lets suppose you have advanced warning of some for of TITAN formation. Perhaps from a power.
    Titan’s are dangerous due to their lack of control, power incontinence, and the fact that 90% of the “souls” inside it don’t know how to control a titan.
    If only you could arrange for a small group of people dealing with power control problems could go through intense therapy, teamwork and struggle, shortly before being glommed into a Titan.
    I dunno… say… a girl with power power control, one who needs to learn manual body control, and a dude who already has half a lifetime experience being disembodied. And because there’s going to be a bunch of other souls in there, and you need to control them, maybe throw a Tyrant in their who has power control problems and has already spent a couple years being “a monster”.
    I mean… the amount of foresight required to plan such an elaborate and convoluted scheme would be… inhuman. Maybe even Parahuman.

    Maybe, for good measure, you might also nudge things to have a spare Titan around being piloted by ULTRA SANE DADDER… apparently with the Ziz playing shoulder angel, because that’s a thing. Something to battle TEACHER_TITAN, is such things be needed.

    Not sure of all the exact details, but I’m willing to put bets that Victoria (at the very least) will be glommed into some sort of Titan before the story is through.

    1. Would that mean that the Parahuman Mastermind had a hand in getting the ULTRA SANE DADDER in a Time Loop? Or a hand in just freeing him?

      1. Possibly just a hand in freeing them…
        Honestly, I’ld put bets that DADDER-plot is more a Zizard plot than Parahuman mastermind.

  11. Remember those Ashley’s words from chapter 14.5?

    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 do I feel like assuming leadership position because the situation needed her skillset is precisely what Ashle did in this chapter? To me it looks like when Victoria suggested that they need a distraction, it was Ashley who came up with an idea of using veteran prisoners to do it by convincing them to stab someone, who knew how to approach them, how to start a conversation, and to promise them a payment or a favor of their choice in return? She might have left most of the talking to Victoria, who is arguably a better negotiator and a person who would ultimately bear most of the responsibility for making a deal with the prisoners, and all its effects (from any wounds suffered by the prisoners and guards during the “distraction” all the way to having to pay the price the family they dealt with named), but the basic idea of dealing with the prisoners to get the distraction the heroes needed as well as basic strategy on how to make such deal seems to come from Ashley.

    It makes perfect sense to understand minds and social dynamics of people who are basically outcasts of the mainstream society – like the people who are lead to life of crime, substence abuse, violence (both street-level and domestic) by poverty and inability or unwillingness of “the system” and its workers to prevent such problems from becoming so widespread that some people don’t think that they have a real chance to live a better life. After all the original Ashley lived most of her life, of not all of it until the day she was forced to join Slaughterhouse Nine both among such people, and as one of them.

    Ashley might have originally declared that she joined her hero group to understand the heroes better, so later she would know how to counter them as a villain, but it seems that she ended up doing something opposite – helping the heroes with her with her inside knowledge and understanding of people who turned to crime because they felt the society didn’t really do enough to help them live a better life.

    Interestingly Ashley chose the two people who she could trust to understand such street-level crime mentality caused by lack of realistic options for better life the most. Rain lived most of his life in a group that was even more hated by the mainstream society, with even less options to get out of this sort of life. Victoria might have lived in a much “better” and more respected family, but was trained by Carol to understand criminal mind, and her favorite activity in Brockton Bay seemed to be going after such street-level criminals, like the low ranking members of gangs which operated in her city. You could say that Victoria has an understanding of criminal minds close to the one a low-ranked cop working in a “bad” neighborhood for a few years may have.

    Another interesting thing is that maybe Theo and Missy also have similar insights. Both lived in Brockton Bay. Theo was even a member of a family running one of the big gangs. Missy always wanted to do her share of street-level crime fighting.

    But they probably couldn’t substitute Victoria and Rain in Ashley’s plan to make a deal with the prisoners for three reasons:
    1. Ashley doesn’t know Missy and Theo as well as her own team members. She can’t predict if they would be good enough for the job.
    2. Missy doesn’t exactly look intimidating.
    3. At least during the early stages of Worm both Missy and Theo were somewhat sheltered from regular contact with this sort of crime. Missy because as a youngest member of her Wards team she was usually told to patrol in “safe” areas. Theo because as a “useless” son of Kaiser, he was not expected to engage in criminal activities.

    Obviously the third reason may or may not apply anymore. As Missy grew up, she might have been allowed to do some more dangerous work (though after the Undersiders cleaned up Brockton Bay from crime she might have few opportunities to actually do it before GM, and after it her strong power probably ensured that she was used to fight high-profile threats, not some low-level gang members). Theo might have been taught a lot by Weaver (but he probably focused mostly on his upcoming confrontation with Jack, not on street-level crime, and on top of it his reaction to some of the more extreme methods employed by Weaver seems to indicate that he retained some of his youthful nativity even after the time skip).

    So ultimately there is no way to know just how well Vista and Theo understand “regular” street-level criminals, and, due to the first reason, Ashley may have even less knowledge in this regard than we do.

  12. Everyone’s theorizing about Chris being there to stop the assassination…

    But what if he really is as big of a douchebag that we’ve been lead to believe?
    What if _he’s_ the one that attacks Armstrong? You have to remember that his thing is using other powers as inspiration and then concoct a… Concoction that gives him a form with similar powers. That’s the road he’s chosen to take with his powers.

    Or he could simply fake that he’s still loyal to Breakthrough and then attack.
    Maybe he has a deal with the Extremist faction. We don’t know.

    It will be fun/interesting to see what WibblyBob does next, no?

    1. I guess that nobody mentioned that Chris may be trying to kill Armstrong because it seems to be an obvious conclusion:
      – Amy sent him away, yet he remained in the area which seems to suggest less than noble intentions.
      – Amy mentioned that Chris is dangerous to Victoria because he likes her, and he wants to kill what he likes. Going after people Victoria cares about may be the next best thing.
      – The heroes determined that Yosef’s faction will probably want to have Armstrong smashed to make it look like Victoria killed him with her forcefield. Chris can easily grow big enough to do it.

      We know that Wildbow likes to surprise the reader, so a lot of us are probably expecting reality to be more complicated than that. The fact that there was a lot of crazy speculation about Amy’s true motives and her mental health recently probably doesn’t make people inclined to believe her words about Chris, which once again would suggest that he is not trying to do what Victoria thinks he does. Finally plenty of people expect every former and current member of Breakthrough to somehow get over their problems by the end of the story, and since Chris has already done so many bad things and the story has run for such a long time it seems “obvious” that he should finally have a change of heart instead of simply trying to commit a murder Yosef’s hardliners want to happen.

      The funny thing is that all of the readers’ expectations I listed in the paragraph above could be subverted by Wildbow if Chris did the obvious thing and simply tried to kill Armstrong.

      1. One more reason for Chris to want to attack Armstrong is just who and what Armstrong is – a former PRT director, apparently with some sort of academic expert in parahuman studies (both jobs require careful observation of parahumans – something Chris hates and fears) who is inclined to sympathize with capes, especially those outwardly monstrous or dangerous ones (and Chris is probably paranoid enough to never accept such sympathy at face value).

        In other words just by being himself Armstrong probably pushes enough of Chris’ buttons to make killing him a personal goal for Chris, not just a job for Yosef or a way to indirectly harm Victoria (and other members of Breakthrough because Victoria obviously isn’t the only member Chris likes, and if Amy is correct – wants to kill because of it).

      2. Or maybe Chris won’t kill Armstrong personally, but will fight BT when they try to get to him. That would also give him plausible deniability, as if he didn’t know about the assassination and just did his job as Shin’s enforcer.

    2. “It will be fun/interesting to see what WibblyBob does next, no?”
      The word you’re looking for is “nervewracking”. See my internet was down yesterday and this morning, and power was out for a while, and I was thinking it’s a shame I can’t relax with the new Ward… Do I forget what the story is like after a day or two?

  13. Geez those Earth Shin… Multigenerational imprisonment for whole families. And planning to murder a diplomat coming in good faith to negotiate the release of the other diplomats who came in good faith so they can execute the first bunch. Fucking Holes in the Tush.

  14. 1. > “Do we break through and intercept?” I asked.
    “Yes, we are BreakThrough!” should be the answer 🙂

    2. > He met someone who could ‘eat’ powers. Drain the power gradually down over time, get stronger from it.
    Another ~humane way to punish capes without killing. But as always – how to control the eater?..

    1. Re. 2. What if the “eater” got teachered so that they can drain powers much faster now – for example fast enough to completely disable a power within minutes? Alternatively what if scanning them could let some tinker produce a device that can do the same? Maybe such device is the thing that Teacher is hiding at the top of the complex, and employed against the heroes attacking his base? They have stopped reporting back for some reason, and I imagine that losing their powers combined with a well organized counterattack by someone like Contessa could lead attacking heroes being taken down quickly enough that they would be unable to report what happened to them before being taken down.

      Other possibilities that could maybe make the attacking heroes drop out of the radar may in my opinion include:
      – heroes being picked off by Contessa even without aid of some power-draining cape or device(s),
      – interference with communication channels used by the attackers (it did seem that during Overseer’s interlude one of Teacher’s students managed to make some progress in figuring out Dragon’s communication protocols),
      – the attackers being mastered in large numbers by some of Teacher’s allies they didn’t expect to run into,
      – the attacking heroes being exiled into isolated worlds through portals set by Teacher’s students to work like trapdoors and such,
      – and obviously the heroes being killed in large numbers, though I somehow doubt that the author would let too many attackers die at this point – the moment doesn’t seem right to kill too many established characters at once (especially since this attack doesn’t feel like a disaster similar to an Endbringer fight or Gold Morning – if something like this will happen, it will probably be later in the story, and have something to do with Kronos-like broken triggers), and Teacher doesn’t seem like the type going for mass murder.

      In any case if the big guns like Wardens and some other established hero teams get either taken out of the picture (for example by being imprisoned or exiled), or even join the enemy (for example by being mastered), I imagine that Breakthrough could finally get their chance to focus on the really big S-class problems and other existential threats to the city (and likely more than just the city) simply because there would be few people left who could do it, and they would be scattered in places like Amy’s little empire on Shin or old Wardens HQ building where presumably Bonesaw and Nilbog are still hiding. It would be up to Breakthrough to figure out how to bring all of those remaining “big players” together, turn them into an effective organization, and use them to figure out and handle those S-class threats to the city.

      Alternatively Teacher could simply defeat the first wave of the heroes so completely, and the second wave could be so weak that he could be in position to simply make teams like Breakthrough an offer they would be unable to refuse – to work with him on whatever he is planning to do. He could even explain why he thinks that what he is doing means saving the city, and his explanation could ever make sense even without any “persuasion” with powers involved – after all it is entirely possible that he is simply right and everyone else is simply too ignorant to see it.

      If Breakthrough ended up joining Teacher, then I imagine that Amy and her villains could become Breakthrough’s next targets simply because she appears to oppose the Teacher, and most likely doesn’t do it out of ignorance. After all Amy probably knows quite well what Teacher is trying to do and why, possibly better than any capes taking part in the attack on Teacher’s complex do. This means that it would probably be very difficult if not impossible to persuade her to side with Teacher, at least not without defeating her first.

      1. From the previous chapter:

        “The attack was mounted, while our thinkers thought he was distracted. Citrine said they’re gathering troops and allies for a second phase assault, because not enough of the first group are reporting back. We’d be going as late arrivals, stragglers.”

        Against an enemy Amy had called unbeatable.

        The more I see it the more I’m worried. Not only because according to Amy Teacher is supposed to be unbeatable, not only because the heroes have lost any element of surprise they might have had, not only because a lot of people in the first group of attackers has stopped reporting back, which indicates that they were probably split by the defenders into small groups unable to communicate with their base and with each other, but also because the first group was probably carefully selected and organized for maximum efficiency, and the second group will almost certainly not be nearly that combat effective.

        This entire situation reminds me of large military unit (large enough to have its own integral logistics forces) which commited all of its combat troops to an attack in terrain which makes it easy for the defenders to hide, and difficult for individual units of the attackers to maintain visual contact with each other. In such situation if the defeners know the terrain better then the attackers it is easy for them to split elements of the attacking force so they are unable to support each other when some of them are attacked, while at the same time also cutting the attackers off from supplies.

        In such situation the overall commander of this hypothetical “large military unit” has the following dilemma – should he cut his losses and order whatever combat troops can still do it to retreat, or should he order his logistics forces – quartermasters, truck drivers, teamsters, cooks, military police, musicians etc. to grab whatever weapons they might have (and probably aren’t well trained to use) and attack in a desperate attempt to re-establish contact with the front-liners.

        I’m afraid that the second wave of attacks on Cauldron will be like those logistics troops – equipped with weak weapons/powers compared to what the first wave has at their disposal, not properly trained or organized for such operation, and with nobody to bail them out if their attack fails.

      2. If i don’t misremember, in the past Arc you speculated that Teacher could use Victoria’s Fake Diary as an indirect leverage for her to get more influence in the Cape community.

        If Teacher forces her (an horrible choice of words) to work with him and go after Amy, the Sisters’s Conflict will be finally tying into the Large Scale Conflict the story has in the background.

        SO.

        Would that mean that…

        … things are wrapping up?

        .

        .

        .

        Are we getting close to the end???

        1. I feel like there are too many loose threads for Ward to end very soon (like in 5 or less arcs), but it definitely feels like we could be approaching the point which will explain the connection of the big picture with the more personal story of the relationship between sisters, and however it happens I fully expect it to be one of the biggest (if not the single biggest) turning points in the story – something at least as big as Taylor’s surrender to the PRT was in Worm.

          1. I just hope that if such turning point happens soon, Ward won’t feel as rushed as Worm did after Taylor’s surrender. In my opinion there are enough established plot hooks and unfinished threads for Ward to be at about halfway point (by word, chapter or arc count) at the moment.

          2. Also, if you consider that Amy barely started exploring the big picture to Victoria, maybe we are nowhere near the point that would be comparable to Taylor’s surrender? Maybe it is more like that moment when Dinah first recognized Jack Slash as the man who will cause the apocalypse, and the next big turning point that is waiting for us is a counterpart of the moment when Dinah explained Taylor her role in stopping the worst possible outcome, and left her two messages (“Cut ties” and “I’m sorry”)? I could easily imagine several more big turing points after that – possibly including Victoria’s realization that people like Teacher, March, Cradle, and Love Lost were the good guys all along.

          3. Taylor was always in the periphery in Worm, Scion-Treat-wise.

            She gained relevance as the story progressed, but her power didn’t let her take on The Biggest Treat directly.

            That’s why she asked Amy for help.

            From then on she became the Main Character(power wise) on the Battle.

            And her “personal” story became relevant to the Large Scale Conflict when she set out to (though it may be debatable) bully Scion to death.

            >I could easily imagine several more big turing points after that – possibly including Victoria’s realization that people like Teacher, March, Cradle, and Love Lost were the good guys all along.

            Ohhh… That would be quite a doozy.

          4. By the way, the possibility that those four are the “good guys” doesn’t mean that the ones who opposed him are necessary bad. Remember what Tattletale told shortly after the attack on the Fallen camp about everyone being like blind people who are touching different parts of an elephant, and that she had been trying to keep lines of communication open? I get an impression that Teacher, March, Cradle and Love Lost are some of the people who know some critical things about the elephant in question, and that everyone else considers them “evil” simply because there was no Tattletale to properly communicate with people like them.

  15. What Cryptid wants most is to free himself of Lab Rat’s compulsions, something we’ve seen is an incredibly difficult step for him, even when Lab Rat intended him to eventually break free of one of the compulsions.

    But just down below that level, he has two other categories of desires. First off, he wants what Lab Rat forced him to prioritize above all else: Survival and Greatness. Ultimately that’s what has driven him to Shin. Besides that, he wants what the original Lab Rat wanted: to change, experiment, and make monsters. Ultimately these impulses are more compatible with Chris the person who fit on Breakthrough.

    This makes Chris a really good metaphor. He’s chasing the things he “has to have” at the expense of getting what he needs.

    I also love the irony that Lab Rat, who wanted to escape his human body, brainwashed a version of himself so it was forced to change as much as possible into the original.

  16. Random time to bring up Cradle and Rain, but let’s talk Cradle and Rain!

    I had thought before that his emotion power was a Chekhov’s gun, talked up a lot but unseen in action. The rules of narrative demand we see it.

    But now I’m less sure. I think we did already see the power, twice.

    Suppose we take Lionwing at face value, “He can draw it in. Read your weaknesses in chemical code, running through your head and your veins. He earned money blackmailing people by targeting them. He got more ground with people by sensing how far he could push them before they gave.”

    That means when Cradle tears into Rain, we’re learning exactly what Rain’s weaknesses are:

    “I can see you so clearly. You think you’re better. … You do. I see it. All of the weak points. The flaws, the stains. You actually think you’re better. … The difference between us is that I overcame what I am. Then association with you knocked me all the way down, and made it impossible to be better again. You… you didn’t overcome what you were until we made you. Until we influenced you.”

    And perhaps the only reason it doesn’t completely wreck him is that Cradle doesn’t know Rain has worked out the truth:

    “No. That’s not true. … Love Lost gave me her tokens. I know how the bleed works.”

    So that’s one instance where we can make story use of knowing Cradle’s power, but that’s not the juicy bit. Here’s what he says to Victoria:

    ‘“I was getting everything set up, finally living the life I wanted to live, and he fucked it all up. He pulled me into this, he infected me, and now I’m different!”

    I opened my mouth to respond, to retort, bait out more and keep Cradle’s attention, so we could figure out a way to get Rain away. If Vista could get to Sveta and Rain- and it looked like she was heading that way-

    “He violated my self!” Cradle’s words were more raw than any others I’d heard from him. Angrier.

    My train of thought stopped where it was, as Cradle’s words entered my head and overrode everything else. In those four words, I got Cradle.’

    We all saw Cradle precision-strike Victoria with his emotion power, and didn’t even notice.

    Still a little evidence that we’ll see more from Cradle though, if we go back to Lionwing:

    “And all of that was before. When he woke up tonight, he was strong. What he’s been doing? He’s been gathering what he needs.”

    What Cradle needed, never applied. It’s possible the lesson is that no amount of other-people’s-weaknesses can save you from yourself. The alternative is that Cradle had information he didn’t get the chance to use.

    1. “We all saw Cradle precision-strike Victoria with his emotion power, and didn’t even notice.”

      Good call. I put that together, but not immediately. I was arguing on Reddit that Cradle’s emotion power was some form of super persuasiveness for weeks based on that passage with him a Victoria. I wasn’t right, but I was about as not-wrong as capes in the story that speculate that Tattletale’s power is an ability to sense weak points.

  17. I’m somewhat worried about Tristan’s knives being liquefiable. Sure, it’s good for destroying evidence, but won’t the prisoners consider it to be a breach of their deal? And if so, nothing stops them from telling the guards everything they know, as they probably won’t hope that BT will uphold their end of the deal with immigration to Gimel either.

    1. I don’t think there is too much reason to worry about it. Remember that the prisoners Breakthrough made deal with specifically told they that they don’t want knives as their payment, and took only one to use to cause their “distraction”. They will probably be happy if the knife disappears afterwards.

    2. He also doesn’t have to have them be liquifiable. He can ‘kill’ things to make them permanent. Might be the knives are permanent, since they’re leaving his line of sight- and he won’t know when he’s needed to swap, so ‘killing’ them is probably better to make sure the knives are solid when they’re used.

      1. T.T.O. wasn’t just supposing that they might be liquifiable. Victoria specifically said that this was part of the plan:

        Tristan needed to stay to keep an eye on the knives he’d made. He prepped two more while we negotiated. When push came to shove, they’d stay in a place nobody and no cameras were watching and swap out, turning the weapons we’d given over into water. No evidence.

        Also, since the purpose of the knives was to cause a distraction prior to Breakthrough acting, it’s very unlikely that Tristan would need to swap to Byron prior to the knives serving their purpose.

  18. >Kenzie talked while running a hand along the wall, “They’re stuck, trying to figure out what works as a way that is unequivocally Breakthrough murdering Armstrong, but in a way that doesn’t alert the Coalition or Founders that they’re up to something. If it was old Sveta they could strangle him. But it’s not and they don’t know how she works now, except that she’s made of ribbons, so they debated it for about three minutes. Now they’re talking about framing Rain- large clean cuts, framing Byron, except they’re confused about if he’s here, and framing Ashley-”

    “Structural damage and big holes,” I said.

    Kenzie nodded vigorously. “They’re unsure about convincingly doing all of those, which means it’s down to me, I don’t really do weapons, or you, Victoria.”

    So if these guys are aware of Breakthrough’s powers, they should also be aware that Kenzie is anathema to privacy and cyber security. So why are they talking about in the phone?

    While it could be due to them being fools in addition to bigots, it could also be to pull the parahumans into another trap.

    1. Or it’s because they think they stripped her of all her tech. They’ve been in there a few days now, and whilst Kenzie’s on paper a surveillance tinker they might not know how far beyond cameras she goes. They don’t know she has eye cameras, or an oxygen pack, or several perception filters- they think she has nothing. She’s not been using any of her tech in obvious ways, like the rest of Breakthrough keeping their powers quiet.

      They’re underestimating her, because she’s a twelve-year-old girl who doesn’t do weapons and whose technology is big, immovable boxes and cameras. She doesn’t have any boxes and they think they took her cameras off her.

      1. > They’ve been in there a few days now

        This is still Day 2, actually, and in terms of duration they’ve probably only been in there for 20-30 hours.

  19. Great to see Vicky back in superhero mode. Watching her squirm and lash out under Amy!Trauma (plus these otherwise difficult circumstances) was valuable but *intensely* uncomfortable — for me, at any rate.

    Once she’s plugged into her team again (Kenzietech is the real MVP), seeing them work is such a pleasure (Rain-Vista combo, Ashley’s experience shining through, the brilliant use of puddles to make water-to-stone prison knives etc)

    — even if Earth-Kicked-In-The-Shin wants to kill Armstrong. For that alone, their Earth shall be rendered a charnel house, a distorted sphere of fire pits and volcanic glass. Rarrgh.

    Channeling my inner S-Class Ashley.

  20. In related news, Earth Shin is supposed to have done some significant parahuman research. I assume the results/applications of that will be busted out when the shit fully hits the fan

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