Dying – 15.a

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Crystal

Where are you, Victoria?

Crystal resisted the urge to fidget.  PRTCJ Oversight was stretched so thin that they weren’t taking calls or clarifying orders, and with only a brief text telling her to go here and handle things, she had no idea if she was here in an official or personal capacity.  Whichever it was, she knew fidgeting wasn’t something she was supposed to do.

Officially, she placed herself on the sidewalk, as close to the armed personnel as she was comfortable getting, back straight, hands behind her back, wearing her PRTCJ jacket with her icon and her bodysuit.  She projected calm and confidence, and remained ready to intervene with forcefield or lasers if anything happened between the armed guards at the building entrance and the gathered civilians on the street.

It was cold, but her costume was good quality and warm, made of a thicker material that softened the lines of her body somewhat.  It was her nose and ears that got cold, even with earmuffs on and mostly hidden by her hair, her face turned away from the strident wind.

On any other day or circumstance she might have used her forcefield to block that wind, but the people at the building entrance were from Shin and they didn’t like powers.

In a personal capacity, she had tried to be friendly, to open discussion, and answer questions for people.  People had been notified and given the impression that the prisoners would be out soon.  Two hours ago.  As a form of compromise, considering the shitty weather, she’d offered to text everyone on a list as soon as people emerged, so the worried friends, family and teammates could wait in a nearby coffee shop or store.  Only half had taken her up on the offer.

She was trying to piece together who was here for who.

She knew Erin, though she didn’t know Erin.  The girl had ducked off to a coffee shop.  Rain would be pleased, she imagined.  Less pleased that Lachlan was with her.

Then there was the gang of creepiness made manifest.  Eerie to see them hanging out, all just slightly off.  She imagined that one kid in a classroom, who was weird or offbeat, traumatized or with a weird home life, who an objective observer would choose as the odd one out.  Except they were all like that.  The one who was too quiet and unwilling to make eye contact.  The touchy-feely one with a poor sense of boundaries.  One who laughed a little too loud.  The sullen one who looked ready to pick a fight if someone so much as dropped a pen.  The one who wore makeup that didn’t suit her age or the circumstance, who brimmed with nervous energy.  The robot who looked too placid at all times, even when others erupted or got agitated near him.

All lanky, with fine boned faces, straight noses, and pouty lower lips, most with heads of black hair that straddled the line between curly and wavy, with some exceptions for the one blond guy or the girl and her brother with straighter hair.  All dressed in expensive clothes, in a city where expensive clothes were really expensive: three to five times more expensive at a baseline as what it might have been before Gold Morning.

Eerie, too, because she had run into them in the years before Gold Morning.  They were growing up.  Some had left, by the looks of it, but most had stayed.

There were parents.  She recognized Vista’s.  She had talked to Tristan and Byron’s, answering questions and sending them to the coffee shop.  Mr. Vera looked old, and he wasn’t really that old in reality.  Good looking in a dad way, graying hair, lined face combined with a younger, athletic frame.  It broke her heart in a few ways, just talking to the man.  Because some of that age and weariness was because of the events of the last few years weighing heavily on him, wearing him down and costing him sleep.  She saw it in his eyes, a perpetual sadness or pain.

Trigger events didn’t just affect the one person, after all.  He’d lost one half of two sons when the brothers had triggered, years ago.  From the way he’d talked, he was here for only one son, which made her think of Carol.  She didn’t know the full details, but she was pretty sure the circumstances were different here.  Carol hadn’t been so wounded or sad about it, when she’d taken the stance.

It broke her heart too, because this sad old man made her think of dad.  Mr. Vera was a reminder that her mental measure of a father was broken.  Hers would remain perpetually frozen, locked at a certain age, a certain posture, a certain tone and sound of voice.  Just like her measure of a little brother, or her measure of a mom.

She blinked a few times in rapid succession, to clear her eyes and focus on the situation.

Mrs. Vera was younger, petite, and had locks of white hair in an otherwise young complexion and hair.  From the way she’d fawned over Crystal and brought her a coffee a half hour ago, and her general nurturing demeanor, dropping in the occasional Spanish word, she made Crystal think of a woman destined to be a great grandmother one day.  She spent a while talking to Tribute, one of the Shepherds.

There were others, but they’d turned up after she had set up position on the sidewalk, and they didn’t look as approachable as the Veras had.

She waited, keeping hands clenched together, an empty coffee cup held between two fingers.

She tensed as soldiers emerged from the portal station, walking straight over to the guards on duty.

Come on, come on.

The first of the group emerged.  Chief Armstrong, Ashley, and Sveta.  Crystal pulled her phone out of her pocket and sent the alerts to everyone she’d promised to notify.

Vista met with her parents.  Crystal had talked to Vista enough to know the details.  Give even a hint of being on one parent’s side and a bystander could earn the lasting enmity and suspicion of the other.  Her dad had gotten cancer, her mom had slept with his brother instead of supporting him.  Her two dogs had both disappeared around the time he found out about the cheating, and that had been the start.

Ask him, even today, and he would be ready with an argument about how she couldn’t take care of him or her daughter so how could she take care of animals, he’d given them away to caring owners, she was a psychopath whore, and so on.  Ask her, and she would describe how he’d neglected their relationship and they’d been on the outs for a long time before she cheated, he refused to give any proof he’d given her dogs away and not killed them…  It was the same for every set of incidents thereafter.  Neither had wanted to move from the family home because that made getting an eventual share of the house in the divorce harder, and neither had wanted to initiate the divorce because they’d believed in their own righteousness enough that a ‘fair’ divide of assets wouldn’t be enough- they had to break down the other.  So they’d stayed together and lived in the same house for a year before even initiating the separation, while having fights loud enough that police had been called.  All with a ten year old girl caught in the midst of it.

Later, a frustrated judge had found what he thought was a compromise: that the house would remain unsold, with Vista remaining in one place while the parents alternated a paired custody of house and Vista, each parent maintaining a separate residence they would be in when not taking care of Vista and the house.  Bad fucking idea, when competing renovations, rearrangement of furniture and things, and other passive hostility came into play.  The divorce hadn’t happened until a few years into it.

Crystal knew the line Vista was giving to her parents, as she put a hand out, refusing the hug.  Not while I’m in costume.  Because it was easier to go without.

Just behind Vista, Victoria emerged, Aunt Carol leaning on her shoulder.  No Uncle Mark.

Crystal’s hands crushed the cup behind her as her heart sank in that horrible way that made her think of how things at deep enough ocean depths could collapse under the pressures.  The expressions on the pair’s faces did absolutely nothing that would buoy, that enabled her to breathe again.

Choked, worried, she let them approach her instead of approaching.  She forced a small smile to her face.  Nothing she’d regret, if there was bad news.

Victoria had a bandaged hand again.  She was doing such a terrible job of managing her forcefield these days, in a way that made Crystal worry.  Victoria was- Crystal stopped as she processed the thought, and that crushing pressure didn’t go away as she realized what it was.  Victoria had the same look as the prematurely aged Mr. Vera had.  Carol simply looked tired.

“Hey,” Victoria said.  She let go of Aunt Carol, made sure she was stable, then gave Crystal a hug.

“What happened?” Crystal asked, hugging back.  “Where’s Uncle Mark?”

“He’s staying behind, to keep an eye on Amy,” Aunt Carol said.

He’s alive, Crystal thought.  She could breathe again, even with the tight hug.  The sunken, crushed feeling could gradually make its way to the surface now.

“And you?” Crystal asked her aunt, talking over Victoria’s shoulder.

“I’m fine.  I’m not combat-ready, but I can get there on my own from here.”

“That’s good.  But you left early?”

“It’s dangerous over there.  Sentiment.  Mark can handle himself and I’m more liability than asset.  If I’m out here, I can get Mark out when it’s time, if things don’t get better, and I can keep in contact.”

“He’s prisoner?”

Carol answered, “He’s something close to being a prisoner.  He’ll be fine if it’s like this, I think.  Their politics are more focused on each other than on us, now.  They made an attempt to paint us in a bad light and that was shut down.  Victoria and her team did well.  The Founders and Coalition are reasserting control of things.  More of yesterday’s status quo, as far as we’re concerned.”

“That’s good,” Crystal said.  “I think.”

“It’s good,” Aunt Carol said.  “You look like you’re frozen inside and out.”

“I am, if I’m honest.  Do you want to eat somewhere we can warm up and catch up on details, or…”

She stopped.

“Vic?” she asked.  She rubbed Victoria’s back with her hand.

No change in the tightness of the hug, no change in breathing, barely a movement.

She looked at Aunt Carol, helpless, not sure what to say or do.  Aunt Carol didn’t have anything to offer, her head turned to look at others, and Crystal had no idea if that was on purpose or by happenstance.

“Vic.  You okay?”

Victoria broke the hug.  Crystal got a better look at her cousin, and saw a hundred-yard stare, gaze averted, fingernails digging into the coat sleeve over forearm.  The Victoria she’d seen after Gold Morning, who was still re-learning day to day life.

By herculean measure over a span of a second or two, a rapid-fire set of tiny step-by-steps, Victoria adjusted posture, body language, and reasserted focus, then eye contact.  To reassert the facade Victoria of last week, instead, if a more tired one.

“I’m okay.”

“What happened?”

“A lot,” Victoria said.  “Food sounds good.  Something quick?  There’s stuff that needs attention.”

“You need attention.  Can you catch me up on things over food?  I’ll treat.”

“Maybe another time, for the catching up,” Victoria said.  “The Wardens apparently need help.”

“Victoria,” Crystal said, her tone a warning.

“I have to.  I need to,” Victoria said, and the words were accompanied by another set of micro-adjustments.  Posture, body language, footing, a hand going to hair, a movement of the chin.  Like someone getting ready to have their photo taken, but this presentation was something taught with the idea it would be worn at all times, if possible.  A heroine could have video footage or a photo taken at any time.

Crystal looked at Aunt Carol.

Aunt Carol didn’t remark on a bit of it, but Crystal could imagine she found a bit of pride, energy, or personal power in how Victoria summoned up her own strength and then armored that strength in image.  Carol’s remark was innocuous, “Food sounds good.  I think the heroes are rendezvousing at the Warden’s, they’d appreciate us bringing stuff.”

“Okay,” Crystal said, giving Victoria a worried look.  But she no longer had the ability to accurately read her cousin.

Only that lingering sinking feeling.

Erin

“I didn’t think you’d come,” Rain said.  He had the hood of his costume up under the hood of his jacket, hands jammed in his pockets.

“Of course I’d come.  You called,” she told him, as she approached.  “Kind of.  It was a weird by-proxy sort of thing, huh?”

“It was- a Kenzie thing.”

Erin smiled.  “Is the critter okay?”

“She’s okay.  Got a bloody nose earlier, but we kept her safe.  She was asking who we wanted to see when we got out-”

They’d had to navigate around the mob of Heartbroken, and only just now found themselves facing one another.

“-and I didn’t realize she was actually arranging anything until she’d sent out the messages.  Didn’t mean to inconvenience.”

Impulsively, she stepped forward and gave Rain a hug.  With the layers he wore and the layers she wore, it was more a squish of outer clothing than bodily contact.

And the poor guy looked like he needed a hug.

His answer to the hug was delayed, as he had to pluck hands out of pockets first, figure out what he was doing, and then put his arms around her, just at the point she was breaking contact.

His hands dropped back to his sides nearly as soon as he’d raised them, then found his pockets again.

He had a cut beneath his eye and a bruise on the side of his face.  She reached up to brush a thumb lightly across the bruise, before dropping her hand.  “You got battered.”

“Always,” he said.  “Got ambushed by guards and prisoners.  Then there was a prison riot this time.”

“It’s a really good skill to know, being able to take a punch.”

He smiled.

She leaned a bit closer, like she was telling him a secret, “It’s an even better skill to know how to avoid the punch.”

He smiled more.  “Oh.  So that’s what I’ve been missing.”

“Apparently.”

“It means a lot that you came,” he said.

“Stop.  Stop mentioning it.  I’ll come whenever you call, okay?  I know you’ll come if I call.”

He nodded.

“It’s not something you’re used to, huh?” she asked.

“Not in the slightest.”

“You’re on the side of good, you’re an actual hero-” she stopped as she saw him immediately start shaking his head.  “You are!  You are.”

“Nah.”

“You helped stop the Fallen.  You’ve helped out.  You’re putting your neck on the line.  You deserve some backup and support.  I’m happy to be that.  Now don’t say no or argue with me.  Just say ‘thanks’.”

“Thanks,” he said.

She rubbed his arm, encouraging, which made her realize her fingers were getting numb.  “Oof, chilly.  Want to head inside for a coffee?  We can watch out the window and if you need to go with your team you can bail then.”

“Yeah.  Coffee sounds good,” he said.

Battered and bruised as he was, he seemed more whole.  The Rain of even a few months ago had been like a starved stray, kicked too many times, ranging from wounded to desperate for any hint of affection to the very rare burst of surprising anger.  Never directed at her.

Thinking about bursts of emotion and desperation, of where they’d been months ago, she thought of the bedroom, of the proposed marriage.

If there was anything she admired about Rain, it was his ability to deal.  She didn’t feel like she had that.  When things went to shit, she found herself at a complete loss, not even sure how to feel, because she couldn’t process the situation enough to even summon up initial feelings, or because the feelings overflowed and flowed into one another.

Thinking about that scene, her lowest point, it was one of those no-deals.  An incomplete feeling in her chest, that could be the seed of anger, resentment, love, hate, horror, shame, appreciation, or pain.  If he’d said yes then they’d be together now, she was pretty sure.  It would have been ten times more messed up then but things would be better now.  But he’d dealt with it his way, even if it hadn’t felt like dealing at the time, when the outcome had been so in question.

And he’d dealt after.  He’d thrown himself into a serious battle, even with threats against his life.  He’d killed a man.  He and his team and his assembled allies had won.

Before she could wrestle with feelings and realize that incomplete no-deal non-feeling was impossible to budge, he’d gone off to prison.  The first time.

Then Lachlan had needed help.

“You didn’t wait long?” Rain asked.

She shook her head.

“Nobody bothered you?”

“No.  Who would bother me?  The Heartbroken?”

“Kinda.  I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said, looking back.

“Chastity has my back,” she replied, while joining Rain in looking back at the assembled people.

“She’s a good one,” was his response.

The kids barely warranted a glance.  It was Capricorn’s parents who caught her eye.  Golem with his foster family.  Even Vista, a little more standoffish with her parents.

Erin’s parents were still Fallen, even though the Fallen were no more.  They weren’t alone.  A lot of others were out there.

The envy she felt was heavy in her chest.  It wasn’t a no-deal feeling, that felt like it could become something overwhelming but never did.  It was just overwhelming.

She looked away, looked at Rain.

“You’re limping.”

“From when the guards jumped me.  Someone kicked me in the side of the knee.”

“Lean on me,” she said.  She moved around to his other side.  He rested some of his weight on her, though she suspected not as much as he could have.

Those uneasy, incomplete feelings didn’t budge at the physical contact, and the fact she was touchy-feely by default didn’t seem to impact that.  It made her wonder if this set of feelings would be with her the rest of her life, never resolved, caught in a kind of limbo inside of her.

Lachlan had a seat reserved.  He raised a hand in greeting, and to indicate where he was.

Rain was so good at taking his lumps that she could glance at him now and have less than zero idea if he was bothered by Lachlan’s presence.

Which was shitty.  He deserved better than active poking and prodding until he showed a reaction.  But she couldn’t bring herself to broach the subject.

Lachlan, at least, was easy.

The shop was mostly empty, but the people who were present paid attention to Lachlan.  He’d been in the media enough that his face was recognizable.  He left his things at the table and joined them, where Rain was getting into line.

“Hey Lachlan,” Rain said.  “We good?”

Lachlan glanced at Erin, then nodded at Rain.  “Yeah.”

Lachlan still had programming he was working through.  The way he described it, his first thought was always pro-Fallen, his second thought was a contradiction.

Rain had attacked the Fallen, and so Lachlan’s first thought was one of enmity.

“What have you been up to?” Rain asked.  “Sorry you came out here for my sake.”

“Nah.  Good to get out and away.  Uh, been getting into leatherworking,” Lachlan said.  “Talked to you about it ages ago.”

“I remember,” Rain said.  “I’m itching to get into something like that, but there’s never time, and when there is time I have tinkering to do.”

“Made a wallet, let me show you.  I’m working on a rucksack now-”

Lachlan fished out the wallet, and showed Rain.

“The edges are rounded.”

“There’s a tool for that.  A few, actually…”

Good boys, Erin thought to herself, as they got more into it, even as she rolled her eyes a bit.  Rain had to break from the chatter to order his coffee, and stopped in the middle of that to check his phone.

“Team’s calling,” he said.  To the person at the counter, he said, “Can I get, I don’t know, six more coffees?  And a bunch of pastries.  Whichever, a variety.”

“Sorry you have to go,” Erin said.

“Me too.  Another time?” he asked her.  When she nodded, he looked at Lachlan.  “Another time?”

There was hesitation, a pause as Lachlan thought about it.  Then nods from Lachlan, that lasted a second or two too long, like once he got started he forgot the usual length of a nod or the normal niceties, because he’d had to push to get there.

But he was trying and Rain was trying, and she appreciated it.

“See you soon,” she asked, as he collected the coffees and things, added sets of hands reaching out of his sleeves to hold things steady.

“Guaranteed,” he told her.

Chastity

At the door to the station, Kenz peeled away from Ashley to make a run toward her other team.  Candy, Darlene, and Aiden all ran up to her, and with an exception to Aiden, who moved through the area near Chastity like a breeze might blow against her skin, her power didn’t register her siblings, who were like black mice running through darkness.

As headlong as the runs toward reuniting were, the kids seemed to hit an invisible wall, as Kenzie stopped so abruptly she hopped on the spot to get her balance.

“I want to hug you all so bad,” Kenzie said.  “But Victoria told me to wind it back.  It hurts-”

She reached out, staggering a bit like a zombie.  Abruptly, she stopped, looking around with a smile.  “What?  You cut me off?”

“Darlene cut all of us off,” Aiden said.

“Now that we know you’re safe,” Darlene told them.  “We were worried, what the heck?”

“But you did so good.  We did so good!  That was teamwork and you followed my cues, and you helped me tinker, and we saved the day!”

“I was worried, you toad!” Darlene said, giving Kenzie a light push.  Chastity stepped forward to put an arm out, forearm braced against Darlene’s collarbone.

Kenzie regained her balance.  “Sorry.”

“None of that was fun,” Aiden said.  He reconsidered, “Almost none of it.”

“No,” Kenzie agreed, smiling slightly.  “But it means a lot to me that you guys had my back.”

“Of course we did,” Candy said.  “We’re a team.”

The smile dropped from Kenzie’s face.  She fidgeted, nodded.

The girl wore her costume suit, with abbreviated jacket and dress over bodysuit, and a camouflaged face that wasn’t quite her own, her helmet tucked under her arm.  She looked so lost and lonely, but she always looked lost and lonely to Chastity.  Even when she was surrounded by people, like someone starved, given a mouthful of nourishment, and left all the more aware of how hungry they were.

Chastity had seen that, once upon a time.  The woman- she couldn’t remember the name, because she’s just been ‘mama’ to Jean-Paul, Cherie, and Darlene, and a face in a small crowd to the rest, but she’d offended papa.  It was because she was sick and she couldn’t go get medications as long as she stayed with papa, but as far as he was concerned, she didn’t deserve to eat.  When the woman finally had been allowed to, she’d been almost animal, food on her face, desperate, eating so much she threw up.  Papa had insisted everyone laugh at her and mock her.

That had been back when she’d been pregnant with Darlene, now that Chastity thought about it.  It might explain why Darlene had always been a little smaller than the rest.

Chastity hoped the woman was doing okay now.  Whatever her name was.  From that day until she’d left the house, she had been anxious about food.

Kenzie, at least, wasn’t that bad.  But Chastity saw that anxiousness in her.

Sacre,” Chastity said.  “The situation is appropriate.  I think you can hug.  Get it out of your systems.”

She didn’t miss that Kenzie waited for Aiden to make the first move before joining the four-way hug.

Chastity backed off, letting them talk and catch up, asking questions.  The hug stopped but the physical contact didn’t, as they huddled together.  Darlene held Kenzie’s hand and didn’t let go.

Rain was waltzing off with his gal pal, Erin.  He had mentioned her before, and in her search to alleviate boredom and get a break from way too much time spent with annoying younger siblings, Chastity had struck up a conversation with the girl.

She was a good sort.  Not necessarily a good sort for Rain, but Chastity was willing to admit she might be biased.

Others had family.  Victoria, Capricorn, Vista, Golem had a girlfriend and family present.

Well, Vista wasn’t exactly engaged, and Chastity had caught Vista’s father looking at her cleavage earlier, but all in all

She stepped away from it.

Crisse, she wanted a smoke.  She’d picked it up as a kid and quit when the world ended.  Part of her motivation had been that cigarettes stank, and boys didn’t like girls who stank.  Except now, every time she thought about wanting a cigarette, she felt the pang alongside the reminder she was alone.

That feeling of being alone was in and of itself a trap, something that got her heart racing if she dwelt on it.  It made her think of being one of the mamas, bound to some loser like papa because they had nowhere else to go, or being cast away with no prospects and minimal chances at a normal life.

Which wasn’t to say she wasn’t already fucked up, but it would be nice to try to force it.

The kids, Kenzie and Aiden included, were young enough they’d recover and find their way.  They had each other now.

She found a railing to lean against, and used her phone to send a message to Cassie.  The non-romantic yin to her yang, scruffy and bad with technology, she’d lose the cord to recharge her phone or forget to recharge despite having the cord, because she only ever used it to talk to Chastity or run errands.

But they were forever friends and that helped.  It changed Chastity’s worst case scenario to being old ladies together with Cass.

“Aww, but I thought Cahoot was great,” Aiden said, voice raised.

“Cahoot is terrible,” Chastity said.  “This is a cape name?  For who?”

“Dar.”

“Then it’s even more terrible.  Don’t be mean to Darlene, Chicken.”

“I’m not!  Names are hard, when so many are taken.  Darlene liked it, too!”

“Um.  I didn’t?”

“You didn’t?  But you seemed so pleased!”

“Volume down,” Chastity said.  I really want that cigarette.

“I was pleased you were so interested in picking a name for me, not in the name, exactly.”

“Then you need to say something.”

“We need to get help from Breakthrough,” Kenzie said.  “Capricorn was on a corporate team with a big brand focus, and Victoria really knows this stuff, and Ashley’s, uh, super cool.”

“I can hear you,” Ashley commented.  “Should I walk away?”

“No.  I don’t say anything I wouldn’t want anyone to overhear, and I’m saying you’re cool.  You’re the coolest person I know, and I know a lot of cool people.”

Ashley walked past Kenzie, putting a hand on top of her head, before walking away.

“I was thinking of Skinship as my name,” Darlene said.

“Yes,” Candy said, right away.

“If Candy says yes right away, you need to think twice,” Chastity pointed out.

“Aww.”

“We’ll run it by the experts at Breakthrough,” Kenzie said.

Chastity tuned out the conversation, turning her back to the group.  There wasn’t much management that was needed here.  It was a good set of least-bads in their best environments.

Ashley walked over and leaned against the railing next to her.  Chastity could feel her presence, the physiology, the general shape of her body, with arms that terminated at the wrists.

“Do me a favor?” Ashley asked.

“Sure.”

Ashley used her power, which momentarily interrupted the children’s conversation.  A flicker of darkness swept across the eyes, erasing pupils and irises both.

“How are my eyes now?”

“Pure white.  Coolest person indeed.”

“You’re too kind,” Ashley said, turning her face toward the kids, so she and Chastity faced completely different directions.  “Tell me they’re good for each other.”

“Who knows?  I can’t think of a single long term relationship among anyone I know that was ‘good’ for everyone involved,” Chastity said.

“Doesn’t have to be for the long term.  Right now, they’re good for each other?”

Oui,” Chastity said.  “Good enough.  When she’s with her team she misses Breakthrough.  When she’s with Breakthrough she can miss her team, unless she is connected and talking to them.”

“Yes,” Ashley murmured.

“But even now, surrounded by people she loves, she misses everyone.”

“You’ve been paying attention.”

“I’m a student of unhealthy relationships,” Chastity said.  “Especially those with my family members involved.”

“Your family member just kissed Chicken Little-”

Chastity whipped around so fast her snow-damp hair struck her own mouth.  She pushed it away.  “No kissing!”

“It was on the cheek!” Kenzie protested.  “It’s fine!”

“It was a friendly kiss!” Candy said.

“It’s a rule.  Time out,” Chastity said.  “It was you, Candy?”

“It was, but-”

Chastity reached for her waist.  The bullwhip unfurled.  Candy ceased protesting.

Chastity pointed, then watched while Candy trudged over to the side of the road, seating herself in the snow on the sidewalk, elbows on knees, hands on cheeks.

Some of the parents who were talking to their cape children looked at her, aghast.  They didn’t even know.

Darlene, meanwhile, mouthed the words ‘thank you’ to Chastity.

“It’s inevitable,” Ashley said.

“I worry this is unhealthy, but I think of the literal blood that can be shed if teasing or flirtation go a step too far…” Chastity trailed off.

“I’m glad she has it, even if some small amounts of blood get spilled in the meantime,” Ashley said.

“It won’t be a small amount.”

“I’m glad she has friends, whatever happens.  I do miss her terribly when she isn’t around.”

“And she misses you.  I’m similar with Candy, even if she doesn’t reciprocate.  I spent too long protecting her from our mamas and papa, I can’t let my guard down now.”

“It makes you lonely, doesn’t it?  Seeing them be… not as lonely?”  Ashley asked.

Chastity took a moment or five to answer, not because she needed to consider it, but because it hit her right in the center of the gut.

Oui.

“Kenzie isn’t coming for what comes next.  I won’t let her.  The others won’t need to worry.”

“She’s a target,” Chastity said.  “Tattletale keeps saying, Imp says, even her teammates seem to accept it as a law as fundamental as gravity.  She could be anywhere at all and she would be in as much danger as any of us on any day.”

Ashley nodded.  “Yes.”

Victoria made a hand motion, beckoning people to come closer.  Ashley pointed for Chastity’s sake, though Chastity had seen, and the two of them approached the huddle.  Chastity put her foot out, kicking Darlene lightly in the butt to get her attention.  A person could have been drawn and quartered ten feet from the huddle and it might not have distracted them from their conversation.

A motion of the hand gave Candy permission to exit time out.

Kenzie broke from her group to hug Ashley, walking with her and Chastity.

“Kenz,” Chastity said.  “You’re going to need to listen to Ashley here, even if it feels like you’re going to be left out.”

“I’m being left out?”

“We need to keep you safe,” Ashley said.

“If anything happened to you, it would hurt too many people.”

“I’m safest with my team,” Kenzie protested.

“You got a bloody nose,” Swansong said.

“A bit of one!  And I helped!”

“You being safe is part of the deal for you being on this team, and we don’t break that, agreed?”

Kenzie hemmed and hawed, until Ashley nudged her.

“Agreed.”

“We keep you in one piece.”

“Agreed,” Kenzie said, with a small smile.

Ray Vera

Byron returned from the washroom.  At Anita’s assistance, he’d removed his armor so she could hug him properly.  Byron had the sense to obey his mother’s whims.

Once Anita was done, Ray could finally speak to his son.

Mi hijo,” Ray said.  He brushed Byron’s hair back.  “Prison?  What is this madness?”

“It’s over and done with.  Posturing and politics.”

“Why you?”

“Because I’m out there.  We’re doing things.  We’re scary to some people.”

“It is scary,” Anita said.  “Parahumans.”

“Our son, Anita,” Ray said.  “Our sons.”

“I worry about the way things are going,” Anita said.  “It’s scary.  that’s all I’ll say.”

Ray wanted to say something more, but he didn’t.  When everything had gone wrong, he had tried to help the boys find answers, even as every action they took seemed to carry the boys further and further away.  In the end, Tristan had lost himself and Ray had been too far away to play a role in it, or even to recognize what was happening when they saw Tristan after.

Anita’s way of handling things was different.  Even here, Anita had been questions, questions, questions, fervor.  Questions for Crystal Dallon, questions for the other parents, asking how they handled this, what did they think about that?

But in her endless search for answers and sense, she accepted anything and everything, and the reality was that she could watch hours of video from online, every single day, about the parahumans and how laws and protections were needed.  She could only get minutes at a time of talking to people like the Birons or Crystal.

The former won out, and when those people were done convincing Anita that there were problems and that actions were needed, they started convincing her that the dangers were greater, the actions required more severe.  Here and there she would parrot off something and he would have to challenge her, ask her why this, or why that.  She would think about it and reconsider, but she would go back to those same videos.

But they gave her peace that she hadn’t had since Tristan had… done the unthinkable, really.  They made sense of a nonsensical world.  So he steered her when he could, and he grit his teeth in moments like this, where Byron was too quiet to challenge the statement.

Or because Byron agreed, but for different reasons.

It made Ray momentarily wish Tristan could join this conversation, because Tristan was brazen enough to challenge those things, to be bold and forward enough that holding the shakier views would be impossible.

“Are you well?  You weren’t hurt?”

Byron shook his head.  “Tristan was, just a little.”

Ray made a face.

“We were pleased you called for us.  We worried when we couldn’t reach you.”

“We thought we would enter and leave the same day.”

“You’ll have to call more frequently,” Anita told Byron.

“Ah.  Ahgh,” Byron said, the latter sound somewhere between the sound of a realization and the gurgle of a dying man.  “I call once a day.”

“We miss you.  We worry that this takes up all your time,” Ray pushed.  “It would mean a lot to your mother if we could hear more from you, hear that you’re… exploring life.”

“Meeting people who aren’t parahuman, to expand your horizons,” Anita added.  “Girls?”

“Aghh,” Byron made a faint sound.  He looked like he was going to say something, then didn’t.

Anita wasn’t one to miss that.  “Who?”

“Nobody.  Nothing.”

“Is it Brianna?  She was a good, beautiful girl, with the best heart.  I know she’s still around.”

Mom.

Anita put her hands on either side of Byron’s face.  “I want the best for you.  Te quiero.”

“I love you too, mom.”

“Tell me about this girl.”

“I never said there was a girl.  Even if there was, right now it’s too complicated.  With Tristan.”

She made a face.  “You’re putting your life on hold.  There has to be a way.  If he needs a… whatever kind of boy he likes, you can have this girl you like, you figure out a way.”

“I am absolutely not talking about this with you.  And Tristan likes brainy guys.”

“You will talk about it with me,” Anita said, pushing past the mention of Tristan.  “I’m your mother.”

The blonde girl, Victoria Dallon, made a small whistle, signaling.  She was close enough to hear, as she raised her voice, “Got a call, we’re being asked to come in!”

“So soon,” Anita said.

“If you hadn’t made me change-” Byron said.

“No blaming,” Ray told him.  “There’s too much of it these days.”

“No blame,” Byron said.  “Yeah.”

“Anita,” Ray said.  “Before they go, I want a moment alone with him.”

“Do you want a divorce?” she asked.  “Because I get little enough of him without you wanting exclusive time.  We share our own children.”

“Anita.  It’s important.”

Anita huffed.

“Byron will make it up to you by calling twice a day for the next short while.”

“I’ll what?”

“As a consequence of taking so long to tell us what was happening here.”

“I was trapped in prison in another dimension, no phones, and I still managed to let you know in a pretty reasonable span of time.”

“You missed your daily call.”

“I was in prison.  I still got in touch, I- I’ve got to go.”

“You’re smart, you have a capable team, Byron,” Ray said.  “And stay, let me have a word, por favor?”

“Only because I love you guys.”

“You’ll call twice, every day for the next two weeks,” Anita said.

“Next few days.”

Anita wanted to protest, but Ray ushered her away.

“I’ll be at the car, nursing a grudge,” she told Ray.

“I understand.”

She walked away.  Some of the more distant people like the group at the coffee shop were just leaving.

Ray waited until Anita was gone.  He looked at Byron.  Byron, who had worried him so much when he was young, because he had never flourished.  Part of that was living in his brother’s shadow.  Part was because Byron wasn’t a flower or anything of the sort.  A flower bloomed in visible ways, while Byron was encapsulated in a shell, the metamorphosis happening within, in small steps that only Byron noticed.

And somehow, without anyone realizing, he became this wonderful young man, noble and strong in his own way.  Perhaps Ray’s first thought when he thought hero.

Sentiment in an emotional time, surrounded by other people reuniting with loved ones and catching up with colleagues, maybe.

But he’d had so many regrets when he thought this boy had died in battle.

“I could not be more proud of you,” Ray told his son.

Byron seemed to be at a loss for words.

“Except perhaps if you called your mother more.”

Byron smiled.  A rare treasure.

“May I speak to Tristan?”

“Thought that was why you wanted mama gone,” Byron said.  He blurred, features twisting, the lines of the blurs distorting the boundary between the boys before settling into Tristan’s outline.

Byron hadn’t been wearing a jacket, and Tristan wasn’t either, but Tristan seemed to immediately feel the cold.

More pronounced by the cold was his reaction to seeing Ray.  He looked away.

“If you want to talk, I know it’s hard, but we’re there.  If you want to write a letter, we will gladly read it.  I miss you.”

“Mama doesn’t,” Tristan said, still not making eye contact.

“Mama has complicated feelings.  I think complicated feelings are forigvable, aren’t they?”

Tristan’s hands kept going to his dyed hair, trying to fix something that didn’t need fixing.

The hair and its brilliant pink was just an extension of Ray’s feelings toward Tristan as a whole.  There had been a time he fully understood his boy, lasting well beyond the point that a parent normally had a firm grip on their children.  Then he had seen how excited young Tristan was to see certain characters on his favorite show, the internet searches-

Madre de dios, the internet searches.

He’d understood Tristan less fully then, but he’d made efforts.  He’d reconciled.  The divide had really started at the hair, it was strange and it was wholly Tristan.

What he’d done to his brother… it was the same.  Strange and wholly of Tristan, understandable without being relatable.  And it had seemingly put their boy forever out of reach.

“You’re being good to your brother?”

“For once, I might be,” Tristan said, avoiding eye contact.  “But I don’t trust my own opinion on the matter.  You’d have to ask him.”

“You’re being good to yourself?”

“Trying.”

“This girl that Byron likes, is she good?”

“I’m not sure he likes her.  But she’s good.”

“And these brainy boys you like-”

Dios mio,” Tristan said, smiling for the first time.  “Byron knew he was throwing me under the fucking bus with that line-“

“Language,” Ray said, stern.  He reached his hand up, and tapped fingers against Tristan’s cheek in the lightest possible version of a slap.  He kept his fingers there for a moment, then dropped them to the back of Tristan’s neck, holding firm.

Tristan made eye contact for the first time.

“I miss my sons.  Reach out.  Make the effort.  It would mean the world to her.”

“She might say she doesn’t want to see me.”

“She might.  Twenty years with her, and I don’t know for sure, myself.  But you got yourself into this.  Having to brave this is the price you pay.  Just know you don’t need to wonder with me.  Byron says he forgives you?  I can manage it.”

Tristan nodded, looking away again.

“Call.”

“After all of this.  I have to focus on things, and technically, I have to go-”

“After.  Don’t break our hearts,” Ray said, giving his son a shake, by way of the grip on the back of his neck.

“After,” Tristan said.

Ray dropped his hand.

He watched his sons walk away with the heaviest of hearts, Tristan disappearing as Byron appeared, an exchange of muttered words, one brother to another, and then Byron disappearing, as Tristan appeared…

Number Lad #4

As the people filed into the room, Number Four scribbled the 4,444th iteration of the kanji for ‘Shi’ on a piece of paper, each last one precise.

Citrine and the rest of the background capes were all present and organized as Breakthrough joined.  The group sat at the front of the room, closest to the door, and Heartbroken children filed in after to sit behind Lookout.

Four’s attention was on Sveta Karelia.  The ex-Case Fifty-Three.  Perhaps.  It was hard to say if she qualified.  But he watched over the top of his glasses as the other Number Boys talked or scribbled their own notations on their pads of paper.

Others in his set looked too, timing the looks in a way that had been calculated to avoid drawing her attention.  In their synchronicity, however, they drew a few weird looks.  Kurt looked at them, disapproving.

She had asked, once upon a time, who she was.  She, according to other Case Fifty-Threes, had killed Doctor Mother, and for everyone in his set, Doctor Mother was someone they remembered without remembering.  She slipped into their heads in dreams and was easiest to see if they didn’t dwell on her.

She had once asked Number Zero who she was.

Now she had gone and reinvented herself.

Others were joining as well.  Stragglers, B-listers, capes with issues.

Five thousand, two hundred and twelve parahumans had attended the final confrontation against Scion.  Two-thirds of them had survived, with the majority of the losses occurring in the period after Doormaker had shut down, but before Khepri had achieved strategic control.

Of those two-thirds, roughly half had remained in Earth Gimel, stretched out over an area ranging from Maine to Boston to the old New York.  Forty percent of those capes were heroes or something close enough to count, and eighty percent of the remainder had scaled down, retired, shifted priorities or sought lower-profile hero work, at least in the short term.

Advance Guard, Foresight, The Shepherds, and the Attendant had captured a lion’s share of the remainder who wanted higher-profile hero work.  Taking control over jurisdictions, they managed the smaller teams while training their elite forces, often with a specialized squad or a series of squads.  The Wardens had handpicked some for specialized needs or because those members were just good.

Except they’d gone silent.  All zeroes on every frequency.  Not that good, perhaps.

Those who gathered now weren’t necessarily the elite or the most capable.  They included capes coming out of permanent or partial retirement, friends and colleagues, and those who hadn’t been able to attend due to other requirements.

Breakthrough had been in prison.

Advance Guard had a sub-team that had been handling a mission they couldn’t jeopardize.

The Shepherds had benched some members.

The teams under the umbrellas of the four primary teams like the Navigators or the Major Malfunctions were now sending people to shore up numbers and support.  People they saw as friends had gone in to wage a war and those friends hadn’t returned.  They’d go the extra mile now.

It was more convenient to not have any friends at all.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Jeanne said.  “I heard things were resolved.”

“More or less,” Capricorn answered.  “We’ll see how things are tomorrow or next week.”

“I’m sorry it came to that.  I hope my efforts were some assistance.”

“They were, thank you.”

“I’d like to start,” Cinereal said.

With that, she had the attention of the room.

“A few hours ago, our precogs and danger sensers gave us our best numbers yet for an attack on Teacher’s facility.  Many members of Warden leadership, Advance Guard, Foresight, and the Shepherds entered.  We received regular status updates-”

She indicated a digital map of the facility.  Second by second, it showed dots moving through the building.  Rooms changed color from red to green as they were cleared.   Some turned to bright green as they became base camps and retreat points for the attacking capes.

“-until around this point.  Radio signals became intermittent, then stopped, all in the span of seconds.  We made enough progress to attack what we’ve termed the gallery, with the character assassination groupings.  Buildings were scattered and to the best of our knowledge the people and groups that were being used to access our media and track us from remote locations were captured or disrupted.  We need to make a push, at the very least to establish what happened.”

“Mortari is willing to offer its assistance,” Jeanne said.  “I’m going to put this as bluntly as I can.  We have assets, resources that took weeks, months, or years to gather together.  We are giving you these assets.  In another world, we would have liked to keep these in our back pocket until another Scion-level event, should something like that happen.  Or if the Kronos titan were to attack.  But we’re not, because we believe this is essential.”

“What resources?  More murderous kids?”

The voice came from the lone Case Fifty-Three in the room.  Sveta Karelia.

“If you’d stand?” Jeanne asked, looking to another end of the room.

Behind Number Four, four rows of capes stood from their seats.  All wore crisp uniform costumes, derived from a singular theme.

“You had more vials,” Sveta said.

“We tracked them down some time ago.”

Sveta shook her head.

She might kill Jeanne, like she did Doctor Mother.

Four met Three’s eyes, as Three looked over.  Three was thinking the same thing.  Dreams were vivid, and there was enough empty space between the falsely created memories for things to be filled in and elaborated on.  The death of their old boss was one such thing.

Care would need to be taken.

“We need to know who’s willing to work with us.”

“Will you be participating?” another cape asked.  One from the Shepherds.

“I will.  My husband will.  Frankly, Dragon went in ready to fight Saint and we haven’t heard from her.  Knowing what we now know about her, and knowing past history, that’s a catastrophe unto itself.”

“Breakthrough is in,” Antares said.  “Most of us.  And Shin is too.  They offered a bit of help.”

She held up vials of her own.

“I was wondering if that was an option,” Jeanne said.

“What are they?” one of the remaining members of Advance Guard asked.

“Drugs have weird effects on powers.  They studied that.  They think they have something that dampens powers, they have something that changes variables, and they have something that augments powers for a while, though there’s a withdrawal period after and it needs to be given to a non-tinker who has very good control over their power, which frankly rules out most of my team.”

“I didn’t think we were on such good terms with Shin,” Jeanne said.

“The Coalition and Founders are acting pretty happy that the messy stuff has been handled and the blame is being pointed in the appropriate directions.”

“Meaning anywhere but at them,” Slician said, from one of the front rows.

Sveta’s expression changed again.  Brow, lines of the face, and mouth could be measured to work out a specific emotion.  Annoyance?

“Everything helps,” Jeanne said.  “Every set of hands helps.  If I could have people stand or raise their hands?”

One by one, people and groups obliged.

“We’d be leaving territories and neighborhoods unprotected or undermanned,” a girl in Advance Guard said.

“This is more important,” Jeanne told her.  “If we can’t salvage this, we lose.  No question.”

With some reluctance, more hands went up.

Four again looked to Sveta Karelia.

One member of his set had been changing his mind, thinking back on past events with guilt and remorse.  A break in the programming, a disruption in the pattern.  Whichever one of them it was, they had been able to perform in the field without issues, but it was getting worse, if dreams were to be believed.

It threatened things.

And the conversation with Sveta Karelia had been had with Number Zero and then broadcasted to the others in dreams.  Their member with a newborn conscience had seized on that, replaying it and processing it in depth, alongside a dozen other similar memories and incidents.  Glimmers suggested they had done research, looked into things.  Information picked up there had bled into the rest of the set as ambient knowledge and memories.

In the background, Jeanne was asking if people had colleagues they could call or resources they could tap.

She got her response, but for once, Four wasn’t paying attention to her, despite the fact she was very close to being perfect.  He didn’t pay attention to Breakthrough’s suggestion at releasing specific prisoners.

Not until he came to his resolution.  He pulled off his glasses and cleaned them with a microfiber cloth, working through the thought.

This raid would be a chance to tidy things up, and make the irregular regular.  Everything in order.

“Good.  Let’s hope that’s enough,” Jeanne said.  “Let’s prepare.”

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137 thoughts on “Dying – 15.a”

  1. -I admit that I teared up seeing all these reunions. Very emotional, especially Vera brothers with their dad. Ray is a good dad, he’s trying to be as good as he can for his sons. Their mother, she’s ok, but she still can’t forgive Tristan for what he did to his brother.

    -“He had a cut beneath his eye and a bruise on the side of his face. She reached up to brush a thumb lightly across the bruise, before dropping her hand. “You got battered.”

    “Always,” he said.”

    Lol, poor Rain admits that his role in Ward is to be an ETERNAL VICTIM. This young man is honest to a fault.

    -Maybe someone from our favorite characters will die in this battle against Teacher? I’ll be ok if that means that Teacher will be defeated through a sacrifice (or more).

    -Do I smell a start of a possible romance between Number Four (Man) and Sveta? He’s staring too much at her and this ” In the background, Jeanne was asking if people had colleagues they could call or resources they could tap. She got her response, but for once, Four wasn’t paying attention to a woman who was very possibly perfect.” That will be interesting: a clone of one of the persons responsible for Case 53s existence being attracted by…a Case 53? Let’s give this shit a chance.

    -Heartbreaker deserved the same fate as Jack. He went down too easy and fast.

    1. I like to think that Heartbreaker bled to death slowly from all the stab wounds to the crotch Imp gave him personally.

    2. “This raid would be a chance to tidy things up, and make the irregular regular. Everything in order.”

      This part here makes it seem more like no.4 wants to kill Sveta or his wayward brother.

      1. If you’re right and he’s planning to kill her, I don’t think he’ll be so idiotic to jeopardize this mission by killing one of the most powerful cape, Sveta or his brother. If he’s planning to kill Sveta-because he would like to avenge Doctor Mother’s death- he’ll do after the mission will be over, but not during the raid. He knows that they need every cape possible to be sure to win. After they’ll defeat Teacher, he might try something. But I’m not afraid for Sveta. She’s a natural born survivor, she’ll survive everything. I’m more afraid for Tristan or Rain, the way they talked was like…they might be the ones DYING?

        1. Remember how everyone panicked because we believed that Vista was death? Well, usually red flags in Ward are not to be taken seriously. Sveta already have a big one if your theory that Number Four will be stupid enough to try to assassinate her is true. So, I’m not afraid for her at all. I’m more worried for characters who doesn’t have a red flag flying over their head.

        2. Bold of you to assume he wants to win. I could believe they want to get back to cauldron old base and could have been persuaded By teacher he is the best leader for it. #worstpossiblesurprise #evilwildybub #bestwriter

      2. He’s writing the Kanji “Shi” 4444 times. Shi can mean four, but usually it’s read as “death”, as far as I know. Number Four is almost definitely thinking about killing someone. Or he has discovered his love for terrible puns.

        1. Man, I’ll be mad if they’ll lose this battle only because a Number Lad can’t control his psychopathic emotions and will put everyone lives in danger because he’ll try to kill either Sveta or his “brother” or both. That will be a very idiotic way to lose such an ESSENTIAL battle -one of your team turn against you and fuck everything up. Maybe it was better if Contessa killed all the Number Lads and not just 3 of them. No more troubles with Number 4, right?

        2. There is also the fact that in Japanese number four is pronounced “shi” in certain contexts. Those Number Boys… everything boils down to numbers with them. I wonder if there is a number that can be associated with something like conscience, doubt, guilt or remorse. Maybe it is the number of the Boy who’s “acting up”.

          The sad thing is that even with memories shared through dreams it was probably unavoidable for personalities of the Number Boys to drift apart – something number four appears to either not understand or be in denial about.

          On the other hand Number Man once mentioned that unlike Alexandria he never learned how to judge people’s emotions from their facial expressions with any sort of superhuman accuracy. It looks like Number Four is trying to learn just that. I wonder if the other Boys are also trying to do it, or if it is one more “irregularity”.

          1. > There is also the fact that in Japanese number four is pronounced “shi” in certain contexts.

            Whoops, sorry, looks like as soon as I started writing my comment right above, I forgot that Sethur already explained that ‘shi’ may mean four in Japanese. I really need to stop posting such comments after midnight…

        3. You’re half right anyway. We don’t actually know which kanji he was writing because we were just given the reading, but it’s fair to assume he was writing the one that means 4. Incidentally, 4 is an unlucky number because it’s homophonous with death.

          He just made a mandala of bad juju 😅

      3. > This part here makes it seem more like no.4 wants to kill Sveta or his wayward brother.

        Yes, it seems so to me as well. The problem with it is that killing Sveta would be MONUMENTALLY DUMB, not only because it would endanger the raid but also because it completely fails to solve the stated problem. Okay, one of the brothers has his conscience awakened and eating at him because of Sveta, then another brother kills Sveta – what does it do for the first brother’s conscience? I’d say it would eat him all the more. And the problem with killing his brother is that I got an impression that #4 doesn’t know which brother is it, he just knows that it’s someone of them.

        1. I don’t believe that killing anyone can solve this particular “problem”. The boys’ personalities will likely continue to diverge no matter what.

          Not that this divergence really is a problem. The way I see it, the problem is just that Number Four is afraid that he will somehow end up being “alone” when the other Boys won’t behave like carbon copies of himself anymore.

          Number Man noted once that Number Boys poor copies of himself based mostly on “hearsay”, and I think that both this fear Four displayed, and the fact that the Boys apparently keep getting huge amounts of each other’s (and Number Man’s) memories in their dreams just shows how right “Zero” was in his assessment.

          1. The way to solve (or at least start solving) the real problem would probably be for Ashleys to show the Number Boys that it is perfectly fine to be different from each other despite being a clone of the same person.

          2. I don’t think the divergence is a problem for him per se (or, at least, he didn’t give evidence for it yet). The problem is the divergence in this particular direction – one of them developed conscience, and it’s eating at others through dreams. And #4 makes a poor attempt to rationalize that it “threatens things”.
            (btw, it would be an interesting turn of events if it would be he himself who will turn out to be the source of guilt-filled dreams)

    3. > Do I smell a start of a possible romance between Number Four (Man) and Sveta? He’s staring too much at her and this ” In the background, Jeanne was asking if people had colleagues they could call or resources they could tap. She got her response, but for once, Four wasn’t paying attention to a woman who was very possibly perfect.”

      Nope. He was talking about Jeanne, the woman the original Number Man saw fit to marry.

    4. Felt a bit more murdery than loving. Almost Cradle-like in the “I need to make you disappear so that you’re out of my head” way.

    5. “That will be interesting: a clone of one of the persons responsible for Case 53s existence being attracted by…a Case 53? Let’s give this shit a chance.”

      There doesn’t really seem to be any particular Attraction or LIKE in 4’s attitude to Sveta. Paying attention, yes, but not attraction.
      Like… it doesn’t sound like hatred either, it feels much more like… something clinical. I’m not really sure where you got attraction from any of this- was there a specific sentence that suggested that to you? Do you mind pointing it out.

    6. The “make the irregular regular” makes me think more that he’s going to kill the rogue number lad

  2. I guess I’ll start the type thread.

    Questions for Crystal Dallon, questions for the other parents, asking how they handled this, what did they think about that?

    Isn’t Crystal’s last name “Pelham?” Granted this could be Ray getting the name wrong…

    1. @David Hunt. Please try not to misspell “typo thread”. 🙂 I imagine that this exact phrase is the fastest way to find it for people who for whatever reason don’t want to read the entire comments section, so maybe we should make sure that it is always spelled correctly at the beginning of the thread.

      > Mr. Vera looked old, and he wasn’t really that old in reality.

      Technically not an error, but maybe this sentence would sound better if it was rephrased in such way that it wouldn’t contain both ‘real’ and ‘reality’?

      > Because some of that age and weariness was because of the events of the last few years weighing heavily on him, wearing him down and costing him sleep.

      Again, technically not an error, but maybe it would be good to rephrase this sentence to avoid repeating the word ‘because’?

      > Then nods from Lachlan, that lasted a second or two too long,

      I believe it was supposed to be ‘nod’ instead of ‘nods’.

      It’s scary. that’s all I’ll say. > It’s scary. That’s all I’ll say.

      > I have to focus on things, and technically, I have to go-”

      Not sure if the second comma is necessary in this sentence.

      1. reconsidered, > reconsidered.
        Crystal Dallon (intentional?)
        forigvable > forgivable
        were some > were of some

    2. Not quite a typo, but asserting that there were 5212 parahumans that Khepri assembled for the final showdown conflicts with a fair amount of what we’ve seen, by a lot. I think that if Worm gets published, this issue should get resolved before so that the Final WoG is consistent.

      I’m in ‘Fermi calc’ mode, so forgive me if my numbers are off by 20%. It shouldn’t make a difference to the result.

      In Worm, during the S9 escapades (July 2011 in-universe), Piggot notes that 1/5000 urban people and 1/10,000 rural people are parahumans. Using Earth Aleph numbers, this means ~1/6000 humans were parahumans. Assuming Earth Bet had a population of 6 billion at that time, that meant 1 million parahumans on Bet.

      The ‘1/5000 urban’ quote matches what we know of Brockton- with 350k people, we’d expect 70 parahumans, and we saw something like that.

      Adding to the 1 million Bet-ites, we have a number of Earths with smaller cape populations. Let’s say not enough to matter for the following calc.

      Now, say 1/3 of capes died between 2011 and 2013, nobody new triggered in that time, 3/4 died in GM initial attacks, 2/3 of the remainder died in Scion fights or squabbles, and Khepri turned up her nose at 1/2 the remainder. That’s 1 M -> 650k -> 160k -> 50k -> 25k which is *still* a factor of 5-ish higher than 5000 (and all of those filters seem too stringent to me).

      How I’d resolve it:

      Since Brockton had unusually many parahumans, it might be fair to change the Piggot quote by a factor of 2 (to 1/10,000 and 1/20,000) or even 4. But that still means a lot more parahumans were killed/ignored between 2011 and Khepri taking control than the book implies.

      I’d put the Piggot numbers as ~1/20,000 and ~1/40,000, which gives us ~250k parahumans in 2011. Let’s say Bet has just as many just before GM. Let’s say 4/5 die (or were ignored) before Khepri takes control- sounds harsh, but so was GM. That’s 50k parahumans from Bet- and let’s say 25k from everywhere else (other worlds weren’t as cape’d, but they also weren’t hit as hard and there were a lot of them). So 75k survived to Khepri’s time, and 50k lived to tell the tale.

      How do we result in a Gimel with only ~800 parahumans? This part’s simpler. They went to other populated worlds, other parts of Bet or other colonies. The US and Canada aren’t a huge part of the world, population-wise.

      Long post is long. Tl;dr I like it when numbers match up and this is why the numbers don’t match up and this is how you can make them match up. If they match up I will be happy and will not have to execute clone number 5. 🙂

      1. You may want to compare the above calculations with the ones made by several other people (most notably me and Admiral Matt) and accompanying discussions elsewhere in this comments section. To put it shortly the five thousand capes in Khepri’s army is not a new number. It appeared near the end of chapter 30.4 of Worm.

        At the same time I came to a conclusion that Khepri simply didn’t control anywhere near all capes that survived up until that point, but probably no more 20 percent of them (my calculations gave me a number close to 7.5 percent, but it is entirely possible that some of the assumptions and numbers I used for them were not entirely accurate, so I wouldn’t consider any number up to about 20% implausible.

        One thing seems clear – even if we ignore those calculations there are hints both in Worm and (especially) Ward that Khepri did not in fact gather anywhere near all capes who survived until the moment she was ready to attack Scion in chapter 30.5 of Worm. A discussion of those hints (including some quotes) also appears in this comments section.

        1. I thought about the problem a little more, and decided that no calculations of death rates of Bet population during Gold Morning can be based on population of the city and an assumption that death rates across the globe were similar. In my opinion there is a hint in chapter 0.8 of Glow-worm and at least one plausible reason why this assumption may simply be not true. Because of it a disproportional number of people from the US and Canada could have survived Gold Morning, and the city may even house most of the survivors from Bet, despite the fact that they came mostly from North America.

          Similarly there are reasons to believe that far less capes survived Gold Morning than even the population of the city coupled with parahuman-to-human ratios given in interlude 13 of Worm would suggest. The city with population of over 50 million people may in fact be a home to less than 2000 capes, as Number Four’s words would suggest because parahumans might have been a few times more likely to die during Gold Morning than regular humans would. At the same time there are reasons to believe that almost all of those capes could be American or Canadian, because about half of Khepri’s army could be “recruited” from the Protectorate, Wards, the Guild, the Birdcage, not to mention several other places where you could find a high concentration of American capes – like Victoria’s parahuman asylum.

          The details of this reasoning are in this post:
          https://www.parahumans.net/2019/07/02/dying-15-a/#comment-97671
          and the post directly below it.

          Tl;dr We can probably trash all calculations of the number of both capes and non-capes from Bet who survived Gold Morning, or percentages of them that should be American or Canadian that appear this comment section. In my opinion there are certain details about both Scion’s behavior during GM and parahuman response to it that suggest that those calculations could be based on false assumptions. The city may be a home to a high percentage (possibly even most!) of Bet survivors, most survivors could be American or Canadian, Khepri’s army could contain almost all capes who survived until it was fully gathered, and around half of those capes could be American or Canadian (meaning that almost all capes in the city would also be American or Canadian).

          1. I’d also dispute that Earth Bet had 6 Billion people. I think 1990’s world population figures were more like 5 billion and Earth Bet had suffered decades of “S” class attack issues from either Endbringers or others such as Ash Beast and Sleeper. Paired with third world countries probably receiving far less humanitarian support from nations dealing with the “S” class events and generally more invasions or warfare among Second and Third world countries due to lack of first world intervention or parahuman encouragement… I could easily imagine that the population not only didn’t reach 5 billion but was actually in decline for some time.

            Even then I could imagine that not only were there parahumans Khepri couldn’t detect or master (like maybe Blindside) but those she completely left alone at the beginning, and didn’t include in her army, because she didn’t see the use in them against Scion until psychological warfare came into play.

    3. “At Anita’s assistance, he’d removed his armor so she could hug him properly.”

      I think “assistance” is supposed to be “insistance.” Or maybe “At” was supposed to be “with.”

  3. Oh, I am not liking that arc title. So yeah things went bad in the Teacher raid. Broke Contessa? Dragon continues to be useless. Well maybe she can be a roadbump for a mentally and physically exausted Victoria.

    Good character beats though. Capricorn’s got a good dad. Better than Vista’s parents anyways. Erin continues to be… Ambigous I guess in her relationships. I’m not sure Lachlan is any healthier than Rain. I’m just being reminded of the kinds of women who get attracted to damaged men, then don’t want them once they get better. Like that story about the woman who dumped her convict boyfriend when he reformed because the spark just wasn’t there. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Well hopefully it’ll work out.

    Speaking of hopefully, I hope that’s not all the interlude we get for Crystal. She’s been at an interesting place for all the events both in Ward and Worm, kinda in orbit looking in. Maybe as a retrospective after all is said and done, her recalling things for both stories.

  4. I’m going to disagree with Ray being a good dad. He’s a decent dad, and he tries- he tries really hard. But he can’t understand Tristan, and his narration- and Crystal’s bit- make it clear he no longer really sees Tristan as his son. He tries, he really does, and he’s a much better dad than many parahumans get, but I wouldn’t say he’s good.

    1. Anyway, he’s much better than the mother. He’s trying to be a father for both his boys: “He’d understood Tristan less fully then, but he’d made efforts. He’d reconciled. The divide had really started at the hair, it was strange and it was wholly Tristan.” Anita isn’t even good at hiding her hate for Tristan.

    2. I saw it as him getting over that. His narration started out mostly concerned with Byron and everything was singular, but towards the end he was referring to his boys (plural). I think he basically just reclaimed Tristan as his son.

  5. I really enjoyed this chapter. Every now and then, once an arc or so, it’s really nice to get one of these kaleidoscopic views on the Parahumans world. The world is so deep and rich by this point that there are more characters we care about then we can really see in the course of the ordinary plot. So it’s nice to zoom out a bit.

  6. Rage, rage against the dy-

    Oh, sorry.

    “If there was anything she admired about Rain, it was his ability to deal.”

    Oh, Master, teach me your ways…

    “Well, Vista wasn’t exactly engaged, and Chastity had caught Vista’s father looking at her cleavage earlier..,”

    “… caught Vista’s father looking at her cleavage..,”

    “… Vista’s father…”

    “… her cleavage…”

    Um… I hope it was Chastity’s cleavage. Then again…

    On a more serious note: we saw a lot of “reunions” and a lot of “goodbyes” in this Interlude.

    No, not ominous at all. Nope.

    1. As Chastity was the narrator for that bit, I took that ‘her’ to mean the narrator’s, rather than Vista’s. Then again, I’d also missed that it was Vista’s Dad- I thought it was Capricorn’s Dad who did the looking.

    2. Chastity wears clothes that show off her cleavage, so yeah, it’s talking about Chastity. I had to read that sentence 3 or 4 times before it clicked.

  7. >“Drugs have weird effects on powers. They studied that. They think they have
    > something that dampens powers, they have something that changes variables,
    > and they have something that augments powers for a while, though there’s a
    > withdrawal period after.

    That sounds a lot like the prison break para (Amayalon?), Ingenue, Ingenue/Teacher with Teacher withdrawl.

    I think Victoria is officially Mastered, unless Shin was suddenly helpful in a subtext I missed. Either that or the entire meeting is being staged for those under influence

    1. I notice I don’t recall the exact reason Victoria called MS protocols. They knew they were being watched and there was a plot.

      1. *they already knew, so there wasn’t much point to calling the protocols.

    2. Well, remember that Shin’s government is hardly a monolith, and Breakthrough just managed to obtain proof of foul play that could probably be used to weaken position of Yosef’s anti-parahuman extremists. This means that moderates like “The Founders and Coalition are reasserting control of things”, and are probably very grateful for assistance. I think it would make sense for them to share some samples of their “wonder drugs” both as a show of their gratitude, and an incentive for Gimel to support them over other Shin groups in the future.

      Of course it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something more to this gift, and it is for example some sort of a trap or a way to influence Gimel beyond the obvious attempt to get more goodwill.

      And yes, I think it would make sense if Shin scientists and Teacher’s students either cooperated in developing anti-Goddess drug, or one of those parties got the drug from the other one somehow.

      1. > Of course it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something more to this gift, and it is for example some sort of a trap

        An unknown drug from an alternate Earth, which is governed by people, some of them are complete nazis anti-parahumans to the point that they were willing to imprison, attack and kill ambassadors for no reason (and to broadcast recordings of them being attacked in the prison to win points within the population), and some of them are only partly so – do you think it might be a trap? No way! Of course they are just being helpful.

  8. Now that Wildbow reminded us about Golem’s foster family, I wonder if they are still the same people (the Gails) who took him in after the Pure left him in Harvard. I hope that they are still alive at least.

  9. Ive just reread #4’s section, Numberman is Number 0 right?

    I jusr read the section as if he was part of a new Yangban group, and Zero was Null. Makes some sense given new vials

  10. The news about missing “A-list” capes are bad.
    Imagine Valkyrie, Miss Militia, Defiant, Legend and Chevalier under mind control now. Maybe Dragon as well. The heroes wouldn’t stand a chance, not even one bit. It would be Endbringers/Scion-level of bad.

    Victoria is closing up again? I really hope she gets a chance to talk to her therapist, before her mental state deteriorates so far that she cuts off the Amy-contaminated hand or something.

    Number Lad #4 better not try to murder Sveta during the battle, the repercussions would be disastrous.

    1. Or worse, maybe they’re killed. Imagine some of our favorite characters dead. Worse…. Offscreen. Maybe they’re the part of Dying.
      If I remember right, Valkyrie wasn’t with the A team during the first raid. Maybe she’ll pull out a Deus Ex Machine and save at least team B.

      1. Well, I for one hope that at least Dragon wasn’t fed some Trojan Horse… or worse – a stuffed sheep. It would really suck if she ended up like the Wawel Dragon did in modern retelling of its legend.

        On the plus side it is possible that everyone is still alive, and only pinned down after losing their communications. Remember that in Overseer’s interlude Donna Sledge apparently managed to get some small insight into emergency communications protocol used by Dragon to send message to Victoria’s phone despite the fact that the phone in question was supposed to be turned off. If the first wave of attackers used similar method to communicate with each other and their base, it might be possible that in a critical moment Teacher’s students managed to knock those means of communication off without doing any harming the attackers in any other way.

        On the other hand the operation this big that has gone so poorly probably will end up with at least some deaths on both sides…

        1. Trust me, did you see Teacher’s little group? Death’s the BEST case scenario for a loss.

  11. Teacher’s voice boomed over the intercom as the doors slammed shut. “You’ve done well, Breakthrough, but I’m afraid this next challenge will be your doom. The table before you contains a deck of cards and four robots. You will select one of your number to serve as dealer in a game of blackjack. If your dealer wins, the door to the next chamber will open. Else, the floor will retract to deposit the lot of you in my shark pond.” The intercom fizzled out, then crackled back to life a moment later. “These are mutant sharks. Just so that is clear.”

    The rest of the team looked at each other nervously, but Rain straightened and dusted off his shoulders. “Don’t worry, guys. I’ll deal with this one.”

  12. I should have gotten it when we learned 3 weeks had passed since Sveta’s treatments began, but no. I got it when we learned all, not some, of the strongest capes had disappeared.

    Contessa was due to be “broken” over a week ago.

    1. Fffffuuuuuuuuhhhkkk

      But I LIKE Contessa. She deserves so much better than… better than this.
      Better than being used as a weapon.
      She deserves a fucking life.

      God I hate Teacher.
      I hate him being such a fucking creepy creep.
      I hate the effect he has on people and the way he thinks about it.

      I don’t even really CARE about his long term plans, because he is just… so… slimy.

      Marquis (and various others) should have murdered him a long time ago.

    2. @Admiral Matt

      Where does it say that it has been three weeks already? I must have missed it somehow.

      If this is true, then the (possibly) good news is that shortly before Sveta’s treatment began (in chapter 13.10 to be specific) Tattletale estimated that the older Heartbroken would cool Chicken Tenders idea and form their own hero team in three weeks. This means that they probably didn’t come just to welcome Kenzie and Ashley back, but to actually join the attackers.

      1. Great news, everyone! I went back and checked, and it turns out I remembered wrong! The three weeks I remembered was *before* Black, not after.

        Unfortunately, I think @ninegardens assessment remains largely accurate. There may be just enough hope rope to get ourselves in trouble.

        From Black 13.x: “A little under two weeks and I will see your face more regularly. They’re certain we’ll break you then. They know the date, down to the hour. Then you’ll be his.” Day Zero.

        Then from Breaking 14.1: ‘Three procedures over four days, after two days of deliberation.’ Days One to Six.

        Also from Breaking 14.1: ‘He paged through the progression, the gradual relaxation. To today. A day where there were no more procedures. Just appointments, plans for lunch, and plans to go catch up with the Wardens.’ Day Seven. Sveta hit the gym and started doing planks literally the first day after she had her body. Least relatable thing about the character so far.

        They go on hostile live television and into a foreign diplomatic crisis on literally the same day? Apparently. Uhm…. That parahuman pacing, amirite?

        From Breaking 14.8: ‘It was the small hours of the morning, and for the most part the only light was the ambient glow of city lights finding their way into the prison center through the glass roof.’ Day Eight. Amy, no.

        Breaking 14.9: ‘“Miss Militia said she wanted you out, she said the Wardens need your help. It won’t be more than twelve hours.”

        Roughly midnight, then.’ Still Day Eight, but that dates this new arc.

        Dying.a, then, is early on Day Nine by my count. (Someone check my math?) Teacher is due to get Contessa’s power before Day 14; somewhere around Days 11-13. Hrm….

        With Contessa’s power, it would be easy to project how he won so completely against the best of the best, and in a matter of seconds. Dragon can be as powered up as she wants, PtV would still dwarf her capabilities. But without control over Fortuna, it’s a mystery.

        The only thing he could do that rapidly would be something like cutting communications or blocking portal use. Nothing else is instantaneous, I don’t think. Black Goat is too short-ranged, as is Valefor; the Custodian can be handled, as can Teacher’s army.

        Maybe the Thomais Fallen, if they were pumped up by the Teacher-Black Goat partnership. Or perhaps I’m missing something about Ingenue. Teacher isn’t keeping her around for nothing, so who has she been power-boosting these two-plus years? Speaking of overlapping Trump powers, Black Goat could probably remove the ax-crazy side effects of Ingenue’s power, couldn’t he?

        If you distorted time just right, and pumped up Mama Mathers’ power, maybe you could just get everyone by turning on screens? But that seems such an obvious line of attack that it should have been prepared for.

        Anyway. Sorry to get so worked up over a time skip remembered wrong!

        1. I mean… there’s no indication that they BEAT everyone in a matter of seconds, just that they Nixed communications that quickly. In which case the fight that followed could be significantly longer…..

          Also:
          “A little under two weeks and I will see your face more regularly. They’re certain we’ll break you then. They know the date, down to the hour. Then you’ll be his”
          A) Custodian is fucking creepy.
          B) Teacher is fucking creepy.

          C)Teacher may have a whole bunch of thinkers making this prediction. But if Dinah is against him (which I strongly suspect), then I would put bets on Dinah’s predictions being more accurate. If Dinah PtV(or equivelent) says “You are screwed if teacher isn’t brought down by tuesday”, then I imagine she would pilot things to hit him on Monday.

          No garuntees, just saying that IF Dinah is against him, I think she would be able to plan around a potential Contessa. (I do not think she’d have such luck piloting around an ACTIVE Contessa)

          … Also, I just remembered….
          Vicky managed to defeat Valefor by following the LETTER of his instructions, while screwing over the intent.
          How plausible is it that Teacher gets his hands on path to victory, but then gets screwed over by asking for something that Gives him MOST of what he wants, while ignoring some critical detail (the Literal Genie effect).
          I mean hell, Contessa gets some aspects of this even when using the power herself intentionally and willingly. The chances of Teacher getting bit by it while trying to use it remontely via an unwilling and/or braindead Contessa seem reasonably high.

  13. Man… I’m now incredibly concerned about Victoria’s mental health, after Crystal’s interlude. And holy crap, Vista’s home life is absolutely fucked up.

    I am glad that otherwise, everyone’s personal lives seem to be reasonably healthy, given their circumstances.

    I doubt this is the intended reading, but: “make the irregular regular”. We had a team of capes called The Irregulars. This phrase was thought alongside thoughts of Sveta, who was an Irregular and made herself “regular” (however insensitive that sounds). What if #4 doesn’t have his eye so much on Sveta, as he does on other Case 53s?

    1. Agreed and agreed.

      Remember the bit about how tinkers dwell and shakers seek out stability? And then everyone turned to Vista and laughed and said that clearly there were exceptions. Yeah, sure hon, if you say so.

      Yup, the irregular/regular line is clearly a partial allusion to Weld’s Case 53 Irregulars.

  14. Number lad 4 is so dependent on being part of a set he is considering pruning a member who is deviating?
    If Lad 4 is correct on the closeness then two other lads are also considering the pruning, and last one, a bit more grown up, must know that the others are and be preparing to avoid it, AND has the advantage of knowing, while the other three do not know which of the four is the conscience.

    (I dont for one second think it is sveta he is thinking of killing, sveta is just horny teenage boy with emotional depth of a calculator)

    1. Sveta is a horny teenage boy with the emotional depth of a calculator???
      Wow! I would never have guessed that.

      ….
      Ummmm… I assume there is a typo here, but am not sure entirely in what direction

      1. it should have said ‘his staring at and awareness of sveta’s new body is just…’

  15. Of those two-thirds, roughly half had remained in Earth Gimel, stretched out over an area ranging from Maine to Boston to the old New York. Forty percent of those capes were heroes or something close enough to count, and eighty percent of the remainder had scaled down, retired, shifted priorities or sought lower-profile hero work, at least in the short term.

    So, 40% are heroes. 80% of the remaining 60% = 48% don’t do much at all. That leaves 12% to be villains.
    And yet they have rampant crime all over the city, courts and prisons are overflowed, and they can’t do much of anything with that, despite having more than three heroes for each and every villain.
    WTF.

    1. Remember that heroes hands are tied with whatever laws and red tape is still functioning, with necessity to allocate resources to deal with external threats, and with the fact that the heroes can’t safety deploy most of their heavy hitters at once in the city due to the “thin ice” situation. Most villains are not restrained by such factors.

      Moreover remember that in the cops and robbers game it is usually the robbers who have an advantage of initiative – they can for example hide or stay away from the areas controlled by the heroes (for example in places like Earth N) until they are ready to strike where they expect the law enforcement to be unable to respond in time, while “the cops” have to respond to such attacks, and at the same time leaving some reserves to cover the areas where other villains could strike. This means that despite numerical advantage it is the heroes whose forces are stretched thin more often than not.

      In fact I would argue that the Undersiders, especially before they started claiming territory in Brockton Bay, were masters of using those exact advantages against not only the heroes, but even the established gangs and other villain groups.

      1. Also back in Worm the heroes at least had support of most of the public. Now, without PRT propaganda machine and with growing anti-parahuman sentiment, they probably can’t even count on that too much.

        Until recently the heroes could at least be sure that they could cooperate better with each other than the villains do, but between the rift between hero groups growing larger after the attack on the Navigators and whatever lasting damage to their relations the character assassination attacks by Cauldron might have done, they probably can’t be sure that they can keep this particular advantage anymore.

      2. All of that is also true IRL, except for the “thin ice” situation. And there aren’t three fucking times more cops than criminals IRL, but they still manage somehow.

        1. One of the things that criminals usually don’t have in real life is a forum where their various groups can discuss a coordinated response against the law, like they did in Tattletale’s interlude for example.

          That is except where ans when the criminals do have a forum like this (for example like the Commission formed by Cosa Nostra back in the thirties), in which case the cops arguably do tend to have problems with controlling crime.

          1. And obviously a forum isn’t the only way for the criminals to organize themselves against the law enforcement. In fact any large organized crime group (no matter what its internal structure is) tends to be a problem for the cops, if they decide to cause problems. The reason why cops usually seem to be able to manage crime on day-by-day basis is not because they are so much more numerous or well organized, but because it is usually not in the bestt intrest of most organized crime groups to actually fight an outright war against the law. It is just usually better to stay mostly out of sight and limit most of their “business” to activities that are not immediately perceived as crimes by the law and the public. This way official crime statistics look fine (because most crime goes unseen), while the criminals continue to profit in relative safety.

          2. …the situation can obviously suddenly change for example when the organized criminals are provoked to fight against the law enforcement, and it is precisely what March and Cradle managed to accomplish by attacking the Navigators and the heroes reacting to that attack – they managed to do it in a moment when the villains were already unsure of their situation (after plenty of them were forced to move out of Cedar Point, destruction of the prison by Goddess and on top of it the heroes become better organized due to establishment of Breakthrough network).

            Most people react nervously to sudden changes in status quo, and so many things have changed in villains’ situation in such a short time that the villains probably felt they needed to take drastic actions – some because they saw recent hero victories, and improvements in their organization as a threat, others because they saw destruction of the prison, and general shift of relative power between villain groups (due to things like loss of Cedar Point or the fact that many powerful villains left to Shin) as an opportunity…

          3. Speaking of opportunities, wasn’t Little Midas one of the villains who argued for war against the heroes the most? I imagine that after Marquis has left he saw his chance to build his own little criminal empire, and presenting himself as a figure who could lead the villains to a victory against the heroes if only they did as he said was probably his way of doing exactly that.

          4. That is by the way another thing with organized criminals – they tend to be most violent not even when law enforcement presses them, but when they are undergoing internal power struggles. Marquis’ disappearance followed by Little Midas’ gambit and responses to it by people like Bluestocking was just such power struggle.

          5. The fact that March made sure to drive the Undersiders out of Brockton Bay in a way that most villains could see just shortly after Marquis left also contributed to disruption of status quo in the criminal underground, and to power struggle which happened as a result.

            If you think about it this way it is an excellent example of March’s implementation the timing aspect of her power outside of tactical combat level (and as most of you probably remember Tattletale mentioned that March’s “timing” ability goes way beyond such tactical implementations).

          6. Well, this raises questions: first of all, why is it in the best interests of Ward’s villains to wage an overt war with the law, trying hard to destroy the society’s normal functioning in the process, rather than profit from its functioning like they usually do IRL (and no, “heroes suddenly deciding to fight crime in general because of one gang of maniacs” is quite a weird reason for that). And then, I don’t think that real-world criminals could hope to go for an overt war and cause serious problems for anyone but themselves if they were outnumbered by police three to one. And that’s even without mentioning that heroes have far more potent powers on their side.

          7. I would say that part of it was that many of the villains had good reasons to feel threatened by the heroes. Remember that the heroes managed to drive them out of Cedar Point, then they reorganized themselves in Breakthrough network and suddenly become more effective in fighting street level crime. Then some villains proved that they are willing to use lethal force (first against the Fallen, then against the heroes reacting to attack on the Navigators – an attack which by itself was also a major breach of the unwritten rules). This, coupled with the fact that the big names in the villain community – like Marquis and the Undersiders appeared to be in no position to counter the heroes meant that the villains had every reason to believe that if they don’t push back against the heroes now those heroes will soon come after them, and the unwritten rules already broken they won’t pull their punches.

            On top of it was the question of power vacuum among the villains. In such situation there are always many pretenders who want to fill the spot at the top (Little Midas and Bluestocking were just two, of quite likely many more), and the one who wins in such situation is likely the one who manages to gather most B-listers around themselves, and turn them into an army capable of defeating the others who have similar ambitions.

            And which “candidate” the villains will follow in such situation? The one who appears the strongest, who can keep them safe from both the law and armies formed by other candidates. In such situation every “pretender to the throne” will be tempted to commit high-profile crimes just to prove to their potential supporters that they are the ones strong enough to get away with something like that, that they are the ones who yet undecided B-listers should join. And high-profile crimes immediately put the pretenders into conflict with the law, which is actually good for them if they manage to beat some cops and/or heroes because it is exactly the sort of thing that makes them appear strong.

            In other words – doing “business” is fine when situation at the top is stable, but when it isn’t it no longer is about profits from business anymore, but about seizing power among the villains, and this requires the ones who want to seize power to take drastic actions to prove to everyone around that they are strong enough to defeat everyone who could challenge their authority or interfere with the “business” once things calm down again.

          8. So no, that “war” wasn’t really about “destroying society” or “defeating all heroes”. It was about using heroes and civilians as targets by at leas some of the “pretenders” to prove their strength. Considering that most villains were potential future underlings or employees of whichever pretender ended up winning the war going after civilians and the heroes instead of directly attacking other villains actually had some merit – civilians are needed to conduct “business”, the heroes can actually be useful because when things are stable they keep peace, and because they are more likely to be a serious threat to any new, small criminal groups that seek to challenge the big organizations that control the underground than to those big organizations themselves, but those B-list villains are more important, because they ultimately make it possible for those big organizations to function – they run a lot of the “business” on the street level, and they form the army that ultimately protects such organizations both from their criminal competition, and from the law enforcement.

            It simply doesn’t make much sense for any “pretender” to kill any villains they could end up controlling instead, so the civilians and the heroes often end up being their targets instead.

          9. Finally note that this whole crime wave may be ending soon.

            In chapter 14.2 Azure was tasked with brokering peace with Bluestocking and helping her and Semiramis (who they already had a working relationship with) take down Little Midas. In other words instead of trying to completely crush organized crime the heroes chose to actually support the “pretenders” who they think will likely make things peaceful again, and take down the one who is more aggressive and likely to continue causing problems as long as he is free to operate.

          10. @Alfaryn

            I always like reading your analysis.

            One of the things that I liked the most about Worm was how It always avoided the whole “Why Don’t They Just-.” Everything had weights and counterweights, everyone had their hands tied one way or another. Like a game of Jenga.

            Your remark about the Hero-Villain dynamic is my favorite yet.

            Go Overthinker 12!

          11. Thanks, though to be honest I’m not so sure if this analysis is all that good. A lot of it is just speculation based on what little information we got in the story (and there is even no guarantee that I didn’t misremember half of it) and how I imagine organized crime works in real life (and I’m certainly no expert on organized crime) and how it could translate to Gimel’s conditions.

            Moreover I’m really not satisfied with how much text and how many posts it took me to present this analysis. Many months ago I promised both myself and people who didn’t like how much I post here that I’ll do my best to tone it down… and here I still keep writing about a third of each new comments section both in terms of number of posts and the amount of text.

            I’m afraid that my behavior drove plenty of regular commentators away from this comment section (including evileeyore who is actually the author of this whole Overthinker 12 meme, though I’m afraid that in his case the reason might have been not the amount of text I produced, but that some of my comments in a discussion about Cradle’s psychopathy could be too personal for his taste; if this is the case then I’m terribly sorry evileeyore – in retrospect some things I posted then were quite insensitive).

            So maybe don’t encourage me to post even more too much? The last thing I want to do is to drive even more people away from here.

          12. @Alfaryn

            Oh. Well…

            Valid reasons to tone it down then.

            May the Power of Synthesis be with you.

          13. I’m not about to dissuade you from becoming more concise, but you shouldn’t worry about driving people away from the comment section. It’s not like you’re being insulting, negative, or even stupid. You just post a lot. When I’m not in the mood to read one of your spiels, I just skip over it. No big deal.

            The people who should feel bad are the ones who do nothing but whine about the story and the ones who like to imply that other people are monsters for holding differing opinions. Those are the ones who suck the fun out of this and drive folks away. You aren’t one of them.

    2. Dude. The rampant crime, bogged down courts, and overflowing prisons aren’t due to villains. Those are just normal people.

    3. It’s of people who volunteered/showed up for gold Morning. Also he is lumping some villains in with the heroes. (People “close enough to count”)

    4. Also your math is wrong. 2/3 survive.
      Of those 2/3’s half or 1/3 are still on gimel. It then says 40% of that 1/3 on gimel WERE heroes(post gold morning a lot of heroes switched such as scapegoat see shifted priorities). Then it says 80% of the remainder or 80% of 60% of 1/3. Or in other words just under 16%.
      Of that 16% some are now villains. Point is there aren’t 3 times as many heroes as villains nor can we make an assumption since not all of the survivibp parahumans fought in gold morning, and several new supers have triggered on both sides

  16. Doesn’t it seem interesting that not only Crystal herself, but PRTCJ in general (or at least PRTCJ capes) was not listed among the A-listers who participated in the first attack. I wonder if it is because PRTCJ parahuman resources are that weak, or because they are occupied elsewhere, or because someone out there decided that it is better to keep them in reserve even in a situation as serious as attack on Cauldron (for example as a way to respond if someone decided to use the moment when most heroes are engaged in the Cauldron complex to actually invade the city), or simply because the policy of “keeping PRTCJ out of public eye if possible” extends even to keeping this organization out of view of even most other hero groups for some reason.

  17. The reason Vic is so attuned to Kenzie’s deceptions with respect to personal well-being could be that she uses similar techniques to disguise her own, although powered by extensive physical training rather than Tinkering. Carol approves, because she oversaw the training.

    1. Another way Victoria is hiding her problems is the way she more or less consciously controls her looks. Note that not only she is very aware about her clothes and makeup, she is clearly using those to hide her insecurities about her body. For example compare Glory Girl’s costume with much less revealing one she wears as Antares. The finger-spikes she put all over the costume enhance the effect by making her seem even more approachable.

      In my opinion compared to the one she wore in Brockton Bay Victoria’s new costume practically screams “stay away from me” while at the same time de-emphasizing some of her features at could be seen as sexually attractive (hiding her hair beneath the hood, some of her figure beneath armor panels etc.). She still looks attractive, but not in a way that makes it easy to ask her for a date for example…

  18. Ahaha, I love the Number Lads. This is PEAK autism.
    I mean, if #4 decides to kill Sveta then we’re going to have a problem, but he’s still adorable.

  19. Where the heck are all the parahumans?!?

    “Five thousand, two hundred and twelve parahumans had attended the final confrontation against Scion. Two-thirds of them had survived, with the majority of the losses occurring in the period after Doormaker had shut down, but before Khepri had achieved strategic control.

    Of those two-thirds, roughly half had remained in Earth Gimel, stretched out over an area ranging from Maine to Boston to the old New York. Forty percent of those capes were heroes or something close enough to count, and eighty percent of the remainder had scaled down, retired, shifted priorities or sought lower-profile hero work, at least in the short term.”

    5,212 participants
    ~3475 survivors
    ~1737 in Earth Gimel

    ~1737 capes between Maine and New York

    That feels soooo wrong. There are only a few dozen members of the Wardens and each of the other major groups.

    1. Early in Worm we learned that capes in developing countries outnumbered those in the West.
    2. Khepri took nearly all capes in existence for herself, so those capes should overwhelmingly have been from outside the US, Canada, and Western Europe.
    3. Almost all capes we’ve seen *live* in Gimel (as opposed to entering occasionally for employment) have been American or Canadian in origin.

    If half the surviving capes are living in a single chunk of Gimel, the place should be swarming with foreign capes. African capes, ex-Yangban, Indian, Indonesian, Middle Eastern, Latin American….

    Where are these other capes?

    1. Regarding foreign capes, keep in mind that a half of the survivors didn’t stick around, and that was a choice on their part, not some randomized thing. The ones who left didn’t want to stay — likely because they wanted to track down their families and communities and go to whatever settlements they were using. The ones who remained in and about the City would have been disproportionately the ones who were either from America originally, or who at least spoke enough English to feel comfortable.

      Secondly, nearly half of those 1737 people (834 total) were described as being more or less retired and lying low.

      As for where the 903 active capes are… they’re out there living. It’s a big place. The combined states of New England plus New York have a total land area of about 110,000 square miles, or one Italy. If those 903 capes were evenly distributed, that would be only 0.00824 capes per square mile, or 8.6 capes per Rhode Island. Obviously they’re going to clump up into the more populated areas, but still. We’ve only seen a tiny slice of the City so far; Victoria flies or rides past most of it without exploring and meeting the locals. She’s focused on the big names and on her specific points of interest (e.g. Ceder Point). There are probably hundreds of Major Malfunctions and Paint Fumes out there quietly protecting their little neighborhoods or farming settlements without ever bumping into Victoria and getting assimilated into the story.

      1. Doesn’t explain it. (Also, you parsed the Number Lad’s math a little wrong, but it doesn’t matter.)

        The US and Canada likely had something like 5% of Bet’s population. Developed countries had disproportionately few capes than developing countries, and in hindsight we know that’s in spite of Cauldron’s thumb on the scales, apparently making and basing the first vial capes in the US.

        So come Golden Morning 208 would be a high estimate for all capes in northern North America. A few days later, that number had fallen to something like 140. Maybe 120, maybe 160, doesn’t actually matter. Let’s use 160. That’s high, but whatever.

        160/1737 = 9.2%

        Yet the pre-Morning capes we’ve seen on Gimel have a clear American-born majority.

        It gets worse. Assume almost no former Canadians or Americans retired or otherwise disappeared from the spotlight, leaving 150. Somehow. But there are 694 ~heroes and ~208 active villains. So an absurdly high estimate is 150/902 = 16.6%. Remember, a much more reasonable estimate would be half that number of active US/CN capes among the 902.

        We can twist the numbers all we like, they just don’t add up. On Gimel we’ve seen less than 1 in 6 “foreign” capes, when it *should* be over 5 in 6 “foreign” capes. The Major Malfunctions and Paint Fumes were Americans. The anime-themed capes seemed to be. The teams we’ve not met yet don’t have names in other languages.

        If they’re out there living, why are we meeting virtually none of them?

        1. I think there is absolutely no reason to believe that Khepri really gathered all capes who were out there. Even with Clairvoyant she might have focused mostly on capes she learned about before Gold Morning since Clairvoyant probably couldn’t easily distinguish between a cape and an unpowered human, and Khepri herself could do it with her power only if a given person is a cape only after that person ended up in her range (and Taylor obviously knew much higher percentage of North American capes than any others), and might have missed plenty of relatively unknown capes from other continents. She might have even not bother picking up plenty of capes she knew about who simply didn’t have very useful powers, especially if getting those capes would require micromanaging Doormaker too much (so probably capes who were alone had a lower chance of being mastered by her than those who had teammates nearby).

          Remember that Khepri operated under time pressure – both because Scion kept killing people while she was gathering her forces, and because she understood that she was quickly loosing her mind. Even with her superior multitasking ability she couldn’t master all capes on all Earths at once. She did go after individual groups like the Yàngbǎn or Birdcage inmates and sometimes individual people like Ash Beast one by one, and that took time. This means that most non-North-American capes she drafted were probably either people she already knew about before GM, or capes who were gathered to fight against Scion by the Protectorate even before her “Kheprification”, and since the Protectorate was based in the US, it probably gathered mostly capes from that area.

          Finally we simply don’t know the casualty rates among the capes from different parts of the world during GM before Khepri gathered her army. For example if I recall correctly Great Britain has been completely destroyed by Scion early on, so I expect that only very few capes from there who were lucky enough to be elsewhere at the time survived. Scion might have not destroyed any other landmasses that big so thoroughly (though it is entirely possible that he did, and information about it was simply lost in the chaos of Gold Morning), but if I remember correctly at least from certain moment he focused mostly on killing capes so he might have simply murdered most if not all capes in parts of the world that were unlucky enough to be attacked by him after he was done vaporizing large landmasses, but still haven’t switched to killing people slowly, one by one, trying to cause his victims as much suffering as he could, like we saw him do in chapter 29.2 for example. This means that capes from certain areas of the world might have been mostly, if not completely, wiped out during GM, and North America could simply be one of those areas that were lucky enough to be spared this fate.

          So to sum it up – in my opinion there is no reason to believe that composition of Khepri’s army reflected pre-GM distribution of capes around Bet (for simplicity let’s assume that Bet capes outnumbered non-Bet capes so much, that the presence of the latter one’s in Khepri’s army can be ignored without distorting final conclusions too much). Both because Khepri could force much higher percentage of capes into her army from North America than from other parts of the world, and because there is no guarantee that losses suffered by North American capes even before Khepri’s ascension were proportional to losses suffered by capes worldwide by that point.

          1. Finally I don’t think that it is safe to assume that most people (or most capes) from Bet have ever been in the city. Remember that there are still probably tens of millions of people lefto on Bet, that there are other settlements on Gimel, that there may be other Earths on which large number of survivors from Bet who never passed through the city ended up. Earth Mem, mentioned in Glow-worm 0.6 may be just one example – there is no guarantee that there are no other Earths like this and simply nobody on Gimel knows about them yet. All of this means that despite its size the city doesn’t contain particularly large percentage of Bet survivors (both parahuman and not), and most capes from parts of Earth Bet other than North America simply live on other Earths and in other parts of Gimel and have never been in the city, so they would’t show up in Number Four’s calculations.

          2. @Alfarin

            The text explicitly contradicts you on multiple points.

            I can come back when I have time and lay it out for you, but in the meantime can you offer any textual evidence for your rather strong claims?

          3. > Scion might have not destroyed any other landmasses that big so thoroughly (though it is entirely possible that he did, and information about it was simply lost in the chaos of Gold Morning)

            He’s described as wiping out two entire continents during his fight with Khepri. This isn’t relevant to the point you were making since it happened after Khepri had already grabbed her 5212 capes, but I just thought I’d mention it as a point of trivia.

          4. @Pizzasgood

            You’re right. I think I put someone else’s mistake into your post in my head. Sorry.

            The continents seem to be not unique, either. The images we see in Doctor Mother’s interlude can be read to imply that in some cases he annihilated most of a world’s surface in one go. It may be that he was initially being much gentler in world’s with parahumans, and only started exerting himself in the brief period between being provoked by Bastard’s transformation and totally succumbing to his trauma.

          5. @Admiral Matt

            I will admit that a lot of what I wrote above about composition of Khepri’s army is speculation based on what little I remember from Worm, so I will appreciate any relevant quotes either debunking or supporting what I wrote if you can find them. I will try to find such quotes myself, but considering that it will probably require re-reading several arcs of Worm to do it properly I expect that it may take me a couple of days to do, and this entire discussion may be rather slow-going and take us a more than a week to complete.

          6. I looked a bit for evidence both for and against my theory that Khepri’s army didn’t contain a large percentage of capes. On one hand I’ve found information in chapter 30.4 of Worm that Taylor managed to find multiple capes who were hiding, had no costume, didn’t use their powers etc. She also found some capes outside Bet (including obviously Aleph – where she found the Travelers and some C-listers by Bet’s standards, and Shin – where she found twenty capes including Goddess).

            On the other hand time still seemed to be an issue – Taylor mentioned that the process of gathering new capes “was slow at first, but it picked up as I let my passenger handle more of the load.” The way I read it despite being able to find capes even in another words, she might not have time to grab them all (not to mention that she intentionally didn’t take some weak capes – for example she left Oliver back on Aleph, or the ones who were “problematic” – like the Sleeper) and it is entirely possible that she focused on North Amerincan capes more than on any others. Furthermore Taylor said in that chapter “With the Birdcage, I added seven hundred and forty-three individuals” – a not insignificant part of her army.

            Birdcage inmates were probably mostly North American and probably a very small percentage of entire Bet’s cape population, so I think that it is likely there were many more times than 5,212 capes still alive at that point, and Taylor just grabbed enough of them to be able to attack the most powerful capes she knew of (especially Glaistig Uaine, whom she attacked when her army grew to about three thousand capes, but also Pretender-controlled Alexandria, Legend, Moord Nag, and other capes who fought Scion with the force organized by the Protectorate and the Guild – so again mostly people from North America, since those two organizations probably couldn’t count on support of too many capes from other parts of the world – mostly the ones who volunteered for Endbringer fights, so just the bravest and most powerful ones).

            Once Taylor assumed control over those capes, including the defenders of New Brockton area like Miss Militia (which increased the size of her army to about five thousand), she moved on to pick up Ash Beast (in chapter 30.5) and attacking Scion. At that point there might have been plenty of other capes outside of her army, but it was probably not practical to keep adding them to her army. After all she had most of the really powerful ones she knew about – the Yàngbǎn, the Birdcage inmates, the Endbringer fighters organized by the Guild and the Protectorate, and several other exceptionally powerful capes like Goddess and Ash Beast. Note that only one of four big groups I mentioned in the previous sentence (the Yàngbǎn) wasn’t based in US or Canada.

            If Taylor continued to look for more capes chances were that a number of really powerful ones in her army would grow slowly since she already assumed control over most A-listers she knew about, and as I mentioned she had to hurry both because Scion continued to kill people, and because she realized that she was quickly loosing her mind. She must have decided that a little over five thousand, including all those really powerful capes had to be enough, and considering that Birdcage inmates, and capes belonging to or closely working with the Protectorate and the Guild were likely a large percentage (possibly a majority) of people in her army, it shouldn’t be surprising that capes from US and Canada were over-represented.

            Finally a quote from Glow-worm 0.2 that seems to confirm that a non-insignificant percentage of even US-based capes did not fight against Scion:

            [A18 11:07:09] Moonsong: I’m glad you’re alive, Tristan
            
[A18 11:07:12] Moonsong: I suppose it does.

            [A18 11:07:30] Cap: i’m glad you’re alive too
            
[A18 11:07:34] Cap: believe it or not

            [A18 11:08:11] Moonsong: Were you there?

            [A18 11:08:44] Cap: was dragged into it. glad I was though.

            If all US capes fought in Gold Morning Moonsong wouldn’t need to ask Tristan if he was there, would she?

          7. One more thing – during her confrontation with Scion in chapter 30.5 Taylor has been putting many capes “on autopilot”, delegating thinkers to coordinating groups of capes, looking for ways to move multiple capes at once without having to control movement of each of them individually (she used Sifara for this purpose), or even releasing certain capes from her control to let them perform particularly complicated tasks without having to guide them (she did it with Bonesaw).

            And despite all of it certain capes – like Lady Photon or Revel died because Taylor was simply too slow to react to Scion’s attacks sometimes. The way I see it Taylor’s ability to multitask has been close to its limits after her army crossed five thousand mark, so I think that she might have stopped gathering more capes not only because she was running out of time, but because she would simply be unable to effectively command a larger “swarm” anyway.

          8. One more reason why Khepri’s army stopped growing long before she managed to reach every cape could be this (from chapter 30.5):

            The clairvoyant was like a drug, and I was building up a tolerance of sorts. Colors bled together like watercolor, images started to merge, and I wasn’t able to focus on more than a handful of things at a time.

            If I interpret it correctly the longer Taylor remained in contact with the clairvoyant, the less places she could observe at once using his power, which would slow down her ability to find yet unclaimed capes. Possibly to a point where trying to do so was no longer worth both the risk of her being unable to fight anymore due to her progressing loss of sanity, and lives Scion would take if he remained unopposed by her.

          9. My final conclusion based on chapters 30.4 and 30.5 would be that while Taylor could use clarvoyant’s power to see any place on any inhabited (and many uninhabited) Earths there was always a limit to how many places she could perceive at once. A limit that was actually shrinking as the time went on. This means that she was never able to see all capes at once, and had to prioritize where to look for new recruits. Considering her greater familiarity with North Amerincan capes, it shouldn’t be surprising that she recruited mostly them, and the capes she knew about despite the fact that they were not North Amerincan (for example as regular participants of Endbringer fights, or because they were recognized as S-class threats themselves). Of course Taylor did look for capes in another worlds, but she quickly stopped doing so when she realized that there were so few of them.

            Around the end of chapter 30.4 Taylor had to realize that she could no longer increase the number of capes within her army quickly enough for benefits of doing so to outweigh the costs of not engaging Scion. Her decision might have also been influenced by the fact that she had problems with micromanaging the swarm she already had since even her ability to multitask had its limits. At that point she stopped gathering new capes and focused on attacking Scion. She might have over five thousand capes under her control, but it was probably just a faction of all capes still alive at that point, and it had a higher percentage of US and Canadian capes than the share of those two countries in worldwide cape population simply because Taylor focused on getting parahumans from those two countries because of her familiarity with the area. In chapters 30.5 and 30.6 she did not recruit many capes anymore even to replace the losses her swarm has suffered simply because she was focused on fighting Scion and keeping herself and members of her swarm alive. She probably couldn’t even do it anymore quickly enough to matter anyway because of her growing “tolerance” to clarvoyant’s power and her progressing mental degradation.

            The reason why it seems to us that every or almost every pre-GM trigger we saw in Ward fought in Khepri’s army is not because she assumed control over almost every cape alive at that point (she probably had a relatively small sample in which US and Canadian, capes were over-represented), but because that army ended up in the area that eventually became Megalopolis after Scion was defeated, so the percentage of capes who were in Khepri’s army among people living in Megalopolis is likely much higher than the same percentage among capes from Bet (wherever they ended up living after GM), or all capes from all Earths combined.

          10. I know that I may be way off the mark here, but my guess would be that Khepri’s army contained around ten to twenty percent of Bet capes, and no more than a hundred (possibly even less than fifty) parahumans from other Earths.

          11. From interlude 13 in Worm:

            The humans outnumbered parahumans by eight-thousand to one, give or take, in urban areas.  Outside of the more densely populated areas, it dropped to a more manageable one to twenty-six-thousand ratio.

            Let us assume that those numbers represent percentage of parahumans on entire Earth Bet, not just US. Let us further assume that when GM started Bet had a total population of 4.5 billion people, 45% of which lived in densely populated areas (those numbers are significantly lower than their counterparts on our Earth at the same time, but I assume here that Endbringer attacks as well as other power-related threats kept these figures low).

            This gives us a rough estimate of 4.5 billion * (0.45/8000 + 0.55/26000) = 348317 capes on Bet when GM started. Khepri’s army was a little less than 1.5% of that number. Unless Scion really focused on killing capes before confronting Khepri’s army, then my estimate from the comment right above was actually too high and Taylor probably controlled less than ten, possibly even less than five percent of all capes alive at that point.

          12. The above is obviously written with a quiet assumption based on a quiet assumption that there were about 60 million GM survivors from US and Canada who either reached the city by the time Ward started, will reach it eventually, died since then due to hazards present on Bet, or settled in other places. If we assume that the total population of those two countries was around 300 million when GM started (about 80 to 85% of real-world population of those countries at the time – the reasoning behind the reduction is once again deaths caused directly by capes and Endbringers and disruption of global economy by them) we get a round number of 80% causality rate in US and Canada during GM.

            If we further assume that entire Bet suffered similar causality rates during GM, we get about 4.5 billion * 20% = 900 million GM survivors from Bet. If we further assume that all of those losses happened before Scion confronted Khepri’s army, and didn’t focus on killing parahumans over other people before then, we should get about 348317 * 20% = 69 663 capes who survived until Khepri’s army engaged Scion. This would mean that Khepri’s army contained a little less than 7.5% of all Bet capes who survived until that point.

          13. Another way to look at this result is that for Khepri to control all Bet capes (assuming that there were not enough off-world capes in her army to bother recalculating everything because of them – a reasonable assumption in my opinion, since they probably amounted to no more than 1 to 2 percent of her army, probably even less) a cape from Bet would need to be about 1/0.075 = 13.3 times more likely to die than an average person from US or Canada.

            I know I said elsewhere that Scion might have focused on capes more than on unpowered people, but could an average cape be over thirteen times more likely to be killed by Scion than an average person form US or Canada before Khepri gathered her army? Seems like a stretch, don’t you think?

          14. I just thought of a reason why my entire calculation may have been wrong. It is actually a really sad reason that has to do with this bit from Glow-worm 0.8:

            ► AtoLo
            Replied on August 23rd
            1000000000s of human beings died or have yet to make their way to us.

            1000000000s.

            1000000000s of humans with families. mothers and fathers. good days and bad days.

            i say 1000000000s instead of billions because billions barely sounds different from millions and i think the zeroes drive it home

            the city is as big as it is because we were lucky. we only lost about half of those close to us in N.E. US.

            Perhaps so few capes have been in Khepri’s army compared to what percentage of losses suffered by Canada and US would suggest because human losses suffered by Canada and US were actually relatively low? What if there were no 900 million Bet survivors of Gold Morning, but for example just a 100 or 200 million?

            Perhaps by making New Brockton a base of operations for the the Protectorate, Guild and a selection of some of the most powerful capes from across the globe those organizations actually doomed people in places with no such concentrations of powerful capes across the world to die even quicker?

            Think of it this way – if Scion attacked “soft” targets first in which he could kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible – places with many people but few powerful capes capable of putting up any sort of resistance, leaving areas where there were enough powerful capes to give him at least slow him down a bit for the end – places like Brockton Bay, possibly Birdcage (assuming he knew where it was, and at the same time didn’t realize that all of those capes were trapped inside) or wherever C.U.I. royal family run to could suffer relatively low casualties, and Americans, Canadians and possibly Chinese (assuming Scion didn’t wipe the neighborhood of their new capital out after Taylor took the Yàngbǎn from that area) could be a majority of GM survivors.

            This means that there could be only about 7 500 to 15 000 capes who would normally live among the population that survived, and some of them would be not be spread out among those people, but with the Guild, the Protectorate and the Yàngbǎn. We need to add the population of Birdcage (some 770 to 780 people, including the ones released early?) and the capes from across the world who ended up fighting with the Guild and the Protectorate because they volunteered to help dealing with S-class threats, and Scion was obviously one. The way I see it there could be just about 15 000 to 25 000 capes left alive when Scion decided to move closer to those “hard” targets.

            If we assume that around the time Scion decided to attack areas with high concentration of capes his focus switched from killing people as quickly as possible to making them suffer more before they died. At this point he would probably start prioritizing killing capes over non-capes, because capes would not only last longer, but (perhaps more importantly) hope that they could harm him somehow, and crushing that hope would be one more way to make his victims suffer. If Scion focused on killing capes he could find dispersed among civilians, and left high concentrations of capes for the end it wouldn’t be impossible that only a little over 5 000 capes survived until Khepri gathered her army.

            Tl;dr We probably can’t assume that North-Eastern US and South-Eastern Canada suffered the same percentage of civilian casualties as the rest of Bet. Presence of powerful capes who fought S-class threats under PRT banner in New Brockton could mean that Scion decided to hit this area last, and before it happened, he switched from killing civilians and capes alike to preferring to target capes. This means that far larger percentage of people from US and Canada than from other parts of Bet could survive Gold Morning, and that despite my previous calculations far less than 900 million people from Bet survived Gold Morning. Maybe even most of them ended up living in the city?

            Scion’s shift of preference from killing as many people as possible as quickly as possible could also mean a shift from being as likely to kill non-capes as capes to killing much higher percentage of capes than non-capes in North-Eastern US and South-Eastern Canada, ehich could explain enough casualties among capes who lived in that area were particularly high, meaning that even if 50 to 70 million civilians survived close enough to Gimel-Bet portals to have a good chance to it to the city, it is entirely possible that only a little more than 5 000 capes survived until Khepri gathered her army.

            In other words Scion’s shifting preferences could mean that we really can’t say anything about survival rates among both non-capes and capes on Bet as a whole based on numbers of parahumans in Khepri’s army or population of the city.

          15. There are also other possible exceptions.

            It is also entirely possible that NE US and SE Canada had unusually high number of survivors not because presence of large number of powerful capes around New Brockton, but simply by pure chance. It is also possible that much fewer capes survived than cape to non-cape ratios from interlude 13 in Worm would indicate not only because from some point on Scion focused on killing capes, but because the capes themselves were inclined to attack Scion whenever he showed up in their area. It is also possible that unexpectedly high percentage of English-speaking capes survived and ended up living in the city not because Scion avoided killing them for some reason, but simply because roughly half of the cape survivors were:
            – Birdcage inmates (seven hundred something of them at the time when Khepri formed her army) who were ignored or not found by Scion before Khepri claimed them,
            – Endbringer fight veterans – mostly from the Protectorate, Wards and the Guild, since PRT and cape organizations working under it were the only large groups dedicated to fighting S-class threats worldwide, not just in their homelands, though they also had a number of capes from across the world who volunteered to fight S-class threats endangering the entire world (the Endbringers and eventually Scion) tried to oppose Scion together, and were based around New Brockton when Khepri came for them. At the time Khepri assumed control over them there were probably around two thousand of them, possibly less (near the end of chapter 30.4 it was mentioned that Khepri had three thousand capes before she tried to assume control over this particular group – starting with Glaistig Uaine who was with those people at the time, and five thousand capes when she was done).

            Between Birdcage inmates and S-class threat fighters organized around PRT-controlled hero organizations we get around 2700 capes out of 5212 in Khepri’s army. Most of them probably were from US or Canada, or at least spoke English well enough and were familiar enough with North Amerincan culture (for example because they spent years in the Birdcage) to have no problem with settling in the city. If you consider that Khepri’s army also included some capes from North America who did not belong to those groups (for example chapter 30.4 of Worm mentions for example Victoria, and other capes from the parahuman asylum, several S9000 clones and Goddess, chapter 2 of Glow-worm suggests that Capricorn was picked up in similar fashion) it makes it likely that the half of Khepri’s army that ended up settling in the city was almost entirely culturally American or Canadian.

          16. One more quote – at the very end of the chapter 30.4 of Worm:

            I reached out, tried to find others, and I failed.

            It would- would have to do.

            This was it. Finally, everyone was working together.

            It would appear that either there were no more capes left to find, or Taylor was simply unable to find more because of her progressing mental degradation coupled with her increasing tolerance to clairvoyant’s power. Either way contrary to one of the possibilities I suggested earlier she didn’t stop gathering capes because she was no longer able to effectively control more, or because she decided that she no longer had time to look for more of them.

            @Admiral Matt

            I guess this is one of the points at which according to you the text explicitly contradicts my interpretations?

        2. > you parsed the Number Lad’s math a little wrong, but it doesn’t matter.

          I don’t see what you’re objecting to. I got the same numbers you did in your comment to Domboy.

          > Yet the pre-Morning capes we’ve seen on Gimel have a clear American-born majority.

          Not quite. The pre-Morning capes who’s backgrounds we’ve seen have an American-born majority. The distinction matters because this is a subset with strong selection bias. The bulk of the ones we know origins for are people we either met in Worm (which took place mostly in America) or who Victoria (an American) knew or knew of from her associates (other Americans) or the PRT’s files (an American organization). Notice the pattern?

          We don’t know the histories of most of the capes we’ve met, who may well be from Mexico or France or Zimbabwe. What do we know about Anelace, for example? He speaks English, he’s named Ethan, and his skin wasn’t described while living in a light-skin-majority region. So sure, he could be an American. He could also be from England, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, or any number of places. We know even less about the rest of his team, barring Crystalclear. We know that a few of the Shepherds were active in America, but we don’t know how many of those were natural born citizens, and we’ve barely met the ones who aren’t either Moonsong or former Brocktonians. We know basically nothing about Advance Guard; two members were active in America and the rest are blanks. And so on.

          Regarding cape names, keep in mind that regardless of a cape’s origins, the surrounding populace speaks mainly English. It’s not uncommon to change your given name for the sake of convenience when immigrating. Why wouldn’t this also apply to cape names? Lots of people have taken the opportunity to re-brand, even Americans. If I were a Malaysian cape who chose to remain in New England, there’s a good chance I’d do the same and pick a name that the locals will be more likely to understand, remember, and not mangle.

          1. Well, okay. I think I agree with all of that.

            I just don’t think that would plausibly conceal the extent of these numbers from the readers, even accounting for out protagonist not having a complete perspective.

            Breakthrough attempted a city-wide partnership of heroes, for one. That should have put them in touch with all hero teams, regardless of national origins. Language issues would presumably be major if only two years have passed. Many teams would have been based on the origins of the people involved. It’s just hard to imagine with those proportions that Victoria Dallon would not talk about that aspect a lot.

            Victoria is a cape nerd. Her mentally reviewing her notes on the origins of a cape is a periodic refrain. But we haven’t seen one ex-CUI cape in Ward, not one cape from Africa except the capes still in Bet Africa (and many of them were European mercenaries, for some reason?), no Gimel-based Russians I can remember, not one Latin American, South Asian, or Southeast Asian cape that was identified as such….

            If these numbers are the numbers, then the language barrier and assimilation ought to be a big thing between human and parahuman on Gimel, but language issues like that haven’t been on the radar since Taylor was upset by them.

            The silence is just so *loud*.

          2. More briefly, the Gimel cape scene we’ve seen through Victoria appears to be an English-speaking American one with a sprinkling of other origins. The only cape group we’ve seen in the City with substantial multilingualism appears to be the Heartbroken.

            If the actual cape scene were overwhelmingly non-American and non-English-as-a-first-language, *even if Victoria and Breakthrough were in a US/English bubble*, they should at least seem aware of the fact. Right? But reading Ward it does not seem the idea is in the back of the protagonists minds, that Gimel’s parahuman community has a large “immigrant” component. Never mind a majority!

            The way they live and talk and act, the people they meet. It seems like most capes have left Gimel. Alfaryn’s answer would better explain Gimel as we know it than the canon of Worm and the numbers we’ve just been given do.

          3. A few more reasons why we might not see many non-English speaking heroes in the city even if they are here:
            1. Breakthrough is working mostly with hero teams. While the basic concept is probably universally understood among Bet natives doue to the fact that PRT promoted it internally for decades, it may be culturally foreign for many capes. For example if you ask a cape from India if they are a hero or a villain and what team they belong to, they may respond “I am Thanda”, and explain that they never belonged to any team despite being a cape for a decade, because as far as we know Thanda were never organized in such fashion. If such person wanted to do what Number Four would probably describe as “close enough to hero work to count”, they may end up doing it alone both because they know too little English to function join a team, and because they never learned how to operate in American-style teams. Similarly a Russian ex-military cape may be more used to working closely with professional unpowered soldiers than with other capes, and as such may decide that joining something like PRTCJ suits them better than joining a typical hero team Breakthrough would be interested in inviting into their network.
            2. As noted above language barrier is a thing. A cape who speaks little to no English may end up having to work alone simply because they can’t communicate with English-speaking heroes well enough to join their team and because they may have trouble locating other capes who speak their native language either because there are little to no such capes in the city, or because most mass media in the city are likely in English and the reminder in relatively few languages commonly spoken in the US and Canada – like French and Spanish, while the Internet (or at least the sites where such non-English speaking capes could find each other – like PHO) probably didn’t function until last Summer.
            3. Whether a non-English speaking hero would operate alone or manage to become members of non-English speaking team they would probably not interact with Breakthrough network much, because they simply would lack an ability to communicate with the network in a way that would be beneficial to either side. On top of it a non-English speaking cape or team may even be unaware of existence of Breakthrough network if they don’t have some cape geek who speaks both English and their language inform them about it.
            4. Capes who speak some English and want to join an English-speaking team could do so, but because of a language barrier would probably not become team leaders, and since Breakthrough network interacts mostly with team leaders Victoria may be unaware that some teams she is working with have a few members who speak something like for example Slovak better than they speak English. Remember that we don’t even know cape names of all members of teams in the Breakthrough network, much less have any information about their origins or ability to speak English.
            5. The fact that more people triggered in poor countries than in places like US or Canada does not always have to translate (at least not fully) to a higher percentage of capes in general population. For example I would expect that in areas of Africa ruled by warlords constantly fighting each other cape mortality rates could be pretty high, so despite many people triggering there could have simply not been that many capes alive there when GM started.
            6. I believe that C.U.I. capes are a special case. Remember that around GM C.U.I. tried to move their royal family and cape organizations to a world different than Gimel, and seal themselves there. In fact it is entirely possible that most if not all Yàngbǎn survivors of Gold Morning might have returned to that world. They certainly appeared to be brainwashed enough to remain completely loyal to their government even if they had a chance to flee and start their lives anew on Gimel. Also remember that there probably weren’t too many non-government aligned capes in C.U.I. because of that country’s intolerance to independent capes. On top of it any ex-C.U.I. cape living in the city would likely not be very eager to advertise their origins because they may fear that their former government may come for them one day, and because the population of the city may be biased against capes they associate with C.U.I.’s regime.

          4. Re. 3. I imagine that Spanish-speaking teams may work with Breakthrough network assuming that Vera brothers’ Spanish is good enough for them to translate, and that people know that (either of which may not be the case). Similarly Russian teams could work through Sveta assuming that they knew that Sveta speaks Russian (which may not be a very widely known fact), and that they wouldn’t mind working with a person who, you know, killed over three hundred people in their homeland.

            If any of this was the case however, those teams would most likely work with Capricorn and Tress respectively, and Victoria could simply care relatively little about who those foreign capes are, and what they do exactly preferring to delegate the task of dealing with those capes to her teammates who actually speak their language, and as such Victoria may not even think about such foreigners often enough for us to register existance of such people in her inner monologue.

          5. One more thing – remember that while there may be plenty of non-North Amerincan capes in the city, the same is probably not true about general population. Most people on the city probably arrived via Bet-Gimel portals, and it is not like it is easy for most people to reach those if you live far away from them on Bet. Moreover with post GM chaos, the fact that most people in the city are probably happy to have a place to live at all and problems with Interest (not to mention probably absolutely no access to Internet for most people until very recently), there may be no communities of people speaking languages other than English, and maybe French and Spanish. Most speakers of minority languages are probably scattered across the city, and rarely have a chance to interact with folks who speak their native language. This may contribute to inability of non-English speaking capes to organize themselves into teams. If the city survives long enough such communities will likely form eventually, but I expect that it could take several more years, especially since currently many people have more pressing problems (like surviving the winter) than finding out where most of their compatriots live and how to move closer to them.

        3. Don’t forget that Australia evacuated to a not-Gimel world, and so did the Chinese Replacement Nation, except they decided to attack the Australian world. Might be that there’s an Earth Oz, an Earth Euro, etc, out there where those countries fled to. After all, in order to reach the City, they have to cross a sea and go through a portal. If there’s a portal closer, why not just use that one, and go to Earth Thorn, or Earth Zeta? And they wouldn’t play a big part in the multiversal politics here because they’re in the same boat as Gimel and may have approached other civilised worlds for resources, rather than Shin and Chiet.

          Whilst there are communities in Gimel’s Europe, we don’t know that those communities are European. They might be American expats gone to find a bit of space, or exploit some resource America doesn’t have, or not as much of. Coal, for example; and salt. In the UK, most of our coal pits have been closed, because they’re exhausted. That means we know *exactly* where the best coal deposits are on worlds that haven’t been mined for thousands of years. If we see any foreign capes, they’re going to be probably British or Irish, since our fair isles were destroyed by Scion and there’s not enough survivors to populate an Earth on our own. Any survivors have disappeared into the City or gone to Oz world, or possibly (if their French/German/Italian is good enough) gone to Europe’s Earth.

          1. I mentioned salt and then forgot about it, but in Germany there’s a salt mine with preserved tools inside, tools of bone and stone in places, and copper and tin and bronze elsewhere.

          2. Well, yeah. I said that already. The problem is that only half of the Gold Morning survivors left the region. Even if we assume that all North American capes stayed, for there to be a majority of North American capes in and around the City they would have needed to make up at least 25% of the Gold Morning survivors. As Admiral Matt pointed out, that seems a bit much, even accounting for Alf’s suggestion that American capes might have had higher survival rates for various reasons.

            That’s why I was arguing against the impression that American capes are the majority rather than arguing that they might actually be the majority after all.

            This view is helped by the fact that English is a very popular language — one in seven people understand it. It’s tied with Mandarin for having the most total speakers, and it’s the most commonly learned second language by far. Since it’s used heavily in international politics as well as some of the most prominent hero organizations (PRT and Protectorate), capes are even more likely than average to learn it — especially capes in leadership positions. And due to its prevalence, those who knew it would have been better able to coordinate and survive during the pre-Khepri portion of Gold Morning.

            So, I don’t think it would be a big stretch to suggest that 1/3 of the Gold Morning survivors already spoke English in some capacity. If all of those stayed in North America during the Great Halving, that would mean initially 2/3 of the capes in and around the City spoke English. Since the overwhelming majority of the non-capes are Americans and Canadians, the 1/3 who didn’t already speak English would have found it hard to get away with not learning at least some of the language over the subsequent two years. The end result would be a minority of the City’s capes being Betian Americans, but 2/3 of capes being more or less fluent with English and most of the other 1/3 knowing enough English to function. And as Alf said, the more fluent ones are more likely to rise to leadership positions or be the designated spokescapes when dealing with other teams.

            It still feels like something Victoria should have noted, but it seems like a much less glaring issue than what was originally presented.

          3. > Whilst there are communities in Gimel’s Europe, we don’t know that those communities are European. They might be American expats gone to find a bit of space, or exploit some resource America doesn’t have, or not as much of. Coal, for example; and salt.

            While I don’t exclude the possibility that the city imports some raw materials from Gimel’s Europe, I doubt that they would bother with coal and rock salt. Deposits of both resources are available in North-Eastern US. On top of it in chapter 12.4 Prancer mentioned that activities of the Navigators threatened city’s ability to trade with the settlements on the other side of the ocean. I think it means that the city simply doesn’t have too many ships capable of crossing the Atlantic yet, and as such importing commonly available resources that aren’t really worth that much per ton from across the pond would probably be just a waste of cargo space on those ships.

          4. To be perfectly clear I am aware that rock salt is worth much more than coal per ton (and I expect that it would be the case especially in places like the city where coal could probably be substituted to some extent by wood of which the city probably produced a lot, just by clearing terrain for construction and agriculture), but there are rich rock salt deposits not just “in North-Eastern US”, but in New York State itself, so I think it really makes no sense for the city to import its salt from Gimel’s Europe.

    2. That’s 1700 out of 5 million right? And of those 1700 80% aren’t hero’s anymore.

      1. That’s 1700 out of over 50 million, but slow down and think here.

        Victoria is a cape nerd who geeks out on the subject constantly. She is from a cape family and socializes almost exclusively with capes. She is employed finding and interacting with capes, and has been building a cape network that pointedly tried to reach out to every hero team.

        The idea that she would not interact with the majority of heroes, and that she’d *coincidentally not get in fights with the majority of active villains*, just does not fit.

        It’s false that 80% aren’t hero’s “anymore.” Of those 1700, 40% were active heroes, so ~680 heroes. Less than a quarter of those should be of US-Canadian origin based on the information we’ve been given.

        It’s that 60% who are not currently heroes who have had 80% get out of the game, so only 48% of the 1700 are more or less living civilian lives. The remaining 12% are also active, but as villains. Around 800 and around 200, respectively.

        Nearly 900 people are active in the city’s cape life, and almost all the ones we’ve met grew up somewhere north of the Mexican border.

  20. An upcoming attack on Teacher, with an unknown element having silenced communications from the last raid. I think it’s extremely likely that Contessa will be involved.

    Harbinger with a conscience.
    Why do I get the distinct feeling that the shard encouraged that development for the sake of conflict and possibly for culling the group of people sharing the resources of a single shard.

    Also, I was kind of wondering. If Breakthrough was in contact with Kenzie’s crew of Heartbroken and Undersiders, why didn’t *they* just send Armstrong the text? Why on earth did the warning have to come from Kenzie’s phone specifically?

    1. Armstrong didn’t receive a normal text message. After all, he’s on an alien planet; it’s not like he’d have signal.

      He received a tinker-magic text message. Kenzie had to send it because, presumably, she hadn’t previously created tech capable of doing this. At least, not tech that her non-tinker teammates could use.

      1. Also remember that even if Armstrong was within range of Gimel’s cellphone network his phone was in airplane mode, so someone had to use a backdoor that Dragon used in arc 13 to send a message to Victoria despite the fact that that Vicky’s phone was supposed to be turned off. This is something that probably no Heartboken or Undersider could do (not to mention that if the Undersiders participated in the attack on Cauldron complex, they were cut off from communication themselves).

        Finally even if Gimel’s cell service was available using it might have been risky, because all traffic going through it could be monitored by Yosef’s people. It is possible that Kenzie used her phone to contact Armstrong’s phone directly thus reducing a chance of tipping Yosef’s people off about the communication between her and Armstrong.

        1. Speaking of the undersiders and the attack on Cauldron…. Where is TT right now?

          Imp and the rest of them I can imagine being at the Cauldron complex right now, but it feels like TT should be back here at Wynn’s rebriefing, making snarky comments and giving additional information. It’s not like she’s supposed to be on the front lines or anything.

  21. Why has nobody commented on the fact that Chastity’s power lets her perceive human bodies at a distance? It basically means that her power has a thinker aspect that may be particularly useful right now if it works on people she can’t see, especially through walls. Remember that plenty of master powers Teacher and his allies have require either touch or line of sight, Victoria’s aura probably works through walls, and Chastity, like all Heartboken, is probably highly resistant to powers affecting emotions.

    I don’t know about you, but I can see a pretty strong combo here, and it is probably just one of many crazy uses of that thinker ability. Even without other powers involved Chastity’s ability can probably give her superior situational awareness not so different from the one Taylor could get by placing bugs on people (though obviously with completely different limitations), and especially in combat situations such awareness should be very valuable even if Chastity has no way to use her “sixth sense” to guide somebody else’s (fire)power.

    1. Ok, looks like Chastity’s power has very limited range (quote from chapter 11.6):

      Quiet, I asked, “Chastity, can your body sense detect people?”

      “Not much further away from arm’s reach,” Chastity whispered.

      but I still think that it should be extremely useful for example in melee, in a dark room full of people, or in a situation where the enemy is trying to set up an ambush just behind a door or a corner.

  22. Gotta love those Number Men. Erin and Rain’s relationship is both heartwarming and sad to watch, there’s a desperation and dread to the idea of them being official. On one hand they respect each other so much that they’d do great together, but the baggage from the Fallen makes it hard for any of them to feel completely whole.

    Honestly, it feels a lot like Victoria has PTSD at this point. Carol practically encouraged the bottleing of her emotions in this chapter. Glad to see Kenzie is still on good terms with everyone, even though she never had that convo with Victoria.

    Chastity is still my favorite Fallen member right now. I half expected her to go after Bryon in this chapter.

  23. “I’m okay.”

    Victoria has been breaking for sometime. The hero, the warrior-monk has been dying for sometime. Nothing is okay.

    Aunt Carol didn’t remark on a bit of it, but Crystal could imagine she found a bit of pride, energy, or personal power in how Victoria summoned up her own strength and then armored that strength in image. 

    Carol completely subscribes to Gemma Saotome school of parenthood.

    “Maybe another time, for the catching up,” Victoria said.  “The Wardens apparently need help.”

    “Victoria,” Crystal said, her tone a warning.

    “I have to.  I need to,”

    Victoria has become a suicidal workholic like Taylor.

    But they gave her peace that she hadn’t had since Tristan had… done the unthinkable, really.  They made sense of a nonsensical world.  So he steered her when he could, and he grit his teeth in moments like this, where Byron was too quiet to challenge the statement.

    Gary is a symptom.

    Also has anyone pointed the paralel between Vicky’s treatment of Amy and Gary’s treatment of Parahumans?

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