Breaking – 14.12

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The tech Kenzie had provided me wasn’t perfect.  Cryptid flickered in and out of view as he passed within the view of the facility’s security cameras and then entered the blinfd spots.

The guards in the hallways ahead of us were the same.  Major points were watched, but there were a few who retreated to places the cameras didn’t see and stayed there.  If this were Gimel I might have guessed they were smoking, but I hadn’t seen or smelled a single cigarette yet.

The gaps meant I had to focus, devoting attention to tracking every single person who stepped out of sight, remembering that they were there, and accounting for the places they could be.  I was reasonably confident in my ability to do that, I was good at memorization, I could wrap my head around who was where in a conflict and not be too surprised at any point.

Except the Cryptid factor required a whole other degree of my attention.  His focus was us, by the looks of it, as he pushed forward and even pushed past guards to make his way to the shower area, then from there to the plaza.  I could see glimpses of the scene through the mess, the blur of regular prisoners blocking him off.  They even pressed him back, to the point he retreated a few steps.

That would be our distraction, a rowdy fight that drew in most of the prisoners.  The distribution of prisoners was almost as dense as it was around meals, but these guys were riled up in a whole other way.  Shin’s response to powers, parahumanity, and the strange was an instinctive, aggressive push back, whether government or prisoner.  It added to the riling and aggressiveness.  They’d been controlled once already and they wouldn’t do it again.  A good share of the ones who would have accepted parahumans had been enlisted by us for our distraction.

Guards supported Cryptid, falling in step beside him, while he tried to nose his way forward toward the members of Breakthrough who were hidden in the crowd.

Rebuffed again, or hurt, or because he caught a whiff of something, he turned around, pushing back through the showers, looping back to Armstrong, Natalie, Crock o’Shit and Coalbelcher, presumably to communicate.

Then he was running down hallways, sprinting as fast as a large dog.  A rat disappearing into the maze, flickering in and out of sight as he passed beneath the cameras.  Coalbelcher jogged after, but he was only a third of the way down the hallway by the time Cryptid was at the end.

Though they were distant, I could see Cryptid stop, pausing at an intersection.  He jerked his head to one side.  A signal to Coalbelcher.

They were after us.

“They’re coming,” I said.  “Cryptid and Coalbelcher.  Cryptid has some running form.”

“Remind me who Coalbelcher is,” Vista said.

“Uh, was one of the fire-themed villains that tried to band together against Cinereal.  Most of that group got trounced, he didn’t, he became a mid-level boss there.  Careful, camera up ahead.”

We were running and we had to stop before we ran right into the camera’s field of view.  I leaned closer to Vista and indicated with my hand.

The camera was set so people couldn’t walk beneath.  But Vista expanded the gap that was there at my instruction, giving us room to move through.

“After Gold Morning he went to prison after breaking a guy’s jaw and back.  Ended up being leader of the men’s side.  Went with Cryptid and the Red Queen.  Reasonable-ish.  Combustible spit, and he spits a lot.  Added strength but not a lot of added durability.”

Three guards up ahead.  One disappeared from view as they left the camera’s radius.  The other two responded to something -a call, a message by radio or intercom, I wasn’t sure what Shin had- and started running our way.

“Hiding spot,” I told Vista.

“I can make a pocket but it won’t be perfect.”

“Fast,” I said.  I pointed down the hallway.  Closer to the guys we were running from.  The lights overhead had two bulbs per installation, but one of the two bulbs was dark in that section of hall, casting it into relative shadow.

Vista pushed the wall out so it bulged, and bid us to step inside.  She pinched it shut, drawing the sides together and the top down, all close to the ground.

“Can’t see how good my work is,” Vista whispered.

“Shh,” I said.

Ten seconds passed.  Guards appeared in my one eye, then disappeared.

I could hear the tromp of boots.

They carried on running toward the plaza, where things were riotous.

I nudged Vista, and she undid the effect, unpinching the gap so we could stoop through, then letting the wall revert back to normal.

“You’ve gotten better,” I said.

“I’ve been working my ass off.  Doing everything the books say might help.  Even fucking meditation.  I hate meditation.”

“Why meditation?” Ashley asked.

“Because you need to change the way you think about your powers,” Vista said.

“Did it work?”

Vista made an ‘enh’ sound, unimpressed and unsure.  “Some stuff did, somewhere along the line.”

“It’s like the hair,” Ashley said.

“Hair?” Vista asked.

“Putting it in your costume, to extend the Manton effect.  Victoria’s idea.  Lots of useful ideas.”

“Benefit of being a good guy.  The crooks don’t have good power labs.”

“Mm.”

Vista gave us a way beneath the next camera, adjusting the gap beneath without modifying anything in the camera’s field of view.

“Cryptid’s closing in,” I said.  “Crock o’Shit’s keeping close to Armstrong and Nat.  Coalbelcher’s… not really a runner.  He’s covering ground Cryptid isn’t.  I think he’s been here before, because he’s moving with purpose.”

“He’s not sticking with his team,” Ashley said.

“Cryptid?” I asked.  I got a short nod in response.  “He isn’t.”

“He doesn’t think in terms of teamwork.  He thinks in terms of problem solving.”

“Sounds right,” I said.  “We have to out-problem solve him.”

I could use the tech Kenzie had given me to track what was going on, and it told me we were getting into an area with more prison staff.  I’d noted before we entered the prison that it was built like a castle set between two halves of a bisected high-rise.  The hallway before us, divided halfway down with a gate or small portcullis, marked the distinction between the ‘castle’ and the high rise part.  With the change came a stark contrast in, well, everything.  The tile transitioned smoothly from slate gray and black to a glossy black and tiles with sunset hues like oil on a roadside puddle.  Statues embedded into the wall broke up the stone on either side of us, allowing for the transition to the maroon and tinted glass of the high-rise.

I looked back.  Cryptid was closing in, sniffing his way to us.  Halfway there.  Armstrong and Natalie were being taken to a side area, denser with prison staff, still in the custody of Crock o’Shit.  The lie detector with the tattoos of scales and her namesake words on her cheeks.

“Options,” I said.  “Our goal is alerting or rescuing Armstrong.  We do it without outing ourselves if we can.”

“Where is he?” Ashley asked.

I pointed.  “That corner of the facility.  Lots of guards, and Crock o’Shit.  Good few guards between us and him, too.”

“And Cryptid,” Ashley said.

“Yes.  And Coalbelcher.”  I pointed with my best guesses.  Both were outside of any camera’s field of view.  “We could go through.  I don’t think it’s impossible, but it’s easy to be cornered with Cryptid coming after us.”

“I do worse with cornered,” Vista said.

“Other option is we go over.  Through here, upstairs… and I remember the glass above the plaza had cracks in it.  In the right situation, Vista could open that crack and I could fly us down.”

“We go outside or above and we signal him from there?” Vista asked.  “How?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “They might be keeping him in a windowless room.”

“Steal a walkie-talkie,” Ashley said.  “Say it to every guard, if he’s in a room with them he’ll hear it.”

“Raising suspicion.”

“If there’s reasonable doubt then we’re fine,” Ashley said.

“Is it though?” Vista asked.  “Is it really fine?”

“I’d rather save him and then go from there.  If there’s trouble it’ll be trouble with an exit.”

“And after that?  Do we escape that trouble for more trouble with an exit?  Ad infinitum?”

“Sometimes that’s all you get,” Ashley answered.

“Option three,” I said, interrupting the back and forth.  “We push for the room where they stowed our stuff.  We get a few of our things, including our phones, and we take it back to Kenzie.  She calls Armstrong or Natalie.”

“Can we find the room?” Ashley asked.

“Pretty sure,” I said.  I looked down the hallway.

Cryptid was still navigating his way to us.  Coalbelcher took another hallway, walking with a steady pace.  Coalbelcher was a good two hundred and fifty pounds minimum, which probably impacted his ability to run around.

“We do your plan,” Ashley said.  “Mine as a backup.”

I looked at Vista.

“Your team, your tech, you seem to know, it’s your call,” Vista said.  “But you’re asking us which option, and it seems like one’s better.  Why?”

“Because this requires us to get to the room, get access, get back, let Lookout do her thing-”

Voices echoed down the hallway, chatter.  Ashley, Vista and I stepped around the corner to be out of sight.

Vista started to create another pinched-off space.  It turned out to be unnecessary.  The people were staff in the high-rise section of the prison, and they weren’t entering the prison section.  I saw their shadows mixing in with the shadows from light filtering through the portcullis gate, before they moved on to wherever it was they were going.

“You didn’t see those coming?” Ashley asked.

“Lookout’s camera only tells me what the cameras see.”

“Great.”

“Cryptid is getting close.  Let’s figure out where we’re going.  Can you pantomime for Darlene and Candy?  They have no audio.”

Ashley gave me an unimpressed look, but she nodded.  I stepped back so she was in my full field of view.

She mimed taking a photo, then mimed Kenzie’s height, before motioning like she was holding a phone to her ear.

The text appeared in the corner of my eye.

-Her phone?-

I nodded.

-Have to ask her.-

“They’re figuring it out,” I said.  I didn’t love that we were at an intersection of three hallways, or that Cryptid was getting closer.

“Say we alert him,” Vista said.  “What does that change?  Can he escape on his own?”

“Or we alert Natalie,” I said.  “It means he can find an escape route.  If they want to frame us for his death then that probably means they want to be able to account for my whereabouts and have a plausible explanation for his whereabouts at the same time.  Sending him to go talk to Sveta, maybe, and then intercepting him.  Probably with Crock o’Shit.”

“That’s a hell of a name,” Vista said.  “She’s strong enough to pretend to be you?”

Cryptid had reached the point where we’d gone through the wall.

The message appeared from Kenzie’s team.

-down hall with gate. basement of that part of complx-

“Yeah,” I said.  “Open the way, get us through there?”

I indicated the portcullis.

“The building without enough cameras for us to know where everyone is?” Ashley asked.

This part of the prison doesn’t have enough cameras for me to know a hundred percent.  That building’s worse.”

“Great,” she said.  There was a terseness and tension to her that I knew was because she was worried about Armstrong and insecure about our ability to help him.

It was easy to be cool and collected when you didn’t care about anyone or anything, but the guy had earned a place with her.

Vista parted the bars.  While she did, I looked ahead, finding the cameras and focusing on them, watching the little circle lock onto each, before giving me a view of what the camera saw.  There was a stairway to the basement but cameras had too tight a view from within the stairwell, of that stairwell.

“We go for what I’m pretty sure is a storage area.  Stop at the end of the hall, check, then run for it on signal.”

Cryptid closed in.

“Crock,” Vista said.  “She’s strong?”

“After,” I said.  “I’ll fill you in when I’m sure we won’t be caught talking.”

She nodded.

Too many things to keep track of.  We hurried through the gate and down the hall, stopping at the corner.  I indicated our path with my finger, a zig-zag around the areas cameras could see.  The ground floor had an eating area taking up a good fifth of it, another area that was sealed off and curtained, maybe a closed storefront, and then lobby and smaller rooms.  There was a stairwell tucked into a nook, just to the left of the hallway we were in, my view through the camera telling me it led up and down.

But our focus was the smaller room.

I checked, then gave the signal.  To the room by a trolley loaded with bottles and folded cloths.

Into the room, where more bottles and cloths were stored and shelved.

Using Wretch strength, a burst, I moved a shelf.  Metal scraped against floor.  We stood in silent tension, waiting and listening to see if there would be an issue or cry for alarm.

“I’m making a hole?” Ashley asked.

“Controlled destruction,” I said.

“I don’t do controlled.  Not well.”

“Vista, expand the target area?  I want it so that when things revert, the hole is small.”

Vista nodded.

“That works,” Ashley said.

“Crock.  She was Fidelis, once.  Ex-marine who left the service to be a Protectorate heroine.  Louisiana PRT.”

“I don’t remember her,” Vista said, as she expanded the floor that had been beneath the shelf.

“Before your time,” I said.  “Took on a position where she’d spend six months of the year with the Lousiana team, six months going from town to town in one of the dead zones without any nearby departments.  Helping police with weird and tough cases.  She’d work as a lie detector, then if there was trouble she’d mutate into an eerie, beautiful, ten foot tall woman.”

“I’ve seen hints of what she becomes and she isn’t beautiful and she’s barely-”

A crash marked Cryptid arriving at the portcullis gate.  He slammed into it, loud, striking bars and straining metal.

“-Barely a woman,” Ashley said.

“That’s Cryptid,” I murmured.  “We should go.”

Through the stairwell camera, I could see people hurrying to the scene to see.  They saw and backed off.

Being big and ugly isn’t working for you here, I thought.

I kept my voice a hush.  “Her lie detection’s a thinker power, technically, but in actual application it’s changer.  She feels it in her gut because her gut morphs and mutates in response.  About a year or two into the routine I was talking about, she gets dropped from official PRT stuff.  Gets the same treatment as capes who are too vicious, ugly, or problematic to market.  Essentially becomes nameless, the only reports of her are her turning into a ten foot tall woman that’s more unsettling than eerily beautiful.”

“Go,” Vista told Ashley.  “You don’t need to go deep.”

Ashley cupped her hands together and channeled her power.  A spark, with the cupping meant to restrain the sound.  She pushed the spark of darkness into the floor, annihilating, twisting, and condensing the matter there.  Once she verified how deep she needed to go, she used her power again.  Each use was marked with a sound like a chainsaw being revved, blades scraping against a chalkboard.

It made a hole.  The others slipped down through it, and it was narrow enough their shoulders grazed the edges.

I could hear Cryptid, guttural voice, a bang on the bars.

I slipped through, flying to hold my position as I dragged the shelves above me to block the hole.  One smooth motion, a bang as it came to rest flush against the wall, and things fell to the floor.

I didn’t even touch the ground of the floor below when Cryptid came barreling in through the door.

We’d have to shake him.

I held my finger to my mouth.  Instructions from Kenzie’s team had been replaced with a number, marking the distance to our destination.  As we headed into the dim basement hallway, the number dropped.

Taking us to a storage room where boxes had been lined up.  Each with a word in an unreadable script.

“When she detects lies she absorbs them, or some… some of the ugliness and intent, makes them part of the changer form she carries with her.  She went from being a heroine who turned into a beautiful giantess to being nameless and disfigured.  She got pretty into her investigation of something big that she’d uncovered, a conspiracy, taking down a crime ring.  I don’t know because I don’t think she was communicating much with her bosses then, so the paperwork is a big question mark.”

“Sure,” Vista said.  “I kind of know the type.  A few of that type.”

I talked while frantically searching.  Dipping into explanations and cape stuff helped keep my hands steady.  There were a lot of boxes with things that I could immediately rule out as non-Breakthrough.  The others searched as well.  “She took a leave of absence and dove into her investigation, and she… never surfaced, I guess.  What came out the other side was a dark version of her, mean, tattooed, filed teeth, and blood on her face because she’d torn into some crime lord’s neck and the blood was still there after the mutations receded.”

“That’s what I saw,” Ashley said.  “It wasn’t very crocodile.”

“No,” I agreed, tilting a box so I could see what was within.  Familiar stuff.  “Found a box.”

“Good,” Ashley said.  She reached my side while Vista appeared at the other side, and the two of them searched neighboring boxes.

I dug through mine, adding, “But she’s strong enough to do to Armstrong or Natalie what I did to my mom.  All they need then is the plausible scenario.”

“Let’s not give them it,” Ashley said.

I had Kenzie’s phone.  A little pencil-case like box that I popped open had photos of Breakthrough inset into the top.  The bottom side had a series of tools, including screwdrivers and things I couldn’t really figure out.  One might have been a pencil-thin blowtorch.  Beneath the tools were more pictures.  Chicken Little, Darlene, Candy and Kenzie, arms around each other’s shoulders.  Another with a younger Kenzie and two adult men, the faces blurred out.

“Hoy!” the voice rang down the hallway.  “Assholes!”

Cryptid, speaking in that distorted voice of his.

We didn’t have a good escape route, and our way up was hazardous, blasting a hole.

At a silent agreement, we emerged from the room.

He was wearing a shape that looked halfway between bird and hairless dog, with a back that arched unnaturally high near the front shoulders, and a frame that seemed too narrow for how tall it was.  Talon-claws rested on the ground.  It was earless, and its beak-muzzle was wide open, revealing Cryptid’s mostly normal face on the inside, filling the void that would have his head within.

He was clothed, but not in the sash he’d worn when he was on Breakthrough.  A metal collar had a ring of metal-encased syringes primed to plunge into his own throat, and that collar had four broad lengths of  cloth draping back from it.  Shin’s textiles were top notch, which was probably why they wrapped everything from themselves to their guns in it, and he’d decked himself out in plenty of it, all crimson with gold tracery.

“Sneaky,” he said.

“You’re one to talk,” Ashley retorted.

“Am I?  More than you?  Any and all of you?” he asked.

One of the syringes in his neck plunged in like it had been fired from a gun, eliciting a gout of blood that dribbled to the floor.

“Think twice,” I told him.  “If you change-”

“I’m reverting,” he said.  The syringe plunged in again, for a repeated stabbing.  “This is good for giving chase but not so good for anything else.  I’m supposed to keep the peace and handle parahuman shit.  Which means I handle you.”

“You can’t handle me, Cryptid,” Ashley said.

“I found you.  Whatever you were doing, you’re not going to do it now.  Remember Victoria saying she wanted to deny the bad guys what they wanted?  Hey hypocrites, you’re the bad guys here, going against the local authority.  If you want to sneak away I’m not letting you.  I know how you think.”

“You went and made yourself big and ugly,” Ashley said.  “You bullied a kid, trying to taunt Kenzie.  You like to think you’re a smart guy, Cryptid.  You know me.  How does this go?”

He was reverting to human form, bones cracking, muscles shifting.  The syringe plunged into his neck again, for a third strike, and the process of reverting accelerated almost immediately.  Blood trailed down his arm from the wound beneath the collar to his fingertips.  He stood there, distorted in shape, his hair a mop that was just slick enough with his prior form’s bodily fluids to stay where it was when he pushed his misshapen, still-partially clawed fingers through it and moved hair away from his eyes.  The collar was now a hoop that rested atop his shoulders and against the back of his head, showing collarbone and part of his distorted chest, that was still absorbing the lower portion of the form’s jaw.  The cloth that draped down from it covered everything from that point down, pooling on the floor.

His head more or less normal now, he cracked his neck and yawned his jaw open, before smiling.  “I’m smart enough to know you can’t.  Not me.  It would destroy you.”

“I think I could get over it,” she said.  “You’d… rot, I suppose.  I think I come out ahead.”

He smiled.  “See, this?  This?  I almost missed this.  The you that used to be cool.  The you that was mean and callous enough that I could almost believe you when you said stuff.  But you’ve got no bite to your bark anymore, people laugh at you because you’re so toothless.”

“Are you seriously trying to convince her to hurt you?” Vista asked.

“She can’t.  If she could have she would have already.”

“I’ve never had more respect for her,” I said.  “And it’s not because she’s so-called ‘toothless’.  It’s because-”

“Oh fuck off,” he cut me off.  “Sanctimonious hypocrisy.”

“Big words from a two year old,” I told him.

That’s better,” he said, and there was something resembling fervor in his eyes.  “The bullshit you were spewing a few seconds ago was completely empty.  This at least shows you’re thinking about things.”

“If you think I’m not, then you’re not nearly as clever as people were saying you were.”

“Her,” he said, pointing at Ashley.  “Figure her out yet, or am I right, are you not thinking about it?  Being willfully blind?”

“I’ve been thinking about her a lot.  Working on figuring her out.”

“One word, sum her up, come on.  I’ll even give you a hint.  If it doesn’t piss her off to hear it sound out loud, you’re wrong.”

“Ascension,” I told him.

He made an abrasive buzzer noise, made more abrasive by his distorted, too-deep voice.  Then, pleased with himself, he chuckled.  “Try ‘facade’.”

A spark of something crackled at Ashley’s hand.  I mimed for her to stand down, hand out.

“Nah,” I said.

“Yeah,” he answered.

“How would you even know what the right answer was, Cryptid?” I asked him.  “The only times you were around, you had your head stuck so far up your own ass I’m surprised you could see anything.”

“Because I’m an expert in molding yourself into something.  Putting on faces.  The only difference is that instead of ‘fake it until you make it’, I take it until I make it.  Glug glug.  She was a scared little girl once and she found the closest thing she could to strong and untouchable and she wrapped herself up in the lie.  The only difference now is that she’s wrapping herself up in another lie.  Sad thing is, in the years since she was that scared little girl with her parent’s blood spattered all over her, she’s let the human shit atrophy.  There’s nothing left except the fakery.”

“Big man, taking what was shared in private therapy and trying to use it to hurt me.  Kenzie was right,” Ashley said.  “You’re pretty pathetic.”

“They say eyes are windows to the soul, and your eyes are blank from corner to corner.  Says it all.”

“Not right now,” I said.

“Kind of true,” Cryptid said.  “Shit, I thought of that one a bit ago, was holding on to it.”

“And you call us pathetic,” Ashley said.

“I call Breakthrough fundamentally dishonest and hypocritical, my ‘pathetic’ is reserved for you and Kenzie.  Unlike you guys, I don’t preach one idea and live another.”

“What are you doing?” I asked him.  “Secret’s out, Lab Rat.  No more reason to hide.”

“Is this supposed to be my monologue?  I talk about everything?  Pass.”

“The alternative is we’re doing something and you’re just floundering, pretending to have direction,” I said.

“I’ve been putting little things you said into context,” Ashley said, joining her voice to mine in pressuring him.  “Wanting to get away, hating your own skin.”

“I’m away.  Got a whole continent mostly to myself, now.  I changed my skin.  What I’ve got on right now by default isn’t really human or mine.  I’ll change it up more later.  I have direction, Victoria.  It’s being my own person with control over my own existence, not being some hypocritical ping pong ball that’s bouncing around from crisis to crisis.”

“You enjoyed the crises.”

“I did.  But getting there is a pain, having to drag you all kicking and screaming, seeing you all fight yourselves every step of the way.  This is better.  I’ve got projects in the works, and if the world ends up ending like Amy says it will, I think I can get enough people into space, away from it all.  Build something, give ’em all bodies adapted to that environment.”

“Powers don’t work in space,” I told him.  “We’re tethered to the agents and if you move far enough away the power doesn’t feed in.  You wouldn’t get any tinker inspiration.  When Sphere was trying to build the moon base, he had to build on Earth and send stuff up.”

“You think I don’t know that?  Shin has better power labs and research than you do.  I’m aware, and I’m confident.  Don’t worry, but don’t expect a reserved seat either.  Because you’re either going to be stuck right here, or you’re going to be the ones who ran, caused trouble, or otherwise left millions to go without supplies because your recklessness jeopardized a trade deal.”

I tensed.  It was the kind of line that preceded aggressiveness.  He remained where he was.

“How much of this did you plan?” Vista asked.

This?  It’s stupid politics and a bit of Teacher, a bit of one of the bigger precogs.  I just showed up, enjoyed the show, and figured I’d fulfill my promise to Panacea while I did it.”

“You set me up to go to her.”

“Gave the doctor the miracle drug that would knock you out, pulled the strings, gave her the room number, let the meeting happen.  One way or another, I figured I wouldn’t have to listen to her whine any more.”

I nodded, letting the hollow, empty feeling take up residence in my head, throat, and upper body.  It was likely it was the very same emptiness he’d alleged Ashley had inside of her.

That I could’ve felt as scared and awful as I had back in that room with Amy, and that someone could have inflicted that on me so casually?

“Fucking why?” I asked.

“He wants us to hate him,” Ashley said.  “It’s safer.  It lets him stay isolated from the rest of the world, unaffected by others.”

“It’s worked, then.  If he wants me to be his enemy then he’s got it,” I said, my voice low.  I didn’t clench my fists because I was pretty sure that if I did, I wouldn’t unclench them until they were halfway through this sneering asshole’s skull.

“You know Teacher’s doing a whole thing, right?  Manipulating information, setting friends against friends, enemies against enemies, to create enough distraction that nobody’s organized enough to work against him?  He left stuff around for her to find,” Cryptid told us.  “He doesn’t trust me after the years we spent jockeying for power in the Birdcage, I cured some of his thralls, fucked with him a few too many times.  He wants to pretend he’s objective and rational but he can hold a grudge.  He was fucking with your sis, Victoria, I knew he’d keep doing it until I took that card away from him.”

“By putting me in that room with a monster?”

“You’re more monstrous than she is,” he said.  “And Coalbelcher?  You’re really fucking slow.”

Coalbelcher was coming down the hallway.  Heavy, with a roll of a chin covered in stubble, black smudges all over his face to create the illusion of a three-dimensional skull, drooling thick rivulets of black that disappeared into his top.  He wore an outfit of nice Shin fashion that had been stained with black handprints and globs.

“Coalbelcher.  We made a deal before,” I tried.

“You got me out of prison in exchange for my help.  Or I got out of prison and it happened coincidentally.  I’ve made more deals with him, more recently, and that counts for more.  I like the current gig.”

“You have nothing,” Cryptid said.

“Guards should be thirty seconds behind me,” Coalbelcher said.  “I think I hear ’em.”

I looked to the camera in the stairwell, let the tech in my eye lock on, and looked through it.  Sure enough, they were coming down.

“Good.  Let’s not give them an excuse to say they did half the work.  Blast ’em.”

I saw Coalbelcher draw a breath, rearing back, while Cryptid hopped back, hauling a door open to use the room inside as cover.  I flew forward, to act as cover.

Coalbelcher vomited a stream of black at us, a geyser spray.

I saw him clench his fist, punching it forward into the stream he’d just terminated.

It detonated, a rolling explosion that chased the geyser toward us.  And with Vista’s space warping, it changed direction and all splashed along one wall, licking it with fire.

Already flying forward to intercept, I kept going.  The only way to do this was to execute it quickly and efficiently.

And if need be, kill them and have Ashley annihilate the evidence.

But Coalbelcher’s power produced a spray, and that spray included flecks that had scattered to the floor, ceiling and walls just in front of him.  He hadn’t detonated that.  I saw it at the last second, threw hands and arms around my head, and felt the explosion throw me off course.  A ring of fire, that left me spinning in the air for a second.

A meaty hand grabbed me, as he leaped up to me and seized hold, and as he came down, he threw me hard into the concrete floor.  I put out my hands to stop myself from crashing down face first, and I felt staples in my hand pull free, tearing at skin.

He exhaled, and it wasn’t a liquid geyser this time, but a cloud, aimed over and past me.

Swansong, following up.

Vista’s power altered the cloud, shrinking it.  But with the close confines being what they were, and the particles being just as effective if they were on a wall or on the ceiling, she was left to keep them suspended indefinitely in air.

Ashley threw a hand to one side, threw herself the opposite way.  Without taking the time to get up, I came at him from another angle, staying low and sliding along the ground with my flight.

Vista moved the blob of gas.  It detonated to Swansong’s right, and the detonation was localized, kept to one side of the hall while Swansong slipped past.

Chris, partially mutated, his head encased in what looked like a rat skull, his body and limbs long, reached out to grab her out of the air.  He got his grip on her and then biological mechanisms in his limb turned his already long, red-furred arm into a piston, punching her through a door.

I still managed to hit Coalbelcher.  A strike dead center to the stomach, hard enough it might have caused internal damage.

Guards yelled noise in a foreign language.  I looked, and I didn’t see them.

I looked at Cryptid, and saw him smiling, his face barely visible as it dissolved into connective tissue that cobwebbed out to the interior of the skull that was his new head.  No skin grew over that skull.

The lights went out.

-That was us– the message on my display read.  –cuz guards-

I saw the silhouettes of Cryptid and Coalbelcher, and hit the latter, three times, with two of the hits in the same spot and the third hit aimed at his leg with Wretch strength added in, because a power with that much output had recoil and he couldn’t handle recoil without legs.

“Crypt,” Coalbelcher gurgled, around an audible outpouring of more combustible gunk.

“Go!”

I put myself between Coalbelcher and Ashley just in time for another explosion.

The explosion illuminated the hallway, illuminated Coalbelcher, who was now visibly on fire, nice clothes burning, especially where the blackness had leaked into it – handprints and all.  The ‘skull’ where his face hadn’t been painted black was now the only part of his head that wasn’t on fire.

Guards in the background were cowering, shielding their eyes, and retreating.

Then Cryptid was there, lunging out of the doorway at the side of the hall, into the corridor and positioning himself over Coalbelcher, not caring about the flame.  A skull was illuminated in orange, and limbs with forearms, biceps, calves and thighs as long as I was tall were bent and cocked, ready.  The hoop he’d had around his shoulders before was now around his waist, cinched tighter to act as a belt.  The fabric was like a loincloth.

The tail was the catch, prehensile, sneaky, stabbing along the edge where floor met wall.  I planted my boot on it, crushing it to the point it broke.  The part I’d separated from its owner flailed madly.

“You can see in the dark,” he remarked.  “So can I.”

The hand snatched out, forearm consisting of multiple pieces that acted like crossbow and arrow, the arrow remaining attached to the rest of it.  All to double the length of his arm.  It made him faster at reaching than I was at flying.  It seized me and then pulled me with it as it reeled in, slower than it’d reached out.

I wrapped my legs around it, gripped it with my good hand, and flew backward.

It pulled him off balance, pulled him closer to us.

That was what he was afraid of, after all.  Getting close.

He braced himself, and I used Wretch strength.  The Wretch hit and broke his arm in two places that I could see in his silhouette.  It provided the strength to pull him forward onto his stomach, limbs out around him.

“Burn us!” Cryptid hissed.

“Do and he dies,” Ashley said, quiet.

Coalbelcher didn’t.  I was betting he liked his gig more than he liked Cryptid.

“She’s bluffing,” Cryptid said, his voice like a hiss from the bottom of a well.  “She can’t kill.  She’d be giving them evidence and they’d cut off supplies to millions.”

“Reasonable doubt,” Ashley said, her voice barely above a whisper as she fumbled her way to stand beside me, her hand pointing in the direction his voice was coming from.  “That’s all I need.  I’ll blow a perfectly square hole in you.”

“New trick?” Cryptid asked.

“Nah.  I can’t do perfectly square,” Ashley said.  “But I can do messy, and Vista can make messy neat and square.”

“Yeah,” Vista said.

“She can’t work in the dark,” Cryptid growled.

“Tinker tech.  Warden provided.  You’re a tinker, you can recognize it when you see it.”

“Bluffs on top of bluffs,” Cryptid said.  “You-”

He fired off an arm, reaching.

I kicked it, Wretch-strong, and booted it into the wall, shattering the mechanisms.  Cryptid arched his back, suppressing a scream, then letting that suppressed scream become a chuckle instead.

“Bluff,” he hissed, through the chuckles.

“You say you don’t care,” I told him, my voice barely above a whisper.  “You don’t give a shit.  Fine.  But if you fuck with us right now, if you push this hard on this and give them the chance to kill Natalie or Armstrong, then you’re proving you do care.  You-”

“Oh fuck off,” he hissed.

“Fine,” I told him.  “Your choice.  Fuck with us and we find a way to destroy you that doesn’t look like anything Breakthrough could do to you.  We destroy everything you’ve built, we expose everything you want to hide, and we make you suffer.  Or you can fuck off.”

“Just fuck off.  You’re so good at it,” Ashley said.  “And it’s so much better than you deserve.”

“I’ll go limp that way with both of my arms shattered, one almost torn off, and I’ll say we didn’t find you.  I’m sure they’ll believe me.”

“You can heal,” I told him.

I heard a syringe sink home.  The silhouette imaging caught the blood spatter for the one or two seconds it was warm.

“Don’t be stupid,” I warned.

He let go of me.

“You’re lucky I don’t really care,” he said.

He pulled away and straightened.  I went to Swansong and, in the pitch black, I helped her to her feet.  I got Vista too, and led them down the hall, back to the spot below the storage room, perilously close to guards who stood in the dark, brandishing guns and waiting for the lights to come back on.

Once we were far enough away, safely in the room with the door closed, the lights returned.

Vista widened the hole again.  It was barely big enough to drop a quarter through, but as she widened it, we had something us-sized.  She went a step beyond and expanded the gap to let us get past the shelf without moving it.

I kept close to the door, my hand pressed over the part of my hand with the pulled staples, listening.

“Nothing,” Cryptid told the soldiers.

“Those weren’t nothing sounds.”

“Our friend here thought he saw something and he’d flush them out.  It was an animal.  Someone’s office pet.  He burned me, we had words.  There was nothing.  You’re wasting my time.”

“The lights-”

“Was us.  Me.  I make things, I make light switches.  I see better in the dark than you do in the bright, and it slows down anyone running from us.  Except it was a false alarm.”

The hole was big enough to crawl through.  I went up first, and gave Swansong a hand.  She’d been battered in being pushed through the door.  Vista was last.  While she climbed up, I peeked through a crack in the door.

We crossed the lobby just ten or so seconds before the guards got to the top of the stairs, a matter of feet away.  We ran down the hallway, as quickly and quietly as we could, before they could walk over and look our way.

Back to the others, Kenzie’s phone and toolkit in our possession.  Once she had it, she could alert Armstrong and Natalie.  It was the best we could do, short of fighting our way through dozens of guards and trying to pass it off, or tearing through the building to get to them.  If they needed that kind of help, we’d provide it, but it was the best we could do while staying covert.

Then it would be up to them.

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131 thoughts on “Breaking – 14.12”

  1. Chris is so fucking scary when he’s on the opposite side. Is it bad I still really like him?

    Also, is it bad I kinda agree with his assessment of Ashley? I would also sum her up with the word facade, though with different reasoning.

    1. He’s an asshole with (probably) a hidden good heart but he hates to admit that. He’s a fascinating character, I like him too even if sometimes I just want to strangle his real body and watch him becoming limp in my hands. He makes me feel this way. Not bad to like him. He’s OUR asshole.

    2. The main thing where Chris is wrong, in my opinion, is in thinking that you can sum someone up with one word. Sure “facade” is a good one for Ashley, it does dig deep into her bigger issues. But it’s not the sum of her. Victoria’s pick “ascension” also works, and it even works with the “facade” one. Ashley has been trying to project a larger than life mask, posturing to make herself feel safer and to center herself. But she wants to be more than that.

      Chris wants to sum people up with single words because it creates more distance with individuals. If you can sum them up with one word then they aren’t complex and complicated people that need to be acknowledged, they’re just annoyances to dismiss. Chris wants to become something other than human, and in the process, he’s justifying it by reducing humanity to something one should scorn.

      1. Chris is someone who wants to be less human. He wants to move away from being Labrat. He’s not willing to put in the work to go the other way from Labrat, and be a better human being. Depending on Shardnannigens.

      2. Ah, but thanks to shardnanagins and trigger events theres a grain of truth, that parahumans do often seem to have a core “drive”. For instsnce to flip it back on Chris, I’d say something like “Prune” (in the culling sense, not the dried fruit sense.) For Kensie, something like “Cling”. I’m not saying these characters are one dimensional, just that parahumans tend to be obsessive with very strong fallback behaviors that you somtimes can simplify into a single concept. And I agree with Chris that Facade works better than Ascension because quite frankly, when has Ashley ever successfully Ascended?

        1. Her facade has cracked, broken, and dropped, but when has she ever stopped trying to Ascend? Even when she ran back to her home town with her tail in her legs, she was looking for another opportunity to make a play. Even when beaten, she’s not broken, and whilst where she wants to ascend has changed, her desire to do so hasn’t.

        2. Other people have pointed out that Ashley has never stopped trying to ascend and all that. But I think it’s worth noting that for parahumans their core drive is usually somewhat related, thematically, with their powers.

          And Ashley? Her blasts are basically the lowest setting of the power that the entities use to propel themselves off a planet once they’ve concluded a cycle. If that’s not ascending…

          Also, Chris turns himself and others into monsters. A temporary appearance, that looks very different from the truth. Facade, indeed…

      3. Multifaceted. One word that applies to all people.

        Granted, the meaning is inherently contradictory to the idea Chris was trying to convey…

    3. Is he? He got absolutely manhandled in this fight, and things will go worse if Ashley ever makes the connection that she can blast his limbs off and sleep soundly afterward because he can grow them back.

      Chris’s major advantage was surprise, which he now lacks.

  2. Well I used to be okay with Chris, but now he’s just this piece of shit who willingly subjects people to their trauma’s and uses peoples secrets against them.

    1. Suoer villain is evil, more news at 11. Likeability is a false god of character creation.

    2. Actually, I’ll buy that he’s trying to undo some Teacher BS. Amy is already falling asleep at the wheel and turning heads into forests of ears, if Teacher is feeding her the right rumours and BS, it’s probably doing worse.

      15 minutes with Vicky, while awful when we are in her head, is exactly the kind of shallow level problem solving that most people do between interpersonal drama. “If only they’d just sit in a room and talk to each other!”

    1. Remember that all they need is “reasonable doubt”. It doesn’t matter if the guards know that they broke out as long as there is no solid material proof of that (like a video footage showing Victoria, Vista and Ashley somewhere they shouldn’t be) or too many reliable eye witnesses. A large number of guards could be that, but just Cryptid and Coalblecher probably wouldn’t quite qualify as “reliable witnesses”. Neither on Shin nor on Gimel. The fact that they convinced Cryptid to lie to the guards about “false alarm” also helps – with a riot in the prison starting precisely when Armstrong and Natalie arrived everyone with a a couple of brian cells and little understanding of the situation will be at least 90% certain that something like the breakout happened, but the point is that no one will able to prove anything beyond “reasonable doubt”.

      1. Though I don’t know how reasonable doubt would hamper Shinese if they’d want to do some shit. Until now, they were just doing whatever they want without regard to pretty much anything.

        1. Same way as preventing Breakthrough (plus Vista and Golem) from being framed as killers of Natalie and Armstrong would – Yosef’s faction wants to get something that looks like a solid proof of their crime, so they could keep the Gimel envoys indefinitely, and use them as a leverage against Gimel (and possibly also to convince more people on Shin to their extremist ways – thus strengthening their position, while at the same tome weakening more moderate factions).

          A proof of a jailbreak may not be as good as a proof of murder, but it would likely still serve Yosef’s purposes well enough.

  3. “You went and made yourself big and ugly,” Ashley said. “You bullied a kid, trying to taunt Kenzie. You like to think you’re a smart guy, Cryptid. You know me. How does this go?”

    She spoke the words of truth. Chris is one of the biggest dickheads, apparently he doesn’t care about anyone but himself and he calls everyone else an asshole or a monster but he never see himself as one. Yet, he agreed to let his former teammates escape (they kicked his ass but he still lied the guards, letting them escape. Maybe, deep down, he actually care a bit about them but he’ll never admit this not even to himself? You’re such a complicated mess, Chris. He plans to save people in the manner that Sphere did. Either he’s a liar/coward or he’s the most complicated dickhead genuinely good guy in Ward.

    Teacher is messing with Amy. I was right, but not in the way that he controls her. He’s just messing with her because he knows that Victoria/Amy team will bring him down in a matter of minutes and he wants them to remain enemies so he will have a chance to win. That bastard….

    1. > Teacher is messing with Amy. I was right, but not in the way that he controls her.

      Are you sure about it?

      [Teacher] doesn’t trust me after the years we spent jockeying for power in the Birdcage, I cured some of his thralls, fucked with him a few too many times.

      Maybe Amy had been Teacher’s thrall, and Chris “cured” her from it?

      1. Maybe this is the reason why Amy works so close with Chris despite his general attitude towards everyone? Because she’s grateful to him for saving her from under Teacher’s control?

      2. “Teacher’s exploiting the system,” she said, her voice almost emotionless. “He’s going to pick a fight sooner or later, and it’s going to be devastating. He manufactured a crack, he’s going to intentionally create more. Each one gives him more access to the system and more control over the levers and knobs that decide everything else. He can force-create a Dauntless and the ones he makes will listen to him.”

        I was silent.

        “Teacher was one of the only other people in the Birdcage who kind of ‘got it’, who engaged with me when I talked about that stuff.”

        She paused.

        “I shouldn’t have said as much as I did to Teacher,” Amy said

        Could it be that Teacher can influence someone with his power in such a subtle way, that the student doesn’t even realize they have been “teachered”? Could he do it to Amy? It could explain a lot of things:
        – why Amy managed to restore Victoria’s body and mind after coming out of Birdcage, while she couldn’t do it before (Teacher gave her a better control over her power),
        – why Amy shared too much of her insights into how shards and their network works (as a student she was compelled to do it),
        – why in Teneral e.5 Teacher didn’t mind that his proposal for Amy will be presented to her by Marquis (again – as a student Amy would feel compelled to accept any proposal as long as she knew it came from Teacher),
        – where all Teacher’s “unwitting eyes” came from (they could just be more people who aren’t aware they have been teachered).

        1. Unless he’s Teachered himself to remove the touch limitation on his power, or possibly used Ingenue to do the same, I doubt it. And Ingenue would come with downsides of her own, unless he Teachered her to remove her compulsion effect from her Trump power.
          – I think Amy tapped into Victoria’s memories/shard when restoring her, something she figured out how to do since she wasn’t as stressed or tired;
          -I think Amy was naive and was too happy to be talking to somebody that ‘got it’ to realise the implications of sharing knowledge with Teacher- and I think Amy got the worse end of any deals made there;
          – I think Teacher genuinely wanted Amy working for him willingly- and if he could affect someone without touching them, he’d have done it to Marquise then to get him to arrange a meet for them, without acting the middleman;
          – I think Teacher bought or traded tech with Cradle, and has figured out how to hack into Shard-dreams and possibly other parahuman-altered mental states. His ‘unwitting eyes’ are capes that have special dreams, or possibly he’s got a copy of that Heartbroken’s power, the one sent after Cherish that can see through the eyes of others.

          1. All of those are obviously possible explanations, but considering that Chris told Victoria that Teacher “fucked with” Amy right after he mentioned that Lab Rat “cured” some of Teacher’s thralls, I wouldn’t dismiss a possibility that Amy had been teachered, and Chris also “cured” her. After all people often mention facts together when in their minds those facts are somehow closely related to each other. Perhaps in Chris’ mind the link between the thralls he cured, and the fact that Teacher messed with Amy is that she is one of those “cured” people (assuming of course that by “curing” Teacher’s thralls Chris meant removing Teacher’s master effect, but considering that Teacher was supposed to be angry at Lab Rat for it I doubt that Chris was talking about literally “curing” a regular disease, or something along these lines).

          2. One thing to note is that if I recall correctly so far we haven’t seen Teacher use his power on an unwilling or unaware subject. It could be a limitation of his power, but maybe he has been simply deceiving everyone about it to appear less dangerous than he actually is?

    2. > he calls everyone else an asshole or a monster but he never see himself as one.

      That doesn’t ring true to me. I think Chris knows he’s an asshole; he just doesn’t care. Unlike Breakthrough. Trolling 101: attack what’s important to your targets, not what’s important to you.

  4. >a call, a message by radio or intercom, I wasn’t sure what Gimel had- and started running our way.
    I think you meant Shin.

    Anyway. So I guess Cryptid wasn’t in on to the assassination plan?

  5. Hahaha.

    Oh, Chris.

    You’re trying to do what Witness did to Shatterbird in that Schrodinger’s-canon interlude i.e. using moral victory as physical armour. If your enemy thinks killing you will prove you right, they will let you live.

    Of course, he forgets this is Team Breakthrough (psychological breakthrough AND that all their powers literally break through shit), he thought they wouldn’t have an answer for his dumb ass.

    … Of course, there is the minor possibility that he, barring some minor details of execution, intended this outcome all along i.e. helping them without looking like he’s helping them.

    1. I read the situation as something along the lines of trying to prevent Breakthrough from doing something stupid that would upset the situation and his carefully-laid plans to save people via space colony (but he doesn’t care about other people, oh no no no), but then he finds out Breakthrough was operating on information he didn’t have and Armstrong and Natalie are in danger (yay teamwork). So he wants to let them off (but he doesn’t care, nope nope nope),but he’s in a difficult position. Breakthrough convinced him by saying he’d capture them only if he cared, so he can’t do that, because he cares a LOT about not caring. What a poser. I chalk it up to trauma and/or shard-shaped psychology, like Bitch.

  6. Typo thread.

    > -a call, a message by radio or intercom, I wasn’t sure what Gimel had-

    ‘Shin’ instead of ‘Gimel’?

    > and that collar had four broad lengths of cloth draping back from it.

    There are two spaces between ‘of’ and ‘cloth’.

  7. “Gave the doctor the miracle drug that would knock you out, pulled the strings, gave her the room number, let the meeting happen.  One way or another, I figured I wouldn’t have to listen to her whine any more.”

    Could “one of the bigger precogs” be Dinah? Also it looks like Chris “gave Victoria to Amy” even though Amy told him she doesn’t want to get Victoria the way Chris suggested he could do it?

    1. Sorry, I’ve made a mistake and copied only part of what I wanted to post in the comment above. Here is the whole thing:

      This? It’s stupid politics and a bit of Teacher, a bit of one of the bigger precogs.  I just showed up, enjoyed the show, and figured I’d fulfill my promise to Panacea while I did it.”

      “You set me up to go to her.”

      “Gave the doctor the miracle drug that would knock you out, pulled the strings, gave her the room number, let the meeting happen.  One way or another, I figured I wouldn’t have to listen to her whine any more.”

      Could “one of the bigger precogs” be Dinah? Also it looks like Chris “gave Victoria to Amy” even though Amy told him she doesn’t want to get Victoria the way Chris suggested he could do it?

      1. I understood that as Dinah. Maybe it’s just another herring.
        That instantly pushed Chris to the top of Victoria’s shit list, right in the “murder him and disintegrate the corpse” spot.
        Girl should get in touch with her inner darkness, letting that kind of pathos alone won’t make it go away.

  8. So sad about Crock’s power turning her into a monster. Like an emotion-fueled version of Crawler.

    The other revelations were interesting. At least part of Amy’s apparent instability is Teacher’s doing, Cryptid has a ton of projects here, Victoria is thinking about Ashley a lot.

    Oh, and Victoria is not above “we kill them, then have Swansong obliterate the evidence” now. Worrying.

    1. Honestly, given how many problems her team have because of these dickheads, I’m not against Vic’s character development. On the contrary, I agree with it :).

    2. Only against Cryptid (a liar, hypocrite and traitor who abandoned the team and hurt the whole group, Vicky included) and Coalbelcher, a violent thug who joined a group to beat a heroine, didn’t get beaten like the others in the group, then survived Gold Morning, then got sent to prison where he rose to be Big Man. Worrying, but if she’s going to kill anyone and destroy the evidence, it’s going to be these two… Or Amy.

  9. “Powers don’t work in space,” I told him. “We’re tethered to the agents and if you move far enough away the power doesn’t feed in. You wouldn’t get any tinker inspiration. When Sphere was trying to build the moon base, he had to build on Earth and send stuff up.”

    But why agents are tethered to the planet? What if everyone goes to space?

    1. They are probably tethered to a planet because they occupy parallel Earths. Remember that despite existing in multiple universes at once the Entities still had take a lot of time to travel through interstellar space, that they had to use specialized broadcast shards to communicate with each other while in transit, and that they detected Abaddon only once it got close enough to them.

      This would indicate that distance in traditionally understood three-dimensional space is still a factor for them. The fact that Scrub-Labyrinth portals seemingly always lead from one Earth to the place with exactly the same geographical coordinates on another Earth, or that Kronos titan seems to exist in counterparts of Brockton Bay on all Earths also seem to indicate it.

      By the way, I wonder if Jack’s “broadcast” shard could be re-purposed to extend the range at which some or all other powers can work away from Earth to something like at least few AUs? Maybe this way we could have capes visit or even colonize places like the Moon, Mars or Venus’ atmosphere?

      1. And of course if you gather all shards into a new Entity, you could theoretically send them together into distant space. If I recall correctly, Legend in his interlude suspected that his shard was originally meant to provide the Entity it came from with an ability to cross interstellar space, so the means of such travel could still be there.

        1. And finally the shards are probably stuck on alternate Earths at the moment, because during this point of their life cycle most of them don’t have any means of controlled space travel (that is what specialized shards, like Legend’s would be for), and need resources from all Earths (including those still not occupied by them – like those where humans live) to reassemble themselves into an Entity that can travel as a whole using propulsion (and possibly other effects – like time distortion that would make travel time bearable) provided by Legend’s shard (and possibly several other like it).

          Since the shards are currently physically separated, if Legend’s shard would for some reason decide to fly to Mars for example (assuming for a second that it is even able to make such decision), one of two things would happen:
          – nothing, if Legend’s shard is crippled or attached to its Earth in such way that it is unable to leave the planet without some sort of help from the hub or other shards,
          – it would go to Mars alone, since no other shards are physically connected to it, and as such can’t be physically moved by it.

      2. What happens to Legend if he actually tries to test his powers as a means of interstellar travel? Does he just get locked in breaker mode for all eternity? I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’d be pretty sad to see that happen to the One True Triumvir.

      3. It seems strange to me, that shard could provide powers to several people at once (clones or cluster) which could be on different places of different Earths (i.e. up to 12700 km apart) without issues and delays, but fails to extend their radius to the Moon or travels ~there itself. Yes, it is 30 times further, but tinkertech come from more advanced civilizations which should be on some stages of space exploration and so shards should be prepared for planetary system ranges. What if advanced civilization decide to evacuate to different planet (like Mars) – shards remains on original planet and will not be able to attach to hosts? In this case Cycle should failed much sooner…
        May be Entities adjust shard radius to civilization level each time and for Earth it was set to planetary as human presence outside atmosphere was negligible.

        1. I would assume that the entities simply sabotage any attempts for large numbers of people to leave the planet. Remember, they originally intended to proactively meddle in human affairs, not leave people to just run around doing whatever they felt like. They only ended up being hands-off with humans because Thinker died and Warrior got sidetracked by depression.

    2. Agents reside on the planet because that’s where all the life is, and where they have the best chance of locating a host. It’s unlikely that they hit a world where everyone goes to space.

      1. Planets are also where the energy and resource supplies are. In space, pretty much all you’ve got is electromagnetic radiation and a very very thin layer of hydrogen (basically useless unless you’re going incredibly fast). On Earth, you still have a big part of the solar input, but you also have wind, tides, rivers, ocean currents, geothermal gradients, magma currents, tectonic drift, chemical fuel, fission fuel, fusion fuel, the planetary spin itself, and a fuckton of raw materials to eat (these are biological creatures, remember). Plus, with the ability to span multiple worlds you can harness additional gradients (e.g. the different local weather patterns on either side of a portal often mean differences in air pressure resulting in significant winds as a large area of high pressure tries to dump into an equally large area of low pressure).

  10. I assume they can – they just don’t want to. It’d take an annoyingly large amount of work for them to uproot themselves and follow their host, so they wouldn’t do that unless the host was doing something really interesting. Besides, if they scatter themselves all over the local region of space that might pose some issues for the cycle ending …

  11. Chris puts up a big front (and is legitimately a jerk) but a quick review:

    ‘“You say you don’t care,” I told him, my voice barely above a whisper. “You don’t give a shit. Fine. But if you fuck with us right now, if you push this hard on this and give them the chance to kill Natalie or Armstrong, then you’re proving you do care. You-”

    “Oh fuck off,” he hissed.’

    First mention of why these three are sneaking around happens right here. A bit late, no? Cryptid shows no sign of having been aware of the murder plot.

    He cuts Antares off again, but then….

    ‘“Fine,” I told him. “Your choice. Fuck with us and we find a way to destroy you that doesn’t look like anything Breakthrough could do to you. We destroy everything you’ve built, we expose everything you want to hide, and we make you suffer. Or you can fuck off.”

    “Just fuck off. You’re so good at it,” Ashley said. “And it’s so much better than you deserve.”

    “I’ll go limp that way with both of my arms shattered, one almost torn off, and I’ll say we didn’t find you. I’m sure they’ll believe me.”’

    Suddenly he seems much more amenable than after the original (and plausible) death threats. Already he’s talking about practical obstacles to getting out of the way.

    ‘“You can heal,” I told him.

    I heard a syringe sink home. The silhouette imaging caught the blood spatter for the one or two seconds it was warm.

    “Don’t be stupid,” I warned.

    He let go of me.

    “You’re lucky I don’t really care,” he said.’

    Practical obstacle to helping the team resolved, Chris immediately backs down completely, with only a nod to being a dick. He then removes himself from the imminent death threat, gets in front of witnesses, and then pointedly gives them an alibi.

    Summarized: Chris heard about a murder plot and switched to helping avert said murder about as much and as fast as was even possible.

    Maybe they should have opened with that?

    1. Here is something I’m too slow to get.

      “if you push this hard on this and give them the chance to kill Natalie or Armstrong, then you’re proving you do care.”

      How? How would that prove that he “cares”? If anything having either of them killed would prove that he doesn’t care. At all.

      1. If he works hard to make sure the people close to the parahumans He Was Only Pretending To Be Friends With, it begs the question of why he’s putting himself out at that point. Wanting someone dead does entail caring what happens to them, by definition.

        I mean, it’s not Victoria’s cleverest take-that ever, but that’s the meaning.

        1. Caring about someone, wether it is positively or negatively, but caring anyway?

          Fair enough.

          Thanks.

          1. There’s also that old saying, “The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.”

            That is, the fact that he’s so fixated on Breakthrough is proof that his time with them meant something to him- he even admitted here, some part of him on some level enjoyed his time with Breakthrough. He found himself making human connections with them. And every part of him- Lab Rat the villain whose genius is matched only by his ego, Lab Rat the scared kid held prisoner by his psychotic sister, Chris the troubled survivor who’s learned to rely only on himself, Cryptid the aspiring Emperor-Scientist, Cryptid the Crawler-like thing that wants to excise the “weak” human parts of himself…- every identity he has finds this chink in his armor terrifying on an existential level.

            He’s the tragic brooding hero in his head: he has to prove to himself that they never really cared; that it was all just a facade for them too, and he was right to leave when their idiotic schemes and faked friendships started feeling real to him. But for some reason they won’t admit it, even when he’s putting up his best villain act and doing everything he can to make them hate him.

  12. Aaand I can’t believe it, but…

    I have a hung up (if that’s the right expression):

    Wasn’t Chris’s conversation with The Team a little bit too… long? I thought that it seemed too… “Standard Movie Moment-ish”?

    I mean, I really liked the exchange. It’s one of the things I’m here for, but:

    1 ) They’re trying to warn Armstrong.

    2 ) And with a time limit no less.

    Of course, if the Shin Authorities really plan to frame Victoria, then being far from Armstrong for a while may actually be beneficial.

    What am I missing?

    1. Ex-Lurker:

      Chris was intentionally stalling them until Coalbelcher arrived. As soon as he arrived, Chris attacked.

      As for Breakthrough’s side, they couldn’t disengage without completely ruining their stealth objective. Chris noted, correctly, that he was successfully preventing them from reaching their objective. They had to handle him.

      Furthermore, they have a “soft” time limit. Armstrong can’t be killed until a story is constructed, and a story can’t be constructed because some capes are not accounted for.

  13. Here is a little theory about what may happen in the next chapter or two. First a few facts:
    1a. Crock o’Shit apparently used to be a Protectorate hero named Fidelis “before Vista’s time” (and that means quite a few years ago – remember that despite being the youngest Vista was the member of BB Wards with most experience as a cape).
    1b. Since Armstrong was originally hired by PRT because his academic expertise, and he was already a Director during Boston Games (see the seventh chapter of Eclipse), he might have worked for the organization during Crock’s time as Fidelis.
    2a. Crock o’Shit appears to be a changer without full control over her changes, and this lack of control was likely what lead to her being sidelined by the PRT, and eventually to the fact that she ended her hero carrier and became a villain.
    2b. Armstrong is known for his sympathy for capes who have been screwed by their powers.
    3. Fidelis might have been originally from Louisiana, while Armstrong was a director in Boston, but she traveled around the country a lot, and his intrest in capes without full control over their powers might have extended beyond those living within jurisdiction of his department.

    Could all of this mean that Crock o’Shit and Armstrong may have a long history with each other that young capes like Victoria or Vista simply do not know? Could this history change a simple, professional assassination Crock has been tasked with into something else, because Armstrong means something to her as a person? If this is the case, is it good or bad news to Armstrong and Natalie?

    1. Let’s also not forget that one aspect of Crock’s power is her ability to detect lies. Even without any prior history few honest words of sympathy from Armstrong and Natalie (and we know she has enough of sympathy even for capes so bad that they ended up being exiled for their crimes to volunteer as a witness of their exile) could seriously impact Crock’s opinion about her, because she would know their sympathy is sincere.

      1. In more general terms – if going too deep into investigating a crime ring turned a hero Fidelis into a caricature of her former self known as Crock o’Shit, then perhaps exposure to good, honest people like Armstrong and Natalie can reverse a process? Help villainous monster Crock became a person closer to heroic eerie beauty Fidelis again?

        1. I even broader terms maybe Fidelis’ changer form and by extension even her personality reflects the sort of people she interacts with, and her problem is that ever since she went too deep into investigating organized crime, she has been interacting mostly with criminals? Maybe she, more than most people do, simply needs to be surrounded by good people to be a good person herself?

  14. “You’re more monstrous than she is,”

    Wow.

    Victoria is many things, not all of them positive, but monstrous? I don’t see it.

    1. In some ways she is. What is Amy’s kill count? What is Victoria’s? Did Amy or Victoria paint her sister to Yamada as an S-class threat waiting to happen? Did Amy or Victoria threaten to use violence to make her sister stay away from her? Did Amy or Victoria consider breaking bones as an acceptable way of dealing with unpowered low-ranking gang members, even if those people were not a threat to her? Which one of the sisters constantly refuses to give the other one a second chance?

      If you look it like this Amy might have made a lot of really bad accidental mistakes, but Victoria did plenty of really bad things intentionally, and from that point of view Vicky is the worse of the two.

      Of course Chris probably shouldn’t be the one to use this argument, since he isn’t really better than Victoria in many of those regards, but it doesn’t mean that the argument itself is wrong.

      1. Oh, and is it Victoria or Amy who threatened her own sister with a dimensional exile or a bullet in the head? No matter if Amy is potentially dangerous or not, shouldn’t Victoria actually support each other instead of trying to destroy her own sister like that?

        1. Sorry, looks like I made a silly mistake while editing my post again. I obviously meant ‘Amy’, instead of ‘each other’.

          1. Remember – Amy did everything in her power to fix her relationship with Victoria – she repaired her mind and body as well as she could. She gave Victoria an option of forgetting those years in a hospital. Once Victoria let Amy know she doesn’t want to see her, Amy gave Victoria all space that she could. Even their meeting in chapters 14.9 and 14.10 appears to be engineered by Chris, and not something that Amy planned.

            And how did Victoria repay Amy for that? By pushing Amy away. By interpreting Amy’s behavior in worst way possible. By turning her friends against Amy. By trying to convince everyone that Amy needs to be exiled or killed. By verbally attacking Amy in every way possible when during their last conversation. By not only not supporting Amy, but even refusing to give Amy her second chance.

            How is that not monstrous?

            Remember Lab Rat’s history with Angel? I’m sure that Chris is very sensitive to situations when one sibling harms another the way that Victoria is harming Amy right now. Sure, Victoria does it because of her trauma, but does Chris understand that? And does it excuse Victoria? Does it make her behavior any less monstrous?

          2. Don’t get me wrong – Amy obviously did, and keeps doing a lot of things wrong. It is also obvious that she is potentially very dangerous. But she is trying to repair her mistakes, and to find a support system that will make it less likely that she will keep doing things like that in the future.

            Amy’s only faults really seem to be that she appears to be in mild denial about how often she makes those mistakes, and that her support system may be insufficient. Sure, her power just happens to make consequences of those mistakes really bad for everyone, but is it really Amy’s fault? Did she ask for this power? Are Amy’s mistakes so unforgivable that they justify Victoria’s aggressiveness towards Amy, using everything and everyone (even Dot!) against Amy? Shouldn’t Victoria try to show some more understanding, and try to actually be supportive? To at least give Amy an honest chance?

            Carol, Mark and Marquis seem to understand that Amy needs their help, not condemnation. Isn’t it time for Victoria to at least honestly try to do the same?

          3. And possibly the worst thing about Victoria is that she is willing to give second chances to members of her team, like Sveta (who has triple digit kill count), Ashley (who is capable of murder), Tristan (who imprisoned his own brother), Rain (who among other things allowed mass murder to happen out of fear of what will happen to him if he let all of those people in the mall escape), and Kenzie (who blackmailed her own parents).

            Victoria was willing to give every one of those people a chance, to look for redeeming qualities in every single one of them. But she isn’t nearly as willing to give the same chance to her own sister simply because she happens to be a victim of Amy’s power. What does it say about Victoria that she is willing to forgive harm done to others, but not to herself?

          4. > What does it say about Victoria that she is willing to forgive harm done to others, but not to herself?

            That she’s a human being? This is a totally normal failing, not in any way monstrous. It’s not like we’re talking about some trivial harm that’s easy to shrug off. Even if she wanted to forgive Amy, she would still feel mortal terror around her.

          5. Now this is one interpretation I can agree with, though I would say that it is not necessarily the only possible one, and I believe that as Victoria is getting over her trauma this particular interpretation will be getting weaker and weaker. At certain point Victoria will need to either face the truth that her diminishing terror is no longer a sufficient argument to deny Amy a fair chance to defend herself by presenting her side of the story without Victoria’s interruptions, threats and general hostility. Otherwise we will need to call Victoria a hypocrite. Maybe this is not this point yet, but I feel like it is coming soon.

          6. And by the way I think I must stress again just how much it would probably help if the sisters could meet on a neutral ground where they may both feel safe (that room in Shin prison where they talked in chapters 14.9 and 14.10 was basically an opposite of that) in a presence of a moderator or two that they can trust, and who understand the situation well.

            Just think about Dot’s role in that last meeting. Dot was hardly a good moderator. She is definitely not neutral, and she doesn’t really understand complexity of the situation well. Despite it Dot’s presence at least allowed Victoria to present an important point to Amy. It was obviously a rather ugly move on Victoria’s part to use poor Dot against Amy like that, and we can disagree with what Victoria told Amy then, but in my opinion it shows just how much a good moderator could do to help resolve the situation. If Dots clumsy responses to Victoria’s arguments could make Amy listen, imagine just what a moderator who actually understands what they are doing, has both sisters’ trust, and understands their points of view well could do.

            If such safe, neutral ground and a good moderator can be found, there will be little left to justify sisters’ (particularly Victoria’s) unwillingness to actually listen to what the other one is saying, and at least seriously consider each other’s words.

          7. There is probably one more thing that needs to be stressed. Whether she realizes it or not, whether she is justified by her trauma or not, whether she is right to fear Amy or not from rational standpoint, Victoria has been hurting Amy throughout entire Ward, and the current arc is just a continuation of that.

            Amy loves Victoria, and by constantly pushing Amy away, by even willing to listen to Amy’s side of the story, by verbally attacking Amy at every opportunity, by using every Amy’s psychological weakness against her, by turning other people against her, by plotting to exile her, by threatening her with death, by giving Amy false hope only to crush it later Victoria has been subjecting Amy to a form of psychological torture.

            Even if Victoria wanted to make Amy stay away from her she shouldn’t use even half of these methods. There are more humane ways to do it. For example nobody forced Victoria to come to Shin. If Victoria really couldn’t stand Amy’s presence so much, she could simply tell that she can’t meet Amy and either ask Wardens to send somebody else, or ask Shin to guarantee that Amy won’t be present during the diplomatic meeting. This way Amy would get a clear signal that Victoria is still unwilling to meet her, which obviously would be painful for Amy to hear, but at least it would be fair.

            Since Victoria decided to go to a place where she could expect to meet Amy – she should have at least not used all of those underhanded methods she did use against Amy ever since coming to Shin. Once again, by coming to Shin Victoria gave Amy false hope, and then crushed it in all ways she had available. It wasn’t not right. It was a form of torture. And, considering just how much Victoria means to Amy, perhaps doing it can even be called monstrous.

          8. To put the above post in simper terms – by coming to Shin Victoria gave Amy a false hope, while at the same time refusing to truly give her a chance, and at first planned to use this hope to lure Amy into a trap (in form of dimensional exile), and later used all available means to crush this hope.

            Victoria didn’t have to do it. She shouldn’t have given hope to Amy without actually giving her a chance. What Victoria did was simply very unfair.

        2. We are talking about Victoria, who gave lovely gems like this:
          “She looked as at ease as I’d seen her in recent memory Amy stumbled through her response. Fucking Citrine had been better at speaking the language, and Citrine hadn’t lived here for any length of time.”
          Yes she really equated a 20 year old high school dropout with the successful politician/world-class criminal/protege to the Accord. Victoria takes every single thing Amy does as a personal slight, even the ones that shouldn’t have anything to do with her. Which is a sign of how using hatred as a crutch is very unhealthy for Victoria.

      2. (This is a super long post–apologies in advance.)

        I’d agree that Victoria isn’t a saint, and that she’s done a lot of troubling things, but it feels (to me, anyway) a lot more troubling to exonerate Amy’s actions because of supposedly good intentions. Specifically, the part where you keep emphasizing that they’re sisters actually seems to be more of a reason for Victoria not to forgive Amy.

        Pizzasgood commented in 14.9 that “The fact of the matter is that rape is the closest and most relatable real-world scenario to what happened, so people will use it to describe the situation, and rightly so.” The subsequent discussion seemed to focus mostly on the Wretch situation, and there didn’t seem to be much on how Amy had also mind-altered Victoria so as to return her feelings.

        It’s definitely valid to point out that because of the parahuman angle, there isn’t really an exact real world analogue to this (or to the Wretch’s creation), not in the way Taylor getting bullied at school has an exact real world analogue of kids getting bullied at school. But obviously, we’re willing to ignore certain genre elements in order to analyze genre stories, so that’s what I’m going with here, which others have also argued: that sexual assault is probably the closest real world equivalent we’re going to get to the Amy/Victoria situation.

        The mind-altering to return Amy’s feelings is similar to rape, because Amy not only disregarded Victoria’s “consent” but changed it so that she got what she wanted. I’m putting this in quotation marks because by the point consent has been forcibly altered, it’s not actually consent anymore. It’s also really similar to how a lot of rape victims have discussed how horrifying it is to experience physical pleasure while being raped. An involuntary, possibly forced physical reaction isn’t quite equivalent to an involuntary, definitely forced falling-in-love-with-your-sister, but the emotional impact is arguably the same, and probably the closest we’ll get to understanding Victoria’s headspace. Something is forced upon you that you definitely didn’t want, and you’re forced to enjoy it.

        Whether or not Amy raped Victoria while she was helpless is open to debate, I think, although I’d argue that it’s almost certain that Amy at the very least forced unwanted physical contact on Victoria. It’s pretty different enduring unwanted physical contact from, say, an awkward friend, and then being forced to endure it from someone who’s already violated your consent. The act itself may not necessarily be sexual assault, but compounded on her previous actions, it’s certainly traumatizing, and the consequences for Victoria are magnified. And that’s only if we’re arguing that Amy didn’t force sexual contact on Victoria, which, again, is open to debate.

        I believe it’s established that Amy developed feelings for Victoria as a result of Victoria’s powers, and even if it isn’t, it’s certainly a plausible enough theory that until told explicitly otherwise, I think it holds a lot of weight. However, even with that as an extenuating factor, it seems really problematic for Amy’s defense to be “well, I was *forced* to fall in love with Victoria, so I just overwrote her consent.” I don’t fault Amy for developing feelings for Victoria (although yes, kind of ick on both sides, because I’d argue that prior to all this happening, the power dynamics were skewed in Victoria’s favor), nor how she spiraled in her isolation because she knew she wouldn’t get any support for it. And yeah, she’d gone through a pretty horrific situation with the S9. This is where the real world equivalents get shakier, I think, because we don’t have an unstoppable rampage of torturing murderers. But it’s somewhat similar to how abuse victims can end up becoming abusers themselves. It’s awful that they had to endure the abuse, and it’s possible to see the chain of events that led to them becoming abusers–but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re abusers, and the burden of forgiveness isn’t on the new abuse victims.

        Going to highlight your quotes here (from posts below) that I found most troubling:

        >No matter if Amy is potentially dangerous or not, shouldn’t Victoria actually support each other instead of trying to destroy her own sister like that?

        The dynamic becomes even more fucked up when the incest factor enters the equation. They’re sisters, you keep arguing–but that’s what makes Amy’s violation of Victoria just that much more traumatizing. Family may not be the perfect sanctuary that a lot of us wish/hope for, but it’s still, in most cases, somewhere you feel safe, at least not to be murdered or raped. Amy’s family was shattered by Tattletale and later by Bonesaw, and then she in turn shattered Victoria’s.

        Victoria doesn’t owe Amy anything. Sure, maybe Amy can get a second chance at becoming a better person–but where in the definition of becoming a better person does it say that she and Victoria have to mend their relationship? Some things are irreparable. Amy and Victoria’s relationship might prove fixable in the future, but we’ve literally spent 14 arcs in Victoria’s headspace, and we know that Victoria *does not want this*. Given how often she’s articulated her boundaries with Amy, Amy also knows this, but she’s repeatedly violated those boundaries in pursuit of forgiveness. Again– a little boundary breaching (“please don’t talk to me, I want to be alone right now,” only to have an awkward friend ignore it) grows a lot more sinister when shadowed by their traumatic past.

        >Carol, Mark and Marquis seem to understand that Amy needs their help, not condemnation. Isn’t it time for Victoria to at least honestly try to do the same?”

        Carol and Mark weren’t violated by Amy. Even if they were, one person’s choice to forgive their rapist/abuser/whatever doesn’t mean that everyone needs to do so. I think it’s also pretty apparent that, even when you take away Victoria’s understandably so but admittedly biased perspective of the situation, that Carol in particular is trying to make up for having been a pretty terrible mom to Amy. Mark is too, most likely, but I think at least some of it is that he’s also going along with what Carol wants, because she has a pushy personality.

        >Remember – Amy did everything in her power to fix her relationship with Victoria – she repaired her mind and body as well as she could. She gave Victoria an option of forgetting those years in a hospital. Once Victoria let Amy know she doesn’t want to see her, Amy gave Victoria all space that she could. Even their meeting in chapters 14.9 and 14.10 appears to be engineered by Chris, and not something that Amy planned. And how did Victoria repay Amy for that?

        From what you’ve written here, it seems as though you’re almost arguing that forgiveness is a transaction–that once Amy does “enough” things, “forgiveness” is unlocked. I’d argue that Amy needed to do what she did because those were the right things to do, not because it’d let Amy feel better about what she’d done. Also, I get that it’s an internet response and that you’re probably typing really fast, but the word “repay” just… really, really bothers me. Why does an incest-rape victim have to repay her rapist? Like even if (and I want it established that I do not buy into this argument at all) trauma could somehow be distilled into “I traumatized you, and now I have undone the harm I did you because I did X, Y, Z things”, that’s still like going from a negative balance to zero.

        All that aside, you seem to be willfully ignoring that Amy might not have directly engineered the meeting, but she still… walked in there. She still forced the conversation. She still ignored Victoria’s many, many protestations of “No, I don’t want this.” And it’s a repeated pattern–at the barbecue, she chased after Victoria even though Victoria literally left as soon as she saw Amy (pretty obvious clue there, isn’t it). She tries to touch Victoria during the Goddess-prison arc (9.8), despite Victoria telling her repeatedly to not talk to her. And then now, she forces Victoria to engage with her.

        I don’t think that, summed up together, this means that “Amy gave Victoria all the space she could.” And that’s even if we give Amy the benefit of the doubt and assume good intentions. Me, though, the fact that Amy just “wants to mend their relationship and earn forgiveness” is in itself unforgivable, because she keeps repeating her cardinal sin, which was to ignore Victoria when Victoria said “No, stop.”

        1. I really, really don’t think rape is a fair comparison. For one, I definitely do NOT think any literal rape occurred and think a lot of people are being disturbingly quick to assume it did. (When has wb ever, ever written a rape angst backstory?) Two, we saw Amys perspective when she fucked with Victoria’s mind and it was very clearly something she immediately regretted and begged Victoria to let her change back. There was no plan to do it at all. (While Tattletale did tell her to change her back while shebwas injured, Amy’s point about keeping mind whammy on her to keep her tractable was kind of pragmatic, for Amy. Creepy, but her logic was like sedating someone to preform surgery. Sure you can argue thats against Victoria’s consent, but seriously, fuck that. If you beg paramedics to let you die, they will ignore you. If said paramedic is your sister, she will obviously ignore you. Anyone sane would try to save someone they love.)

          After that, the mutilation. Yes, Amy did something horrible. But there are plenty of horrible things that you can do without it being equitable to rape. In Amy’s case, she lost control of her powers in the misdt of a mental breakdown and maimed victoria. Id call it more akin to drunk driving or playing with guns while high than rape if you want a real world equivalent. And there isn’t any true real world equivalent, because we are talking about superpowers and alien influences on the brain and these things are too big a part in what happened in the story, and those things do not exist in the real world. Throwing a rape label in there just because there was a violation of trust when absolutely no sexual violation occured is a gross oversimplification and fairly disrespectful of actual rape victims. I think people are falling back on the word rape here becuase it its shocking and emotionally charged, matches their disgust over what happened to Victoria (and what happened to her WAS disgusting) but it isn’t an ACCURATE discription of what actually happened, and using it just because it conveys the shock value is pretty horrible.

          1. >For one, I definitely do NOT think any literal rape occurred and think a lot of people are being disturbingly quick to assume it did. (When has wb ever, ever written a rape angst backstory?)

            I’d agree that WB hasn’t, but at that point, then you’re just kind of… going off of assumptions of what the writer may or may not intend. It’s sort of like the argument that “X writer isn’t a racist, so they can’t write racist works.” (Not exactly equivalent, for sure, but my point is that at a certain point the text’s at least somewhat divorced from the writer.) Note I’m also not necessarily arguing that rape definitely occurred–just that I think the text is pretty open to interpretation and there’s a fair amount of evidence supporting it. I don’t know about you, but if someone told me that they were in love with me, repeatedly ignored me when I said “no” to what they wanted, and then I was sedated in the same room as them for hours? I would be absolutely freaked out about what may or may not have happened, and I definitely wouldn’t take the other person’s word for it. And considering that there is a truly depressing number of rapists who don’t really seem to understand that what they did was rape, I don’t think Amy’s word is necessarily reliable. I’m arguing that it could go both ways. I could conceivably believe that Amy really didn’t do anything, but I’m also willing to accept the possibility that she did.

            >Sure you can argue thats against Victoria’s consent, but seriously, fuck that.

            I never once mentioned the healing/Wretch bit. Specifically, I talked about the fact that Amy overrode Victoria’s consent with respect to making her reciprocate Amy’s feelings. At that point, no, that had nothing to do with saving her life. S9 invade Amy’s home; she heals Mark and runs away because she’s scared of consequences. Although I didn’t highlight this in my previous post, Victoria then chases after her and ignores Amy’s “no, don’t touch me”, which is also a violation of boundaries, only it’s Victoria and not Amy doing so. Amy then uses her powers on Victoria while they’re hugging, changing it so that Victoria would reciprocate her feelings. This isn’t something Victoria consented to; everything is according to Amy’s desires, and not Victoria’s.

            Admittedly, the text does say that “Like a flame at the end of a long fuse, leading to a stick of dynamite, her power traveled from the side of Victoria’s neck to her brain. It was barely a conscious action on Amy’s part.” But only a few lines on, Amy also says, “Please. This is what I was afraid of. […] I’m sorry. I… knew this would happen.”

            So–barely a conscious action. But barely doesn’t mean *not at all*; it means that even if it was only just a conscious action, it was still conscious. And it’s something that she’s been thinking about, apaprently, if she was afraid of it happening to the point that she’d predicted it. And “it,” in this case, wasn’t a nice, consensual fantasy about her adopted sister returning her affections. “It” is altering said adopted sister’s brain to *force* her to return Amy’s affections.

            Here’s the thing: I’d argue that extrapolating that Amy planned this to happen is ludicrous. But interestingly enough, it doesn’t really seem like most rapists actually plan this to happen–because a majority of rapes are committed by someone in the victim’s social circles, and a depressing number by S/Os or former S/Os. And at least from anecdotal evidence, there’s also a depressing number of “accidental rapes,” where the rapist didn’t “mean” for it to happen, and the victim, through whatever circumstances, are too scared to say no more forcefully. In Victoria’s case, her inability to say no doesn’t necessarily map to the same kinds of real world circumstances (social pressure, financial pressure, general fear, etc.), because it’s more that she’s unaware the instant it happens–the mind-altering seems like it takes place over a short span of time. I’m sure we could draw semi-parallels to date rape drugs, but you seem pretty resistant to the idea of comparing (not even equivocating) the Amy/Victoria situation to rape, so.

            By the way, I’m not arguing that Amy isn’t a sympathetic figure, or that at least she’s not deserving of pity. She is, in some respects; everything that followed from Tattletale’s mindgames was almost Simurgh-esque on a micro scale on how completely it fucked her life. What I’m arguing is that our closest real world equivalent to that inital violation of consent is incest-rape, because we don’t have giant space whales fucking up our lives. And similar to victims of rape, abuse, and other horrible crimes of that sort, putting the burden on Victoria to forgive Amy is problematic, to say the least.

            >Throwing a rape label in there just because there was a violation of trust when absolutely no sexual violation occured is a gross oversimplification and fairly disrespectful of actual rape victims.

            I think you’re also equivocating sexual violation with the physical aspect of the assault. In both my own experience and various close friends, the problem with rape is rarely the sex. It’s the violation of consent and, in cases where the victim is close to the rapist, it’s about the absolute violation of trust. If your argument is founded on the premise that the fundamental issue behind rape is about the sexual aspect rather than the breach of consent and trust, then I’ll call it quits here, because we’re approaching the topic from two pretty opposite directions.

          2. > Amy’s point about keeping mind whammy on her to keep her tractable was kind of pragmatic, for Amy. Creepy, but her logic was like sedating someone to preform surgery.

            Keeping Victoria in a trance was one thing. Leaving the obsession active was a totally separate and unnecessary thing. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt and assuming she left it in place out of a fear of directly facing what she’d done rather than having any sort of intent to exploit Victoria at that time, but she could have and should have removed it promptly. Leaving it active was an utterly unnecessary risk. Beside the temptation factor, the S9 were still at large in Brockton Bay and she could have been separated from Victoria in the chaos. The smart and humane thing to do once Victoria was wrapped up would be to first undo the obsession, then make sure the trance would wear off on its own after a while, and then make sure that the healing cocoon was designed to either fall off on its own or to be removable by a normal surgeon if needed.

            > I think people are falling back on the word rape here becuase it its shocking and emotionally charged, matches their disgust over what happened to Victoria (and what happened to her WAS disgusting) but it isn’t an ACCURATE discription of what actually happened, and using it just because it conveys the shock value is pretty horrible.

            I’m sure some people do that. I’m not one of them. I want to believe that Amy was just trying to undo the cocoon and maybe give Victoria some practical upgrades as a parting gift. I cannot believe that without lying to myself. I mean, there are ways of reading Carol’s interlude and Victoria’s recent accusations that would let me pretend Amy’s an innocent victim in all this, but it’s like cracking open the Bible and trying to convince myself that Numbers 31 doesn’t describe Moses ordering his people to take 32,000 girls as sex slaves. It reeks of bullshit.

            The simple fact of the matter is that after healing Victoria, Amy intentionally used the extra material from the cocoon to give Victoria unwanted plastic surgery for her own titillation. This was not an accident. Her explanation in Carol’s interlude is not remotely consistent with it being an accident. Sure, you could try to assume that it was her shard talking at the end, and that it was wholly responsible for the making the Wretch. The problem with that is that nothing Amy has done since has indicated that this was the case. Shards are known quantities now. Victoria gets that they fuck with people or malfunction — case in point: the accident with Carol. And it’s not like Amy’s a stranger to shifting blame or trying to excuse herself. If she could honestly blame her shard for what happened to Victoria, she would have done so. It wouldn’t help with Victoria trusting her to not fuck up future healing attempts, but that isn’t what Amy cares about. Amy just wants her sister back. So, clearly she doesn’t believe that her shard’s influence was the key factor in Victoria’s Wretchification. (Most likely, she and her shard were on the same wavelength when they created the Wretch. It was a joint effort, and they only butted heads when Amy tried undoing it.)

            And of course, there’s the matter of Victoria’s accusation of kissing and cuddling (and perhaps more). Notice how Amy was perfectly willing to speak up when she felt Victoria was being unfair, but when Victoria claimed that Amy cuddled, kissed, and used her, Amy only shook her head — more of a “this is unpleasant” reaction than a “you said you’d be fair but you’re making bald-faced lies!” reaction. Particularly since she didn’t reiterate any kind of denial after Victoria insisted she was used. Instead, she just awkwardly mentioned noticing that Victoria got past the memory blocks. It reads as an acknowledgement, like “Yeah, okay, I guess you do remember that stuff so there’s not point in me denying it.”

            So, at minimum, that’s aggravated sexual assault. And for all practical purposes, it’s rape, even if no actual intercourse happened. I don’t say that for shock value. I say it because it’s reality. If you look at how Victoria feels, she doesn’t feel like she was hit by a drunk driver or shot by a dumbass. She feels like she was raped and crippled by her ex-sister. Arguing that this is somehow different because powers were involved is absurd. The psychological impact is the same.

            Getting back to what I quoted from your comment…

            > I think people are falling back on the word rape here becuase it its shocking and emotionally charged

            Well, I think you’re recoiling from the word rape because it’s shocking and emotionally charged. Tough shit. Amy did this thing. She had a shitty life, an especially shitty month, and an absurdly shitty week. She broke, she raped and crippled her sister, she regretted it, she (irresponsibly) turned herself in and served her time, and now she’s clumsily struggling to make amends and help society. Amy is both a rapist and a good person. This is reality, ugly and complicated though it may be, and no amount of autorectal-spelunking will change that.

          3. > Keeping Victoria in a trance was one thing. Leaving the obsession active was a totally separate and unnecessary thing. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt and assuming she left it in place out of a fear of directly facing what she’d done rather than having any sort of intent to exploit Victoria at that time, but she could have and should have removed it promptly.

            In my opinion there is another likely explanation why Amy left Victoria’s mind altered. Remember that Amy most likely was simply terrified by what she did to Victoria’s body, and by the fact that she didn’t know how to undo it. She just didn’t trust herself not to do even more harm to Victoria if she tried to undo what she did. She didn’t trust herself to an extent where she thought she needed to be sent to the Birdcage simply to protect everyone outside it from the possibility that she would do something horrible to them. Possibly on a very large scale (remember that Amy knew she could some super-lethal plague with her power, she even tried to do something like it in chapter 14.10 of Worm in an attempt to kill Bonesaw and Jack).

            Considering that Amy always was afraid to alter people’s minds, that the second time she did it things went very wrong (the first one was healing Mark, the second was “tweaking” Victoria to love her), and that at the time Amy was afraid to use her power at all I think that Amy was probably afraid that if she tried to undo her alteration of Victoria’s mind, she would only end up making things much worse.

            If you don’t believe me that Amy was completely terrified of using her power at all before going to Birdcage, remember that even in the Birdcage she refused to do so until she met Glaistig Uaine, and learned about existance of shards.

          4. No, Alf. I’m talking about before she fucked up Victoria’s body and lost trust in herself. This was back when Skitter and Tattletale first made her start healing Victoria. She was still under control and could have undone the obsession then and there.

          5. At that point saving Victoria’s life probably had higher priority, plus Amy probably thought that she could remove that particular compulsion at any point before removing that “trance” she put Victoria in. Also, considering that Amy was still under a lot of stress, that she has been avoiding messing with brains ever since she triggered, and that once she broke that rule things with Victoria went very wrong, Amy probably thought that it would actually be safer to do it as late as possible, so she could calm down before making the attempt.

            Sure, Tattletale warned Amy that she should heal Victoria as soon as possible, and Skitter also expressed concerns about that, but remember that Amy simply didn’t trust them at that time. And why would she? Both of them were villains, and because she grew up in Dallon family (which not only made fighting villains their job, but also lost an unpowered family member to a villain who broke the unwritten rules), Amy was strongly prejudiced against villains (even stronger than most people would be – just like Victoria still seemed to be at the beginning of Ward). Tattletale began the process of her mental breakdown by revealing that her biological father was a dangerous villain. Skitter on the other hand was Tattletale’s teammate, and as such also did not appear to deserve much trust, so why would Amy take Taylor’s concern about her and Victoria at face value?

            Remember how shocked Amy was when she saw the press conference after “warlord Skitter” surrendered to the PRT, and declared that she was willing to abandon her empire, and her team and become a hero (not to mention that it was announced then that Taylor proved herself to be a hero by paying some unspecified, but important role in stopping Alexandria’s conspiracy). It was probably only then that Amy realized that Taylor was actually a good enough person to really care about her and Victoria.

          6. > At that point saving Victoria’s life probably had higher priority

            Yes, making sure Victoria wasn’t going to die in the next couple minutes took priority. Amy took care of that immediately, there on the scene with Skitter’s help. At that point she could have and should have paused for a few moments to fix Victoria’s brain.

            > plus Amy probably thought that she could remove that particular compulsion at any point before removing that “trance” she put Victoria in.

            Of course she did. But as I said before, “Leaving it active was an utterly unnecessary risk. Beside the temptation factor, the S9 were still at large in Brockton Bay and she could have been separated from Victoria in the chaos. The smart and humane thing to do once Victoria was wrapped up would be to first undo the obsession, then make sure the trance would wear off on its own after a while, and then make sure that the healing cocoon was designed to either fall off on its own or to be removable by a normal surgeon if needed.”

            > Amy probably thought that it would actually be safer to do it as late as possible, so she could calm down before making the attempt.

            Bull. She was willing to fix it immediately when she first did it. She was calmer at this point than she was then, and she was calmer then than she was when she successfully fixed Mark (a much more delicate operation!) I can see her rationalizing her cowardice by calling it caution, but that doesn’t make it not bullshit.

          7. To fully understand Amy’s prejudice against villains, you need to remember that merely learning that she is a daughter of a villain was enough to convince Amy that she may do something horrible herself, and that her self-imposed rules are the only thing that prevented that from happening. An irrational fear, but real enough that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy after Bonesaw actually forced Amy to break those rules.

            Amy generally had a very irrational and naive view of villains. Not only did she seem to consider everyone labeled as a villain evil at their core until proven otherwise, that those “blue and red labels” she saw during Leviathan’s attack actually tell something fundamental about characters of people who wore them. It is even hard to blame Amy for it – she was still quite young, grew up in a good neighborhood in a family in which everyone either was a hero, or aspired to be one.

            Moreover the fact that Amy feared that she will eventually do something terrible just because her father was a villain just further drives it home how irrational her fear of villains was. No wonder that Amy didn’t believe that Tattletale or Skitter (especially those two – one who destroyed her life by telling her that her father was a villain, the other one – a creepy bug girl who terrified Victoria with her bugs during bank robbery, both later involved in various acts of terror, and things like mastering Shadow Stalker, attacking PRT HQ and taking over parts of the city – in other words plenty of terrifying things even as far as villainous deeds go) were actually trying to give her a good advice or show feel concern for her and Victoria’s well-being.

          8. > > Amy probably thought that it would actually be safer to do it as late as possible, so she could calm down before making the attempt.

            > Bull. She was willing to fix it immediately when she first did it. She was calmer at this point than she was then, and she was calmer then than she was when she successfully fixed Mark (a much more delicate operation!) I can see her rationalizing her cowardice by calling it caution, but that doesn’t make it not bullshit.

            Amy probably wanted to fix Victoria right after she broke her, because of several reasons:
            – what she did to Victoria was still fresh in her short-term memory, so the process would probably be very easy.
            – this way Victoria wouldn’t fully realize the enormity of what Amy did to her,
            – Amy would likely be free to continue fleeing from home right after fixing Victoria (or at least she probably hoped so), and at that point she was in a hurry to leave as soon as possible.

            None of those reasons applied when Amy started healing Victoria after Crawler’s attack. On top of it Amy was painfully wounded, and probably more tired that when she altered Victoria’s mind (remember that shortly before Victoria was wounded Amy was being chased around the town by Siberian, who bit off segments of four of her fingers!) In other words Amy was probably not in shape to do anything particularly risky with her power, and had every reason to think that she should wait before altering Victoria’s mind beyond putting Victoria in trance that was supposed to spare Victoria more pain and trauma of understanding and remembering what was happening to her at the time (a combination of acid burns and being turned into cocoon made of bugs had to be traumatic after all).

            Moreover the fact that Tattletale told Amy to heal Victoria as quickly as possible probably had an opposite effect – Amy probably mistrusted, feared and hated Tattletale so much at that point that being told by Tt to do something quickly was probably the best way to convince Amy (at least on subconscious level) that she should do it as slowly as possible instead.

        2. There are many points in your post I could argue with, but I think that the most important one is that I’m not sure that saying that comparing what Amy did to Victoria to rape is right for one important reason – rape is something that requires rapist to actually intend to harm their victim, and this is not how Amy ended up harming Victoria.

          Read the last scene of interlude 11.h carefully. You will notice that Amy told Victoria not to touch her! More than once! When Victoria did it despite Amy’s warnings and Amy ended up altering Victoria’s mind it was described as “barely a conscious action on Amy’s part.” Right after that, when Victoria realized that Amy did something to her, but didn’t know what exactly yet, Amy’s first panicked reaction was to ask Victoria to let her undo it. It was Victoria who prevented it from happening. Shortly after Amy explained that altering Victoria’s mind was exactly what she was afraid would happen if Victoria touched her then.

          In other words altering Victoria’s mind wasn’t rape. It was an accident. One that could be easily prevented if Victoria heeded Amy’s warning before, or quickly fixed if Victoria trusted Amy to do it afterwards.

          As for Amy altering Victoria’s body later on, remember that it began as Amy’s attempt to heal a major wound Victoria suffered, and there are also clues that this is all that Amy intended to do. In Carol’s interlude in Worm when Amy described what happened when she turned Victoria from her cocoon form into wretch she spoke in unnatural monotone, which at least to me suggests that Amy wasn’t in control of her actions when it happened – her shard was instead. Once again – likely an accident, not rape.

          Sure, there is little doubt that Amy desired Victoria in sense of lesbian, incestful love, but you can hardly blame Amy for her feelings, can you? It is how she intentionally acts upon them that should matter, shouldn’t it? And I can’t really see any moment when Amy actually intended to harm Victoria. In fact in interlude 11.h she actually run away from home, and warned Victoria not to touch her precisely to prevent such harm.

          In my opinion the problem isn’t that Amy raped Victoria, because despite what Victoria believes Amy didn’t do it. It was an accident, and I would argue that you can hardly rape someone by accident. The problem is that Victoria didn’t trust her sister enough to either let Amy repair the damage right away, or to listen to Amy’s explanation about what actually happened.

          I’m obviously not blaming Victoria for her initial reaction, but as she is overcoming her trauma Victoria is less and less justified in her decision to not let Amy present her side of the story without interrupting her or twisting every Amy’s word to match her feelings and preconceptions. This is the second chance that Victoria has yet to give Amy – not even a chance to gain forgiveness or reconciliation, but enough benefit of doubt that would give Amy fair chance to defend herself. For now it looks like Victoria decided sentence Amy without giving her this fair chance.

          A few more points. First is that despite defending Amy in both this and my previous comment, I don’t necessarily say that all of it is Victoria’s fault, and Amy shouldn’t be blamed. When I asked questions in tht previous post, they were not supposed to be rhetorical. I don’t insist that my point of view is necessary right, and I’m honestly asking about other people’s opinions.

          Second one is that the reason why I say that Victoria should be more willing to forgive Amy is because they are family, and despite Victoria’s insistence to call Amy her “ex-sister” at some level they always will be a family whether they want it or not. You simply can’t choose your family members. You simply need to live with the ones you have. And if you don’t want to let your family to fall apart completely at some point, you should be prepared to forgive family members more, not less than you would forgive relative strangers strangers.

          Also don’t dismiss what Slaughterhouse Nine did to Amy. Despite what many of us want to believe most, if not all people do have a breaking point after which they can do horrible things they wouldn’t do in normal situation, and for Amy one of those points was clearly breaking of her self-imposed rules – something that Bonesaw forced her to do to save Mark. Do you blame Amy for choosing Mark’s life over her rules?

          As for my use of word “repay”, I didn’t mean to suggest that I consider forgiveness some sort of transaction. All I meant to say is that Amy did what she could for Victoria, and Victoria still kept attacking Amy after that to the point where Amy couldn’t even say what she wanted to say (not to mention that Victoria plotted to exile Amy, and later threatened her with both exile and death). And I don’t believe that Amy even wanted to ask Victoria for forgiveness then. At least this was not her main intention – what she wanted to do was to warn Victoria about the nature of danger posed by Teacher and by the portals that turned the city into this “thin ice” that can, and eventually will break with catastrophic consequences. Don’t you think that giving Victoria this warning is more important than respecting Victoria’s wishes to be left alone? Remember that not only Victoria’s life, but lives of everyone in the city are at stake here.

          Similarly doesn’t it feel that trying to save Victoria from being mastered by Goddess was more important than Victoria’s right to be left alone? In chapter 14.10 even Victoria herself admitted that Amy had a good reason to do it. She was obviously upset that Amy tried to do it without her okay, but could Amy really trust Victoria to make her owm decision then? Remember that Amy probably didn’t even know that Victoria was following master-stranger protocols. Considering that before going to Birdcage Amy was a rogue healer, and not a combatant, she could even not know how master-stranger protocols even worked well enough to use them to convince Victoria to let her break Goddess’ master effect in that situation. Can you really blame Amy for trying to break Goddess’ control over Victoria the way she did?

          1. Whoops, ninjaed by 🙂 on a couple of my main points. Well, I guess it is natural in a discussion requiring long posts.

          2. “rape is something that requires rapist to actually intend to harm their victim”

            Oh boy. Ohhhh boy.

            No.

            I’m sure at the very least the existence of Marital Rape disproves this.

          3. I would argue that martial rape is something in which the rapist knows that they are doing something that may actually be considered rape if the victim is opposed to this.

            In case of Amy and Victoria we are actually talking about two accidents – the first of which Amy actually predicted, and tried to prevent (remember that she warned Victoria more than once not to touch her), and the other one that seems to be a result of Amy’s shard taking over due to her mental breakdown (something Amy couldn’t really predict, because at that time she was not even aware of shards existence).

          4. Another thing to remember (though connected to her ignorance about the shards) is that before turning Victoria into the wretch, Amy probably didn’t realize that she can break anyone beyond her ability to fix (obviously barring her or patient’s death, or being otherwise prevented from working on the person she was trying to heal – none of which was very likely at that point). Before then Amy probably never was in a situation when she didn’t know or remember how to reverse changes she has done to someone’s body.

          5. @Rooster

            Just clarify your point about martial rape for me please, because I suspect that the fact that English is not my native language may be leading to some miscommunication here.

            Do you mean that your definition of rape extends to a situation where the perpetrator doesn’t realize that the victim doesn’t give consent to a sexual act (or whatever other act that the victim considers humiliating, dehumanizing or otherwise harmful for example), because the victim doesn’t show signs of refusal or resistance to the act, or the perpetrator doesn’t realize that victim’s refusal is serious?

            In this case I can understand how you could call the situation a rape despite the fact that the perpetrator doesn’t intend to harm the victim, and is simply ignorant that this is what is actually happening.

            But once again – in my opinion this is not what happened between Amy and Victoria at any point when Amy either used or tried to use her power on Victoria ever since that night when Bonesaw broke her (I think it is safe to assume that Victoria never minded being healed by Amy before that point).

            Here is my analysis of all of those situations as I remember them in chronological order, just to show how every single one of them wasn’t a rape even in sense described at the beginning of this post.

            Both before and after Amy altered Victoria’s mind, she was perfectly aware how the act would/did harm Victoria, and was doing her best to stop it before, and repair the damage right after. Considering the situation Amy can hardly be blamed that her best wasn’t good enough.

            When Amy started healing Victoria after Vicky was hurt by Crawler, you could argue that it happened without Victoria’s consent, but once again – Amy can hardly be blamed for initiating an emergency life-saving procedure without prior consent of a patient who clearly wasn’t in condition to make rational decision about it. Doctors do such things all te time after all, either working on assumption that everyone in their right mind would choose their lives to be saved, or simply by assuming that, especially in emergency situation, patient’s life is more important than their consent. In fact you could argue that everywhere where it is not legal for doctors to assist in euthanasia law requires the doctors to keep their patients’ alive even outside emergency situations not only without their consent, but even the patients in question demand to be allowed to die.

            In my opinion in Carol’s interlude it is strongly implied when Amy turned Victoria from cocoon form into wretch form, she was no longer in control of her actions, and was controlled by her shard instead. It is hardly fair to blame Amy for what happened then.

            We know that at the end or shortly after arc 30 of Worm Amy did use her power to ‘fix’ Victoria, but remember that outside doing things so obvious, that she could safely assume Victoria would agree to (removing her alterations to Victoria’s mind and restoring Vicky to human shape), Amy actually did her absolute best to let Victoria make perfectly rational decision about how to proceed from that point on – she actually turned Victoria’s emotions off, to let Vicky make as rational decision as possible, and outlined for her everything else she could do from that point on, and involved risks (like the one about possibility of Victoria not being able to take or give transplants if Amy didn’t continue tweaking her body). It was Victoria’s decision to only have her emotions restored without any other modifications, and Amy respected this choice, even if she didn’t agree with it. I would say that at that point it would be quite absurd to accuse Amy of doing anything to Victoria against Victoria’s will, considering that without Amy turing her emotions off Victoria wouldn’t even be in position to to make a rational decision, and that without repairing Victoria’s body, Amy would probably be even unable to communicate with Victoria – remember that Amy had no way of knowing, much less using, those communication solutions Victoria used in hospital, and had no way to be sure that such communication solutions would be available to her at some point. After all at that particular moment Amy couldn’t even know if she won’t be isolated from Victoria in next five minutes, and for example dragged away to some Birdcage 2.0.

            Later – during Goddess arc Amy apparently tried to use her power without Victoria’s consent to remove Goddess’ master effect, but even Victoria, despite being upset about it, admitted that she understood Amy’s reasoning at that time. After all Amy had no way of ensuring that Victoria would refuse because she was under master effect, and there simply was no way for Amy to even make such proposal without Goddess possibly overhearing, which could lead to catastrophic consequences to both Victoria and Amy.

            In this chapter Amy used her power to seemingly just heal Victoria’s relatively minor wound. Certainly not a life-threatening one. But I would argue that even this should be excused. Outside of the behind the scenes factors we may know about yet, which could influence Amy’s decision, there is also one known reason for Amy to not ask Victoria for premission this time. Remember that supplies for millions of people on Gimel hinge in large part on Amy’s reputation as a healer. If Victoria even tried to refuse Amy’s healing those supplies could be cut on grounds that since even Amy’s sister doesn’t trust Amy to heal her, then parahumans (or at least Amy) shouldn’t be trusted, all supplies to the “nest of parahumans” called Gimel should be cut, and possibly that all parahumans (or again – at least Amy) should be “permanently dealt with” somehow. In other words if Victoria was allowed to make a fuss about being healed by Amy, the entire Shin-Gimel political relationship and millions of lives (including Victoria’s ans Amy’s) could be in danger. What is more important – those lives, or Victoria’s right to refuse treatment by Amy?

          6. And even if you still insist that what Amy did to Victoria for some reason, can we at least agree that in every instance Amy actually did, or tried to do her best, and was justified in her actions, or was likely not in control of her actions, meaning that in each situation when Amy used or tried to use her power on Amy, she could not be blamed for doing it, despite how it made Victoria feel?

            I would very much want ut to at least agree about this one, since definitions of “rape” when mind-altering shards and powers such as Amy’s are involved could probably so become so complicated and open to interpretation, that it is probably not worth discussing them beyond certain point, simply such discussion would be academic due to the fact that we simply have no real life experience with such powers, and how they affect human relationships.

          7. > In Carol’s interlude in Worm when Amy described what happened when she turned Victoria from her cocoon form into wretch she spoke in unnatural monotone, which at least to me suggests that Amy wasn’t in control of her actions when it happened – her shard was instead.

            A far more likely and natural explanation is that Amy’s emotions shifted from the panic she’d initially felt at Carol’s arrival to dejected resignation once Carol forced her way past Amy and saw what had happened, and this shift influenced her tone. Another possibility is that when she saw Carol seeing Victoria, Amy had to use monotone in order to prevent herself being overcome with emotion and losing the ability to speak. (I have to do that sometimes, though for me it’s usually due to social anxiety induced giggle fits rather than sorrow, guilt, self loathing, and fear. But it’s the same idea. If you want to continue speaking when extreme emotions are threatening to make you unintelligible, sometimes you have to just shut down all emotion, become dead, and force the words to keep coming out. It results in an unnatural monotone, but that’s better than unintelligible hysterics.)

          8. Ok, how about what Amy said then?

            “I wanted her to be happy. I could adjust. Tweak, expand, change things to serve more than one purpose.[…]”

            Does it sound like what a human, especially sane one’s thoughts, or does it sound more like what shard would want their host to think and do?

          9. Who said anything about sanity? I’m not arguing that she was sane. What I’ve been arguing is that her shard didn’t override her will and create the Wretch all on its own, and I’m basing this on the observation that Amy has never tried to shift the blame for what happened from herself to her shard. She’s called herself a victim and brought up the Slaughterhouse Nine as a mitigating factor, so she’s clearly not intent on shouldering all the blame, yet she never played the shard card.

            The logical conclusion is that her shard didn’t seize control and drag her kicking and screaming into the creation of the Wretch. It obviously played a role in preventing her from restoring Victoria’s humanity once she’d finished playing with her, but that role doesn’t extend to taking it upon itself to treat Victoria like a lump of clay in the first place. Amy did that. She was not in her right mind, so I’m willing to cut her some slack, but she’s not some innocent victim. She fucked up — she, not her shard — and she knows it.

          10. @Pizzasgood: we don’t know how does it feel when you’re living with an alien parasite in your head. But as an indirect evidence, we know that absolute majority of parahumans doesn’t even notice its presence in any way, and they learn about shards’ existence either if someone told them, or if their power provides some special insight (and even when they know, they still don’t recognize any thoughts/actions/influences of their own shard as such). Based on that, I can suppose that parahumans perceive their consciousness just like we perceive ours and are just unable to draw the line between themselves and their shard, so they cannot honestly point to some action and say “that’s not me, my shard did it”.

          11. If a shard-piloted cape’s behavior is close enough to their natural behavior that they can’t tell the difference, then the distinction between shard-piloted behavior and natural behavior is a moot point because they’d have done basically the same thing either way. If the shard did significantly different things that they would never have done under their own control — such as, say, turning their sister into a monster — then they can simply look back, recognize that their thoughts got weird and alien, and realize that something went very wrong. And Amy is one of the people who is most aware of shards; she can put two and two together.

            So, my previous post stands. Her shard may have nudged her a bit, not unlike a drug dealer trying to push a free sample, but ultimately it was Amy who made the decision to do it. The dealer didn’t tie her down, pinch her nose shut, and force a blunt into her mouth. She reached out and took that puff of her own will.

          12. Another possibility: natural and shard-piloted behaviours can differ significantly, but shards prevent their capes from telling the difference. Also, Amy is in general neither a smart nor an introspective person, and to add even more to that – she was in a state of affect at the moment. I’d say it was quite likely that she was lost in her feelings and acted largely “on autopilot”, and then the shard took the steering wheel. And then she couldn’t tell the difference because she didn’t notice the moment when the shard took control and didn’t have enough inclination/mental capabilities for analysis afterwards, and maybe also because her shard strives to present itself to her as a part of herself.

        3. This. Exactly this.

          I see how from Amy’s perspective what Vicky is doing can be seen as shitty, but that doesn’t mean it’s inexcusable. Vicky doesn’t owe Amy anything. And Amy did an unforgivable thing. Vicky doesn’t owe Amy forgiveness.

          And she can give others in Breakthrough a chance because they try to change themselves to be better. Amy thinks that if she just fixes Vicky then it’ll all be good, but it won’t because she wouldn’t have learned anything, she would still be the same shitty person that never learns to respect boundaries. Everyone of Breakthrough makes mistakes, but they try to change themselves for the better, hell the entire thing with Chris highlights this.

          Chris doesn’t want to change and be better, that’s why he’s on this side of the divide. It’s Team Therapy vs Someone who doesn’t want therapy. Chris and Amy being partners is no coincidence.

    2. Dude, Victoria is totally the biggest monster in the story, at least from Chris’s POV. Remember when she kept prying into his life, even after he left? She is a meddling meddler who meddles, and if you’re an angsty teenaged thirty-year-old toddler, that makes Victoria the most monstrous monster imaginable.

  15. So. Chris wants to send people into space, as a way to get them away from all the problems on Earth(s). Problem being, powers don’t go into space because shards don’t or can’t.

    But Sphere managed to partially construct a moon base by building stuff before he sent it up, and presumably it’d still work even after it was up there. He’d have figured out real quick if it didn’t.

    Chris would probably want to do something like change them first, into something that is sustainable without powers and can survive in space (to some degree or another), and then send them up. Or, he thinks he has some way to bring his power with him, and we already know all shards have flight as a common ability.

    The question I have is, doesn’t this sound kind of like the entities’ own life cycle? Harvest a planet, abandon the planet, then move on to the next?

    1. “abandon the planet, then move on to the next?”
      If by that you mean ‘annihilate it so hard the kickback propels you towards the next at a decent clip’, sure.
      Also, feels like Chris is about to turn humans into Zergs.

    2. Not all shards have flight. It’s something the Entities use a lot to get through space, so they’ve got lots of different variations, and many shards can hand it out. But take Vista- her power alters the laws of geometry, warping space to reduce distances and make parallel lines meet. Why would that shard be able to grant flight, as well? It’d defeat the purpose of getting Vista to come up with new ways to use it.

      1. It’s something from a previous line in Vicky’s narration, a while back. She’d mentioned that flight is a very common secondary power, and reasoned flight was a basic ability all shards had.

        I did not say flight is a power all parahumans have, or that shards would give flight to every parahuman regardless of context, and I have no idea where you were going with that Vista example.

      2. She *reasoned* that all shards could give flight, but that doesn’t make it true.

        Vista was an example because her power is another useful ability in interstellar travel, but I doubt her shard was given a flight ability. The shards were handed out to humanity to see if they can come up with anything clever and useful for the Entities to use on their way from Earth; Vista’s power to compress space combined with flight would have meant she’d have less reason to focus on compressing space to get around- and that’s what the Entities use that power for. So when Vista’s shard was released, it wasn’t packaged with some way of flight- that way, if Vista figures out how to ‘fall’ sideways by curving the geometry of gravity or something, the shard- and Scion- would have learnt something that would potentially help.

        Also, I’m pretty sure there’s WoG out there that Taylor’s shard couldn’t give the ability to fly, meaning it likely didn’t possess the ability itself.

        1. Not all shards can fly, but most can, even if they don’t always grant that ability to their host. From 12.all:

          Our ability to fly comes from the waste common to most of our kind, because we had to fly to get to our destinations. We had to fly to reach barren versions of this Earth, where we form our structures and our routines so we can conserve and distribute energy, process, and provide the mechanisms for power. For capabilities.

  16. I’m wondering if Chris will protect Natalie and Armstrong. Is he responsible for their safety too?

  17. Remember this thing that Tattletale said about the Heartbroken in chapter 13.10?

    “The whole gang is settled in at the kids’ H.Q., and it seems the older Heartbroken are jealous of our quartet of ten, eleven, and twelve year olds. They’re picking apart ideas, ganging up, pressing buttons, and being their worst selves. I give it three weeks before they start wanting to copy the chicken quartet.”

    I wonder if enough time has passed since then for the older Heartbroken to start their own team as Tattletale predicted. Volunteering to take part in the second attack on Teacher’s Cauldron that is being planned could probably be a good chance for them to make a potentially very successful debut on the hero scene.

    According to what Tristan said in chapter 14.10 the attackers are supposed to be ” troops and allies” that Citrine can still gather at this point, and the situation sounds desperate, so the Heartbroken would probably be accepted if they agreed to join the assault (while in other situation most people, even most capes, would likely be to wary of them to let them come anywhere near them, much less ally with them). On top of it the fact that exposure to Heartbreaker’s powers supposedly gave at least some of the Heartbroken some degree of resistance to mind-altering powers (not to mention a ton of experience when it comes to dealing with powers like that) could probably be quite useful against Teacher, and all of those mind-controlling masters Teacher has allied with.

    1. Now that I think about it, even the powers Heartboken tend to have seem like they could be used for some effective counter-mastering. Probably not a coincidence too, considering that being exposed to Heartbreaker’s power almost certainly was the main factor behind most, if not all, of their triggers, meaning that for the Heartboken getting powers that can be used to effectively resist mind-controllers makes at least as much sense as getting actual master powers.

      1. If you want a practical example of how Heartbreaker’s kids can use their powers and experience with mind-controlling powers to counter a powerful master able to control people’s minds, just remember the role Regent played in defeating Valefor back in Worm.

  18. “By putting me in that room with a monster?”

    “You’re more monstrous than she is,” he said.

    Why does Victoria calls Amy a monster? Because Amy first turned Victoria to “Touch me Amy, kiss me, I want to feel your body” Victoria, then she turned Victoria into the Wretch.
    Since Chris is aware of why Victoria calls Amy monster, what has Victoria done to become more monstrous? Did she affect mind or did she affect the body?

    1. What Victoria did was to argue with Chris in a manner which does not make the argument fun. The Snark must throw a retort, such is its nature.

    2. Whatever reason Chris may have to call Victoria more monstrous than Amy (several people discussed his statement above; I definitely produced way too much text trying to figure out just how valid Chris’ statement could be, and why), we should probably remember that Chris probably knows Amy even better than he knows Victoria.

      Remember that Chris met Victoria only at the beginning of Ward (in mid-July if I remember correctly), and stayed with her until he left Goddess arc (probably in October). On the other hand he has Lab Rat’s memories including about two years during which he, and Amy were in the Birdcage, and probably had a lot of chances to talk, especially after Amy’s interaction with Glaistig Uaine gave Amy both reputation in the ‘Cage, and information she needed to figure out the existance of shards, which was knowledge she shared with cell block leaders (including Lab Rat himself).

      This means that Chris not only has more first hand knowledge about Amy’s character than any other member of Breakthrough except Victoria has. All other members of that team know Amy mostly from Victoria told them, and Victoria is obviously strongly biased against Amy. Moreover since Amy is generally a likable person, amd it was obvious for everyone in the ‘Cage that she did not deserve to end up there, Chris may be biased in favor of Amy, and Victoria’s hostility towards her sister, contrasted with Amy’s unconditional love for Victoria, and her constant concern about Victoria’s well being, probably only makes him more convinced that Amy is the real victim in this relationship. He may even think something like “Amy is such a good person, she doesn’t deserve to be treated the way Victoria treats her”.

      Finally from Chris’ point of view everything that Amy did to Victoria must have seemed not that bad, considering that “he” (as Lab Rat and probably also as Cryptid, if he is actually experimenting on those clones that were originally meant for Shin army) has done just as bad things intentionally (as opposed to Amy’s accidental misuse of her power) to far more people.

      1. It also probably doesn’t help Victoria that between her aggressive and Amy’s submissive (especially when it comes to Victoria) personalities and the fat that Victoria has been Carol’s favorite for years, the overall dynamic of relationship between the sisters may remind Chris the dynamic between Lab Rat and his sister, with Victoria playing “Angel’s” role, and Amy – “his own” (or to be more precise – original Chris’). Cryptid may hate Lab Rat for what his maker did to him, but I imagine that in conflict between him and Angel, he wouldn’t choose Angel’s side.

        1. …Or should I say, he would see Angel as a monster and Chris as her victim? Considering that Victoria probably reminds him of Angel, and Amy – of original Chris, it shouldn’t be surprising that he is inclined to consider Victoria, not Amy, a monster.

          1. By the way, sorry everyone for discussing what I think about Chris calling Victoria a monster worse than Amy in this thread after I produced all of those walls of text on the same topic in the thread started by Rooster, but I figured out that there is an important difference between what I tried to say in that thread, and what I said here – in Rooster’s thread I tried to figure out if Victoria can objectively be called a monster; in this thread I focused on discussing why Victoria may appear to be a monster worse than Amy from Chris’ subjective point of view.

          2. There is one more thing I’ve just thought about – key difference between Chris – Angel and Amy – Victoria relationships. Once Chris triggered, he started pushing back against Angel. By contrast whenever Victoria pushes Amy away, whenever she hurts Amy emotionally, Amy simply doesn’t push back. Chris can see it, and, despite what he says, cares. A lot. It is just that he cares for Amy, whom he probably sees as the victim in relationship between sisters, more than he cares about Victoria, whom he considers to be Amy’s tormentor.

            Chris would never admit that he cares, probably even to himself, because it would prove that deep down he is very much human, and being human is something he wants to get away from, but it doesn’t change the fact that he cares about Amy deeply enough that to not only arrange a chance for her to talk to Victoria, but also to be the knight in shining armor who tries to protect Amy by doing to Victoria what Amy wouldn’t do herself – pushing against Vicky every bit as aggressively as Victoria pushed Amy.

          3. I must say, that it is actually nice to see Snark being so protective towards Amy. I also wonder if Amy could so easily control all of those villains from the prison Goddess trashed that went with her to Shin, because many of those people knew her from the Birdcage, and many of those also want to protect her. I always assumed that she survived in the Birdcage mostly thanks to Marquis’ reputation and later her own reputation as a useful healer and someone that Glaistig Uaine treated her as an equal, but maybe it is only part of the truth?

            Maybe Amy managed to earn actual sympathy of many of the Birdcage inmates? Lung seemed to like Marquis and Amy. Chris appears to like her too, to the point where he is willing to lash out at anyone who behaves aggressively towards Amy (especially at Victoria, who clearly turns people against Amy). Could it be that many more of those people who knew Amy in Birdcage feel the same way about her? I think it is not that difficult to believe, considering that to them she must have appeared as a person with a good heart, emotionally vulnerable, willing to care about them as a healer, probably one of the very few (if not the only one) minor among them and definitely someone who didn’t deserve to end up in the ‘Cage with them. To most people Amy may not appear as such a gentle soul, but remember that by Birdcage standards she actually is a very good person, and those of the people who got to know her in the ‘Cage, and aren’t completely heartless or devoid of basic empathy must have recognized that, and at least for some of them it probably is a good reason to sympathize with her, and to protect her.

          4. By the way, if Birdcage was a family (and it probably had to be, even though it was composed almost entirely of dangerous criminals, because anyone who couldn’t trust someone else to watch their backs while they were asleep probably wouldn’t survive long), then is Amy like a baby girl of that family? Someone to be protected from all dangers? Villains are said to have little solidarity with each other, but I think that spending years in the Birdcage could actually form such bonds between many of those who went thru it.

            And if a sufficient number of ex-Birdcage inmates feel this way, what would they do if the heroes exiled Amy, just like Victoria wants them to? Would those people from the ‘Cage go to war with the heroes because of it? For the same reason it is probably a good thing that Victoria threatened Amy with exile and death when there were no witnesses to hear it… except it is not true, isn’t it? If Dot tells just one ex-Birdcage villain who cares a lot about Amy, and not about Victoria, I imagine the consequences could be very bad for Vicky.

          5. Maybe this is also why Amy refered to Gimel as ‘they’, not ‘us’. At this moment, especially after the elder Dallons came to Shin, Amy probably considers those who live with her on Shin, not the ones left on Gimel as majority of “her” people, “her” social group, “her” family.

          6. By the way Teacher probably wasn’t a part of this “Birdcage family dynamic”, because while he probably needed to talk with people outside his block cell to get a dose of human companionship from someone who wasn’t a mindless thrall (and need for human company is probably another thing that brought Birdcage inmates closer together), he didn’t need to actually trust anyone to watch his back. He could simply master everyone in his cell block and this way get a bodyguard whose loyalty he could be certain of.

  19. I like this interpretation a lot.
    At thend, as a reader, you are given through the history arguments for all sides of the conflict.
    I symphatize with everyone, but I have to say that I have a soft spot for Amy.
    And Chris.

    I like his ambition, although I was expecting him to also be working on a contingency involving a controlled entity reformation by collaborating with Amy, or something adressing the root cause of everything-the inability of easy & widespread power-inhibitor technology, to access-shard occupied earths for a stern-taling to, or actual diplomacy with shards.

    I have to say that Sphere (latter Mannequin) plan of spaceborne escape was an abysmal failure, so that plan was not that great….
    Or was it? At the end, Sphere got a Simurgh visit for his troubles. Since Endbringers look like the proverbial nuclear hammer to the sticking nail that Entities apply when the host civilization is getting too clever by half for them to handle, it could have meant two things.

    First, Eidolon would have subjectively felt that Sphere´s plans to escape the Earth were an efficient solution to the struggles Earth was facing…and because we know his subconscious desire was to be a big damn hero, poor Sphere got a Simurgh visit.
    In that scenario, the plan isn´t an actual threat to the cycle, but because it threatens Eidolon´s ego, Sphere gets mauled.

    Second, the spaceborne escape is an actual legitimate threat, and it has happened often enough in the past that the entities & shards had MULTIPLE contingencies against that, and try to dissuade humans as hard as they can from doing it.
    Rememeber, the entire tinkertech portfolio is probably good enough so that the host civilization can become an unholy Von-Neumann Trans-organic singularitarian AI problem in one century or less unless these powergaming approaches are stamped down HARD.

    We will see what is proven true.

    So basically shards are abusive Dungeon Masters or abusive & dependent family members without any kind of notion of boundaries with a penchant of railroading & unfettered power, but poor cognitive/ego ability & agency….

    Wait, why does this remind me of the Victoria/amy dynamic? Must be a coincidence…. 😉

  20. Here is another idea to discuss.

    Let’s assume for a second that Victoria will propose her idea that hero teams should decide if Amy should be exiled to all heroes associated with Wardens. How badly will they react to:
    1. the idea of exiling Amy itself,
    2. Victoria’s proposal that the decision should be made without giving Amy a proper trial in an appropriate court of justice.

    I imagine that it wouldn’t go well for Victoria. I could see especially Valkyrie strongly opposing at least the first point, and Dragon just as strongly opposing both points. In fact I could imagine them quitting Wardens if Amy was exiled (and Dragon even if Amy wasn’t given a proper trial). Victoria’s family (especially her parents and Crystal) would also probably react very negatively. Plenty of other people (including heroes) both on Gimel and other words would probably shocked that Victoria could even propose something like this. Victoria could burn a lot of bridges this way.

    If Amy was to be given a proper trial, could she even be charged with anything that wasn’t covered by amnesty? It is not like any court could exile someone, especially Amy who is not a doctor, for faults in medical practice, and it would probably be extremely difficult to convince any fair judges and jurors that Amy did any harm to her patients intentionally. And if there would be no charges that could stick, how could Victoria argue for exiling Amy? Tell that her sister is insane, and may potentially cause a disaster? How would a court react to something like that?

    1. I imagine that Tattletale also wouldn’t be thrilled with Victoria’s proposal, considering what she requested from Breakthrough for her help back in chapter 10.6.

  21. I imagine that Amy won’t be happy when she learns that Victoria put herself under master-stranger protocol just because she had a good reason to suspect that Amy used her power on her. Will learning about it hurt Amy even more than everything Victoria said to her in this arc?

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